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“Let’s not open that can of worms!” These are the words in which an Episcopal member of a local dialogue committee greeted a proposal to discuss the issue of abortion. The can was never opened. The Catholic ecumenist who relates this incident had been an official observer at the national convention of the Episcopal Church. In one session a bishop suggested that his denomination should discuss abortion in dialogue with Catholics. Immediately another bishop rejected the proposal with the same words: “can of worms.” No more was said on that subject. Discussion of basic issues which divide the non-Catholic Eastern Churches from the Catholic Church seems wormy to some of This Rock‘s readers, to judge from the tone and content of their correspondence. They applaud and commend Pope John Paul’s letter on the Eastern Churches (Orientale Lumen), in which he explicitly avoids mentioning any divisive issues. They deplore and condemn This Rock‘s efforts to delineate some of those issues. They thereby rule out any possibility of genuine dialogue, and-perhaps unwittingly-choose disunity. Dialogue between separated Christian churches serves several purposes, as the Holy Father tells us in his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, issued in May 7, 1995. It “serves as an examination of conscience,” requiring that “the consciences and actions of Christians” as brethren divided from one another, should be inspired by and submissive to Christ’s prayer for unity.” Dialogue also serves the essential function of leading participants to see clearly “real and genuine disagreements in matters of faith.” In examining these disagreements, there are “two essential points of reference: Sacred Scripture and the great Tradition of the Church.” Furthermore, “Catholics have the help of the Church’s living Magisterium.” Although the Holy Father does not say it, Catholics and Easterners can and do agree on two of those points of reference, Scripture and Tradition. How we should use the reference points constitutes a (even the) basic issue which divides Easterners from the Catholic Church. In any dialogue between Catholic and non-Catholic ecumenists, the issue of authority comes to focus in the papacy. This phase of a Catholic apologetic addressed to Easterners will examine Eastern views on the scriptural material bearing on the role of Peter in the Church. Catholics and members of Eastern Churches can readily agree on the prominence of Peter among the apostles in the Gospels. He is called “first,” he consistently acts as spokesman for and leader of the apostolic band. At issue are the promises to Peter (Matt. 16:16-19 and 18:18). One’s interpretation of those promises will determine one’s understanding of Jesus’ command to Peter to strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:31-32) and feed the sheep (John 21:5-17); Peter’s role in the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (Acts 10, 11, 15 and 1 Cor. 8); the relationship between Peter and Paul sketched in Galatians 1 and 2, the question of Peter’s successors, if any. In a previous issue (“How the East Sees the Church,” October 1995) we discussed a split in modern Eastern thinking about the Church. From early days Easterners, like Catholics and later Protestants in general, have emphasized the universal Church as well as the local church. (For Easterners as for Catholics “local church” designates an individual diocese, not a local congregation.) In this century there has emerged among Eastern theologians another school of thought advocating what they call “Eucharistic ecclesiology.” They focus on the local church as being fully and completely the Body of Christ, simply because it is a Eucharistic community. They minimize or even deny what they call “universal ecclesiology.” They insist that the Pauline doctrine of the Body of Christ refers exclusively to the local church, not to an abstraction called “universal Church.” The idea that Matthew 16:17-19 refers to “universal Church” was totally unknown, they say, until the time of Cyprian in the third century.[ Nicolas Afanassief, “The Church Which Presides in Love,” in John Meyendorff, et al., The Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church (London: The Faith Press, 1963), 83.] An advocate of Eucharistic ecclesiology (John Meyendorff) declares that in our time “there is a remarkable agreement” among Eastern theologians in support of this approach. Indeed, says Meyendorff, it is “the basis, the nucleus of Orthodox ecclesiology itself” (italics his).[ John Meyendorff, Catholicity and the Church(Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 135.] This appraisal requires qualification. It is a fact that ecclesiology which begins from the Eucharistic nature of the Church to explicate the meaning of the Church as Body of Christ has a long history in the Catholic Church. It enjoys wide vogue among Catholic as well as Eastern theologians. Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium reflects this perspective. But all Catholic theologians reject Afanassief’s exclusive focus on the local church which minimizes or even practically denies the reality of the universal Church. A document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1992 made the same point. Quite a number of modern Eastern theologians also decry exclusive focus on the local church. “No one doubts the value of this [Afanassief’s Eucharistic] theology,” writes Ion Bria, a Rumanian. “However, it seems that it does not take into consideration the factual universality, organised and realised, of the Church.” Bishop John D. Zizioulas has made the same criticism of Afanassief. Georges Florovsky, perhaps the preeminent Eastern scholar of this century, also emphasizes the universal Church in his writings. [Aidan Nichols, O.P., Theology in the Russian D.aspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas’ev (1893-1966) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 184, 162.] Proponents of Eucharistic ecclesiology admit that “universal ecclesiology” has dominated Eastern thinking since the third century. But the latter ecclesiology is not the original and correct understanding of the nature of the Church. It has in their eyes most unfortunate implications. Afanassief and Alexander Schmemann, for example, contend that if Easterners continue to hold universal ecclesiology, they must concede the truth of Roman Catholic claims about the papacy. And this, of course, is unthinkable. By itself it constitutes one of their chief arguments against universal ecclesiology. Now to the Scriptures and Peter. To understand the role of Peter, says Afanassief, “we must begin with the presuppositions that were accepted in the Apostolic Age, and set aside all modern assumptions [which emphasize universal as well as local church].” [Afanassief, op. cit., 86.] This is no small task for Catholics and the Easterners who disagree with Afanassief. Remarkable indeed is the person who can truly set aside all modern assumptions on an important and controversial issue. Audacious indeed is that person if the proscribed assumptions have been universally held among Christians for seventeen (or twenty) centuries. How do we arrive at correct understanding of the scriptural account of Peter’s role, according to Afanassief and his followers? We start with the apostolic presuppositions Afanassief has recovered for us. Then quite apart from what Scripture says about Peter and the Church, we must decide whether the scriptural doctrine of the Church allows or excludes Petrine primacy. In other words, before we can decide whether Jesus granted Peter jurisdiction over a universal Church (which is what Petrine primacy means), there is another preliminary question we must answer. Was there, in Jesus’ mind, such a thing as a universal Church over which Peter could have jurisdiction? But at that point, who needs exegesis? We have our exegesis done even before we begin. Afanassief’s apostolic presuppositions tell us that in Matthew 16:18 Jesus referred to a local church (probably the church in Jerusalem) for which Peter would be the foundation. So before we look at Matthew 16:18 we know there was no universal Church and there could be no universal primacy even for Peter. Except for some Baptist traditions which also deny the reality of the universal Church, Afanassief and his followers stand completely alone in the Christian world in their denial. Everyone else-Protestant, Catholic, Eastern-recognizes that while the Greek word ekklesia does sometimes denote a local congregation, here in Matthew 16:18 the context is clearly Messianic. The substance of Peter’s confession is Messianic. In Jewish thought, Messiah could never be detached from the messianic community, the whole body of his people. So here, when Jesus uses the term he is referring to all his people: the Universal Church.[ This interpretation is also held by the Protestant scholar whose classic work on Peter was the original stimulus to Afanassief’s thinking about the papacy: Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr [New York: Living Age Books, 1958].] Eastern apologists generally, like Protestants, contend that when Jesus referred to the rock on which he would build his Church, he was referring to the confession of faith Peter had made, and not to the person of Peter himself. [This is the claim of Abbé Guettée, The Papacy: Its Historic Origins and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Churches (New York: Minos Publishing Co., no date), 36-38).]A number of the early Church Fathers also wrote that in this verse “rock” refers to Peter’s faith. But those same Fathers in fact accepted the primacy of Peter. They were not using their interpretation to deny that primacy, as Protestants and Easterners do. Peter himself or Peter’s faith: which is “rock”? Perhaps the clearest and one of the most detailed arguments that “rock” refers to Peter himself, not to his faith, has been made by the eminent Protestant scholar mentioned above. The theory that “rock” refers to Peter’s faith, says Cullmann, falls to pieces when one puts the word “rock” in its context. In Matthew’s account “there is little concern with the faith of Peter, which here is anything but exemplary.” Moreover, the text itself does not support the equation of “rock” with Peter’s confession of faith. Here we have two statements: “you are rock” and “upon this rock I will build.” The parallelism shows plainly that the second must refer to the same as the first. It is true, Cullmann notes, that elsewhere (as in Matt. 21:42) Christ himself is designated