‘Traditional Catholic’ advice from One Peter Five

‘Peter himself can fail and become Satan’:
How Timothy Flanders explains Francis to Protestants

Semi-trads have a problem. Not only do they continually have to tell themselves that the public apostate Jorge Bergoglio’s reign of error is somehow compatible with the Catholic doctrine on the Papacy and does not violate the promises of Christ, they do occasionally also have to explain the “Francis papacy” to conservative Protestants — you know, the kind that has a problem with Francis’ paganism, idolatry, blasphemy, and relativism.

This very issue came up in a recent One Peter Five live video broadcast. Editor Timothy S. Flanders spontaneously responded to a question from a viewer asking about how to defend the Papacy vis-à-vis Protestants when Francis is constantly making a mess. In other words, how is a Catholic to convince a Protestant of the truth of the Papacy as a divine institution which enjoys God’s assistance, when the current “Pope” is himself constantly denying the Faith in words, deeds, and omissions?

A tough challenge indeed for those who believe Bergoglio is a true Pope, but T.S. Flanders was convinced he has a solution. Take a look at his answer in this 2-minute clip released Aug. 10, 2022:

In a nutshell, Flanders argues the following:

  • There is no question that St. Peter is the “rock” referred to by Christ in Mt 16:18
  • Nevertheless, St. Peter, the rock, went on to rebuke the Lord Jesus a few verses later (see Mt 16:22)
  • In response, the Lord Jesus called him “Satan” (see Mt 16:23)
  • Catholics do not believe that the Pope is impeccable (sinless)
  • Therefore, when Peter fails, Christ Himself remains the chief cornerstone (see 1 Pet 2:6-8)
  • In Gal 2:11-14, we read that St. Paul rebuked St. Peter to his face
  • The person of St. Peter is not the only “rock” of Mt 16:18 — it is also St. Peter’s confession and indeed the Lord Jesus Himself
  • Wherefore: “…Peter himself can fail and become Satan, as the Scriptures declare”

So this is how the editor of One Peter Five, who also runs a web site of his own entitled “The Meaning of Catholic”, thinks Catholics should “explain Francis” to Protestants.

Right off the bat, we notice that with regard to the crucial points meant to salvage Bergoglio’s claim to the Papacy, Flanders (a) engages in private interpretation of Scripture (cf. 2 Pet 1:20; 3:16) and (b) disregards Catholic teaching on the Papacy. But let’s take things step by step.

For anyone not familiar, Mt 16:18 reads thus: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

It is perennial Catholic teaching that in conferring the name “Peter” on the Apostle Simon, which He prophesied He would do in Jn 1:42, our Blessed Lord designated St. Peter for a special primacy over His Church called the Papacy, a divinely-instituted office that would be conferred upon him after the Resurrection: “And upon Simon Peter alone Jesus after His resurrection conferred the jurisdiction of the highest pastor and rector over his entire fold, saying: ‘Feed my lambs,’ ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:15ff.]” (Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 1; Denz. 1822; underlining added).

Thus, the first takeaway is that Simon-Peter did not actually become Pope — He did not actually receive the Petrine primacy — until after the Resurrection.

After our Lord’s commissioning of Simon-Peter, declaring him to be the rock against which the gates of hell would not prevail, and after promising to give him “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:19), we read the following in the biblical account:

From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.

(Matthew 16:21-23)

As is so often case with the Holy Scriptures, this is a passage that is not immediately clear and needs some explanation. Unlike Timothy Flanders, however, we will turn to the Church’s approved Scripture commentaries to shed some light on this and not simply make up our own interpretation.

