(Refutation of assumptions regarding the primacy of Peter, 1-7) 1. THE REQUIREMENT OF SUBMISSION TO ROME To this point we have reviewed those orders of the church which existed in the government of the ancient church but were afterward corrupted by the times, then more and more perverted, and which now keep only their name in the papal church and are actually but masks. This we have done that the godly reader might judge from comparison what sort of church the Romanists have, for the sake of which they make us guilty of schism, since we have separated from it. But we have not discussed the capstone of the whole structure, that is, the primacy of the Roman see, from which they strive to prove that the church catholic is their exclusive possession. The reason why we have not discussed this primacy is that it originated neither in Christ’s institution, nor in the practice of the ancient church, as those former offices which, as we have shown, so arose from antiquity that they utterly degenerated through corruption of the times, indeed, took on a completely new form. Yet they try to persuade the world that the chief and almost sole bond of church unity is that we cleave to the Roman see and remain in obedience to it.F163 When, I say, they wish to take the church away from us and claim it for themselves, they lean especially upon this prop, that they keep the head upon which church unity depends and without which the church must fall apart and be shattered. For so they reason: the church is a maimed and decapitated body unless it be subject to the Roman see as its head. Therefore, when they discuss their hierarchy, they always start from this principle: the Roman pontiff (as the vicar of Christ, who is Head of the church) presides over the whole church in Christ’s place; and the church cannot otherwise be well constituted unless that see hold primacy over all others. For this reason we must also examine the nature of the


primacy, that we may overlook nothing that pertains to the right government of the church. 2. THE OFFICE OF HIGH PRIEST OF THE OLD COVENANT CANNOT BE CITED AS EVIDENCE FOR PAPAL SUPREMACY Here, then, let us state what the question is: whether it is necessary for the true form of the hierarchy (as they call it) or of the ecclesiastical order, that any one see stand above the rest in dignity and power, so as to be head of the whole body. But we subject the church to too unjust laws, if we, apart from God’s Word, impose this necessity upon it. If, therefore, our foes would prove what they claim, they must first show that this arrangement was established by Christ. On this point they refer to the high priesthood of the law, likewise the supreme tribunal which God established at Jerusalem.F164 But the answer is easy, and there are many forms of it, if one form does not satisfy them. First, there is no reason why what has been useful in one nation should be extended to the whole earth; indeed, the constitution of one nation and that of the whole earth will be far different. Because the Jews were hedged about on all sides with idolaters, in order to prevent their being distracted by the variety of religions, God put the seat of his worship at the midpoint of the earth;F165 there he appointed one high priest, to whom all should look, the better to preserve unity among them. Now when true religion was spread over the whole earth, who cannot see the utter absurdity of giving the rule of East and West to one man? It is as if someone should argue that the whole world ought to be ruled by one governor because one district has but one governor. But there is another reason, too, why that ought not to be imitated. No one is ignorant of the fact that the high priest was a type of Christ; with the priesthood transferred, the right should be transferred [<580712> Hebrews 7:12]. But to whom was it transferred? Obviously, not to the pope (as he dare shamelessly boast) when he takes the title unto himself, but to Christ, who, as he alone keeps that office without vicar or successor, consequently resigns that honor to no one else. For this priesthood consists not in teaching only but in appeasing God, which Christ by his


death has accomplished, and in that intercession which he now makes in his father’s presence. 3. JESUS’ WORD TO PETER DID NOT ESTABLISH THIS LORDSHIP OF THE CHURCH There is, then, no reason why they should bind us by this example as by a perpetual law, when we see that it was temporary only. They have nothing from the New Testament to confirm their opinion except that it was said to one man: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church” [<401618> Matthew 16:18]. Likewise: “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep” [<432115> John 21:15].F166 But that these proofs should be well founded, they must first of all show that power over all churches has been committed to him who is ordered to feed Christ’s flock, and that to bind and loose is nothing else but to rule the whole world. But as Peter had received the command from the Lord, so he exhorts all other presbyters to feed the church [<600502> 1 Peter 5:2]. We must infer from this that by those words of Christ’s nothing has been given to Peter above the rest; or that Peter equally shared with others the right that he had received. But, not to quarrel pointlessly, in another passage we have a clear explanation from Christ’s lips of what binding and loosing mean-to retain and forgive sins [<432023> John 20:23]. The manner of binding and loosing is not only shown repeatedly in the whole of Scripture, but Paul best states it when he says that the ministers of the gospel have the command to reconcile men to God and at the same time to exercise vengeance upon those who shall reject this benefit [<470518> 2 Corinthians 5:18; 10:6]. 4. PERVERSE CLAIM CONCERNING THE KEYS How shamefully they twist those passages which refer to binding and loosing (a point I have touched on slightly elsewhere)F167 I shall have to explain more fully a little later.F168 Now it behooves us to look only at what they adduce from that famous reply of Christ to Peter. He has promised him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said that whatever