as rock. “But that is not what is said here; this passage says that Jesus’ role as rock is transferred to a disciple.” Another and telling argument of Cullmann is that if Jesus was designating Peter’s faith as the “rock,” there would simply be no point in Jesus’ giving Peter himself the name of “rock.” Cullmann concludes that Jesus was saying that he would build his Church on the person whom he had designated “rock.” [Ibid., 206-207.] It should be noted, however, that Cullmann does not accept Petrine primacy. He agrees with Catholic teaching about the meaning of Matthew 16:18, but says it was to apply to Peter himself, not to any successors. Cullmann argues that Jesus entrusted to Peter extraordinary authority in order to get the Church started. Once it was under way, he claims, there was no longer any need for Petrine authority. A Catholic would want to ask, if that authority was essential for the first generation of Christians, why is not essential for all succeeding generations? Abstractly, a Catholic can argue that it is impossible to build an institution on the foundation of a principle. Institutions do have basic principles, but they cannot exist unless there are persons by whom and structures through which those principles can be embodied. Put the issue into the Christian context. The statement that Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, in itself has no power to unify those who say they accept it. It cannot interpret itself in the face of divergent (even contradictory) understandings. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus cannot itself be the foundation of Christ’s Church. Peter can. Peter is. But, say Easterners and Protestants, Scripture teaches that Jesus is the one and only Rock. How can Peter be “rock”? In response to this challenge, a Catholic would add that according to 1 Peter 2:45, every true believer is a rock, a living stone. These three dimensions of “rock” harmonize unless one interprets each in an exclusive sense which distorts its meaning. It is Christ’s union with mankind that provides the foundation of the Church and the Christian life. Only he is “rock” in this ultimate sense. Why did Jesus establish his Church? What is its purpose? The answer is clearly stated by Pope John Paul II in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (13). He recalls the teaching of Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes, 22) that by his incarnation the Son of God has united himself with each person. Then he adds, “The Church therefore sees its fundamental task in enabling that union to be brought about and renewed continually.” In other words, the Church is the context in which, the means whereby, Jesus actualizes in individual lives the union he effected with each person by his incarnation. The Church is the meeting place, so to speak, of God and man. Without the institutional Church, none of us would or could respond to God’s outreach to us, God’s embrace of each of us, in the incarnation. In Jesus’ only recorded words about the establishment of his Church, he names Peter as foundation. As rock. Peter is the unifying basis of the institution. Individual believers become living stones (1 Pet. 2:4-5) by being united with Christ the Rock in the community Christ founded and established on Peter. Further light is shed on the role of Peter as rock, as foundation of Christ’s Church, by the book of Daniel. Vladimir Soloviev, a member of the Russian Church but an apologist for the papacy, calls attention to two series of verses, Daniel 7:13, 18, 27 and Daniel 2:34-35, 45. Daniel 7:13 is the key passage for the title “son of man” which our Lord applied to himself (see especially Matt. 16:13). The verses from Daniel 2 tell of a fifth kingdom which comes like a gigantic stone to destroy and supplant the four pagan empires. [Vladimir Soloviev, Russia and the Universal Church (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1948), 114.] Although the New Testament does refer to Christ as Rock, he never applied the image to himself Instead, he consistently used the language of Daniel 7:13, “son of man.” If the stone of Daniel 2 represented Christ, this would mean that Christ himself would become the great mountain which filled the earth and replaced the pagan empires. Christ himself, in other words, would be the institutional Church. But this interpretation would only confuse and distort the imagery used by the sacred writer. It comes to this. Daniel 7:18 and 27 state unequivocally that the fifth kingdom is that of “the saints of the Most High.” Obviously (says Soloviev) the fifth kingdom is the universal Church which Christ established. Now both Daniel and Matthew give us the titles “son of man” and “rock” of the Church. There can be no doubt that “son of man” in both Daniel and Matthew denotes the same person, the Messiah. By analogy, “rock” must bear in the same sense in both passages. In Matthew, Peter is rock. Therefore the rock (stone) in Daniel must “equally foreshadow the original trustee of monarchical authority in the Universal Church,” that is to say, Peter. In the fullness of time, Soloviev concludes, the stone of Daniel 7 turns out to be Peter, “the rock which was taken and hurled not by human hands [Dan. 2:34, 45] but by the Son of the living God and by the heavenly Father himself