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Book Review


And On This Rock, by Stanley Jaki
reviewed by Andrew Peterson

Trinity Communications 1987, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, 128 pages, $14.95

"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against the house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock" (Matthew 7:25)
Reformed Christians continue to have an historical bent. Whether studying the early church or reviewing events from the Reformation to the present, we treasure the historical data and the attempt to understand them in a Biblical manner. Although the author of And On This Rock: The Witness of One Land and Two Covenants sees us as "separated brethren" and, more consistently, as heretics and schismatics, it is well worthwhile for us to interact with his work.

The stakes are more than academic. Is God's Word sufficient without the added Roman Catholic tradition built on an extrapolation from Peter's confession of Christ's Lordship? As we Protestants have marched with brave Roman Catholics on anti-pornography picket lines, observed missions of mercy by Roman Catholics in crisis pregnancy centers, and attended conferences on traditional values, which were addressed by brilliant Roman Catholic scholars and activists, many Bible-believing Protestants have forgotten the reasons why we cannot have a deeper fellowship with Rome. At first glance, our political allies may appear to want to be Biblical and even desire to respect our confession, but as Jaki's work reminds us, the reality is otherwise.

Stanley Jaki is an eminent historian and philosopher of science quite apart from his credentials in theology. He has contributed important works to the philosophy of science which seek to drive the final nails into the coffin of logical positivism and begin to build a more subjectivist yet realistic alternative to our understanding of science. But what about his ecclesiology?

In writing And On This Rock, originally published in 1978 by Ave Maria Press, Jaki returns to theology to make the case for a familiar range of traditional Roman Catholic beliefs, in particular, the exclusive, universal, and infallible papal office. In the United States, there is some debate among Roman Catholic leaders and lay people about the issue of papal leadership, especially in regard to abortion, birth control, and the role of women. Jaki wants to boost traditional views on the papacy among the faithful after years of liberalization in liturgy and life-style. Additionally, he wants to challenge the many Jesuits and other liberal modernists who are skeptical about the Church, Scripture, and traditional teaching: "many Jesuits pride themselves in resisting the pope and instilling in others an attitude of defiance toward him" (p. 6).

The implied message for fundamentalist Protestants is to cease and desist from schism. On the contemporary scene, Jaki is a fellow anachronism reviving a sixteenth-century argument which we believe was settled by the Reformers. While he criticizes Hans K√ľng for not being more Biblical (p. 11), Jaki perpetuates the papal doctrines which make personal Bible study irrelevant. Why not just study church dogma or wait until the pope gives an update on a particular issue?

The book begins with extensive coverage of the geography of Caesaria of Phillipi and the specific location of Christ's discussion with the disciples in Matthew 16:13-20. Much detail is given about the related historical and archaeological research done over the years. There is a huge rock facade where Christ is thought to have acknowledged Peter's first confession of His deity. Jaki believes that this setting gives further confirmation of the nature of Peter's role in church history: the unmovable foundation of the church. Although this chapter is the longest in the book, it is difficult to see how the geography of the Bible land supplies evidence for the classic Petrine doctrine regarding Peter himself. What does it add to the exegetical argument which is the important issue for the biblicist? Certainly the symbolism of the rock tells us nothing about apostolic succession to his chair in Rome. Jaki's story is an iconic success, but hardly any more impressive to the exegete than a good historical novel.

The next longest treatment in the book is a study of the use of "rock" as a verbal image of God in the Old Testament. While there is little concern for actually making the connection to Peter, it is helpful to recount this description of the Lord as a Rock. Jaki seems to enjoy the Biblical material which communicates how God is a living foundation for the true believer. Yet in the same chapter, Jaki shows modernist tendencies in his comments on the Bible. At times, Scripture seems to be just one more source of data for the scholar, i.e. the Old Testament is a religious document rather than the Word of God to His people (cf. p. 61). Indeed, the consistent Roman Catholic emphasizes an inerrant Church as opposed to the Protestant's inerrant Bible.