he bound on earth would be bound in heaven [<401619> Matthew 16:19]. If we agree among ourselves on the word “keys” and on the manner of binding, all contention will cease at once. For the pope will willingly overlook the function enjoined upon the apostles, which, being full of toil and trouble, would deprive him of his pleasures without bringing him any gain.F169 Since heaven is opened to us by the doctrine of the gospel, the word “keys” affords an appropriate metaphor. Now men are bound and loosed in no other way than when faith reconciles some to God, while their own unbelief constrains others the more. If the pope took only this to himself, I think there would be no one either to envy him or to start a quarrel. But, because this succession, toilsome and of slight profit, does not please the pope, there now arises from it the beginning of a contention over what Christ promised Peter. I gather from the promise itself that nothing but the dignity of the office of apostle is meant, which cannot be separated from the burden of it. For if the definition that I have set forth be accepted (which it would be but shameless to reject), nothing is here given to Peter which was not also common to his colleagues. For otherwise not only would injury be done to their persons, but the very majesty of doctrine would be impaired. Loudly do they protest! But what good does it do them, I ask, to dash against this rock? For they will only prove that, as the preaching of the same gospel has been entrusted to all the apostles, so also the apostles have been furnished with a common power to bind and loose. Christ, they say, appointed Peter as prince of the whole church when he promised that the keys would be given him. But what he then promised to one, he elsewhere confers at the same time upon all the rest and, so to speak, delivers it into their hands [<401818> Matthew 18:18; <432023> John 20:23]. If the same right was granted to all that was promised to one, in what respect will Peter be superior to his colleagues? He excels, they say, in that he receives both in common and separately what is given the others only in common.F170 What if I reply with Cyprian and Augustine, that Christ did not do it to prefer one man to the others, but that he might so commend unity to the church? For so speaks Cyprian: “In the person of one man the Lord gave the keys to all, to signify the unity of all; the rest were the


same as Peter was, endowed with an equal share both of honor and of power; but the beginning arose from unity that the church of Christ may be shown to be one.”F171 Augustine says: “If the mystery of the church had not been in Peter, the Lord would not have said to him, ‘I shall give you the keys’; for if this was said to Peter alone, the church does not have them. But if the church has them, Peter, when he received the keys, was a symbol of the whole church.” And another passage: “After all had been asked, only Peter answers, ‘Thou art Christ,’ and it is said to him, ‘I shall give you the keys,’ as if he alone received the power of binding and loosing; since, being one, he said the former for all and received the latter with all, impersonating unity itself. Hence, one for all, because the unity is in all.”F172 5. HONOR, NOT POWER, ACCORDED TO PETER But we nowhere read that the statement “You are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church” [<401618> Matthew 16:18] was spoken to another. As if Christ would there say anything else about Peter than what Paul, and Peter himself, say of all Christians. For Paul makes “Christ... the chief cornerstone, in whom are built those who grow into a holy temple unto the Lord” [<490220> Ephesians 2:20-21 p., cf. Vg.]. Peter bids us be living stones, who, laid upon that chosen and precious stone [ <600205> 1 Peter 2:5-6], by this bond and juncture with our God also cleave together among ourselves [cf. <490416> Ephesians 4:16; <510219> Colossians 2:19]. He (they say) before the others, for he especially has the name. Of course, I willingly yield this honor to Peter, that he be placed among the first in the building of the church; or (if they would have this also), the first of all believers; but I shall not allow them to deduce from this that he has primacy over the others. For what sort of deduction is this? He excelled others in fervor of zeal, in doctrine, and in courage; therefore, he has power over them. As if we might not more plausibly infer that Andrew is above Peter in rank because he preceded him in time and brought him to Christ [<430140> John 1:40, 42]! But I pass over this. Let Peter, then, surpass the others; still, honor of rank is greatly different from power. We see that the apostles generally yielded this to Peter, that he should speak in the congregation and, as it were, precede the rest in discussion, exhortation,


and admonition [ at all about power.


