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The Roman Catholic Church asserts that the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the legitimate successor of the apostle Peter, the "rock" upon whom the Lord Jesus Christ founded his Church, according to its interpretation of Matt. 16:18:

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. NABRE

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope. §881

Are there any writings of the early Church fathers that identify the apostle Peter as "the rock" upon which Christ founded his Church?

Moreover, if these writings do identify the apostle Peter as the rock upon which the Lord Jesus Christ founded his Church, does his identity as the rock have any significance in regards to identifying Christ's true Church?

That is, since the Roman Catholic Church identifies the Bishop of Rome as the successor of the apostle Peter (who they identify as the rock), do any of the writings of the early Church fathers identify the church which the bishop of Rome oversees (i.e., the Roman Catholic Church) as the same church which was founded upon the apostle Peter?

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The source of this tradition is the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, which I reprint in the context of Matthew 16:13-18, to allow a comparison with Mark's slightly earlier version ofthe same event:

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi 9 he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

John Dominic Crossan says, in The Birth of Christianity, page 109, that there is a fairly massive (but by no means total) consensus of contemporary critical scholarship holds that much of Matthew is copied from Mark's Gospel, but when we look at Mark 8:27-30, there is no mention of Peter as the rock, leaving open the suspicion that this is a literary elaboration on the part of Matthew's author. The First and Second Epistles of Peter make no mention of this commendation, although the authors make every effort to demonstrate Peter's authority and any reference to Jesus nominating Peter as the rock on which he would build his church would add greatly to the authority of the epistles' message. 1 Corinthians 10:4 says that Jesus is the rock.

William Webster provides a convenient analysis of the statements of some of the Church Fathers (Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian and Eusebius) on the meaning of Matthew 16:18, with my summary below:-

Tertullian was the first of the Western fathers to comment on Matthew 16. In one of his writings Tertullian identifies the rock with the person of Peter on which the Church would be built:

Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the ‘rock on which the church should be built’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and earth?

Tertullian qualified this as to every Church akin to Peter, not simply the Roman church.

Origen was the first Church Father to give a detailed exposition of the meaning of the rock of Matthew 16:18, but he did not believe that Peter alone was the rock to which Jesus referred:

And if we too have said like Peter, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter ['rock'], and to us there might be said by the Word, ‘Thou art Peter’ ... For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock.

Cyprian clearly says that Peter is the rock. But he also said (Treat V, On the Unity of the Church),

Certainly the other Apostles also were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship both of honour and power ...

In 393 CE, Jerome said in Against Jovinianus 1:26,

But you say, [Matthew 16:18] the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.

Jerome appears to be disputing Jovinianus' assertion that the Church was founded upon Peter, saying that elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles.

Jerome also says (Letters 15:2 [396 CE]),

As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built!

In his communication with Damasus, Jerome only says that the chair of Peter is the rock on which the church is built, although we can read into this that Peter himself is the rock. If there is any contradiction between this and the previous citation, it may reflect the intended recipient of each work. On the one hand, Jovinianus was an opponent whom Jerome wanted to defeat in argument, while Damasus was Jerome's spiritual leader and employer.

Augustine is quoted as saying (Letters 53:1:2),

If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement. ... In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found.

Augustine was disputing the truth of Donatist teachings by 'demonstrating' that they had no rightful claim to apostolic succession.

In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, the fourth-century Church Father, states:

Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which (Church) the gates of hell shall not prevail...

Here, the historian clearly states that the Church of Christ is built upon the apostle Peter, but he does not mention any successors of the apostle or the transfer of apostolic authority. But in his Commentary on Psalms, Eusebius chose instead to say that Jesus is the rock:

‘The rock, moreover, was Christ.’ For, as the Apostle indicates with these words: ‘No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.’ There, Eusebius identifies the “rock” with Jesus.

John W. O’Malley, S.J. says in A History of the Popes, page 21, that Pope Stephen (254-257) seems to have been the first pope to find a basis for papal primacy over other churches in Matthew's “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

Matthew consistently places Peter in a position above that of the other apostles, clearly intending him to be the leading apostle, - for example, it is only Peter who, in this gospel, can even hope to walk on water. A second-century tradition is that Peter went to Rome and led the church there, before being executed by Nero, thus placing Rome in a symbolically superior position to the other churches. When Pope Stephen relied on Mathhew's 'rock on which Jesus will build his church' as the further basis for papal supremacy, the stage was set for future popes to claim absolute leadership. The eastern churches were willing to accept the bishop of Rome as symbolically their superior, but otherwise he was one of equals (with the patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria). Inevitably, this led to the Great Schism of 1054.

