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Historian Finds New Evidence to Prove Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church’s Initial Ordination was IllegitimateОд Ромејац,
Shumylo concludes that initial ordinations of the UAOC hierarchy were, unfortunately, conducted by an imposter without the Apostolic succession.
On January 5-6, 2019, the official delegation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) at the ceremony of the Tomos bestowal at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul included Metropolitan Andriy Abramchuk of Galicia who concelebrated with Patriarch Bartholomew and the other Phanar bishops. In 1990, the Metropolitan was ordained by the notorious Victor (Vikenty) Chekalin, a pedophile and swindler who now serves a sentence in Australian jail for document forgery and fraud. At the anniversary of the Tomos bestowal this year, Patriarch Bartholomew led a divine service together with the now former Primate of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC, the one “restored” by Vikenty Chekalin) Makary Maletich. The latter was ordained by the hierarchs of the “Chekalin succession” – Dimitry Yarema, Ihor Isichenko and the former Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) bishop Methodius Kudryakov. Part of UAOC bishops who in 2018 joined the OCU also got to the “Chekalin succession” through priestly and episcopal consecrations from Andriy Abramchuk, Makary Maletich and others. Even within the OCU the attitude toward this succession is ambiguous.
Taking into consideration the necessity of discussing the issue of Apostolic succession of this part of the OCU hierarchy, Serhii Shumylo, Director of the International Institute of the Athonite Legacy in Ukraine, presented his new report titled “The self-avowed “bishop” Vikenty Chekalin and his participation in the first UAOC ordinations in March of 1990”. With the blessing of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia this work was submitted to the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The documents, evidence and facts presented in the study – including the ones from previously unknown archival sources – confirm that the first UAOC ordination on March 31, 1990 in Mikhailevychi village in Lviv Oblast was carried out by only two persons: Ioann Bodnarchuk, defrocked on November 13, 1989 because of his voluntary secession from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and fraudster Victor Chekalin. Besides, according to the published certificate, this “ordination” was led by Chekalin, who has never been ordained not only as a bishop but even monk or priest.
In his research, Shumylo also studies publications that appeared at the Ukrainian site Cerkvarium.org by Dmytro Horevoy and Greek sites Phanarion.blogspot.com and Romfea.gr in August-September 2019, which stated that the bishopric ordination of Vikenty Chekalin was authentic.
Studying various versions of Chekalin’s admission to monastic vows and ordination, and attempting to understand the motives of the main parties, the historian compares the remembrance of Archbishop Eulogius Smirnov, Abbot of Danilov Monastery in Moscow, and archival documents and correspondence according to which, Chekalin wasn’t even ordained as a monk.
Also compared are the testimonies by Ioann Bodnarchuk and Victor Chekalin of various periods concerning the latter’s bishopric ordination. Thus, Chekalin’s own testimony before the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) Synod in July 1989 – January 1990 shows that Ioann Bodnarchuk didn’t take part in his ordination. The other two bishops who allegedly ordained Chekalin – Metropolitan Alexei Konoplev of Kalinin and Kashin and bishop of the Catacomb Church Vladimir Abramov – had already passed away by that moment and no confirmation of their participation in the ordination was found.
As for the first UAOC ordination of 31 March 1990, it should be mentioned that the signature of Archbishop Varlaam (Ilyushchenko) of Simferopol and Crimea of the ROC was added to Vasyl Bodnarchuk’s Certificate of Ordination after the Archbishop’s death. According to the written testimonies of Archbishop Varlaam’s driver and archdeacon, the hierarch didn’t leave his diocese and held divine services in the Simferopol Cathedral on that day. Moreover, being a member of the ROC Synod, Varlaam personally signed the Moscow Synod’s resolution of November 14, 1989 on depriving Ioann Bodnarchuk of his episcopal rank, and “no way could secretly ordain new bishops with him four months later,” Shumylo writes. This situation, with archival documents signed by Ioann Bodnarchuk, was covered in detail in a piece by Fr. Rostislav Yarema (an English translation was published by the Orthodox Cognate PAGE).
