Church Authority

Christ’s Church Has Authority

The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. He appointed its first leaders, the apostles. He gave them power and authority to teach in His name. That power and authority has been handed down for 2,000 years through apostolic succession. Every Catholic priest and bishop can trace his ordination back to the apostles through the laying on of hands.

Matthew 16:18-19

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” –Matthew 16:18-19

Christ said, “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church,” From this we see that Christ had every intention of founding a Church. We also see that this Church was built on Peter. No Church but the Catholic Church can claim to be built on Peter. No other Church can claim the authority to bind and loose.

Christ went on to say of His Church, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” From this we see that the Church Christ founded cannot be destroyed, or overcome by Satan. The Church Christ founded will always exist, and will always be Christ’s Church. It cannot be replaced or become obsolete. Christ promised this.

Matthew 18:15-18

“But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” –Matthew 18:15-18

“And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.”

Here we see that the Church cannot be an undefined conglomerate of believers. One can come before the Church in order to receive an authoritative and definitive judgment. This does not allow for an egalitarian church where each person’s opinion or judgment is more or less equal. The Church has the authority to cut people off from herself, in other words, excommunication.

It is in this context that in verse 18 Christ gives to the rest of the apostles what he had given first and in a principally to Peter, the authority of binding and loosing.

Luke 10:16

In Luke 10 Christ appointed “seventy-two others” in addition to the Apostles. He sent them out two by two to preach to the kingdom of Israel. These men had the power to cast out demons in His name. These were the leaders of the early Church, and from them came the first bishops and priests. To them Christ said:

“He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” –Luke 10:16

Christ did not speak these words to all of his disciples, but the leaders He had appointed. He gave these men authority to speak in His name.  Christ still appoints men to speak in His name through the Church.  He who will not hear the Church will not hear Christ.

John 20:21-23

We know from the sacrament of Confession established in John 20:22-23, the Apostles had power and authority to forgive sins.

“He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” –John 20:21-23

I Timothy 3:15

“But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” I Timothy 3:15

Here we see that the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” What does that mean? A pillar holds something up. It prevents an edifice from falling, or it holds something up on display. So the Church prevents the truth from crumbling or being lost. It holds the truth up for all to see. What does  it mean that the Church is the ground of truth? The Church is the ground, or the foundation of truth.  Without a strong foundation an edifice cannot stand, it would be eroded and washed away. So the Church as the pillar and ground of truth preserves it, and prevents it from being lost… and what is truth? Christ gave us the answer:

“Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” -John 14:6

The Church preserves and upholds the truth of Christ in this world. It possesses Him in the scriptures and in the Holy Eucharist. It possesses His teaching, and it keeps it undefiled. The Church was founded by Christ in order to uphold the truth. It cannot teach false doctrine, it will never allow the scriptures to be corrupted, and it will never lose the sacraments instituted by Christ in which He imparts His Divine Life to the faithful.

Early Christians

“You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God’s commandment. Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid. It is consonant with reason, therefore, that we should come to our senses, while we still have time to change our ways and turn to God. It is well to revere God and bishop. He who honors a bishop is honored by God. He who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop worships the devil.”

-St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, 110 AD


“From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of times and successions; for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this has indeed been established by divine law, I marvel at the rash boldness of certain persons who have desired to write to me as if they were writing their letters in the name of the Church, ‘since the Church is established upon the bishop and upon the clergy and upon all who stand firm in the faith.'”

-St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to the Lapsed, 250 AD


“With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church [at Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source; nor did they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the preaching Apostle, and among whom it is not possible for perfidy to have entrance.”

-Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to Cornelius, 252 AD


“Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of GOD is able to forgive all sins. They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they refuse to believe that the keys of the kingdom of heaven, lost from their own hands, have been given to the Church.”

-St. Augustine, Christian Combat, 396 AD


“Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop and presbyter binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard the various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed.”
-Saint Jerome, Commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, 398 AD

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