Refuting Papal Claims

Pride, Prejudice, and Presumption

An Apologetic Relating to Papal Infallibility and Supremacy (Revised May 2021)


++Michael Callahan

Presiding Archbishop, The Catholic Church In America



Petrine Theology Churches in the Old Catholic tradition follow teachings handed down from the Patristic era -- that is, prior to the first 1,000 years of Church history. Read below and learn more about our particular branch of ecclesiology -- especially in relation to the development of Roman Dogma regarding Petrine theology...


Here are just a few of the questions that must be answered:

Was Peter alone given the Keys to the kingdom or was this symbolic of Apostolic authority in general?

Did Peter exhibit a unique sense of infallibility?

Did Peter function as a Bishop or the head of the Church in the sense outlined in dogma?

Did the early church always and in every way submit to the authority of the Roman bishop or Patriarch?

If one of these points fails, the dogma itself collapses like a house of cards under its own weight. This alone should prompt a studious attempt to reconcile Roman Dogmatics with a historical review. Have you ever asked yourself "What was the 'Rock" of Matthew 16? Or, "why didn't Peter play a singular role of authority in the early Church? Why did a system arise in the infant church, where Bishops gathered in council to define our articles of faith? Why wasn't there overarching deference paid to the Bishop of Rome, in the first 1,800 years of Church history? ​ Read the article that follows and comment on your opinions and observations! ++Michael


The Church Fathers’ Interpretation of the Rock of Matthew 16:18 A Historical Refutation of the Claims of Roman Catholicism Includes a Critique of Jesus, Peter and the Keys (Edited for Western English gramatics) By William Webster ​ Matthew 16:18 is the critical passage of Scripture for the establishment of the authority claims of the Roman Catholic Church. It is upon the interpretation of the rock and keys that the entire structure of the Church of Rome rests. And Vatican I plainly states that its interpretation of Matthew 16 is that which has been held by the Church from the very beginning and is therefore not a doctrinal development. The Council asserted that its interpretation was grounded upon the unanimous consent of the fathers. In saying that Vatican I is claiming a two thousand year consensus for its interpretation and teaching. It specifically states that the Roman Catholic Church alone has authority to interpret scripture and that it is unlawful to interpret it in any way contrary to what it calls the ‘unanimous consent of the fathers.’ This principle does not mean that every single father agrees on a particular interpretation of scripture, but it does mean that there is a general consensus of interpretation, and Vatican I claims to be consistent with that consensus. This is very important to establish because it has a direct bearing on the Roman Church’s claim, that of being the one true Church established by Christ, unchanged from the very beginning. ​ Roman Catholic apologists, in an effort to substantiate the claims of Vatican I, make appeals to certain statements of Church fathers which they claim give unequivocal and unambiguous evidence of a belief in papal primacy in the early Church. Briefly, the arguments can be summarized as follows:

The fathers often speak in lofty language when referring to the apostle Peter implying a personal primacy.

Numerous fathers interpret the rock of Matthew 16 as the person of Peter.

While some of the fathers interpret the rock to be Peter’s confession of faith, they do not separate Peter’s confession from his person.

The fathers refer to the bishops of Rome as successors of Peter.

​ Roman apologists historically have often resorted to the use of selected statements of major Church fathers, interpreting them as supportive of papal primacy. An example of this type of argumentation can be seen in the following references to the writings of Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine by a Roman Catholic apologist:

St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258 A.D.) in his letter to Cornelius of Rome (c. 251 A.D.) speaks of the Church of Rome as the ‘chair of Peter (cathedra Petri)’ and ‘the principle Church in which sacerdotal unity has its source’ (Ep. 59, 14).

St Ambrose (d. 397 A.D.) states that ‘where Peter is, there is the Church’ (Commen.. on the Psalms 40, 30)…

St. Augustine’s recognition of the authority of the Pope is manifested by the famous words with which he welcomes the decision made by the Pope: Roma locuta est; causa finita est—Rome has spoken the case is concluded (Sermon 131, 6:10). Why does Augustine believe the Bishop of Rome has the final word? The answer is because the Pope is the successor of St. Peter—a fact clearly recognized by Augustine in his Letter to Generosus (c. 400 A.D.) in which he names all 34 of the bishops of Rome from Peter to Anastasius (Letter 53, 1,2).

