The early Church recognized Peter's special role.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Peter was to have a special role among the Apostles. It is interesting that Peter’s commissioning in John’s final chapter is book-ended by an incident in Chapter One of John’s Gospel. Back then Simon’s brother Andrew brought him to meet Jesus. When Jesus saw him he said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Kephas.” That was the Aramaic word for the kind of rock used for foundations. There is no other instance of its being used as a man’s proper name. The Latin for Kephas was Petrus.

Most people feel that the reason Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved him was that Peter had three times denied him. While going along with that, scholars also point out that great offices were ceremoniously conferred by a threefold formula of bestowal. (There does not seem to be any symbolic difference between Jesus saying feed the lambs and feed the sheep.)

We usually consider these places in John’s Gospel in conjunction with the passage in Matthew where Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  They point to Peter’s obvious leading role, as do incidents in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters.  Church History then confirms the acceptance of the authority of Peter’s successors as bishops of Rome.

I like St. Cyprian’s witness to the pope’s authority. In 255 as bishop of Carthage he was engaged in many debates with Pope Stephen over the pope’s right to choose bishops for North Africa, yet Cyprian wrote a stirring defense of the need for individual dioceses to be in union with Rome if they wanted to belong to the Catholic Church.

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