The Papacy: The Petrine Ministry in the Early Church (3 of 3)


Students will understand that after Jesus created a special Petrine ministry to lead and unify His Church (demonstrated in lesson two) He then used that ministry to secure the unity-in-truth of the early Christian Church, through its many struggles and difficulties.

The Scripture References - to be read aloud: Acts 2:14-41; Acts 15:1-31; John 17:1-23.

Review last lesson:


We discussed last time how Jesus intended Peter (and those who would be appointed to carry on Peter's ministry) to be the leading shepherd and unifying rock of the Church community.

I. How did Peter carry out his role after Christ's departure to heaven? What does this teach us about the role of the Pope today?

A. We see Peter in the New Testament as first-in-rank among the apostles.

B. Peter was not, however, an"absolute monarch" or "dictator" of the early Church.

After all, popes are not sinless; they can fall short in their conduct and commit sins as any other Christian. But by reason of his office, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, he is still the "rock" and "shepherd" of the Church.

St. Paul once described St. John and St. James as "pillars" of the Church alongside Peter (Gal. 2:9).

In one place the New Testament says that Peter and Paul were "sent" by the other apostles to Samaria on a mission (Acts 8:14) how can a pope be "sent" somewhere by his brother bishops?

At the general council in Jerusalem Peter did not seem to rule the Church, wielding papal authority (Acts 15:1-31).

Again, all this is evidence that in the NT, St. Peter is held to be, and behaves as, the chief Pastor and Rock of unity of the Christian community.

Peter was martyred in Rome under the Emperor Nero around 63 A.D. as attested to by numerous ancient authors (e.g., Tertullian, Peter of Alexandria, and Eusebius) and the remnants of his tomb have been found in Rome.

II. What was the attitude of the early Christians toward the ministry of the bishops of Rome, who claimed to carry on St. Peter's role.

Let us do an investigation, and pile up the evidence. Listen very carefully to each of the following four historical events – lets see what we can learn from them....

1. St. Clement was a pope near the end of the first century (d. ca. 96 A.D.). He had sat at the feet of the apostles in his youth, and according to one of his contemporaries, he "still had the apostles' teachings ringing in his ears".

2. St. Irenaeus of Lyons had learned the Catholic faith from St. Polycarp, a man who had known the apostle John personally. St. Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons, France, in the mid-2nd century A.D.

3. Pope St. Leo the Great (mid-5th century)

4. Conflict with the Emperor. At the very end of the 5th century, the Byzantine Emperor (in Constantinople) tried to settle a theological controversy in the Church himself, by issuing an imperial edict requiring everyone in the Empire to accept his viewpoint.

These examples could be multiplied...

Beyond any reasonable doubt, in the early Church the Bishop of Rome, the Pope was seen as and acted as the Church's Rock and leading Shepherd, the center of unity, truth, and stability for the world wide Church.

Is this not an answer to the prayer that Jesus prayed just before His arrest, agony, and passion? Read together John 17:1-13. Why did He offer this prayer? (answer: "that they all may be one..."). Why did Jesus think it was so important that his followers be united in "love" and "truth"? (answer: that the world may believe...").

Teaching Note

Have a large map of the Mediterranean area of the world on display during this lesson. Students should be familiar with the location of places such as Rome, Corinth, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, Lyons, and other cities mentioned in this lesson – and with the geographical division between the Western and Byzantine Empires. Some familiarity with this geography is essential in order to understand the extraordinary reach of papal authority even in ancient times.

The Papacy

The Papacy: An Introduction (1 of 3)
The Papacy: The Ministry of St. Peter in the New Testament (2 of 3)
The Papacy: The Petrine Ministry in the Early Church (3 of 3)




Robert Stackpole, S.T.D. "The Papacy: The Petrine Ministry in the Early Church (3 of 3)." Catholic Education Resource Center.

This lesson plan may be reproduced and distributed by any means as long as credit is given to the original author and to the Catholic Education Resource Center.


Robert Stackpole is an Associate Professor at Redeemer Pacific College in Langley, British Columbia where he also seres as Academic Coordinator. An American by birth, Robert Stackpole earned a B.A. in History from Williams College in Massachusetts, and a Masters degree in Theology from Oxford University in England. Robert was an ordained Anglican pastor before becoming a Catholic in 1994. After his conversion, he married a Catholic Canadian, and they went to Rome together, where Robert obtained a Doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum). Upon returning to North America, in 1997 he began work as the Research Director, and later Director, of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy based in Stockbridge Massachusetts, a position that he still holds. In that capacity, he has been a speaker at many conferences, and the author of numerous journal articles and books on the Divine Mercy message and devotion, including Jesus, Mercy, Mercy Incarnate (Marian Press, 2000) and Divine Mercy, A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press, 2008), as well as St. Peter Lives in Rome: An Anglican Discovers in the Ministry of the Pope (Marian Press, 2005), as well as the editor of Pillars of Fire in my Soul: The Spirituatlity of St. Faustina (Marian Press, 2003). At present he is the author of the Divine Mercy Q&A course that regularly appears on the principal divine Mercy website every Wednesday at

Copyright © 2001 The Catholic Education Resource Center