What did the Church fathers think about the primacy of Peter?
Look at the example of St. Clement I, bishop of Rome (c. 90 AD) rebuking the Corinthians with authority, even while the Apostle John was still alive.
Hermas (The Shepherd of Hermas), writes, "Write, then, two small booklets, one for Clement [bishop of Rome] and one for Grapte. Clement will then send it to the cities abroad since this is his duty." (See below the Syriac document "Doctrine of Addai" which refers to Peter sending out the letters of Paul to the churches.)
Consider also the reverence and deferral St. Ignatius has for the church at Rome in his epistle to the Romans (c. 110 AD), in contrast to his tone with the other churches. This reverence is not because of Rome's political situation, but because of its founders and its authority. St. Ignatius entrusts the church he left behind in Antioch to the Roman see. Twice he uses the term prokathetai (primacy), saying that their church "has the primacy in the place of the region of the Romans", and that it presides in love (prokathemene tes agapes). Ignatius is using a wordplay for first-seat, the first (in the sense of primacy) of the episcopal seats. Ignatius writes, "You [the See of Rome] have envied no one, but others have you taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force (Epistle to the Romans 3:1).
Tatian the Syrian (170 AD), writes, "Simon Kephas answered and said, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah: flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee also, that you are Kephas, and on this Rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it." (The Diatesseron 23)
Consider St. Irenaeus of Lyon, writing around 180 AD, "We do put to confusion all those who ... assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [of Rome], on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere."
St. Irenaeus elsewhere describes the manner in which St. Victor (bishop of Rome, 189-199) set in motion the excommunication of the Asian Churches, not only from Rome, but also from the universal Church in general. No one challenged his right to do this; rather, St. Irenaeus wrote to him and pleaded with him not to do it, for the sake of the peace of the Church, and St. Victor relented.
St. Clement of Alexandria (between 190-210 AD) writes, "Therefore on hearing those words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Saviour paid tribute [Mt 17:27], quickly seized and comprehended the saying."
Tertullian (c. 200 AD) refers to the bishop of Rome as "the Supreme Pontiff ... the bishop of bishops..." Elsewhere he writes, "Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the rock on which the church should be built,' who also obtained the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with the power of loosing and binding in heaven and on earth? Moreover, if Peter was reproached [by Paul] because, after having lived with the gentiles, he later separated himself from their company out of respect for persons, the fault certainly was one of procedure and not of doctrine."
Tertullian also writes, "Come now, if you would indulge a better curiosity in the business of your salvation, run through the apostolic Churches in which the very thrones [cathedrae] of the Apostles remain still in place; in which their own authentic writings are read, giving sound to the voice and recalling the faces of each. Achaia is near you, so you have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi. If you can cross into Asia, you have Ephesus. But if you are near to Italy, you have Rome, whence also our authority derives. How happy is that Church, on which Apostles poured out their whole doctrine along with their blood, where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John's [the Baptist], where the Apostle John, after being immersed in boiling oil and suffering no hurt, was exiled to an island."
Tertullian, here in his semi-Montanist period, writes in refutation of the gnostics who think confession of the faith on Earth is unnecessary, "For though you think heaven is still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which every one who has been here put to the question [who do you say that Jesus is?], and also made confession, will carry with him [i.e. opening the way to heaven].
Tertullian, again, as a Montanist, writes, "For after the Bishop of Rome [probably Victor] had acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, and, in consequence of the acknowledgment, had bestowed his peace on the churches of Asia and Phrygia, he [Praxeas] by importunately urging false accusations against the prophets themselves and their churches, and insisting on the authority of the bishop's predecessors in the see, compelled him to recall the pacific letter which he had [earlier] issued, as well as to desist from his purpose of acknowledging the said gifts." In doing so, the Pope excommunicated the Montanists from fellowship with the universal Church, not simply with the Church at Rome. Notice the authority of the bishop of Rome shown here with respect to excommunicating the Montantists.
Letter of Clement to James 2 (221 AD) "Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus Himself, with His truthful mouth, named Peter."
Pope Calixtus (217-222) based his decision to re-admit (after due penance) those who had broken the sixth commandment, on his power of the keys. This led to significant controversy, and bitter criticism from the Montanist Tertullian.
St. Hippolytus (225 A.D), writes, " Peter, the Rock of the Church ..." Elsewise, " Peter, the Rock of the Faith, whom Christ our Lord called blessed, the teacher of the Church, the first disciple, he who has the Keys of the Kingdom."
Origen of Alexandria (185-254), writes, "Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail ...." Elsewhere, "Look at the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church!" Elsewhere, "Upon him (Peter), as on the earth, the Church was founded." Elsewhere, "Peter, upon whom is built Christ's Church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail." When Origen was condemned by the Alexandrian synod (231-232) for insubordination, self-mutilation, and heterodoxy, to whom did Origen appeal? Pope Fabianus, who upheld the decision by the Alexandrian synod. Why did Origen appeal to Rome? Because the supreme authority of Peter's chair was universally recognized.
