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The Papacy Unites the Catholic Church

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Except for the Catholic Church, the very term “papacy” would not exist. It is not only that, in founding the Church, Christ told Peter “feed my lambs…feed my sheep” and “tend my sheep.” The Bishop of Rome is the successor of the Apostle Peter on whom Jesus had promised that He would build His Church. After the Resurrection, Christ actually gave Peter the authority to teach and govern the universal Church. He was told to “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep” by leading the wills of the faithful according to the will of Christ.

As Bishops of Rome, the Popes have succeeded St. Peter as visible heads of the Church on earth. From Peter on, over the centuries, the Bishops of Rome have been thus recognized by all believing Catholics. The Pope is therefore called the Vicar of Christ because he has received from the Divine Master delegated authority over all the People of God.

His authority is called the papal primacy. This means that he has supreme authority to teach and govern the universal Church. This authority is not merely nominal, but real. It is not merely honorary, but binding in conscience on everyone who belongs to the Catholic Church.

Christ waited until the end of the first century before He solemnly declared that His Church rests on visible authority which is the papal primacy. Since the close of the first century, this has been the final test of whether a person who calls himself a Christian is also Catholic. Every break in Catholic unity has been based on the rejection of the papacy.

Correspondingly, every union among Catholics has been based on the acceptance of papal authority. As we enter the third millennium, this will be the great hope of reuniting a dismembered Christendom. The great hope of one Roman pontiff after another has been to restore unity among Christians by restoring the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

There is nothing on earth that is more desperately needed to reunite Christendom than to recognize the Pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica

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