COGaIC on Peter’s Burial

Peter’s Alleged Tomb (Vatican, June 2009)


Was Peter buried in Rome?  Here is some of what COGaIC’s Peter Nathan reported in his two-part series:

The primacy of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church, based on the apostle Peter founding the church in the city and later being martyred and buried there, has certainly been challenged since medieval times.

Back then, doubts may first have been expressed by the Waldensians, a sect out of conformity with the prevailing Roman orthodoxy. In their view, “the silence of the Bible was quite decisive,” according to Oscar Cullmann in Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (1953, 1962)…

Unfortunately there is no way of proving whether either sarcophagus or ossuary contains the true remains of Peter. It may therefore be more fruitful to leave archaeology aside and focus on the historical literature that is available to everyone to consider.

This is the approach taken in one of the major contributions to the study of this question. Cullmann, in Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, gave the literary material his primary attention in seeking a conclusion to the matter. Scholars of recent date have reinforced that approach. Summarizing his presentation at a 2001 conference in Rome of the European Association for Biblical Studies, Jürgen Zangenberg noted: “Ever since the excavations under St Peter’s Cathedral started in the 1940s and culminated in the official announcement of Pope Pius XII in 1953 that the true remains of St Peter had been found, many scholars have remained skeptical about the significance of the discoveries.” He went on to remark that “even the strongest proponents of the authenticity of the discovery cannot deny that little if anything about the earliest graves shows any clear Christian character. The first and second century CE graves very much resemble contemporaneous simple interments of common people from the neighbouring quarters of Rome.” Further, Roman Christians showed no interest in the site until “around 160 CE,” when they constructed “a simple monument that consisted of a niche and a courtyard (the Tropaion Gaii).”

Zangenberg stressed, however, that this monument could not have been intended to mark the apostle’s grave, “since memory of . . . Peter’s original burial place was lost by the time the Tropaion was erected. The existence of the Tropaion did not result in the development of a Christian burial site, but was integrated into a middle-class non-Christian burial street.” It wasn’t until Constantine’s time, he said, that “the site was firmly and finally taken over by Christians, thereby obliterating all earlier traces of burial activity apart from the immediate space around the Tropaion.” (Nathan P.  Was Peter Ever in Rome? Vision, Summer 2008).

I would like to point out here that the person that Pope Pius XII primarily relied on to make that declaration, Antonio Ferrua, later declared that he was not convinced it was Peter:

Antonio Ferrua …was the Jesuit archaeologist responsible for uncovering what is believed to be the tomb of St Peter in the grottoes under St Peter’s Basilica in Rome…Ferrua’s discovery came, however, quite by chance. In 1939 Pope Pius XI died and plans were made to bury him beside Pius X in the crypt below the basilica. But when workmen began to dig under St Peter’s they came upon the floor of Constantine’s original basilica, beneath which was a necropolis, a street of Roman tombs dating from the 2nd century AD…Under the supervision of Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, the Administrator of St Peter’s, the Vatican appointed four archaeologists, including Ferrua, to investigate the tombs…Ferrua’s discovery was shrouded in controversy; in 1953, after the death of Monsignor Kaas, it was revealed by a workman that he had discovered some other bones which Kaas had ordered to be removed from the repository and stored at the Vatican. When these were later identified as the remains of an elderly man, it was concluded that these were the bones of the saint. “The relics of St Peter,” announced Pope Paul VI on June 26 1968, “have been identified in a manner which we believe convincing”; the following day, after a ceremony in front of the aedicula, the remains were restored to the repository.

Ferrua was more circumspect. Aware of the scepticism that surrounded even the analysis of the Greek fragment – which others had read as Petros endei or “Peter is not here” – he recently told the Italian Catholic newspaper L’Avvenire that he was “not convinced” that the saint’s bones had been found…A man of deep faith, Ferrua was a rigorous scholar, much admired for his refusal to allow his beliefs to compromise his work (The Rev Antonio Ferrua. Telegraph, London – May 29, 2003 viewed 07/20/09).

Thus, the one credited for finding Peter’s body was unconvinced by the evidence he had investigated.

