Project Canterbury

From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp.

Christian and Catholic

Transcribed by Dr. Elizabeth G. Melillo
AD 2000

Saint Peter at Rome

Transcribed by Dr. Elizabeth G. Melillo
AD 2000

It is claimed by Romans that Christ established for the government of His Church two entirely separate powers, the priesthood and the primacy. The pope, therefore, is not to be regarded as the first in rank of all bishops, not as a prince or primate among brethren, but he belongs to a distinct official class, of which he is the sole occupant. As the supreme ruler of the Church he is "in possession of supreme power and of the plenitude of power, as his own power."

"This plenitude of power includes that which belongs to the legislative, judicial, and coercive departments of government. The pope can make laws which bind the whole Church, and, in the vacancy of the see, the making of a universal law is impossible. By divine right he is supreme judge and he is the ultimate judge of all causes, and from his judgement there is no appeal. The Apostolic See is not one of several of its kind, but is unique. It is supreme and can be judged by none. As possessed of coercive power, the supreme pontiff has the powers of binding and loosing independent of any one. Christ gave the keys of the kingdom, not to the episcopate, but to the pontificate.

The pontiff has also supreme liturgical power for the regulation of the offering of the sacrifice, the ministration of the sacraments, all things which pertain to public worship. He is the bishop of the whole world, episcopus et urbis et orbis. Nothing can be done lawfully against his will; and every power within the kingdom is directly dependent on him. The jurisdiction of any bishop can be validly withdrawn by him even without any adequate cause and without giving reason. Bishops obtain their mission immediately from Christ's vicar. They must all style themselves 'bishops by the grace of God and of the Apostolic see.' All patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, are bound to visit Rome periodically and report in person. They must receive anew their 'faculties' to exercise certain episcopal powers for a limited term of years. The pope can withhold them at his pleasure(1)." Such in part are the prerogatives claimed by the Bishop of Rome, as set forth by approved Roman writers.

But on what grounds are we asked to submit to the papacy? Any true lover of Christ desirous of knowing the truth and obeying it will seriously ask himself, how can these papal claims be proved? Did Saint Peter himself realise that he possessed this supreme authority? Is there any evidence in Scripture to prove that he exercised it? Did the Apostles recognise this alleged difference between the priesthood and the pontificate? Have they left us any proof of their acknowledgement of Peter's superiority to the collective priesthood? Did Peter himself, feeling its grace and importance, formally and in some public manner, which should be a witness for all time, transmit it to any successor, or with it endow any see? If Rome claims it, when and how was the transfer formally made by Peter to that see?

It is only the last proposition with which we are here chiefly concerned. It is certainly an important one. Romans make, as we have seen, a distinction between the priesthood, as embodied in the episcopate, and the papacy. They are obliged to do this; otherwise their theory would fall to pieces. For the pope does not ordain his successor. Nor does the new pope succeed to the papacy as a king does, who, by virtue of his birth, becomes the monarch immediately on the death of his predecessor. The new pope succeeds by an election, and so there is necessarily an interval longer or shorter before the vacancy is filled. In some cases it has been as long as a year and a half or two years. Therefore, there is no personal transmission of authority from Peter through successors to the new incumbent. The link is broken at every vacancy. How, then, does the pope become possessed of this supreme authority? The only answer that can be given is that it is an authority and pledged assistance of infallibility attached to an office. And, moreover, if the claim of the papacy is to be made good, that this office was, having been received by Peter, by Peter originally attached to the see of Rome, it is therefore incumbent upon Romans to prove, by sure and certain evidence, that this was done.

It is therefore necessary for Romans to prove something more than that Peter visited Rome, or was martyred there, or even consecrated there a bishop, or with Saint Paul founded the see. He visited Antioch we know from Holy Scripture, and probably consecrated a bishop there, who had charge of the "circumcision." So, either with or without such limitation, we may suppose him to have done at Rome. All this, if proven, would fall far short of the evidence required to establish the present papal claims. For the pope cannot be, as we have seen, the successor of Saint Peter by consecration. If he consecrated Linus, Linus consecrated no successor. The pope succeeds by an election to this alleged office of supreme pontiff. This office as one distinct from the episcopate must have been attached by Peter to the see of Rome. A personal authority cannot be transferred without explicit permission in the original grant to do so, and when transferred the act or mode of transference must be explicitly proved.