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    Nearly all New Testament scholars believe that much of Matthew's Gospel is copied from Mark's Gospel, but when we look at Mark 8:27- ... This paragraph appears to have no relevance to the question. – user13992 Feb 1 '15 at 23:07
  • @FMS I wrongly assumed that the link was clear without further explanation, so I have added some text to address this. Of course, my point was that if the author of Matthew knew about Peter's declaration from Mark's Gospel, then any elaboration from Mark might not be historical, which should be taken into account when evaluating the reliability of the tradition. – Dick Harfield Feb 3 '15 at 21:34
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    Besides @FMS's salient comment about their relevance (this is a question about what arguments the church fathers used, not your conclusions about the source material they may have started with), but the statement itself is misleading. While many scholars do see Mark as a source for some of the material it is not true that "nearly all believe much of it to be copied", and even less true is the implication that nearly all scholars don't believe Matthew's gospel represents a historical account. Your personal favorite scholars may think that but such sweeping statements are unjustified. – Caleb Oct 13 '15 at 7:58
  • @Caleb I had overlooked that you (and perhaps other readers) were unaware that most critical scholars believe that Matthew contains approximately 90 per cent of the text from Mark's Gospel. I have corrected this oversight by adding a citation. You may of course choose not to believe this citation, and of course I could cite others, but you would probably call all of them "Your personal favorite scholars" so hopefully I can leave it at that. Wikipedia: "Most scholars ascribe this to documentary dependence." – Dick Harfield Oct 13 '15 at 19:55
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    I'm not arguing against documentary dependence. I'm arguing that it does not follow from documentary dependence that Matthew just made the rest of his text up as you imply. Also I don't find it helpful to be patronized as if I was unaware of the issues surrounding the synoptic problem; I commented on this post because I believe your representation of the state of affairs to be factually inaccurate —better in the recent edit since it's at least apparent where you're drawing from but still inaccurate— in the way you paint a one sided big picture that is a non-sequitur from your premises. – Caleb Oct 15 '15 at 7:09
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This is one of those issues where Catholic sources will tend to say the Fathers obviously called Peter the foundation of the Church (and supply quotes to prove it) and Protestant sources will tend to say they obviously did not (and likewise supply quotes to prove it). To get the full picture, you need to look at sources from both sides of the debate.

An ancient debate

It has been said that "few texts have been the occasion for the spilling of more ink than Matthew 16:17-19."1 Catholics, naturally, see the text as proof of the legitimacy of the papacy, while Protestants the verse as establishing the Church under the join authority of all the Apostles or via Jesus' own authority. One might think this is mostly a recent debate, but in fact debate about the meaning of this verse stretches back to the early days of the Church, long before any schisms arose.

The antiquity of this debate is made clear in a single passage by Augustine. In his final work, Retratations ("Re-treatments"; 428) Augustine wrote:2

In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: "On him as on a rock the Church was built." This idea is also expressed in song by the voice of many in the verse of the most blessed Ambrose where he says about the crowing of the cock: "At its crowing he, this rock of the Church, washed away his guilt." But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church," that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received "the keys of the kingdom of heaven." For, "Thou art Peter" and not "Thou art the rock" was said to him. But "the rock was Christ," in confessing whom as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter. But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable.

From this passage is it clear that at different points in his life, Augustine interpreted Matthew 16:18 as establishing Peter as the founder of the church, but at other times he believed the "rock" in view was actually Jesus, not Peter. As we look at other Church Fathers, we will see that both of these options are supported by multiple Fathers. In the end, Augustine didn't have a strong preference and left it up to the reader to decide for him or herself.

Tertullian

Tertullian (c. 160-240) wrote about the meaning of Peter and the Rock on several occasions. In Scorpiace ("Antidote for the Scorpion's Sting", c. 210), he wrote:3

For though you think heaven still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which every one who has been here put to the question, and also made confession [of faith], will carry with him.

From this passage, Tertullian appears to be saying that the "keys" to the Church were passed on from Peter to the Church, which certainly could be read as an argument for apostolic succession and the papacy. Likewise, in De pudicitia ("On Modesty", c. 220), he wrote that "the Church" has the authority to forgive sins and as justification he writes:

what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? On you, He says, will I build My Church; and, I will give to you the keys, not to the Church; and, Whatsoever you shall have loosed or bound, not what they shall have loosed or bound. For so withal the result teaches. In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key

He then goes on to describe a couple other ways in which Peter was primary: He was the first to "unbar" the entrance to heaven through baptism; and, he was the first to open the Gospel message to the Gentiles. As such, it is not hard to read this passage in support of papal succession. However, Tertullian concludes the passage by explaining what "the Church" is and says it is "properly and principally, the Spirit Himself" adding that any gathering of believers counts. He concludes:

And accordingly the Church, it is true, will forgive sins: but (it will be) the Church of the Spirit, by means of a spiritual man; not the Church which consists of a number of bishops.

which is certainly hard to read in a manner that would allow special authority for the papacy.