revealing to the supreme ruler of the Church that divine-human truth [Matt. 16:17] which was the source of his authority.” [Ibid., 115. ] Note further that Jesus did not simply give Simon a surname. He gave him a title. Just as “Jesus Christ” means “Jesus, the Christ [Messiah],” so “Simon Peter” means “Simon, the Rock.” Three times in Scripture-and always at great turning points-God gave a man a new name. In his covenantal encounter with Abram (Gen. 17), God changed his name to “Abraham” (“father of a multitude”), father of all believers. God chose Jacob as progenitor of the line of descent in which God’s Son would be born, and called him “Israel.” When God in Christ established the Church, he called Simon to be earthly head, center and source of unity, and called him “Peter” (the “rock” foundation). Jesus further specified Peter’s role by giving him two distinct offices (Matt. 16:18-19). He gave him custody of “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and the power of “binding and loosing.” On the basis of his presuppositions, Afanassief simply dismisses the power of the keys. Reject the whole idea of universal Church, he says, and you “shall not find the promised ‘power of the keys’ in our logion.” He does not tell us what we will find in Jesus’ words about the keys. Other Eastern apologists interpret the two offices as being two ways of saying the same thing, and they lump them under the general heading of “binding and loosing.” Then they note that in Matthew 18:18 Jesus gave the power of binding and loosing to all the apostles. Therefore, they say, it follows that Jesus also gave the power of keys to the other apostles. Then they drop the subject of the keys. Countering this argument, Soloviev points out that the language of binding and loosing is not appropriate for the use of keys. “A room, a house or a city may be shut and opened, but only particular beings or objects situated within the room or house or city can be bound and unbound.” [Ibid, 103.] If the second commission (bind and loose) was only an explanation of the first (power of the keys), then Jesus should have spoken of opening and shutting as he does in Revelation 3:7. Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:19 about binding and loosing seem to apply to objects and things (“whatever you bind”). On the other hand, the context of Matthew 18:18 (Jesus authorizes the apostles to bind and loose) makes it clear that this special power applies to individual cases. “Only personal problems of conscience and the direction of individual souls falls under the authority to bind and loose which was given to the other Apostles after Peter.” [Ibid., 104.] The symbol of the keys must represent a wider, more inclusive authority than the symbol of binding and loosing. What is the authority connoted by the imagery of the keys? Eastern scholars ignore the scriptural background of the phrase “keys of the kingdom.” Not so with Protestant scholars, who along with their Catholic counterparts have devoted a good bit of attention to this subject. Standing clearly in the background of Matthew 16:19 is Isaiah 22:20-23, which relates the installation of Eliakim as custodian of “‘the key of the house of David.'” In the exercise of that authority “‘he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.'” This responsibility being placed on Eliakim, as all commentaries on Isaiah tell us, was that of the master of the palace. In the ancient Near East the office was widely established. Joseph was master of the palace of Pharaoh in Egypt (Gen. 41). The master of the palace was second in command to the king (or in Joseph’s case, the pharaoh) himself. He had immediate access to the royal throne. All officials reported to him, all important documents required his seal, all matters of state came under his scrutiny. He governed in the name of the king, and acted for him when the king was absent. There are numerous Old Testament references to the work of the master of the palace in ancient Israel. Our risen Lord identifies himself to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7) as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.” To the visionary (John) he identified himself in these words: “I am the first and the last, and the living one, I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17f.) Jesus is the master of the house (the Church) which he established on earth. He has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Cullmann sees a clear parallel between Isaiah 22:20-23 and Matthew 16:19. “Just as in Isaiah 22:22 the Lord lays the keys of the house of David on the shoulders of his servant Eliakim, so Jesus commits to Peter the keys of his house, the Kingdom of Heaven, and thereby installs him as administrator of the house.” [Cullmann, op. cit., 203.] The Catholic Church’s catechism (section 553) says this. “The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church;. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.'” The Church makes it plain that Peter was “the only one to whom he [Jesus] specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.” This latter conclusion is also the position of Cullmann and a number of other Protestant scholars. Like Cullmann, however, those scholars argue that the authority granted to Peter by Jesus died with Peter. We have noted that Easterners attempt to dissolve the power of the keys into a generalized commission to “bind and loose.” What they really seek to do is “bind and lose” those keys. This attempt reminds one of a folk song entitled “The Cat Came Back.” The song tells the story of a pesky cat and its owner who went to astonishing lengths to rid himself of the cat. The cat was indestructible. He always came back. The keys Jesus gave to Peter are like that. The gifts Christ gave his Church are not disposable. For centuries non-Catholics have tried to lose those keys, but you can’t get rid of them. Especially if you don’t have them to begin with. Easterners, then, subsume the power of the keys under the power of binding and loosing. “Binding and loosing is a reference to the teaching, sacramental, and administrative powers of the Apostles which were transmitted to the bishops of the Church.” [The Orthodox Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), footnote, p. 47.] The Catholic Church in her Catechism (section 553) explains our Lord’s words: “The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church.” Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, 22) points out that “the office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.” Easterners and Catholics can readily agree on that statement, down to the last four words: “united to its head.” In early centuries we agreed on those words also, as we shall see in later articles. Now, however, the words formulate the basic issue which divides Easterners from Catholics. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/seeing-peter-through-eastern-eyes
Origins of Peter as Pope The New Testament contains five different metaphors for the foundation of the Church (Matt. 16:18, 1 Cor. 3:11, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:5–6, Rev. 21:14). One metaphor that has been disputed is Jesus Christ’s calling the apostle Peter "rock": "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). Some have tried to argue that Jesus did not mean that his Church would be built on Peter but on something else. Some argue that in this passage there is a minor difference between the Greek term for Peter (Petros) and the term for rock (petra), yet they ignore the obvious explanation: petra, a feminine noun, has simply been modifed to have a masculine ending, since one would not refer to a man (Peter) as feminine. The change in the gender is purely for stylistic reasons. These critics also neglect the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and, as John 1:42 tells us, in everyday life he actually referred to Peter as Kepha or Cephas (depending on how it is transliterated). It is that term which is then translated into Greek as petros. Thus, what Jesus actually said to Peter in Aramaic was: "You are Kepha and on this very kepha I will build my Church." The Church Fathers, those Christians closest to the apostles in time, culture, and theological background, clearly understood that Jesus promised to build the Church on Peter, as the following passages show. Tatian the Syrian "Simon Cephas answered and said, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah: flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee also, that you are Cephas, and on this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it" (The Diatesseron 23 [A.D. 170]). Tertullian "Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the Church would be built’ [Matt. 16:18] with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and on earth’ [Matt. 16:19]?" (Demurrer Against the Heretics 22 [A.D. 200]). "[T]he Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [and] whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. . . . What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when he conferred this personally upon Peter? Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys" (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]). The Letter of Clement to James "Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter" (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221]). The Clementine Homilies "[Simon Peter said to Simon Magus in Rome:] ‘For you now stand in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church’ [Matt. 16:18]" (Clementine Homilies 17:19 [A.D. 221]). Origen "Look at [Peter], the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church [Matt. 16:18]. And what does our Lord say to him? ‘Oh you of little faith,’ he says, ‘why do you doubt?’ [Matt. 14:31]" (Homilies on Exodus 5:4 [A.D. 248]). Cyprian of Carthage "The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]). "There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering" (Letters 43:5 [A.D. 253]). "There [John 6:68–69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly [i.e., invisibly] in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but it is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another" (ibid., 66:8). Firmilian "But what is his error . . . who does not remain on the foundation of the one Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ [Matt. 16:18], can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone: ‘Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:19]" (collected in Cyprian’s Letters74:16 [A.D. 253]). "[Pope] Stephen . . . boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid [Matt. 16:18]. . . . [Pope] Stephen . . . announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter" (ibid., 74:17). Ephraim the Syrian "[Jesus said:] ‘Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which my teaching flows; you are the chief of my disciples’" (Homilies 4:1 [A.D. 351]). Optatus "You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all" (The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]). Ambrose of Milan "[Christ] made answer: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church. . . . ’ Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church [Matt. 16:18]?" (The Faith 4:5 [A.D. 379]). "It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal" (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40:30 [A.D. 389]). Pope Damasus I "Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has not been placed at the forefront [of the churches] by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it" (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]). Jerome "‘But,’ you [Jovinian] will say, ‘it was on Peter that the Church was founded’ [Matt. 16:18]. Well . . . one among the twelve is chosen to be their head in order to remove any occasion for division" (Against Jovinian 1:26 [A.D. 393]). "I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails" (Letters 15:2 [A.D. 396]). Augustine "If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement. ... In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found" (Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]). Council of Ephesus "Philip, the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See [Rome], said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors’" (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 431]). Sechnall of Ireland "Steadfast in the fear of God, and in faith immovable, upon [Patrick] as upon Peter the [Irish] church is built; and he has been allotted his apostleship by God; against him the gates of hell prevail not" (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 3 [A.D. 444]). Pope Leo I "Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . has placed the principal charge on the blessed Peter, chief of all the apostles. . . . He wished him who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18], that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter’s solid rock, strengthening his Church so surely that neither could human rashness assail it nor the gates of hell prevail against it" (Letters 10:1 [A.D. 445]). Council of Chalcedon "Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod, together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, has stripped him [Dioscorus] of the episcopate" (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 451]). https://www.catholic.com/tract/origins-of-peter-as-pope
Was Peter in Rome? Like other Protestants, Fundamentalists say Christ never appointed Peter as the earthly head for the simple reason that the Church has no earthly head and was never meant to have one. Christ is the Church’s only foundation, in any possible sense of that term. The papacy, they say, arose out of fifth- or sixth-century politics, both secular and ecclesiastical; it has no connection with the New Testament. It has not been established by Christ, even though supposed “successors” to Peter (and their defenders) claim it was. At best the papacy is a ruse; at worst, a work of the devil. In any case, it is an institution designed to give the Catholic Church an authority it doesn’t have. A key premise of their argument is the assertion that Peter was never in Rome. It follows that if Peter were never in Rome, he could not have been Rome’s first bishop and so could not have had any successors in that office. How can Catholics talk about the divine origin of the papacy, Fundamentalists argue, when their claim about Peter’s whereabouts is wrong? Let’s look at this last charge, reserving for another tract a look at Peter’s position among the apostles and in the early Church. How to Understand the Argument At first glance, it might seem that the question, of whether Peter went to Rome and died there, is inconsequential. And in a way it is. After all, his being in Rome would not itself prove the existence of the papacy. In fact, it would be a false inference to say he must have been the first pope since he was in Rome and later popes ruled from Rome. With that logic, Paul would have been the first pope, too, since he was an apostle and went to Rome. On the other hand, if Peter never made it to the capital, he still could have been the first pope, since one of his successors could have been the first holder of that office to settle in Rome. After all, if the papacy exists, it was established by Christ during his lifetime, long before Peter is said to have reached Rome. There must have been a period of some years in which the papacy did not yet have its connection to Rome. So, if the apostle got there only much later, that might have something to say about who his legitimate successors would be (and it does, since the man elected bishop of Rome is automatically the new pope on the notion that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and the pope is merely Peter’s successor), but it would say nothing about the status of the papal office. It