Dec 122012

by Anura Guruge

Related post:
>> The Vatican Redefines The Papacy; Decouples It From Rome! … — Dec. 11, 2012.

Most likely the first real pope, Pius I (#10).

That St. Peter (#1) was the first pope is a fundamental Catholic tradition and devotional belief, enshrined, inviolable and sacrosanct.

Hence, St. Peter has to be always deemed as the first pope, without caveat, per tradition. But, historical facts indicate otherwise.

The overriding problem is that the term ‘pope’, in the context it is now used, only became the exclusive prerogative of the Bishop of Rome in the late 4th century, during the reign of Siricius (#38), December 384 to November 399. Prior to that the Greek pappas and the Latin papa was commonly used in their original sense to refer to any priest or prelate, in much the same way that today’s Catholic priests are called ‘father’. It is the retroactive application of this title to those prior to Siricius, in particular the first 9 listed as ‘popes’, that causes issues.

The term ‘pope’ or an office comparable to that of a ‘pope’ are not mentioned in the Bible. That is why I tend to cringe when I see statements that claim that Peter became ‘pope’ around 30 AD! Per most accounts Christ was still alive in 30 AD. I really cannot conceive that there was a ‘pope’ while Christ was still on Earth. That Peter, the Rock, was special and enjoyed primacy among the Apostles might very well have been the case, but he was not ‘pope’ à la say John Paul II (#265) or Benedict XVI (#266).

Whether one likes it or not, the office that is now deemed to be that of the ‘pope’ is irrevocably tied to that of the Bishop of Rome. The pope is the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Rome is the pope. Period. That, per the historical record, is the basis of what is the papacy.

St. Peter, again per tradition and devotion, is credited as being the first Bishop of Rome. I have never subscribed to that. Even IF he was ever in Rome, and that is a HUGE ‘IF’, I do not believe that he ever considered himself to be a ‘Bishop’, of Rome or even Antioch. He was an Apostle. I don’t think he would ever have, post resurrection, considered his role to be anything other than that, i.e., an Apostle, the chief one at that. To be thought a ‘Bishop’, even if that office existed in his time, would have been a demotion. Bishops would be those that came after the Apostles.

Rome did not have a ‘Bishop’ per se till c. 140. In other words it was not a monepiscopacy during the ‘days’. Instead, the Church of Rome was run by a collegiate group of presbyters. That is beyond doubt or debate. The 8 so called ‘pope’ that followed St. Peter were, without questions, Roman presbyters — but they did not have singular authority. Pius I (#10) appears to have been the first cleric to have been the singular head of the Church of Rome, i.e., the nearest to being a bona fide Bishop of Rome. So, if anything it is Pius I who should be considered the first real pope.

Per the record, Linus, a presbyter, succeeded St. Peter. Well into the 2nd century it was Linus, rather St. Peter, that was considered to have been the first Bishop of Rome. So, that is where we stand. My goal here is to state the historical facts knowing full well that devotional tradition always trumps the facts.

  8 Responses to “The First Pope. In Terms Of Historical Factuality It Would Be Pius I (#10) Or Siricius (#38).”

  1. As for the claims of the papacy the Roman synod of 382 is of crucial significance – in reaction to can. 3 promulgated by the Council of Constantinople in 381 (which gave the see of Constantinople the honorific second place as `New Rome´ just after the Roman bishop) the aforementioned synod defined the Roman bishopric as `sedes apostolica´ which should underline the unique position of that local church. Depending on local traditions the title `pope´ during the first centuries had been used also by bishops of other local churches – until today the Greek Orthodox as well as the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria call themselves `pope´ . From the correspondence between St. Cyprian of Carthage and Roman clerics in the mid of the third century it clearly can be seen that this Church Father was addressed by the Romans as `papa´ according to the old custom. It is also known that St. Cyprian was oppsed to any kind of paternalism by the Roman bishops – from his treatise `De unitate ecclesiae´ it can be concluded that the vocation of the apostle Peter is to be regarded as a kind of archetype which concerns every bishop of the Church and not only the Roman hierarchs. For this reason Cyprian of Carthage had also quarrels with his Roman colleague Stephen whom he criticized for having claimed a particular position which werde not in accord with the principles of apostolic and synodal ecclesiology.
    Concerning the early developments in the Roman Church it is (as you write) a fact that there was a synodal-collective kind of administration (see the introductory words of St. Clement´s letter to the Church of Corinth where the `Church of God dwelling at Rome´ is mentioned) while the officiating bishop was regarded as `proestos´ (in Greek) or `praeses´ (in Latin) who by no means can be compared to the popes and the concept of their office of later times, especially from the eighth century onwards.

