Doctor Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John... Read more
Question: What's God's Gift for All Christians?
Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, has recently released The Papacy: God's Gift for All Christians through Chartwell Press. The new book is a study edition of the work previously published by Marian Press as Saint Peter Lives in Rome.
Born the son of a Protestant pastor, Dr. Stackpole became an Anglican as an undergraduate and was eventually made an Anglican minister. Grateful for the faith passed on to him in those years, he nevertheless felt something was missing. Drawn to the Catholic Church, his greatest stumbling block to entering was the doctrine of the papacy. This volume is the result of his critical, in-depth study of the Petrine ministry, a quest that helped him embrace that office as the Lord's will for all Christians.
We recently spoke with Dr. Stackpole about his book.
Many Catholics take the papacy for granted. Why is this such a huge issue for non-Catholics?
For Catholics, the papacy has always been seen as essential to the Church that Jesus established because the unity of the Church is essential to her mission. I wrote about this right in the Introduction to the book: "As the whole history of the Church shows, the unity of the Body of Christ, and the means our Lord has given to us to secure that unity in truth and love, are vital and essential to the whole mission of the Church. Christian unity is not an 'optional extra' to the Church's mission; rather, it is the supreme manifestation of the grace of Christ in the world, without which the task of evangelism is largely crippled." Nothing has hindered the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations (for the last 1,000 years or so) than the divisions and squabbles among Christians. Now, our Lord knew from the beginning that unity was essential to the mission of His disciples, and so the papacy (the Petrine Ministry or "Peter-Ministry") was fashioned by him primarily to be a servant of the unity of his Body, in truth and love. That's why the papacy is so important — and the central thing I'm trying to show in this book.
What motivated you, as an Anglican, to take a second look at the papacy?
I loved being an Anglican pastor and theologian, because Anglicanism (in the U.S.A. we call it the "Episcopal Church") has such a rich heritage of spirituality and liturgy. I will always be grateful to God for all that I learned from that great Christian tradition. But as many of your readers may know, the Anglican communion has been torn and divided in recent decades over many issues: the ordination of women to the priesthood, homosexuality and the ordination of gay and lesbian priests and bishops. Even the church's belief in the Incarnation and Resurrection has come under fire from prominent Anglican bishops and theologians. In my heart and mind, this raised the obvious question: How do we really know what God has revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition? How is the Church to discern such matters? Who has the authoritative, trustworthy "final say" that can keep the Church in the unity of truth and love for the sake of its mission? Jesus promised "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (Jn 8:32). But how can we know that truth if we don't know where to turn to find it? Anglicanism, in the end, has no clear answer to this question. But the Catholic Church does have a clear answer, rooted both in Scripture and in ancient Tradition. In short, you find the fullness of Catholic truth guarded and proclaimed by her bishops, in union and communion with the Petrine Ministry in the See of Rome. And it is unity in that truth and communion that the papacy was designed to foster and protect.
Can you summarize your finding for us?
I try to show that the case for the Petrine Ministry is much more deeply rooted in the New Testament and the early Fathers of the Church than many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters realize. Indeed, much more so than I realized myself when I was an Anglican! The papacy is not just a medieval corruption of the way the Apostles and earliest Christians lived out the life of the Church. Rather, it developed from seeds first planted by Jesus Christ Himself, and then its specific role and responsibilities were pondered and clarified over time by many of the greatest saints of the Church. I try to collect all of the evidence for this that I can in this little volume, so both Catholic and non-Catholic readers can see that our Lord gave us the Petrine Ministry as a gift of his love for the sake of the unity of His Body.
What's the best way for Catholics to share the information they find in your book with non-Catholic family and friends?
The best way to share it with non-Catholic Christian friends is simply to get a couple of copies and read it through together. The book is not long (just 180 pages) and it's not a diatribe; it is peaceable and respectful to the questions and misgivings about the papacy that our Protestant and Eastern Orthodox friends bring to the table. Whether or not they will be convinced by the book, at least they will gain a new respect for Catholicism when they see where the Petrine Ministry really comes from in the Church (not primarily from Bishops of Rome pretending to be Roman Emperors!) and why authentic Catholics continue to be loyal to the Holy See.
Why rerelease the book now?
Pope Francis has taken some big steps in moving forward the process of ecumenical dialogue among the churches. As a result, there is renewed energy in the common search for Christian unity. What better time could there be to examine the office of the principal servant of the Church's unity, the Petrine Ministry, when Christians all over the world are longing for unity as never before?
Anything else you'd especially care to share?
Yes. I just want to say that this is a book of Catholic apologetics, to be sure, but it's also an ecumenical book, one that invites all Christians to rediscover the gift of the papacy to the Church. It includes honest discussion of some of the failures of Catholics and popes down through the centuries to strive for authentic unity (the divisions in the Church were not all the Protestants fault!). And at the end, it even follows Pope St. John Paul II's invitation to consider some reforms in the way the papal role is carried out today so that it can more truly manifest its role as "servant of the servants of God." So don't come to this book just looking for ammunition to use to blast your non-Catholic friends out of the water! (What good what that do anyway?). Come to this book looking for truth you can share, and an open heart that realizes that true Christian unity is a sheer gift of grace to us, from our Lord's merciful Heart.
Order The Papacy: God's Gift for All Christians.