We begin with the commentary notes on these verses compiled by Fr. George Leo Haydock (1774-1849). They are pretty much self-explanatory:

Ver. 21. From that time, &c. Now when the apostles firmly believed that Jesus was the Messias, and the true Son of God, he saw it necessary to let them know he was to die an infamous death on the cross, that they might be disposed to believe that mystery; (Witham) and that they might not be too much exalted with the power given to them, and manifestation made to them. (Haydock)

Ver. 22. Peter taking him, &c. out of a tender love, respect and zeal for his honour, began to expostulate with him, and as it were to reprehend him, saying, Lord, far be it from thee, God forbid, &c. (Witham)

Ver. 23. Go after me, Satan. The words may signify, begone from me; but out of respect due to the expositions of the ancient fathers, who would have these words to signify come after me, or follow me, I have put, with the Rheims translation, go after me. Satan is the same as an adversary: (Witham) and is here applied to Peter, because he opposed, out of mistaken zeal, Christ’s passion, without which the great work of man’s redemption could not be effected. Peter, however, unknowingly or innocently, raised an opposition against the will of God, against the glory of Jesus, against the redemption of mankind, and against the destruction of the devil’s kingdom. He did not understand that there was nothing more glorious than to make of one’s life a sacrifice to God. (Bible de Vence) — Thou dost not, i.e. thy judgment in this particular is not conformable with that of God. Hence our separated brethren conclude that Christ did not, in calling him the rock in the preceding verses, appoint him the solid and permanent foundation of his Church. This conclusion, however, is not true, because, as St. Augustine and theologians affirm, Peter could fall into error in points regarding morals and facts, though not in defining or deciding on points of faith. Moreover, St. Peter was not, as St. Jerome says, appointed the pillar of the Church till after Christ’s resurrection. (Tirinus) — And it was not till the night before Christ suffered that he said to Peter: Behold, Satan hath desired to have thee; but I have prayed for thee, that “thy faith fail not,” and thou being once converted confirm thy brethren. (Luke xxii. 31.) (Haydock)

(Haydock Bible, Commentary on Matthew 16; italics and bold print given; underlining added.)

These notes shed a good amount of light on the passage in question.

Next, we will look at the Great Commentary of Fr. Cornelius à Lapidé (1567-1637), which synthesizes the interpretations of numerous biblical scholars, saints, and theologians:

And Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him. Took Him — that is to say, apart — as though more familiarly and secretly he would chide Him out of vehement love, which before the others he did not dare to do. So S. Chrysostom, and Euthymius; and S. Jerome, who comments thus: “Peter did not wish that his confession should be brought to nought, as he had said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ for he did not think that it was possible that the Son of God should be put to death; and so he takes Him into connexion with himself, or leads Him apart that he might not appear to reprove his teacher in the presence of his fellow-disciples, and began to rebuke Him with loving affection, and to say to Him with desire, ‘Be it far from Thee, O Lord;’ or — as it is better — in the Greek, ‘Be propitious to Thyself, O Lord.'” It will not be, says S. Thomas, that this should have, as it were, a necessary propitiation. And Christ indeed accepted the affection, but reproved the ignorance. Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee. So shameful a death shall not befall Thee; for who can endure that the Son of God should be crucified and put to death? The Greek is … mayest thou be, or may God be propitious to thee. So the LXX [Septuagint] usually translates the Hebrew, … let there be prohibition to Thee — as formerly people were wont to say “the gods forbid” — “the gods send better things.” The Syriac is spare Thyself. Peter speaks out of human prudence and affection, not by Divine inspiration as when he said a little before, “Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God” [Mt 16:16], for here being left to himself he fails, and therefore he is reproved by Christ.

