We are going to read Matthew 16 once more. It seems to me that every time I read this part of Matthew’s Gospel, something new grabs my attention. Recently, I was reading something by Fr. Leonardo Castellani (1899-1981) when I noticed two important events in the life of St. Peter. The first is here, Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah. The context is rich in allegories but now we will concentrate only on Peter.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:13-17

What I noticed in this particular instance is the flow of information. You may find this strange but it is important. Hiding in plain sight is the fact that the Holy Trinity has taught Peter the truth about the real nature of Christ, his mission, and also a new authority that will be bestowed upon Peter. A few years ago, Jesus found Peter and his friends while they were fixing their fishing nets. Peter will no longer “tie and untie” the old nets. He has a new business, to tie and untie the laws that bind the Church together. Him and his companions have been transformed. Now they are fishers of men, catching souls in the great divine net. The important part of this lesson is: God is teaching Peter and Peter is allowing God to open his eyes to a new reality: Jesus is the Christ and the battle to rule Heaven and Earth is about to enter its final stage.

The teaching that followed that momentous revelation was no less surprising. Peter was shocked to hear Jesus talk not about victorious campaigns to conquer the world. The strategies revealed involve sacrifice and death. Jesus teaches them the terrifying realities of the Cross. At this point, Peter seems to refuse to hear God’s lesson.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:21-23

Notice that this was not the first of Peter’s failures. He had lost his faith momentarily while trying to follow Jesus walking on water (see Matthew 14:28-31) and later on, Peter failed miserably many times over. It is easy to find fault with Peter in the manner some critics of Catholic doctrine use those failures to “demonstrate” that “he is not infallible.” Time after time he finds his faith faltering at the crucial point of the test. Peter is not Abraham, he is a man like any other. Having said that, Peter is one that instinctively knows the old rule of the ancient philosophers: know thyself. He knows in his heart of hearts that he loves his Master but he also knows his heart is feeble. After many shameful failings and denials, Peter will confirm his love for Jesus by saying:  “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17)

After Jesus presents the disciples with the way of the Cross, Peter will fail to learn from God and then the flow of information changes direction. Peter cannot give up the popular ideas of his time. Everyone was expecting a glorious general, a conquering Messiah, someone who would make Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar look like fumbling amateurs. Reluctant to give up his dreams of glory, Peter the Fisherman tries to teach God: “This shall never happen to you!”

God had inspired Peter to recognize Jesus as the Messiah for the first time, but this time the enemy of God gained access to Peter’s thoughts. Jesus had recognized the origin of Peter’s doctrine and had given him the lead over his companions. This second time, Jesus also recognized the origin of Peter’s doctrine: the cunning enemy of God that knows very well that his kingdom of lies and death will be defeated by the truth of the Cross in the end. Jesus thunders in response: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the thoughts of God, but merely human thoughts.”

Notice one more thing: the thoughts that the enemy managed to smuggle into Peter’s mind were thoughts of “liberation” — that is the false liberation by human means that have plagued mankind since Adam — The same drama is replayed today when misguided minds present the errors of the so called “liberation theology” as the solution to all the evils that ail mankind.

One could use Matthew 16 as a map representing the whole history of the Papacy. The mission is presented to us first in its perfection: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ who will win, reign, and rule mankind forever. The entire Church, represented by the Twelve, then listens to our King’s strategy: In hoc signo vinces, that is “you shall win if you embrace the Cross.” It is at that point the Peter fails again by not listening to the Word of God in front of him but trying foolishly to teach God instead: “This shall never happen to you!”

Father Leonardo Castellani teaches in Will Christ return or not?[1]  how Peter’s failure may visit the papacy at the end of times:

The Mystery of Iniquity is the hatred of God and the worshiping of man. The Two Beasts are the political power and man’s religious instinct turned against God and controlled by the false Christ and the false prophet. The Obstacle is, in our interpretation, the remaining in force of the Roman Order. [2] The Great Harlot is religion deconstructed and surrendered to the temporal powers, and it is also the ethnic Rome, where this mystery of iniquity was revealed for the first time to the astonished eyes of John, the last apostolic visionary.

The worshiping of man combined with the hatred of God has always existed. “The mystery of iniquity is already at work” — writes St. Paul to the Thessalonians[3]
The Mystery of Iniquity is the origin of the city of man contending with the City of God from the beginning; it is the root of all heresy and the fire of all persecutions;
 it is the quiet incestuousness of the creature settled on its specific difference; it is the continuous rebellion of the sinful intellect against its beginning and end, the echo multiplied through the ages of  Satan’s “I shall not serve. — “but the One who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.”

The paramount of The Mystery of Iniquity is the hatred of God and the idolatrous worshiping of Man.

The Mystery of Iniquity tends to materialize in the body politic to crush the saints. It was the force that condemned Socrates to death, persecuted the prophets, crucified Jesus, and later multiplied the martyrs; and it will be the one who will destroy the Church when the Obstacle is removed, allowing the appearance of a man of satanic greatness, a commoner of perverse genius, perhaps a man of Jewish origins, superhuman intellect, absolute wickedness, to whom Satan will extend his power and his accumulated fury.

The Church, assisted by the Holy Spirit, impedes that manifestation and lessens it, resting on the human order that the Roman Empire organized in a body of laws and political practice; but the day will come for the end of this age, and the One who now holds it back, the Obstacle, will be removed. The Holy Spirit will perhaps abandon that social-historical body we call Christendom, sending his own to the most barren isolation, giving them “the wings of the great eagle to fly to the wilderness.” And then the existing  temporal structure of the Church will be caught by the Antichrist and will fornicate with the kings of the Earth (if not all the Church, at least a noticeable part of it, as it has already happened in history) and the abomination of desolation will enter the holy place. “So when you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it ought not …” then it is fulfilled.

Will that be the reign of an Anti-Pope or a false Pope? Will that involve the material destruction of Rome? Would that be the ascension of a sacrilegious cult? We do not know. We know that the Apocalypse of St. John, when describing the Great Harlot points with all precision to “the city of seven hills.” That interpretation is given by the very angel who is revealing the doctrine to St. John.

The short exegesis of Fr. Castellani seems to fit perfectly with Peter’s model found in Matthew 16. The Church who loved Jesus and offered the blood of her martyrs to complete the redemption of the world; the same Church that faithfully took the Gospel to the most remote parts of the world at great peril; that same Church will cease to listen to her Master and perhaps will briefly change His Doctrine in an attempt to appease the menacing forces surrounding her. Peter will look down fearfully into the abyss once more and will lose his faith. But be of good heart! The faithful will preserve the faith through that hour of darkness. We may be driven into the desert but that will result in our salvation. This new Passion has to unfold but those who love God, have nothing to fear. A new world and a glorious new age of the Church are waiting for us on the other side.

[1] Will Christ return or not? published in Spanish as Cristo ¿vuelve o no vuelve? in 1951 by Paucis Pango, chapter 6 p. 30 “The Mystery of Iniquity.”

[2] See Rosadini, S.J. In libros N. Testamentii, vol III, published by Gregoriana, Rome, 1981; In Epistolam II ad Thessalonicenses, unpublished course 1980-1981.

[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:7.