No churchman can rightly allow of the existence of an office, as essential to the existence of the Church as is that of the priesthood, without proof equally clear as exists in the case of the ministry of the creation of that office and the mode by which it was to be filled and perpetuated. It is therefore incumbent on papal advocates to prove that the office of supreme pontiff was formally created by Christ, given to Peter, and by Peter as formally connected with the see of Rome.

Let us then see what the evidence of Peter's connection with Rome is. It is noticeable that it is only argumentative or circumstantial. Dr Dšllinger put the first in the best form. It had been contended by some that Saint Peter could not have been at Rome previous to Saint Paul's advent, because the latter says his rule was "not to build upon another's foundation." This, we might grant, would not forbid his writing a letter to the Romans. Dr Dšllinger says that Paul had been detained in Asia, in observance of his rule, but now that he was on his journey to Spain he could visit Rome on the way. He was unwilling to undertake a regular apostolic visitation, because the foundation was already laid at Rome. If laid, Dr Dšllinger argued, it could not have been by ordinary believers, for Paul's rule would not forbid him to preach where the Gospel had been previously preached, but only where there was an apostolic foundation; and so, as no other apostle could have laid it, it must have been by Saint Peter. As to Paul's remaining at Rome for two years in his own hired house, he was then there, not by his own will, but as a prisoner.

Concerning the strength of this argument, it leaves out of account the fact that Paul did not wish merely to stop over at Rome-junction on his way to Spain, but had a long-settled purpose to visit the great world's capital as part of his legitimate Gentile missionary field. We find him saying(2), "After I have been there (Jerusalem) I must also see Rome." He must have regarded it as belonging to his jurisdiction, and assigned to him by the highest authority. For the Lord had appeared to him and given him and express command to go thither. "As thou has testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome(3)." We do not, therefore, think the argument that assumes for its premise that Paul avoided an official stay at Rome, and so concludes that Peter must have been there, is of much force.

When we examine the evidence of Peter's visit, it divides itself into two classes, which may be called the romantic and the ecclesiastic account. To the former we owe the story of Peter's early visit to Rome, his contest there with the magician Simon Magus, and his twenty-five years' episcopate. The first beginnings of this legend are found in Justin Martyr in the second century, who mentions the visit of Simon to Rome and the erection there of a statue to him. The discovery in 1572 of the probable statue with its inscription, which Justin mistranslated, shows it to have been erected in honour of a Sabine god. Then in the Clementine romance the account was given of the contest between Simon Magus and the Apostle. Simon Magus proposed to fly in the Emperor's presence, and in answer to Peter's prayers he falls to the ground. Eusebius, who wrote in the fourth century, adds the gathered surmises, and the statement of the twenty-five years' episcopate. This last theory requires Peter to have gone to Rome after his miraculous release from imprisonment, and to have returned after the Council of Jerusalem. Of such a journey and return there is no evidence. All that Scripture says is that Peter "departed and went into another place." None of the great ecclesiastical historians of today accept the story in Eusebius as a verified or established historical fact. It has all the elements, in origin and growth, which mark the development of the myth, and may be dismissed as unhistorical.

When we take up the historical evidence, that of the first two or three centuries is circumstantial and scanty. But that is all we have. There is no record of it, where we should have a right to require it, viz., in Holy Scripture. In excuse for its absence, Cardinal Gibbons says, "For the same reason we might deny that Saint Paul was beheaded in Rome, that Saint John died in Ephesus. As, however, no article of the Christian faith depends on these last-mentioned events, no reason exists why they should be matters of scriptural record. But being essential to the dogma of the Roman supremacy, and our being members of Christ's Church, it is fatally significant that scriptural proof of Peter's visit is lacking.

Not only is this wanting, but there are no contemporaneous witnesses to a fact so essential, and upon which it is claimed the whole structure of the Christian Church depends. Nor in the apologists, or defenders of the Church, in the second century, where, if it were a matter of importance, it would surely find a place, is it to be found.

What, then, do we find in its favour? Saint Peter closes an epistle: "The co-elect one (feminine gender) in Babylon saluteth you, together with Marcus my son." Some have supposed that, as we know Saint Peter was married, his wife, who was at Babylon, is here referred to; others that Saint Peter was there himself and wrote from Babylon. Just as Saint Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentile world, would most naturally desire to visit the world's capital, so Peter, the special Apostle to the Jews, would naturally be greatly drawn to visit Babylon, the place of their great captivity. The order in which he mentions in his epistle the countries adjacent to his abode beginning with those nearest is somewhat corroborative of Babylon being then his residence. It is thought by others that by "Babylon" Rome is meant. Commentators differ and the solution remains in doubt. But if indeed the Holy Spirit has thus concealed the true fact from us, whatever it was it is a natural inference that He would not have us base anything of Church doctrine upon it. This is a more reasonable supposition than that Peter through fear sought to conceal his whereabouts.

