Saturday, July 19, 2008

Was Peter in Rome?

Like other Protestants, Fundamentalists say Christ never appointed Peter as the earthly head for the simple reason that the Church has no earthly head and was never meant to have one. Christ is the Church’s only foundation, in any possible sense of that term.

The papacy, they say, arose out of fifth- or sixth-century politics, both secular and ecclesiastical; it has no connection with the New Testament. It has not been established by Christ, even though supposed “successors” to Peter (and their defenders) claim it was. At best the papacy is a ruse; at worst, a work of the devil. In any case, it is an institution designed to give the Catholic Church an authority it doesn’t have.

A key premise of their argument is the assertion that Peter was never in Rome. It follows that if Peter were never in Rome, he could not have been Rome’s first bishop and so could not have had any successors in that office. How can Catholics talk about the divine origin of the papacy, Fundamentalists argue, when their claim about Peter’s whereabouts is wrong?

Let’s look at this last charge, reserving for another tract a look at Peter’s position among the apostles and in the early Church.

How to Understand the Argument

At first glance, it might seem that the question, of whether Peter went to Rome and died there, is inconsequential. And in a way it is. After all, his being in Rome would not itself prove the existence of the papacy. In fact, it would be a false inference to say he must have been the first pope since he was in Rome and later popes ruled from Rome. With that logic, Paul would have been the first pope, too, since he was an apostle and went to Rome.

On the other hand, if Peter never made it to the capital, he still could have been the first pope, since one of his successors could have been the first holder of that office to settle in Rome. After all, if the papacy exists, it was established by Christ during his lifetime, long before Peter is said to have reached Rome. There must have been a period of some years in which the papacy did not yet have its connection to Rome.

So, if the apostle got there only much later, that might have something to say about who his legitimate successors would be (and it does, since the man elected bishop of Rome is automatically the new pope on the notion that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and the pope is merely Peter’s successor), but it would say nothing about the status of the papal office. It would not establish that the papacy was instituted by Christ in the first place.

No, somehow the question, while interesting historically, doesn’t seem to be crucial to the real issue, whether the papacy was founded by Christ. Still, most anti-Catholic organizations take up the matter and go to considerable trouble to “prove” Peter could not have been in Rome. Why? Because they think they can get mileage out of it.

“Here’s a point on which we can point to the lies of Catholic claims,” they say. “Catholics trace the papacy to Peter, and they say he was martyred in Rome after heading the Church there. If we could show he never went to Rome, that would undermine—psychologically if not logically—their assertion that Peter was the first pope. If people conclude the Catholic Church is wrong on this historical point, they’ll conclude it’s wrong on the larger one, the supposed existence of the papacy.” Such is the reasoning of some leading anti-Catholics.

The Charges in Brief

The case is stated perhaps most succinctly, even if not so bluntly, by Loraine Boettner in his best-known book, Roman Catholicism (117): “The remarkable thing, however, about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it. The word Rome occurs only nine times in the Bible [actually, ten times in the Old Testament and ten times in the New], and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to the city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend.”

Well, what about it? Admittedly, the Bible nowhere explicitly says Peter was in Rome; but, on the other hand, it doesn’t say he wasn’t. Just as the New Testament never says, “Peter then went to Rome,” it never says, “Peter did not go to Rome.” In fact, very little is said about where he, or any of the apostles other than Paul, went in the years after the Ascension. For the most part, we have to rely on books other than the New Testament for information about what happened to the apostles, Peter included, in later years. Boettner is wrong to dismiss these early historical documents as conveyors of mere “legend.” They are genuine historical evidence, as every professional historian recognizes.

What the Bible Says

Boettner is also wrong when he claims “there is no allusion to Rome in either of [Peter’s] epistles.” There is, in the greeting at the end of the first epistle: “The Church here in Babylon, united with you by God’s election, sends you her greeting, and so does my son, Mark” (1 Pet. 5:13, Knox). Babylon is a code-word for Rome. It is used that way multiple times in works like the Sibylline Oracles (5:159f), the Apocalypse of Baruch (2:1), and 4 Esdras (3:1). Eusebius Pamphilius, in The Chronicle, composed about A.D. 303, noted that “It is said that Peter’s first epistle, in which he makes mention of Mark, was composed at Rome itself; and that he himself indicates this, referring to the city figuratively as Babylon.”

Consider now the other New Testament citations: “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of her impure passion’” (Rev. 14:8). “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath” (Rev. 16:19). “[A]nd on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations’” (Rev. 17:5). “And he called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great’” (Rev. 18:2). “[T]hey will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, ‘Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come’” (Rev. 18:10). “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence” (Rev. 18:21).

