“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
One of the claims often made by non-Catholics against the Catholic understanding of the Papacy is the Bible never mentions Peter was in Rome. Since Catholics view the Pope in Rome as being the successor of St. Peter, they seem to view this somehow invalidates the concept of the Papacy.
Frankly, it does not. The Catholic understanding of the Papacy has nothing to do with the city of Rome. It has everything to do with the keys of the kingdom given to Peter by Christ that establishes the successive office of royal steward. Although for the vast majority of the Church’s history this office has been present in the city of Rome, it is in no way dependent upon the location. It is dependent on the successive line of known popes. This succession is something the early Church knew well.
St. Irenaeus, who lived approximately 130-202AD was ordained by the Bishop Polycarp, who was ordained by the apostle John. In his book “Against Heresies,” Book 3 Chapter 3 he writes about the succession of bishops throughout the Church, and mentions it would be too tedious to list each bishop and their successors. But he does list the succession from the apostle Peter, the popes. There had been twelves popes since St. Peter. If that seems like a lot, ten of them met their death by martyrdom. Becoming Pope in the first centuries of the Church was most likely a death sentence.
But was Peter ever in Rome? Church history tells us he was martyred there, as was St. Paul. The Bible speaks to neither of these events. The only apostle whose death it records is St. James (brother of St. John) who is killed by the sword of Herod (Acts 12). How sad it would be to not recognize the heroic deaths of the others simply because they aren’t recorded in the Bible! Church history tells us all but St. John died a martyr’s death. Catholic tradition has often viewed St. John was spared this fate because he was the only one faithful to Christ during his passion and stood at the foot of his cross.
The Bible does include one cryptic reference that indicates Peter was in Rome. In closing his letter, in 1 Peter 5:13, he writes “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.” Babylon was often viewed as a code word for Rome, and from this passage we can view Peter is indeed in Rome with his family. I always find it interesting that those who want to deny this passage shows Peter is in Rome are also often the ones who want to make the case that the Babylon spoken of in the book of Revelation is indeed Rome because it specifically references the Catholic Church (Revelation 17:5).
The writings of the early Church are full of references to Peter in Rome, and his death there. He was crucified, but asked to be crucified upside down because he did not believe he was worthy to die in the same manner as Christ. This is why the Pope’s hat has an upside down cross on it; it’s to honor St Peter and his martyrdom for Christ.
We will often see Catholic kiss the ring of the Pope. This sort of action can lead to claims of “pope worship” by those who don’t understand the history or significance of the action. The ring the Pope wears is called the “ring of the fisherman,” again in honor of St. Peter and the office. Kissing the ring is a sign of respect and submission to this office established by Jesus himself, not worship of the man. Had sad it can be when people place their own perspective on top of an action and then judge, rather than seek to understand the meaning it has for the person performing the action.
There is no “ordination” to become Pope; he is a fellow-bishop who is installed in the chair of St. Peter. For this reason, one of his titles is “first among equals.” Some will point to when St. Peter refers to himself as a “fellow elder,” in 1 Peter 5:1 as evidence he holds no special office. This would be similar to thinking because the President of the United States may refer to “my fellow Americans” it means he holds no special office. Peter’s office is well defined in the New Testament as has been covered in my posts.
When a new Pope is selected by the college of Cardinals and he accepts the “chair of Peter,” he is then taken into a room to be robed. This room is called the “room of tears” because it is where the new Pope is called to reflect on the enormity of the office he has accepted and what it means to his personal life in the future. He truly does carry the weight of the world on his shoulders in caring for all of God’s people, not just Catholics. Our Popes always very much need to be lifted up by the prayers of the Church, as they are at every Mass that is celebrated world-wide.
This concludes the series of posts I will do on the Papacy. My next post will move us on to the topic of the saints.