Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Was Peter the First Pope? PART II

by Art Kelly


Reply to Dr. Shelton Smith of Sword of the Lord, a fundamentalist publication, in answer to his letter defending their article, "Was Peter the First Pope?"

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Publisher & Date

Original, November 15, 1998

Was Peter the First Pope? PART II

November 13, 1998

Dr. Shelton L. Smith
President and Editor
Sword of the Lord
Post Office Box 1099
Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37133

Dear Dr. Smith:

I appreciate your reply to my October 22 letter regarding Dr. Herbert Booth Smith’s article in the August 7 Sword of the Lord, "Was Peter the First Pope?"

The purpose of my letter was point out the extremely serious errors and omissions in this article. If someone wants to disagree with the Catholic Church, he or she should do so honestly, rather than through distortions, misrepresentations, and imaginary history.

Unfortunately, Dr. Smith’s article made statements without proof, utilized known forgeries, grossly misrepresented the views of St. Augustine and the Council of Trent, displayed a lack of knowledge of the Bible, and then deviated into completely extraneous (and erroneous) matters having absolutely nothing to do with the subject of St. Peter as the first Pope.

There was one additional problem with the article that I did not mention in my letter to you. About St. Peter’s residence in Rome, Dr. Smith writes:

"I believe that serious students of church history will agree with me in holding that one of the foremost, if not the greatest student of the subject was Philip Schaff, whose work fills several volumes, and those pages are filled with footnotes in several languages, showing the thoroughness of his investigations. When he discussed the arguments against the Roman residence of Peter, it pays to listen to him

"Incidentally, many outstanding Roman Catholic writers themselves hold that Peter was never in Rome. The great historian Schaff say that the claim cannot be traced earlier than Jerome in the fourth century."

When I wrote to you on October 22, I was certain this statement was false, as no one with even the slightest knowledge of Christian history would ever make such a plainly inaccurate assertion. However, I did not mention it because I had not yet located a copy of Professor Schaff’s 1858 book, History of the Christian Church, Volume 1.

I’ve now obtained a copy of this book through interlibrary loan. Here is what Professor Schaff actually wrote (page 260):

"The tradition of a twenty-five years’ episcopate in Rome (preceded by a seven years’ episcopate in Antioch) cannot be traced beyond the fourth century (Jerome), and arose, as already remarked, from chronological miscalculations in connection with the questionable statement of Justin Martyr concerning the arrival of Simon Magus in Rome under the reign of Claudius (41-54)."

Professor Schaff goes on to explain that, while the exact dates of St. Peter’s presence in Rome cannot be determined, there can be no doubt that he was in Rome. While writing from a definite Protestant perspective, Professor Schaff makes strong statements clearly at odds with Dr. Smith.

On page 261 of his book, "On the Claims of the Papacy," Professor Schaff writes:

"On this tradition and on the indisputable preeminence of Peter in the Gospels and the Acts, especially the words of Christ to him after the great confession (Matt. 16:18), is built the colossal fabric of the papacy with all its amazing pretensions to be the legitimate succession of a permanent primacy of honor and supremacy of jurisdiction in the church of Christ, and—since 1870—with the additional claim of papal infallibility in all official utterances, doctrinal or moral. The validity of this claim requires three premises:

"1. The presence of Peter in Rome. This may be admitted as historical fact, and I for my part cannot believe it possible that such a rock-firm and world-wide structure as the papacy could rest on the sand mere fraud and error…"

Thus, Professor Schaff’s views on St. Peter are dramatically different from what Dr. Smith claims they are. Contrary to Dr. Smith’s statements, he believes St. Peter did have indisputable preeminence and was in Rome.

This is just one more example to go with all the others of the deceptions in Dr. Smith’s article.

I am confident Sword of the Lord would never have printed this article if you had known how badly flawed it was. It should be a severe embarrassment to all Protestants.

