Papal Infallibility: The Gospel Truth (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18)

Holy Spirit Saint Peter Window

Jesus is uncharacteristically aggressive, as is the Holy Spirit, in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18, at least in our perception, for we are so weak and frightened, at least I am. But the more I admit to my darkness, the more I love how Jesus and the Holy Spirit deal with our otherwise unredeemable and unsavable circumstances in this world. So, let me also be uncharacteristically aggressive in my commentary. Perhaps Catholics with a self-referential ax to grind, perhaps some of our Orthodox friends and non-Catholic Christians will be offended. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. For those who have read some of this before in these pages, know that I have added an extra bit of aggressiveness for your benefit. So, let’s be pedantic about it:

Matthew 16:19 — “Whatever you may bind at any given time (second person singular subjunctive aorist active) upon the earth will (third person singular indicative future middle) already have been made to be perfectly standing in that way (nominative neuter singular participle perfect passive) in the heavens.”

What do the verbs mean in this context?

Second person singular subjunctive aorist active –

  • The second person singular refers to Peter alone, not to all, not even the other Apostles: Peter alone.
  • The subjunctive here is not so much a kind of conditional or wishfulness, but rather depicts the state of actually choosing an option; from the perspective of the actor, there is freedom to the choice: “Whatever you may bind at any give time.”
  • The aorist time frame, whatever delusion your introductory Greek grammars insist on providing to you, is literally “without borders”, that which can happen in the past, present or even future (as is the case here: see below), though usually something which itself happens in a defined time frame, such as the choice to bind.
  • Active simply refers to something actually being accomplished.

Third person singular indicative future middle –

  • The third person singular refers to any given object of the action, its state of being.
  • It will simply be what it is (indicative)
  • at that time (future).
  • The middle voice is here used to indicate the status quo to which the actor is also subject, that is, retroactively to his decision to bind something, the truth of that which is described by the following verb, which this singular indicative future middle (“will”) helps to describe.

Nominative neuter singular participle perfect passive —

  • The nominative neuter singular refers to the object which is being bound (passive)
  • that is, in an ongoing fashion (participle)
  • in a perfect manner (perfect); mind you, in Greek, “perfect” never refers to a perfectly accomplished action at one point in time, but rather to an action which is perfectly ongoing in a perfect manner since its inception: it always was and will be this way, perfectly, with no change: “already have been made to be perfectly standing in that way.” This “perfect” action structures the capacity of the actor, Peter, to act subjunctively, preempting all choices of Peter except for the one which is consonant which the truth which has always been this way in the heavens. Whatever he may choose to bind at any given time will already have been the case, is the case, and will always continue to be the case in the heavens. Peter cannot choose anything which is not already perfectly established in the heavens. What is in heaven is not an affirmation of what Peter might pronounce; what is in heaven simply is what it is, absolute truth, so to speak. If Peter is wrong about what he intends to pronounce upon, he simply will not be able to pronounce upon it.

Indeed, the part of this equation that people forget when trying to figure out the tenses, is that there is a part of this equation which is utterly expendable: Peter. If he is going to get it wrong, he will either die or be incapacitated, but he will not be able to work against what is in heaven already. Being the Successor of Peter isn’t so much an honor as it is a service that may involve laying down his life, for, after all, what do we know? The Orthodox or any others should never be envious of infallibility.

The bit about loosing is exactly the same, verbatim:

“Whatever you may loose at any given time (second person singular subjunctive aorist active) upon the earth will (third person singular indicative future middle) already have been made to be perfectly standing in that way (nominative neuter singular participle perfect passive) in the heavens.”

Let’s review Matthew 18:18 in utterly pedantic translation:

“Whatever ye may bind at any given time (second person plural subjunctive aorist active) upon the earth will (third person singular indicative future middle) already have been made to be things perfectly standing in that way (nominative neuter singular participle perfect passive) in heaven.”

And then:

“Whatever ye may loose at any given time (second person plural subjunctive aorist active) upon the earth will (third person singular indicative future middle) already have been made to be things perfectly standing in that way (nominative neuter singular participle perfect passive) in heaven.”

There are some differences besides the plural heavens and singular heaven. Matthew 18:18 is addressed also to the laity about any number of things that may be under dispute. But the verbs and their meanings are exactly the same. But the context removes any infallibility from this other crowd. Let’s see how:

Firstly, in Matthew 16:19, where Peter alone among the Apostles is addressed, only Peter is given the keys of the Kingdom of the Heavens. There is no reference at all to such keys for anyone else in Matthew 18:18. That they have the same access to the understanding of the faith as does Peter is contingent for them in agreeing with Peter, for, as we see in context, the process of a dispute will bring them right back to the Church, that is, as differentiated from Christ’s faithful in general so as to refer to Peter in particular. They are not infallible, he is. If they rebel they are ipso facto no longer Catholic. This is what people also forget in this equation, that we are also expendable if we so choose.

What if Peter is wrong? He can’t be wrong. That’s the point. But say that it could happen, that wouldn’t mean that we ignore him, correct him, unseat him, burn him at the stake, say that he’s not a nice guy or something like that; that would mean that there is no such thing as the Church at all. It can’t happen. Period. Is “dialogue” among the faithful expected by our Lord? Yes. He explicitly speaks of it. But then there is a process to follow. But there is a richness to be expected among so many.

In all of this we must be humble, proceeding in all charity. No rancor. No bitterness. No oneupmanship. If we are arrogant and unteachable by the Most Holy Trinity, we will be cut off. But if we, by grace, submit to liberation in the living Truth of Love, we will rejoice.

  • God forbid! The cross is not for you!
  • Get behind me, Satan!

And, in the end, Peter also manifested in his own life, being crucified, that love and truth is stronger than our weakness, stronger than our darkness, stronger than death. Love and truth live! And Jesus, Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception, will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.

3 Comments

Filed under Ecumenism

3 responses to “Papal Infallibility: The Gospel Truth (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18)

  1. sanfelipe007

    “Peter. If he is going to get it wrong, he will either die or be incapacitated, but he will not be able to work against what is in heaven already. Being the Successor of Peter isn’t so much an honor as it is a service that may involve laying down his life, for, after all, what do we know? ”

    I am edified by these words. It explains, in part, why the Holy Father(s) has(have) not yet solemnly proclaimed the fifth Marian Dogma. Indeed, what do we know?

    “If we are arrogant and unteachable by the Most Holy Trinity, we will be cut off. ”

    This chills me to the bone because, of this, I am sometimes guilty. There is a Spanish phrase that describes my GA’s relationship with me during my stubbornness: “Andale, BURRO!”

  2. Father George David Byers

    But He gives the grace. 😉

  3. Father George David Byers

    5th Marian dogma… There’s also timing…

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