This notion of bishops extending all the way back was thought to be actual history. In fact, as Shotwell and Loomis pointed out, in the General Introduction to their 1927 work "The See of Peter":
With reference to the Petrine doctrine, however, the Catholic attitude is much more than a "pre-disposition to believe." That doctrine is the fundamental basis of the whole papal structure. It may be summed up in three main claims. They are: first, that Peter was appointed by Christ to be his chief representative and successor and the head of his Church; second, that Peter went to Rome and founded the bishopric there; third, that his successors succeeded to his prerogatives and to all the authority thereby implied. In dealing with these claims we are passing along the border line between history and dogmatic theology. The primacy of Peter and his appointment by Christ to succeed Him as head of the Church are accepted by the Catholic Church as the indubitable word of inspired Gospel, in its only possible meaning. That Peter went to Rome and founded there his See, is just as definitely what is termed in Catholic theology as a dogmatic fact. This has been defined by an eminent Catholic theologian as "historical fact so intimately connected with some great Catholic truths that it would e believed even if time and accident had destroyed all the original evidence therefore. (xxiii-xxiv, emphasis in original).So, if the history of the early papacy is disrupted, it should, by all rights, disrupt the dogmatic definition of the papacy. And this is what we have come upon in our era: the most widely accepted historical accounts of the period -- which are now almost universally accepted among legitimate historians of the era -- is that Peter did not "found a bishopric." There was no "bishopric" in that city for 100 years after his death. The history completely contradicts what the "dogmatic fact" has held for more than 1000 years. Now, according to Eamon Duffy, among others, what was thought to be historical accounts were actually fictitious accounts that became passed along as history:
These stories were to be accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early Church -- Origen, Ambrose, Augustine. But they are pious romance, not history, and the fact is that we have no reliable accounts either of Peter's later life or the manner or place of his death. Neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church at Rome, for there were Christians in the city before either of the Apostles set foot there. Nor can we assume, as Irenaeus did, that the Apostles established there a succession of bishops to carry on their work in the city, for all the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the deaths of the Apostles. In fact, wherever we turn, the solid outlines of the Petrine succession at Rome seem to blur and dissolve. (Duffy, pg 2.)Briefly, on Peter and "the tradition," Reymond talks about the further lack of information about Peter in Scripture:
The Peter died in Rome, as ancient tradition has it, is a distinct possibility (see 1 Peter 5:13, where "Babylon" has been rather uniformly understood by commentators as a metaphor for Rome), but that he ever actually pastored the church there is surely a fiction, seven some scholars in the Roman communion will acknowledge. Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius (not Eusebius's Greek copy) records that Peter ministered in Rome for twenty-five years, but if Philip Schaff (as well as many other church historians) is to believed, this is "a colossal chronological mistake." Paul write his letter to the church in Rome in early A.D. 57, but he did not address the letter to Peter or refer to him as its pastor. And in the last chapter he extended greetings to twenty-eight friends in Rome but made no mention of Peter, which would have been a major oversight, indeed, an affront, if in fact Peter was "ruling" the Roman church at that time. Then later when Paul was himself in Rome, from which city he wrote both his four prison letters during his first imprisonment in A.D. 60-62 when he "was welcoming all who came to him" (Acts 28:30), and his last pastoral letter during his second imprisonment around A.D. 64, in which letters he extend greetings to his letters' recipients from ten specific people in Rome, again he made no mention of Peter being there. Here is a period of time spanning around seven years (a.d. 57-64) during which time Paul related himself to the Roman church both as correspondent and as resident, but he said not a word to suggest that Peter was in Rome. (Reymond, "Systematic Theology," pg 814)
Schaff, who is cited by Reymond, explicates a little bit further. "The time of Peter's arrival in Rome, and the length of his residence there, cannot possibly ascertained. The above mentioned silence of the Acts and of Paul's Epistles allows him only a short period of labor there, after 63. The Roman tradition of a twenty or twenty-five years' episcopate of Peter in Rome is unquestionably a colossal chronological mistake."
In a footnote, Schaff says, Some Catholics, following the historian Alzog and others, "try to reconcile the tradition with the silence of the Scripture by assuming two visits of Peter to Rome with a great interval." (fn1, pg 252). The operative verse here, Acts 12:17, says only, 'He departed, and went into another place." This gives no details at all, and to posit that Peter took a trip to Rome at this time is irrational, given that just two chapters later (Acts 15) Peter is present back in Jerusalem again for a council.
Schaff continues his work in Vol 1 with two sections: The Peter of History, and the Peter of Fiction.
I won't get into the "history" at this point, other than to say, all that we know about Peter, we know about him from the pages in Scripture, as outlined by Reymond. The summary statement from Duffy, of any further details about Peter's life being "pious romance" is true.
D.W. O'Connor, in his 1968 work "Peter in Rome," looks at the absence of a Petrine presence in the second half of Acts and largely Paul's letters, and gives a reason for why all of this "pious romance" developed:
It has been suggested that Acts is a "selective" history, a fragmentary history, which simply did not include the facts pertaining to the last days and martyrdom of Peter and Paul. This is not acceptable, for such information would have been of great moment in the early church, which a century and a half before the rise of the cult of martyrs, only thirty-two years after the death of the apostles, remembered their martyrdom vividly (1 Clement 5). [But] the Early Church was so eager for details that within another century it created the full accounts which are found in the apocryphal Acts. (O'Connor, 11).In my next post, I'll provide a catalog of some of these.