But He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan — thou art an offence unto Me (Syriac, thou art a stumbling-block unto Me), for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. S. Hilary refers the Get thee behind Me to Peter, but the words Satan, thou art an offence unto Me he refers not to Peter, but to the devil, who had suggested to Peter to say, be it far from Thee, O Lord. S. Hilary writes thus: “For the Lord, knowing the suggestion of the Satanic craft, saith to Peter, ‘Go thou backward after Me’ — i.e., that he should follow the example of His Passion. But He adds against him by whom this speech had been suggested, Thou art an offence unto Me, Satan: for we must not think that the name of Satan and the offence of the stumbling-block are to be applied to Peter after such great words of blessedness and power had been applied to him.” But all other writers join Satan with Get thee behind Me, and consider that the whole was spoken to Peter. Christ therefore saith unto Peter, Get thee behind Mei.e., leave Me, depart hence, get out of My sight; for in this matter thou art not a friend unto Me, but Satan — that is, an adversary (for this is the meaning of the Hebrew “Satan,” and so the Vulgate has it; 2 Sam. xix. 22, and 1 Kings v. 4) — and a scandal, that is, a stumbling-block and hindrance to Me; for thou wouldst hinder My Passion, and consequently the redemption and salvation of man, which by My Passion I am about to merit and obtain. So S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, and S. Jerome, who says: “It is My own and My Father’s good pleasure that I should die for the salvation of man, thou considerest only thine own will, and wouldst not that the grain of wheat should fall into the earth so as to bring forth much fruit.” “And therefore,” says S. Thomas, “because thou art contrary to My will thou oughtest to be called an adversary, for Satan is interpreted adversary, or contrary; not, however — as many think — that Satan and Peter are condemned by the same sentence, for to Peter it is said, Get thee behind Me, Satan, i.e., thou who art contrary to My will, follow thou Me. But to Satan it is said, Get thee hence, Satan; and it is not said to him ‘behind me,’ that, it may be understood Go away into everlasting fire.” Calvin and his followers object that Christ here calls Peter Satan; therefore He a little previously did not call him the rock, nor appoint him the head of the Church. S. Jerome answers that Peter was called Satan (that is, an adversary) only for the particular time in which he withstood Christ, who was willing to suffer and be crucified, but that he was appointed a rock, not for the time then present, but for the future; namely, that after Christ’s death and resurrection he should become the rock and head of the Church. Secondly, S. Augustine (Serm. 13, de Verb. Dom. secundum Matth.) and Theophylact reply, that Peter is called blessed, and constituted the rock of the Church, inasmuch as being enlightened by the revelation of God, he had confessed Christ the Son of the Living God, and therefore had been by Him appointed the rock of the Church; but that he is here called Satan so far as he, departing from God and God’s decree (of which he was ignorant), followed human affection, on account of which he was unwilling that Christ — whom he loved so much — should die. … In a similar way, blessed Peter Damian (l. i, Epist. xvi. to Pope Alex. II.) calls Cardinal Hildebrand, who afterwards became Pope [St.] Gregory VII., “his holy Satan.” Satan, because he opposed his refusing the cardinalate and returning to his Camaldolese hermitage; holy, because he did it with a holy purpose, namely, because he saw that the work of Peter was very useful to the Church.

For thou savourest not, &c.; Arab. thou thinkest not; Gr. … thou understandest not, thou dost not receive, nor approve with thine intellect and thine affections the things which are pleasing to God, but the things which human prudence, that is to say, flesh and blood, suggests. This was the fount and the cause of Peter’s error, and of all other men, that thou savourest not. For thou wouldst consider My body and My life, and wouldst provide for human consolation contrary to God’s decree, whereby He has most wisely appointed that I should die for the salvation of men. Thus men sin when they prefer the weak judgment of the flesh to the wise and lofty judgment of God. For, “the animal man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, and he cannot understand them.” (i. Cor. ii. 14).

(The Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide: S. Matthew’s Gospel – Chaps. X to XXI, 4th ed., trans. by Thomas W. Mossman [Edinburgh: John Grant, 1908], pp. 230-233; italics given; underlining added.)

This rich commentary explains how we are to understand Simon-Peter’s words to our Lord and our Lord’s words to Simon-Peter. Thus it is clear that the holy Apostle simply spoke rashly and out of a lack of understanding but obviously with good will and for a pious intention. He was driven by a sincere, though mistaken, zeal, and he spoke out of a genuine love for his Master. How that should be in any way comparable to Bergoglio’s incessant contemptuous and malicious denial of the Faith, Flanders does not explain.

Clearly, then, the “Get thee behind me, Satan” verse does not in any way “explain” — to Protestants or anyone else — how, if the Papacy is true, an apostate like Francis could hold the office validly.

That the Pope is not impeccable — not incapable of sinning — is very true but not terribly relevant to the problem at hand. It is not because Francis is simply a sinner that there is so much turmoil over his putative pontificate, but because he continually manifests that he does not adhere to Catholicism and binds his followers to a different (i.e. false) gospel (cf. Gal 1:8-9). Flanders tries to make it seem as if all sin is the same, whereas Pope Pius XII made clear that “not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 23).

