Out of sheer curiosity, I often follow a Reformed Protestant apologist's website Alpha and Omega Ministries. His name is James White, and he seems to be considered one of the most skilled debaters and apologists for Calvinism out there today - though I obviously do not agree with him, I find that his objections against Catholicism are usually ones that make me sit up and take notice. Not long ago, I stumbled upon a page found here, where Mr. White quotes one of the great Church Fathers of the East, St. John Chrysostom. It is a difficult quote for a convert investigating the Catholic Church's view of the papacy to digest, as it seems upon first glance to outright deny the Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:18-19. The quote is this:
"Having said to Peter, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonas, and of having promised to lay the foundation of the Church upon his confession; not long after He says, Get thee behind me, Satan. And elsewhere he said, Upon this rock. He did not say upon Peter for it is not upon the man, but upon his own faith that the church is built. And what is this faith? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (In pentecosten 52.806.75 - 52.807.1)
This was troubling for me at first - aside from some of the harder ethical teachings of the Church, the one issue that has troubled me aside from that is the issue of the papacy. This has, indeed, given me an urge to investigate the Orthodox - though, to this day, I consider Catholics and Orthodox to be one and the same Church, but divided over more political and linguistic issues than anything (no matter how controversial this may sound, it is my opinion as of this moment).
The key issue here is that there is a certain act of cherry-picking going on here, something which James White's Ministry accuses Catholic apologists of ("Quoting the Early Church Fathers"). If we examine what else St. John Chrysostom says in his writings and homilies, we can tell that he does not agree with James White outside of that select passage. Mark these words of Chrysostom's in his fifty-fourth homily on Matthew:
He refers to St. Peter as "the mouth of the apostles, Peter, the ever fervent, the leader of the apostolic choir".
Further on, Chrysostom says, "Do you see how He, His own self, leads Peter on to high thoughts of Him, and reveals Himself, and implies that He is Son of God by these two promises? For those things which are peculiar to God alone, (both to absolve sins, and to make the church in capable of overthrow in such assailing waves, and to exhibit a man that is a fisher more solid than any rock, while all the world is at war with him), these He promises Himself to give; as the Father, speaking to Jeremiah, said, He would make him as
a brazen pillar, and as a wall.(Jeremiah 1:18) but him to one nation only, this man in every part of the world."
And further - "For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to a mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven."
It is important to note that surrounding the above words both before and after, Chrysostom makes a reference to the Arians, a heretical movement that denied the divinity of Christ, referring to them as "those who desire to lessen the dignity of the Son", and asks them "how then is He less, who has given such gifts, has effected such things?". Therefore, it is no surprise in my mind that Chrysostom speaks of St. Peter's faith being the rock upon which the Church is built. Simply put, he is showing that it is the faith in Christ as the Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, that is of utmost import, and this profession of faith is why Christ placed St. Peter in the position of authority that he did. In effect, he is countering the Arians with these passages. But see how he does not place the idea of the primacy of St. Peter aside, but rather calls him "the mouth of the apostles", "the leader of the apostlic choir", "the leader of them all, Peter", and "makes him a shepherd" that is to guide "every part of the world". Further on, we see Chrysostom say, "For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world".
In effect, Chrysostom is still holding St. Peter as the head of the apostles, but it is confession of faith that makes him this head.
Now, maybe I am blind but I simply do not see Chrysostom as somehow against the Catholic notion of the primacy of St. Peter, his being the rock by virtue of his confession, and the like. Obviously, Protestants will not agree with this, nor will the Eastern Orthodox. But I cannot help but coming to the conclusion that I do.
Chrysostom, St. John. "Homily 54 on Matthew." newadvent.org. New Advent, n.d. Web. 8 Dec 2011. <http://newadvent.org/fathers/200154.htm>.
Swan, James. "Quoting the Early Church Fathers." Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog. Alpha and Omega Ministries, 17 Apr 2008. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. <http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=2628&catid=7>.