“When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19)
The scriptures recount the Lord’s promise to Simon Peter regarding the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Keys represent a significant item not only in the current LDS Church but also in the Catholic Church. I was reminded of this fact in a recent trip to Rome. An easy way to recognize a statue or painting of Peter, the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, is to look for keys in his hand.
For example, in this statue located in Saint Peter’s Basilica, we see Peter holding the keys in his left hand. I have included an inset of a closeup of the keys.
The keys of the kingdom also adorn other aspects of Catholic life. The coat of arms of the Pope has, for centuries, included the keys. This view, also from St. Peter’s Basilica, shows the coat of arms of Pope Leo X who was instrumental in the construction of the basilica.
Today, the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, continues the tradition. One gold key representing the power in heaven and one silver key representing the power on earth. These two keys are linked by the papal cord signifying the connection between the actions on earth and heaven.
Even the floor of the entry to Saint Peter’s Basilica is decorated with the keys.
The message is clear. Peter received the keys from Jesus Christ and the Pope still retains them today. Catholicism contends that there has been an unbroken chain of authority from Peter, the first ‘bishop’ of Rome through to the current Pope. As early as Bishop Clement in A.D. 88, the Catholics demonstrate that the bishop of Rome held sway over the church through his letter of correction to the Church in Corinth.
While there is no solid proof that the power vested in Peter by the Lord Jesus Christ was transferred to the subsequent bishops of Rome, this transfer is inherent in the position occupied by Peter and those that followed him in the Holy Roman See. Such is the Catholic contention. A defense of the Catholic position is found in the this letter by Art Kelly.
Did Peter, as an apostle, transfer the keys of the kingdom of God to the titular bishop of Rome? Did the Lord no longer need the apostles that represented personal witnesses of His resurrection? Did the less than Christ-like demeanor of some of the popes negate whatever power and authority that was given to them by God?
Now, shift forward a few centuries. The restoration of the fulness of the gospel and the keys of priesthood authority contend that the keys given to Peter were lost. Without the organization as constituted by the Lord Jesus Christ, the church was left to the wiles of men who used it to gain power and wealth. The restoration of the organization of the original church with it’s twelve apostles and the ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey to the higher priesthood represent that these powers to seal on earth and in heaven are again upon the earth. Elder Bateman expressed the following support in October 2003 general conference:
“The priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man. Priesthood keys are the right to direct the use of that power. The President of the Church holds the keys necessary for governing the entire Church. His counselors in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also hold the keys of the kingdom and operate under the President’s direction.”
These keys are passed on by ordination from generation to generation. But, does the simple passage of these keys through the laying on of hands constitute the only condition by which the keys of the priesthood can be exercised? In Doctrine and Covenants, section 121, further conditions are identified relative to the conduct of a bearer of the priesthood:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” D&C 121:34-37
As the scripture states, the rights or keys of the priesthood can only be exercised when the principles of righteousness are present. Any degree of unrighteous control or compulsion can negate a leaders authority. This admonition is not restricted to any class or position.
But what constitutes ‘unrighteous control?’ In earlier times during the Spanish Inquisition, Jews who would not renounce their belief and join the Holy Roman Church were drug through the streets by their feet or hanged. I would say that is a clear case.
Would the excommunication of a person because they promote the belief in a heavenly mother constitute unrighteous dominion? Where does striving for the purity of the faith cross over into unrighteousness?
Were the keys of the priesthood lost in the earlier dispensation? Can the keys of the priesthood be lost in this dispensation? The Lord tells us that:
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.” D&C 121:39-40
What is the definition of ‘almost all men?’ How easy is it ‘to cover our sins, to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion’ on others from a position of authority?
Does it gratify our pride when we accept accommodations in a multi-million dollar penthouse suite? Or a car and driver? Or an unlimited expense account?
Do we contribute to the problem when we extend adulation and bestow public honors upon those Christ called to ‘minister unto us and to be our servants?’ (See 3 Nephi 12:1)
What think ye?