Acts 2:14 ff.; 4:8 ff.; 15:7 ff.]; but we read nothing

6. THE ONE FOUNDATION Although we have not yet entered that dispute,F173 for the present I wish to make this point only, that they argue very ineffectively when they wish to establish upon the sole name of Peter sovereignty over the whole church. For those old follies with which they attempted at the beginning to deceive are unworthy of mention, much less of refutation: the church is founded upon Peter because it is said, “Upon this rock,” etc. Yet, they say, some of the fathers have so interpreted it. But since all Scripture cries out against it, why is their authority claimed against God? Indeed, why do we contend over the meaning of these words, as if they were obscure or ambiguous, while nothing clearer or more certain can be said? Peter, in his own and his brethren’s name, had confessed that Christ was the Son of God [<401616> Matthew 16:16]. Upon this rock Christ builds his church. For there is but one foundation, as Paul says, apart from which no other can be laid [<460311> 1 Corinthians 3:11]. And I do not here repudiate the authority of the fathers as ifF174 I would be abandoned by their testimonies if I wished to quote them to prove what I am saying. But, as I have said, I would not fieedlessly trouble my readers by contending over so clear a matter, especially since this matter was long ago treated and explained diligently enough by our proponents.F175 7. THE PLACE OF PETER AMONG THE APOSTLES ACCORDING TO THE ACCOUNT OF SCRIPTURE Nevertheless, no one can actually solve this question better than does Scripture itself, if we gather together all the passages where it teaches what office and power Peter had among the apostles, how he conducted himself, and also how he was received by them. Run over all that is extant: you will find nothing but that he was one of the Twelve, the equal of the rest, and their companion, not their master. He indeed refers to a council anything that is to be done, and advises what needs to be done. But at the same time he listens to the others, and he not only lets them express their views, but leaves the decision to them; when they have decreed, he follows and obeys [<441505> Acts 15:5-12]. When he writes to the pastors, he does not


command them from his authority, as a superior, but makes them his colleagues and gently urges them, as is customarily done among equals [<600501> 1 Peter 5:1 ff.]. When he is accused of having gone over to the Gentiles, even though the charge is undeserved, he still answers it and clears himself [<441103> Acts 11:3-18]. Bidden by his colleagues to go with John to Samaria, he does not refuse [<440814> Acts 8:14]. The apostles, by sending him, declare that they by no means count him their superior; he, in obeying and undertaking the mission enjoined upon him, admits that he is in fellowship with them, not in authority over against them. But if none of these passages existed, still the letter to the Galatians alone can easily banish all doubt from us. There for almost two chapters Paul contends solely that he is Peter’s equal in the office of apostle. Hence, he recalls that he came to Peter, not to profess subjection, but only to attest their agreement in doctrine before all; that Peter also demanded no such thing, but gave him the right hand of fellowship so that they might labor together in the Lord’s vineyard; and that no less grace was conferred upon him among the Gentiles than upon Peter among the Jews [<480118> Galatians 1:18; 2:8]. Finally, he recalls that when Peter did not act faithfully, he corrected him, and Peter obeyed his reproof [<480211> Galatians 2:11-14]. All these things reveal either that there was equality between Paul and Peter, or at least that Peter had no more power over the rest than they had over him. Now, as I have already said, Paul expressly argues that no one may put either Peter or John ahead of him in the apostolate, for they were his colleagues, not his masters. (Monarchy in the church to be accorded to Christ alone, 8-10) 8. THE CHURCH CAN HAVE NO HUMAN HEAD But, to grant them what they claim concerning Peter—that he was indeed the prince of the apostles, and excelled the rest in dignity—there is nevertheless no reason why they should make a universal rule out of a particular example and extend to perpetuity what happened once—a far different matter! One was chief among the apostles, that is, because they were few in number. If one man was over twelve men, does it follow from this that one ought to be put over a hundred thousand men? No wonder that twelve men had one to rule them all! For nature bears this, man’s