Furthermore, according to the Liber Pontificalis (the Book of Popes) it was Roman bishop Cornelius who supposedly moved the body of Peter to its present location (nearly two centuries after Peter died). Here is one written account:

XXII Cornelius (Pope 251-253)…He during his pontificate at the request of a certain matron Lucina, took up the bodies of the apostles, blessed Peter and Paul up out of the catacombs by night; first the body of blessed Paul was received by the blessed Lucina] and laid in her own garden on the Via Ostiensis, near the place where he was beheaded; the body of the blessed Peter was received by the blessed Cornelius, the bishop, and laid near to the place where he was crucified, among the bodies of the holy bishops, in the shrine of Apollo, on the Mons Aureus, in the Batican, by the palace of Nero, on June 29. (Translated by Louise Ropes Loomis. The Book of the Popes (Liber Pontificalis. Originally published by Columbia University Press, NY 1916. 2006 edition by Evolution Publishing, Merchantville (NJ), pp. 25-26).

Hence, an early  Catholic writing (circa sixth century) attempting to demonstrate that Rome had a series of early bishops/popes states that Peter was NOT originally buried in Rome.  There would be no point in moving Peter’s body if people actually had believed that the Tropaion Gaii marked the spot.

It should be noted that there is also the view that Peter died in Judea and was interred in the Mount of Olives—an ossuary box bearing the inscription “Shimon Bar Jonah” has been found and some believe it may be referring to the Simon Bar-Jonah (Fingegan J. The Archaeology of the New Testament. Princeton: Princeton University Press, reprt 1979, pp. 359-375) that became the Apostle Peter as per Matthew 16:17—and although that is inconclusive, it is probably stronger contemporary  “evidence” than Rome seems to have as Peter’s original burial site.

COGaIC’s Peter Nathan also reported:

Explicit reports of Peter having been in Rome began about a hundred years after his death. In the 190s Irenaeus, a bishop who spent time in Rome before becoming overseer of the church in Gaul, wrote a treatise commonly known as Against All Heresies in which he referred to Peter’s presence in the imperial capital…

It is important to remember that Irenaeus was writing as the second century came to an end. We have no earlier explicit statement from Rome itself of Peter’s presence or his burial there. Justin Martyr, who wrote from Rome some 40 to 50 years before Irenaeus, had made no claim of Peter having been there. Irenaeus appears to be the first of the Catholic church fathers to provide an unequivocal statement to that effect.

Of course, it is unlikely that Irenaeus simply invented the story. In fact, just prior to the time of his writing, a tomb in Rome had suddenly been declared that of Peter. Irenaeus’s references to Peter were potentially influenced by that declaration. Actually, it appears that two tombs were identified as Peter’s by two different groups, which itself developed into a controversy in the Roman capital until Pope Damasus (366–384 C.E.) established a preference for one of them.

Theologian Oscar Cullmann, who provides the most recent definitive and objective study of the apostle’s supposed martyrdom in Rome, states that “prior to the second half of the second century no document asserts explicitly the stay and martyrdom of Peter in Rome” (Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, emphasis added). (Nathan P.  The Birth of a Legend. Vision, Summer 2009).

I personally do not know where Peter died.  But it is believed by most Catholic scholars that the Apostle John lived for 30-35 years after Apostle Peter did.

But whether or not Peter was buried in Rome, I believe that any possible apostolic succession would have gone from the Apostle Peter to the Apostle John.

And John was believed to have been in Ephesus at the time of Peter’s death.

Hence, I believe that those interested in learning what happened to the original faithful church should focus on the area of Ephesus and the rest of Asia Minor in the late first century and the entire second century as even Catholic scholars teach that the apostles appointed Polycarp of Smyrna to lead the churches in that region.

Those interested in learning more about Peter, John, Asia Minor, and early church history, should consider studying the following documented articles:

The Apostle Peter He was an original apostle and early Christian leader. Where was Peter buried?
Was Peter the Rock Who Alone Received the Keys of the Kingdom?
How should Matthew 16:18-19 be understood?
The Apostle John He was an original apostle, early Christian leader, and the last of the original apostles to die.
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
The Ephesus Church Era was predominant from 31 A.D. to circa 135 A.D. The Church of James, Peter, Paul, and John, etc.
Joyce’s Photos of Ephesus Both the Apostles Paul and John wrote to the church at Ephesus. The Apostle John, with possibly Mary (Jesus’ mother), moved to Ephesus. The Christian leader Polycrates lived in Ephesus.
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view?  Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches?  Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter Polycarp was the successor of the Apostle John and a major leader in Asia Minor. Do you know much about what he taught?
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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