Tertullian clearly did believe in apostolic succession, for in De praescriptione haereticorum ("Prescription against Heretics", c. 200) he writes:5

For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies)

However, there is no indication in this passage that the Church of Rome has a special authority. It certainly seems like he views all churches founded by apostles as equal.

It appears that Tertullian viewed Matthew 16:17-9 as conferring a special authority on to Peter. And he clearly believes in apostolic succession. However, if he believed that the Church of Rome, founded by Peter, received special authority, he did not make that clear.

Pseudo-Clementine

The Epistle of Clement to James, supposedly a letter from Clement I (pope 92-99), supports the idea of papal succession through Peter. In truth in was not written by Clement, but rather an unknown writer around 220 AD. The fact that it is pseudographical is certainly problematic for doctrinal purposes and such, but does not mean the attitude of the writer did not reflect a common attitude of his day. "Clement" writes:6

Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon, who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus Himself, with His truthful mouth, named Peter, the first-fruits of our Lord, the first of the apostles; ... But about that time, when he was about to die, the brethren being assembled together, he suddenly seized my hand, and rose up, and said in presence of the church: "Hear me, brethren and fellow-servants. Since, as I have been taught by the Lord and Teacher Jesus Christ, whose apostle I am, the day of my death is approaching, I lay hands upon this Clement as your bishop; and to him I entrust my chair of discourse

While the writer of this letter does not quote Matthew 16:18 directly, he perhaps alludes to it and certainly sees Peter as the foundation of the Church. Furthermore, he clearly believes in a special authority for the Church of Rome passed from Peter to Clement. The pseudographical nature of the letter does raise questions as to how mainstream the belief was at the time (people often wrote pseudographically when they wanted to elevate the legitimacy of a minority position), but there are other possible motives for the pseudography (e.g. to elevate the importance of Clement), so the belief may well have been mainstream. At minimum, the document establishes that the idea of papal succession founded on Peter began prior to 220 AD.

Similarly, it the Clementine Homilies, which may or may not have been written by the same hand, into Peter's mouth is put the claim to be the foundation of the church:7

For in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church, you now stand.

Origen

In his extensive commentary on Matthew (c. 250), Origen (c. 185-255) comments on the rock passage a couple times. In book 13, he writes:8

in the case of Peter, this saying "I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens," has been specially set before the words, "And what things soever you shall bind on earth," etc. And, indeed, if we were to attend carefully to the evangelical writings, we would also find here, and in relation to those things which seem to be common to Peter and those who have thrice admonished the brethren, a great difference and a pre-eminence in the things said to Peter, compared with the second class. For it is no small difference that Peter received the keys not of one heaven but of more

As such, it appears that he does see a special authority assigned to Peter. However, on the "rock" specifically he writes that every believer can "become a Peter" upon which the Church is built. He further argues:9

But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them? ... [anyone who professes belief] will obtain the things that were spoken according to the letter of the Gospel to that Peter, but, as the spirit of the Gospel teaches, to every one who becomes such as that Peter was. For all bear the surname of rock who are the imitators of Christ, that is, of the spiritual rock which followed those who are being saved, that they may drink from it the spiritual draught. But these bear the surname of the rock just as Christ does.

It seems pretty clear that Origen believes the church is not founded on the authority of Peter alone, but on all the Apostles. Furthermore, the promise passes not to a specific successor, but rather to all believers. All become the "rocks" on which the church stands.

Cyprian

Cyprian (c. 200-260) perhaps offers one of the most favorable statement for the Catholic position of papal primacy. In the first edition of De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate ("On the Unity of the Catholic Church", c. 250), he comments on Matthew 16:17-19, writing:10

On [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep, and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair, and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?"

As written this passage seems to be a clear endorsement of not only Peter as the founder of the church, but also a special authority for his successors. The picture is complicated a bit, however, because Cyprian released a second edition of De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate in which he revised this passage:10

Upon [Peter], being one, [Jesus] builds His Church, and although after His resurrection He bestows equal power upon all the Apostles... that He might display unity, He established by His authority the origin of the same unity as beginning from one. Surely the rest of the Apostles also were that which Peter was, endowed with an equal partnership of office and of power, but the beginning proceeds from unity, that the Church of Christ may be shown to be one.

