A friend of our Ordinariate community, Tim Fox, and regular attendee of our Anglican Use Mass has written several excellent articles concerning Christian unity. The first is here and the others to follow…
DAY ONE – THE RETURN OF THE “OTHER SHEEP” TO THE FOLD
Those who are lucky enough ever to travel to Rome and visit St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican should take the golden opportunity (among countless such opportunities) to see the Chair of Saint Peter.The chair as we currently see it dates from the ninth century, as a gift from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to the Pope.* In 1666, Pope Alexander commissioned the artist Bernini to set this same chair in its current design above the altar, entitled “The Triumph of the Chair of Saint Peter”. This chair stands above the high altar in the basilica, emblazoned with gold and supported by Saints Ambrose, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Augustine. Embroidered on the chair’s upholstery is a depiction of Christ giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter. Above it is inscribed (in both Greek and Latin) the following declaration: “O Pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ’s lambs and sheep.”
This all-too-short effort at an art history lesson is only a means of leading into the significance of the Papal Seat in our theology as Roman Catholics. The chair (or cathedra, the root of our word cathedral) has commonly been used as an image of power and authority, dating even back to the times of the Old Testament. Christ attests to the teaching power invested in the scribes and the Pharisees, stating that their teachings must be followed since they sit in the chair of Moses. (Matthew 23:2-3) The chair’s support by the four Doctors of the Church signifies that all teaching authority of the Pope is based on fidelity to the teachings of those great saints which have gone before us, also known as the Magisterium. The image of Christ giving the Keys demonstrates the essential fact that all papal authority ultimately comes from God, and is responsible to Him. Also, it shows that the Pope, as steward of Our Father’s House, can open for us the many doors in the mansion of salvation, while at the same time closing and locking the gates of Hell that they might not prevail against His beloved.