Thus, Shumylo concludes that initial ordinations of the UAOC hierarchy were, unfortunately, conducted by an imposter without the Apostolic succession. This was the violation of the first Apostolic Canon (“Let a bishop be ordained by two or three bishops”). The historian reminds that both Mstyslav Skrypnyk and Filaret Denisenko didn’t recognize the authenticity of the ordinations of the “Chekalin succession” hierarchs. However, many of those ordained this way were convinced in the legitimacy of their dignity and refused to be reordained, so the “Chekalin succession” still partly exists in the UAOC and UOC-KP. And in that status, many of the clergymen and hierarchs were accepted into communion by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Considering that copies of the Certificate of Ordination and the evidence mentioned in the media were provided to the Phanar and could become a basis for the Patriarchate Synod to recognize in October 2018 the UAOC hierarchy in their “current dignity” without reordination, Serhii Shumylo expresses his concern about the Ecumenical Patriarchate taking decision on the grounds of bogus documents and advocates that a detailed study of this issue should be made.
Historian Finds New Evidence to Prove Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church’s Initial Ordination was Illegitimate
THEDURAN.COM Shumylo concludes that initial ordinations of the UAOC hierarchy were, unfortunately, conducted by an imposter without the Apostolic succession.
COURT ORDERS MIGRATION SERVICE TO RETURN CITIZENSHIP TO UKRAINIAN BISHOP WHO WAS DEPORTED UNDER POROSHENKOОд Ромејац,
Yesterday, January 22, the Sixth Court of Appeal ordered the State Migration Service of Ukraine in the Volyn Oblast to return Ukrainian citizenship to His Grace Bishop Gideon (Kharon) of Makarov, the abbot of the Tithes Monastery in Kiev, repots Ukrainska Pravda.
The court also recognized that the Migration Service had no right to cancel the decision to grant His Grace citizenship by territorial origin in accordance with part 1, article 8 of the Law of Ukraine, “On Ukrainian Citizenship.”
Bp. Gideon was unexpectedly detained in the Kiev Boryspil in Kiev in February last year upon returning from America, where he had spoken with Congressmen about the persecution the canonical Ukrainian Church was facing under Poroshenko’s rule. His Grace was deported, his passport was confiscated, and his citizenship was canceled.
He also holds American citizenship and ended up spending several months in California. He later filed a lawsuit against the Migration Service in the Volyn Oblast, demanded that the decision to cancel his citizenship be overturned and declared illegal.
The District Administrative Court of Kiev began proceedings in the case on April 23, and on September 19, the court ruled in Bp. Gideon’s favor, deciding not only to return his citizenship, but also to reimburse him for his court fees.
Despite the Administrative Court’s September decision, the matter continued in the Appeals Court, whose decision came into effect immediately yesterday, although the Migration Service can still appeal.
Court orders Migration Service to return citizenship to Ukrainian bishop who was deported under Poroshenko
ORTHOCHRISTIAN.COM Yesterday, January 22, the Sixth Court of Appeal ordered the State Migration Service of Ukraine in the Volyn Oblast to return Ukrainian citizenship to His Grace Bishop Gideon (Kharon) of Makarov, the...
At Catholic Answers, we often get the question: “If St. Peter was made the visible head of the Church, why don’t we see it in the book of Acts? Is not St. James (or perhaps St. Paul) the real leader of the early Church?”
How do we reply?
Actually, St. Peter is quite obviously the visible head of the Church in Acts. When you consider the inspired author of Acts was St. Luke, a companion of St. Paul, it is quite telling that for the first 15 of 28 chapters, Peter is the center of attention rather than Paul. Why this focus on Peter?
Let’s take a look.