These references can’t be to the one-time capital of the Babylonian empire. That Babylon had been reduced to an inconsequential village by the march of years, military defeat, and political subjugation; it was no longer a “great city.” It played no important part in the recent history of the ancient world. From the New Testament perspective, the only candidates for the “great city” mentioned in Revelation are Rome and Jerusalem.

“But there is no good reason for saying that ‘Babylon’ means ‘Rome,’” insists Boettner. But there is, and the good reason is persecution. The authorities knew that Peter was a leader of the Church, and the Church, under Roman law, was considered organized atheism. (The worship of any gods other than the Roman was considered atheism.) Peter would do himself, not to mention those with him, no service by advertising his presence in the capital—after all, mail service from Rome was then even worse than it is today, and letters were routinely read by Roman officials. Peter was a wanted man, as were all Christian leaders. Why encourage a manhunt? We also know that the apostles sometimes referred to cities under symbolic names (cf. Rev. 11:8).

In any event, let us be generous and admit that it is easy for an opponent of Catholicism to think, in good faith, that Peter was never in Rome, at least if he bases his conclusion on the Bible alone. But restricting his inquiry to the Bible is something he should not do; external evidence has to be considered, too.

Early Christian Testimony

William A. Jurgens, in his three-volume set The Faith of the Early Fathers, a masterly compendium that cites at length everything from the Didache to John Damascene, includes thirty references to this question, divided, in the index, about evenly between the statements that “Peter came to Rome and died there” and that “Peter established his See at Rome and made the bishop of Rome his successor in the primacy.” A few examples must suffice, but they and other early references demonstrate that there can be no question that the universal—and very early—position (one hesitates to use the word “tradition,” since some people read that as “legend”) was that Peter certainly did end up in the capital of the Empire.

A Very Early Reference

Tertullian, in The Demurrer Against the Heretics (A.D. 200), noted of Rome, “How happy is that church . . . where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John’s [referring to John the Baptist, both he and Paul being beheaded].” Fundamentalists admit Paul died in Rome, so the implication from Tertullian is that Peter also must have been there. It was commonly accepted, from the very first, that both Peter and Paul were martyred at Rome, probably in the Neronian persecution in the 60s.

In the same book, Tertullian wrote that “this is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrnaeans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John; like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter.” This Clement, known as Clement of Rome, later would be the fourth pope. (Note that Tertullian didn’t say Peter consecrated Clement as pope, which would have been impossible since a pope doesn’t consecrate his own successor; he merely ordained Clement as priest.) Clement wrote his Letter to the Corinthians perhaps before the year 70, just a few years after Peter and Paul were killed; in it he made reference to Peter ending his life where Paul ended his.

In his Letter to the Romans (A.D. 110), Ignatius of Antioch remarked that he could not command the Roman Christians the way Peter and Paul once did, such a comment making sense only if Peter had been a leader, if not the leader, of the church in Rome. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies (A.D. 190), said that Matthew wrote his Gospel “while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church.” A few lines later he notes that Linus was named as Peter’s successor, that is, the second pope, and that next in line were Anacletus (also known as Cletus), and then Clement of Rome.

Clement of Alexandria wrote at the turn of the third century. A fragment of his work Sketches is preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History, the first history of the Church. Clement wrote, “When Peter preached the word publicly at Rome, and declared the gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had been for a long time his follower and who remembered his sayings, should write down what had been proclaimed.”

Lactantius, in a treatise called The Death of the Persecutors, written around 318, noted that “When Nero was already reigning (Nero reigned from 54–68), Peter came to Rome, where, in virtue of the performance of certain miracles which he worked by that power of God which had been given to him, he converted many to righteousness and established a firm and steadfast temple to God.”

These citations could be multiplied. (Refer to Jurgens’ books or to the Catholic Answers tract Peter’s Roman Residency.) No ancient writer claimed Peter ended his life anywhere other than in Rome. On the question of Peter’s whereabouts they are in agreement, and their cumulative testimony carries enormous weight.

What Archaeology Proved

There is much archaeological evidence that Peter was at Rome, but Boettner, like other Fundamentalist apologists, must dismiss it, claiming that “exhaustive research by archaeologists has been made down through the centuries to find some inscription in the catacombs and other ruins of ancient places in Rome that would indicate Peter at least visited Rome. But the only things found which gave any promise at all were some bones of uncertain origin” (118).

Boettner saw Roman Catholicism through the presses in 1962. His original book and the revisions to it since then have failed to mention the results of the excavations under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, excavations that had been underway for decades, but which were undertaken in earnest after World War II. What Boettner casually dismissed as “some bones of uncertain origin” were the contents of a tomb on Vatican Hill that was covered with early inscriptions attesting to the fact that Peter’s remains were inside.