​ The above arguments are very common, but, can these writings be cherry-picked, or presented out of context of a greater understanding of what those sources actually taught or believed? They are precisely the same citations found in The Faith of the Early Fathers by the Roman Catholic patristics scholar William Jurgens as proof for the purported belief in papal primacy in the early Church. And Karl Keating uses the same reference to Augustine in his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism. But do the statements of these fathers actually support the claims of papal primacy? Is this what they meant by these statements? The facts do not support this contention. These statements are given completely out of context of the rest of the writings of these fathers thereby distorting the true meaning of their words. And in the case of Augustine, as we will see, his words are actually misquoted. All too frequently statements from the fathers are isolated and quoted without any proper interpretation, often giving the impression that a father taught a particular point of view when, in fact, he did not. But for those unfamiliar with the writings of the Church fathers, such arguments can seem fairly convincing. An example of this kind of methodology is seen in a recent Roman Catholic work entitled Jesus, Peter, and the Keys. This work is being touted by Roman Catholics as providing definitive evidence of the teaching of the Church fathers on the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16 and of Peter’s role. But the actual references from the fathers cited in this work are very selective, often omitting important citations of their overall works that demonstrate a view contrary to that which is being proposed. What we will discover, if we give the statements of the fathers in context and in correlation with their overall writings, is that their actual perspective is often the opposite of that claimed by Vatican I and these Roman apologists. In his book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating states that the reformers had invented a novel exegesis of Matthew 16 in order to aid them in their rebellion against the papacy. This is a complete misrepresentation. As historian Oscar Cullmann points out, the view of the Reformers was not a novel interpretation invented by them but hearkened back to the patristic tradition: ‘We thus see that the exegesis that the Reformers gave…was not first invented for their struggle against the papacy; it rests upon an older patristic tradition’ (Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple–Apostle–Martyr (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953), p. 162). ​ An examination of the writings of the fathers does reveal the expression of a consistent viewpoint, but it is not that of the Roman Catholic Church, as the documentation of the major fathers of the East and West in this article will demonstrate. This particular article is strictly historical in nature. Its purpose is to document the patristic interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16:18. And the evidence will demonstrate that the Protestant and Orthodox understanding of the text is rooted in this patristic consensus. From a strictly scriptural point of view, the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 is divorced from its proper biblical context. ​ The Roman Church states that Matthew 16 teaches that the Church is built upon Peter and therefore upon the bishops of Rome in an exclusive sense. What is seldom ever mentioned is the fact that Ephesians 2:20 uses precisely the same language as that found in Matthew 16 when it says the Church is built upon the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. The same Greek word for build upon in Matthew 16 is employed in Ephesians 2:20. This demonstrates that from a biblical perspective, even if we were to interpret the rock of Matthew 16 to be the person of Peter, the New Testament does not view the apostle Peter to be unique in this role. Christ is the foundation and the Church is built upon all the apostles and prophets in the sense of being built upon their teaching. And in addition, the Roman Catholic interpretation imports a meaning into the Matthew 16 text that is completely absent. This text says absolutely nothing about infallibility or about successors. ​ The fathers of the Church did not isolate particular verses from their overall biblical context and consequently, they have a biblical perspective of the foundation of the Church, not that which is Roman. The documentation of the interpretation of the fathers will also be supplemented by the comments of major Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox historians in order to provide a scholarly consensus on the true understanding of the church fathers cited. In particular, we will examine the comments of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Augustine, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers, Jerome, Epiphanius, Basil of Seleucia, Paul of Emesa, and John of Damascus. ​ TERTULLIAN (A.D. 155/160—240/250) Tertullian was born in Carthage in North Africa and practiced law before his conversion to Christianity ca. A.D. 193. As a Christian, he was a prolific writer and has been called the ‘Father of Latin Christianity’. He was most likely a layman and his writings were widely read. He had a great influence