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Fr. Michael Kelly SJ
The Chair of St Peter in Rome
- February 22, 2013
Matthew’s Gospel describes the most complete account of Simon, son of John, receiving a mandate from Jesus to care for the community he founded. With this command, Simon receives a new name as well - ‘Peter’ or ‘Rock’, implying that this office would be as enduring as rock, impervious to the assaults of evil. The New Testament bears continual witness to the primacy accorded to Peter by the other disciples, and the Gospels are careful to note that even though Peter denied his Lord, he was forgiven and fully reinstated as head of the apostles.
One would expect Jerusalem to be Peter’s seat of authority, as it was where the Temple was located. Indeed Luke’s Gospel begins and ends at the Temple; and Luke’s second book, The Acts of the Apostles, records the first ‘council of Jerusalem’ where the apostles and others deliberated on how to present the Gospel to the pagans. Slowly but inevitably, the Gospel breaks frontiers and travels to the heart of the Empire, Rome. It is to Rome that the apostle Paul is sent in chains. It is also to Rome that Peter goes, and witnesses to the Lord by his death. It is also in Rome that successive Popes will nourish the faith, build the Christian community and guide the Church worldwide with their teachings.
The Chair – or ‘throne’, as a symbol of authority – of St Peter in Rome thus celebrates the historical accident by which the city has come to symbolize the pastoral authority of the First Apostle and his successors.