1. Acts 1:15-26: It is St. Peter who is clearly in charge in choosing and ordaining a new apostle to replace Judas when he gives an authoritative interpretation of Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. And I might add that these texts do not have an obvious interpretation. Psalm 69:25, for example, speaks of the messiah’s persecutors (plural) who “give him gall for (his) food and sour wine to drink” – in 69:21. Then in verse 25 it says “May their (plural) camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents.”
There is never a question from the rest of the apostles, “Hey, Peter, that’s a pretty shaky interpretation of those two texts. What hermeneutical principles are you using, anyway?”
2. Acts 2:14-41: It is St. Peter who is in charge at Pentecost and preaches the first sermon whereby 3,000 are baptized.
3. Acts 3:1-4:4: It is St. Peter who performs the first miracle in Acts, healing the man with withered feet and ankles. He then preaches again and, this time, 5,000 are converted in chapter 4:4.
4. Acts 4:3-12: When St. Peter and St. John are arrested and called before the Sanhedrin, it is St. Peter, in verse 8, who speaks for both and preaches boldly of Christ and the name of Jesus.
5. Acts 5:1-29: It is St. Peter who is in charge of the Church in collecting funds for world evangelism and pronounces God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira. It is then, in verse, 15, the people desire St. Peter’s shadow to pass over them that they may be healed. Then, in verse 29, after the apostles were arrested and miraculously set free by the angel of the Lord, they are before the Sanhedrin for the second time. St. Luke records:
Peter and the apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men.”
St. Peter is set apart. It’s “Peter and the apostles.”
6. Acts 8:14-24: We see St. Peter leading (listed first) when he and St. John confirm new converts in Samaria after the evangelistic efforts of St. Phillip. And it is St. Peter who pronounces judgment on Simon the sorcerer who wanted to buy the power to convey the Holy Spirit.
7. Acts 9:32,40-43: Here we have an interesting little passage most pass over too quickly.
As Peter was passing through every region, he went down to the holy ones living in Lydda (NAB).
Here we have St. Peter making his pastoral rounds. To what part of the Church? All of it! He then proceeds to do another first. He raises Tabitha from the dead in Joppa.
8. Acts 10-11:18: It is St. Peter to whom God gives a vision to lead the Church in allowing the gentiles to be baptized and enjoy full membership in the Church. This was a radical move! If you think we have a problem with racism in the 21st century, we have nothing on first century opinion of the gentiles! Notice, after the other apostles and other disciples heard Peter declare what God had done, they say, in 11:18:
When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”
They heard St. Peter speak and the question was settled.
9. Acts 12:1-17: St. Peter is arrested again. Notice that the entire Church then goes to “earnest prayer” (vs. 5) and into the night (vs. 6, 12) until he is released miraculously. This is not recorded to have been the case when St. James or any others were arrested.
10. Acts 15-16:4: We read of an enormous problem in the early Church, the heresy of the Judaizers. They taught believers in Christ must not only believe and obey the New Testament law as given by Christ and the apostles, but they must keep the Old Testament law given by Moses as well, especially circumcision.
Notice, St. Paul and Barnabas could not quell the upheaval.
Even more importantly, however, is the manner in which the problem is dealt with. Do they get out their Bibles and start arguing passages? No! They respond decisively, but not in the way a “Bible Christian” would today. They respond to the difficulty in obedience to the command of our Lord in Matthew 18:15-18. Jesus gives us authoritative instructions on what to do in the case of a disagreement over doctrine or discipline in the Church. First, go to your brother. Second, if he won’t hear you, take two or three witnesses with you. If he won’t hear them, the final arbiter of the situation will be the Church.
The Christians in Antioch, no doubt, tried to handle the problem on a local level first. That is what the text indicates. But they couldn’t take care of the dispute. Then they brought in the big guns—Paul and Barnabas—a pretty formidable “one or two” to employ!
It did not work!
