Context, context, context. Cassian is writing against the Nestorians on the Incarnation. In chapter 11 of Book III he transitions from a primary use of Pauline texts to some derived from the Gospels. He briefly alludes to Martha’s confession of Christ in John 11:27, but quickly moves to Peter’s testimony in chapter 12, from which Bonocore quotes. Let’s look at all of it:
But if you prefer the authority of a greater person (although you ought not to slight the authority of any one of either sex, on whom the confession of the mystery confers weight – for whatever may be a person’s condition, or however humble his position, yet the value of his faith is not thereby diminished) let us interrogate no beginner or untaught schoolboy, nor a woman whose faith might perhaps appear to be but rudimentary; but that greatest of disciples among disciples, and of teachers among teachers, who presided and ruled over the Roman Church, and held the chief place in the priesthood as he did in the faith. Tell us then, tell us, we pray, O Peter, thou chief of Apostles, tell us how the Churches ought to believe in God. For it is right that you should teach us, as you were taught by the Lord, and that you should open to us the gate, of which you received the key. Shut out all those who try to overthrow the heavenly house: and those who are endeavoring to enter by secret holes and unlawful approaches: as it is clear that none can enter the gate of the kingdom save one to whom the key bestowed on the Churches is revealed by you.
Tell us then how we ought to believe in Jesus Christ and to confess our common Lord. You will surely reply without hesitation: “Why do you consult me as to the way in which the Lord should be confessed, when you have before you my own confession of Him? Read the gospel, and you will not want me myself, when you have got my confession. Nay, you have got me myself when you have my confession; for though I have no weight apart from my confession, yet the actual confession adds weight to my person.” Tell us then, O Evangelist, tell us the confession: tell us the faith of the chief Apostle: did he confess that Jesus was only a man, or God? did he say that there was nothing but flesh in Him, or did he proclaim Him the Son of God? When then the Lord Jesus Christ asked whom the disciples believed and confessed Him to be, Peter, the first of the Apostles, replied – one in the name of all – for the answer of one was to the same effect as the faith of them all. But it was fitting that he should first give the answer, that the order of the answer might correspond to the degree of honor: and that he might outstrip them in confession, as he outstripped them in age. What then does he say? “Thou art,” he says, “the Christ the Son of the living God.” I am obliged, you heretic, to make use of a plain and simple question to confute you. Tell me, I pray, who was He, to whom Peter gave that answer? You cannot deny that it was the Christ. I ask then, what do you call Christ? man or God? Man certainly without any doubt: for hence springs the whole of your heresy, because you deny that Christ is the Son of God. And so too you say that Mary is Christotocos, but not Theotocos, because she was the mother of Christ, not of God. Therefore you maintain, that Christ is only a man, and not God, and so that He is the Son of man not of God. What then does Peter reply to this? “Thou art,” he says, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That Christ whom you declare to be only the Son of man, he testifies to be the Son of God. Whom would you like us to believe? you or Peter? I imagine that you are not so shameless as to venture to prefer your own opinion to that of the first of the Apostles. And yet what is there that you would not venture on? or how can you help scorning the Apostle, if you can deny God? “Thou art then,” he says, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Is there anything puzzling or obscure in this? It is nothing but a plain and open confession: he proclaims Christ to be the Son of God. Perhaps you will deny that the words were spoken: but the Evangelist testifies that they were. Or do you say that the Apostle told a lie? But it is an awful lie to accuse an Apostle of lying. Or perhaps you will maintain that the words were spoken of some other Christ? But this is a novel kind of monstrous fabrication. What then is left for you? One thing indeed; viz., that since what is written is read, and what is read is true, you should finally be driven by force and compulsion (as you cannot assert its falsehood) to desist from impugning its truth.
Now, it is manifest that the topic of the passage is not, in fact, the concept of the Papacy, nor of succession therein. The topic is Peter’s confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God over against the Nestorians. Surely he refers to Peter as a “teacher among teachers, who presided and ruled over the Roman Church, and held the chief place in the priesthood as he did in the faith.” But when it comes to his confession, it is not said that his confession is valuable because he made it, or because he was the first Pope, or infallible, or any such thing; instead, it is valuable because “you were taught by the Lord.” He is to open the gate “of which you received the key” (cujus clavem accepisti, PL 50:67A) What key is this? It is the “key bestowed on the Churches” (cui clavis a te in Ecclesiis collocata [collata] reserarit, ibid.) The “key” of Isaiah 22 is not bestowed on Churches, that is for certain. It seems Cassian is considering not the key of Isaiah 22 here, but the keys given to all of the Apostles, but doing so individually, as in the key given to Peter, to Andrew, etc. The later idea of Peter receiving a kind of authority differing in actual nature from the rest of the apostles had not yet come into vogue, let alone dogmatic expression. Peter is seen as the chief of the Apostles, but still an Apostle, first, but not other than; his honor does not come from some papal concept. Even his confession is said to be “one in the name of all – for the answer of one was to the same effect as the faith of them all.”
