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My greatest difficulty by far has been deciding what to leave out of this history of nineteen hundred years. Unfortunately a good many prosaic particulars are expected from the chronicler of a single building, even one of such diverse religious symbolism and romantic association as St. Peter's, Rome. I found in the process of writing that facts, names and dates simply refused to be ignored. They swarmed around me like a cloud of gnats. The more I swatted them the more persistently they made themselves felt. At last I gave way to them in despair.
So there they remain, an abiding testimony of their victory and my defeat over several years' abortive effort to reduce them to a minimum. In consequence many picturesque incidents which came to light during my prolonged studies, have had to be sacrificed to drier data. I refer to those little kaleidoscopic scenes of the past, which bring constant delight and sometimes edification. There is, for example, that of King Theodoric staggering and sweating under the weight of two massive candelabra, which the engaging Ostrogoth insisted on personally handing to a cool and supercilious pope in old St. Peter's. Or that of England's first royal pilgrim to Rome, King Caedwalls, who was so smitten with the city's beauty, that he reused to go home, abdicated, was baptized and ultimately buried in St. Peter's in a snow white garment. I see too the horrified English pilgrims recovering pieces of the True Cross strewn in the mud after a Roman riot, and the good Pope St Nicholas I allowing them in reward to take a piece back to England for their king. Then I like to imagine the expression on the face of Pope Eugenius IV when on his return to Rome at the end of the Western Schism he came upon the wolves disinterring and eating corpses in the Vatican graveyard. Or the pleasure on that of Pope Leo X as he watched the Portuguese king's present of a white elephant bend the knee to him three times in the piazza. Or the expression on the faces of the cardinals who were obliged to witness Julius III bestowing the red hat upon the seventeen-year-old keeper of His Holiness' pet ape. I enjoy too dwelling upon the consternation of Pius IV's attendants as they desperately tried to keep pace with the sexagenarian pontiff, who would climb in midsummer, just for fun, to the top of the cupola with the agility of a squirrel.
These and countless other irrelevant incidents I may picture at leisure - now that my book is finished - while you, I like to suppose, will be grappling in the ensuing pages with matters of greater moment to the history of St Peter's, such as the number of pillars used in Constantine's basilica, or the vexed problem whether Michelangelo on his deathbed wanted to contour of his dome to be hemispherical or ovoid.
I am grateful to many friends for invaluable help - in particular, to Mr Geoffrey Houghton Brown for enlightening me on several questions of faith: Father Illtud Evans, O.P., for reading chapters 1 and 2: the late Mgr Guy Ferrari for directing my steps in the Vatican Library: Mgr Pasquale Macchi of the Segretaria Pontificia for general permission, and Dott. Ing. Comm. Francesco Vacchini (Fattore Generale e Dirigente dell'Ufficio Technico of the Sacra Congregazione della Reverenda Fabbrica di S. Pietro) for indispensable assistance: to Sgr Mario Carrieri for taking such splendid photographs of the basilica: Mr Torgil Magnuson for the loan of his thesis on Roman fifteenth-century architecture: Miss Georgina Masson numerous introductions in Rome and for her seemingly inexhaustible generosity to a fellow writer: Lord Methuen for allowing me to illustrate the Guido Reni portrait of Pope Paul V in his possession: Mr Peter Partner or putting me in touch with several abstruse works on Vatican history: Canon Ronald Pilkington for information on pontifical ceremonial: Sir Peter Scarlett, until 1965 H.M. Minister to the Holy See, for giving me special facilities in the Vatican City: and the Duke of Wellington for allowing me to look at various rare folios of St Peter's history in his library. Lastly, I am deeply indebted to my wife for her sound criticism and advice, and to Mr George Speaight, Managing Editor of George Rainbird Ltd, for his infinite pains in amending, improving and generally embellishing my text. No one but myself must be held responsible for its sentiments.