This problem was so enormous, St. Paul could not even settle it. Where do they go then? Just as our Lord said, they “take it to the Church.” The church at Antioch obeys our Lord and takes it to the Church in Jerusalem. Whence cometh the first Church Council.
Do you notice how sola scriptura is nowhere to be found here?
Peter or James?
But now we need to answer another question. Some Bible Christians will say, “Was not James the true leader of the early Church and not Peter?”
If you examine the text of Acts 15 carefully, you will see this is not the case. In verses six and seven, we see all of the apostles and elders gathered together and doing what? Disputing!
Notice, it is Peter who speaks first, in verses 7-11. After so much disputing in Antioch that St. Paul and Barnabas could not settle the difficulty:
And afterthere had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them… “But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence…
“After much debate” here at the Council, Peter declares the truth and then—“the whole assembly fell silent” in verse 12. The issue was settled.
This speaks volumes.
And notice as well: Peter uses the first person personal prounoun in the plural. “We believe…” Peter does not speak just for himself. He speaks for all.
However, there was still a pastoral issue. How are we going to bring about unity, in a pastoral sense, between the Jews and Gentiles? The Jewish Christians were worshipping in a Jewish manner which involved many Old Testament practices. St. Paul himself acknowledged the validity of this manner of worship, and participated in it himself in Acts 21:15-26. Many of these Jews wanted to make their rules the universal norm for everyone and even believed it necessary for salvation. The question: How do we unify the Gentile and Jewish Rites without compromising the truth? The Church could not say Gentiles had to keep what were peculiarly Old Testament practices in order to be saved, but the Church also wanted to respect some of the ancient practices of the Jews.
St. James stands up in Acts 15:13-23, and gives his pastoral opinion on the matter:
My brothers, listen to me. Symeon has [declared] how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name… It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter avoid  the pollution from idols,  unlawful marriage,  the meat of strangled animals, and  blood. Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas… This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, you brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings…”
Two Key Points:
1. When James stands up to speak, the first thing he says after getting the attention of the Council is, “Symeon has related…” In other words, Peter has spoken… He repeats what Peter has already said definitively. Then, rather than speaking for all, St. James says, “It is my judgment…”
A little over 400 years after this proclamation by St. James, the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon would similarly declare, “Peter has spoken through Leo, the question is settled” after hearing a written declaration of St. Peter’s successor, Pope St. Leo the Great, read at that great Ecumenical Council. In AD 451, the issue was concerning the monophysite heresy and the nature of the God-man Jesus Christ. But both times, the same Principle was in effect. God spoke definitively through the authority He established on this earth to Shepherd his people.
2. When St. James gives his pastoral judgment, in verse 19, his judgment was that the Church ought to bind the Gentiles to four laws:
… abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.
But notice what happens immediately thereafter, in verses 22-28:
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas… with the following letter: “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling to your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us in assembly to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul… We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…”
1. When Peter speaks in Acts 15:7-11, just as we saw in Acts 10-11:18, the question was settled. St. Peter’s authority is unique. He has the keys of the kingdom and as such speaks for Christ with or without the consent of the others (Matthew 16:15-19).
2. When James gives his pastoral judgment concerning how to deal with an extremely difficult situation, the apostles, elders and the whole church had to agree before an epistle could be written to be sent out to the troubled churches. Why? Because the other apostles’ authority is depicted in a collegial manner. Jesus gave Peter and all the apostles the authority to “bind and loose” in Matthew 18:15-18. Notice, it was all the apostles with Peter that acted in sending out the decree to the troubled churches. James and the apostles authority was exercised as a college. Only St. Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom. Only St. Peter acted alone in the context of all of the apostles at the Council.
3. Notice the nature of the letter sent out by the Church. When the Council of Jerusalem sends out the decree, the Church declares:
It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell. (Acts 15:28, NAB)
As St. Paul and Silas traveled about delivering the decree of the Church, the Scripture records:
As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Catholic trivia point:
The Greek word for decisions there is “dogmata” in Greek.
