I have written much regarding the issue surrounding the claim that Peter was the first Pope and thus, the foundation of the Catholic priesthood such as:
Roman Catholicism – Was Peter the Rock? Was Peter the First Pope?
Since Ken Johnson has provided some useful tidbits, it seemed helpful to augment the essays linked above with the following information. This will come from Johnson’s book Ancient Church Fathers which we reviewed here.
The following is from Clement of Alexandria circa 177 AD:
Stromata 3.6 – Forced celibacy is wrong.
Stromata 3.7 – Peter, Paul, Philip, and others were married.
Stromata 3.13 – Clergy must be married once, but can never remarry.
Stromata 3.16 – Bishops should be married.
The following is from Tertullian circa 207 AD:
Against Marcion 1.29 – Nor do we prescribe celibacy as a rule, but only recommend it.
The following is from Eusebius circa 325 AD:
Ecclesiastical History 2:17 – The Egyptian Therapeutae [a Gnostic sect] had occultic practices and patterned themselves after the priests and priestesses of the Greeks. They drink no wine, eat no meat, and are celibate.
Ken Johnson notes that “In the ancient church, the vicar or Christ referred to the Holy Spirit, not any man or office.”
The following is from Tertullian circa 200 AD:
Veiling of Virgins 1 – The vicar of our Lord is the Holy Spirit.
Prescription Against Heretics 28 – The Holy Spirit has no such respect for any one church so to lead only it into truth…has the steward or God, the vicar of Christ, gone astray?
Here he is clearly sarcastically referencing the Roman Catholic church.
Let us now focus upon Peter and he is said to have been the first Pope.
Cyprian (200-258 AD) wrote the following in Unity of the Church ch. 4, “Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power.” And in ch. 10 he notes that those who “appoint themselves as prelates without any law of ordination” are chaff separated from wheat (chaff being the useless portion that was discarded).
Ken Johnson notes:
Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies 3.3, states that every church should agree with the church or Rome because it was founded by both Peter and Paul…
3.2. On account of Rome being the capital of the empire, the faithful from all parts, representing every Church, are obliged to resort to Rome, and there to come together; so that the apostolic tradition of ‘the gathering together out of all the churches’ will be preserved.
Later, some Latin texts will give the impression of coming to hear rather than to debate. The council of Chalcedon 451 AD states Rome was given primacy only because it was the capital of the empire, and is equal not superior – in privileges, to Constantinople and the others…
Ancient church history records Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and several others were in Rome at times. Nowhere is it mentioned that any of them, including Peter, was ever a bishop at the church at Rome.
In circa 325 AD, Eusebius wrote the following in Ecclesiastical History 3.2, 13:
After the martyrdom of Paul and Peter, Linus was the first to receive the episcopate of the church at Rome….After Vespasian had reigned ten years, Titus, his son, succeeded him. In the second year of his reign, Linus, who had been bishop of the church of Rome for twelve years, delivered his office to Anencletus.
In circa 177 AD, Irenaeus wrote the following in Against Heresies 3.3.3:
The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric.
Furthermore Ken Johnson wrote the following about “The Title Pope”:
In the first two centuries the head of a church was called a bishop. In the second century the term pope began to be used to refer to the leader of a patriarchate. There were five cities that were patriarchates: Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople. Each patriarchate was responsible for planting churches in its area. Rome’s jurisdiction was Europe, while Alexandria’s was Africa.
In the correspondence between Cyprian of Africa and the bishops of Rome, each referred to each other as pope because they all headed their own patriarchate. So we have Pope Cyprian of Africa corresponding with Pope Stephen of Rome. After the fall of the other patriarchates, the only pope left was the one in Rome. But even back in the early 200’s AD, the Roman bishops started thinking of themselves more highly that they ought.
Cyprian also wrote the following in Epistle of Cyprian 70.3:
[Peter] did not insolently claim anything to himself. Nor did he arrogantly assume anything when Paul later disputed with him about circumcision. He did not say that he held the primacy and that he needed to be obeyed by novices and those lately come!
In circa 280 AD, Victorious wrote the following in Commentary of the Apocalypse 22, “Christ is the rock by which, and on which, the church is founded.”
Origen (184-253 AD) wrote the following in Commentary on Matthew 16, “If you should think that the whole Church was built by God only on that one, Peter, what will you say of John…or each of the apostles?”
In Commentary on Matthew 12.11, 12.14 and 13.31, Origen wrote:
The promise of the keys to the kingdom was given not to Peter alone, but to all the disciples [the church]….The power of binding and loosing of one who has the keys to the kingdom is not that he has authority in himself to make new laws about sin: but that he has the answer [doctrinal truth] about Jesus and the church. The power in teaching total truth is that it instantly sets free those who listen and obey from the sin and its consequences on their life, or it completely binds them to their sin if they refuse to listen, making the consequences that much more severe. But if a person has incorrect doctrine, then those who listen to them will be trapped deeper in sin. These no longer have the power or binding and loosing. One can’t free with the truth if one does not know the truth. So if someone speaks rightly, we must listen to them, but if not, we must not listen to them lest we be bound unnecessarily.
