Huh? Didn't we have The Confession of St Peter on 18 January?
Well, yes we did, but it's a really bad idea. The current LCMS listing in Feasts and Festivals for 18 January as the Confession of St Peter rightly celebrates that the Rock is the Confession, not Peter and not an office. But, the feast is not and never has been of the confession but of the chair of St Peter in Rome, a completely different idea to be explored in this post, and the correct emphasis on a confession rather than a chair is not well served by revisionism. Here's why 22 February is a much better choice for the confession.
OK, what's up with "chair" and "confession". First, chair. The Latin original word is cathedra. Hey, that's close to "cathedral". Yes it is, because a cathedral is a church where the cathedra (chair) of the local presiding overseer is located.
OK, what's a presiding overseer? In many church bodies these overseers are called "bishops". The German cognate (English being a Germanic language basically) is Bischoff. That comes through earlier forms as a vernacular use of a late Latin corruption, "biscopus", of the Latin word episcopus, which transliterates the same word in Greek and means an overseer or supervisor. Originally it referred to civic officers with responsibility for watching over something. The NT used the word to refer to those with similar responsibility for Christian communities.
So the cathedra (chair) is where the episcopus (overseer) sits for formal proceedings, and is a sign and symbol of his authority as overseer. Thus a bishop's chair is the seat, literally and figuratively, of his authority. Every bishop has a formal chair (cathedra) in a chair-church (cathedral). So, a church called "cathedral" that is not the location of a bishop's chair is no cathedral at all but just using the name because it sounds impressive.
There's another word for chair in Latin, and that is sedes, from the verb "to sit". We get the English word "sedentary" from that, and also the word "see", meaning the place or area of authority of the sitter on the chair. So the area of a bishop's jurisdiction is called his "see", that to which his authority from his "chair" extends.
You may have heard the phrase "ex cathedra", which means "from the chair". This is associated with the bishop of Rome, whose nickname is "pope". That word derives from "papa" as the spiritual father of the flock entrusted to his care. The term is applied to several bishops actually, but most famously to the bishop of Rome. This is where all this confession and chair stuff gets confused.
The Catholic Church, which is the entity defined by, and made the state religion of, the Roman Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, and not to be confused with the catholic church of the creeds, holds that in Matthew 16:18-19 Christ establishes Peter and his successors as the ones with visible earthly headship of the church. Mark 3:16 and 9:2, Luke 22:32 and 24:34, John 21:15-17 and I Corinthians 15:5 are also cited in this regard. Here is the Matthew passage in the English Standard Version:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The ESV footnote to verse 18 explains the word-play here: "The Greek words for Peter and rock sound similar". More exactly, "Peter" comes from the Latin Petrus, which transliterates the Greek Petros, which makes a proper name of petros, which means a stone or rock. "Peter" was not at the time a personal name in Greek; that came later in veneration of Peter, who was the first so named. But, the Greek word in the next part is not petros, but petra. This is why the footnote says they sound similar and does not say they are the same word.
So petros, petra, what's the difference? Well, petros means a stone or rock; petra means a rock formation like a ridge or cliff or ledge, AND, a stone that is used in building. And that's where the controversy begins. What's the rock formation, or building stone -- Peter, because he was first to confess, and because he was the first one to whom it was revealed that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ) of God, or is it the confession itself?
After Jesus' death (and resurrection) Peter eventually left Jerusalem and went to Antioch, a major city at the time, in what is now the southern tip of Turkey just off the Mediterranean Sea. After leading the church there, he went to Rome itself to lead the church there, and was executed under Emperor Nero. All the pious biographical summaries tell you that. There was a lot more going on though, and when you know what that is, it makes a difference. Here's what's usually left out.
Nero didn't have Peter executed only because he was a bad guy who hated Christians. Peter was executed by Emperor Nero in 64 AD following the great fire that destroyed most of Rome. There's a reason for that. Nero had become emperor in 54 and was coming up on his ten year anniversary in power (called dies imperii) when the fire broke out. Most Romans thought Nero had the fire started himself, to clear land on the Palatine Hill to have a big gold house built for himself, but Nero blamed the despised Christians (we're a couple three hundred years away from the Empire adopting Christianity) and accordingly executed lots of them, including Peter and Paul, who was there too.