St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, (d. 258) writes, "The Lord says to Peter: 'I say to you,' He says, 'that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven.' And again He says to him after His resurrection: 'Feed my sheep.' On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" Elsewhere, he writes, "For first to Peter, upon whom He built the Church, and from whom He appointed and showed that unity should spring ..." Elsewhere, he writes, "God is one, and Christ is one, and the Church is one, and the Chair (of Peter) is one, by the Lord's word, upon a Rock ..." Elsewhere, he writes, "Peter, also to whom the Lord commends His sheep to be fed and guarded, on whom He laid the foundation of the Church ...."
St. Cyprian, again, "With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church, in which sacerdotal unity has its source; nor did they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the preaching Apostle, and among whom it is not possible for perfidy to have entrance."
St. Cyprian again, writing to Antonianus of Numidia, "You wrote also, that I should forward to Cornelius [bishop of Rome], our colleague, a copy of your letter, so that he might put aside any anxiety and know immediately that you are in communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church.... Cornelius was made bishop [of Rome] by the decision of God and of His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men, . . . which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair.... Since it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever wishes now to become bishop must do so outside. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church."
St. Cornelius, bishop of Rome (252), writes to St. Cyprian, concerning the return to the Church of Urbanus, Sidonius, and Maximus, who had been led astray by Novatius. St. Cornelius quotes the confession of these men: "We know that Cornelius is bishop of the most holy Catholic Church elected by Almighty God, and by Christ our Lord.... For although we seemed ... to have held a kind of communion with a man [Novatius] who was a schismatic and a heretic, yet our mind was always sincere in the Church. For we are not ignorant that there is one God; that there is one Christ the Lord whom we have confessed, and one Holy Spirit; and that in the Catholic Church there ought to be one bishop." (meaning, of course, one supreme bishop)
St. Cyprian writes, "There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering."
See also St. Cyprian's letter to Pope Stephen (254-257) requesting Pope Stephen to excommunicate Marcian bishop of Arles (because of Marcian's Novatianism), and oversee the appointment of a replacement for Marcian of Arles. Consider also that the Spanish bishops Martial and Basilides, having been deposed by the bishops of their province for denying the Faith, appealed to Pope Stephen and were restored by him. Clearly these bishops recognized the primacy not just of honor, but of authority, in the See of Peter.
Pope Dionysius (259-268), "But a charge had been laid by some persons against the Bishop of Alexandria before the Bishop of Rome, as if he had said that the Son was made, and not coessential with the Father." (Notice that charges against bishops were brought to the Bishop of Rome.) Dionysius bishop of Alexandria wrote back to Dionysius bishop of Rome, saying essentially, "I should have sent you the very words I used."
Recall how the bishop of Rome determined to whom the church building should be given when Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, had to be forcibly removed from it (272 AD) after his excommunication for heresy, determined by local councils in 264-266, and confirmed by the bishop of Rome.
The pagan philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (230-300), as reported by Macarius Magnes writes, "So one wonders why Jesus gave the keys of heaven to such a man as Peter and why in such a time of disorder and tumult, beset with such grave dangers, he said: 'Feed my lambs' ....
Jacob, bishop of Nisibis, of Syria (338), writes, "And Simon the head of the Apostles, he who denied Christ . . . our Lord received him, and made him the foundation, and called him the rock of the edifice of the Church."
Aphraates the Persian Sage (c. 345) and Syrian Church Father, writes, "David received the kingdom of Saul his persecutor; and Jesus received the kingdom of Israel His persecutor.... David handed over the kingdom to Solomon, and was gathered to his people; and Jesus handed over the keys to Simon, and ascended and returned to Him who sent Him."
St. Ephraim (c. 306 - 373), of Nisibius, Syria writes lyrically, "Simon, My follower; I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter [Kefa, or Rock, in the original text], because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures." Elsewhere he writes, "Peter, who was called Kephas, he who was captured on the sea shore, and who received testimony from the great Shepherd, that 'Upon this Rock I will build my Church.'" And elsewhere, "That Rock which He set up that Satan might stumble thereon, Satan, on the other hand, wished to put this Rock in the way of the Lord that He might stumble upon it, when Peter said, 'Far be it from Thee, Lord.' [Matt 16:22-23]"
St. Hilary, Archbishop of Poitiers, (France) (315-367/68), "Peter believeth first, and is the prince of the apostleship." Elsewhere, "Blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Again, "He [Jesus] took up Peter -- to whom He had just before given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, upon whom He was about to build the Church, against which the gates of hell should not in any way prevail, who whatsoever he should bind or loose on earth, that should abide bound or loosed in heaven -- this same Peter ... the first confessor of the Son of God, the foundation of the Church, the doorkeeper of the heavenly kingdom, and in his judgment on earth a judge of heaven." Again, "O blessed keeper of the gate of heaven, to whose disposal are delivered the keys of the entrance into eternity; whose judgment on earth is an authority prejudged in heaven, so that the things that are either loosed or bound on earth, acquire in heaven too a like state of settlement." ... if to the head, that is to the see of the Apostle Peter, the priests of the Lord report . . . ." Elsewhere he says, "[Peter is to be admired] because, knowing that all acknowledged his primacy, he had too much humility to resent any reproach offered to himself." Elsewhere he writes, "And in truth Peter's confession obtained a worthy recompense ....Oh! in thy designation by a new name, happy Foundation of the Church, and a Rock worthy of the building up of that which was to scatter the infernal laws of the gates of hell!"