One Final Note:
When St. Paul and Barnabas went to Antioch (this was where the trouble started according to Acts 14:26-15:2) immediately after the Council and delivered the teachings, the people “were delighted with the exhortation” (see Acts 15:30-31). The dispute was settled. However, not everyone was obedient. Judging from the letters of St. Paul to the Galatians and Romans, and the letter to the Hebrews, we can clearly see that there were rebels then just as there are now who will not listen to the Church.
St Irenaeus gives us some interesting insight as to one problem person who would not obey the Church. He was the seventh deacon who is listed among the first deacons ordained in Acts 6:5. You’ll notice that among the seven, he is listed last. According to St. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, Bk. 1, ch. 26, para. 3, he was one of the leaders of the rebellion against the Council. Scripture records Nicolas the deacon was a “convert from Antioch.” Antioch is where all the trouble started.
The final point I want to make here is that Jesus himself has very strong words for these Nicolaitanes! These were basically anti-nomians who thought they did not have to obey the laws of the Church. When Jesus gives a personal message to St. John in the beginning of the Book of Revelation, he has a special message for those who would disobey the Church.
Remember then from what you [the church in Ephesus] have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Rev. 2:5-6).
I have a few things against you [the church in Pergamum]: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth (Rev. 2:14-16).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on the side of folks whose deeds are “hated” by the Lord. I will remain on the side of the Church!
If you want to remain on the side of the Church, you must remain with the Vicar of Christ, St. Peter, and his successors the Popes.
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The 15th chapter of Acts is significant for its description of the first council of the Christian Church, providing insights into the inner workings of the early Church and the relationships among key leaders. The chapter is also notable as a battleground for ongoing, current-day disputes over Church authority. On one side stands the Catholic Church, upholding Peter as the foremost apostle and leader of the universal Church. In opposition, in a diverse array of attitudes, stands a host of scholars and theologians who claim that James, the “brother of Jesus” (Mk 6:3; Gal 1:19), was the leader of the early Church, perhaps even the first pope. This position has roots going back to the Reformation, and many Protestants—whether they be conservative, liberal, or progressive in theological terms—consider James the greatest of the early Church leaders.
James, Greater than Peter?
Since the late 1990s, several books have been written about James, the “brother of Jesus,” most notably Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Columbia, SC: University of South Caroline Press, 1997), by John Painter; James, Brother of Jesus (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1996), by Pierre-Antoine Bernheim; and James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Viking Press, 1997), by Robert Eisenman. All three authors write about the “minimizing” of James by early Church writers and authorities, and either overtly or implicitly claim James was the victim of Church politics aimed at keeping Peter’s pre-eminence intact.
Acts and the Letter to the Galatians attribute considerable authority to James, seemingly greater than that of Peter. Questions of power and authority in the primitive church are of more than academic interest, since the Roman Catholic Church bases the supremacy of the pope, the Bishop of Rome, on the primacy of Peter. According to Catholic doctrine, Peter, who was designated the foundation and the ultimate authority of the apostolic Church (Mt 16:13-20), maintained his primacy throughout his life and transmitted it to his successors as bishops of Rome. (James, Brother of Jesus, 191)
Bernheim is correct to note the importance of Matthew 16 in the matter of Petrine authority. But does Acts 15 contradict the famous “keys of the kingdom” passage and even portray James as a greater authority than Peter? Pentecostal author Rosanna J. Evans makes such a case in her booklet, “Crossing The Threshold of Deception”:
Among the more compelling arguments [for Peter not being pope], is that of the leadership at the Jerusalem Council. . . . What is of interest here, is not necessarily the proclamations made at this council, but the conspicuous position (or lack thereof) Peter held. While he was, without doubt, present at this momentous council, he certainly did not preside over it; this honor went to James, not Peter. Additionally, although Peter had some say in the procession itself, it was James, not Peter, who decided the outcome of the deliberations . . . Without a doubt, the man James was the one who presided over the Jerusalem Council. (18, 19)
In his commentary on Acts, Evangelical scholar I. Howard Marshall presents Peter as a central but still lesser authority than James, a perspective held by numerous Evangelical commentators. While Peter appealed to experience, Marshall states, “The decisive voice in the meeting, however, lay neither with Peter nor with the delegates from Antioch, but with James. This may have been due partly to the position which he increasingly came to hold as the foremost leader in the church (12:17), and partly also to the fact that he was regarded as a champion of a conservative Jewish outlook” (Acts, 249, 251).