And he did build that gold house! It's called the Gold House, well ok, Domus Aurea, and it was spectacular. But like Nero himself, it came to a bad end. Nero's excesses were too much for even the Romans, who never did anything on a small scale, and a damnatio memoriae (damnation of memory) was issued in which physical signs of his existence were destroyed or altered. WRT the Domus Aurea, just 40 years after it was built, it was filled with earth and built over: the Baths of Titus, Vespasian's Flavian Amphitheatre (which you may know as the Colosseum), the Baths of Trajan and Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Rome were all built on the grounds.
Somewhere in the 15th Century a guy fell through a cleft into something and found himself right in the middle of all these frescoes in the place, which on the one hand had a profound effect on later Renaissance art but on the other brought exposure to moisture leading to decay. The visible ruins are still there but keep falling apart. It closed due to safety problems in 2005, reopened in 2007, closed again in 2008, then a huge dining room with a rotating ceiling like the sky (powered by slaves) was found in 2009 but more stuff collapsed in 2010.
One enduring irony is that Nero was the first to put mosaics on ceilings instead of floors, which when discovered in the Renaissance became a feature of church decoration. Another enduring irony: many lower class Romans liked Nero, because he spent tons of money on food and entertainment on them despite the economic effect, and after his suicide in 68 AD a popular legend arose that someday he would return (Nero Redivivus) and give stuff away again. At least three fake "Neros" tried to assume power that way. The legend persisted for centuries; Augustine mentions it as current in his City of God in 422 AD.
This effect is exactly the sort of thing Juvenal (Latin: Decimus Junius Juvenalis) decried in his Satire X around 100 AD, about 30 years after Nero's death, in the famous phrase "panem et circenses", bread and circuses. It's from this that the country in The Hunger Games is called Panem. Circus, as meant now, derives from but is not what it meant then. Circus was more than a Barnum and Bailey sort of a thing, but it was the greatest show on earth at the time. The word circus derives from circle. The "circle" is the performing area, not actually circular but oblong. Huge spectacles were staged in them, even recreated naval battles, for public entertainment. So, translating Juvenal's phrase for meaning, it's food and entertainment.
This was also about 125 years after the end of the Roman Republic on 16 January 27 B.C. when the Senate proclaimed Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, as the new title Augustus. The root word means one who increases, and is thus venerable or majestic; it's where we get our adjective "august". Also the name of the Roman sixth month, which was renamed after him. His full title was Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus.
Huh? OK, means "commander Caesar son of the deified one". "The deified one" was Julius Caesar. The Senate had declared him a god on 1 January 42 B.C, after his death by assassination on 15 March 44 B.C. the first such action by the Senate. "Son" is because he was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. "Commander" (imperator) was a title given victorious Roman generals, but it became a title for ruling; it's where we get our words emperor, imperative, imperial etc. Though many features of the Republic continued, real power was not in them. The Romans had traded the dignity and freedoms of the Roman Republic for the Empire, based on who would give them stuff ("food and entertainment") for free, i.e., paid for with someone else's money via the government.
Gee, isn't it great politicians no longer campaign for office based on what they'll have the government give you free, that is, paid for with money the government takes from someone else? (Cough.)
No surprise that later in the same Satire Juvenal says rather than the wrong, or wrongly exaggerated, desires expected from one's own efforts or appropriated from the efforts of others, such as power and wealth, one should desire mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body. And no surprise he warns in another Satire (VI, to be exact) of the dangers of a government so powerful. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? -- who guards the guards themselves, or, who watches the watchers?
Holy crap, watchers -- didn't we talk about watchers at the start, maybe all this stuff is going to tie to-gether and not be just Past Elder poking around in old stuff! Maybe it'll come full (wait for it) circle!
Oddly enough, the phrase in Juvenal is in the context of those watching over the marital fidelity of women -- those who watch may be corrupted themselves, so who watches them? Maybe they keep quiet about things, being paid off; maybe they themselves are the corrupters so of course they keep quiet. It's not known for sure if the lines are from Juvenal or were later interpolated, and it really doesn't matter since the context is clear, and, beyond the specific matter of marital fidelity, is used to express a problem known all the way back to Plato's Republic, namely, what prevents the abuse of power, what prevents power from being abused even when originally exercised for good?