St. Macarius of Egypt (300-390), "Afterwards Moses was succeeded by Peter, who had committed to his hands the new Church of Christ, and the true priesthood."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (b. 315 - d. 386), "As the delusion [of Simon Magus] was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right.... And marvellous though it was, yet no marvel. For Peter was there, who carrieth the keys of heaven." "In the power of the same Holy Spirit, Peter, both the chief of the apostles and the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, in the name of Christ healed Aeneas the paralytic at Lydda, which is now called Diospolis." Elsewhere he writes, "Our Lord Jesus Christ then became man, but by the many He was not known. But wishing to teach that which was not known, having assembled His disciples, He asked, 'Who do you say that I the Son of man am?' ...And all being silent, for it was beyond man to know, Peter, the Foremost of the Apostles, the Chief Herald of the Church, not using language of his own finding, but having his mind enlightened by the Father, says unto Him, 'Thou art the Christ,' and not simply that, but, 'the Son of the living God.' And a blessing follows the speech. ....' ....and upon this Rock I will found my Church ...' "
St. Athanasius quotes St. Julius, bishop of Rome (337-352) writing to the eastern bishops who had deposed Athanasius, "Why was nothing said to us [Pope Julius and the Roman Church] concerning the Church of the Alexandrians in particular? Or do you not know that it is the custom to write to us [Rome] first, and that here what is just is decided? Certainly if any suspicion of this nature did fall upon the bishop of that city [Alexandria], the fact should have been written to this church [Rome]; whereas, after neglecting to inform us, and proceeding on their own authority as they pleased, now they desire to obtain our concurrence in their decisions, though we never condemned him. Not so have the constitutions of Paul, not so have the traditions of the Fathers directed; this is another form of procedure, a novel practice. I beseech you, readily bear with me: what I write is for the common good. For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter, that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings so disturbed us.".... Athanasius then writes, "When Ursacius and Valens saw all this, they forthwith condemned themselves for what they had done, and going up to Rome, confessed their crime, declared themselves penitent, and sought forgiveness, addressing the following letters to Julius, Bishop of ancient Rome, and to ourselves ....: "Ursacius and Valens to the most blessed lord, pope Julius. Whereas it is well known that we have heretofore in letters laid many grievous charges against the Bishop Athanasius, and whereas when we were corrected by the letters of your Goodness, we were unable to render an account of the statement we had made; we do now confess before your Goodness, and in the presence of all the Presbyters our brethren, that all the reports which have heretofore come to your hearing respecting the case of the aforesaid Athanasius, are falsehoods and fabrications, and are utterly inconsistent with his character. Wherefore we earnestly desire communion with the aforesaid Athanasius, especially since your Piety, with your characteristic generosity, has vouchsafed to pardon our error. But we also declare, that if at any time the Eastern Bishops, or even Athanasius himself, ungenerously should wish to bring us to judgment for this matter, we will not depart contrary to your judgment. And as for the heretic Arius and his supporters, who say that once the Son was not, and that the Son was made of that which was not, and who deny that Christ is God and the Son of God before the worlds, we anathematize them both now and for evermore, as also we have set forth in our former declaration at Milan. We have written this with our own hands, and we profess again, that we have renounced for ever, as we said before, the Arian heresy and its authors. I Ursacius subscribed this my confession in person; and likewise I Valens. Ursacius and Valens, Bishops, to their lord and brother, the Bishop Athanasius."
Or just read through the writings of the Council of Serdica (343-344) in what is today Sophia, Bulgaria, and see how the primacy of Rome regarding the ultimate examination of accused bishops (and to whom they may appeal) is based on Peter, not on the political status of the city of Rome. These bishops conclude the summary of the acts of the synod by writing to the bishop of Rome: "For this will seem to be best and most fitting indeed, if the priests from each and every province refer to the head, that is, to the chair of Peter the Apostle."
The Catalogus Liberianus (354 AD) states, "In the reign of Tiberius Caesar our Lord Jesus Christ suffered under the constellation of the Gemini, March 25, and after his ascension blessed Peter instituted the episcopate. From his time we name in due order of succession every one who has been bishop, how many years he was in office and under what emperor.
Optatus of Milevisu, bishop of Milevis in Africa (367), writes, "But you cannot deny that you know that the episcopal seat was established first in the city of Rome by Peter and that in it sat Peter, the head of all the apostles, wherefore he is called Cephas, the one chair in which unity is maintained by all. Neither do other Apostles proceed individually on their own; and anyone who would set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner. It was Peter, then, who first occupied that chair, the foremost of his endowed gifts .... I but ask you to recall the origins of your chair, you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church."
St. Basil the Great (330-379), bishop of Caesarea, writes, "... him that was called from amongst fishermen unto the ministry of the Apostleship; him who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church." "One also of these mountains was Peter, upon which rock the lord promised to build His Church". He also writes, "The soul of blessed Peter was called a lofty Rock ..." Basil also writes to Athanasius informing him that he [Basil] has sent a letter to the bishop of Rome, begging him to examine their [Caesarea's] condition, and appealing to him to "exercise his own personal authority in the matter".