After the original release of Boettner’s book, evidence had mounted to the point that Pope Paul VI was able to announce officially something that had been discussed in archaeological literature and religious publications for years: that the actual tomb of the first pope had been identified conclusively, that his remains were apparently present, and that in the vicinity of his tomb were inscriptions identifying the place as Peter’s burial site, meaning early Christians knew that the prince of the apostles was there. The story of how all this was determined, with scientific accuracy, is too long to recount here. It is discussed in detail in John Evangelist Walsh’s book, The Bones of St. Peter. It is enough to say that the historical and scientific evidence is such that no one willing to look at the facts objectively can doubt that Peter was in Rome. To deny that fact is to let prejudice override reason.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Peter and the Papacy

There is ample evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the apostles.
Whenever they were named, Peter headed the list (Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13);
sometimes the apostles were referred to as "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32). Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Matt. 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and he figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Matt. 14:28-32, Matt. 17:24-27, Mark 10:23-28).

On Pentecost it was Peter who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40), and he worked the first healing in the Church age (Acts 3:6-7). It is Peter’s faith that will strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32) and Peter is given Christ’s flock to shepherd (John 21:17). An angel was sent to announce the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7), and the risen Christ first appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34). He headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26), and he received the first converts (Acts 2:41). He inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11), and excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23). He led the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and announced the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7-11). It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48).

Peter the Rock

Peter’s preeminent position among the apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ. At their first meeting, Christ told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as "Rock" (John 1:42). The startling thing was that—aside from the single time that Abraham is called a "rock" (Hebrew: Tsur; Aramaic: Kepha) in Isaiah 51:1-2—in the Old Testament only God was called a rock. The word rock was not used as a proper name in the ancient world. If you were to turn to a companion and say, "From now on your name is Asparagus," people would wonder: Why Asparagus? What is the meaning of it? What does it signify? Indeed, why call Simon the fisherman "Rock"? Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (Gen.17:5), Jacob’s to Israel (Gen. 32:28), Eliakim’s to Joakim (2 Kgs. 23:34), or the names of the four Hebrew youths—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 1:6-7). But no Jew had ever been called "Rock." The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Deborah ("bee," Gen. 35:8), and Rachel ("ewe," Gen. 29:16), but never "Rock." In the New Testament James and John were nicknamed Boanerges, meaning "Sons of Thunder," by Christ, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names, and it certainly was not given as a new name. But in the case of Simon-bar-Jonah, his new name Kephas (Greek: Petros) definitely replaced the old.

Look at the scene

Not only was there significance in Simon being given a new and unusual name, but the place where Jesus solemnly conferred it upon Peter was also important. It happened when "Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi" (Matt. 16:13), a city that Philip the Tetrarch built and named in honor of Caesar Augustus, who had died in A.D. 14. The city lay near cascades in the Jordan River and near a gigantic wall of rock, a wall about 200 feet high and 500 feet long, which is part of the southern foothills of Mount Hermon. The city no longer exists, but its ruins are near the small Arab town of Banias; and at the base of the rock wall may be found what is left of one of the springs that fed the Jordan. It was here that Jesus pointed to Simon and said, "You are Peter" (Matt. 16:18).

The significance of the event must have been clear to the other apostles. As devout Jews they knew at once that the location was meant to emphasize the importance of what was being done. None complained of Simon being singled out for this honor; and in the rest of the New Testament he is called by his new name, while James and John remain just James and John, not Boanerges.
Promises to Peter

When he first saw Simon, "Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)’" (John 1:42). The word Cephas is merely the transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha into Greek. Later, after Peter and the other disciples had been with Christ for some time, they went to Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his profession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). Jesus told him that this truth was specially revealed to him, and then he solemnly reiterated: "And I tell you, you are Peter" (Matt. 16:18). To this was added the promise that the Church would be founded, in some way, on Peter (Matt. 16:18).

Then two important things were told the apostle. "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules. Later the apostles as a whole would be given similar power [Matt.18:18], but here Peter received it in a special sense.

Peter alone was promised something else also: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19). In ancient times, keys were the hallmark of authority. A walled city might have one great gate; and that gate had one great lock, worked by one great key. To be given the key to the city—an honor that exists even today, though its import is lost—meant to be given free access to and authority over the city. The city to which Peter was given the keys was the heavenly city itself. This symbolism for authority is used elsewhere in the Bible (Is. 22:22, Rev. 1:18).

Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked Peter three times, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). In repentance for his threefold denial, Peter gave a threefold affirmation of love. Then Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), gave Peter the authority he earlier had promised: "Feed my sheep" (John 21:17). This specifically included the other apostles, since Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" (John 21:15), the word "these" referring to the other apostles who were present (John 21:2). Thus was completed the prediction made just before Jesus and his followers went for the last time to the Mount of Olives.

Immediately before his denials were predicted, Peter was told, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again [after the denials], strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). It was Peter who Christ prayed would have faith that would not fail and that would be a guide for the others; and his prayer, being perfectly efficacious, was sure to be fulfilled.

Who is the rock?

Now take a closer look at the key verse: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18). Disputes about this passage have always been related to the meaning of the term "rock." To whom, or to what, does it refer? Since Simon’s new name of Peter itself means rock, the sentence could be rewritten as: "You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church." The play on words seems obvious, but commentators wishing to avoid what follows from this—namely the establishment of the papacy—have suggested that the word rock could not refer to Peter but must refer to his profession of faith or to Christ.

From the grammatical point of view, the phrase "this rock" must relate back to the closest noun. Peter’s profession of faith ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God") is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause.

As an analogy, consider this artificial sentence: "I have a car and a truck, and it is blue." Which is blue? The truck, because that is the noun closest to the pronoun "it." This is all the more clear if the reference to the car is two sentences earlier, as the reference to Peter’s profession is two sentences earlier than the term rock.

Another alternative

The previous argument also settles the question of whether the word refers to Christ himself, since he is mentioned within the profession of faith. The fact that he is elsewhere, by a different metaphor, called the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:4-8) does not disprove that here Peter is the foundation. Christ is naturally the principal and, since he will be returning to heaven, the invisible foundation of the Church that he will establish; but Peter is named by him as the secondary and, because he and his successors will remain on earth, the visible foundation. Peter can be a foundation only because Christ is the cornerstone.

In fact, the New Testament contains five different metaphors for the foundation of the Church (Matt. 16:18, 1 Cor. 3:11, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:5-6, Rev. 21:14). One cannot take a single metaphor from a single passage and use it to twist the plain meaning of other passages. Rather, one must respect and harmonize the different passages, for the Church can be described as having different foundations since the word foundation can be used in different senses.

Look at the Aramaic

Opponents of the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 sometimes argue that in the Greek text the name of the apostle is Petros, while "rock" is rendered as petra. They claim that the former refers to a small stone, while the latter refers to a massive rock; so, if Peter was meant to be the massive rock, why isn’t his name Petra?

Note that Christ did not speak to the disciples in Greek. He spoke Aramaic, the common language of Palestine at that time. In that language the word for rock is kepha, which is what Jesus called him in everyday speech (note that in John 1:42 he was told, "You will be called Cephas"). What Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 was: "You are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my Church."

When Matthew’s Gospel was translated from the original Aramaic to Greek, there arose a problem which did not confront the evangelist when he first composed his account of Christ’s life. In Aramaic the word kepha has the same ending whether it refers to a rock or is used as a man’s name. In Greek, though, the word for rock, petra, is feminine in gender. The translator could use it for the second appearance of kepha in the sentence, but not for the first because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name. So he put a masculine ending on it, and hence Peter became Petros.

Furthermore, the premise of the argument against Peter being the rock is simply false. In first century Greek the words petros and petra were synonyms. They had previously possessed the meanings of "small stone" and "large rock" in some early Greek poetry, but by the first century this distinction was gone, as Protestant Bible scholars admit (see D. A. Carson’s remarks on this passage in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books]).

Some of the effect of Christ’s play on words was lost when his statement was translated from the Aramaic into Greek, but that was the best that could be done in Greek. In English, like Aramaic, there is no problem with endings; so an English rendition could read: "You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church."

Consider another point: If the rock really did refer to Christ (as some claim, based on 1 Cor. 10:4, "and the Rock was Christ" though the rock there was a literal, physical rock), why did Matthew leave the passage as it was? In the original Aramaic, and in the English which is a closer parallel to it than is the Greek, the passage is clear enough. Matthew must have realized that his readers would conclude the obvious from "Rock . . . rock."

If he meant Christ to be understood as the rock, why didn’t he say so? Why did he take a chance and leave it up to Paul to write a clarifying text? This presumes, of course, that 1 Corinthians was written after Matthew’s Gospel; if it came first, it could not have been written to clarify it.

The reason, of course, is that Matthew knew full well that what the sentence seemed to say was just what it really was saying. It was Simon, weak as he was, who was chosen to become the rock and thus the first link in the chain of the papacy.