Overall the gist of the passage is the same - all the Apostle had equal authority, but the Church was founded upon Peter specifically - but the language is considerably softened. Why did Cyprian make this change? A Protestant will, of course, say it was because the passage conveyed a higher degree of authority for Rome than Cyprian actually intended. However, this is not necessarily the case. In addition to changing the language, Cyprian significantly expanded the passage. It is possible that he was making the same argument in both cases - that Rome was given a special authority for the sake of Church unity - and was simply making it more clear that the Church at Rome wasn't "better", but rather only had a special (but equal) position.

Elsewhere (Epistle 39, c. 253), Cyprian wrote:11

There is one God, and Christ is one, and there is one Church, and one chair founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord. Another altar cannot be constituted nor a new priesthood be made, except the one altar and the one priesthood.

Given that we know Cyprian does equate the rock to Peter, it seems very likely that he means what he says in the first version of De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate. That is, that the Church at Rome does have a special authority via its foundation by Peter.

Firmilian

In a letter to Cyprian (c. 253), Firmilian (? - 270) uses Matthew 16:18-9 to say that Peter was given a unique authority to forgive sins, which through him was inherited by the Church:12

But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

On the surface, this appears to establish papal authority and is sometimes quoted by Catholics as doing so. However, Firmilian continues:

And again, in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the apostles alone, saying, Receive the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins you remit they are remitted unto them, and whose soever sins you retain they are retained. Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination.

which casts doubt on whether he believed Peter's special authority was passed on to his successors specifically, as opposed to the Church as a whole. His position is made clear when, a bit later in the letter, he writes:

And in this respect I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, should introduce many other rocks and establish new buildings of many churches; maintaining that there is baptism in them by his authority... Nor does he understand that the truth of the Christian Rock is overshadowed, and in some measure abolished, by him when he thus betrays and deserts unity.

It seems the letter was written in response to a letter by Pope Stephen I in which he argued that repentant heretics did not need to be (re-)baptized, but should be freely admitted to the Church. Apparently, Stephen claimed authority to decide such matters based on a special authority for his office, handing down through Peter. While Firmilian agrees that Peter was given a special position, he evidently strongly disagrees that this authority has been passed to Stephen in such a way that allows him to establish doctrine.

Cyril

In a homily around the year 350, Cyril (c. 313-386) described the heretic Simon Magus making trouble in Rome and then remarked:

As the delusion was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right

and then quotes Matthew 16:19 as justification for Peter's authority:13

For Peter was there, who carries the keys of heaven: and nothing wonderful, for Paul was there, who was caught up to the third heaven, and into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful far a man to utter.

From this passage, we can conclude that Cyril considered Peter (jointly with Paul) to be the first "ruler" of the Church and can place him at Rome. It is reasonable to think that Cyril was alluding to/supporting the idea of the papacy here, although as near as I can tell he did not comment directly on apostolic succession anywhere in his writings.

Ephraim

Writing in poetic form (c. 350; commonly described as a homily although not necessarily a homily in the modern term), Ephraim (c. 305-373) writes the following (presumably coming from Jesus' mouth):14

Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on Earth a Church for me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which my teaching flows; you are the chief of my disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the firstborn in my institution so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!

Although it is not explicit, the most natural reading of this passage is that Peter is the first leader of the Church and is given a special authority. Furthermore, it is natural to see Ephraim as saying that authority is then passed on through a line of succession ("heirs").

Optatus

In his untitled treatise against Donatism (c. 370), Optatus (?-387) repeatedly draws on Matthew 16:17-19 to establish the legitimacy of the papal teachings and the illegitimacy of Donatist anti-popes. For example:13

gates against which we read that Peter received the saving Keys - Peter, that is to say, the first of our line, to whom it was said by Christ: 'To thee will I give the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,' and these keys 'the gates of Hell shall not overcome.'

How is it, then, that you strive to usurp for yourselves the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, you who, with your arguments, and audacious sacrilege, war against the Chair of Peter?

In the same work, he writes:

You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim - each for himself - separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner. Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit.

The word translated "Cephas" here is actually κεφαλή (kephale, literally "head"), hence Optatus is making a play on words similar to (but different from) Jesus' "rock/Peter". He doesn't reference the "rock" specifically anywhere in his work, but does reference the surrounding context - as illustrated above - and makes explicit reference to Peter conferring a special authority on the Church at Rome. (Optatus always explicitly endorses papal succession and includes a list of the popes, starting at Peter and continuing to his day.)

Ambrose

As we have already seen (in Augustine's commentary), Ambrose (c. 340-397) interpreted the rock passage as conferring a special authority on Peter. In Exposition of the Christian Faith (c. 380), he wrote:16

Could He not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on His own authority, He gave the kingdom, whom He called the Rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church?