St. Basil, again, writing to Pope Damasus: "Nearly all the East (I include under this name all the regions from Illyricum to Egypt) is being agitated, right honourable father, by a terrible storm and tempest. The old heresy, sown by Arius the enemy of the truth, has now boldly and unblushingly reappeared. Like some sour root, it is producing its deadly fruit and is prevailing. The reason of this is, that in every district the champions of right doctrine have been exiled from their Churches by calumny and outrage, and the control of affairs has been handed over to men who are leading captive the souls of the simpler brethren. I have looked upon the visit of your mercifulness as the only possible solution of our difficulties. ... I have been constrained to beseech you by letter to be moved to help us, ... In this I am by no means making any novel request, but am only asking what has been customary in the case of men who, before our own day, were blessed and dear to God, and conspicuously in your own case. For I well remember learning from the answers made by our fathers when asked, and from documents still preserved among us, that the illustrious and blessed bishop Dionysius, conspicuous in your see as well for soundness of faith as for all other virtues, visited by letter my Church of Cæsarea, and by letter exhorted our fathers, and sent men to ransom our brethren from captivity."
St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395) writes, "The memory of Peter, the head of the Apostles, is celebrated; and magnified indeed with him are the other members of the Church; but (upon him) is the Church of God firmly established. For he is, agreeably to the gift conferred upon him by the Lord, that unbroken and most firm rock upon which the Lord built His Church." And elsewhere he writes, "Peter, with his whole soul, associates himself with the Lamb; and, by means of the change of his name, he is changed by the Lord into something more divine. Instead of Simon, being both called and having become a Rock, the great Peter did not by advancing little by little attain unto this grace, but at once he listened to his brother (Andrew), believed in the Lamb, and was through faith perfected, and, having cleaved to the Rock, became himself Peter."
St. Gregory of Nazianzen (329-389) writes, "Seest thou that of the disciples of Christ, all of whom were great and deserving of choice, one is called a rock, and is entrusted with the foundations of the Church...." Elsewhere he writes, "Peter, the Chief of the disciples, but he was a Rock ... " And elsewhere, he writes, "... Peter, who became the unbroken rock, and who had the keys delivered to him." (By 'unbroken rock' we see reference to the protection from error granted specifically to the Petrine See.)
St. Damasus I, bishop of Rome (366-383), writes, "Although the Catholic Churches spread abroad through the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: Your are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. ... The most blessed Apostle Paul, who contended and was crowned with a glorious death along with Peter in the City of Rome in the time of Caesar Nero -- not at a different time, as the heretics prattle, but at one and the same time and on one and the same day: and they equally consecrated the above-mentioned holy Roman Church to Christ the Lord; and by their own presence and by their venerable triumph they set it at the forefront over the others of all the cities of the whole world. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it."
St. Epiphanius (385 AD) writes,
"Blessed Peter, who for a while denied the Lord, Peter who was Chief of
the Apostles, he who became unto us truly a firm Rock upon which is based the
Lord's Faith, upon which Rock the Church is in every way built." Elsewhere
he writes, "Holy men are therefore called the temple of God, because the
Holy Spirit dwells in them; as the Chief of the Apostles testifies, he who was
found worthy to be blessed by the Lord, because the 'Father had revealed unto
him.' .....This was befitting in that the First of the Apostles, that firm Rock
upon which the Church of God is built, and 'the gates of hell shall not prevail
against it.' 'The gates of hell' are heretics and
heresiarchs. For, in every way, the faith confirmed in him who received the Keys of Heaven; who looses on earth and binds in heaven. For in him are found all subtle questions of faith ....And He heard from the same God, Peter, 'feed my lambs;' to him was entrusted the flock; he leads the way admirably in the power of His own Master."
In the "Doctrine of Addai" (a Syriac document dated around 400 AD) we read, "[His successor, Palut, was obliged to go to Antioch in order to get episcopal consecration, which he received from Serapion, Bishop of Antioch], who himself also received the hand from Zephyrinus, Bishop of the city of Rome [199-217 AD], from the succession of the hand of the priesthood of Simon Cephas, which he received from Our Lord, who was there bishop of Rome twenty-five years, in the days of the Caesar [Nero], who reigned there thirteen years. But the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel, which ye read every day before the people, and the Epistles of Paul, which Simon Peter sent us from the city of Rome, and the Acts of the Apostles, which John, the son of Zebedee, sent us from Ephesus, these books read ye in the Churches of Christ."
St. Siricius, bishop of Rome (384-398) writes, "To your inquiry we do not deny a legal reply, because we, upon whom greater zeal for the Christian religion is incumbent than upon the whole body, out of consideration for our office do not have the liberty to dissimulate, nor to remain silent. We carry the weight of all who are burdened; nay rather the blessed apostle Peter bears these in us, who, as we trust, protects us in all matters of his administration, and guards his heirs."
St. Jerome (342-420), ordained a priest at Antioch, writes, "Simon Peter, son of John, of the province of Galilee, of the village of Bethsaida, brother of Andrew the apostle, and himself chief of the apostles, ...." Elsewhere he writes, "Christ is not alone in being the Rock, for He granted to the Apostle Peter that he should be called 'Rock'." Elsewhere he writes, " "For what has Paul to do with Aristotle? Or Peter to do with Plato? For as the latter (Plato) was prince of philosophers, so was the former (Peter) prince of Apostles: on him the Lord's Church was firmly founded, and neither rushing flood nor storm can shake it."
