The Origin of the Churches in Rome

Roman Catholic theologians often assert that Peter founded the church in Rome, or that he at least had a very important part to play, becoming its first pope. Protestants have challenged this assertion vigorously. If Peter was involved in the founding of Rome, would he not have been mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans? Paul does speak of many important leaders and members of the churches in Rome in chapter 16 of Romans. John Bugay does a great job summarizing the evidence, leaning on the scholarship of Peter Lampe. I encourage everyone to read that post.



  1. steve hays said,

    August 7, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    I’d add that some scholars, including Ray Brown, think the Letter of Hebrews was addressed to a house-church in Rome. Assuming, ad arguendo, that the monarchal papacy was in place at that time, why didn’t the author salute the current pope? For that matter, why didn’t he refer this particular crisis to the current pope to deal with directly rather than taking it upon himself to write a pastoral letter? Hebrews doesn’t fit the traditional Catholic version of 1C Roman history.

  2. johnbugay said,

    August 9, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Lane — I wanted to thank you for calling attention to this. As Steve Hays has noted elsewhere, Lampe has something close to a comprehensive command of the primary sources from that era — he has scoured not only the literature, but the cemetaries and inscriptions, the other archaeological data, and even the public records from that era, to create what is arguably the most complete reconstruction of the Roman church in the first two centuries. The Cambridge (and Catholic) historian Eamon Duffy has said that any studies of this material must now begin with Lampe’s work.

    I know that many Catholics frequent this site as well. I’ve put together a number of resources that can help Reformed believers understand what’s going on whenever they’re approached by aggressive Catholic apologists. Here are a few:

    The church as “pillar and ground of truth”/

    The Catholic Historical Method/

    Recent historical studies on the earliest papacy/

    If anyone has any specific questions they’d like to discuss, I’m happy to do that as well.

  3. johnbugay said,

    August 11, 2010 at 7:20 am

    I’ve added a new post to the original for those who are interested in Lampe’s conclusion, as it compares with the pronouncements of Vatican I on the “successors of Peter”:

    “This Bridge Should Be Illuminated”

  4. Alan said,

    October 2, 2010 at 12:54 am

    “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.”
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:1:1 (c. A.D. 180).

    “Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him.”
    Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement, 5 (c. A.D. 96).

    “I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you.”
    Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, 4 (c. A.D. 110).

    ‘You have thus by such an admonition bound together the plantings of Peter and Paul at Rome and Corinth.”
    Dionysius of Corinth, Epistle to Pope Soter, fragment in Eusebius’ Church History, II:25 (c. A.D. 178).

    1 Peter 5:13 – Some argue against the Papacy by trying to prove Peter was never in Rome. First, this argument is irrelevant to whether Jesus instituted the Papacy. Secondly, this verse demonstrates that Peter was in fact in Rome. Peter writes from “Babylon” which was a code name for Rome during these days of persecution. See, for example, Rev. 14:8, 16:19, 17:5, 18:2,10,21, which show that “Babylon” meant Rome. Rome was the “great city” of the New Testament period. Because Rome during this age was considered the center of the world, the Lord wanted His Church to be established in Rome.

  5. John Bugay said,

    October 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

    Alan — the historical value of your first quote is severely limited — Paul did not “lay the foundations” of the church at Rome. His statement that Paul did found the church at Rome brings into question the historicity of that whole passage.

    What are you trying to say with Clement? Clement had much more to say about Paul. Thus Paul had much more claim to leadership of the Roman church, right?

    Ignatius’s quote is a clear denial of “apostolic succession.”

    Dionysius of Corinth’s quote is also severely damaged as a piece of factual history, in that he also claims that Peter founded Corinth, which didn’t happen.

    I don’t think there’s too much of a question whether or not Peter was in Rome. Rather, his role there is significantly different from what you think it was. He was there as part of his missionary travels. He did not arrive there as the leader of “the whole church.” That role had been handed off, rather permanently, to James. (See Oscar Cullmann’s discussion of that issue.)

  6. Alan said,

    October 2, 2010 at 10:17 am

    What you have posted as the proper way to understand those extracts is truly absurd… even for one who disagrees with them. Sadly, I cant even take what you have written seriously.

  7. Alan said,

    October 2, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Rom. 15:20 – Paul says he doesn’t want to build on “another man’s foundation” referring to Peter, who built the Church in Rome.

    “As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out.” Clement of Alexandria, fragment in Eusebius Church History, VI:14,6 (A.D. 190)

    “Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the church should be built,’ who also obtained ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven…’”
    Tertullian, On the Prescription Against the Heretics, 22 (c. A.D. 200).

    “And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail…”
    Origen, On John, 5 (A.D. 232).

    “It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day. It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid: ‘But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.'”
    Gaius, fragment in Eusebius’ Church History, 2:25 (A.D. 198).

    “…Peter, that strongest and greatest of all the apostles, and the one who on account of his virtue was the speaker for all the others…”
    Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2:14 (A.D. 325).

    “And Peter,on whom the Church of Christ is built, ‘against which the gates of hell shall not prevail’”
    Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6:25 (A.D. 325).

  8. Alan said,

    October 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

    “The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth….If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.”
    Pope Clement of Rome [regn. c A.D.91-101], 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 1,59:1 (c. A.D. 96).

    Pope St. Clement was Bishop of Rome who was given holy orders by St. Peter himself. The only way Pope St Clement could demonstrate such authority over the whole Church was because he became the successor of St Peter in Rome.

    “Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who farmed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love…”
    Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, Prologue (A.D. 110).

    Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate…”
    Pope Victor I [regn. A.D. 189-198], in Eusebius EH, 24:9 (A.D. 192).

  9. Sean said,

    October 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

    John Bugay does a great job summarizing the evidence, leaning on the scholarship of Peter Lampe.

    Yes, this the same Peter Lampe who concludes that the author of 2nd Timothy is not Paul, among other conclusions that every one of you guys would reject.

    Further, the thesis that Bugay is running around and citing is a minor focus of Lampe’s work and furthermore Lampe’s argument about this in particular is based on his deductions from silence.

    Here is a thread where we asked people who lean on Lampe about the evidence that Lampe provides to prove his thesis. You’ll note that no evidence was given.

    Here is an review of Peter Lampe’s notorious Chapter 41 – the several paragraphs upon which John relies so heavily upon.

    Here and here are further write ups about Peter Lampe in specific reply to John Bugay.

  10. October 10, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    You’re a little late to the game, Sean, both in terms of this thread and the links you’ve provided. It’s not as if this whole issue of alleged inconsistency hasn’t already been addressed by a variety of people already. Here are two examples:

    Here is a thread where we asked people who lean on Lampe about the evidence that Lampe provides to prove his thesis. You’ll note that no evidence was given.

    It’s a thread at Called to Communion. I wouldn’t want to participate either (and, of course, comments were closed after a certain point).

    But a different evaluation of the events can be found in the comments on John Bugay’s thread discussing that discussion:

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