And in Enarrationes in xii. Psalmos Davidicos ("Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David"), he wrote:

This is that Peter to whom Christ said, ' Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.' Therefore, where Peter is, there is the Church;

In isolation, these passages seem to suggest that Ambrose not only viewed Peter as having a special position in the Church, but arguably also as supporting papal succession on this basis. However, his view was a bit more complicated than that as can to seen by, for example in Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam ("Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke") he writes:17

Christ is the rock, for ‘they drank of the same spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ’; also He denied not to His disciple the grace of this name; that he should be Peter, because he has from the rock the solidity of constancy, the firmness of faith. Make an effort, therefore, to be a rock! Do not seek the rock outside of yourself, but within yourself! Your rock is your deed, your rock is your mind. Upon this rock your house is built. Your rock is your faith, and faith is the foundation of the Church. If you are a rock, you will be in the Church, because the Church is on a rock. If you are in the Church the gates of hell will not prevail against you...He who has conquered the flesh is a foundation of the Church; and if he cannot equal Peter, he can imitate him.

In this passage, he seems to be saying Jesus is the "true Rock" on which the Church is founded and Peter's "rockship" is available to all believers, not just the pope.

Conclusion

There is sufficient evidence within the writers of the Church Fathers to find an early basis for the idea that "on this rock I will build my church" gives Peter a special position within Church history. There is also evidence that some Church Fathers saw this passage as a justification for a special place for the Bishop of Rome; that is, as a basis for papal authority. In some cases, the evidence is pretty clear, but in many cases it is ambiguous, and is some cases the writings appear to argue against the idea. Thus, no firm conclusion can be drawn about a collective teaching of the Church Fathers. Perhaps the most accurate statement would be that opinion was mixed as to whether Jesus started a special office via Peter.

It seems likely that the debate about what Jesus meant exactly by "on this rock I will build my church," which began in antiquity, will continue indefinitely. Neither those who believe Peter passed on a special authority to the Church at Rome nor those that deny it have a conclusive case in the writings of the Fathers.


References

1 "Peter the Rock" by Tim Staples at Catholic Answers

2 The Retractions (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 60) by Saint Augustine

3 Scorpiace by Tertullian at Tertullian.org

4 On Modesty by Tertullian at New Advent

5 Prescription against Heretics by Tertullian at New Advent

6 *Epistle of Clement to James at Tertullian.org

7 "Homily 17 at New Advent

8 Commentary on Matthew, Book XIII by Origen at New Advent

9 Commentary on Matthew, Book XII by Origen at New Advent

10 "The Unity of the catholic Church in The Faith of the Early Fathers by W. A. Jurgens

11 Epistle 39 by Cyprian at New Advent

12 Epistle 74 by Firmilian at New Advent

13 Catechetical Lecture 6 by Cyril at New Advent

14 "Homilies" in The Faith of the Early Fathers by W. A. Jurgens

15 Against the Donatists by Optatus at Tertullian.org

16 *Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book IV by Ambrose at New Advent

17 *A Commentary, by Writers of the First Five Centuries, on the Place of St. Peter in the New Testament by J. Waterworth

  • I plan to add quotes (and analysis) of a couple more Church Fathers tomorrow, but the basic conclusion is the same: most Church Fathers saw Peter as having a special position, often citing the "rock" passage, but their support for the idea of papal succession was mixed. – ThaddeusB Oct 9 '15 at 3:44
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    You don't really need to worry about explaining the opposing arguments. The question only asked for the supporting arguments. Just trying to save you some time. – user900 Oct 9 '15 at 4:18
  • More examples could be added, but I think these should be sufficient unless anyone has a request for something specific, in which case I'll be happy to comply. – ThaddeusB Oct 9 '15 at 20:17
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Origen-

"Considered that this was a very great favor to Peter on the Part of Jesus, as having adjudged him greater than the other disciples"

also

"There is one baptism and one Holy Ghost, and one Church founded by Christ our Lord upon Peter, for (or from) an original and principle of Unity."

and

"To the seven children ther is evedently conjoined thier mother, the origin and root, which afterwards bare seven churches, herself having been founded fist and alone, by the voice of the Lord, upon Peter"

I add this to the previous answers because often times the intent of the early fathers are picked clean from thier purpose. There is one Church of that fact ther can only be deniel of the unity that was establish and continues in orthodoxy.

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    This doesn't really seem to address the question asked, which was what the Church Fathers said about Matthew 16:18 specifically. – ThaddeusB Oct 10 '15 at 1:14

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