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Catholic Dictionary




The primatial see of Christendom, the seat of government of the universal Roman Catholic Church, the Papacy, the Apostolic See, the office of the supreme head of the Church. It was founded by St. Peter, the first Pope, in A.D. 42 and constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to Peter's Primacy. It was disputed by some on the ground that St. Peter never was in Rome, but it is now fully established that he was in Rome by archaeological discoveries. During the first century the Corinthian Church appealed to the Roman See to heal a schism and St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. A.D.107) gratefully received instructions from the Roman Church. The bishops of the Roman See alone could summon councils, excommunicate from the Church, judge concerning Christian life and doctrine, and discipline offenders. In times of stress and difficulties as well as for decisions on faith and government, the first Christians regularly appealed to Rome. The Greek schismatics and the Protestants both challenged the authority of the Roman See, but by that time the unbroken succession of Bishops of Rome had established the foundations of Catholic faith and morality. Agreement with the Roman See was a test of orthodoxy according to the Fathers of the church, e.g., St. Irenaeus (A.D. 180). Even when, during the Western Schism, the popes moved to Avignon, they were still Bishops of Rome, so that by the time of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI closed the council as the two hundred sixty-fourth bishop to rule the Roman See. Within the See's territorial limits are located the commissions, offices, and congregations that administer the affairs of the universal Church.