Plato's answer was, the guardians will be their own guardians against abuse and corruption by what is called the "noble lie" in politics and the "pious fiction" in religion. That is, a myth of a religious or political (or both) nature told by an elite that doesn't actually believe it but uses it for the purpose of establishing or maintaining the greater good.
On Chairs of Peter.
18 January is actually one of two feasts of chairs of St Peter. 22 February is the other one and it's older. The Calendar of Philocalus, done in 354 and starting with 311, lists it but not the January one. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum, from the 800s, lists both but, in what appears to be a later interpolation, assigns the February one to Antioch, where Peter first had a chair before he went to Rome. Both were celebrated in or around Rome with actual chairs.
22 February was celebrated in Rome. St Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia (Magnus Felix Ennodius, died 17 July 522), in his "Libellus pro Synodo" describes in some detail the use of the chair Peter used by the Bishop of Rome, popularly called "Pope" and held to be the successor of Peter, when conferring Confirmation on recently baptised converts on 22 February.
18 January was celebrated on the Via Salaria. What's a Via Salaria? The name means Salt Way (as in road). The path of the road predates the road itself and even Rome itself, starting as a trade route for the pre-Roman Sabines looking for salt at the mouth of the Tiber. This was a key element in what emerged as Roman, as the Sabines, some sooner, some later in the Republic, blended with the locals. Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome and successor to Romulus the legendary founder of Rome (and from whom it is named) was a Sabine. In rural areas parts of the road, and ruins of several bridges along it, are still there!
On the Via Salaria is the Catacomb of Priscilla. The site was originally a quarry. Early sources describe this as where Peter baptised (ubi Petrus baptizabat). It became a cemetery for Christians, its remote location suiting what were then outcasts. Who's Priscilla? A common Latin name, here that of a woman from the gens Acilia married to the consul Acilius, who after she became Christian was ordered executed by Emperor Domitian, the 11th Roman emperor, assassinated 18 September 96 A.D. The site continued to be burial grounds for some time, including popes, and, containing much artwork to adorn it, including the first known paintings of Mary, from the early 200s. In one of them she's breastfeeding infant Jesus btw.
Around 600 Pope Gregory the Great, who commissioned work on the calendar we use now, also commissioned an Abbot Johannes to gather oils from lamps that burned at the burial sites of early Christian martyrs, and the list of them at the cathedral at Monza says one of them has oil from the chair "ubi prius sedit sanctus Petrus", from the chair where St Peter first sat, and the Martyrologium Hieronymianum says the same of the site, "qua primo Rome petrus apostolus sedit".
So both these feasts were all about with Peter and his chair, both literally and as a sign of his authority. Tertullian, writing in about 200 in "De praescriptione baereticorum", says to visit the churches founded by the Apostles in many of which their chairs are still there, and mentions Rome specifically. OK I translated: it's Percurre ecclesias apostolicas, apud quas ipsæ adhuc cathedræ apostolorum suis locis præsident. Si Italiæ adjaces habes Romam. About 50 years later, after Pope Fabian died, St Cyprian describes the situation as both the authority and chair itself of Peter being vacant: Cum locus Fabiani, id est locus Petri et gradus cathedrae sacerdotalis vacaret.
So yeah, it's all about chairs and authority, not confession. So where are these chairs now? That's where the fun starts. The one at the Via Salaria is gone. The Goths trashed Rome in 410, and on the way there trashed everything leading to Rome, and the Via Salaria was one of the routes there. Which was also the case when Germanic types similarly trashed Rome in the 500s and 600s. Somewhere in there, that chair took the gas.
The other chair is said to be enclosed in a reliquary (place where relics are held) designed to encompass it by the great artist Bernini and finished in 1653. It's in St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Is the chair inside the reliquary the actual chair St Peter used? Well there is a beat up wooden chair in there, that is clearly not just a regular chair but a carrying chair used by a person in authority. It was taken out and photographed in 1867.
