The Papacy & Christian Unity
Jesus came to save the world from our sins and to usher in the reign of His Kingdom on earth. As Catholics we recognize that this earthly kingdom comes in the form of the Catholic Church. Jesus had many disciples, but he chose twelve of them, which He named His apostles. After His resurrection He gave these men special authority to lead His people. This is where the office of bishop comes from.
Out of those twelve apostles, Jesus recognized Peter as the chief apostle (or bishop), which will hold a special office in the kingdom.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare′a Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. ”He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ (Matt 16:13-20).
Peter’s leadership in the early church is obvious in the Acts of the Apostles. The history of the Church has shown the unbroken line of popes, from Peter to our current Pope. The Catechism describes the office of the pope as follows:
“’The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,’ above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’ and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.’ This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a ‘definitive manner,’ they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful ‘are to adhere to it with religious assent’ which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it” (CCC 891-892).
In the garden of Gethsemeni, the night before His death, Jesus prayed:
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. (John 17:22-23)
The Church prays the same prayer now. Throughout the history of the Church there have been a series of separations (or schisms) that have culminated in over 30,000 denominations of Christianity. As we trace our history and Tradition back to Christ Himself, we seek to draw all Christians back into the unity that Christ called us to when He founded His Church. The recent popes, especially Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have championed dialogue amongst Christians for the sake of unity.