natural constitution demands it, that in any assembly, even though all are equal in power, one should be the moderator, as it were, to whom the others look. There is no meeting of the Senate without a consul, no session of judges without a praetor or prosecutor, no committee without a chairman, no association without a president. Thus there would be nothing absurd in our confessing that the apostles yielded primacy of this sort to Peter.F176 But what prevails among the few is not to be applied directly to the whole earth, over which no one person is competent to rule. On the contrary (they say), no less in the whole of nature than in its individual parts, there should be one supreme head of all. And, if it please God, they prove this from cranes and bees, which always choose one leader for themselves, not many! Indeed, I accept the examples that they bring forward, but do the bees come together from the whole world to elect one ruler? Every ruler is content with its own hive. So among cranes each flock has its own ruler. What else will they prove from this fact but that individual churches ought to have their own bishop? Then they cite us political examples; they quote that saying of Homer’s, “The rule of many is not good,” F177 and statements of secular writers in commendation of monarchy, read in the same sense. The answer is easy: monarchy is not praised in this sense either by Homeric Ulysses or by others, as if one man ought to hold sway over the whole earth; but they mean to indicate that a kingdom cannot have two kings; and power (as he says) is impatient of a consort.F178 9. CHRIST’S HEADSHIP NOT TRANSFERABLE But suppose, as the Romanists would have it, that it were good and profitable for the whole world to be embraced within one monarchy— something utterly absurd—but suppose this were so. I will still not on that account concede that the same thing should prevail in the government of the church. For it has Christ as its sole Head, under whose sway all of us cleave to one another, according to that order and that form of polity which he has laid down. They do signal injury to Christ when they would have one man set over the church universal, on the pretext that the church cannot be without a head. For Christ is the Head, “from whom the whole


body, joined and knit through every bond of mutual ministry (insofar as each member functions) achieves its growth” [<490415> Ephesians 4:15-16]. Do you see how he includes all mortals without exception in the body, but leaves the honor and name of the Head to Christ alone? Do you see how he assigns to each member a certain measure, and a definite and limited function, in order that perfection of grace as well as the supreme power of governing may remain with Christ alone? And I am aware of their usual quibble when the objection is made to them that Christ is indeed properly called the sole Head, for he alone rules by his own authority and his own name. This is no hindrance, they say, to the existence of another ministerial head under him, to be his vicegerent on earth.F179 But this quibble does not help them unless they first show that this ministry was ordained by Christ. For the apostle teaches that the whole supply is spread through the members, and that power flows from that one heavenly Head [<490416> Ephesians 4:16]. Or, if they wish it said more plainly: since Scripture attests that Christ is Head and claims this honor for him alone, it ought not to be transferred to anyone else except to one whom Christ himself has appointed his own vicar. But this is nowhere read, and can, in fact, be abundantly refuted from many passages [<490122> Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; <510118> Colossians 1:18; 2:10]. 10. UNITY IN CHRIST, NOT IN A HUMAN MONARCH Paul several times paints a living image of the church for us. No mention is made there of one head. Rather, one may infer from his description that it is foreign to Christ’s institution. By his ascension Christ took away from us his visible presence [<440109> Acts 1:9]; yet he ascended to fill all things [<490410> Ephesians 4:10]. Now, therefore, the church still has, and always will have, him present. When Paul wishes to show the way in which he manifests himself, he calls us back to the ministries which he uses. The Lord (he says) is in us all, according to the measure of grace which he has bestowed upon each member [<490407> Ephesians 4:7]. For that reason, “he appointed some to be apostles,... others pastors, others evangelists, still others teachers,” etc. [<490411> Ephesians 4:11 p.]. Why does Paul not say that Christ has set one over all to act as his vicegerent? For that the occasion especially demanded, and it ought in no way to have been omitted, if it had been true. Christ (he says) is present with us. How? By