Now that there is no doubt about the inaccuracy of its statements, I would respectfully request that you make this fact known to your readers.

In a retraction, you might say that, while you believe the thesis of the article is true, the research used to support it is not accurate and should not be relied on or disseminated.

In your letter to me, you write that "Roman Catholicism has veered so far from genuine Christianity that honestly I don’t think there is even any resemblance."

If this were true, it would be possible to prove it historically.

All you would have to do is look at the historical records from the 1st and 2nd centuries, determine what the first Christians believed and practiced, and then compare it with the Catholic Church.

When you do this research and make the comparisons, you find an exact match between Catholicism and early Christianity. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, a famous 19th Century convert from Protestantism, wrote, "To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant."

Accordingly, I strongly encourage you to research early Christianity.

Of course, there are Protestant spins that can be put on the evidence. For instance, on pages 3 and 4 of my October 22 letter to you, I quote St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who wrote about 189 in Against Heresies:

"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles.

"With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.

"The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the church [of Rome], they handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus. Paul makes mention of this Linus in the letter to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus, and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was chosen for the episcopate. He had seen the blessed apostles and was acquainted with them. It might be said that he still heard the echoes of the preaching of the apostles and had their traditions before his eyes. And not only he, for there were many still remaining who had been instructed by the apostles.

"In the time of Clement, no small dissension having arisen among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome sent a very strong letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace and renewing their faith . . . To this Clement, Evaristus succeeded . . . and now, in the twelfth place after the apostles, the lot of the episcopate [of Rome] has fallen to Eleutherus. In this order, and by the teaching of the apostles handed down in the Church, the preaching of the truth has come down to us."

To this, Professor Schaff in his History of the Christian Church, Volume 2, 1858, (page 159), writes:

"Irenaeus calls Rome the greatest, the oldest (?) church, acknowledged by all, founded by the two most illustrious apostles, Peter and Paul, the church, with which, on account of her more important precedence, all Christendom must agree, or (according to another interpretation) to which (as metropolis of the world) all other churches must report.

"The ‘more important precedence’ places her above the other apostolic churches, to which likewise a precedence is allowed. This is surely to be understood, however, as a precedence only of honor, not of jurisdiction."

In my opinion, Professor Schaff’s apologetics for Protestantism are weak, but I guess he’s doing the best he can, given the extremely persuasive historical evidence in support of Catholicism.

The Internet has an abundance of historical information on early Christianity from non-Catholic web sites, including:

  • The Church Fathers, Hall of Church History, Phil Johnson’s Web Page,
  • The Early Church On-Line Encyclopedia (Ecole) Initiative, a cooperative effort on the part of scholars across the Internet to establish a hypertext encyclopedia of early Church history up to the Reformation,
  • Guide to Early Church Documents, Institute for Christian Leadership,
  • Early Church Fathers, Electronic Bible Society,
  • Historians of the Church, Saint Pachomius Library,
  • Global Index, Saint Pachomius Library, http://www.ocf/OrthodoxPage/reading/St.Pachomius/globalindex.html
  • The Fathers of the Church, Wesley Center for Applied Theology, Northwest Nazarene College,
  • History, Cross Search,
  • Arden Eby’s Antiquity, An Index to History and Historiography,
  • History of the Church, LeTourneau University, http://luke.letu/edu/academics/classes/hist/3003/kubricht/

Despite the fact that all of these web sites are maintained by non-Catholic institutions, they all show that Catholicism and early Christianity were synonymous. By contrast, not a trace is found of fundamentalism.

I appreciate your kind offer to respond to other articles on the Catholic Church.

As I mentioned in my first letter, I’d be happy to review any prospective articles you might be considering on Catholic beliefs, practices, or history to let you know prior to publication if they contains any glaring errors. Please feel free to send me anything you’d like me to see.

In the meantime, I look forward to continue reading Sword of the Lord.


       Art Kelly


Art Kelly
[email protected]

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