Was Peter really inconspicuous at the Jerusalem Council? Did he take a secondary role to James? What does the text really say?
Context and Choices
In the 1973 book Peter in the New Testament, published as a “collaborative assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars” and sponsored by the United States Lutheran–Roman Catholic Dialogue as Background for Ecumenical Discussions of the Role of the Papacy in the Universal Church, three basic theories of early Church authority based upon Acts 15 are presented. The three theories of authority are:
1) Peter and the other members of the twelve were concerned with a Christian mission far more extensive than just Jerusalem. They were never really local church leaders, once Jerusalem became big enough to require such caretakers. James was the first leader of the local church at Jerusalem (at least for the Hebrew Christians) and remained there after Peter and the other members of the twelve left the scene, whether through death or on travels. James had authority only in Jerusalem (and its “province”), but his name was known more widely because he was a blood relative of Jesus. Paul’s loyalty was to the “mother church” or community of saints in Jerusalem. His respect for James was a respect for the local leader of that church.
2) Peter was a local leader at Jerusalem (even though he was known more widely because he had been a close follower of Jesus during the ministry). James took Peter’s place as the local Jerusalem leader (when Peter left Jerusalem or even earlier). Neither of them had a role as leader in the Universal Church, for, in fact, there was no single leader in the Universal Church.
3) Peter was a universal leader, operating from Jerusalem as the center of Christianity, and was succeeded by James. In other words, the position of universal influence that Peter had at Jerusalem (except his apostleship) was transferred to James when Peter left Jerusalem or even earlier.
The first theory aligns essentially with the Catholic belief; the second covers a wide range of mainline Protestant perspectives; and the third—the most extreme view—is embraced by more radical, liberal scholars.
Acts 15 can be broken into four basic sections.
1. The first (vs. 1-5) sets the scene and explains the conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians over the observance of various Mosaic customs and laws.
2. The second (vs. 6-18)—the section that concerns us here—contains the discussion, including debate (v. 7a), Peter’s speech (vs. 7b-11), the witness of Paul and Barnabas (v. 12), and James’ speech (vs. 13-21).
3. The third section (vs. 19-29) explains the decision reached at the council, including the letter to be sent to the churches.
4. The final section (vs. 30-35) presents some of the reaction to the letter.
The council consisted of “the apostles and the elders” who had gathered together to “look into the matter” and come to some sort of solution. The Catholic understanding is that this gathering was a blueprint and prototype for future Church councils. As such, it included the gathering of leaders from the entire Church, not just a particular region; it made decrees binding on all Christians; it addressed matters of faith and morals; and it issued documents recording essential statements, decrees, canons, and so forth. Finally, but certainly not least, it was presided over by the pope (either in person or by representative).
The Jerusalem Council began with a spirited debate (v. 7a). Then Peter spoke, appealing to the “early days” and his experience in bringing the gospel to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile (Acts 10). We are saved by grace, Peter stated, not by works of the Law (v. 11). A marked silence followed his speech (v. 12a). Then Barnabas and Paul testified to God’s work “among the Gentiles” (v. 12b). After they had finished, James gave his speech, pointing to both the words of Peter (“Simeon,” v. 14) and the Prophets (vs. 15-18). He then offered his “judgment”: the Gentiles would not have to observe the ceremonial Law. An authoritative letter was then written, stating “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us to lay upon you no greater burden” than abstaining from “things sacrificed to idols,” from blood and things strangled, and “from fornication” (vs. 28-29).
