Loren, a reader, asked some honest questions about Catholic beliefs. As replying to them in the comments section would result in too long a reply, and may result in confusion later on, I decided to respond to her questions in the main blog.
Loren’s second question is on the Pope.
Q: As I understand it the Pope is a mediator between God and mankind according to the Catholic church. But I thought Jesus is the only mediator between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5). Catholics also claim the Pope is the head of the Church on earth, but the Bible says Jesus is the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 2:9-10). Is the Bible wrong?
A: You are correct that Jesus is the only mediator between God and mankind. The Pope is not that mediator.
If the Church is a spiritual community of brothers and sisters, then the Pope is its spiritual father. That is why the Pope is called “Holy Father”. The word ‘Pope’ is actually just an English translation of “Papa” from the Greek language.
The best way to understand the role of the Pope is to go back to the gospels. Jesus had many disciples, but from all these, he chose 12 to whom he entrusted special responsibility. He gave them power to administer the sacraments (John 20:21, Luke 22:19), and the authority to teach others what they had received from him (Matthew 28:20). He also gave them power to govern the life of the Church (Matthew 18:18).
From these 12 apostles, Jesus chose one whose name he changed from Simon to Peter (from the Greek word ‘petros’, which means ‘rock’) (Matthew 16:18). When God changes someone’s name, it is always indicative of a special role in God’s plan (compare the name change of Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, etc).
Peter was the Bishop of Rome, and was the first Pope. Till today, the 265th pope is still the Bishop of Rome.
A number of books of the New Testament notes this special role of Peter’s. Out of respect, the Beloved Disciple allows Peter to enter the empty tomb first (John 20:5-6), making Peter the first official apostle to witness the resurrection. Paul does not feel obliged to spend time with any of the apostles except Peter (Galatians 1:18). When the apostles proclaimed the resurrection to the people in Jerusalem, it is Peter who is the apostles spokesman. Peter’s role is so important that Acts even speaks of Peter and “the Eleven” (Acts 2:14).
That doesn’t mean that Peter was stronger or smarter or holier than the others, for we know from all the gospels that Peter denied Christ three times. The Lord allowed Peter to experience his own weakness, predicted his denial, and commanded him, once he had been converted and filled with the Spirit, to strengthen the faith of his brother apostles (Luke 22:32).
Peter and the other apostles became bishops, leaders of the various Christian churches that they went on to found. As mentioned earlier, the other apostles gave Peter a special place (called primacy). This is what is meant by the Pope being the head of the Church, the chief of the apostles. It is from the pope that Jesus’ teachings flow into the world. Hence, whoever is in full communion with the pope, is in full communion with Christ.
Hope this helps answer your question about the pope.
- some material has been adapted from Macellino D’Ambrosio’s article “A Papal Primer: An Overview of the Papacy as taught by the Roman Catholic Church“
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