Saint Peter was most definately the "chief" apostle. The one who Jesus personally changed his name to Rocky and to who Jesus gave the office of the keys.
Well, let's look at the significance of the term "rock" in the Scriptures, aside from St.Peter's name change. (note, the emphasis in all of the quotes is mine, if this is not obvious)
Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock (St.Matthew 7:24)
As it is written: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:23)
and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1st Corinthians 10:4)
Here also, are passages pertaining to the issue of what the foundation
of the Church is, aside from the passage in St.Matthew 16 that this discussion is revolving around...
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: he is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it; for it was founded upon a rock. (St.Luke 6:47-48 )
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1st Corinthians 3:10-11)
He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were nigh; for through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore, ye are strangers and foreigners no more, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord, in Whom ye also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22)
but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1st Timothy 3:15)
And here is a particularly dense, rich vision of the Church/Heavenly Jerusalem, which the "Church Militant" (Church in this world) participates in, and indeed is a foretaste of the glory which is to come...
9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels, who had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, "Come hither; I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife."Some Conclusions...
10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the Holy Jerusalem, descending out of Heaven from God,
11 having the glory of God. And her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
12 It had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.
14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof and the walls thereof.
16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as great as the breadth; and he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs; the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
17 And he measured the wall thereof: a hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
18 And the wall was built of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.
19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald,
20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.
21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each separate gate was of one pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were, transparent glass.
22 And I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God gave it light, and the Lamb is the light thereof. 24 And the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.
25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day, for there shall be no night there,
26 and they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
27 And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but only they that are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. (Apocalypse of St.John 21:9-27)
- The terms "rock" and "foundation" are used interchangeably.
- The terms "rock" and "foundation" fundamentally refer to Christ.
- By extension, His word/revelation are also "rock" and "foundation", as the above passages indicate, for the communication of the Holy Gospel in preaching is the beginning of the Church's mission to the unredeemed; It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
- The "foundation" is also the Church Herself, which is diffused throughout the world through this preaching; this Church is the "bride of Christ", His Spouse, and indeed, His very Body (and thus, on this score, is the "foundation", for He is the
Rock and Foundation).
- The Prophets and Apostles who first received this truth, and (in the case of the Holy Apostles) diffused it throughout the world (founding the Church everywhere) are also called, by extension, part of the Church's "foundation" - this is richly illustrated in the incredible vision of grace received by St.John the Theologian in the Apocalypse.
With all of this in mind, it is possible to read St.Mathtew chapter 16 in context
- According to St.John 6:65, and St.Matthew 16:17, no one can accept the revelation of God, without God's assistance - it is not something founded upon human genius or cleverness, but a work of grace.
- The then named "Simon, son of Jonah" is the first to confess that Christ is the "Son of the Living God" (St.Matthew 16:16) This is the source of any pre-eminance he will have (not any virtue he himself may possess)
- In verse 18 we read "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter (rock), and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it." What is interesting, is that the Lord says "you are Rock" but then does not proceed to say "and upon you
I will build by Church" but "you are Rock, and upon this
Rock I will build My Church". If what He meant was the particular person of St.Peter and his supposed "successors" (which get no mention whatsoever in the Scriptures), then the manner of His speach seems obscure at best. However, we know from other passages that the true faith, and He Who it points to (Christ) are most certainly "the Rock" upon which all is founded.
- Simon bar Jonah is re-named "Rock" precisely because by his confession, he is showing himself to be like the "wise man who builds upon Rock" (St.Luke 6:47-48, and other similar passages), and because he is (like the other Apostles) going to be close to the root, the source, of the Church's diffusion throughout the world (one of the "twelve pillars", one of the "Apostles" lying at the foundation of the Church, the "house of God"). IOW, he is re-named (which scripturally is always an important act, such as in the case of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament who had their names changed by God for symbolic reasons) precisely because of his confession
- St.Peter's pre-eminance and honour amongst the Holy Apostles, his "firstness" is due precisely to his being "the first" to confess the truth of Christ's Divinity. He will not be the only
one to do such; he is simply the first, and this is the source of his honour. This is precisely why the charge laid upon him by Christ in St.Matthew 16:19, is subsequently given to the other Apostles as well - "Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and so whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven." (St.Matthew 18:18) "Firstness", btw., is precisely how the Scriptures
speak of St.Peter - it is not some latter day, Byzantine manifestation of rebelliousness to supposedly "legitimate" ecclessiastical authority (ex. "Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: the first
, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;" St.Matthew 10:2... and every listing of the Apostles, will always have St.Peter's name listed at the beginning, though chronologically he was not
the first Apostle to be called by Christ.)
This is why the Holy Fathers often spoke so glowingly of St.Peter. He is the "first", not only amongst the twelve, but indeed amongst all Christians. He was also the first to proclaim the truth of the Holy Gospel after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and the first to witness to Christ before the enemies of the Church (the Jewish religious heirarchy.)
While we are made very familiar by RC apologists of Patristic passages which they (imho, twist) understand to be "pro-Papal", there are others which clearly show their proper understanding must lie elsewhere. For example, here are some passages from St.John Chrysostomos, which certainly do not line up very well with the RC take on St.Peter (and I assure you, many others like this from other Fathers could be cited)...
Do you not see that the headship was in the hands of these three, especially of Peter and James? This was the chief cause of their condemnation by Herod (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XI, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily XXVI, p. 169)
For the Son of thunder, the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world, who holds the keys of heaven, who drank the cup of Christ, and was baptized with His baptism, who lay upon his Master’s bosom, with much confidence, this man now comes forward to us now (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 1.1, p. 1).
This (James) was bishop, as they say, and therefore he speaks last..There was no arrogance in the Church. After Peter Paul speaks, and none silences him: James waits patiently; not starts up (for the next word). No word speaks John here, no word the other Apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XI, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, Homily 33, pp. 205, 207).
And if anyone would say ‘How did James receive the chair of Jerusalem?’ I would reply that he appointed Peter a teacher not of the chair, but of the world (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume XIV, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 88.1-2, pp. 331-332).
‘And I say unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’; that is, on the faith of his confession. Hereby He signifies that many were on the point of believing, and raises his spirit, and makes him a shepherd...For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), Volume X, Saint Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Homily 54.2-3; pp. 332-334).
All of this, of course, is quite beside the question of how St.Peter's ministry relates to that of the Bishops of Rome...a question which I've yet to see an even reasonable polemic for, let alone a half way convincing one.