St. Jerome again, "Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord.... I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for "the pearl of great price"... Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord."
St. Jerome, "The church [here, i.e. Syria] is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. .... I meantime keep crying: "He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me... Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord's cross and passion, ..... to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria."
St. Jerome, "The Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism."
St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, (340-397), writes to the Pope, "We recognized in the letter of your holiness the vigilance of the good shepherd. You faithfully watch over the gate entrusted to you, and with pious solicitude you guard Christ's sheepfold [Jn 10:7ff], you that are worthy to have the Lord's sheep hear and follow you. Since you know the sheep of Christ you will easily catch the wolves and confront them like a wary shepherd, lest they disperse the Lord's flock by their constant lack of faith and their bestial howling." "It is to Peter himself that He says, "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church, no death is there, but life eternal." "In fine, Peter, after having been tempted by the devil [Luke 22:31-32] is set over the church. The Lord, therefore, foreshowed what that was, that He afterwards chose him as the pastor of the Lord's flock. For to him He said, "But thou when converted confirm thy brethren." " [Christ] made answer: "You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church . . ." Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church [Matt. 16:18]?" Elsewhere he writes, "Peter is called the Rock because, like an immovable rock, he sustains and joins the mass of the entire Christian edifice." And elsewhere he writes, "Christ is the Rock, 'For they drank from that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ, ' and He did not refuse to bestow the favor of this title even upon His disciple, so that he too might be 'Peter,' in that he has from the Rock a solid consistency of firm faith."
St. Asterius of Pontus (387 A.D.) writes, "Peter went not away unrequited and unrewarded; but was declared "blessed" by the truly Blessed, and was called the Rock of faith, the foundation and substructure of the Church of God."
St. John Chrysostom (347-407), of Antioch, writes, "Jesus saith unto him, "Feed My sheep." And why, having passed by the others, doth He speak with Peter on these matters? He [Peter] was the chosen one of the Apostles, the mouth of the disciples, the leader of the band; on this account also Paul went up upon a time to enquire of him rather than the others. And at the same time to show him that he must now be of good cheer, since the denial [i.e. Peter's three-fold denial of Jesus] was done away, Jesus putteth into his hands the chief authority among the brethren; and He bringeth not forward the denial, nor reproacheth him with what had taken place, but saith, "If thou lovest Me, preside over they brethren". Elsewhere he writes, "For what purpose did He shed His blood? It was that He might win these sheep which He entrusted to Peter and his successors. Naturally then did Christ say, 'Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord shall make ruler over His household.'" Again he writes, "For the Father gave to Peter the revelation of the Son; but the Son gave him to sow that of the Father and that of Himself in every part of the world; and to a mortal man He entrusted the authority over all things in Heaven, giving him the keys; who extended the church to every part of the world, and declared it to be stronger than heaven. 'For heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away.'" And again he says, "Peter himself the chief of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received a revelation not from man, but from the Father, as the Lord bears witness to him, saying, 'Blessed are thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven'; this very Peter, -- and when I name Peter, I name that unbroken rock, that firm foundation, the great Apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called and the first who obeyed." Elsewhere he writes, "Peter, ... that Pillar of the Church, the Buttress of the Faith, the Foundation of the Confession."
Again, St. John Chrysostom, concerning the replacement of Judas Iscariot, "Again, consider the moderation of James. He it was who received the Bishopric of Jerusalem, and here he says nothing. Mark [i.e. 'note'] also the great moderation of the other Apostles, how they concede the throne to him [Peter], and no longer dispute with each other . . . [Peter says, 'Men and brethren' – Acts 1:15-16, etc.] Here is forethought for providing a teacher; here was the first who ordained a teacher. He did not say, 'We are sufficient'. So far was he beyond all vainglory, and he looked to one thing alone. And yet he had the same power to ordain as they all collectively. But well might these things be done in this fashion, through the noble spirit of the man, and because prelacy then was not an affair of dignity, but of provident care for the governed. This neither made the elected to become elated, for it was to dangers that they were called, nor those not elected to make a grievance of it, as if they were disgraced. But things are not done in this fashion now; nay, quite the contrary. – For observe, they were an hundred and twenty, and he asks for one out of the whole body with good right, as having been put in charge of them: for to him had Christ said, 'And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.'"
St. John Chrysostom, "And if any should say, 'How then did James receive the chair at Jerusalem?' I would make this reply, that He appointed Peter teacher, not of the chair [of Jerusalem], but of the world."
St. Augustine (354-420), bishop of Hippo, "because [the bishop of Carthage] saw himself united by letters of communion both to the Roman Church, in which the primacy (principality/supremacy) of an apostolic chair [apostolicae cathedrae principatus] has always flourished, and to all other lands from which Africa itself received the gospel, and was prepared to defend himself before these Churches if his adversaries attempted to cause an alienation of them from him." Elsewhere he says, "In a passage in this book [written by Augustine], I said about the Apostle Peter: 'On him as on a rock the Church was built.' This idea is also expressed in song by the voice of many in the verses of the most blessed Ambrose where he says about the crowing of the cock: 'At its crowing he, this rock of the Church, washed away his guilt.'" Elsewhere in one of his sermons he writes, "[On the matter of the Pelagians] two Councils have already been sent to the Apostolic See [Rome]; and from there rescripts [decrees from the Pope] have come. The matter is at an end [causa finita est]." Elsewhere: "Among these [apostles] Peter alone almost everywhere deserved to represent the whole Church. Because of that representation of the Church, which only he bore, he deserved to hear "I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven". And elsewhere he writes, "Who is ignorant that the first of the apostles is the most blessed Peter?