Story is, this is the chair used by Peter himself. It was preserved in a church built on the site of the home of the couple Paul mentions as co-workers in his letters (epistles), Priscilla and Aquila. Holy crap, lots of Priscillas! Well it was a common name. It's the diminutive form of Prisca. Christian services were held in their home, including baptisms, with Peter. She was Roman, Jewish in background, converted to Christianity, was tortured and executed under Emperor Claudius, the fourth emperor and the one before Nero, who was his grand nephew and adopted son and who along with the Senate ordered him considered a god after his death. Nearly all sources contemporary with him say his death was by poisoning from his current wife, but may have been a consequence of the many symptoms contemporaries also noted, often thought to have been polio but more recently cerebral palsy. This is the Claudius of the famous Robert Graves books.
There is a church on the site of their home, called Santa Prisca. Supposedly her remains are in the church. The site, whether it was or was not their home, was indeed the site of a temple to Mithras, whose cult was popular in Rome, and the temple was built about 200 A.D. on the site of Emperor Trajan's town house built about 95 A.D. The Mithraeum was not excavated until the 1950s. There was indeed a Christian place of worship alongside it. Story is, with Christianity now OK, Pope Damasus moved a chair believed to be the chair of St Peter from that location to Rome.
OK who's Damasus? You can read more about him in other posts on this blog, here we'll only say he was "pope" at the time the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, which said that in the Empire's clemency and moderation all nations which it rules should hold to the faith brought to Rome by Peter and faithfully conserved in Damasus and that only those who do may be called Catholic Christians and those who don't shall not even be called churches but heretics and are subject to such consequences as God and/or the Empire shall choose to inflict.
Noble lie, pious fiction? In any case, a magnificent reliquary for what was held to be the chair of St Peter was designed and built by the great sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When a Barberini family member became Pope Urban VIII in 1623, Bernini was put in charge of architecture for the new basilica - you know, the one being subsidised in part by the sale of indulgences to which this loudmouth German friar loudly objected -- to replace the old St Peter's Emperor Constantine (aka the Great) had built. Much of how the Vatican looks now is the result, including the reliquary for the chair.
In its own time the renovation of the Vatican was controversial. Among other things, the new stuff was in part built by raiding material from the ruins of the real Roman stuff, so much so that a saying was common -- quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini, what the barbarians didn't do the Barberinis did.
In one part of the reliquary is an image of Charles the Bald (Karolus Caluus). Whozat? A "Roman" emperor, from the later "Roman" Empire whose resurrection was begun by Charlemagne in 800. Charles the Bald was Charlemagne's grandson. He ruled as Charles II as Holy Roman Emperor from 875 to 877 when he died at age 54. He wasn't bald btw. No contemporary references describe him that way, nor as particularly hairy either so it wasn't an ironic name. The reference was to this: all the land available was already promised by his dad (Louis the Pious, Charles the Great's son) to his older brothers so he was "bald", but through civil wars and treaties he ended up emperor.
Know why that image is there? Because the chair that's in there is not the chair used by St Peter at all, but one given as a gift by Emperor Charles II (the "bald") to Pope John VIII in 875! Well, old Charles was known to cozy up to bishops as a hedge against the corruption of secular rulers, and who better than the successor to St Peter the rock on whom the church is built and all.
Are You KIDDING Me? Oh Yeah, Confession.
What? After ALL this chairs stuff and the authority based off it, the one's been gone for hundreds of years and the other, the only actual chair around, well, the original is gone too and something else has been there since 875 as if it were the original!?!?!
Is Past Elder just bashing Rome again? Well, the Vatican even says the chair in there is a gift from Charles the Bald right on its site!
http://www.vaticanstate.va/content/vaticanstate/en/monumenti/basilica-di-s-pietro/interno.paginate.2.html And in a huge ornate church, the new St Peter's Basilica, to replace the old one built by Emperor Constantine the Great, the whole renovation project financed in part by the sale of indulgences, and that as Rome's part of the take for Albrecht von Brandenburg being allowed to sell them to pay off the huge loans he took from the Fuggers, the pre-eminent money and power brokers of the time, who took over from the Medicis, to pay his way into being made the Elector and Archbishop of Mainz (the electors elected the Holt Roman Emperor)!
