This answer confused me. I tried wading through the sources, but then I decided I'd just ask here. According to Catholic dogma:

  • Was Peter ever in Rome? I'm sure the answer is yes, but I'd like to see sources.

  • Was Peter a "bishop"? If so, what does that mean in Peter's case?

  • Was there a shift during the first two centuries in the structure of the church government at Rome, from a "college of presbyters" to a monarchical bishop? If so, how did that shift come about?

  • Did Peter die in Rome?

To be clear on what kinds of sources I'm looking for, here's what I expect to see for each bullet point:

  1. An appeal to the infallible sacred magisterium, or an indication that the answer hasn't been infallibly/dogmatically given to the church.

  2. If it hasn't been dogmatically defined, then an appeal to the ordinary magisterium.

  3. If the ordinary magisterium is unclear or inconclusive on a certain point, I'd like that fact to be spelled out in the answer. If that's the case, I'd like an overview of Catholic approaches to the issue.

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    I'm going through some of the original Latin documents of the Church on the subject - primarily documents of the First Vatican Council (1870). Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


Was Peter ever in Rome and did he die there?

There is no doubt that Matthew's Gospel tells us that Jesus nominated Peter as the rock on which he would build his church. So, whatever city could claim Peter as its patron would have a huge advantage over other cities in the Christian world. Tradition has credited various of the apostles with remaining a a number of important Christian cities, sometimes two or three at the same time, and leading the church there. One tradition is that Peter became the bishop of Antioch, but in the end Rome, the eternal city, became established as the apostolic city of both Peter and Paul.

Yet another tradition is found in The Apostolic Constitutions (VII.xlvi), which purports to provide evidence that Peter was in Rome and appointed Clemens as successor to Linus, who was actually appointed by Paul:

Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first [bishop], ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus' death, the second, ordained by me Peter.

The Liber Pontificalis contains purported biographies of all the early popes, listing Peter in first place, but in no sense was this ever held to be an official document of the Church. It says that Peter went to Rome when Nero was emperor (54-68) and occupied the chair for 25 years, 2 months and 3 days. On this evidence, Peter was indeed bishop of Rome, although he was not executed by Nero.

Decrees of the First Vatican Council (1868), clearly defensive in nature, talks at length about the primacy of St Peter, bestowed on him by Jesus, of the pope as successor to Peter and of the "see of Saint Peter," an implied reference to Peter as the first bishop of Rome. Session 4, chapter 2 says of the Holy See, "which he founded and consecrated with his blood," so the bishops meeting in synod did not need to state that Peter had been in Rome, although they believed this to have been the case.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a good overview of the Catholic position, at clause 936:

936 The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of his Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is "head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth"

From 877 to 892, the Catechism frequently refers to the bishop of Rome as Peter's successor, but once again does not directly claim that Peter was ever in Rome.

The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

It is an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter laboured in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course by martyrdom. As to the duration of his Apostolic activity in the Roman capital, the continuity or otherwise of his residence there, the details and success of his labours, and the chronology of his arrival and death, all these questions are uncertain, and can be solved only on hypotheses more or less well-founded. The essential fact is that Peter died at Rome: this constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter.

The Encyclopedia goes on to briefly explain the existence of second-century traditions that Peter had gone to Rome. There is undoubtedly a second-century tradition that Peter went to Rome and died there, but at such a great distance from the apostolic era, this is not indisputable evidence. Moreover, there are minor contradictions between these traditions. The Encyclopedia refers to the fourth-century "Chronicle" of Eusebius as stating that Peter and Paul died in 67 CE, but also notes the "Chronograph of 354" to say that they died much earlier, in 55 CE. The general tradition is that peter, as bishop of Rome, appointed Linus as his successor, but Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon towards the end of the second century, saw things a little differently in Against Heresies, III.3.2-3, where he wrote that Peter and Paul jointly appointed Linus. Irenaeus was trying to convince his gnostic opponents in Lyon that he represented the true legacy of Jesus, so it may be unsurprising that he claimed that Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome and that the bishop of Rome was appointed by both "glorious apostles."