  2. At the risk of sounding a little like Bill Clinton, I guess it depends on what one means when they say “pope.”

    If Christ’s commission of Peter (in Latin, “Tu es Petrus..”) is taken to mean that made Peter head of the Church on earth, and if THAT is taken to mean the start of Peter’s “pontificate”, then yes, c. AD 30 would be correct, since the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension took place somewhere around then (given that Christ was born c. 4 BC).

    But if one means that “to be Pope, you have to be Bishop of Rome”, then the earliest possible date for that would be c. AD 42, which is the traditional date of Peter’s first visit to Rome (not sure where that date came from originally, though…’pious tradition’ sometimes is a leaky boat. 😉

    Even given that, nearly all scholars (historians, theologians, whatever)–devout or not–agree that the monoepiscopate (i.e., one-man rule) of the church at Rome does probably start with St. Pius I. All the people before then that we now regard as popes were probably just the senior presbyter at Rome. Nearly all agree that monoepiscopate was more of an evolutionary process rather than revolutionary one. That the process took only about a century to develop this way is in itself pretty interesting…

  3. So we are violently in agreement. Thank God for that.
    That is FUNNY about you starting OFF with Bill, BECAUSE I too had thought about starting off along the lines of: ‘It is like Bill Clinton’s question as to who you define “is”?’. You and I are in synch on this.
    I was again thinking about a ‘pope’ while Christ was alive scenario during my morning run … a couple of hours ago. It brings up ONE very interesting point. For the sake of argument, lets say that Peter was indeed Pope prior to the crucifixion. Then you would have to say that Christ was denied by the 1st pope! No skin off my nose, but that would be an interesting footing to start off the papacy.
    Thanks. Happy holidays. Cheers, Anura

  4. Thank YOU. Excellent. So as with my friend ‘Mark/Sergius III’ (Or Sergius Mark III) above, we are also in agreement. That is good. But, I am NOT clear whether you buy into Peter being pope as of 30 AD? Thank you. Happy Holidays. All the best. Cheers, Anura

  5. Anura,
    to answer your question concerning the Apostle Peter in the following way: Given that bishops are regarded as successors to the Apostles it would be a contradictorial nonsense to believe that there could have been somebody who at the same time occupied those two `identities´ at the same time. This fairy tale (I really have no other expression) was written down for the first time by the Church Father Jerome (he himself being deacon and secretary of the Roman bishop Damasus who initiated the above mentioned synod in 382) who collected legends and sayings about the Apostle Peter and resumed them about the year 400 in his work `De viris illustribus´. However it seems that the story of Peter´s alleged Roman episcopacy came to be really exploited from the ninth century onwards when the Roman See tried to `prove´ that there was the source of all other bishoprics all over the Christian world. It is however true that for example St. Leo the Great emphasized the Apostle´s position, thus calling on a kind of `primacy´ – but more or less in the sense of the Roman bishop being `primus inter pares´ (first among equals). For example, when by the Council of Chalcedon Leo was offered the honorific title `universal bishop´ he did not accept this proposal which he even regarded as being an uncanonical act.
    On the other hand it seems quite certain that the Apostle stayed a couple of time in Antioch and according to some traditions it is said that he even visited Alexandria, at least it is stated that he sent his disciple Mark there to organize the emerging local church. In autumn 590 after his consecration as Bishop of Rome St. Gregory the Great sent a so called `canonical letter´ to his fellow patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch thus writing that all three bishops are successors of the one Apostle so that all of them share in equal manner the apostolic dignity. It is quite obvious that Roman born Gregory who beyond all doubts did know the Petrine legend did not have the intention to make use of those fabrications and thereby to destroy the ecclesiastical communion with all the other bishops of East and West.
    However, there may be a slight possibility that Peter visited the Roman Church – mentioning in his First Letter (1 Petr 5,13) `Babylon´, an expression which by the Christians of the earliest times was considered as a synonym for Rome. Being there he could have found an already organized community which was closely linked to another Apostle – St. Paul who for his part when entering the `caput mundi´ had to be aware that there were already Christians but it is not known who in fact founded and governed the Church of Rome in those days. One thing however we know for certain – it was not the Apostle Peter !

