Why is Peter's association with Rome significant to the Papacy?

I have participated in a thread by a Forum member in which I have repeatedly asked him to open a thread to discuss an off-topic question which he raised (as the OP), namely why the primacy of Peter as Pope (and thus the Office of the Papacy) is associated with the Archdiocese of Rome in particular.

I open this thread on his behalf to discuss this point.

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Peace and all Good!

I’ve often wondered about this myself, particularly recently. I always though that in a sense the better place would be Jerusalem (recent political difficulties aside) because it was the site of Our Divine Lord’s Passion, Death & Resurrection, as well as so much of His Ministry.

However, God’s Providence has seen fit to establish the Papacy in Rome despite the musings of His lowly servant Sonny some 2,000 years after the fact.

My understanding of the Papacy’s link with Rome (and I’m certainly no expert) is that it is the only place where the martyrdom of 2 Apostles (and the Apostles Peter & Paul no less) took place and that Peter travelled to Rome because it was the capital of an empire and if any place would be able to facilitate the rapid spread of God’s Message of Salvation then the capital of the Roman Empire would be the place to start.


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Rome was also the capital of the world. It was chosen by God as the chief particular Church (a diocese is the regional boundary of a particular Church) as a sign of the universality of the Church. Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people, but Rome was the capital of all people, Jews and Gentiles.

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But, you can only take that line of reasoning so far: when power shifted eastward in the empire, some in the eastern Church wanted the Patriarch there to automatically assume primacy. That outlook got it completely backward: the pope wasn’t Pope because he was in Rome – he was Pope because he was the successor of Peter!

It’s not that the pope must be in Rome in order to be Pope, either; a case in point is what’s normally called the ‘Avignon papacy’, in which seven successive popes reigned from France. (Sadly, this resulted in some anti-popes – once the pope returned to Rome, some decided they liked having a pope in France, and named their own ‘pope’ to rule.)

Anyway, Rome isn’t significant in any doctrinal way, per se. It’s just part of the history and tradition (small-t tradition, not big-T tradition, i.e., part of the apostolic teaching) of the Church.

I agree that the historical significance of Rome may have been obscured during certain periods, but Rome did not lose its theological significance. You can’t separate Peter’s successors from the particular Church of Rome (ie the local Church of Rome). The primacy is tied to the bishop of Rome and the Church of Rome. Even when the Popes lived outside their diocese in exile in Avignon or Gaeta, they still were the ordinaries of the Roman Church. A Pope could not resign as bishop of Rome without resigning the papacy–they are one and the same thing. They are one bishopric, not two.

Not only did the First Vatican Council declare that the Bishop of Rome has primacy, but that the Church of Rome has primacy over all the other particular Churches by divine ordinance:

“Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church…”

This isn’t something the Church developed and can therefore change–it came from God’s decree.

That Council was simply reiterating what Pope St. Damasus I had decreed when he noted this primacy of the Roman Church came not from Church decisions, but from Christ:

  1. After all these writings of the prophets and the evangelical and apostolic scriptures which we discussed above, on which the catholic church is founded by the grace of God, we also have thought necessary to say what, although the universal catholic church diffused throughout the world is the single bride of Christ, however the holy Roman church is given first place by the rest of the churches without a synodical decision, but from the voice of the Lord our saviour in the gospel obtained primacy: ‘You are Peter,’ he said, ‘and upon this rock I shall build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to you I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall bind upon Earth shall be bound also in heaven and whatever you release upon Earth shall also be released in heaven’.
  1. In addition there is also the presence of the blessed apostle Paul, ‘the chosen vessel’, who not in opposition, as the heresies jabber, but on the same date and the same day was crowned in glorious death with Peter in the city of Rome suffering under Nero Caesar; and equally they made the above-mentioned holy Roman church special in Christ the Lord and gave preference in their presence and veneration-worthy triumph before all other cities in the whole world.
  1. Therefore first is the seat at the Roman church of the apostle Peter ‘having no spot or wrinkle or any other defect’.

The Church also teaches that the particular Church of Rome is indefectible. This is why St. Irenaeus said all the Churches must agree with the Roman Church–if the Roman Church was not infallible or indefectible, then it wouldn’t be the fixed standard of orthodoxy for the other Churches.

Pope Sixtus IV defined this when he definitively condemned as heretical the proposition that “the Church of the city of Rome can fall into error” in the bull Licet ea (Denzinger #730, older numbering).