The most vehement anti-Catholic can hardly deny that St Peter's in Rome has become - I purposely emphasize the present tense, has become - a church with a unique position in the Christian world. The most fervent Anglican will not pretend that from Canterbury Cathedral, or the most complacent Mormon that from the Tabernacle of Salt Lake City, Utah, stems the immensely complicated genealogy, Catholic, Orthodox, schismatical and heretical, which makes up our strangely diverse Christian family tree. It is true that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and the great church at Antioch, both like St Peter's founded by the Emperor Constantine, could have advanced equally strong historical claims. The first was built over the site of Our Lord's burial, the second on the place where the term Christian originated. Yet neither has even done so. St Peter's, on the other hand, was built more than a millennium and a half ago over what was believed to be the tomb of the first of the apostles, and on this account men have claimed that divine dispensation established it as the center of the Christian world. Can these claims really be substantiated under the searching light of modern science and skepticism? Or are they preposterous and fraudulent? Are they based upon nothing more than a persistent determination (which for duration of purpose almost seems in itself to be of divine essence) of the oldest dynasty in the world to maintain sovereignty over the feeble will of credulous western humanity? The purpose of this book is to investigate these claims which inspire every stone of St Peter's church. They are the animating thread running through the building's long history. Dissipate them and the church will collapse like a pack of cards into the vastest ruin of misplaced beliefs that ever deluded mankind. Whether the investigation will strengthen or weaken the spiritual fabric of St Peter's is not within the unbiased historian's mandate to suggest. His job is only to record events as truthfully and objectively as his limited powers allow. The reader has the harder task in making up his own mind in the end.
The foundation of the proud and stupendous church is, needless to relate, the modest and uncouth fisherman from Galilee. The apparent incongruity between innovators of great ideas and those ideals' realization usually lies in a startling development from simplicity to complexity. 'Unlearned and ignorant' is the description of St Peter given in the Acts of the Apostles (4:13). Unlearned he certainly was, for his education must have been of the most rudimentary kind. Unlike the Greek - and Latin - speaking St Paul, he only knew - at least until Pentecost - his native Aramaic. He was merely ignorant, I suggest, in the niceties of diplomatic conduct during times of crisis - a failing he succeeded with time in overcoming. For he was naturally slow in understanding and hasty in action. Without pausing to consider whether the deed would help or hinder the cause of his master, he sliced off the ear of the high priest's servant at the moment of Christ's arrest.
On other occasions he had been equally lacking in judgment and tact. He dared to remonstrate with Jesus for prognosticating his own Passion and was snubbed orthright: 'Get thee behind me Satin … for thou savourest not the thing that be of God, but those that be of man.' He fell asleep when he should have been keeping watch. He refused to let his master wash his feet. He gave vent to jealousy of favours promised to a fellow apostle, and received another rebuke in the words, 'What is that to thee?' His weaknesses are constantly apparent. Impulsive, demonstrative, he plunged without forethought into the Sea of Tiberias and started walking towards Christ, then, realizing the fearful danger, began to sink. He was easily downcast. The humanity of Peter is unfailing and touching, down to the terrible occasion of the denial of the being whom he worshipped more than life. 'To whom shall we go?' he had pleaded earnestly and piteously, when the other disciples, nonplussed by Jesus's difficult teaching, were drifting away and he was being asked whether he wished to leave as well. 'Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure that thou are that Christ the son of the living God.'
Everything we know about Peter speaks of his humanity. In the first place he had a wife and, we are credibly informed, a daughter. Petronilla, after whom a catacomb was named, was according to tradition paralysed in youth but cured by her father. We may discount the legend that when she announced her betrothal to a Roman patrician the saint, to make certain that her virginity would be preserved inviolate, struck her with a palsy, only curing her when all likelihood of marriage had passed. It is more typical of him that when Cornelius the centurion fell on his knees to worship him Peter put a stop to such nonsense. 'Stand up,' he ordered, 'I myself also am a man.' It is very fitting that the irst representative of Christ's Church on earth should be that apostle whose personality is the most sympathetic and the most clearly defined. He is the one of the Twelve about whom we know the most. St Paul, who was not one of the Twelve and had never seen the incarnate Jesus, is equally distinctive. But his is a less endearing personality. Paul, almost by the virtue of his sudden conversion, seems a fanatic. He was by nature an intellectual, and by temperament a revolutionary. Reading between the line of the Acts one deduces that his pragmatical mind was irritated by Peter's irrational, but conservative response to ethical problems. Paul's philosophy outstripped the old Judaic law for which he substituted a burning faith. Peter on the contrary continued to observe, simple pious Jew that he was, the old laws in which he had been brought up. Just as the voice from heaven rebuked him for refusing to eat 'unclean' food when invited to do so in a dream on the roof of the tanner at Joppa - 'What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common' - so Paul upbraided him for acceding to the Christian Jews' demand to dissociate himself from the Gentiles. The sequel to both incidents proves merely that the bewildered fisherman was far more open to persuasion than the dogmatic little tent-maker from Tarsus. He capitulated immediately to the voice and to his friend without demur. 'Of a truth I see that God is no respecter of persons.' In baptizing the Roman Cornelius and in preaching afterwards to pagans he accepted the astonishingly unconventional view in the eyes of an Israelite that in God's eye all men, whether Gentile of Jew, were equal. At the Jerusalem Council of A.D. 49 he promulgated it in a powerful speech. It is highly doubtful, however, whether he would have formulated such a policy on his own. According to St Paul, God originally intended St Peter to be dedicated to the Jews and himself to the Gentiles. At any rate Peter was always ready to be convinced. His humility was as genuine as his humanity. He made mistakes and his learning came the hard way. He was frequently subjected to the rebukes of is contemporaries as well as of his God. Invariably he accepted them with the grace of a docile child.
