Many anti-Catholics argue that Peter was not the first leader of the Catholic church because James was the bishop of Jerusalem. If James was the bishop of Jerusalem, where was Peter at the time?
Why did the Catholic church move from Jerusalem to Rome? Was there a power struggle between Peter and James? Did James accept Peter as Pope of Christ's church?
Thanks for the questions.
It is a common ploy among anti-Catholics to assert that St. James was the “Bishop” of Jerusalem and then to equate that position with leadership over the entire Church. Firstly, the title “Bishop” is used by anti-Catholics as if it had the same meaning then as it does now. No Apostle could technically be called a “Bishop” as we use the term today. A bishop is the head of a particular area (diocese). The Apostles were sent out to the world not to a particular area (see Matthew 28:18-20). Secondly, even if one concedes that St. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem, bishops are still under the authority of the pope. Thus Bishop James would still submit to Pope Peter (“I will entrust to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven”-Matthew 16:19). Thirdly, never was the Bishop of Jerusalem considered to be the head of the Church. Only the Bishop of Rome has ever been called the head of the Church, i.e. the Pope. This is because St. Peter died in Rome and his successors were seen as the new heads of the Church (“The gates of death shall not prevail against it”-Matthew 16:18). No early Christian concerned himself with who succeeded St. James in Jerusalem.
“You wrote also, that I should forward to (Pope) Cornelius (Bishop of Rome), our colleague, a copy of your letter, so that he might put aside any anxiety and know immediately that you are in communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church” (Letter of St. Cyprian, 251 AD).
“Therefore, shall you write two little books and send one to (Pope) Clement (Bishop of Rome)…Clement shall then send it to the cities abroad, because that is his duty” (Hermas, 140 AD).
The anti-Catholic in putting forth the “Bishop of Jerusalem” gambit is simply trying to take the focus off of the most devastating piece of evidence against their position. That evidence is that Jesus himself declared Peter to be the head of the Church.
“I for my part declare to you, you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19).
Our Lord said no like statement for St. James-case closed.
The Catholic Church moved its headquarters from Jerusalem to Rome because it was God's plan for the Church to take the gospel to the entire world (“Make disciples of all the nations”-Matthew 28:19). Jerusalem was the starting point for worldwide evangelization.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; than you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
So the gospel message would start in Jerusalem, then “throughout Judea” to all the Jews, then to Samaria, to the half-breed Jews, then finally “to the ends of the earth”, to the Gentiles. This is what we see happening in the early Church as Pope Peter is called upon by God to accept into His Church the first Samarians (see Acts 8:14-17), and then the first Gentiles (see Acts 10:34-48). These actions could have destroyed the infant Church, but since it was Pope Peter who allowed this (“Whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven”-Matthew 16:19) hardly any complaints arise.
God allowed persecution of the Church in order to force the Church out of Judea. “The members of the Church who had been dispersed went about preaching the word. Philip for example, went down to the town of Samaria and there proclaimed the Messiah” (Acts 8:4-5). It was by allowing further persecution on the Church that God forced the Church into Gentile territory.
“Those in the community who had been dispersed by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, making the message known to none but Jews. However, some men of Cyprus and Cyrene among them who had come to Antioch began to talk even to the Greeks, announcing the good news of the Lord Jesus to them” (Acts 11:19-20).
The best and quickest way to reach the entire world was by using the world's greatest empire. It was only through Rome's technological advantages that much of the world became reachable. So we see in the Book of Acts a great push to get the gospel planted firmly in Rome. St. Luke states, “This is how we finally came to Rome” (Acts 28:14). Many have remarked how the Book of Acts seems to end so abruptly without a proper ending. This ending seems so unsatisfactory to them. These people, I submit, think this because they fail to grasp the real point of the Book of Acts, namely, to get the Church established in Rome. Therefore, when this goal is accomplished, St. Luke ends his book.
“For two years Paul stayed on in his rented lodgings, welcoming all who came to him. With full assurance and without any hindrance whatever, he preached the reign of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31).
There is no Scriptual evidence of a power struggle between Sts. James and Peter. St. James, like all the Apostles, recognized St. Peter as Pope. Jesus, in front of all the Apostles, declared Peter to be the rock on which his Church would be built. In front of all he gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter alone. Then when the Apostles wondered who should be regarded as the greatest among them, Jesus told them, “Let the greater among you be as the junior, the leader as the servant” (Luke 22:26). The very next thing that Jesus does, again in front of all the Apostles, is to pray for Peter alone.
“Simon, Simon! Remember Satan has asked for you (Greek plural-“you all”), to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you (Greek singular-“you alone”) that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
After the Resurrection Jesus appears to the disciples and confirms Peter as head of the Church. Recall the St. Peter had denied the Lord 3 times (see John 18:15-17, 25-27); therefore, Jesus may have deemed it necessary to confirm that Peter was still the chosen earthly head of the Church. This was probably more for Peter's benefit then for anyone else. For St. Peter was still seen as a natural leader. When he said, “I'm going out to fish.” All the other Apostles who were present (six) replied, “We will join you” (John 21:3). Interestingly, after St. Peter's three-fold denial, our Lord makes him perform a three-fold affirmation. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asks three times in John 21:15-17. This where the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11, 14) confirms Peter as the new shepherd of Jesus' universal flock. “Feed my sheep” (v.17).
One final note on the other Apostles recognizing St. Peter as the undisputed earthly head of the Church. Any Jew upon hearing Jesus state that he was giving Peter the keys to the kingdom and the power to bind and loose would immediately know that Peter had just be made the prime minister, the vicar, the second-in-charge, only answerable to the king himself. This is so because in making Peter the head of the Church, Jesus quoted from the installation ceremony of the primeminister of the Davidic kingdom (a type of Jesus' heavenly kingdom).
“I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:22).
In conclusion, everyone in the early Church recognized St. Peter as the Christ-ordained head of the Church.
God Bless You,
P.S. Good luck with your Confession, my prayers are with you.