upon the Church fathers of subsequent generations, especially Cyprian. He is the first of the Western fathers to comment on Matthew 16. In one of his writings Tertullian identifies the rock with the person of Peter on which the Church would be built: ​ Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the ‘rock on which the church should be built’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and earth? (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume III, Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 22). ​ Though Tertullian states that Peter is the rock he does not mean it in a pro–papal sense. We know this because of other comments he has made. But if we isolate this one passage it would be easy to read a pro–Roman interpretation into it. However, in other comments on Matthew 16:18–19, Tertullian explains what he means when he says that Peter is the rock on which the Church would be built: ​ If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church,’ ‘to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you, therefore, presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My church;’ and, ‘I will give thee the keys’…and, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt have loosed or bound’…In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key; you see what key: ‘Men of Israel, let what I say sink into your ears: Jesus the Nazarene, a man destined by God for you,’ and so forth. (Peter) himself, therefore, was the first to unbar, in Christ’s baptism, the entrance to the heavenly kingdom, in which kingdom are ‘loosed’ the sins that were before time ‘bound;’ and those which have not been ‘loosed’ are ‘bound,’ in accordance with true salvation…(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Volume IV, Tertullian, On Modesty 21, p. 99). ​ When Tertullian says that Peter is the rock and the Church is built upon him he means that the Church is built through him as he preaches the gospel. This preaching is how Tertullian explains the meaning of the keys. They are the declarative authority for the offer of forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the gospel. If men respond to the message they are loosed from their sins. If they reject it they remain bound in their sins. In the words just preceding this quote Tertullian explicitly denies that this promise can apply to anyone but Peter and therefore he does not in any way see a Petrine primacy in this verse with successors in the bishops of Rome. The patristic scholar, Karlfried Froehlich, states that even though Tertullian teaches that Peter is the rock he does not mean this in the same sense as the Roman Catholic Church: ​ ‘Tertullian regarded the Peter of Matthew 16:18–19 as the representative of the entire church or at least its ‘spiritual’ members.’ (Karlfried Froehlich, Saint Peter, Papal Primacy, and Exegetical Tradition, 1150-1300, pp. 13. Taken from The Religious Roles of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities, 1150-1300, ed. Christopher Ryan, Papers in Medieval Studies 8 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1989) ​ It is a common practice of Roman Catholic apologists to omit part of the quotation given above by Tertullian in order to make it appear that he is a proponent of papal primacy. A prime example of this is found in a recently released Roman Catholic defense of the papacy entitled Jesus, Peter, and the Keys. The authors give the following partial citation from Tertullian: ​ I now inquire into your opinion, to see whence you usurp this right for the Church. Do you presume, because the Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock, I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ [Matt. 16:1819a] or ‘whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven' [Matt. 16:19b] that the power of binding and loosing has thereby been handed on to you, that is, to every church akin to Peter? What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when he conferred this personally upon Peter? On you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys, not to the Church; and whatever you shall have bound or you shall have loosed, not what they shall have bound or they shall have loosed (Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, David Hess, Jesus, Peter and the Keys (Santa Barbara: Queenship, 1996), pp. 216-217). ​ When comparing this citation with the one given above it is clear that these authors have left out the last half of the quotation. The part of the quotation that is omitted defines what Tertullian means by the statement that Christ built his Church on Peter and invested him with authority. ​ Again, what he means by these words is that Christ built his church on Peter by building it through him as he preached the gospel. This is a meaning that is clearly contrary to the Roman Catholic perspective. To omit this is to distort the teaching of Tertullian and to give the impression that he taught something he did not teach. So, though Tertullian states that Peter is the rock, he does not mean this in the same way the Roman Catholic Church does. Peter is the rock because he is the one given the privilege of being the first to open the kingdom of God to men. This is similar to the view expressed by Maximus of Tours when he says: ‘For he is called a rock because he was the first to lay the foundations of the faith among the nations’ (Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman, 1989), The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, Sermon 77.1, p. 187). ​ Not only do we see a clear denial of any belief in a papal primacy in Tertullian’s exegesis of Matthew 16, but such a denial is also seen from his practice. In his later years, Tertullian separated himself from the Catholic Church to become a Montanist. He clearly did not hold to the view espoused by Vatican I that communion with the Bishop of Rome was the ultimate criterion of orthodoxy and of inclusiveness in the Church of God. ​ ORIGEN (A.D. 185—253/254) Origen was head of the catechetical school at Alexandria during the first half of the third century. He was an individual of enormous intellect and was by far the most prolific writer of the patristic age. Eusebius states that his writings numbered in the neighborhood of six thousand. He has been called the greatest scholar of Christian antiquity. He had an immense influence upon fathers in both the East and West in subsequent centuries. Origen is the first father to give a detailed exposition of the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16:18. His interpretation became normative for the Eastern fathers and for many in the West. Apart from the specific passage of Matthew 16, he states that Peter is the rock: ​ Look at the great foundation of that Church and at the very solid rock upon which Christ has founded the Church. Wherefore the Lord says: ‘Ye of little faith, why have you doubted?'(Exodus, Homily 5.4. Cited by Karlfried Froehlich, Formen der Auslegung von Matthaus 16,13-18 im lateinischen Mittelaiter, Dissertation (Tubingen, 1963), p. 100). ​ But, like Tertullian, he does not mean this in the Roman Catholic sense. Often, Origen is cited as a proponent of papal primacy because he says that Peter is the rock. Quotes such as the one given above are isolated from his other statements about Peter and his actual interpretation of Matthew 16:18 thereby inferring that he taught something which he did not teach. In his mind, Peter is simply representative of all true believers and what was promised to Peter is given to all believers who truly follow Christ. They all become what Peter is. This is the view expressed in the following comments: ​ And if we too have said like Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, ‘Thou art Peter,’ etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the Church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God. ​ But if you suppose that upon the one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter, in particular, the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, ‘The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,’ hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church?’ Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? But if this promise, ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ be common to others, how shall not all things previously spoken of, and the things which are subjoined as having been addressed to Peter, be common to them? ​ ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ If anyone says this to Him…he will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches to everyone who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname ‘rock’ who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual drought. But these bear the surname of rock just as Christ does. But also as members of Christ deriving their surname from Him, they are called Christians, and from the rock, Peters…And to all such, the saying of the Savior might be spoken, ‘Thou art Peter’ etc., down to the words, ‘prevail against it.’ But what is the "it"? Is it the rock upon which Christ builds the Church, or is it the Church? For the phrase is ambiguous. Or is it as if the rock and the Church were one and the same? This I think to be true; for neither against the rock on which Christ builds His Church nor against the Church will the gates of Hades prevail. Now, if the gates of Hades prevail against anyone, such a one cannot be a rock upon which the Christ builds the Church, nor the Church built by Jesus upon the rock (Allan Menzies, Ante–Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Chapters 10-11). ​ This is one of the most important passages in all the writings of Origen for an understanding of his view of the rock of Matthew 16. Yet this passage is not included in those referenced by the authors of Jesus, Peter, and the Keys. This is a glaring omission given the importance of the passage and the fact that it is easily accessible in the work of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. One can only conclude that the authors purposefully omitted the passage because it is antithetical to the position they are seeking to establish. ​ John Meyendorff was a world-renowned and highly respected Orthodox theologian, historian, and patristics scholar. He was dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Professor of Church History and Patristics. He gives the following explanation of Origen’s interpretation and of his influence on subsequent fathers in the East and West: ​ Origen, the common source of patristic exegetical tradition, commenting on Matthew 16:18, interprets the famous logion as Jesus’ answer to Peter’s confession: Simon became the ‘rock’ on which the Church is founded because he expressed the true belief in the divinity of Christ. Origen continues: ‘If we also say “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” then we also become Peter…for whoever assimilates to Christ, becomes rock. Does Christ give the keys of the kingdom to Peter alone, whereas other blessed people cannot receive them?’ According to Origen, therefore, Peter is no more than the first ‘believer,’ and the keys he received opened the gates of heaven to him alone: if others want to follow, they can ‘imitate’ Peter and receive the same keys. Thus the words of Christ have a soteriological, but not an institutional, significance. They only affirm that the Christian faith is the faith expressed by Peter on the road to Caesarea Philippi. In the whole body of patristic exegesis, this is the prevailing understanding of the ‘Petrie’ logia, and it remains valid in Byzantine literature…Thus, when he spoke to Peter, Jesus was underlining the meaning of the faith as the foundation of the Church, rather than organizing the Church as guardian of the faith (John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham, 1974), pp. 97-98). ​ James McCue in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue affirms these views of Origen in these statements: ​ When Origen is commenting directly on Matthew 16:18f, he carefully puts aside any interpretation of the passage that would make Peter anything other than what every Christian should be…(His) is the earliest extant detailed commentary on Matthew 16:18f. and interestingly sees the event described as a lesson about the life to be lived by every Christian, and not information about office or hierarchy or authority in the Church (Paul Empie and Austin Murphy, Ed., Papal Primacy in the Universal Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 60-61). ​ Origen and Tertullian are the first fathers, from the East and West respectively, to give an exposition on the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16 and the role and position of Peter. Their views are foundational for the interpretation of this important passage for the centuries following. Strands of their teaching will appear in the views of the fathers throughout the East and West. It is important to point out that the first Eastern and Western fathers to give an exegesis of Matthew 16 do not interpret the passage in a pro–Roman sense. ​ CYPRIAN (A.D. 200–210—ca. 258) Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage in North Africa in the mid–third century. He was one of the most influential theologians and bishops of the Church of his day and gave his life in martyrdom for his faith. He was greatly influenced by the writings of Tertullian, the North African father who preceded him. He is often cited by Roman Catholic apologists as a witness for papal primacy. In his treatise On the Unity of the Church Cyprian gives the following interpretation of the rock of Matthew 16: ​ The Lord saith unto Peter, I say unto thee, (saith He,) that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:18–19). To him again, after His resurrection, He says, Feed My sheep. Upon him being one He builds His Church; and although He gives to all the Apostles an equal power, and says, As My Father sent Me, even so, I send you; receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosoever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted to him, and whosoever sins ye shall retain, they shall be retained (John 20:21);—yet in order to manifest unity, He has by His own authority so placed the source of the same unity, as to begin from one (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), Cyprian, On The Unity of the Church 3-4, pp. 133-135). ​ Cyprian clearly says that Peter is the rock. If his comments were restricted to the above citation it would lend credence to the idea that he was a proponent of papal primacy. However, Cyprian’s comments continue on from the statements given above. His additional statements prove conclusively that although he states that Peter is the rock he does not mean this in a pro–Roman sense. His view is that Peter is a symbol of unity, a figurative representative of the bishops of the Church. Cyprian viewed all the apostles as being equal with one another. He believed the words to Peter in Matthew 16 to be representative of the ordination of all Bishops so that the Church is founded, not upon one Bishop in one see, but upon all equally in collegiality. Peter, then, is a representative figure of the episcopate as a whole. His view is clearly stated in these words: Certainly, the other Apostles also were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship both of honor and power; but commencement is made from unity, that the Church may be set before as one; which one Church, in the Song of Songs, doth the Holy Spirit design and name in the Person of our Lord: My dove, My spotless one, is but one; she is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her (Cant. 9:6) (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), Cyprian, On The Unity of the Church 3, p. 133). ​ Our Lord whose precepts and warnings we ought to observe, determining the honor of a Bishop and the ordering of His own Church, speaks in the Gospel and says to Peter, I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and on this rock, I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Thence the ordination of Bishops, and the ordering of the