would not establish that the papacy was instituted by Christ in the first place. No, somehow the question, while interesting historically, doesn’t seem to be crucial to the real issue, whether the papacy was founded by Christ. Still, most anti-Catholic organizations take up the matter and go to considerable trouble to “prove” Peter could not have been in Rome. Why? Because they think they can get mileage out of it. “Here’s a point on which we can point to the lies of Catholic claims,” they say. “Catholics trace the papacy to Peter, and they say he was martyred in Rome after heading the Church there. If we could show he never went to Rome, that would undermine—psychologically if not logically—their assertion that Peter was the first pope. If people conclude the Catholic Church is wrong on this historical point, they’ll conclude it’s wrong on the larger one, the supposed existence of the papacy.” Such is the reasoning of some leading anti-Catholics. The Charges in Brief The case is stated perhaps most succinctly, even if not so bluntly, by Loraine Boettner in his best-known book, Roman Catholicism (117): “The remarkable thing, however, about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it. The word Rome occurs only nine times in the Bible [actually, ten times in the Old Testament and ten times in the New], and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to the city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend.” Well, what about it? Admittedly, the Bible nowhere explicitly says Peter was in Rome; but, on the other hand, it doesn’t say he wasn’t. Just as the New Testament never says, “Peter then went to Rome,” it never says, “Peter did not go to Rome.” In fact, very little is said about where he, or any of the apostles other than Paul, went in the years after the Ascension. For the most part, we have to rely on books other than the New Testament for information about what happened to the apostles, Peter included, in later years. Boettner is wrong to dismiss these early historical documents as conveyors of mere “legend.” They are genuine historical evidence, as every professional historian recognizes. What the Bible Says Boettner is also wrong when he claims “there is no allusion to Rome in either of [Peter’s] epistles.” There is, in the greeting at the end of the first epistle: “The Church here in Babylon, united with you by God’s election, sends you her greeting, and so does my son, Mark” (1 Pet. 5:13, Knox). Babylon is a code-word for Rome. It is used that way multiple times in works like the Sibylline Oracles (5:159f), the Apocalypse of Baruch (2:1), and 4 Esdras (3:1). Eusebius Pamphilius, in The Chronicle, composed about A.D. 303, noted that “It is said that Peter’s first epistle, in which he makes mention of Mark, was composed at Rome itself; and that he himself indicates this, referring to the city figuratively as Babylon.” Consider now the other New Testament citations: “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of her impure passion’” (Rev. 14:8). “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath” (Rev. 16:19). “[A]nd on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations’” (Rev. 17:5). “And he called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great’” (Rev. 18:2). “[T]hey will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, ‘Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come’” (Rev. 18:10). “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence” (Rev. 18:21). These references can’t be to the one-time capital of the Babylonian empire. That Babylon had been reduced to an inconsequential village by the march of years, military defeat, and political subjugation; it was no longer a “great city.” It played no important part in the recent history of the ancient world. From the New Testament perspective, the only candidates for the “great city” mentioned in Revelation are Rome and Jerusalem. “But there is no good reason for saying that ‘Babylon’ means ‘Rome,’” insists Boettner. But there is, and the good reason is persecution. The authorities knew that Peter was a leader of the Church, and the Church, under Roman law, was considered organized atheism. (The worship of any gods other than the Roman was considered atheism.) Peter would do himself, not to mention those with him, no service by advertising his presence in the capital—after all, mail service from Rome was then even worse than it is today, and letters were routinely read by Roman officials. Peter was a wanted man, as were all Christian leaders. Why encourage a manhunt? We also know that the apostles sometimes referred to cities under symbolic names (cf. Rev. 11:8). In any event, let us be generous and admit that it is easy for an opponent of Catholicism to think, in good faith, that Peter was never in Rome, at least if he bases his conclusion on the Bible alone. But restricting his inquiry to the Bible is something he should not do; external evidence has to be considered, too. Early Christian Testimony William A. Jurgens, in his three-volume set The Faith of the Early Fathers, a masterly compendium that cites at length everything from the Didache to John Damascene, includes thirty references to this question, divided, in the index, about evenly between the statements that “Peter came to Rome and died there” and