Friday, February 22, 2019

Saint Peter’s Chair at Antioch

Greater Double

We are called upon, a second time, to honor St. Peter’s Chair: first, it was his Pontificate in Rome; today it is his Episcopate at Antioch. The seven years spent by the Prince of the Apostles in the second of these cities were the grandest glory she ever had; and they are too important a portion of the life of St. Peter to be passed by without being noticed in the Christian Cycle.

Three years had elapsed since our Lord’s Ascension. The Church had already been made fruitful by martyrdom, and from Jerusalem she had spread into distant countries. Antioch, the first of the cities of Asia, had received the Gospel; and it was there that they who professed the faith of Jesus were first called “Christians.” Jerusalem was doomed to destruction for her having not only refused to acknowledge, but also for her having crucified, the Messias: it was time for Peter, in whom resided the supreme power, to deprive the faithless City of the honor she had heretofore enjoyed, of possessing within her walls the Chair of the Apostolate. It was towards the Gentiles that the Holy Spirit drove those Clouds, which were shown to Isaias as the symbol of the holy Apostles. Accordingly, it was in Antioch, the third Capital of the Roman Empire, that Peter first places the august Throne on which, as Vice-regent of Christ, he presides over the Church—that new family of which all Nations are invited to become members.

But the progress of the Apostles was so rapid; the conquests they made, in spite of every opposition, were so extensive—that the Vicar of Christ was inspired to leave Antioch, after he had honored it with the Chair during the space of seven years. Alexandria, the second City of the Empire, is also to be made a See of Peter; and Rome, the Capital of the world, awaits the grand privilege for which God had long been preparing her. Onwards, then, does the Prince advance, bearing with him the destinies of the Church; where he fixes his last abode, and where he dies, there will he have his Successor in sublime dignity of Vicar of Christ. He leaves Antioch, making one of his disciples, Evodius, its Bishop. Evodius succeeds Peter as Bishop of Antioch; but that See is not to inherit the Headship of the Church, which goes whithersoever Peter goes. He sends Mark, another of his disciples, to take possession, in his name, of Alexandria; and this Church he would have be the second in the world, and though he has not ruled it in person, he raises it above that of Antioch. This done, he goes to Rome, where he permanently establishes that Chair on which he will live, and teach, and rule, in his Successors, to the end of time.

And here we have the origin of the three great Patriarchal Sees, which were the object of so much veneration in the early ages—the first is Rome, which is invested with all the prerogatives of the Prince of the Apostles, which, when dying, he transmitted to her; the second is Alexandria, which owes her pre-eminence to Peter’s adopting her as his second See; the third is Antioch, whither he repaired in person, when he left Jerusalem to bring to the Gentiles the grace of adoption. If, therefore, Antioch is below Alexandria in rank, Alexandria never enjoyed the honor granted to Antioch, of having been governed in person by him whom Christ appointed to be the supreme Pastor of his Church. Nothing, then, could be more just than that Antioch should be honored, in that she has had the privilege of having been, for seven years, the center of Christendom; and this is the object of today’s Feast.

The Children of the Church have a right to feel a special interest in every solemnity that is kept in memory of St. Peter. The Father’s Feast is a Feast for the whole family; for to him it owes its very life. If there be but one fold, it is because there is but one Shepherd. Let us, then, honor Peter’s divine prerogative, to which Christianity owes its preservation; and let us often reflect upon the obligations we are under to the Apostolic See. On the Feast of the Chair at Rome, we saw how Faith is taught and maintained and propagated by the Mother-Church, which has inherited the promises made to Peter. Today, let us consider the Apostolic See as the sole source of the legitimate Power, whereby mankind is ruled and governed in all that concerns eternal salvation.

Our Savior said to Peter: To thee will I give the Keys of the Kingdom of heaven, that is to say, of the Church. He said to him, on another occasion: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep. So that Peter is Prince; for, in the language of the sacred Scriptures, Keys denote princely power: he is also Pastor, and universal Pastor; for the whole flock is comprised under the two terms, Lambs and Sheep. And yet there are other Pastors in every portion of the Christian world. The Bishops whom the Holy Ghost hath placed to rule the Church of God govern, in his name, their respective Dioceses, and are also Pastors. How comes it that the Keys, which were given to Peter, are found in other hands than his? The Catholic Church explains the difficulty to us by her Tradition. She says to us, by Tertullian: “Christ gave the Keys to Peter, and through him to the Church.” By St. Optatus of Milevum: “For the sake of unity, Peter was made the first among all the Apostles, and he alone received the Keys, that he might give them to the rest.” St. Gregory of Nyssa: “It was through Peter that Christ gave to Bishops the Keys of their heavenly prerogative.” By St. Leo the Great: “If our Lord willed that there should be something in common to Peter and the rest of the Princes of his Church, it was only on this condition—that whatsoever he gave to the rest, he gave it to them through Peter.”