Peter's movements after Pentecost are not easily traced. In Galatians 1:18 Paul tells us that three years after his conversion, namely about A.D. 35, he went to Jerusalem in search of Peter, and stayed with him a fortnight. The only other apostle he met was James, the Lord's brother. This provides fairly clear, through not positive, evidence that Peter was at the time leader of the Christians, or head of the Church in Jerusalem. From there he went on occasional missions to Samaria, Joppa and Caesarea. He may have remained in the capital until Herod's persecution and his imprisonment in 42. After his miraculous delivery and escape he possibly fled direct to Antioch, where Paul's rebuke of him took place. That city too claims him as the first bishop of its Church. Corinth likewise makes a similar claim which cannot be substantiated. Henceforward Peter's movements become more than ever uncertain. The weight, if not evidence, of tradition is that he passed to Rome. He may have traveled by way of Pontus on the southern shore of the Black Sea, meeting and making a fast friendship with another tent-maker, Aquila, 'a Jew born in Pontus', whom he converted to the Christian faith. Here the two churches of Amasea and Sinope claim to have been founded by him. Did he on the way land at Naples, where there is likewise a tradition of his apostolic foundation? Arrived in Rome, he is said to have lodged in the house of his friend Aquila and his wife Priscilla, who had preceded him, presumably on the husband's business. They are supposed to have lived on the Aventine Hill where St Prisca's church now stands Most of Peter's Roman sojourn is thus speculative.
According to Eusebius (260-c. 340), the first great historian of the Christian Church, and to St Jerome (342-420), Peter arrived in Rome at the beginning of the reign of the Emperor Claudius. Since the former authority attributes his death in Rome to Nero's major pogrom of the Christians and the latter authority ascribes to him an episcopacy there of twenty-five years (a duration of time by which subsequent generations set much store) the date of arrival can be calculated at little later than A.D. 42. These two writers are the first to be absolutely categorical. We do not know of course on what data they based their premises so positively. But there are earlier written implications - not assertions - of Peter's presence in Rome. One is that of the theologian Tertullian who in a dissertation on baptism about the year 198 said: 'there is no difference between those who John baptized in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber', a statement which takes the Apostle's ministry in Rome for granted. Going further back still, we find some suggestive passages in the writings of a near contemporary and an exact contemporary. St Ignatius, the old bishop of Antioch, having ben condemned to death in 107, was brought by slow stages to Rome for execution. On the way he was allowed to compose an epistle to the brethren in Rome announcing his coming. In the course of it he wrote these words: 'I do not command you as Peter and Paul did; they were apostles, I am only a condemned criminal.' In reading this passage we would be foolish to dismiss altogether Ignatius's implication that both apostles had exercised some very special authority over the Roman brethren. Then the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, written in A.D. 58, contains an oblique reference to Peter's presence in the capital of the Roman world. Paul was expressing a desire to visit the community one day (in fact he did so three years later). He more or less explained why he had not come to them before. In chapter 15 verse 20 he said: 'Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation.' It seems probable that by the place 'where Christ was named' Paul meant Rome, and by 'another man' Peter.
