“Peter” and “Satan”: the Two Names of the Pope — By: OnePeterFive

An Excerpt from Vladimir Solovyov, Russia and the Universal Church, trans. Rees (London: Centenary Press, 1948), 96-98.


It was not Simon’s apostleship that involved his change of name, for the change, though already predicted, was not made at the time of the choice and solemn sending forth of the Twelve. All with the single exception of Simon retained their own names in the apostleship; none of them received from our Lord a new and permanent title of wider or higher significance.[1]

Apart from Simon, all the Apostles are distinguished from one another solely by their natural characteristics, their individual qualities and destinies as well as by the varieties and shades of personal feeling shown towards them by their Master. On the other hand, the new and significant name which Simon alone receives in addition to the apostleship shared by all, indicates no natural trait in his character, no personal affection felt for him by our Lord, but refers solely to the special place which the son of Jona is called to fill in the Church of Christ. Our Lord did not say to him: Thou art Peter because I prefer thee to the others, or because by nature thou hast a firm and stable character (which, incidentally, would hardly have been borne out by the facts), but: Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.

Peter’s confession, which by a spontaneous and infallible act of allegiance established the bond between mankind and Christ and founded the free Church of the New Covenant, was not just a piece of characteristic behavior on his part. Nor can it have been a casual and momentary spiritual impulse. For is it conceivable that such an impulse or moment of enthusiasm should involve not merely a change of name for Simon as for Abraham and Jacob in times past, but also the prediction of that change long previously as something which would infallibly come about and which held a prominent place in our Lord’s plans? Was there in fact any part of the work of the Messiah more solemn than the foundation of the Universal Church which is expressly connected with Simon under his new name of Peter? Moreover, the notion that the first dogmatic decree of St. Peter came from him merely in his capacity as an individual human being is totally excluded by the direct and explicit witness of Christ: It is not flesh and blood which have revealed it to thee, but My Father Who is in Heaven.

This confession of Peter’s is, then, an act sui generis, an act whereby the moral being of the Apostle entered into a special relationship with the Godhead; it was this relationship which enabled human utterance to declare infallibly the absolute truth of the Word of God and to create an impregnable foundation for the Universal Church. And as though to remove all possible doubt on the subject, the inspired record of the Gospel at once goes on to show us this very Simon, whom Jesus has just declared to be the Rock of the Church and the key-bearer of the Kingdom of Heaven, forthwith left to his own resources and speaking — with the best intentions in the world, no doubt, but without the divine assistance — under the influence of his own individual and uninspired personality. “And thereafter Jesus began to show His disciples that He must needs go to Jerusalem and suffer much at the hands of the elders and the scribes and the chief priests and be put to death and rise again the third day. And Peter, taking Him aside, began to rebuke Him, saying: Far be it from Thee, Lord; this shall not happen unto Thee. And turning about He said to Peter: Get thee behind Me, Satan, thou art an offence unto Me, for thou understandest not that which is of God, but that which is of men” (Matt. xvi. 21-23).

Are we to follow our Greco-Russian controversialists in placing this text in opposition to the one before it and so make Christ’s words cancel one another out? Are we to believe that the incarnate Truth changed His mind so quickly and revoked in a moment what He had only just announced? And yet, on the other hand, how are we to reconcile “Blessed” and “Satan” ? How is it conceivable that he who is for our Lord Himself a “rock of offence” should yet be the Rock of His Church which the gates of Hell cannot shake? Or that one who thinks only the thoughts of men can receive the revelation of the heavenly Father and can hold the keys of the Kingdom of God?

There is only one way to harmonize these passages which the inspired Evangelist has, with good reason, placed side by side. Simon Peter as supreme pastor and doctor of the Universal Church, assisted by God and speaking in the name of all, is the faithful witness and infallible exponent of divine-human truth; as such he is the impregnable foundation of the house of God and the key-bearer of the Kingdom of Heaven. The same Simon Peter as a private individual, speaking and acting by his natural powers and merely human intelligence, may say and do things that are unworthy, scandalous and even diabolical. But the failures and sins of the individual are ephemeral, while the social function of the ecclesiastical monarch is permanent. “Satan” and the “offence” have vanished, but Peter has remained.

[1] I am not speaking of surnames or of casual, incidental epithets such as that of Boanerges, given to John and James.

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