Chair of Peter, Apostle

Dear Charles,

There’s a simple way to resolve your dilemma.  If you want to determine whether a particular professor or cleric is doctrinally trustworthy, just take note of how they speak and write about the teachings of the Pope and about the Papacy in general.  The Papacy is God’s chosen instrument for keeping the Church on track as it journeys through history, not because of the natural brilliance or impeccability of the men who become popes (Peter and his successors) but because of the Petrine office, the Holy Spirit’s guarantee to keep the Papacy from leading the Church astray (this is referred to as the “Chair” of Peter – the divinely sanctioned authority of the Vicar of Christ when acting as universal shepherd).  Therefore, when your professors start taking papal potshots, a yellow flag should go up.

The consciousness of the Petrine ministry appears very early in Church history, and it is also set forth clearly in the Scriptures (see Matthew chapter 16, for example).  Nevertheless, there have always been Christians who find it uncomfortable to submit to God through a human instrument. The truth is, however, that this ministry allows Catholics to enjoy much more spiritual freedom than non-Catholics (or than dissenting Catholics).  We are free to race recklessly forward in our pursuit of theological knowledge, of personal holiness, of apostolic effectiveness, because we know that as long as we stay in step with the pope we will be on Christ’s own path. When we rush ahead of the pope, or fall behind, or stray to either side, we no longer have any guarantee that we are moving in the right direction, so we necessarily slow down, hesitate, and become (sooner or later) filled with doubts.  

So great a gift is the office of Peter that the Church has dedicated a feast (today’s) to it since at least as far back as the fourth century, soon after the end of the Roman persecutions.  Not only did this feast help the newly converted pagans give up their old practices of ancestor worship that were associated with this particular time of the year, but it also afforded them (and still affords us) an opportunity to renew our adherence to the visible head of the Church on earth, to thank God for giving us so marvelous a blessing, and to offer our prayers on behalf of the current pontiff – who doesn’t cease being human (and therefore in need of our prayers) upon donning the tiara (i.e. the papal crown).

I hope your busy schedule allows you enough time to celebrate this day properly, and I hope you don’t find too many professors who have wandered away from the age-old Chair of St Peter.

Sincerely, your uncle, Eddy

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