The crowning implication of
all these allusions comes in the famous penultimate verse of St Peter's
own Epistle I to the communities of Asia Minor. 'The Church', he writes
by way of farewell, 'The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with
you, saluteth you, and so doth Marcus my son.' Nowhere in the Epistle,
it is true, is the name Rome mentioned. Did however Peter mean Rome by
his cryptic use of the word Babylon? The preponderating number of past
and contemporary theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, affirm that
he did. In early Semitic writings and in Christian apocryphal books the
name Babylon is frequently substituted for that of Rome as a sort o chastening
memorial, never to be forgotten, of the terrible Jewish sufferings in
the Euphrates city at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar. Neither the ancient
Babylon in Chaldea nor the military fortress of that name near Cairo can
possibly fit the context in Peter's Epistle. It is an interesting commentary
that by no early Church writers, not even indeed by Luther nor the sixteenth-century
reformers, is any serious objection raised against the claim of Peter
to have ministered in Rome. In their detestation of the papacy the reformers
never seemed to bother to contradict this tradition.
Peter then may well have governed the embryo church of Christ worshippers in Rome from about A.D. 42 until his death some twenty-five years later. There was most probably a temporary break in the ministry when he found it politic to leave the city. Chapter 18 verse 2 of the Acts mentions how Paul in Corinth met Aquila 'lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome)'. Here we are given the first approximate date assignable in the Acts. Roman historians likewise confirm this expulsion. Tacitus hints that in the year 47 the Empeoro Claudius was beginning to murmur in the Senate against 'strange superstitions' in Rome. Suetonius states definitely that in 49 Claudius, angered by the Jews' disturbances at the instigation of one Christ - impulsore Chresto assidue were his words, mistakenly supposing the little sect's leader still to be alive - had them expelled. Claudius's action indicated no sympathy towards the Christians, but merely a determination not to brook the dangerous dissensions of a tiresome race of immigrants lest they spread among the other foreigners in the capital. Practicing Jews and Christian Jews all had to leave, bag and baggage. Peter must have been among them. Not until 56 were they officially allowed to return. With them, presumably, came back the Christian leader. Where exactly he established the headquarters of the primitive Church in Rome at this date is quite unknown. It may have been by the Ostrian cemetery on the Via Nomentana just outside the walls, where tradition has it that he set up his chair; or, less probably, in the catacomb o St Callixtus off the Via Appia, where the remains of the third-century popes repose. Such speculations are quite unavailing, and the question scarcely affects this history.
On the whole, the early Christian community did not fare too badly in Rome until the accession as emperor of a criminal psychopath in the person of Nero. He was handsome, unscrupulous, passionate and brutal, and in the absolute power that he wielded and the evil he caused may be compared with Hitler in our century. Not till the end of his reign however did Nero glut his jaded appetite for cruelty on the Christians. For nine day in July of 64 there had raged the great fire of Rome. Responsibility for this disaster, which was probably an accident, had to be harnessed to some innocent cause. The emperor, in order to divert attention from his extreme unpopularity and also for the ghastly fun of the thing, immediately blamed the Christians. They accordingly became the victims of a systematic persecution. They were submitted to every sort of refined torment in order to amuse the Roman citizens and take their minds off their grievances. The victims were clothed in the skins of wild beasts and torn to pieces by wolves, immersed in tar and turned into torches to illuminate the night, or merely crucified. Tacitus (Annals 15:44) records that 'a vast multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind'. This indictment by an objective Roman observer of the Christians' apparent malevolence is interesting. We have to remember that in these early days the Christian community in Rome was composed almost entirely of Jews. Their community was numerous, ever on the increase, rich and powerful. The Jews were feared by the Romans because of their astuteness and courted by the State with an eye to their wealth. They were nevertheless despised or their exclusiveness, their strange and arrogant beliefs, and their apparent self-righteousness. Nor was the ostensible hatred between orthodox Jews and those Jews who had embraced the eccentric doctrines of Christ, at all attractive to the ordinary pagan. No wonder that a generally tolerant man like Tacitus implied that these people were disliked. They were doubtless dislikeable. Their faults at any rate did not merit the terrible retributions that they were made to endure. In the Neronian persecution both Peter and Paul almost certainly met their death.