St. Augustine again writes, "Not to speak of this wisdom, which you do not believe to be in the Catholic Church, there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. Such then in number and importance are the precious ties belonging to the Christian name which keep a believer in the Catholic Church ...no one shall move me from the faith which binds my mind with ties so many and so strong to the Christian religion.... For my part I should not believe the gospel except the authority of the Catholic Church moved me." Elsewhere he writes, " These miserable wretches, refusing to acknowledge the Rock as Peter and to believe that the Church has received the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, have lost these very keys from their own hands." And elsewhere he writes, " ...Why! a sprig that is cut from the vine retains its shape. But what use is that shape if it is not living from the root? Come, brother, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine. It is grievous when we see you thus lying cut off. Number the bishops from the See of Peter (Rome). And, in that order of fathers, see who succeeded whom. This is the Rock which the proud gates of hades do not conquer. All who rejoice, rejoice in peace, only judge truly."
St. Innocent I, bishop of Rome (401-417), in the last year of his papacy, writes to the African bishops, "In seeking the things of God . . . preserving the examples of ancient tradition . . . you have strengthened ... the vigor of your religion with true reason, for you have confirmed that reference must be made to our judgment, realizing what is due the Apostolic See, since all of us placed in this position desire to follow the Apostle, from whom the episcopate itself and all the authority of this name have emerged. Following him we know how to condemn evils just as well as how to approve praiseworthy things. Take this as an example, guarding with your sacerdotal office the practices of the fathers you resolve that they must not be trampled upon, because they made their decisions not by human, but by divine judgment, so that they thought that nothing whatever, although it concerned separated and remote provinces, should be concluded, unless it first came to the attention of this See, so that what was a just proclamation might be confirmed by the total authority of this See, and from this source (just as all waters proceed from their natal fountain and through diverse regions of the whole world remain pure liquids of an uncorrupted source), the other churches might assume what [they ought] to teach, whom they ought to wash, those whom the water worthy of clean bodies would shun as though defiled with filth incapable of being cleansed."
St. Zosimus, bishop of Rome (417-418), writes to the African bishops, "Although the tradition of the Fathers has attributed such great authority to the Apostolic See that no one would dare to disagree wholly with its judgment, and it has always preserved this [judgment] by canons and rules, and current ecclesiastical discipline up to this time by its laws pays the reverence which is due to the name of Peter, from whom it has itself descended . . ; since therefore Peter the head is of such great authority and he has confirmed the subsequent endeavors of all our ancestors, so that the Roman Church is fortified . . . by human as well as by divine laws, and it does not escape you that we rule its place and also hold power of the name itself, nevertheless you know, dearest brethren, and as priests you ought to know, although we have such great authority that no one can dare to retract from our decision, yet we have done nothing which we have not voluntarily referred to your notice by letters ... not because we did not know what ought to be done, or would do anything which by going against the advantage of the Church, would be displeasing ..."
St. Boniface, bishop of Rome (418-422), writing to Rufus, bishop of Thessaly (March 11, 422), "To the Synod [of Corinth] ... we have directed such writings that all the brethren may know . . . that there must be no withdrawal from our judgment. For it has never been allowed that that be discussed again which has once been decided by the Apostolic See."
At the Council of Ephesus (431), Philip the Roman legate said this in a speech to the Council: "No one doubts, but rather it has been known to all generations, that the holy and most blessed Peter, chief and head of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith, the foundation stone of the Catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that the power of binding and loosing sins was given to him, who up to this moment and always lives in his successors, and judges."
Cyril of Alexandria (370-444), writes, "He [Jesus] suffers him no longer to be called Simon, exercising authority and rule over him already, as having become His own. But by a title suitable to the thing, he changed his name into Peter, from the word petra (rock); for on him He was afterwards to found His Church. .... They (the Apostles) strove to learn through one, that preeminent one, Peter." Elsewhere he writes, "'Blessed art thou ...,' calling, I imagine, nothing else the Rock, in allusion to his name (Peter), but the immovable and stable faith of the disciple upon whom the Church of Christ is founded and fixed without danger of falling." And elsewhere, "He promises to found the Church, assigning immovableness to it, as He is the Lord of strength, and over this He sets Peter as Shepherd."
Cyril again, in his battle against the heretic Nestorius (who became bishop of Constantinople in 428), writes to Pope Celestine (422-432), "We have not openly and publicly separated from communion with Nestorius before making known the whole matter to your Holiness. Be pleased then to prescribe what you think right to be done. Whether it behooves us to persevere in communion with him, or to declare openly that communion is impossible with one who fosters and teaches doctrines so erroneous." Pope Celestine wrote back to Cyril saying, "In virtue of authority delegated to you by our See, and acting in our stead, and by our commission, you will execute our sentence with exact severity."
