From earliest times Christians looked for leadership to the successors of Peter as the bishop of Rome. However, whether this primacy should be one of honor only (as held by the Orthodox Eastern Church) or of actual rulership of the whole church (as claimed by Roman Catholics; see papacy) is one of the dividing questions of Christian history. The biblical passages cited to support Petrine supremacy are Mat. 16.13–20 and John 21.15–25. From the first passage comes the familiar image of the keys, which are seen to represent papal power, as well as that of St. Peter as the gatekeeper of heaven.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.