What documentary evidence is there for this belief, which has become one of the most precious tenets of the Catholic Church? In the first place the only reference in the Gospels to St Pete's death is a forecast by Our Lord himself, recorded by St John (21:18-19) during the late nineties of the first century, that is to say some thirty-five years after the event had happened. 'When thou wast young,' Chis is made to say to Peter, 'thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.' The mysterious metaphor of stretching forth the hands is used by several heathen writers, including Seneca, in the phrase brachia patibulo explicuerunt, for the act of crucifixion. In the second place, about the same time as the aged St John was composing his Gospel at Ephesus three other persons were making cursory references to St Peter's martyrdom. They are the authors of The Ascension of Isaiah (3 and 4) refers in unmistakable terms to Nero as Beliar the spirit of evil, ruler of the world, murderer of his mother, and persecutor of the Twelve, of who one was delivered intohis hands. The Apocalypse (11:7) calls Nero 'the Beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit', that made war against the saints after they had 'finished their testimony' and killed them, and then exposed their bodies 'in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt'.
Clement is a little less cryptic. He was third bishop of Rome who had, according to St Irenaeus, actually met some o the apostles and possibly Peter himself. In his first Epistle written from Rome about 96 to the Corinthians and before he can possibly have read St John's Gospel containing Christ's prognostication, he refers (3:12) to the 'martyrdom among us' of Peter and Paul. Was not Clement assuming that his readers knew without need of reminder that the place of martyrdom was Rome where at the time he was inditing these very words?
Moreover St Clement introduces, albeit guardedly, a reason why Peter did not escape death in Nero's pogrom as he had escaped it on previous occasions of peril. It was 'because of unrighteous jealousy' and envy, he declares, that Peter 'had to bear not one or two but many torments' before his execution. Professor Oscar Cullmann in his book Peter: Disciple, Apostle and Martyr deduces that the Saint's martyrdom was due to Christian informers, a story so unedifying to the embryo Church that Clement thought fit to draw a discreet veil across it. It was as though the terrible prophecy of the day of reckoning in Matthew (10:21) had come to pass. 'And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.' Tacitus in the Annals and St Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians (1:14-15) let fall hints that such betrayals did indeed take place. Even the most stalwart early Christian hearts may have weakened under the ingenious tortures of Nero's henchmen. Racial loyalty alone would not have protected Peter and his followers from betrayal by weaker brethren, though we may be sure he would have accepted any fate as a just return for his own denial in the high priest's palace. Perhaps some orthodox Jews of the Roman colony took the opportunity of ridding themselves of a detested group of backsliders from the law and the prophets.
Lastly, we should not quite overlook what the so-called Acts of Peter has to say about the Apostle's martyrdom. These apocryphal fragments were composed in Greek between A.D. 150 and 200. They are not altogether reliable nor wholly untrustworthy. In addition to the questionable legend of St Peter's treatment o his daughter at the time of her engagement, the story of the Saint's introduction to the magician Simon Magus bears few signs of unmistakable truth. Simon Magus was living in the house of a rich Roman senator. Peter called on him one day but was not admitted. Then he sent a dog which delivered his message while standing on its hind legs. The magician was so impressed by this canine feat that he relented. But very shortly afterwards his presumption brought about a desperate fall. To display his magic, he took to the air in a chariot of ire from the Forum in the presence of Nero and a vast concourse. The emperor was delighted. The populace amazed by the performance straightway started to worship Simon, which was of course just what the magician wanted. But he had not reckoned on the Apostle being present among the spectators. Peter instantly uttered a prayer which brought the magician crashing to the ground. He broke his leg in three places. This fable may be taken with a pinch of salt. The Acts of Peter on the other hand includes the Quo Vadis legend which, although not accepted as part of Catholic dogma, bears the stamp of probability and has ever proved popular. Warned of the imminent danger to his life, Peter fled from Rome. After all, had not Jesus advised, 'When they persecute you in this city flee ye into another' (Matthew 10:23)? On the outskirts of the city of Rome he suddenly appeared before Peter. 'Where are you going, Lord?' he asked breathlessly, to receive the reply, 'I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time.' The Acts then recounts Peter's return, his imprisonment for nine months in the pitch dark and stifling Mamertine dungeon with St Paul, and at his special request crucifixion upside down because he was unworthy to meet death in the same manner as his master. This request was wholly characteristic of St Peter's instantaneous repentance and ever-reaching humility.
