"Fratres, notum vobis facio Evangelium, quod prædicavi vobis, quod et accepistis ... Tradidi enim vobis, in primis quod et accepi: quoniam Christus mortuus est pro peccatis nostris secundum Scripturas: et quia sepultus est, et quia resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas: et quia visus est Cephæ, et post hoc undecim..."
"Now I make known unto you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received ... For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures and that He was seen by Cephas; and after that by the eleven..." (I Cor. xv, 1, 3-5, from the Epistle for the Mass of the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.)
The one who holds the office of the Petrine ministry must be aware that he is a frail and weak human being - just as his own powers are frail and weak - and is constantly in need of purification and conversion.
But he can also be aware that the power to strengthen his brethren in the faith and keep them united in the confession of the Crucified and Risen Christ comes from the Lord. In St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, we find the oldest account we have of the Resurrection. Paul faithfully received it from the witnesses. This account first speaks of Christ's death for our sins, of his burial and of his Resurrection which took place the third day, and then says: "[Christ] was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve..." (I Cor 15: 4). Thus, the importance of the mandate conferred upon Peter to the end of time is summed up: being a witness of the Risen Christ.
The Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ. Thus, the Chair is the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter, and after him, on the Twelve. In the Church, Sacred Scripture, the understanding of which increases under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of its authentic interpretation that was conferred upon the Apostles, are indissolubly bound. Whenever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts.
Of course, all they have to tell us is important and invaluable; the work of scholars is a considerable help in understanding the living process in which the Scriptures developed, hence, also in grasping their historical richness.
Yet, science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles.
Mass of possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome (Lateran Basilica)
May 7, 2005