Yes, the Episcopate is most sacred, for it comes from the hands of Jesus Christ through Peter and his successors. Such is the unanimous teaching of Catholic Tradition, which is in keeping with the language used by the Roman Pontiffs from the earliest Ages, who have always spoken of the dignity of Bishops as consisting in their being “called to a share of their own solicitude.” Hence St. Cyprian does not hesitate to say that “our Savior, wishing to establish the Episcopal dignity and constitute his Church, says to Peter: To thee will I give the Keys of the Kingdom of heaven; and here we have both the institution of Bishops and the constitution of the Church.” This same doctrine is clearly stated in a letter written to Pope St. Symmachus by St. Cæsarius of Arles , who lived in the fifth century: “The Episcopate flows from the blessed Apostle Peter; and consequently, it belongs to Your Holiness to prescribe to the several Churches the rules which they are to follow.” This fundamental principle, which St. Leo the Great has so ably and eloquently developed (as we have seen on the Feast of the Chair at Rome, January 18th)—this principle, which is taught us by universal Tradition, is laid down with all possible precision in the magnificent Letters, still extant, of Pope St. Innocent the First, who preceded St. Leo by several years. Thus, he writes to the Council of Carthage, “that the Episcopate, with all its authority, emanates from the Apostolic See;” to the Council of Milevum, “that Bishops must look upon Peter as the source whence both their name and their dignity are derived;” to St. Victricius, Bishop of Rouen, “that the Apostolate and the Episcopate both owe their origin to Peter.”

Controversy is not our object. All we aim at by giving these quotations from the Fathers on the prerogatives of Peter’s Chair, is to excite the Faithful to be devoted to it and venerate it. This we have endeavored to do by showing them that this Chair is the source of the spiritual authority which, in its several degrees, rules and sanctifies them. Yes, all spiritual authority comes from Peter; all comes from the Bishop of Rome, in whom Peter will continue to govern the Church to the end of time. Jesus Christ is the founder of the Episcopate; it is the Holy Ghost who establishes Bishops to rule the Church—but the mission, the institution, which assigns the Pastor his Flock, and the Flock its Pastor, these are given by Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Peter and his Successors.

How sacred, how divine, is this authority of the Keys, which is first given by heaven itself to the Roman Pontiff; then is delegated by him to the Prelates of the Church; and thus guides and blesses the whole Christian world! The Apostolic See has varied its mode of transmitting such an authority according to the circumstances of the several Ages; but the one source of the whole Power was always the same—the Chair of Peter. We have already see how, at the commencement, there were three Chairs: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch; and all three were sources of the canonical institution of the Bishops of their respective provinces; but they were all three Chairs of Peter, for they were founded by him that they might preside over their Patriarchates, as St. Leo, St. Gelasius, and St. Gregory the Great expressly teach. But of these three Chairs, the Pontiff of Rome had his authority and his institution from heaven, whereas the two other Patriarchs could not exercise their rights until they were recognized and confirmed by him who was Peter’s successor as Vicar of Christ. Later on, two other Sees were added to these first three: but it was only by the consent of the Roman Pontiff that Constantinople and Jerusalem obtained such an honor. Let us notice too the difference there is between the accidental honors conferred on four of these Churches, and the divine prerogative of the Church of Rome. By God’s permission, the Sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, were defiled by heresy; they became Chairs of pestilence; and having corrupted the faith they received from Rome, they could not transmit to others the mission they themselves had forfeited. Sad indeed was the ruin of such pillars as these! Peter’s hand had placed them in the Church. They had merited the love and veneration of men, but they fell; and their fall gave one more proof of the solidity of that edifice which Christ himself had built on Peter. The unity of the Church was made more visible. Obliged by the treachery of her own favored children to deprive them of the privileges they had received from her, Rome was, more evidently than ever, the sole source of pastoral Power.