So much for the historical and traditional evidence that St Peter went to Rome, the great capital of the ancient pagan world, and that he met his death there. In the words of Cardinal Newman: 'He who made us has so willed, that in mathematics indeed we should arrive at certitude by rigid demonstration, but in religious enquiry we should arrive at certitude by accumulated probabilities.' The probabilities exist in abundance. It is enough to say that already in the second century it never occurred to any of the several rival Churches of Christendom to contest Rome's claim that Peter was martyred in the city.
The divine primacy of St Peter over all the other apostles including St Paul who was likewise martyred in Rome, traditionally at the same time, and the consequent spiritual succession of this primacy in the person of individual popes, are factors less easily explainable and ones which the non-Catholic world has resolutely refused to countenance. They are on the contrary rigidly maintained by the Catholic Church which will not permit the slightest question of the dogma lest the whole papal constitution should dissolve like a dream. What, apart from faith - and the dogma is an article of faith - is the stuff of which it is composed?
Although nowhere in the New Testament is Peter specifically entitled leader o the apostles he clearly takes the lead on several occasions and is regarded by them as their spokesman. His name is mentioned in the Gospels and Acts 195 times, whereas those of all the rest of the apostles added together occur only 130 times. St John's Gospel alludes to him more than to any of the others and accepts his pre-eminence as a fact. This is a notable and generous acknowledgment when we recall that the author claimed to be Jesus' favourite, of who Peter was apparently jealous. St Matthew's Gospel (10:2) emphatically puts Peter at the head of the list of apostles. 'The first' it calls him. St Luke's (22:31-2) clearly implies his supremacy. It states that Peter was present upon all the critical occasions of Jesus's earthly life and taking a foremost role - during the Transfiguration (with James and John), the Last Supper, the Arrest. Even at the empty sepulchre the angel tells the holy women to go and inform the disciples and Peter, the only one named, that the risen Lord has gone to Galilee. Mary Magdalene finds Peter and John before daybreak. Both of them run to the sepulchre but the younger man, being faster, gets there first, looks in and sees nothing but the discarded clothes. Nevertheless he waits respectfully for Peter who as a matter of right goes in ahead and confirms that the body of the Lord has vanished. Again, Peter is the first apostle to whom the resurrected Christ reveals himself (I Corinthians 15:4-8). Only then the Lord appears to the remainder of the Twelve, and later still to more than five hundred of the brethren. In spite of Peter's reprehensible human failings his strong personality seems to have set him apart as destined leader ever since the day when, having rashly expostulated with Jesus, he recognized that his passion and crucifixion were to be the atonement for the human race.
Of course the Catholic Church advances a higher claim that these to Peter's primacy. It cites the famous passage in St Matthew (16:13-20) where Jesus asks the disciples whom they think he is, and Peter answers for them: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On which response Jesus pronounces Peter specially blessed or being the recipient from God of this knowledge. He then proceeds: '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 unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' The injunction contained in these sentences is pretty specific, at least in regard to Peter's status, if not that of his successors. The story is moreover confirmed in principle by Mark, Luke and John.
There is much significance in the name and meaning of Peter, which, it is necessary to bear in mind, was on this solemn occasion first given to the Saint, hitherto known as Simon Bar-Jona. No one before had ever been called by this name. In the original Aramaic text kepha is the identical word for Peter and rock, just as in Greek and Latin petros and petra are the synonymous terms. Peter the rock is to be the foundation of the Christian Church. T him are given the keys which admit to or exclude from the kingdom of heaven, which kingdom, Christ says at another time, 'is not of this world'. Whomsoever and whatsoever Peter approves or condemns in this world shall be approved or condemned in the next. Can Christ therefore have possibly meant, the Catholic Church argues, that this tremendous authority and power should be granted to one middle-aged man to be exercised solely during his comparatively short mortal life? In the Church's opinion such a limited delegation would have little point or sense. Clearly therefore if Peter was to become the Christ's delegate on earth, Peter must in due course be followed by a succession of others with the same authority until the day of judgment. And so in the eyes of Catholics it has come about. It is upon what she believes to be this divine revelation that the Catholic Church has built the towering fabric of the apostolic succession and the doctrine that the inheritance of St Peter's authority is of divine origin traceable from Pope Paul VI back without break in the chain to Jesus Christ.