As noted already, the Fundamentalist anti-Catholic position is that Peter’s role at the council was so minimal he was essentially persona non grata. Noted anti-Catholic and Presbyterian theologian Loraine Boettner wrote the following in his Roman Catholicism:
At that council not Peter but James presided and announced the decision with the words, “Wherefore my judgement is . . .” (vs. 19). And his judgement was accepted by the apostles and presbyters. Peter was present, but only after there had been “much questioning” (vs. 7) did he even so much as express an opinion. He did not attempt to make any infallible pronouncements although the subject under discussion was a vital matter of faith. In any event it is clear that the unity of the early church was maintained not by the voice of Peter but by the decision of the ecumenical council which was presided over by James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. (116)
Ironically, the Fundamentalist view of Peter and James is very similar to that of the liberal and radical scholars. The same anti-Catholic, anti-authoritarian sentiment runs through their writings. They even use some of the same arguments, particularly an appeal to Galatians 2 as the final say about Peter’s role in the early Church. Martin Hengel, in Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity, clearly thinks James was the leader of the early Church while Peter either faded or fled.
After the withdrawal of the “twelve,” James, at the head of the elders, was able to take over complete control of the Jerusalem community. Given this situation in Jerusalem, the only possibility for Peter . . . was to move out into the Greek-speaking Diapora, where we can see his activity in Antioch and Rome, and at least his influence in Corinth. . . . Nevertheless, the succession of apostles and elders marks inner changes in the Jerusalem community which resulted in James and the elders taking over the leadership, gradually suppressing Peter and the older group of apostles . . . (96-96, 115)
John Painter, the author of Just James, also appeals to Galatians 2 as the final court of appeal regarding Peter and James, saying that “it is likely that James was the first leader of the Jerusalem church” and,
In Acts Luke tries to reconcile conflicts and to reconcile the later tradition of Petrine leadership in the church at large with the tradition of the original leadership of James in Jerusalem. This strategy is possible because of the authority of James over Peter, even exercised at a distance, is demonstrated in Gal[atians] 2:11-14, and there is no reason to think that the situation was different at the beginning of the Jerusalem church. (84)
It is Bernheim, however, who appears most driven to discredit the Catholic Church’s claim to authority by showing Peter’s utter submission before James. James’s “dominant position” is fully realized at the council, he argues. “Regardless of the historicity of Acts 15, James, by speaking last, summing up the discussion and proposing the decision which figures in the Apostolic Decree, appears as the one who presided over the assembly” (193).
Bernheim continually questions the authenticity of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16, but has no problem building the vast majority of his case from the incident in Galatians 2. He arbitrarily makes a convenient distinction between authority among the disciples before and after Christ’s death, claiming that Peter’s leadership dissolved following the death of Jesus and that the early Christians broke into small, competing groups in the aftermath of the Crucifixion. As usual, an assault on the continuity of early Church authority is meant to undermine the papacy and the magisterium today.
Petrine Primacy in Acts
The Catholic claim that Peter was the first pope is not based on sola scriptura, selective use of Scripture, or just a single passage of Scripture. (See “Beyond Matthew 16:18,” page 30.)
As for Acts 15, a number of factors point to Peter actually being both the leader at the council and the leader of the early Church. First, there is the manner in which his speech begins and ends. By standing up to speak after the debate had subsided, Peter made an emphatic physical gesture affirming his authority and centrality. The silence afterwards indicated the finality of what Peter had just said; no one disputes either his speech or his right to make it. In fact, the witness of Paul and Barnabas, along with James’s speech, only reinforce and agree with what Peter says.
