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The transformation of the city of Rome from head of the Roman Empire to head of the Christian Church

The transformation of the city of Rome from head of the Roman Empire to head of the Christian Church

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jesse Harrington. Originally submitted for HI2031 Ireland and Rome: History, Culture and Contact at University College Cork, with lecturer Damian Bracken in the category of Historical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jesse Harrington. Originally submitted for HI2031 Ireland and Rome: History, Culture and Contact at University College Cork, with lecturer Damian Bracken in the category of Historical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
UAI Submission: History
Title
: The transformation of the city of Rome from head of the Roman Empire to head of theChristian Church
Question set
: Discuss the transformation of Rome from head of the empire to head of the Church
Abstract
:This essay evaluates the conceptual transformation of the city of Rome as an imperial capital to headof the Christian Church in the course of Late Antiquity, interpreting key legal, administrative andtheological developments. The employment of Roman juristic tradition in the formulation of thePetrine primacy, and the reconciliation of rival Christian and Roman ideological claims touniversalism, are considered in depth. The emergence of the city in its new role is assessed in thecontext of patristic attitudes to the city and its relationship with rival administrative and ecclesiasticalcentres of power within the empire.
Keywords
:
 Rome, imperial city Papal primacy Early Church history Late Antiquity Patristic theology
Essay main body text
 
The transformation of the city of Rome from head of the empire to head of the Church represented notmerely a simple conversion of the city to Christianity, nor a conscious and clear-cut establishing of auniversal hierarchy centred on Rome, nor for that matter a displacement of Roman with Christianideals. The development of Rome as head of the Church was much more organic and accidental,more complex and undertaken with constant reference to rival centres of ecclesiastical power andauthority within the Roman Empire. This discussion of that transformation shall examine three areas.Firstly, we shall discuss some of the early development and juristic justification of the papacy,centring on the Leonine formulation which came to form the administrative basis by which Romeexercised her authority as head of the Church. Secondly, these developments will be placed in the proper context of Rome’s relationship with two other imperial cities: Constantinople to the east andMilan to the north. Third, and finally, we shall examine the manner in which the Roman Churchresponded to, subverted and integrated the ideals and language of Roman universalism and empire. Inso doing, this discussion comprises a primarily administrative and intellectual history, and necessarilyneglects other important areas such as the transformation of the topography of empire in the city’sreligious landscape which, though relevant, must be excluded for space and unity of theme.With regard to the development of the early papacy, modern scholars and ancient authors alikerecognise Peter as leader of the Apostles, “as the privileged recipient of a special commission, basedon the confession of his faith and trust in Christ”.
1
This theme is most pronounced in Matthew 16:18-19, in the celebrated
Tu es Petrus
passage, in which Jesus marks out Peter as the head of the nascentChurch: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of hellshall not prevail against it.” The theme of Petrine authority is evident in the Epistles of Peter, andunderscored by his prominence in the Gospels and Acts written after his death, which Klaus Shatzargues represents the “abiding interest in the person and function of Peter” beyond mere historicalinterest, remaining for the Church an especially important and reliable guardian of Christian faith andtradition.
2
However, Peter’s privileged position as head of the Apostles did not automatically confer similar  privileges upon the Bishop of Rome, nor did his position confer Rome as head of the Church.Problematically, there was no single Roman institution or office associated with Peter in the yearsafter his death, nor does there appear to have been any notion of an “enduring office beyond Peter’slifetime”.
3
Indeed, the very idea of an episcopal office seems to have been a rather later developmentin Rome compared to other urban centres, as evidenced by Ignatius of Antioch’s second-century letter 
1
Duffy, Eamon.
Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes
(Yale, 1997), p 4
2
Shatz, Klaus.
 Papal Primacy from its Origins to the Present 
(Minnesota, 1990), p 1; Duffy,
Saints & Sinners
, pp. 4-5
3
Shatz,
 Papal Primacy
, pp. 1-2
 
to the Romans.
4
Rather, the church in Rome was governed by a loose pattern of Christian authorityaround presbyters, a pattern carried on from the first generation of believers, while any details of thelife of the presbyter Clement, including his revisionist elevation to an anachronistic papacy, were the product of later legend.
5
Even after the development of a Roman episcopacy, while Peter’s martyrdom and burial in Romeconferred an honour on the city, they did not confer upon it the automatic power of being head of theChurch. Peter’s presence, death and tomb established no juristic continuity of powers, nor for thatmatter did occupying the same chair as Peter: the
cathedra Petri
was after all the symbol, not the justification of Petrine powers.
6
As Walter Ullman stresses, the precise link between Peter’s powersand the Pope’s powers needed to be established.
7
 Juristic solutions were hinted at in the papalwritings of the 4
th
century – with terms such as
haeres
,
 successor 
, etc. – but these did not go beyondfleeting assertions until the pontificate of Leo the Great.
8
 Leo’s solution consisted of his conceptionof the pope, succinctly and conclusively articulated, as the
indignus haeres
of St. Peter, expressing thesuccession of the pope in exclusively juristic terms derived from Roman law. Ullman outlines thesignificance of the
haeres
under Roman law:“In brief there is, so far as the law is concerned, juristic identity between heir and deceased – from the legal point of view the death of the latter merely entailed change of the physical person, but not change of the rights and duties which are simply transferred to a differentindividual.”
9
The pope was not merely an
haeres
, but an
indignus haeres
: in other words, he fulfils the function of his office as heir of Peter, in spite of being unworthy of his personal attributes. In so doing, Leo placed the office of the papacy on a legal footing inheriting the powers of St. Peter, while drawing theuseful distinction between the person of the pope (
indignus
) and the functions of his office (
haeres
):
“...that in my humble person [Peter] may be recognized and honoured, in whom abides thecare of all the shepherds, together with the charge of the sheep commended to him, and whosedignity is not abated even in so unworthy an heir (
in indigno haerede
)”
4
Duffy,
Saints & Sinners
, p 7
5
Ibid, p 7
6
Ullman, Walter. “Leo and the Theme of Papal Supremacy” in ,
 Journal of Theological Studies
11 (1960), pp.26-27
7
Ibid, p 26
8
Ibid, p 33
9
Ibid p 34
10
Ibid, p 35
11
Leo, Sermon 3. Cited in Ullman, “Leo and the Theme of Papal Supremacy”, p 35

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