The issue of the primacy of Peter as the authoritative beginning of the papacy is finally addressed directly in the short third chapter. Jaki's Roman Catholic presuppositions are evident throughout the interesting discussion of Peter's name. Having spent a long chapter on the Old Testament name for God as Rock (sur ) and wanting to transfer that image to Peter, he must explain the use of the Aramaic word for rock (kepha, cf. pp. 75-77). His hypothesis is that the use of sur would stir charges of blasphemy among the contemporary critics. His Scriptural proof for the claim that Jesus wanted to avoid comparing Peter to God is simply, Christ's consistent reference to Peter as "the son of Jonas" rather than "Petros." Though I take this pattern as evidence against the view that Christ is ordaining a universal office, Jaki takes this data in stride: "Such was Christ's subtle way of making it clear that as long as he was visibly present he alone was the Spiritual Rock" (p. 78). Likewise, when Peter admonishes the adoring Cornelius, Peter "must have known in full that this endurance as a rock was a mirage unless maintained by Yahweh the Rock" (p. 85).

A writer reveals his bias in what he does not discuss as well as what he does. The apostle Paul certainly exerted tremendous leadership throughout the apostolic period, yet Jaki says very little about him. Concerning Paul's rebuke of Peter in Galatians, Jaki defuses Paul's leadership by complimenting him on his deferential manners toward a brother. The Roman Catholic apologist needs to adequately address the leadership of Paul (and that of James and John). The book would be more credible if Jaki had spent additional time and his considerable skill on the hard counterevidence to the establishment of a papal office. A broader Biblical study is needed to establish Roman Catholic claims regarding Peter's role in the early church.

Jaki's concluding chapters contain interesting facts about the papacy and its implications. The philosopher rightly reminds the reader of the inescapability of the question of infallibility. For example, a scientist must operate with certain unquestionable givens in his paradigm. Indeed, conservative Protestants refer to the infallible Scripture which is known by its objective witness and internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (cf. John Murray in The Infallible Word: A Symposium, Presbyterian and Reformed Publ., 1946). God gives this infallible Scripture, not church tradition, to the church in order to accomplish its ministry of preaching, teaching, and counseling (cf. Weeks, N. "The Sufficiency of Scripture," Banner of Truth, 1988).

In contrast, the Roman Catholic approach, well-illustrated in And On This Rock, requires the church, especially in the person of the pope, to render infallible words about the Word: "[T]he plan of salvation must possess a built-in safeguard which, as Bible, Tradition, and history attest, can only be Peter living in his successors. Therefore, papal infallibility implies on the part of all those for whose safeguard it is given, an unswerving adherence to that rock foundation on which alone can rise that Church-edifice..." (p. 123).

Jaki wrote this book because of the crucial place of papal infallibility in Roman Catholic thought and practice. Though at base inconsistent with his faith in church tradition, he seeks to present a Biblically-based proof for the primacy of Peter as the first and paradigmatic pope. Even then, the matter of apostolic succession must be clarified. He does not do this. The final essay of the book assumes the divine origin of the papacy and the providential guarantee of a line of infallible "rocks." Apostolic succession is assumed rather than demonstrated.

Most Protestant readers of And On This Rock will be surprised to see the commitment to traditional Roman Catholicism and papal infallibility described by Jaki. The American trend toward presenting and perceiving Roman Catholicism as an orthodox, Biblical-type of Christianity is not consistent with the Pope's view of things or the Canon Law of 1983. The present book alerts us that the old arguments of the sixteenth-century are still with us. "Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock" (Matthew 7:24).


Andrew Peterson, Ph.D. (Univ. of Pittsburgh) is an instructor and counselor at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, San Diego, and an elder in Bayview Orthodox Presbyterian, Church, Chula Vista, CA.
7-16-96 tew
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