The next bit of evidence offered is in Saint Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, at the close of the first century. In it the name of Peter has been restored in chapter five by conjecture, the syllable "os" being all that can, in the manuscript, be discerned. He refers, filling this out as Peter, to Peter and Paul as combatants "who have been nearest to us," who suffered martyrdom. This is obviously very indefinite, and, upon an issue upon which men's salvation is said to depend, of little worth. Saint Ignatius, who wrote about 105, said in a letter to the Roman Christians: 'I do not charge you like Peter and Paul, who are Apostles." This does not state that they were ever at Rome, for Ignatius might in his humility only be saying that he, their successor in the see of Antioch, could not address them with the apostolic authority of his predecessors. The earliest explicit statement in extant authors that we have of Peter's visit to Rome, is found in Irenžus, in his work on heresies. It is supposed to be written after his consecration as Bishop of Lyons, in 170 AD. He speaks of that most famous Church, "founded and constituted at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul."

In a rhetorical phrase, Tertullian(4), makes the earliest mention of the Apostle's martyrdom at Rome. Fermillian makes an allusion to the two Apostles as founders of the Roman Church. These writers do not claim to have had access to any original sources of information, and were probably following statements previously made. When we come to Eusebius in the fourth century, we find him quoting from writings which are not extant, from Papias, Dionysius, a Roman presbyter Caius, and Origen, the latter being the first to state, if that is the right translation of his words, that Peter was crucified with his head downwards. For the reasons that this evidence is late, and second hand, and also cannot be verified, we should be justified in rejecting it. For this is not like an ordinary historical question. It is one on which most important issues depend - an issue more important than life or death. Nothing less is at stake than whether we are in the church that Christ founded or not. Romans deny that we are in Christ's Church, and consequently that we have no covenanted pledge of salvation. In denying this to us, on the ground of the special endowment of the Roman see, the burden of proof is on them to prove it was so endowed.

But as our wish is to state, as strongly as the facts will allow, the Roman sided, let us admit it. There is a late ingenious argument by the Reverend Father Barnes rendering it quite probably that the tomb of the Apostle still rests below the crypt of the present Saint Peter's. The strongest argument, we think, is the uncontradicted tradition, which found expression in the Church's councils. Upon this evidence a number of writers, Calvin and Bishop Pearson, Alford, and others, accept the account, so far as relates to the visit and martyrdom under Nero, and the foundation in common by Peter and Paul of the Roman see. But all this does not prove the possession or the transference by Saint Peter to the see of that special office of supreme pontiff which Rome claims to-day to be her original endowment.

There are three comments we desire to make.

  1. While the evidence may be such as to warrant our acceptance, as probable historical events, of Peter's visit, martyrdom, and joint founding with Paul of the see, it is not such as to warrant Romans in unchurching those who cannot accept it, as proving, what it fails to do, the endowment by Saint Peter of that see with supreme monarchical power. If one sitting on a jury would not take away a man's life on such inconclusive evidence, surely one ought not to condemn, by unchurching him, a brother to the peril of what is worse - eternal loss.
  2. According to the admission of some Roman writers all possible doubt of Peter's consecration of Linus is not by this evidence excluded. At the best, it must be allowed, it falls short of absolute demonstration or certainty. All one can fairly say is that the predominating weight of probability is on that side. But that being so, what becomes of the vast superstructure, culminating in the papal infallibility, that is built upon it? Infallibility cannot logically rest on probability. It is like trying to build a pyramid on a foundation of eggs.
  3. Every doctrine contained in the creed which involves a fact has that fact recorded in Holy Scripture. The birth, crucifixion, resurrection of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit are examples. If the Church is so connected with the holy see that we must say, as the Romans do in their creed as set forth by Pope Pius IV and of universal obligation, "I believe in the Holy Roman Church," then the visit of Peter and his endowment of that see with his prerogatives should be proved in like manner. The Holy Spirit, we may reverently say, would not have omitted to do so in this case, if it were true, any more than in the others. And therefore, as Christians, we must conclude that there is no such evidence given us as will warrant our making belief in the Roman Church, with its monarchical pontiff, and its claim to be the whole Church, a part of our Creed.

1. Urbis et Orbis, Humphrey, SJ, chapter I

2. Acts 19:21

3.  Acts 23:11

4. Ad Marcion, IV, 5

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