Beginning a series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum.
After nearly two thousand years, it's time — more than time — for Rome's claims of Apostolic Succession through the Apostle Peter to be subjected to that particularly harsh light of robust enquiry free from the clouds of sanctity and incense that have hitherto successfully repelled territorial invaders.
The most common beliefs held by Catholics are:
- that Peter was the first to preach the gospel in Rome;
- that Peter founded the Church in Rome;
- that as a result of his residence in Rome, Peter passed on his primacy to his successors the Popes, as Bishops of Rome.
These beliefs are neatly summed up by the Very Rev. Joseph Frà Di Bruno. 1
"St. Peter was the first to preach the gospel in Rome, and owing to his sanctity, zeal, prudence and power of working miracles, it was not long before he made many converts.
"The number of Christians increasing steadily each year, he chose the most distinguished among them and sent them as bishops or priests to different parts of the world as recorded in the Roman Martyrology...
"St. Peter having fixed his See in Rome to the end of his life and having died there a martyr, it follows as a matter of course, that his heirs and successors in that See should enjoy the prerogatives of that episcopate, that is, the supremacy which St. Peter received."
It is only natural that we Catholics should believe without question what the Church has claimed for so many centuries. Unfortunately, when these common beliefs are examined, they prove to be no more than a mixture of errors, confusions, and downright deceptions.
What Catholics are required to believe...
It will perhaps come as a great surprise to many Catholics but they are not required to believe that Peter either went to Rome, or that he established his church there.
Any doctrine of faith or morals which is necessary for all Catholics to believe at all times is classified as a dogma de fide. All de fide dogmas are listed in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott. 2
There is no dogma de fide about Peter's residence in Rome. Catholics must simply believe that:
"According to Christ's ordinance, Peter is to have successors in his primacy over the whole church and for all time." (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma p.282)
"The successors of St. Peter in the primacy are the Bishops of Rome." (p.283)
And from Sacred Canon Law, which binds all believing Catholics:
"The office uniquely committed by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, abides in the Bishop of the Church the Rome. He is the head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ and the Pastor of the Universal Church here on earth. Consequently, by virtue of his office, he has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power." (Canon 331)
An interesting quote from the Catholic Encyclopaedia article "The Pope" where the Papal Primacy is defined under pain of anathema for doubters and disbelievers:
"The primacy of St. Peter and the perpetuity of that primacy in the Roman See are dogmatically defined in the canons attached to the first two chapters of the Constitution Pastor Aeturnus:
1. "If any one shall say that Blessed Peter the Apostle was not constituted by Christ our Lord as chief of all the Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant: or that he did not receive directly and immediately from the same Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of true and proper jurisdiction, but one of honour only: let him be anathema."
2. "If any one shall say it is not by the institution of the Christ our Lord Himself or by divinely established right that Blessed Peter has perpetual successors in his primacy over the universal Church: or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Blessed Peter in the same primacy: let him be anathema."
So we have established that although many Catholics believe that Peter travelled to Rome and established the church there, they are under no obligation to do so.
Sacred Canon Law, the Constitution Pastor Aeturnus, and Dr. Ludwig Ott all claim that the Roman Pontiff holds the primacy from Peter by a divine ordinance. How this primacy was transferred from Peter to the Bishop of Rome is left totally unexplained. Dr. Ott merely states that he records "the more usual theological viewpoint". From this it follows that Catholics are simply required to believe that Peter passed on the primacy to the popes, and the authorities are under no obligation to produce evidence by way of explanation or substantiation.
Asserting Peter's ministry in Rome would surely imply that the required historical evidence is available. In Part II, we will examine what evidence the 'authorities' can produce.
1. Catholic Belief: Or A Short And Simple Exposition Of Catholic Doctrine, Very Rev. Joseph Frà Di Bruno, D.D, Benziger Brothers, printers to the Holy Apostolic See, 1884.
2. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott, Mercier Press Ltd, Cork, Ireland, 1955.