In circa 378 AD, Augustine wrote the following in Retractiones, “I have somewhere said, concerning the apostle Peter, that the Church was founded on him, as a petra, or rock: but I know that I have since very often explained that our Lord meant Peter’s confession of Him.”
Ken Johnson notes that “Similar statements were made by St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers in his second book on The Trinity, St. Chrysostom in his 53rd Homily on St. Matthew, and several others.”
In 320 AD Archelaus wrote the following in Disputation of Archelaus and Manes 38:
Those who seek to set up any new dogma have the habit of very readily perverting it into conformity with their own notions and any “proofs” they care to take from the Scriptures…The apostolic word marks out the case in these words, “If anyone preaches any other Gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be accursed.” Consequently, in addition to what has been once committed to us by the apostles, a disciple of Christ should receive nothing new as doctrine.
In 225 AD Hippolytus wrote the following in Refutation of All Heresies 9.2:
At that time Zephyrinus [fourteenth bishop of Rome] imagined that he administered the affairs of the whole church. He was an uninformed and shamefully corrupt man…He hurried headlong into the same opinions [denying the Trinity] and he had Callistus [who would become fifteenth bishop of Rome] as his advisor and fellow champion of these wicked tenants…I have never been guilty of collusion with them. Instead, I have frequently opposed, refuted, and have forced them [bishops Victor, Zephyrinus, and Callistus] reluctantly to acknowledge the truth.
Firmilian, AD 256, Epistle of Cyprian 7.1.6:
Those who are at Rome do not always observe those things that were handed down from the beginning. Yet, they vainly pretend the authority of the apostles.
The Epistle of Cyprian 74.19 note, “We join custom to truth. We resist the Roman’s custom upon custom.”
In 250 AD Cyprian wrote the following in Epistles 25.26:
The keys to the kingdom and the power of binding and loosing refer to all bishops equally and decisions should be made with the consent of all the bishops.
In Epistles 16.29-30, “Cyprian is addressed as ‘Cypriano Papae’ or Pope Cyprian. So the word pope is being used for the head of a patriarchate (Greece, Italy, etc.) Cyprian is pope of Carthage and Stephen is pope of Rome.” In 3.17.31, 51; 47, he wrote, “The pope of Rome is equal to all the other bishops, and is called a colleague of Cyprian. The pope of Rome refers to the other bishops as his ‘co-bishops.’” In 70, “His colleague Stephen [Pope of Rome] is presumptuous.”
In Epistle 51 he notes:
After the persecution, all the remaining Carthaginian bishops got together to debate what to do with the lapsed, both sides appealing to Scripture as the “only authority;” then notified Rome of their decision. Rome had a similar council and came to the same conclusion.
In Epistle 40 “Cyprian rebukes Rome for ordaining Novatian (unlawful ordination and in opposition to the Catholic Church) and the Church will not recognize or be in communion with Rome or anyone else who is a part or his faction.”
In Epistle 50 Cyprian rebuked Rome on the unity of the church, “Some are always assuming on themselves more dominion” with a “sacrilegious presumption” and a “proud obstinacy” and thereby “perish from the church” as in excommunication.
In Epistle 51, “After the persecution, all the remaining Carthaginian bishops got together to debate what to do with the lapsed, both sides appealing to Scripture as the ‘only authority;’ then notified Rome of their decision. Rome had a similar council and came to the same conclusion.”
In Epistle 66-67 “Cyprian warns Stephen of Rome to excommunicate Novatian and his party…Stephen was deceived by Basilides and Novatian. Cyprian states the prophecies of the Antichrist foretold of heresies rising up in the church at the end of the world. He speculates the prophecy of the church’s end-time apostasy is starting in Rome.”
Cyprian wrote to bishop Stephen of Rome because he was in “error” by forbidding anyone coming from a heresy to be baptized in the church, judging the baptism of heretics to be lawful. Stephen may have considered only non-Trinitarians to be heretics and therefore not considered Novatian a heretic. Stephen said that since the heretics do not rebaptize a convert who came to them from us, we should not rebaptize one of them who converts to the true church.
Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea, writes to Cyprian stating Stephan, bishop of Rome, was unkind and compares him to Judas who betrayed Christ. He is thankful that Cyprian settled the matter once and for all. Firmilian says not only was Stephen wrong about baptism, but also “They who arc at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which arc handed clown from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles.”
There are small differences in each church clue to culture and language, but no break in unity. “The folly of Stephen” is that he “boasts of the place of his Episcopate, and contends that he alone holds the succession From Peter.” He does not understand that “the truth of the Christian Rock is overshadowed, and in some measure abolished, by him when he betrays and deserts unity this way.” Stephen says baptism in the name of Jesus alone is permissible, making heretic baptisms acceptable. Stephen, in so doing, “cut himself off from the unity of the church” and can be considered “apostate.” Stephen at the last called Cyprian a “false Christ, false apostle, and a deceitful worker.”
75 “The schismatic tries to ‘establish a throne for themselves and assume primacy and the right of baptism.’”
Overall, Cyprain, the bishop of the church in Carthage, North Africa (martyred circa 258 AD), shows that “the bishop of Rome had no power on his own. Whenever the idea crept up that Rome might have supremacy over the other churches, Cyprian would threaten Roman leaders with excommunication if it did not stop.”
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