It appears that the best evidence that has been put forward to prove that Peter really did go to Rome is from 1 Peter 5:13, which says that Peter was writing from "Babylon." John W. O’Malley, S.J. says, in A History of the Popes, page 8, that no one piece of evidence states in straightforward and unambiguous language either that Peter either went to Rome or that he died there and, even when relying on 1 Peter, he acknowledges this might not have been written by Peter himself, but claims it was at least written under his inspiration.

The acknowledgement that 1 Peter might not have been written by Peter himself opens a can of worms, as it introduces the scholarly view that the epistle was actually written in Peter's name long after his death. Bart D. Ehrman says, in Forged, page 68, scholars have long realised what this reference to ‘Babylon’ means. Babylon was the city that was seen as the ultimate enemy of God among Jews, as it was Babylon that had defeated Judah and destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in the sixth century BCE. By the end of the first century Christians and Jews had started using the word Babylon as a code word for Rome, the city that was the enemy of God in their own day, which also destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in the year 70. Peter, or even a secretary, would not have called Rome "Babylon" before the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, so on this ground alone 1 Peter is pseudepigraphical and can not be relied on as evidence for Peter in Rome.

A site under St. Peter's Basilica includes several graves and a structure said by Vatican authorities to have been built to memorialise the location of St. Peter's grave. If authentic, this would prove beyond doubt that Peter had gone to Rome and been buried there. Between 320 to 327, Constantine built a basilica over the early Christian necropolis that was purported to be Peter's resting place. In 1942, the Administrator of St. Peter's, Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, found previously overlooked remains in the monument and, having little understanding of correct archeological procedures, secretly ordered the remains stored elsewhere for safe-keeping. In doing so, he destroyed any certainty that the bones actually originated in the tomb as claimed. Based on bone tests that showed the remains belonged to a man in his sixties, Pope Paul VI announced on June 26, 1968 that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered. As Pope Paul was not speaking ex cathedra, his statement is not regarded as infallible.

Was Peter ever a bishop?

As mentioned previously, we have a tradition that Peter was bishop of Antioch, a role that would haver required him to remain in the city for some years, and we also have tradition that Peter was bishop of Rome. The first tradition is antithetic to the Roman Catholic position and receives little support, at least in the West.

Francis A. Sullivan S.J. says, in From Apostles to Bishops, page 15, that most Catholic scholars say that the church of Rome was most probably led by a college of presbyters until well into the second century, with no evidence of a ruling bishop in the first century. He does not speak for the Church as a whole, but in that statement does identify the position of prominent Catholic scholars. I have carefully read the arguments in his book and find them convincing. Father Sullivan does not contradict Church doctrine that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, but it seems inconceivable that Peter would lead the church in Rome, as its first bishop, and appoint a successor as bishop, only for the Christian community of Rome to ignore this precedent for up to a century after the death of Linus.

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    This looks like a good answer, but don't you think it needs a little more dogma and a little less science?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:42
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    I concur with @Peter. There's great info here, and I thank you whole-heartedly for that and for the obvious effort you put into it. A close reading of the answer gives me a pretty good idea of what's dogma and what's not, but I'd really prefer a lot more explicitness about "X is dogma, Y is commonly accepted tradition," etc. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:49
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    @PeterTurner Thank you for your first comment. I was trying to provide the Catholic position as objectively as I could, as Mr Beatitude requested. The situation seems to be that Peter in Rome is more tradition than dogma. Although I know a number of popes have asserted that Peter was in Rome, I'm not sure whether to write those assertions up as 'dogma', particularly given the context in some cases. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:51
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    @Mr.Beatitude I have to go now, for a while, but when I come back I'll try to tweak my answer in response to Peter's comment and yours. As I said in my earlier comment, much depends on tradition. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 3:53
  • I have updated my answer to show some traditions that have found acceptance at various times in the Church, whether or not that acceptance still holds. I have tried to show the evidence FOR Peter in Rome, while being appropriately sceptical of doubtful traditions. In doing so, I have steered clear of the alternative evidence AGAINST Peter in Rome, in which camp I would place the likes of Clement of Rome. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 7:52

As I stated in an answer to an entirely different question, the Catholic Church distinguishes between three types of beliefs which Catholics must hold. In 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a document stating and clarifying these types of beliefs, and noting the consequences for failing to assert them.

Briefly, it notes that the various statements about Peter and the papacy are formal dogmas, divinely revealed truths officially declared by the Church:

To the truths of the first paragraph [formal dogmas] belong ... the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff ...

