“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” -Luke 22:32
In one of the texts for a religion course which I took in high school, the author cites this verse from Scripture to prove the primacy of Saint Peter. She writes, “Peter received the special grace to preserve the faith of the Church…Christ did not say that Peter would never sin but rather that his faith(belief in the truth) would not fail.” Thus, Peter did not lose the gift of faith even when he thrice denied Our Lord. Nowhere else in the Scripture does Jesus Christ mention that He has prayed for a single person, further confirming the significant role of the first pontiff.
Christ’s promise that Peter’s faith would not fail also extended to Peter’s successors. No matter how many mediocre, immoral, or downright scandalous men occupy the Chair, the faith will always be preserved through Jesus’ particular prayer for Peter. This promise must also extend to those popes who lacked prudence and insight, as well as those popes who were terrible theologians and teachers.
A person might ask, and without no good reason, how could this be? Does it not seem like a contradiction to believe that the papacy preserves the faith, yet the man holding the office may not even be considered a theologian in the basic sense of the word? With every bad or questionable thing Rome has done, not just over the past fifty years, but stretching back even further, perhaps even to the very birth of the Church, how could it be considered as a bulwark of the faith?
How? How? How? Why do we become so wrapped up in the question of the how that we forget the what? In this matter, the what is Christ’s promise that Peter’s faith will never fail. How that faith will never fail is ultimately a mystery, one that we will never be able to penetrate fully in this life.
However, recognition of and humble submission to the mystery does not mean completely casting off understanding. In fact, it is this very recognition and humble submission of which faith consists. Faith precedes understanding, and true understanding comes only by faith. As St. Augustine has taught, we believe in order to understand.
In the end, let the questions come. For as long as we have faith, we will never lose our sense of the mystery itself, no matter the degree of understanding which God deigns to bestow upon us.