All of this leads up to the citation of Peter’s confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God, and this is the substance of Cassian’s citation. But Bonocore stops here, assuming that merely the presence of the term “key” in the singular is enough to fulfill the challenge. But the more careful student, who, while maybe not as brilliant as one of the “best of the best,” Top-Gun type RC apologists, still wishes to look a bit closer at the context, notes the emphasis upon the confession of Peter, and asks the question, “Does Cassian give us an idea as to his view of Matthew 16:18 itself relevant to the rock?” Surely, if Cassian does not even hold, in this passage, the view of Rome regarding the rock, then how could he be cited as one using Isaiah 22:20-22 in the fashion Roman Catholic apologists do today? And so we do not stop here, but press on to the next section, which reads,
But still, as I have made use of the testimony of the chief Apostle, in which he openly confessed the Lord Jesus Christ as God, let us see how He whom he confessed approved of his confession; for of far more value than the Apostle’s words is the fact that God Himself commended his utterance. When then the Apostle said: “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God,” what was the answer of our Lord and Savior? “Blessed art thou,” said He, “Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but the Spirit of My Father which is in heaven.” If you do not like to use the testimony of the Apostle use that of God. For by commending what was said God added His own authority to the Apostle’s utterance, so that although the utterance came from the lips of the Apostle, yet God who approved of it made it His own. “Blessed art thou,” said He, “Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but the Spirit of My Father which is in heaven.” Thus in the words of the Apostle you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit and of the Son who was present and of God the Father. What more can you want, or what comes up to this? The Son commended: the Father was present: the Holy Ghost revealed. The utterance of the Apostle thus gives the testimony of the entire Godhead: for this utterance must necessarily have the authority of Him from whose prompting it proceeds. “Blessed then art thou,” said He, “Simon Barjonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but the Spirit of My Father which is in heaven.” If then flesh and blood did not reveal this to Peter or inspire him, you must at last see who inspires you. If the Spirit of God taught him who confessed that Christ was God, you see how you are taught by the spirit of the devil if you can deny it.
I find the odd insertion of “the Spirit of” by Cassian most interesting (especially since he then uses it as part of his argumentation), but that issue aside, here Cassian says little more than that Peter’s confession of Christ was divine in origin. But let’s press on to the important part of Matthew 16:18-20, found in the next section:
But what are the other words which follow that saying of the Lord’s, with which He commends Peter? “And I,” said He, “say unto thee, that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.” Do you see how the saying of Peter is the faith of the Church? He then must of course be outside the Church, who does not hold the faith of the Church. “And to thee,” saith the Lord, “I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This faith deserved heaven: this faith received the keys of the heavenly kingdom. See what awaits you. You cannot enter the gate to which this key belongs, if you have denied the faith of this key. “And the gate,” He adds, “of hell shall not prevail against thee.” The gates of hell are the belief or rather the misbelief of heretics. For widely as hell is separated from heaven, so widely is he who denies from him who confessed that Christ is God. “Whatsoever,” He proceeds, “thou shalt bind on earth, shalt be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shalt be loosed also in heaven.” The perfect faith of the Apostle somehow is given the power of Deity, that what it should bind or loose on earth, might be bound or loosed in heaven. For you then, who come against the Apostle’s faith, as you see that already you are bound on earth, it only remains that you should know that you are bound also in heaven. But it would take too long to go into details which are so numerous as to make a long and wearisome story, even if they are related with brevity and conciseness.
The careful reader has already seen how the very citation of this section refutes Bonocore’s reading, on more than one level. This is not the voice of modern Rome, to be sure. The “saying of Peter is the faith of the Church.” Not that Peter himself is the rock, but the saying, the confession, is the faith of the Church. Then we are told that “this faith” (the confession that is the focus of this entire section) “deserved heaven: this faith received the keys of the heavenly kingdom” (fides haec claves regni coelestis accepit, PL 50:70A). Now do not forget that Cassian has already indicated that Peter was speaking the faith of all of the Apostles, and hence, the keys were given to the Churches, plural, not just to Peter. If Isaiah 22:20-22 was in view, along with the singular of “key” and the idea of succession, Cassian’s words run contrary to the concept. But we do not need to speculate. Cassian demonstrates his true meaning. He says, “You cannot enter the gate to which this key belongs, if you have denied the faith of this key.” This is hardly the language of Isaiah 22, let alone of papal primacy. But more importantly, please note that Cassian is using the terms “keys” and “key” interchangeably in the text! If it was his purpose to be referring to Isaiah 22 in particular, he would not do this. But obviously, the singular use of key is due to his speaking of the singular confession of Peter as the faith of the church, not due to a reference to Isaiah 22. Cassian does not speak as the modern Roman Catholic concerning the keys here, but instead seems to view the confession of Peter as the central aspect of this passage.
And so I return to my original challenge: where do we find the ancient church speaking as modern Rome on the matter of Isaiah 22:20-22 and Matthew 16:18-20? To this point in his response (and this is the meat of the response: more is to come, but this was Bonocore’s “best shot”), we have not found “one of the best” Roman Catholic apologists to have presented a sound argument upon examination. But we shall examine the rest of his comments in our next installment.