There are one billion Roman Catholics worldwide, one billion people who are subject to the Pope’s authority. How, one might ask, did all of this happen? The answer, I believe, is far more complex and untidy than Catholics have argued. First, I will give a brief explanation of what the Catholic position is, and then, second, I will suggest what I think actually took place.
The traditional Catholic understanding is that Jesus said that it was upon Peter the church was to be built (Matt. 16:18−19; see also John 21:15−17; Luke 22:32). Following this, Peter spent a quarter of a century in Rome as its founder and bishop, and his authority was recognized among the earliest churches; this authority was handed down to his successors. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) re-affirmed this understanding. Apostolic authority has been handed on to the apostles’ successors even as Peter’s supreme apostolic power has been handed on to each of his successors in Rome.
The problem with this explanation, however, is that there is no evidence to sustain it.
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