Peter's Papacy

"And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. "Acts 17:10-11

A Look at the Catholic Tradition of Peter as First Pope

From the Roman Church and those who would speak for her, we often see conflicting declarations concerning who was the first Bishop of Roman. Those who support the Magisterium's flawed interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19 claim that Peter was made leader of the new church and soon became Bishop of Rome, the first in the unending line of apostolic succession. In other accounts, we read that the first Bishop of Rome was Linus, who was followed by Anacletus and Clement I.

Where is the truth? Was Peter the first bishop of Rome. Was he the first pope?

One Catholic educator and Church historian wrote:

Although Catholic tradition, beginning in the late second and early third centuries, regards Peter as the first Bishop of Rome and, therefore, as the first pope, there is no evidence that Peter was involved in the initial establishment of the Christian community in Rome (indeed, what evidence there is would seem to point in the opposite direction) or that he served as Rome's first bishop.--Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, p.25

"Catholic tradition "? Roman Catholicism teaches that what they refer to as Holy Tradition is equally as authoritative as Sacred Scripture.

81 Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.

And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.

82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.--Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

When we look to the Scriptures, we see absolutely no indication that Peter was either Bishop of Rome or Pope. There are a few historical evidences that Peter did spend some time in Rome and that he may have been martyred around the year 64 A.D. One reads the not infrequent claim that Peter held the Roman episcopate for 25 years, but this idea cannot be traced further back than the work of Jerome in the 4th century.

Certainly, if the Lord God Almighty had desired to establish Peter and his successors in the Roman Episcopate as rulers of the Christian church, one would expect to find some mention of that in the written Word. After all, the Canon of Scripture was not closed until about the year 96 A.D. If Peter indeed had been Bishop of Rome, does it not appear strange that there is no mention of that in any of the 27 books of the New Testament? In other words, the tradition of Peter's Roman Episcopate cannot be supported from Scripture, for Scripture is utterly silent on the issue.

The silence of Scripture concerning Peter as Bishop of Rome suggests that the Catholic position cannot be based on Holy Tradition, but rather on ecclesiastical tradition.

83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium.-- CCC, Op. cit

Notice that ecclesiastical tradition is not considered to be infallible and is subject to change, unlike Holy Tradition within the Roman Church. The silence of patristic writings in the first two centuries of Christianity concerning Peter's alleged papacy gives one pause to wonder what prompted later church fathers to originate the "tradition." As McBrien says,

Because it was not until the late second or early third century that Catholic tradition came to regard Peter as the first Bishop or Rome, it was Linus, not Peter, who was considered in the earliest succession lists to be the first pope.--Richard P. McBrien, Op. cit., p.33)

The earliest church fathers, men who actually were "on the scene" as it were, never wrote, so far as we know, a word identifying Peter as pope or Peter as Bishop of Rome. It was Clement I, writing in 95 A.D., who first wrote of Peter's martyrdom. Ignatius of Antioch, writing a few years later, mentions Peter and Paul as exhorting the Romans. Neither of these has a word to say about Peter having established his supposed preeminence as the Bishop of Rome.

Does it not seem strange that the whole doctrine of the Apostolic succession of the popes has been built on the flimsiest of foundations: a century and a half of silence? If the men who lived, labored and were martyred as contemporaries of Peter did not find reason to comment on his alleged papacy, on what basis did those later patristic writers form the tradition? We can get a hint of how these things start by looking at the work of Irenaeus:

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles.--The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, Ed. A. Roberts and J Donaldson, "Irenaeus Against Heresies", Book 3, Chapter 3, p. 829, AGES Software, Albany, OR USA Version 2.0 1997

When I read this, I see an account of how Peter and Paul, having planted and nurtured the young church in Rome, entrusted to Linus the job of Bishop, or overseer. This is a familiar pattern, which we see in Scripture. Paul started the church in Ephesus, for example, entrusting it's care to the young bishop Timothy.

That this was a point of confusion, even to the early church fathers, to whom RCC apologists so love to appeal, is clearly shown in these words of St. Jerome:

Nevertheless, there is a point which would perhaps seem inconsistent with facts were I to place the translation of it in this work, but which I do not consider to involve an impossibility. It is this. Linus and Cletus were Bishops of the city of Rome before Clement. How then, some men ask, can Clement in his letter to James say that Peter passed over to him his position as a church-teacher? The explanation of this point, as I understand, is as follows. Linus and Cletus were, no doubt, Bishops in the city of Rome before Clement, but this was in Peter's life-time; that is, they took charge of the episcopal work, while he discharged the duties of the apostolate. He is known to have done the same thing at Caesarea; for there, though be was himself on the spot, yet he had at his side Zacchaeus whom he had ordained as Bishop. Thus we may see how both things may be true; namely how they stand as predecessors of Clement in the list of Bishops, and yet how Clement after the death of Peter became his successor in the teacher's chair.--The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol 3, Ed. Philip Schaff, St. Jerome, writing in the "Preface to The Books of Recognitions of St. Clement" (Addressed to Bishop Gaudentius), p. 1136, AGES Software, Albany, OR USA Version 2.0 1997)

Jerome refers to Peter as "church-teacher." This makes sense. After all, Peter had walked with the Christ for three years and had heard His teachings first-hand. I have no trouble at all with the idea of Peter as the principle imparter of Chirst's teachings to the fledgling church in Rome. This role seems perfectly in line with the work Peter did as he traveled about, living and working in Jerusalem and Antioch and elsewhere.

It seems clear to me that the "Holy Tradition", as expounded by the Magisterium, of Peter as preeminent among the apostles and first pope is nothing more than self-serving wishful thinking, based upon eisegesis, fantasy and adding to Scripture.

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.--Revelation 22:17-21, KJV

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