Who Receives the Keys?

From “Sermon 295” (ca. 425)

Saint Peter, the first of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, merited to hear these words, “I say to you that you are Peter,” for he had said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Christ said: “And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” On this rock I will build the faith that you now confess, and on your words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” I will build my Church. For you are Peter, and the name Peter comes from “petra,” the “rock,” and not vice versa. “Peter” comes, therefore, from “petra,” just as “Christian” comes from Christ.

As you are aware, Jesus chose his disciples before his passion and called them apostles; and among these almost everywhere Peter alone deserved to represent the entire Church. And because of that role which he alone had, he merited to hear the words: “To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” For it was not one man who received the keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar as he represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter’s preeminence is clear from the words: “To you I give,” for what was given was given to all. For the fact that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God is clear from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” adding immediately, “whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained.”

Rightly then did the Lord after his resurrection entrust Peter with the feeding of his sheep. Yet he was not the only disciple to merit the feeding of the Lord’s sheep; but Christ in speaking only to one suggests the unity of all; and so he speaks to Peter, because Peter is first among the apostles.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. His feast day is August 26. 


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