The Myth of Papal Primacy : Part I
The Myth of Papal Primacy : Part III

The Myth of Papal Primacy : Part II

Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum.

The Papacy : Unequivocal Assertions

Pope Benedict XVI

"I thank the Lord for allowing me, as the Successor of Saint Peter in the See of Rome, to make this pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor...This is the word of encouragement which I wish to leave with you this evening, and I do so in fidelity to my ministry as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Saint Peter, charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ's flock." [September 17, 2010, Westminster Abbey]

Catechism of the Catholic Church

936: "The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of his Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is "head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth."[1]

883: "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff." [2]

The Second Vatican Council

There is a widespread view amongst Catholics that Vatican II heralded a new beginning for the Church, a breath of fresh air, a departure from the old hard-edged inflexibility. I do not ascribe to this view.

On the issue that really matters, the Papacy's understanding of itself, the conciliar document The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium[3] ensured that the old intransigence and inflexibility would continue.

Although the document was couched in appealing words and noble sentiments, and exuded an overall odour of sanctity, the steel fist in the velvet glove manifested itself in passages reaffirming Vatican I. The bottom line is that despite all the talk about collegiality, the Pope still retained sole Primacy and Infallibility, and thus we continue to witness the Papacy becoming ever more inflexible, centralised and monolithic.

"This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching [Vatican I] about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful." [LG:III:18]

"But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church." [LG:III:22]

"The religious submission of mind and will [of the faithful] must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking." [LG:III:25]

The Apostle Peter: Unequivocal Assertions

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith

"In Peter's person, mission and ministry, in his presence and death in Rome attested by the most ancient literary and archaeological tradition — the Church sees a deeper reality essentially related to her own mystery of communion and salvation: 'Ubi Petrus, ibi ergo Ecclesia'. From the beginning and with increasing clarity, the Church has understood that, just as there is a succession of the Apostles in the ministry of Bishops, so too the ministry of unity entrusted to Peter belongs to the permanent structure of Christ's Church and that this succession is established in the See of his martyrdom."[4]

The Catholic Encyclopaedia

"It is an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter laboured in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course in martyrdom. As to the duration of his Apostolic activity in the Roman Capital, the continuity or otherwise of his residence there, the details and success of his labours, and the chronology of his arrival and death, all these questions are uncertain, and can be solved only on hypotheses more or less well-founded."

"The essential fact is that Peter died at Rome: this constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter. St. Peter's residence and death in Rome are established beyond contention as historical facts by a series of distinct testimonies."[5]

It would seem from all the foregoing that the Papacy's unequivocal assertions about Peter, about its authority deriving from Peter, and about Peter's Roman ministry were historical certainties, able to be demonstrated and verified. These assertions, however, quickly unravel when tested.

Irreconcilable Inconsistencies

Traditions about Peter's presence in Rome only surfaced in the latter half of the second century, around the same period as the various apocryphal/pseudographical works and the Clementine literature, with its elaborate and fanciful tales about Simon Peter and Simon Magus, began to proliferate.

Elements from these fables crept into subsequent writings until the fully fledged legend of Peter's twenty-five year episcopacy and martyrdom in Rome reached its final form with Jerome.

It is a task of epic proportions even to attempt an analysis of all the afore-mentioned works from antiquity that led up to these assertions by Jerome.

Instead, we will focus on one crucial issue. It is Peter's alleged death in Rome that constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter. For Peter to have died in Rome, it is obviously necessary that he should have first arrived there. Yet the authorities cannot come up with any evidence, not even a consistent story regarding his arrival, his ministry, his sojourn, or his death in Rome.

The Dating Game

Did Peter's Pontificate begin in Rome in 32 AD as claimed in the Catholic Encyclopaedia Pope List?[6]

Or did it begin in 42 AD, the second year of Claudius, as claimed by Jerome?[7]

Or would it have been impossible for Peter to arrive in Rome before 62 AD as stated by the acclaimed Catholic Church historian Msgr. Philip Hughes?[8]

Msgr. Hughes has this to say on the subject of Peter's residence in Rome:

"...The precise date at which the Roman Church was founded we do not know, nor the date at which St. Peter first went to Rome. But it is universally the tradition of this primitive Christianity that St. Peter ruled the Roman Church and that at Rome he gave his life for Christ in the persecution of Nero." [p14]

Hughes goes on:

"...About the origins of Christianity in Rome we know nothing. It is already a flourishing church in 56 AD when St. Paul refers to it. Three years later he arrived in Rome himself, a prisoner, for the hearing of his appeal to Caesar." [p17]

"...St. Peter first appeared there apparently some three years later, about the time St. Paul, acquitted, had left the city." [p18]

According to Hughes then:

  • There was a "flourishing" Christian community in Rome when Paul first arrived there, as we already knew from the New Testament.
  • The earliest time he can place Peter in Rome is between Paul's two captive visits.
  • Peter, therefore, could not have arrived in Rome before 62 AD.

Even though Peter's alleged death in Rome constitutes the historical foundation of the claim by the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter, and even though it is asserted by then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger that "In Peter's person, mission and ministry, in his presence and death in Rome attested by the most ancient literary and archaeological tradition — the Church sees a deeper reality essentially related to her own mystery of communion and salvation: 'Ubi Petrus, ibi ergo Ecclesia'," the authorities cannot produce one scintilla of evidence to support claims so monumental in their historical implications.

As Richard P McBrien, Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, states:

"Few, if any, traditions associated with the Papacy have anything at all to do with the Apostle Peter, or with the Lord himself for that matter."[9]

If Peter was never in Rome, then where was he? In Part III of this series we will begin to examine the evidence available to us.

To be continued...

[1]   Catechism of the Catholic Church

[2]   Catechism of the Catholic Church

[3]   The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church : Lumen Gentium

[4]  The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church: Reflections of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect, and Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop emeritus of Vercelli, Secretary. Reported in Il Primato del Successore di Pietro, Atti del Simposio teologico, Rome, 2-4 December 1996, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1998.

[5]  Catholic Encyclopaedia article St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles : Activity and death in Rome - Burial Place

[6]  Catholic Encyclopaedia Article: The List of Popes

[7]   Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, trans. by Ernest C. Richardson, Vol. III, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953 p. 361.

[8]   A Popular History of the Catholic Church, Msgr Philip Hughes, Macmillan & Co, 1951.

[9]  Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II,  McBrien, Richard P., Harper, San Francisco, 1997, p.392.


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