the ministry of men, whom he has set over the governing of the church. Why not, rather, through the ministerial head, to whom he has entrusted his functions? Paul mentions unity, but in God and in faith in Christ. To men he assigns nothing but the common ministry, and a particular mode to each. Why did he, in that commendation of unity, after he had mentioned “one body, one Spirit,... one hope of calling, one God, one faith, one baptism” [ <490404> Ephesians 4:4-5 p.], not immediately also add, one supreme pontiff, to keep the church in unity?F180 For nothing more appropriate could have been said, if indeed it had been an actual fact. Let that passage be diligently pondered. No doubt Paul deeply meant to represent here the sacred and spiritual government of the church, which his successors have called “hierarchy.” He not only lays down no monarchy among the ministers but also points out that there is none. No doubt Paul meant to express the manner of connection, by which believers cleave to Christ, the Head. There he not only mentions no ministerial head, but assigns particular functions to each member [<490416> Ephesians 4:16], according to the measure of grace bestowed upon each [<490407> Ephesians 4:7]. Nor is there reason for our opponents to philosophize subtly over a comparison of heavenly and earthly hierarchies;F181 for it is not safe to be wise beyond measure concerning the former, and in establishing the latter we should not follow any other pattern than that which the Lord himself has sketched in his Word. (Admission that Peter was bishop in Rome does not establish Rome’s perpetual primacy, 11-13) 11. IF PETER HIMSELF HAD HAD SUPREMACY, ROME COULD NOT CLAIM IT Now, suppose I should concede them another point which they never will gain among men in their right minds: that the primacy of the church was so established in Peter that it should always abide in unbroken succession. Still, how will they prove that his see was established at Rome in such a way that whoever may be bishop of the city should preside over the whole world? By what right do they bind to a place this dignity which has been given without mention of place? Peter, they say, dwelt in Rome and died there. What did Christ himself do? Did he not, while dwelling in Jerusalem, exercise his bishopric, and by dying fulfill his priestly office?


The Prince of Shepherds, the Sovereign Bishop, the Head of the church, could not acquire honor for a place—could Peter, far inferior to him, do so? Are not these more-than-childish follies? Christ conferred the honor of the primacy upon Peter; Peter sat at Rome; therefore, he placed the primate’s see there. That is, by this reasoning the Israelites of old ought to have established the primate’s see in the desert, where Moses, the supreme teacher and prince of prophets, had carried out his ministry and died [<053405> Deuteronomy 34:5]. 12. ALLEGED TRANSFER OF THE PRIMACY FROM ANTIOCH Let us, nevertheless, see how delightfully they reason. Peter, they say, had supremacy among the apostles; therefore, the church in which he had his see ought to have it as a privilege.F182 But where was his first see? At Antioch, they say. Therefore the church of Antioch rightfully claims the primacy for itself. They admit that Antioch was once first but assert that Peter, emigrating from that place, transferred to Rome the honor that he had brought with him. For there is extant under the name of Pope Marcellus a letter to the presbyters of Antioch in which he speaks as follows: “Peter’s see was at first with you, but afterward, at the Lord’s command, he transferred it here. Thus the church of Antioch, which was once first, yielded to the Roman see.”F183 But what oracle revealed to that good man that the Lord so commanded? For if this case has to be decided by law, they must answer whether they want this privilege to be personal, or real, or mixed.F184 For it has to be one of these three. If they say personal, then it does not belong to the place; if real, then when it has once for all been given to a place, it is not taken away on account of either the death or the departure of a person. It remains, therefore, that they say that it is mixed; but then it will not be a simple consideration of place unless the person corresponds. Let them choose whatever they will—I will immediately infer and easily prove that Rome can in no way claim the primacy for itself. 13. RANKING OF THE OTHER PATRIARCHATES Let us assume that (as they fancy) the primacy was transferred from Antioch to Rome. Why, then, did not Antioch retain second place? For if Rome has the primacy for the reason that Peter presided there to the very


