In my previous post I addressed question from a reader whether Peter was really the first bishop in Rome (that is, the first Pope). I guess I could have just answered the question with one word: no. But it took a post to explain. Now I want to move to the obvious corollary. If not Peter, then who??
The ancient traditions about the leadership of the church of Rome is a bit confused. According to the second-century Irenaeus, the first leader known by name (after the apostles) was a man named Linus, who was appointed to the office by Peter and Paul (Against Heresies 3, 3, 3). In one place the father of church history, Eusebius, appears to agree with this, to some extent, when he says that “the first to be called bishop after the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul was Linus” (Church History, 3, 2); but here Linus is appointed not by Peter, but by someone else, after Peter’s death. And to confuse things even further, just a few paragraphs later Eusebius phrases the matter differently, saying that “Linus … was the first after Peter to be appointed Bishop of Rome. Clement again, who became the third Bishop of Rome….” This makes it appear that Peter was the first bishop, Linus the second, and Clement the third. And the tradition becomes yet more confused when we consider the writings of Tertullian from the early third century, who seems to indicate that Clement was not the third bishop of Rome, but the first – appointed by Peter himself (Prescription of the Heretics 32).
How is one to resolve this confusion? It is worth pointing out that
This is a big issue, not just for those connected with the Catholic tradition (which traces the popes back to Peter), but for anyone interested in the history of early Christianity. Want to learn more? Join the blog! It’s easy, and cheap, and every penny of your small fee goes to charity! Click here for membership options