The incident of the rock and the keys is the basic authority or St Peter's primacy. There are others which suggest that Christ vested this fallible but most loveable man with the responsibilities of leadership. Luke recounts (22:32) that after chastising Peter or jealousy he prayed that his faith might not fail, and then exhorted him to strengthen that of his brethren. John relates how the Lord, having three times asked Peter if he loved him, repeated the command 'Feed my sheep'. To no other of the disciples were these express injunctions given. Nor did Jesus ever identify himself with another of the Twelve as he did with Peter, when he instructed him to pay the Temple tax collectors at Capernaum tribute 'for me and thee' (Matthew 17:27).
After the Ascension Peter was the first to address the disciples assembled in a state of bewilderment and muddle. Their master, for whose sake they had neglected their livelihoods in order to carry out his extremely exacting and idealistic commandments, had after a cruel death reappeared for a short while, only to disappear before their very eyes into a cloud. This time it really seemed that he had left them for good. How were they to begin to set up the ministry he had with incredible persuasiveness ordained for them? How were they to interpret the role each one of them was to fulfil? Peter without anyone disputing his right to do so first comforted, and then directed them. He organized the election of Mathias in place of Judas whose murky end in the field of Aceldama he described. At the feast of Pentecost, which soon followed, it was Peter again who rose and confronted the multitude assembled to mock the twelve Galileans so suddenly and strangely blessed with the gift of languages. In a downright manner he explained that they were not drunk, as the people supposed, adding with a touch of humour that anyway it was only nine o'clock in the morning. With great courage he turned the tables on them by accusing them of responsibility for Jesus's death and exhorting them, if they valued their souls, to be baptized without more ado. As a result three thousand were converted that very day. Next we read of the miracles and healings performed by the apostles. It is significant that the first to be invested with these supernatural powers was Peter, who was at pains to explain that they emanated not from himself but from God. The Acts of the Apostles puts his deeds in the forefront down to the Council of Jerusalem, which he opened with the address on the necessity for admitting Gentiles to the Church. Naturally and unassumingly Peter became the acknowledged leader of the earliest Christian community, as St Luke clearly narrates and St Paul confirms. There is absolutely no contradicting this perfectly apparent development.
It is arguable how far St Clement, to judge by his letter of admonishment to the Corinthians of A.D. 95, acknowledged the primacy of St Peter over St Paul when he bracketed them together. The inference is that he did because his letter was very authoritative in tone as though he - the inheritor of Peter's sovereignty - expected his abjurations to be obeyed. These were that the Corinthian Church should compose its differences and amend its morals at once. 'It is shameful, dearly beloved, yes utterly shameful an unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the very steadfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians, for the sake of one or two persons, makes sedition against its presbyters.' And he concluded: 'For ye will give us great joy and gladness, if ye render obedience unto the things written by us through the Holy Spirit, and root out the unrighteous anger of your jealousy, according to the entreaty which we have made for peace and concord in this letter.' Clement was at the time bishop of Rome in succession, as he full well knew, to Peter after an interlude during which at most two other occupants had held the see. In his Epistle he said that the apostles foresaw 'that there would be strife over the name of the bishop's office and accordingly appointed persons to succeed them after their death'.
By the end of the second century, it was fully believed that Peter's authority had been transmitted through Clement and a line of Roman pontiffs. St Irenaeus (c.130-200) is the first man categorically to state in writing that Peter had founded the Church and instituted an episcopal succession. He added that the office was after the Apostle's death entrusted to Linus who was succeeded by Anacletus, an Athenian, then by Clement. Linus gets a single mention in St Paul's last letter to Timothy as being one of his companions who sends greetings. According to the Liber Pontificalis he was ordained by Peter; and after becoming pope ruled that women must veil themselves on entering a church. Of Anacletus nothing whatever is known.