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It seems tome that it does not matter where the Chair of Peter is whether in Rome or somewhere else. Rome was the capital of the Roman empire, and so it may have been the reason as to why Peter went there. it was only when Peter was going to be martyred that he choose Linus to succeed him as the head bishop.

I will suggest Taylor Marshall’s book The Eternal City.



Hope this helps.

God bless.



I found the following quote below from Fr. F. helpful.

Patriarchs Connected to Peter Establish Their Importance
When the Council of Nicaea in 325 was
formalizing the organization of the Church it named three Patriarchs -the
bishop of Rome first then the bishop of Antioch then Alexandria. They were
all given prominence because (not of Roman political influence**) but Petrine **
connection. Peter was martyred then buried in Rome (“there is Peter”).
Antioch had been his place of ministry thus placing Antioch second. Finally
Alexandria had been founded according to tradition was Mark-Peter’s disciple
and writer of the second Gospel. When at the Council of Constantinople **in **
381, the bishop of Constantinople was raised to second place replacing
Antioch as second, they stated Andrew, Peter’s brother had ministered in
that area so he was successor of Andrew—but notice the connection to Peter
even here.

   Finally, you asked  was Peter or Rome important.  The answer is always  

Peter. The **Orthodox **think that the reason is Rome as capital of the ancient
empire. It is **the connection with Peter (and Paul) that is important not **
Caesar. If Peter had gone to ancient London and was martyred there-there is
Peter. But here lies the answer behind the crisis of the papacy living to
Avignon. The Popes at the time were the successors of Peter, they remained
(absentee) bishops of Rome. It took the like of St. Catherine of Sienna and St.
Bridgett of Sweden to tell these popes to go back to Rome for “there is
peter”. When John Paul II travels to preach the gospel–there is the
successor of peter through whom he still ministers and guides the Church-in
that sense we say “Tu es petrus” “You are Peter” but where is Peter?? In

    Hope this helps

    Fr F

That Peter was martyred in Rome see


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According to DavidFilmer, theres no such thing as papal succession. So assuming hes correct, it doesnt matter who succeeded Peter.

And if that is the case, how can anyone undermine the Orthodox Churches’ authority or prove that they are not authoritative?

Um, apostolic succession?

For the simple reason that Peter was martyred in Rome, and his successor, Linus, took over the leadership of the Church there.

IMO, if Peter had died and left a successor somewhere else, then quite possibly that locale would be the locus of the Church today.

Hi Randy: I agree. It seems to me that Peter’s chair can be wherever Peter is and it did not have to be in Rome. It so happens that, that Peter was martyred there and choose his successor there which I understand was Linus. I noticed that St. Paul did not seem to have a successor when he was martyred? Wonder why , since the argument is that Peter is not as is claimed leader of the Whole Church?

There is no papal succession in that the Pope does not ordinarily choose his successor, nor is there a special sacrament that “passes on the power” and must be delivered from Pope to new Pope, the way the office of bishop is passed by the sacrament of Holy Orders and must be delivered by an existing bishop to create a new one.

There is papal succession in a different sense, in that there is succession to a specific office (the episcopacy of the diocese of Rome) that carries with it the papal powers.

The Orthodox don’t invest their patriarchs with as much individual authority as we do the Pope, but they follow the same principle. The Patriarch of Alexandria (successor to St. Mark) is whichever man is legitimately chosen to lead the church in Alexandria. He does not have to have any necessary connection with any of the previous Patriarchs of Alexandria aside from occupying the same position. The same is true of the closest thing the Orthodox have to an overall leader/figurehead, the Patriarch of Constantinople.

As I said in the other thread, being a bishop requires you to have undergone a specific rite conducted by an existing bishop. Being bishop of a particular place, once you’re a bishop, only requires that you be chosen to that position by the accepted means (whether it is appointment, election, rock-paper-scissors, or gladiatorial combat matters not). It does not matter if you never met or didn’t particularly like the last guy to hold that position.

Now, from the writings we have, it appears that St. Linus did know St. Peter, and may even have been chosen/recommended as the next leader by him personally. But ultimately that doesn’t matter. As long as St. Linus was the next acknowledged leader of the church of Rome, he was the second Pope, even if he had been a guy off the street who showed up in Rome the day after Peter was crucified and never knew the man.