Flanders’ observation that Christ Himself remains the chief cornerstone even when the successor of St. Peter “fails”, is not terribly meaningful. What is this idea supposed to signify? Could not a Protestant also claim that in his religion Christ remains the head of the corner when a given pastor teaches error or heresy? What does this “explanation” actually explain? What does it accomplish?

Now, to say that the Pope can fail can be understood in more than one way.

If by the Pope failing we simply mean that he is a sinner, then Flanders’ observation is true as far as it goes, but then it is also no less true that the Pope, too, still retains his status as the divinely-guaranteed rock that keeps the gates of hell from prevailing, even while he commits sins. That is what makes the Papacy so special: Despite a Pope’s personal sins, he still has the divine assistance. A Pope’s personal immorality or unworthiness cannot vitiate that which Christ Himself guarantees for the Papacy.

As Pope Leo XIII declared in an allocution to cardinals held on Mar. 20, 1900:

…the Church has received from on high a promise which guarantees her against every human weakness. What does it matter that the helm of the symbolic barque has been entrusted to feeble hands, when the Divine Pilot stands on the bridge, where, though invisible, He is watching and ruling? Blessed be the strength of his arm and the multitude of his mercies!

(excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 349)

The crucial distinction between immoral Popes and false “Popes” — or evil Popes and non-Catholic “Popes” — is fleshed out and backed up from history in the following post:

If, on the other hand, Flanders means that Christ Himself remains the chief cornerstone when the successor of St. Peter not merely commits sin in general but sins in a very specific manner by publicly defecting from the Faith and teaching heresy to his flock, then such an idea is inadmissible because gravely injurious to the Catholic religion:

To satisfy this pastoral duty, our predecessors always gave tireless attention that the saving doctrine of Christ be spread among all the peoples of the earth, and with equal care they watched that, wherever it was received, it was preserved sound and pure. Therefore, the bishops of the whole world, now individually, now gathered in Synods, following a long custom of the churches and the formula of the ancient rule, referred to this Holy See those dangers particularly which emerged in the affairs of faith, that there especially the damages to faith might be repaired where faith cannot experience a failure. The Roman Pontiffs, moreover, according as the condition of the times and affairs advised, sometimes by calling ecumenical Councils or by examining the opinion of the Church spread throughout the world; sometimes by particular synods, sometimes by employing other helps which divine Providence supplied, have defined that those matters must be held which with God’s help they have recognized as in agreement with Sacred Scripture and apostolic tradition. For, the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth. Indeed, all the venerable fathers have embraced their apostolic doctrine, and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed it, knowing full well that the See of St. Peter always remains unimpaired by any error, according to the divine promise of our Lord the Savior made to the chief of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” [Luke 22:32].

So, this gift of truth and a never failing faith was divinely conferred upon Peter and his successors in this chair, that they might administer their high duty for the salvation of all; that the entire flock of Christ, turned away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished on the sustenance of heavenly doctrine, that with the occasion of schism removed the whole Church might be saved as one, and relying on her foundation might stay firm against the gates of hell.

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 4; Denz. 1836-1837; underlining added.)

Thus far the dogmatic teaching of the First Vatican Council.

Even outside the council, however, we find the same teaching repeated again and again in the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff; for example:

Now you know well that the most deadly foes of the Catholic religion have always waged a fierce war, but without success, against this Chair; they are by no means ignorant of the fact that religion itself can never totter and fall while this Chair remains intact, the Chair which rests on the rock which the proud gates of hell cannot overthrow and in which there is the whole and perfect solidity of the Christian religion. Therefore, because of your special faith in the Church and special piety toward the same Chair of Peter, We exhort you to direct your constant efforts so that the faithful people of France may avoid the crafty deceptions and errors of these plotters and develop a more filial affection and obedience to this Apostolic See. Be vigilant in act and word, so that the faithful may grow in love for this Holy See, venerate it, and accept it with complete obedience; they should execute whatever the See itself teaches, determines, and decrees.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Inter Multiplices, n. 7; underlining added.)

