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ON THE SUPREMACY OF THE POPE.
Feed my sheep. John xxi. 16.
The sheep, which our blessed Saviour, in his last instructions, commands St. Peter to feed, were not the apostles, his fellow shepherds, who had received the same unlimited commission, to teach all nations the truths of christianity, and feed, with wholesome doctrine, converts to the faith ; but believers in general, whom St. Peter himself calls the flock of God; and concerning whom St. Paul, (who solemnly declares, that he had not his apostolical appointment from man, neither by man,) gives this pastoral injunction,—“Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” Acts xx. 28.
The Catholics, however, who contend for the prerogatives of the Roman See, inform us, that the authority of Peter over the other apostles, is to be collected from these words, “ Feed my sheep,” for Christ, say they, in the chapter before us, committed to him the care, not only of the lambs, but also of the sheep, or mothers of the flock, that is, of all future pastors and teachers. In opposition to this doctrine, confuted by the whole history of the gospel, and all antiquity, Ambrose (De Dign. Sacerd page 336.) observes, Not Peter only, “ Sed nos cum eo,” but we with him, have received commission, to feed Christ's sheep, and what is said to Peter, feed my sheep, (ad omnes Dicitur) is said to all.*
It is worthy of notice, that the honourable name of Peter, is here dropped, and that of Simon substituted in its place, which carries with it some reproach. The question “Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" three times put, also insinuates distrust, and some of the fathers suppose, that Christ makes the enquiry thrice, that Peter, by a three fold confession, might atone for his three fold denial.
* Which slicep, and which flock, not only St. Peter, but all other pricsts with hin, did receive. Ambros de Sacerd.
St. Austin expresses the same sentiment, in these words, St. Peter was a pastor, and Paul a pastor, and the rest of the apostles were pastors, and good bishops are pastors. Aug. in John iv. 6
Let feeding signify what it may, instruction or government, it nevertheless relates to the apostolic charge. To teach was a common duty, to lead and to rule were come mon functions; St. Peter, therefore, neither would, nor could apply the chief authority to himself. It is his own exhortation - Be mindful of the commandment, (or precept) of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour," 2 Pet.
The charge to feed the sheep three times repeated, refers perhaps both to St. Peter's former zeal, and former failures, that his zeal might be confirmed by a kind and affectionate injunction, and his failure be prevented by the solemn repetition of the precept. The force of the cominand was indeed most sensibly perceived. It touched the feelings of a heart, which was ever open to remonstrance. It was no boastful word which followed, but a sorrowful, yet resolute appeal to him, who could read the heart, “ Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee,” and from that time, we find, how punctually this
faithful witness discharged the duties of his office, braving without dismay, the waves of trouble, and defying the blasts of persecution, from whatever quarter the storm arose.
In this commission of our Lord, “feed my sheep,” there was, as St. Cyril observes, a renewal of the apostleship, formerly bestowed on St. Peter, doing away the infamy of his fall, and blotting out the cowardice of human infirmity. Cyril does not say, that our Saviour augmented his dignity, (a doctrine unknown in the primitive ages,) but that he renewed it, or restored him to it, not by raising him præ aliis, above others, but reinstating him in his former office.
It is evident, beyond a doubt, that neither Peter, nor any other apostle, had any power or authority over the rest, but that they all enjoyed an equality in this respect, under the supreme and only head of the church, Jesus Christ. When first separated from the rest of our Lord's followers, they were all distinguished by the same common name of apostles, and there was no difference in their
commission, or instructions. They were all equally commanded to commemorate our Lord's death, received the same authority to teach and baptize all nations, to execute all parts of the apostolic office, and the holy spirit descended, and sat upon each of them, without any partiality or distinction whatsoever.
As the apostles were admitted to the same office, so they were all of the same order, there being no order above that of an apostle : and if God had designed St. Peter and his successors, to be the true vicars of Christ, and heads of the whole church, the fathers and doctors of all christians, and the full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the whole church, was given to them in Peter, by Christ, (as the council of Florence defines) we might expect to meet, not only with the bishop of Rome's name and title in scripture, but also the time and manner of his instalment, and the deed of conveyance, to his successors, in the most plain and significant forms. But no such document can be produced; *
* Hesychius calls St. Andrew, the first born of the apostolical choir, the first settled pillar of the church,