One cannot but help but know that Catholics are told ad nauseum that the Sacred Scripture and many of the Church Fathers taught that the “rock” of Matthew 16 is not Simon-the-human, but rather, his confession of faith, or as some would say, Christ Himself. I am here going to show that in the 4th session of the Vatican Council 1870 on the Primacy of the Pope, it is taught that the Πέτρος of the Apostle Simon is his faith. But first, some preliminary remarks.
(1) While it is mentioned that Christ names Simon “Peter” upon his confessing Him as the Messiah of Israel, we should not forget that Christ had already changed Simon’s name in a different context, quite apart from his confessing Jesus as the Messiah. St. John records after St. Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus: “Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas'” (John 1:42) . In fact, in this context, it was Andrew who had said “We have found the Messiah!” (1:41).
(2) Notice that St. John records the new name of Simon as Cephas. That is the Aramaic language. It is widely believed that Jesus spoke mostly Aramaic, though he certainly would have known Greek and Hebrew (for an indepth and critical study, see Aaron Tresham’s article in the Master’s Seminary Journal). In any case, the biblical authors seem to break from even the Koiné Greek, which is simple enough already, to cite the Aramaic name for Peter (John 1:42, 1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5, Gal 2:9). I argue that this is indicative of the original name-change being in the form of the Aramaic language. And since there isn’t a feminine vs masculine form of Kepha, it would have been pretty straightforward that the Kepha upon which Christ would build His Church was grammatically equivalent to the Kepha which took up the form of Simon’s new name.
(3) If it were the case that our Lord wanted so much to make a distinction between the πέτρᾳ of Peter’s confession and the Πέτρος of Simon-the-man, then why even make the name change in the first place? It would seem to be attributing a redundancy to our Lord. At the very least, something about the “rock” upon which the Church is built is associated with the man Peter so much that re-naming him after this fashion is deemed appropriate.
(4) The Catholic Church does not teach that the rocky-ness of the Apostle Simon was his flesh and blood, but rather the very supernatural faith that was infused to make for the worthy confession. However, we would not separate the two (Simon-the-man and his faith) since both interact together in unison to make for a support to the Christian church.
Now, the 4th Session, 2nd Chapter, and 3rd paragraph of Vatican I, we read :
“Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received.”
Now, what does the text of St. Matthew’s gospel-account say that Peter was granted? Was it not his faith to make the good confession? I say yes.
In the 4th Chapter, 2nd Paragraph, the Council quotes the Formula of Hormisdas from the 6th century (A.D. 519):
“The first condition of salvation is to maintain the rule of the true faith. And since that saying of our lord Jesus Christ, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church , cannot fail of its effect, the words spoken are confirmed by their consequences. For in the apostolic see the catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor”
Clearly, this statement is identifying the “rock” with the “true faith“, since the whole import is that if the first condition of salvation is keeping the right-faith, then the entire Church (i.e. the community of salvation) is built upon that faith.
Ironically, this concurs with the many statements of the most pro-Papal Pope’s throughout the history of early Christianity. I will mention a few:
“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See, said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom of heaven from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who, even to this time, and always, [in perpetuity] lives and judges in his successors. Our holy and most blessed Pope Celestine the bishop is according to due order his successor and holds his place” (Council of Ephesus 431)
“There is a further reason for our celebration: not only the Apostolic but also the episcopal dignity of the most blessed Peter, who does not cease to preside over his See and obtains an abiding partnership with the Eternal Priest [Christ]. For the stability [rockyness] which the rock himself was given by that Rock, Jesus Christ, he conveyed also to his successors…” (Pope Leo, Sermon #5 – AD 450)
“We exhort you [Eutychios], honorable brother, that you obediently listen to what has been written by the blessed Pope of the city of Rome, since blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own See, offers the truth of the faith to those who seek. For we, in our zeal for peace and faith, cannot decide questions of faith apart from the consent of the bishop of Rome..” (St. Peter Chrysologus, Ad Eutychem, 449 AD)
““Resting on Peter’s protection, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned aside from the way of truth to any part of error, and her authority has always been faithfully followed and embraced as that of the prince of the Apostles by the whole Catholic Church and all Councils, and by all the venerable Fathers who embraced her doctrine…..and she [the Roman church], by the grace of almighty God, will be proved never to have wandered from the path of apostolic tradition, nor to have succumbed to the novelties of heretics; but even as in the beginning of the Christian faith she received it from her founders, the princes of the Apostles of Christ, so she remains unspotted to the end, according to the divine promise of our Lord and Savior Himself…which He spoke to the prince of His apostles in the holy Gospels: ‘Peter, Peter, says He, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as he who sifts wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that they faith fail not, and thou one day being converted, strengthen thy brethren’. Let your clemency [Emperor Constantine] therefore consider that the Lord and Savior of all, to whom faith belongs, who promised that the faith of Peter should not fail, admonished him to confirm his brethren; and it is known to all men that the Apostolic Pontiffs [of Rome], predecessors of my littleness, have always done this with confidence…” (Letter of Pope St. Agatho to the Byzantine Emperor & Council of Constantinople III – AD 681)
Thus, it is clear that Simon the man is nothing without, as the Vatican Council says, the rock-like strength he was granted.