Socrates Scholasticus (380-450), of Constantinople, speaking of the time of Athanasius, "Neither was Julius, bishop of the great Rome (337-352), there, nor had he sent a substitute, although an ecclesiastical canon [Church law] commands that the churches shall not make any ordinances against the opinion of the bishop of Rome." Again, "Athanasius, meanwhile, after a lengthened journey, at last reached Italy.... At the same time also Paul, bishop of Constantinople, Asclepas of Gaza, Marcellus of Ancyra ... and Lucius of Adrianople, having been accused on various charges, and expelled from their several churches, arrived at the imperial city [Rome]. There each laid his case before Julius, bishop of Rome. He on his part, by virtue of the Church of Rome's peculiar privilege [pronomia], sent them back again into the East, fortifying them with commendatory letters; and at the same time restored to each his own place, and sharply rebuked those by whom they had been deposed. Relying on the signature of the bishop Julius, the bishops departed from Rome, and again took possession of their own churches, forwarding the letters to the parties to whom they were addressed."
Sozomen (370- d. after 439), of Palestine, "Athanasius, on leaving Alexandria, had fled to Rome. Paul, bishop of Constantinople, Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, and Asclepas, bishop of Gaza, repaired thither at the same time. Asclepas, who was opposed to the Arians and had therefore been deposed, after having been accused by some of the heterodox of having thrown down an altar; Quintianus had been appointed in his stead over the Church of Gaza. Lucius also, bishop of Adrianople, who had been deposed from the church under his care on another charge, was dwelling at this period in Rome. The Roman bishop, on learning the accusation against each individual, and on finding that they held the same sentiments about the Nicæan dogmas, admitted them to communion as of like orthodoxy; and as the care [oversight – kedemonia] for all was fitting to the dignity of his see, he restored them all to their own churches. He wrote to the bishops of the East, and rebuked them for having judged these bishops unjustly, and for harassing the Churches by abandoning the Nicæan doctrines. He summoned a few among them to appear before him on an appointed day, in order to account to him for the sentence they had passed, and threatened to bear with them no longer, unless they would cease to make innovations. This was the tenor of his letters. Athanasius and Paul were reinstated in their respective sees, and forwarded the letter of Julius to the bishops of the East. ... The bishops of Egypt, having sent a declaration in writing that these allegations were false, and Julius having been apprised that Athanasius was far from being in safety in Egypt, sent for him to his own city. He replied at the same time to the letter of the bishops who were convened at Antioch, for just then he happened to have received their epistle, and accused them of having clandestinely introduced innovations contrary to the dogmas of the Nicene council, and of having violated the laws of the Church, by neglecting to invite him to join their Synod; for he alleged that there is a sacerdotal canon which declares that whatever is enacted contrary to the judgment of the bishop of Rome is null."
Theodoret (393-466), native of Antioch and bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria, "This most holy See [Rome] has preserved the supremacy over all Churches on the earth, for one especial reason among many others; to wit, that it has remained intact from the defilement of heresy. No one has ever sat on that Chair, who has taught heretical doctrine; rather that See has ever preserved unstained the Apostolic grace."
Peter Chrysologus (400-450), a Greek and bishop of Ravennna, writes to Eutyches [an archimandrite of a monastery outside the walls of Constantinople, where he ruled over three hundred monks], in the year 449, "We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the Most Blessed Pope of the City of Rome; for Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it. For we, by reason of our pursuit of peace and faith, cannot try cases on the faith without the consent of the Bishop of the City of Rome."
Flavian (d. 449), bishop of Constantinople, writes [sometime between 448-449], to Pope Leo, "The whole question [regarding Eutyches] needs only your single decision and all will be settled in peace and quietness. Your sacred letter will with God's help completely suppress the heresy which has arisen and the disturbance which it has caused; and so the convening of a council which is in any case difficult will be rendered superfluous." Flavian did call a local synod in November of 448 and excommunicated Eutyches; afterward Flavian forwarded the results of this synod to Pope Leo, who confirmed Flavian's decision.
Pope Leo I, (440-461), writing in July of 445, "To the beloved brothers, the whole body of bishops of the province of Vienne, Leo, bishop of Rome. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of mankind, instituted the observance of the Divine religion which He wished by the grace of God to shed its brightness upon all nations and all peoples .... But the Lord desired that the sacrament of this gift should pertain to all the Apostles in such a way that it might be found principally in the most blessed Peter, the highest of all the Apostles. And He wanted His gifts to flow into the entire body from Peter himself, as if from the head, in such a way that anyone who had dared to separate himself from the solidarity of Peter would realize that he was himself no longer a sharer in the divine mystery.... The Apostolic See – out of reverence for it, I mean, -- has on countless occasions been reported to in consultation by bishops even of your province. And through the appeal of various cases to this see, decisions already made have been either revoked or confirmed, as dictated by long-standing custom." " He [Christ] wished him who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: 'You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church' [Matt. 16:18], that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter's solid rock, strengthening his Church so surely that neither could human rashness assail it nor the gates of hell prevail against it."
