The Chair of St. Peter at Antioch
THAT Saint Peter, before he went to Rome, founded the see of Antioch is attested by Eusebius, 1 Origen, 2 St. Jerom, 3 St. Innocent, 4 Pope Gelasius, in his Roman Council, 5 St. Chrysostom and others. It was just that the prince of the apostles should take this city under his particular care and inspection, which was then the capital of the East, and in which the faith took so early and so deep root as to give birth in it to the name of Christians. St. Chrysostom says, that St. Peter made there a long stay: St. Gregory the Great, 6 that he was seven years bishop of Antioch; not that he resided there all that time, but only that he had a particular care over that church. If he sat twenty-five years at Rome, the date of his establishing his chair at Antioch must be within three years after our Saviour’s ascension; for in that supposition he must have gone to Rome in the second year of Claudius. 1
The festival of St. Peter’s chair in general, Natale Petri de Cathedrâ, is marked on this day in the most ancient calendar extant, made in the time of Pope Liberius, about the year 354. 7 It also occurs in Gregory’s sacramentary, and in all the martyrologies. It was kept in France in the sixth century, as appears from the council of Tours, 8 and from Le Conte. 9 2
In the first ages it was customary, especially in the East, for every Christian to keep the anniversary of his baptism, on which he renewed his baptismal vows, and gave thanks to God for his heavenly adoption: this they called their spiritual birth-day. The bishops in like manner kept the anniversary of their own consecration, as appears from four sermons of St. Leo on the anniversary of his accession or assumption to the pontifical dignity; and this was frequently continued by the people after their decease, out of respect to their memory. St. Leo says, we ought to celebrate the chair of St. Peter with no less joy than the day of his martyrdom; for as in this he was exalted to a throne of glory in heaven, so by the former he was installed head of the church on earth. 10 3
On this festival we are especially bound to adore and thank the divine goodness for the establishment and propagation of his church, and earnestly to pray that in his mercy he may preserve the same, and dilate its pale, that his name may be glorified by all nations, and by all hearts, to the boundaries of the earth, for his divine honour and the salvation of souls, framed to his divine image, and the price of his adorable blood. The church of Christ is his spiritual kingdom: he is not only the architect and founder; but continues to govern it, and by his spirit, to animate its members to the end of the world as its invisible head: though he has left in St. Peter and his successors a vicar, or lieutenant, as a visible head, with an established hierarchy for its exterior government. If we love him and desire his honour, if we love men on so many titles linked with us, can we cease weeping and praying, that by his sweet omnipotent grace he may subdue all the enemies of his church, converting to it all infidels and apostates? In its very bosom sinners fight against him. Though these continue his members by faith, they are dead members, because he lives not in them by his grace and charity, reigns not in their hearts, animates them not with his spirit. He will indeed always live by grace and sanctity in many members of his mystical body. Let us pray that by the destruction of the tyranny of sin all souls may subject themselves to the reign of his holy love. Good Jesus! for your mercy’s sake, hear me in this above all other petitions: never suffer me to be separated from you by forfeiting your holy love: may I remain always rooted and grounded in your charity, as is the will of your Father. Eph. iii. 4
Note 1. Chron. and Hist. l. 3. c. 30.
Note 2. Hom. 6. in Luc.
Note 3. In Catal. c. 1.
Note 4. Ep. 18. t. 2. Conc. p. 1269.
Note 5. Conc. t. 4. p. 1262.
Note 6. Ep. 40. l. 7. t. 2. p. 888. Ed. Ben.
Note 7. Some have imagined that the feast of the Chair of St. Peter was not known, at least in Africa, in the fifth century, because it occurs not in the ancient calendar of Carthage. But how should the eighth day before the calends of March now appear in it, since the part is lost from the fourteenth before the calends of March to the eleventh before the calends of May? Hence St. Pontius, deacon, and martyr, on the eighth before the ides of March; St. Donatus, and some other African martyrs, are not there found. At least it is certain that it was kept at Rome long before that time. Saint Leo preached a sermon on St. Peter’s chair. (Serm. 100. t. 1. p. 285. ed. Rom.) Quesnel denied it to be genuine in his first edition; but in the second at Lyons, in 1700, he corrected this mistake, and proved this sermon to be St. Leo’s; which is more fully demonstrated by Cacciari in his late Roman edition of St. Leo’s works, t. 1. p. 285.
Note 8. Can. 22.
Note 9. Ad an. 566.
Note 10. Ad an. 566.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume II: February.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.