The story of the Rock has only comparatively lately assumed importance. During the Middle Ages the words of Jesus to Peter were not heeded more than other Gospel passages. They were brought into great prominence at the Reformation by Catholic apologists in their compelling need to re-establish absolute papal claims. Even today they are not interpreted by the Protestant Churches as conveying rights of primacy to successors of Peter in the see of Rome. On the contrary Protestant theologians are satisfied that Jesus's words give no hint of a spiritual Petrine dynasty and make no mention whatever of transmittable virtues or powers. Professor Cullmann, a remarkably unbiased Protestant, who fully accepts the Catholic traditions regarding the manner and place of Peter's death, sees no reason for acknowledging Peter's primacy over Paul. He believes moreover that Christ intended not the persons of bishops but the apostolic scriptures to be the historic links between his ministry on earth and the living Church. The professor denies that there are any grounds for supposing Peter to have ruled all Christendom from Rome, which in his day was never regarded as its mainspring. To Protestants Rome is on the contrary the rock of dissension, upon which in the sixteenth century the ship of Christ foundered and split into two distinctive and hitherto irreconcilable halves.
I have already pointed out that the tone of Clement's famous letter to the Corinthians was throughout that of a superior directing his subordinates in a distant part of the Mediterranean. Towards them he nevertheless expressed the solicitude and affection of a father. Nowhere, it is true, does he lay down Rome's superior right positively to interfere with Corinthian church government, but he does imply its right to tender advice. The distinction is important. At the time Rome was the only bishopric in Italy, and Rome was still the capital of the civilized world. When, ten or eleven years after Clement's Epistle, another was sitting on his throne, St Ignatius during his slow journey to martyrdom addressed the Roman Church as 'president of the brotherhood of the faithful'. He made no mention of a bishop or pope, but referred to the elders who occupied the principal ecclesiastical seats in Rome. Rather his theme was that the gospel and the apostolate were the forces constituting the early Church and filling it with the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the stability of the Church o Rome, which in his eyes clearly gave the other Churches guidance as well as example. The fact that the early popes after Clement made themselves so little known was no bad thing. In a sense their obscurity contributed to the strength of the Roman see. They were all, as far as we know, good priests who did not embroil the growing community in controversies political or dynastic. At the same time, they quietly controlled their own immediate flock and evidently exercised an authority over the Churches abroad. Already in the Emperor Hadrian's reign the Roman Church was rich enough to distribute funds to other Churches in need or distress. This it regarded as a duty. By A.D. 150 Hegesippus, a Christian from Syria, compiled a list o the successive bishops of Rome, with their length of office, while vouching that they could all establish their apostolic succession from Peter. Before the end of the second century Irenaeus deliberately stated that the truth as preached by the apostles had descended through the line of the bishops of Rome.
It is hardly surprising to find in 340 Pope Julius I making the earliest written affirmation of Rome's supremacy over all other Churches. In a letter to the Eastern bishops in defense of St Athanasius and his stand against Arianism he claimed the right to judge even the bishops of Antioch and Alexandria. 'Men write first to us,' the pope declared, 'and it is here that justice is dispensed.' It is remarkable how the four great Eastern Churches never had the will or the wish to dispute Rome's superior claims. The see of Antioch, reputedly founded by St Peter, had consistently been contested by rival claimants and its line vitiated by heretical bishops. Alexandria, which by the time of Julius I ranked immediately after Rome as the second patriarchal see, was then a seat of Arianism. Constantinople, because only newly founded on the site of the Greek Byzantium where certainly there had been a Christian community since the second century, could advance no pretensions. Lastly Jerusalem, which of the our cities boasted the greatest antiquity in that it was the scene of Christ's ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples' first teaching, and so was the virtual nursery of Christianity, yet put forward no right to pre-eminence. That the heresies which flourished like weeds in the fourth century were eradicated one by one or rendered innocuous, was without question owing to Rome's firmness in denouncing them. By the fifth century the Pope in Rome was invariably consulted by overseas bishops for rulings in matters of faith and policy. He responded in what are known as decretal letters having the force of law within his supreme jurisdiction. The first was issued in 385. All bishops throughout Christendom were ostensibly nominated by the Pope. Leo the Great (440-61) became the first true Pope in the modern sense because he was the unquestioned supreme head of Christendom. He raided himself to this dignity through staunchly upholding not only the primacy of Peter over the other apostles, but that of his successors in Rome over other bishops. By a process of gradual evolution, the primacy of Rome had become firmly established. For a thousand years it did not occur to anyone in Christendom to question it.