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Matthew 16:19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

I recently read an article in which the Roman Catholic author states,

In the Catholic Church’s understanding, the office of “binding and loosing” which was given to Peter was also assigned to the whole college of apostles who in turn commission their assistants in ministry to do likewise.

If it is understood that Jesus was talking to Peter, by what rationale or authority can this "office" be passed on from him to others?

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1 Answer 1

Christ gave St. Peter the "power of the keys" to bind or loose.

Addressing the question of "Whether priests alone have the keys?," St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

There are two kinds of key. One reaches to heaven itself directly, by remitting sin and thus removing the obstacles to the entrance into heaven; and this is called the key of "order." Priests alone have this key, because they alone are ordained for the people in the things which appertain to God directly. The other key reaches to heaven, not directly but through the medium of the Church Militant. By this key a man goes to heaven, since, by its means, a man is shut out from or admitted to the fellowship of the Church Militant, by excommunication or absolution. This is called the key of "jurisdiction" in the external court, wherefore even those who are not priests can have this key, e.g. archdeacons, bishops elect, and others who can excommunicate. But it is not properly called a key of heaven, but a disposition thereto.

Addressing the question of "Whether holy men who are not priests have the keys?," St. Thomas explains why only those men ordained to the priesthood have the power of the keys:

There is this difference between a principal and an instrumental agent, that the latter does not produce, in the effect, its own likeness, but the likeness of the principal agent, whereas the principal agent produces its own likeness. Consequently a thing becomes a principal agent through having a form, which it can reproduce in another, whereas an instrumental agent is not constituted thus, but through being applied by the principal agent in order to produce a certain effect. Since therefore in the act of the keys the principal agent by authority is Christ as God, and by merit is Christ as man, it follows that on account of the very fulness of Divine goodness in Him, and of the perfection of His grace, He is competent to exercise the act of the keys. But another man is not competent to exercise this act as principal agent, since neither can he give another man grace whereby sins are remitted, nor can he merit sufficiently, so that he is nothing more than an instrumental agent. Consequently the recipient of the effect of the keys, is likened, not to the one who uses the keys, but to Christ. Therefore, no matter how much grace a man may have, he cannot produce the effect of the keys, unless he be appointed to that purpose by receiving [holy] orders [(the priesthood)].

Thus, your question really amounts to why St. Peter and his successors, the popes, are necessary for there to be a valid priesthood.

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For us non-Catholics, what St. Thomas are you talking about and where are the quotes from? – gideon marx May 21 '14 at 7:31
@gideonmarx It's St Thomas Aquinas and the quotes are from his Summa Theologica (as the links indicate, although an explicit reference would indeed be good). – Andrew Leach May 21 '14 at 10:17
@Geremia That is good answer and I appreciate it. However, if I understand it correctly, it is arguing against any apostolic succession at all (I must be misunderstanding this because...). Certainly this isn't the belief of the RC church. I do not see how it addresses the question of how "binding and loosing" is authoritatively passed between people. Would you mind elaborating? Thanks. – Jeff May 21 '14 at 13:58
@Jeff: It comes with being ordained to the priesthood. – Geremia May 21 '14 at 15:00
With the edits it has become a nice answer (even without explicit reference) and though I might strongly disagree I learnt something (I have a lot of time for Thomas Aquinas) and appreciate your time and effort. Thank you. – gideon marx May 21 '14 at 16:53

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