end of his life, to what city shall the second place be granted other than where he had his first see? How did it happen, then, that Alexandria took precedence over Antioch? How fitting is it that the church of a mere disciple be superior to Peter’s see? If honor is due each church according to the dignity of its founder, what shall we say also of the remaining churches? Paul names three disciples who seem to be pillars, James, Peter, and John [<480209> Galatians 2:9]; if in Peter’s honor first place is assigned to the Roman see, do not the churches of Ephesus and Jerusalem deserve second and third place, where John and James presided? Yet among the patriarchares Jerusalem of old had last place;F185 Ephesus could not even cling to the last corner. And other churches were passed over, both some founded by Paul, and some presided over by other apostles. The see of Mark, who was a mere disciple, received the honor. Let them either confess that order was preposterous, or grant us it is not a perpetual principle that to each church is due the same degree of honor as to its founder. (Peter’s presence in Rome unproved, while Paul’s is beyond doubt, 14-15) 14. ON THE SOJOURN OF PETER IN ROME However, I do not see how their account of Peter’s presiding over the church at Rome has any credibility. Surely, what is said in Eusebius—that he ruled there for twenty-five years—is easily refuted. For it is clear from the first and second chapters of Galatians that for about twenty years after the death of Christ he was at Jerusalem [ <480118> Galatians 1:18; 2:1 ff.], then came to Antioch [<480211> Galatians 2:11], where it is uncertain how long he remained. Gregory figures seven, Eusebius twenty-five years. F186 Yet the period from the death of Christ to the end of Nero’s reign (under whom they relate that he was killed) totals only thirty-seven years. For the Lord suffered under Tiberius, in the eighteenth year of his reign. If you subtract twenty years, during which, according to Paul’s testimony, Peter dwelt in Jerusalem, that will leave seventeen at the most, which must now be divided between two episcopates. If he remained for long at Antioch, he could have been bishop at Rome but for a short time. This may be demonstrated still more clearly. Paul wrote the letter to the Romans while on his way to Jerusalem [<451525> Romans 15:25], where he was seized and taken to Rome. It is therefore likely that this letter was


written four years before he came to Rome. Here there is still no mention of Peter, though this would not at all have been omitted if he had been ruling that church! And lastly, when he recites a long list of the godly to whom he sends greetings and includes in it all known to him [<451603> Romans 16:3-16], of Peter he is as yet utterly silent. And no long and subtle proof is needed here among men of sounder judgment; for the thing itself and the whole argument of the letter cry out that Peter ought not to have been passed over if he had been at Rome.F187 15. SLENDER AND INCONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE Paul was later brought to Rome as a prisoner [<442816> Acts 28:16]. Luke states that Paul was received by his brethren [<442815> Acts 28:15]. Of Peter he says nothing. From there Paul writes to many churches. Also, in some letters he writes greetings in the name of certain ones; by not one word does he indicate that Peter was then there. Is it likely, I ask, that he could have remained silent, had Peter been there? What is more, in the letter to the Philippians, where he said that he has no one who so faithfully takes care of the Lord’s work as Timothy, Paul complains that everyone seeks his own [<505920> Philippians 2:20-21]. And to the same Timothy he makes a graver complaint, that no one was with him at his first defense, but all forsook him [<550416> 2 Timothy 4:16]. Where, therefore, was Peter then? For if they say he was at Rome, with what great shame does Paul charge him, that he was a forsaker of the gospel? Indeed, he is speaking of believers, for he adds, “May God not charge it against them” [<550416> 2 Timothy 4:16, cf. KJV]. How long, then, and at what time did Peter occupy that see? Someone will say, the opinion of writers is consistent, that at least he governed the church even to his death. I shall reply, the writers themselves do not agree on who succeeded him: some make it Linus; others, Clement.F188 And they tell many absurd tales about a disputation that took place between Peter and Simon Magus.F189 And Augustine, discussing superstitions, admits that the custom at Rome of not fasting on the day that Peter was victorious over Simon Magus arose from a rashly conceived opinion. Finally, the affairs of that time are so involved in a variety of opinions that we should not believe without question everything we read. And yet, on account of this agreement of writers, I do not quarrel with the notion that