Again, look at the papal elections that happened in the last few years. Cardinal Ratzinger did know and work closely with Pope St. John Paul II, as Linus probably did with Peter. But it wasn’t John Paul II’s friendship that made Ratzinger Pope Benedict, it was an election held after JPII’s death. Because he chose to retire early, it happens that Pope Benedict was still alive when Pope Francis was elected, but he still did not choose his successor, nor was he even qualified to participate in the conclave that elected him. Since Cardinal Bergoglio had previously lived and worked in Argentina, I’m not even sure how much contact the two men had had. At no point was there any personal handing on of power, as you seem to think ought to have happened with Peter and Linus. Yet Pope Francis is still Pope Benedict’s successor in the office, and both are ultimately successors of Peter.


Just to add to Usagi comments above.

Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus did away with the succession for the King’s Vicar ? And if He was wanting to do away with it, then why give the Keys to only Peter. The word “you” below is in the singular in the Greek

**Matthew 16:18-19

**** “ … and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”**

So, even when Peter dies the netherworld, or death, would not prevail. This is because another person is appointed to that position of the holder of the keys.
And again, if Jesus was not wanting this role of the Papacy to have succession, then why did Jesus make an allusion to a singular position that did have a successor in the Old Testament ?

**Isaiah 22:15,19-24
****“Thus says the Lord, the GOD of hosts: Up, go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace… 19 I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the **key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family …”

Eliakim becomes the holder of the Keys, and so becomes the vicar, or the regent, or also called the “master of the palace” who ruled as an agent or representative for the king.
Cf. 1 Kings 18:3,4 2 Kings 10:5, and 15:5

What is a Key ?

To understand the significance of Jesus giving to Peter the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven we need to think about the importance that keys have. To do this we need to reflect on the significance of what a lock does. For example, if everyone had keys to a given lock then that lock would serve absolutely no purpose at all. It would keep no one out. A lock only has value because only one key works. Only one particular key (or set of duplicate keys,) out of the whole range of different possibilities of possible keys, can open that given lock. Therefore, whoever holds the keys to a given lock has the UNIQUE position of being able to open that lock.

Read more how Christ defeats Satan through these keys by reading sections 4 and 5 below.



Hi John: I like your thinking. You made a great point about the lock and keys that I had not thought of and neither had anyone else who has posted anything about the keys.

HI Spina1953,

Thanks, but i can’t take credit for that idea. I got it from Fr. Jaki, that is why I referenced his book at the end of that web page.

**THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM, A Tool’s Witness to Truth,
**by Fr. Stanley Jaki, published by The Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Illinois 60609. Ph: **
**. Also see

**also by Fr. Stanley Jaki. It is published by Christendom Press, Front Royal, VA 22630.

Hi John: Ok But still a great thought and a great way in understanding about what the keys means.

With all due respect to Pope St. Damasus I, he was a relative late-comer to the party. The first use of Matthew 16:16-18 by a pope to explain papal supremacy was by Pope Stephen during the Novatianist schism.

I would say that the first extracanonical reference to papal supremacy was actually in the development of the Quartodecimanian conflict (over the proper date of celebration of Easter). The earliest pope mentioned as opining on the proper day of celebration of Easter was Telesphorus (reigned 126-127), but according to a letter of Ireneaus preserved by Eusebius, Telesphorus remained in communion with bishops who differed in practice. Pope Pius I (reigned 142-154) is supposed to be the first pope to order that Easter be celebrated on a Sunday, but given the slow speed of communications that may not have made much of a splash at the time.

According to Eusebius, it was during a visit by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, to Rome to visit Pope Anicetus (reigned 157-168) that the two bishops were unable to come to agreement. According to Eusebius, citing Irenaeus: “Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.”

The visit by Polycarp to Anicetus is suggestive, but not definitively so, of an act of obeisance.

Later, in what might be an indicator of the rise of a more assertive papacy (or simply a more assertive pope), the Quartodecimanian conflict resulted in Pope Victor (reigned 189-199) intending to excommunicate all the Quartodecimanian bishops still remaining. Eusebius recounts St. Irenaeus as having interceded with the pope to avoid. The Quartodecimanian bishops relented, following a review of the tradition of Easter celebration “which had come to them in succession from the apostles” (suggesting some degree of recalcitrance in the ecclesiogical implications of their change of practice). The graffiti in the Christian catacomb of St. Sebastian in Rome include the words, “Paul and Peter, intercede for Victor,” indicating that Victor was clearly seen as the head of the Church by late 2nd century Roman Christians.

Just wanted to add here, a homily of Pope Benedict XVI on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul which goes into the significance of Sts. Peter and Paul going to Rome. It was not simply an accident of history.


(in case the link doesn’t automatically jump to the Pope’s homily like it should, his homily is the second one).

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