Secondly, few non-Catholic commentators seem to notice the striking wording Peter used in his speech. If he was only a witness, wouldn’t he have appealed only to his experience? But while Peter did focus on his experience, the main object of his speech was God: “God made a choice among you, that by my mouth . . .”; “And God . . . bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit”; “He made no distinction”; and “why therefore do you put God to the test?” (vs. 7-10). It is readily apparent that Peter was quite comfortable in being a spokesman for God. Even James seems to take this for granted by stating, “Simeon has related how God first concerned himself . . .” (v. 14). There is an immediacy to Peter’s relating of God’s work which is noticeably absent from James’s speech.
As mentioned, Paul, Barnabas, and James all reinforced and agreed with Peter’s declaration, albeit in different ways. The first two related “the signs and wonders God” had been working “among the Gentiles” (v. 12). James pointed first to the words of Peter and then to the Prophets (vs. 14-15). Those who claim James’s speech was the definitive one point to the language in verse 19 (“Therefore it is my judgement . . .”) as evidence for James’s primacy. Yet James is simply suggesting a way of implementing what Peter had already definitively expressed. “Peter speaks as the head and spokesman of the apostolic Church,” state Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, “He formulates a doctrinal judgment about the means of salvation, whereas James takes the floor after him to suggest a pastoral plan for inculturating the gospel in mixed communities where Jewish and Gentile believers live side by side (15:13-21)” (232).
Problems with Authority
One can only conclude that those commentators and scholars who take issue with Peter’s primacy have, for various reasons, taken an anti-Catholic, anti-papal stance. They labor under a skewed understanding of what the papacy is and how the papal office relates to the Church as a whole. As a result, they are prone to interpret Peter’s actions and the history of the early Church incorrectly.
If James was the leader of the early Church, or even the first pope, why aren’t his successors the head of the universal Church? These and related questions are not adequately addressed by those who say James, not Peter, was the leader of the early Church.
Beyond Matthew 16:18
Although Matthew 16 is a central and key passage attesting to Peter’s unique position, the rest of the New Testament provides ample evidence for it. For example:
1. Peter’s name occurs first in all lists of apostles (Mt 10:2, Mk 3:16, Lk 6:14, Acts 1:13), except Galatians 2. Matthew even calls him the “first” (10:2).
2. Peter alone receives a new name, Rock, solemnly conferred (Jn 1:42, Mt 16:18).
3. Peter is regarded by Jesus as the Chief Shepherd after himself (Jn 21:15-17), singularly by name, and over the universal Church, even though others have a similar but subordinate role (Acts 20:28, 1 Pt 5:2).
4. Peter alone among the apostles is mentioned by name as having been prayed for by Jesus Christ in order that his “faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32).
5. Peter alone among the apostles is exhorted by Jesus to “strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32).
6. Peter first confesses Christ’s divinity (Mt 16:16).
7. Peter alone is told that he has received divine knowledge by a special revelation (Mt 16:17).
8. Peter is regarded by the Jews (Acts 4:1-13) as the leader and spokesman of Christianity.
9. Peter is regarded by the common people in the same way (Acts 2:37-41; 5:15).
In Acts, Peter gave the sermon at Pentecost (Acts 1:14-36), led the replacing of Judas (1:22), worked the first miracle of the Church age (3:6-12), and condemned Ananias and Sapphira (5:2-11). His mere shadow worked miracles (5:15); he was the first person after Christ to raise the dead (9:40), and he took the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Peter’s name appears at least 54 times in Acts; James appears a total of four times.
The Acts of the Apostles (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible; Ignatius Press, 2002), with commentary by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch Jesus, Peter & The Keys: A Scriptural Handbook on the Papacy (Queenship, 1996), by Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren, and David Hess Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church (Ignatius Press, 1999), by Stephen K. Ray The Early Papacy: To the Synod of Chalcedon (Ignatius Press, 2008; orig. 1920), by Adrian Fortescue Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (Sapientia Press, 2007), by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.