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Question.--In the Gospel of St. Matthew it is said: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church." [Matt. 16:18.] What is the meaning of this verse?
Answer.--This utterance of Christ is a confirmation of the statement of Peter, when Christ asked: Whom do you believe Me to be? and Peter answered: I believe that "Thou art the Son of the living God." Then Christ said to him: "Thou art Peter" [It is well known that Peter's real name was Simon, but Christ called him Cephas, which corresponds to the Greek word petras, which means rock.]--for Cephas in Aramaic means rock--"and upon this rock I will build My church." For the others in answer to Christ said that He was Elias, and some said John the Baptist, and some others Jeremias or one of the Prophets. [Cf. Matt. 16:14-18.]
Christ wished by suggestion, or an allusion, to confirm the words of Peter; so on account of the suitability of his name, Peter, He said: "and upon this rock I will build My church," meaning, thy belief that Christ is the Son of the living God will be the foundation of the Religion of God, and upon this belief the foundation of the church of God--which is the Law of God--shall be established.
The existence of the tomb of Peter in Rome is doubtful; it is not authenticated. Some say it is in Antioch.
Moreover, let us compare the lives of some of the Popes with the religion of Christ. Christ, hungry and without shelter, ate herbs in the wilderness, and was unwilling to hurt the feelings of anyone. The Pope sits in a carriage covered with gold and passes his time in the utmost splendor, amidst such pleasures and luxuries, such riches and adoration, as kings have never had.
Christ hurt no one, but some of the Popes killed innocent people: refer to history. How much blood the Popes have shed merely to retain temporal power! For mere differences of opinion they arrested, imprisoned and slew thousands of the servants of the world of humanity and learned men who had discovered the secrets of nature. To what a degree they opposed the truth!
Reflect upon the instructions of Christ, and investigate the habits and customs of the Popes. Consider: is there any resemblance between the instructions of Christ and the manner of government of the Popes? We do not like to criticize, but the history of the Vatican is very extraordinary. The purport of our argument is this, that the instructions of Christ are one thing, and the manner of the Papal government is quite another; they do not agree. See how many Protestants have been killed by the order of the Popes, how many tyrannies and oppressions have been countenanced, and how many punishments and tortures have been inflicted! Can any of the sweet fragrances of Christ be detected in these actions? No! in the name of God! These people did not obey Christ, while Saint Barbara, whose picture is before us, did obey Christ, and followed in His footsteps, and put His commands into practice. Among the Popes there are also some blessed souls who followed in the footsteps of Christ, particularly in the first centuries of the Christian era when temporal things were lacking and the tests of God were severe. But when they came into possession of governmental power, and worldly honor and prosperity were gained, the Papal government entirely forgot Christ and was occupied with temporal power, grandeur, comfort and luxuries. It killed people, opposed the diffusion of learning, tormented the men of science, obstructed the light of knowledge, and gave the order to slay and to pillage. Thousands of souls, men of science and learning, and sinless ones, perished in the prisons of Rome. With all these proceedings and actions, how can the Vicarship of Christ be believed in?
The Papal See has constantly opposed knowledge; even in Europe it is admitted that religion is the opponent of science, and that science is the destroyer of the foundations of religion. While the religion of God is the promoter of truth, the founder of science and knowledge, it is full of goodwill for learned men; it is the civilizer of mankind, the discoverer of the secrets of nature, and the enlightener of the horizons of the world. Consequently, how can it be said to oppose knowledge? God forbid! Nay, for God, knowledge is the most glorious gift of man and the most noble of human perfections. To oppose knowledge is ignorant, and he who detests knowledge and science is not a man, but rather an animal without intelligence. For knowledge is light, life, felicity, perfection, beauty and the means of approaching the Threshold of Unity. It is the honor and glory of the world of humanity, and the greatest bounty of God. Knowledge is identical with guidance, and ignorance is real error.
Happy are those who spend their days in gaining knowledge, in discovering the secrets of nature, and in penetrating the subtleties of pure truth! Woe to those who are contented with ignorance, whose hearts are gladdened by thoughtless imitation, who have fallen into the lowest depths of ignorance and foolishness, and who have wasted their lives!