he died there; but I cannot be persuaded that he was bishop, especially for a long time. Nor do I tarry long over it, since Paul attests that Peter’s apostolate applies especially to the Jews, but his own to us Gentiles [<480207> Galatians 2:7-8]. Therefore, that the fellowship which they covenanted among themselves [<480209> Galatians 2:9] may be in force among us, indeed, that the ordination of the Holy Spirit may be held firm among us, it becomes us to pay more attention to Paul’s apostolate than to Peter’s. Indeed, the Holy Spirit so divided the responsibilities between them that he destined Peter for the Jews, Paul for us. Now, let the Romanists seek their primacy elsewhere than in God’s Word, where it finds precious little foundation! (Roman Church honored but not as unifying head, 16-17) 16. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHURCH AT ROME DURING THE EARLIEST PERIOD Now let us consider the ancient church, to make plain that our opponents no less rashly and falsely boast of its support than of the testimony of God’s Word. When, therefore, they vaunt that axiom of theirs, that the unity of the church can be maintained only if there is one supreme head on earth for all members to obey, and that the Lord accordingly gave the primacy to Peter and then by right of succession to the Roman see to reside therein even to the end, they declare that this practice has always been observed from the very beginning. But since they maliciously distort many testimonies, I wish first to say this: I do not deny that ancient writers everywhere give great honor to the church of Rome, and speak reverently of it. There are three particular reasons why this happened. 1. The opinion (which had in some manner or other become prevalent) that it was founded and established by Peter’s ministry was of very great value in obtaining favor and authority for it; therefore, in the West it was called for honor’s sake, “apostolic see.” 2. Because Rome was the capital city of the Empire, the men there were probably more excellent in doctrine, prudence, skill, and breadth of experience, than in any other place. This fact was duly taken into


account in order that the renown of the city and also the other much more excellent gifts of God might not seem to be despised. 3. Besides these, there is a third reason: when the churches of the East, Greece, and even Africa were agitated with much dissension among themselves over opinions, Rome was calmer and less troubled than they. So it came about that godly and holy bishops, deposed from their sees, often betook themselves to Rome as an asylum and haven. For as the Westerners are less sharp and quick of wit than the Asiatics and Africans,F190 they are for that reason also less enamored of novelty. The fact that the Roman Church was less troubled in those doubtful times than the others and was more tenacious of the doctrine once delivered than were all the rest added a great deal to its authority—as we shall better explain directly. For these three reasons, I say, Rome was held in no slight honor and commended by many notable testimonies of ancient writers. 17. ACCORDING TO EARLY CHURCH TEACHING, THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH PLAINLY REQUIRED NO UNIVERSAL BISHOP But when our opponents wish on this account to ascribe to Rome primacy and supreme power over other churches, they are acting very wrongly, as I have said. To make this clearer, first I shall briefly show what the ancient writers thought of this unity which they so strongly urge. Jerome, writing to Nepotianus, after recounting many examples of unity, proceeds at last to the church hierarchy. Each church has its own bishop, he tells us, its archpresbyter, its archdeacon, and every church order depends upon its rulers.F191 Here a Roman presbyter is speaking; he commends unity in church order. Why does he not mention that one head is, as it were, the bond that unites all churches together? For nothing would have better served the immediate argument. Nor can it be said that he overlooked this point out of forgetfulness, for he would have used nothing more willingly if the facts had allowed it. Therefore, he no doubt saw that the true basis of unity was what Cyprian most beautifully described in these words: “The episcopate is one, a ‘whole’ of which a part is held by each bishop. And the church is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the


sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strong trunk grounded in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although a goodly number seem outpoured from their bounty and superabundance, still at the source unity abides undivided.... So also the church, bathed in the light of the Lord, extends its rays over the whole earth: yet there is one light diffused everywhere. Nor is the unity of the body severed; it spreads its branches through the whole earth; it pours forth its overflowing streams; yet there is one head and one source,” etc. Again: “The Bride of Christ cannot be an adulteress; she knows one house; with chaste modesty she guards the sanctity of one marriage bed.” You see that he makes the universal bishopric Christ’s alone, who takes the whole church under himself. He says that the parts of this whole are held by all who discharge the bishop’s office under this Head.F192 Where is the primacy of the Roman see, if the unbroken episcopate rests in Christ’s hands alone, and each bishop holds his part of it? The aim of these citations is to inform the reader, by the way, that that principle which the Romanists take to be generally acknowledged and undoubted—of the unity of the hierarchy under an earthly head—was utterly unknown to the ancient fathers.

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