  6. Yep, pretty much in agreement, but that’s typical. I was just restating what you said in slightly different terms 🙂

    Not sure of the chronology of “the Petrine commission” (Matthew 16:17-19) vis-a-vis the Resurrection, but as I recall, the language used–if not the placement in the gospels–may indicate that the commission happened after the Denial, and therefore after the Resurrection.
    Or not: it’s not really that important; Jesus may simply been laying the groundwork beforehand for the time following the Ascension. Elsewhere, when Christ says to Peter at the last supper, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you have returned, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32) he was foretelling his denial, and his “return to the fold”. After the Resurrection, Jesus made sure Peter was on the same page with the triple admonition to “feed my lambs/Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17) effectively erasing Peter’s triple denial.
    Of course none of this has anything to do with the role(s) of the “Bishops of Rome” (or senior presbyters, anyway) for the 75 years or so following Peter’s martyrdom…unless you consider that the role of Peter does prefigure the role that the pope played from St. Pius I, onward.

  7. The crucial point however is that the person of the Apostle is not linked exclusively to the Church of Rome – specially in the first centuries his vocation had been understood as a kind of `pars pro toto´, that means the whole story of Peter´s vocation as related in Mt 16 had its effects on the whole Church…otherwise said, this biblical scene tells us nothing else than the establishment of the apostolic function as one of the most important constitutive elements of church life. I already mentioned Leo the Great who may be considered as one of the most outspoken advocats of certain prerogatives of the Roman See who after having quoted Mt 16:19 in a sermon for the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul stated the following : `Certainly, this privilege was also subrogated to the other Apostles to make use of it (…) This authorization is given to Peter separately because Peter´s person stands above all church leaders. St. Peter´s privilege is also to apply to his successors…´. In his words the Roman Church Father beyond all doubts emphasizes the significance of the Petrine service thereby admitting (as did St. Cyprian of Carthage two centuries before) that there is in fact only one possible interpretation – all bishops are sharing the equal dignity so that the Roman hierarch could define his own position only as `primus inter pares´. One may also ask if St. Leo did understand the Petrine tradition also as kind of an archetypal example closely linked to its duty to bear witness; anyway, all this had nothing to do with the mediaeval `papal monarchy´ ideologically supported by falsifications as for example the `Donum Constantini´ or notorious documents of papal power as it was the `Dictatus papae´…

  8. If Christ’s commission of Peter (in Latin, “Tu es Petrus..”) is taken to mean that made Peter head of the Church on earth, and if THAT is taken to mean the start of Peter’s “pontificate”, then yes, c. AD 30 would be correct, since the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension took place somewhere around then (given that Christ was born c. 4 BC).

    That would assume that the “Thou art Peter” saying really goes back to Jesus, but that is highly doubtful. For one, it is found only in GMatthew, whose author expanded on Mark 8:27-30 to add this special blessing of Peter, probably to bolster the standing of the Petrine faction in the early church.
    In any case, it is to be taken with a shaker of salt.

    Sergius III is a great name though!

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