This consideration too clarifies the great error of those others as well who boldly venture to explain and interpret the words of God by their own judgment, misusing their reason and holding the opinion that these words are like a human work. God Himself has set up a living authority to establish and teach the true and legitimate meaning of His heavenly revelation. This authority judges infallibly all disputes which concern matters of faith and morals, lest the faithful be swirled around by every wind of doctrine which springs from the evilness of men in encompassing error. And this living infallible authority is active only in that Church which was built by Christ the Lord upon Peter, the head of the entire Church, leader and shepherd, whose faith He promised would never fail. This Church has had an unbroken line of succession from Peter himself; these legitimate pontiffs are the heirs and defenders of the same teaching, rank, office and power. And the Church is where Peter is, and Peter speaks in the Roman Pontiff, living at all times in his successors and making judgment, providing the truth of the faith to those who seek it. The divine words therefore mean what this Roman See of the most blessed Peter holds and has held.

For this mother and teacher of all the churches has always preserved entire and unharmed the faith entrusted to it by Christ the Lord. Furthermore, it has taught it to the faithful, showing all men truth and the path of salvation. Since all priesthood originates in this church, the entire substance of the Christian religion resides there also. The leadership of the Apostolic See has always been active, and therefore because of its preeminent authority, the whole Church must agree with it. The faithful who live in every place constitute the whole Church. Whoever does not gather with this Church scatters.

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Qui Pluribus, nn. 10-11; underlining added.)

Many more such magisterial statements can be found here.

Either way we look at it, Flanders’ observation does not clarify or solve anything. It is mere rhetorical fluff that does not answer the actual conundrum, even if it may appear to at first sight.

Not surprisingly, the editor of One Peter Five recycles once more the golden oldie of St. Paul rebuking St. Peter to his face, mentioned in Galatians 2:11-14. As we have shown in the past, this argument is dead on arrival:

Flanders’ conclusion that “Peter himself can fail and become Satan, as the Scriptures declare”, is thus a disgraceful and impossible way to “defend the Papacy” in relation to a Protestant.

In fact, the only failure is found in what Flanders delivered to his audience — a theological train wreck that does violence to Catholic doctrine and ultimately reduces the Papacy, the Petrine primacy, to meaninglessness.

But perhaps Flanders wishes to take a different route to explain Bergoglio to Protestants. For example, he could point out how the Argentinian apostate is himself a big fan of Protestantism. Here are some sample specimen:

OK, maybe that course of action isn’t going to work either.

Let’s recall the words of Pope Pius XII:

The Pope has the divine promises; even in his human weaknesses, he is invincible and unshakable; he is the messenger of truth and justice, the principle of the unity of the Church; his voice denounces errors, idolatries, superstitions; he condemns iniquities; he makes charity and virtue loved.

(Pope Pius XII, Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949)

This is the traditional Catholic teaching. That it is not verified in Francis only admits of one conclusion without doing damage to the Faith itself, namely, that Francis is not in fact a valid Pope.

This, however, is one idea the people behind One Peter Five will never tolerate. Although “Restoring Catholic Tradition” is part of the slogan on their web site’s masthead, they have shown in recent months that they are actually more interested in rethinking Catholic Tradition, specifically to make it compatible with the idea that the Vicar of Christ can be a public apostate who teaches heresy to the entire Church. Rethinking the status of Jorge Bergoglio, on the other hand, is absolutely anathema to them! Why is that? At this point, even The Remnant is starting to go there!

As the editor of One Peter Five, Timothy Flanders has succeeded the organization’s founder Steve Skojec, who stubbornly refused to countenance Sedevacantism no matter what, all the while lobbying for what he called a practical Sedevacantism” instead. The tragic long-term result is that Skojec is now an agnostic, wondering whether there really is a God, and if so, whether He is truly all-good.

Tragically, this descent into apostasy was entirely foreseeable, and we actually predicted it on Twitter before it happened, as can be seen in the following tweets:

What primarily occasioned Skojec’s fall into apostasy is clearly the Francis “papacy”. This can be inferred from the articles he wrote for One Peter Five as the “pontificate” progressed, from his public tweets, and from the posts he has published on his personal blog since his exit from One Peter Five (which we will not link to here).

We do not want Timothy Flanders or anyone else to go the way of Steve Skojec. Yet, a stubborn refusal to let go of the idea that Bergoglio is Pope, will inevitably lead people there, since the divine assistance guaranteed to all true Popes is obviously not found in the apostate from Buenos Aires.

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