We, then, both priests and people, have a right to know whence our Pastors have received their Power. From whose hand have they received the Keys? If their mission come from the Apostolic See, let us honor and obey them, for they are sent to us by Jesus Christ, who has invested them, through Peter, with his own authority. If they claim our obedience without having been sent by the Bishop of Rome, we must refuse to receive them, for they are not acknowledged by Christ as his Ministers. The holy anointing may have conferred on them the sacred character of the Episcopate—it matters not; they must be as aliens to us, for they have not been sent—they are not Pastors.

Thus it is that the Divine Founder of the Church, who willed that she should be a City seated on a mountain, gave her Visibility; it was an essential requisite; for since all were called to enter her pale, all must be able to see her. But he was not satisfied with this. He moreover willed that the spiritual power exercised by her Pastors should come from a visible source; so that the Faithful might have a sure means of verifying the claims of those who were to guide them in His name. Our Lord, we say it reverently, owed this to us; for on the Last Day, he will not receive us as his Children unless we shall have been members of his Church and have lived in union with him by the ministry of Pastors lawfully constituted. Honor, then, and submission to Jesus in his Vicar! honor and submission to the Vicar of Christ in the Pastors he sends!

As a tribute of our devotion to the Prince of the Apostles, let us recite, in his honor, the following Hymn, composed by St. Peter Damian.


Senatus apostolici
Princeps et præco Domini:
Pastor prime fidelium,
Custodi gregem creditum.

O Prince of the Apostolic Senate! Herald of our Lord! First Pastor of the Faithful! watch over the Flock intrusted to thee.

Per pascua virentia,
Nos verbi fruge recrea:
Refectas oves prævius
Caulis infer cœlestibus.

Lead us through verdant pastures, feeding us with the nourishment of the Word; and lead us, thus fed, into the heavenly fold, whither thou hast already gone.

Supernæ Claves januæ
Tibi, Petre, sunt traditæ:
Tuisque patent legibus
Terrena cum cœlestibus.

To thee, Peter, have been delivered the Keys of heaven’s gate; and all things, both in heaven and on earth, acknowledge thy authority.

Tu Petram veræ fidei,
Tu basim ædificii
Fundas, in qua Catholica
Fixa surgit Ecclesia.

’Tis thou that choosest the city where is to be established the Rock of the true faith, the foundation of the building, on which the Catholic Church stands immovable.

Umbra tua, dum graderis,
Fit medicina languidis;
Textrinis usa vestium
Sprevit Tabitha feretrum.

Thy shadow, as thou passest by, heals the sick; and Tabitha, that made garments for the poor, was raised to life at thy bidding.

Catena vinctum gemina
Virtus solvit angelica;
Veste sumpta cum caligis,
Patescunt fores carceris.

Bound with two chains, thou wast set free by an Angel’s power; he bids thee put on thy garments and thy sandals, and lo! the prison door is opened.

Sit Patri laus ingenito,
Sit decus Unigenito,
Sit utriusque parili
Majestas summa Flamini. Amen.

To the Father unbegotten, and to the Only-Begotten Son, and to the co-equal Spirit of them both, be praise and kingly highest power. Amen.

Glory be to thee, O Prince of the Apostles, on thy Chair at Antioch, where thou didst for seven years preside over the universal Church! How magnificent are the stations of thy Apostolate!—Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria (by the disciple Mark), and Rome—these are the Cities which have been honored by thy august Chair. After Rome, Antioch was the longest graced by its presence: justly, therefore, do we honor this Church, which was thus made by thee the Mother and Mistress of all other Churches. Alas! all her beauty has now left her; her faith is dead; she is in bondage to the Saracen. Save her, take her once more under thy power, bring her into allegiance to Rome, where thou hadst thy Chair, not for seven years only, but for all ages. The gates of hell have let loose the fury of every tempest upon thee, firm Rock of the Church! and we ourselves have seen the immortal Chair banished for a time from Rome. The words of St. Ambrose then came to our minds: “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” How could we despair? Did we not know that it was God’s inspiration which made thee choose Rome for the fixed resting place of thy Throne? No human will can put asunder what God has united; the Bishop of Rome must ever be the Vicar of Christ; and the Vicar of Christ, let sacrilege and persecution banish him as they will, must ever be the Bishop of Rome. Holy Apostle! calm the wildness of the tempest, lest the weak should take scandal. Beseech our Lord that he permit not the residence of thy Successor to be disturbed in that Holy City, which has been chosen for so great an honor. If it be that her inhabitants deserve punishment for their offenses, spare them for the sake of their brethren of the rest of the world; and pray for them, that their Faith may once more become what it was when St. Paul praised it, and said to them: Your Faith is spoken of in the whole world.


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