Noble lies, pious fictions and who's watching the watchers all over the place! Just the sort of thing that got that loudmouth German friar loudmouthing (that's Martin Luther, in case you missed it). This Catholic Church is not at all the catholic church of the creed it professes, and a reformation was needed.
You can read much more about that on other posts on this blog, but in the context of this post, why, in view of the scandalous to bogus history of the whole chair thing, would the church reformed preserve either of these feasts, both of them bound up from the start with the authority of the "bishop" of Rome?
Because underneath the crap is the confession, you are the Christ, the son of the living God. This is the petra, the foundation stone, on which Christ's church is built, and, just as with the first guy Simon, who got renamed after it, "flesh and blood" does not reveal this to a person, but the Father who is in heaven. IOW, faith is the work of the Holy Spirit and not human effort of thought or action; or as we say, sola fide, by faith alone, sola gratia, by grace alone, sola Scripture, by scripture alone.
Accordingly Loehe, so influential in the formation of our synod, left St Peter's Chair at Rome on 18 January and St Peter's Chair at Antioch on 22 February, without attempting a "correction" and unrevised from what it had been for a millennium. The text stands on its own, and as so often, the "Lutheran" difference with Rome being not so much in what we do but in how and why we do it.
Or one could do what THE Lutheran Hymnal (1941) did, which is, list neither.
But get this. Pope John the Destroyer, aka John XXIII, removed the Chair of Peter at Rome feast on 18 January altogether in 1960, and also demoted the 22 February Antioch one. These changes survive in the hunk of dung 1962 Roman Missal, which is now the "extraordinary form" of the Roman liturgy, as bogus a sham of the Roman liturgy up to the 1960s as the "ordinary form" the novus ordo is after it. Speaking of which, the novus ordo of Vatican II did away with the feast, and combined it with the feast of St Peter's Chair at Antioch on 22 February.
So Rome, having missed the point about the confession altogether, eliminates the feast in one of its calendars and combines it with a similar feast in which it similarly misses the point in its other calendar! How typically RCC. But what of us? In our current worship book, which in so many ways adopts and adapts the novus ordo for Lutheran use, much like the co-wo crowd also tries to adapt and adopt another non-Lutheran form and give it a Lutheran substance, we list the 18 January one Rome dropped, but as the "confession" not the chair, though the only reason the feast exists at all was about the chair, and we don't even list the 22 February one they kept.
You know what? There's real good reason to keep the 22 February one, but as usual, not exactly what the RCC thinks it is. You know where that 22 February date came from and why it's the date for the older and original of these two chair-feasts? Here's why, it's because tradition has it that 22 February is -- ready for this -- the day on which Peter, what, sat on a chair of authority somewhere? No, the date he made the confession!
Do we know 22 February was the day Simon spoke his confession of faith and got renamed Peter? No. Is it in the Bible? No. Does that mean drop it? No. Why not? Because again, we Lutherans aren't a "If it ain't in the Bible we ain't doing it" bunch, but "If it contradicts the Bible we ain't doing it" bunch. Peter's confession is in the Bible. The day it happened is human legend, yes, but, that the commemoration of it was on 22 February is demonstrable.
What a magnificent irony, that he who was born in the reign of one the government declared the son of a god is actually the Son of God! And unlike Nero, will return, not to distribute food and entertainment from the government, not just to restore the freedom and dignity of the Roman Republic or any other government, not just to attain a sound mind in a sound body, not just to establish a "people of God" or even a church as "body of Christ", but to complete the dignity of children and heirs of God in eternal life with Him!
The entire effort and meaning of the Lutheran Reformation, as distinct from "the Reformation", is not to form a new church but to reform the only church there is, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, from the accretions laid on and over it, both historically and presently, by the Catholic Church created by the Roman Empire. And there is no more telling example of those accretions, making what should be the most obvious things about the church the most obscure, than the obscuration of the confession of Peter by all this pious nonsense about his chairs and authority.
And no better way to do it by celebrating the confession on the day when it was actually part of the celebration, actually in there all along amid all the accretions of which we are now free.
Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God. Revealed first to Simon, but then to each and every one in exactly the same way, this confession that is the founding stone of the church, not by "flesh and blood", human effort to attain it, but by God the Father in heaven. Sola gratia sola fide sola scriptura. By grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone.
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