And these doctrines of course rest on the position of Peter among the apostles, and the tradition that Rome was the see of Peter. To deny these or any formal dogmas is to commit heresy.

The CDF document provides footnotes for each item it lists as a formal dogma. For the beliefs about the papacy, the footnote reads

Cf. DS 3059–3075.

DS is a commonly-used reference for dogmas of the Church; it stands for the Denzinger-Schönmetzer Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum (Handbook of creeds, definitions, and declarations on matters of faith and morals), a reference book periodically updated to reflect statements of faith to which Catholics are expected to give some degree of assent. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the modern version of DS, only to an older version, with very different numbering, with texts solely in Latin or Greek.

From this version, however, some material can be drawn: the most apposite is probably item 163, an excerpt from a letter attributed to Pope Gelasius I in 495 AD (the Decretal on books to be received, and not to be received):

Addita est etiam societas beatissimi Pauli Apostoli, vasis electionis, qui non diverso, sicut haeretici garriunt, sed uno tempore, uno eodemque die glorioso morte cum Petro in urbe Roma sub Caesare Nerone agonizans coronatus est; et pariter supradictam sanctam Romanam Ecclesiam Christo Domino consecrarunt aliisque omnibus urbibus in universo mundo sua praesentia atque venerando triumpho praetulerunt.

(Note: It appears that this letter is now generally considered to have been written by an anonymous scholar, not at the end of the 5th century but perhaps 20 to 50 years later. Nonetheless it is of interest as representing an accepted view of the Church at that time, as well as a statement which all Catholics are required to believe.)

I have found no official translation of this portion of the Decretal; following is my own:

In addition [to the presence of Peter in Rome] there was the fellowship of the most blessed Apostle Paul, the vessel of [God's] choice, who (not separately, as heretics gossip, but at the same time, even on the same day) as part of his struggle was crowned with a glorious death with Peter in the city of Rome, under Nero Caesar; and the two, equally, consecrated the before-said holy Roman Church to Christ the Lord, and offered it up before all other cities in the whole world, by reason of their presence and their revered triumph.

This is one of the bases for the Church's official declaration that Peter was in Rome, and died in Rome.

For the explicit statement that Peter was the bishop of Rome, or a bishop in Rome, I can find no direct sources. The official statements of the Church, however, state that the bishops of Rome are the successors of Peter, which of course could only be the case if Peter was indeed a bishop:

Si quis ergo dixerit, non esse ex ipsius Christi Domini institutione seu iure divino, ut beatus PETRUS in primatu super universum Ecclesiam habeat perpetuos successores; aut Romanum Pontificem non esse beati PETRI in eodem primatu successorem: anathema sit.

[My translation, as I cannot seem to find an authorized one] And so, if anyone says that it was not by divine law, and the institution of Christ the Lord Himself, that the blessed PETER has perpetual successors as primate over the whole Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of the blessed PETER in that same primacy: let him be anathema.

(Pastor Aeternus, Documents of the First Vatican Council)

Thus, from these excerpts, we can deduce the following:

  1. The Church teaches as dogma that Peter was in Rome, and died in Rome.
  2. The Church teaches as dogma that Peter was the bishop of Rome.
  3. Specifically, the Church teaches as dogma that the scope of Peter's episcopacy was by divine institution set over the whole Church in all the world—this is, if you like, what "bishop" means in Peter's case.
  4. There is no mention in Church dogma of a college of presbyters ruling at Rome. As far as Church dogma is concerned, this is false.
  5. If a Catholic derogates from (disagrees with) any of these points, he or she commits heresy.
  • Regarding point 4, is there any possibility of a compromise position, wherein Peter presided over a college of presbyters? Or does dogma contradict that point? I ask because both of Dick Harfield's sources for the college of presbyters position are books written by Jesuit priests. Are they committing heresy? Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 14:56
  • I doubt it; Father O'Malley appears to be currently at least a "corresponding member" of the Pontifical Council for Historical Science. On the other hand, I don't see anything specifically denying the possibility. Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:24
  • (that is, the possibility that Peter did indeed preside over such an organization) Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:57
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    Why does Peter need to be the first Bishop of Rome for his successor to be chief of the Apostles? (not that I doubt he was the first Bishop of Rome)
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 11:22

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