Phantom Petrine pillars
What if, Catholic friend, the impermeable structure the Church declares is founded on the apostle Peter as its Roman pontifical rock, in truth has merely a phantom foundation?
As I indicated last time, the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to supreme authority in Christendom stands or falls on her being able to locate evidence of that authority to the first, or at the very least, the second century. But she cannot find any before the late fourth. By then she had the backing of the Roman emperor, but previously, when some bishops of Rome had acted the part of a pompous pontiff, their fellow bishops from other Christian outposts had to restrain and correct them.
You’re not likely to find any of this in the Catholic literature, but the evidence calls to us from the pens of the early church fathers, if we would only heed and read. The same fathers that the Roman Church cites as supportive of her unique and supreme authority, when read in context support nothing of the sort. Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others only say what Rome wants to hear when Rome employs selective hearing.
The writings we have from the sub-apostolic fathers are literally voluminous, and I have only just begun to read them. I am indebted to another blogger at whitehorseblog.com for pointing me to a number of selections which paint a rather different picture than the one the Catholic Church would have us see. I will highlight just a few in this post and encourage you to read his series on the subject beginning here, and also the church fathers themselves (see my links below).
The Roman Catholic resource Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, in its section on the primacy of the see of Rome, puts forward as evidence that Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, “negotiated” with Victor, bishop of Rome regarding when to celebrate Easter. (1) Victor threatened to excommunicate all the churches who disagreed with him but the ancient historian Eusebius records Polycrates refusing to submit to a fellow bishop who had no authority over him or his church, writing to Victor that he is “not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.’” (Book 5, Ch.24, 7) Eusebius goes on to say that Victor’s attempt at subjugation “did not please” the other bishops. “And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.” (par. 10)
The same resource references another disagreement the bishops dealt with when Stephen was bishop of Rome. They cite “the testimony of Bishop Firmilian of Caesarea” claiming he “maintained” that Stephen possessed “the succession of Peter, on which the foundations of the Church are erected.” (1) They reference the Epistles of Cyprian 75, paragraph 17, but it’s actually from 74, and the complete quote and context give a completely opposite picture. Firmilian says, “And in this respect I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid.” Earlier in this letter from Firmilian to Cyprian he says, “But that they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles.” (74, 6)
Catholic resources and apologists depend greatly for their “evidence” of Rome’s primacy on how her bishop is referenced by the early church fathers, reading into seemingly exalted addresses a recognition of her supreme status. Like this evaluation of Ignatius’ opening sentence in his letter to the Romans, “He speaks to the Church at Rome rather as she who ‘προκαθημένη τῆς ἀγάπης’ (presides in/over love). This seems to be an indication of his recognition of the primacy had by the Church at Rome, even among the three apostolic Churches, since he himself was the bishop of the Church at Antioch.” (Bryan Cross, St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church) But as Tim at whitehorseblog.com points out, “But if Rome only “presides over love,” then what abject submission, adulation and worship is due to the church at Magnesia whose “bishop presides in the place of God“!? (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Magnesians, chapter 6) No other bishop is described this way.”
The Roman Catholic Church plainly misrepresents her origins in order to assert and maintain the authority she succeeded in capturing in the late fourth century but was not hers at all in the first three. The writings of the early church fathers are many and wading through them can be difficult, but the truth can be found in them for anyone willing to look.
(1) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, TAN Books, Charlotte, NC, pg. 284