Sts. Peter & Paul by El Greco.
Happy Feast of the Apostles, Peter and Paul! St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, was not only the leader of the Apostles, but the first Patriarch of Antioch and first Pope of Rome. St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, is a remarkable example of conversion, and was the author of so many of the Epistles of the New Testament. These two men figure rather significantly as the foundation of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
On this great feast of the patron saints of Rome, this following is a link to the great Basilicas dedicated to those two saints, and containing their tombs:
Papal Roman Basilicas
Above: Statue of St. Peter by Cambio at the Vatican Basilica;
Below: Statue of St. Paul in front of his Basilica on the Via Ostia.
For more on the lives of these saints themselves, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Peter
Catholic Saints Info: St. Peter
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Paul
Catholic Saints Info: St. Paul
This seems a good occasion to recall the origins of the tradition and role of St. Peter, and his successors, the Supreme Roman Pontiffs, or popes. In other words, the Scriptural and historical basis for the Papacy.
First, we turn to the pages of Sacred Scripture:
From the Gospel of St. Matthew (16:15-19):
"Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."
Of course, in most languages, the word for Peter and for Rock is one and the same.
Next, we might note the charge given to St. Peter in the Gospel of St. John (21:17):
"He said to him a third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep."
As to the matter of succession, recall from the Acts of the Apostles, the expectation that someone would take the seat of Judas the Betrayer (Acts 1:15-20):
"1:15 In those days Peter rising up in the midst of the brethren, said (now the number of persons together was about an hundred and twenty): 16 Men, brethren, the scripture must needs be fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was the leader of them that apprehended Jesus: 17 Who was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.18 And he indeed has possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: so that the same field was called in their tongue, Haceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. 20 For it is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, and let there be none to dwell therein. And his bishopric let another take."
Finally, St. Peter certainly acts with authority in the accounts of the New Testament as the Vicar of Christ who holds the keys of his master, as when he determined that new converts would not be held to the Jewish dietary restrictions.
In the writings of Christians, even from the early centuries, there is a clear understanding of the role of the successors of St. Peter who carry on in his chair. Even the Orthodox, who deny the full understanding of the office, recognize that the successor of St. Peter, who is the Bishop of Rome, has a primacy of honor.
Turning then to the writings of the Church Fathers, we begin with Pope St. Clement I, who, around 80AD, wrote to settle a dispute in the Greek city of Corinth, even while the Apostle St. John was still alive in Asia Minor:
" Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop.
For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry...If anyone disobeys the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger."
Next, the great St. Ignatius of Antioch, successor of Peter as bishop of Antioch, writing around 110AD, first in his letter to the Smyrnaeans and then in his letter to the Romans -- noting what he says about the city of Rome:
"You must follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."
"to the Church also which holds the presidency in the place of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency of love, named after Christ and named after the Father: her therefore do I salute."
We move along to St. Irenaeus, second bishop of Lyon in France, student of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. These quotations come from his work Against Heresies, written between 180 and 199AD:
"It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times...
But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all of the Churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner…assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition....The blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the Church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus…To him succeeded Anencletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was chosen for the episcopate. He had seen the blessed Apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that he still heard the echoes of the preaching of the Apostles, and had their traditions before his eyes. And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the Apostles.
In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing the faith…To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded; and Alexander succeeded Evaristus. Then, sixth after the Apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him Telesphorus, who also was gloriously martyred. Then Hyginus; after him, Pius; and after him, Anicetus. Soter succeeded Anicletus, and now, in the twelfth place after the Apostles, the lot of the episcopate has fallen to Eleutherus. In this order, and by the teaching of the Apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us...
It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles…But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assembler wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion."
Those, and many others, all date to the period before Constantine and the liberation of the Church. Notice the tone and tenor does not change much after the Edict of Milan.
Here we have St. Ephraim the Syrian, and Doctor of the Church (+373AD), from one of his homilies:
"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. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!"
Back in the Latin world, we have this from a letter of St. Jerome to the Bishop of Rome, Pope St. Damasus I, that commissioned him to translate the Sacred Scriptures in Latin. It was under this pontiff that the canon of Scripture was finally settled. St. Jerome writes thus in this letter from the 370sAD:
"I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, 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."
The well-known St. Augustine, in his letter to Generosus of around 400AD, writes as follows:
"If the very order of Episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them 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…"
We see the Popes themselves wielding their authority, as this address of Philip, the legate of Pope St. Celestine I to the Council of Ephesus (which affirmed Our Lady as Mother of God), in 431AD demonstrates:
"No one doubts, in fact, it is obvious to all ages that the holy and most Blessed Peter, head and Prince of the Apostles, the pillar of faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior and the redeemer of the human race. Nor does anyone doubt that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was also given to this same Peter who, in his successors, lives and exercises judgment even to this time and forever."
In the interest of keeping this blog post something short of a book, I have skipped and omitted a host of quotations that even I have found. Noting then just a couple more to demonstrate the continuity, I include the following, beginning with Pope St. Leo IX, pontiff during the Great Eastern Schism of 1054, in a letter written by Cardinal Humbert to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and signed by Pope Leo in 1053:
"The holy Church has been built upon a rock, that is, upon Christ, and upon Peter or Cephas, the son of John, who was first called Simon. It was so built because it never was to be conquered by the gates of hell, that is, by heretical opinions which lead the unwary to destruction…Is it not by the See of the Prince of the Apostles, namely, by this Roman Church, both by this same Peter and by his successors, that all the inventions of heretics stand condemned, exposed, and overcome?"
Finally, from the Council of Florence (1438-1445), which brought a temporary and superficial reunion between East and West, and was presided over by Pope Eugene IV:
"Likewise, we define that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff have primacy over the whole world, and that the same Roman Pontiff is the successor of St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and the true vicar of Christ, the head of the Church, the father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him, in the person of St. Peter, was given by our Lord Jesus Christ the full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the whole Church."