Again Pope Leo writes, "Let the entire matter, with a record of the proceedings, be referred to us.... Although bishops have a common dignity, they are not all of the same rank. Even among the most blessed Apostles, though they were alike in honor, there was a certain distinction of power. All were equal in being chosen, but it was given to one to be preeminent over the other..... Through them [bishops with greater responsibility] the care of the universal Church would converge in the one See of Peter, and nothing should ever be at odds with this head."
Again, Pope Leo writes, "From the whole world only one, Peter, is chosen to preside over the calling of the nations, and over all the other Apostles, and over the Fathers of the Church. Thus, although among the people of God there are many priests and many pastors, it is really Peter who rules them all, of whom, too, it is Christ who is their chief ruler."
At the behest of Pope Leo, the Eastern emperor Marcian called the fourth ecumenical council (Chalcedon, 451). The Pope remained in Rome, but sent his tome on the two natures of Christ with two papal legates to the council. This tome was read to the council, and one of the responding exclamations was "Peter has spoken this through Leo". The council wrote back to Pope Leo: "And we further inform you that we have decided on other things also for the good management and stability of church matters, being persuaded that your holiness will accept and ratify them, when you are told.... Accordingly vouchsafe most holy and blessed father to accept as your own wish, and as conducing to good government the things which we have resolved on for the removal of all confusion and the confirmation of church order.... Accordingly, we entreat you, honour our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded to the head our agreement on things honourable, so may the head also fulfill for the children what is fitting.... But that you may know that we have done nothing for favour or in hatred, but as being guided by the Divine Will, we have made known to you the whole scope of our proceedings to strengthen our position and to ratify and establish what we have done.
Pope Leo ratified twenty-seven of the twenty-eight canons of the Chalcedonian Council. The twenty-eighth canon would have granted the bishop of Constantinople the title of patriarch and status in the East equal to that of the Pope in Rome. Pope Leo rejected it, and thus it was not ratified and made canon law. In rejecting the twenty-eighth canon, Pope Leo wrote, "For no one may venture upon anything in opposition to the enactments of the Fathers' canons which many long years ago in the city of Nicaea were founded upon the decrees of the Spirit, so that any one who wishes to pass any different decree injures himself rather than impairs them. And if all pontiffs will but keep them inviolate as they should, there will be perfect peace and complete harmony through all the churches.... But the bishops assents, which are opposed to the regulations of the holy canons composed at Nicaea in conjunction with your faithful Grace, we do not recognize, and by the blessed Apostle Peter's authority we absolutely disannul in comprehensive terms." (It is worth noting that no one questioned Pope Leo's authority to disannul the council's twenty-eighth canon. It was well understood that from the beginning, decisions of councils and synods had to be ratified by the bishop of Rome to have the force of canon law.)
Acts of the Council of Chalcedon (451), "Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod, together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, has stripped him [Dioscorus] of the episcopate."
St. Gelasius I, bishop of Rome (492-496), writes in 495, "... the universal Catholic Church spread throughout the world has the one marriage of Christ, nevertheless the holy Roman Church has not been preferred to the other churches by reason of synodical decrees, but she has held the primacy by the evangelical voice of the Lord and Savior saying: 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 upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."
St. Hormisdas (514-523), bishop of Rome: "Our first safety is to guard the rule of the right faith and to deviate in no wise from the ordinances of the Fathers; because we cannot pass over the statement of our Lord Jesus Christ who said: "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church" . . . [Matt 16:18] These [words] which were spoken, are proved by the effects of the deeds, because in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been preserved without stain. Desiring not to be separated from this hope and faith and following the ordinances of the Fathers, we anathematize all heresies, especially the heretic Nestorius, who at one time was bishop of the city of Constantinople .... Similarly anathematizing both Eutyches and Dioscorus of Alexandria .... We condemn, too, and anathematize Acacius, formerly bishop of Constantinople, who was condemned by the Apostolic See .... No less do we condemn Peter of Antioch with his followers .... Moreover, we accept and approve all the letters of the blessed Leo the Pope, which he wrote regarding the Christian religion, just as we said before, following the Apostolic See in all things, and extolling all its ordinances. And therefore, I hope that I may merit to be in the one communion with you, which the Apostolic See proclaims, in which there is the whole and the true and the perfect solidity of the Christian religion, promising that in the future the names of those separated from the communion of the Catholic Church, that is, those not agreeing with the Apostolic See, shall not be read during the sacred mysteries."
Pelagius I, bishop of Rome (556-561): "... the Church was founded by Christ our Lord upon the chief of the Apostles, so that the gates of hell might not be able to prevail against it.... If you had read this, where did you believe the Church to be outside of him [the Pope] in whom alone are clearly all the apostolic sees? To whom in like measure as to him, who had received the keys, has the power of binding and of loosing been granted?
Pelagius II, bishop of Rome (579-590), writes, "For you know that the Lord proclaims in the Gospel: Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I have asked the Father for thee, that thy faith fail not; and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren [Luke 22:31] Consider, most dear ones, that the Truth could not have lied, nor will the faith of Peter be able to be shaken or changed forever. For although the devil desired to sift all the disciples, the Lord testifies that He Himself asked for Peter alone and wished the others to be confirmed by him; and to him also, in consideration of a greater love which he showed the Lord before the rest, was committed the care of feeding the sheep [John 22:15ff]; and to him also He handed over the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and upon him He promised to build his Church, and He testified that the gates of hell would not prevail against it."