Church, runs down along the course of time and line of succession so that the Church is settled upon her Bishops; and every act of the Church is regulated by these same Prelates (A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of S. Cyprian, Ep. 33.1). ​ Cyprian, like Tertullian, states that Peter is the rock. But such a statement must be qualified. He definitely does not mean this in the same way the Church of Rome does. In his treatise, On the Unity of the Church, Cyprian teaches that Peter alone is not the rock or foundation on which the Church is built, but rather, he is an example of the principle of unity. He is representative of the Church as a whole. The entire episcopate, according to Cyprian, is the foundation, though Christ is himself the true Rock. The bishops of Rome are not endowed with divine authority to rule the Church. All of the bishops together constitute the Church and rule over their individual areas of responsibility as co-equals. If Cyprian meant to say that the Church was built upon Peter and he who resists the bishop of Rome resists the Church (cutting himself off from the Church), then he completely contradicts himself, for, as we will see in Part II, he opposed Stephen, the bishop of Rome in his interpretation of Matthew 16 as well as on theological and jurisdictional issues. His actions prove that his comments about Peter could not coincide with the Roman Catholic interpretation of his words. To do so is a distortion of his true meaning. ​ Historically there has been some confusion on the interpretation of Cyprian’s teaching because there are two versions of his treatise, The Unity of the Church. In the first Cyprian speaks of the chair of Peter in which he equates the true Church with that chair. He states that there is only one Church and one chair and a primacy given to Peter. In the second, the references to a Petrine primacy are softened to give greater emphasis to the theme of unity and co-equality of bishops. Most Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars now agree that Cyprian is the author of both versions. He wrote the second in order to offset a pro–Roman interpretation that was being attached to his words which he never intended. The episcopate is to him the principle of unity within the Church and representative of it. The ‘chair of Peter’ is a figurative expression that applies to every bishop in his own see, not just the bishops of Rome. The bishop of Rome holds a primacy of honor but he does not have universal jurisdiction over the entire Church for Cyprian expressly states that all the apostles received the same authority and status as Peter and the Church is built upon all the bishops and not just Peter alone. Some object to these conclusions about Cyprian citing his statements about the chair of Peter. Roman Catholic apologists would lead us to believe that Cyprian’s comments refer exclusively to the bishops of Rome and that they, therefore, possess special authority as the successors of Peter. ​ The Roman Catholic historian, Robert Eno, repudiates this point of view as a misrepresentation of Cyprian’s view. As he points out Cyprian did not believe that the bishop of Rome possessed a higher authority than he or the other African bishops. They were all equals: ​ Cyprian makes considerable use of the image of Peter’s cathedra or chair. Note however that it is important in his theology of the local church: ‘God is one and Christ is one: there is one Church and one chair founded, by the Lord’s authority, upon Peter. It is not possible that another altar can be set up, or that a new priesthood can be appointed, over and above this one altar and this one priesthood’ (Ep. 43.5). ​ The cathedri Petri symbolism has been the source of much misunderstanding and dispute. Perhaps it can be understood more easily by looking at the special treatise he wrote to defend both his own position as sole lawful bishop of Carthage and that of Cornelius against Novatian, namely, the De unitate ecclesiae, or, as it was known in the Middle Ages, On the Simplicity of Prelates. The chapter of most interest is the fourth. Controversy has dogged this work because two versions of this chapter exist. Since the Reformation, acceptance of one version or the other has usually followed denominational lines. ​ Much of this has subsided in recent decades especially with the work of Fr. Maurice Bevenot, an English Jesuit, who devoted most of his scholarly life to this text. He championed the suggestion of the English Benedictine, John Chapman, that what we are dealing with here are two versions of a text, both of which were authored by Cyprian. This view has gained wide acceptance in recent decades. Not only did Cyprian write both but his theology of the Church is unchanged from the first to the second. He made textual changes because his earlier version was being misused. ​ The theology of the controverted passage sees in Peter the symbol of unity, not from his being given greater authority by Christ for, as he says in both versions, ‘…a like power is given to all the Apostles’ and ‘…No doubt the others were all that Peter was.’ Yet Peter was given the power first: ‘Thus it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.’ The Chair of Peter then belongs to each lawful bishop in his own see. Cyprian holds the Chair of Peter in Carthage and Cornelius in Rome over against Novatian the would–be usurper. You must hold to this unity if you are to remain in the Church. Cyprian wants unity in the local church around the lawful bishop and unity among the bishops of the world who are ‘glued together’ (Ep. 66.8). ​ Apart from his good relations and harmony with Bishop Cornelius over the matter of the lapsed, what was Cyprian’s basic view of the role, not of Peter as a symbol of unity, but of Rome in the contemporary Church? Given what we have said above, it is clear that he did not see the bishop of Rome as his superior, except by way of honor, even though the lawful bishop of Rome also held the chair of Peter in a historical sense (Ep. 52.2). Another term frequently used by the Africans in speaking of the Church was ‘the root’ (radix). Cyprian sometimes used the term in connection with Rome, leading some to assert that he regarded the Roman church as the ‘root.’ But in fact, in Cyprian’s teaching, the Catholic Church as a whole is the root. So when he bade farewell to some Catholics traveling to Rome, he instructed them to be very careful about which group of Christians they contacted after their arrival in Rome. They must avoid schismatic groups like that of Novation. They should contact and join the Church presided over by Cornelius because it alone is the Catholic Church in Rome. In other words, Cyprian exhorted ‘…them to discern the womb and root…of the Catholic Church and to cleave to it’ (Ep. 48.3). ​ It is clear that in Cyprian’s mind…one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority that is superior to that of the African bishops (Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 57-60). ​ As Charles Gore has pointed out, Cyprian used the phrase, the Chair of Peter’ in his Epistle 43, which Roman apologists often cite in defense of an exclusive Roman primacy, to refer to his own see of Carthage, not the see of Rome. This is confirmed as a general consensus of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic historians. James McCue, writing for Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, in the work Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, affirms this interpretation of Cyprian’s view in the following comments: According to Cyprian’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18, Jesus first conferred upon Peter the authority with which he subsequently endowed all the apostles. This, according to Cyprian, was to make clear the unity of the power that was being conferred and of the church that was being established. Cyprian frequently speaks of Peter as the foundation of the church, and his meaning seems to be that it was in Peter that Jesus first established all the church–building powers and responsibilities that would subsequently also be given to the other apostles and to the bishops. ​ Peter is the source of the church’s unity only in an exemplary or symbolic way…Peter himself seems, in Cyprian’s thought, to have had no authority over the other apostles, and consequently, the church of Peter cannot reasonably claim to have any authority over the other churches (Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Edited by Paul Empie and Austin Murphy (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 68-69). ​ This judgment is further affirmed by the Roman Catholic historian, Michael Winter: Cyprian used the Petrine text of Matthew to defend episcopal authority, but many later theologians, influenced by the papal connexions of the text, have interpreted Cyprian in a pro-papal sense which was alien to his thought…Cyprian would have used Matthew 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, but since he happened to employ it for the sake of the Bishop of Rome, it created the impression that he understood it as referring to papal authority… Catholics, as well as Protestants, are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter (Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helikon, 1960), pp. 47-48). ​ This Roman Catholic historian insists that it is a misrepresentation of Cyprian’s true teaching to assert that he is a father who supports the Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16. And he says that both Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars are now agreed on this. Once again, Roman Catholic historians specifically repudiate what some Roman apologists often teach about Cyprian and his comments on the ‘Chair of Peter’. Karlfried Froehlich states: Cyprian understood the biblical Peter as representative of the unified episcopate, not of the bishop of Rome…He understood him as symbolizing the unity of all bishops, the privileged officers of penance…For (Cyprian), the one Peter, the first to receive the penitential keys which all other bishops also exercise, was the biblical type of the one episcopate, which in turn guaranteed the unity of the church. The one Peter equaled the one body of bishops (Karlfried Froehlich, Saint Peter, Papal Primacy, and the Exegetical Tradition, 1150-1300, p. 36, 13, n. 28 p. 13. Taken from The Religious Roles of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities, 1150-1300, ed. Christopher Ryan, Papers in Medieval Studies 8 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1989). ​ John Meyendorff explains the meaning of Cyprian’s use of the phrase ‘chair of Peter’ and sums up the Cyprianic ecclesiology which was normative for the East as a whole: The early Ch