that “Peter established his See at Rome and made the bishop of Rome his successor in the primacy.” A few examples must suffice, but they and other early references demonstrate that there can be no question that the universal—and very early—position (one hesitates to use the word “tradition,” since some people read that as “legend”) was that Peter certainly did end up in the capital of the Empire. A Very Early Reference Tertullian, in The Demurrer Against the Heretics (A.D. 200), noted of Rome, “How happy is that church . . . where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John’s [referring to John the Baptist, both he and Paul being beheaded].” Fundamentalists admit Paul died in Rome, so the implication from Tertullian is that Peter also must have been there. It was commonly accepted, from the very first, that both Peter and Paul were martyred at Rome, probably in the Neronian persecution in the 60s. In the same book, Tertullian wrote that “this is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrnaeans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John; like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter.” This Clement, known as Clement of Rome, later would be the fourth pope. (Note that Tertullian didn’t say Peter consecrated Clement as pope, which would have been impossible since a pope doesn’t consecrate his own successor; he merely ordained Clement as priest.) Clement wrote his Letter to the Corinthians perhaps before the year 70, just a few years after Peter and Paul were killed; in it he made reference to Peter ending his life where Paul ended his. In his Letter to the Romans (A.D. 110), Ignatius of Antioch remarked that he could not command the Roman Christians the way Peter and Paul once did, such a comment making sense only if Peter had been a leader, if not the leader, of the church in Rome. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies (A.D. 190), said that Matthew wrote his Gospel “while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church.” A few lines later he notes that Linus was named as Peter’s successor, that is, the second pope, and that next in line were Anacletus (also known as Cletus), and then Clement of Rome. Clement of Alexandria wrote at the turn of the third century. A fragment of his work Sketches is preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History, the first history of the Church. Clement wrote, “When Peter preached the word publicly at Rome, and declared the gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had been for a long time his follower and who remembered his sayings, should write down what had been proclaimed.” Lactantius, in a treatise called The Death of the Persecutors, written around 318, noted that “When Nero was already reigning (Nero reigned from 54–68), Peter came to Rome, where, in virtue of the performance of certain miracles which he worked by that power of God which had been given to him, he converted many to righteousness and established a firm and steadfast temple to God.” These citations could be multiplied. (Refer to Jurgens’ books or to the Catholic Answers tract Peter’s Roman Residency.) No ancient writer claimed Peter ended his life anywhere other than in Rome. On the question of Peter’s whereabouts they are in agreement, and their cumulative testimony carries enormous weight. What Archaeology Proved There is much archaeological evidence that Peter was at Rome, but Boettner, like other Fundamentalist apologists, must dismiss it, claiming that “exhaustive research by archaeologists has been made down through the centuries to find some inscription in the catacombs and other ruins of ancient places in Rome that would indicate Peter at least visited Rome. But the only things found which gave any promise at all were some bones of uncertain origin” (118). Boettner saw Roman Catholicism through the presses in 1962. His original book and the revisions to it since then have failed to mention the results of the excavations under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, excavations that had been underway for decades, but which were undertaken in earnest after World War II. What Boettner casually dismissed as “some bones of uncertain origin” were the contents of a tomb on Vatican Hill that was covered with early inscriptions attesting to the fact that Peter’s remains were inside. After the original release of Boettner’s book, evidence had mounted to the point that Pope Paul VI was able to announce officially something that had been discussed in archaeological literature and religious publications for years: that the actual tomb of the first pope had been identified conclusively, that his remains were apparently present, and that in the vicinity of his tomb were inscriptions identifying the place as Peter’s burial site, meaning early Christians knew that the prince of the apostles was there. The story of how all this was determined, with scientific accuracy, is too long to recount here. It is discussed in detail in John Evangelist Walsh’s book, The Bones of St. Peter. It is enough to say that the historical and scientific evidence is such that no one willing to look at the facts objectively can doubt that Peter was in Rome. To deny that fact is to let prejudice override reason. https://www.catholic.com/tract/was-peter-in-rome