Thursday, July 15, 2010

Did Eusebius Say Peter was Bishop of Rome for 25 Years?

This is a follow up from my previous entry in which I noted Lorraine Boettner states the first (almost) helpful reference to Peter's twenty-five year episcopate as Bishop of Rome was found in Eusebius. Quoting William Cave, Boettner states:

"It cannot be denied that in St. Jerome's translation [of Eusebius] it is expressly said that he (Peter) continued twenty-five years as bishop in that city: but then it is as evident that this was his own addition, who probably set things down as the report went in his time, no such thing being found in the Greek copy of Eusebius." [Boettner, Roman Catholicism, p. 118]

One assumes the work being referred to is The Church History of Eusebius. In fact, Roman Catholic apologist Karl Keating in chastising Lorraine Boettner made this very error on page 30 of Catholicism and Fundamentalism. Rather, what is being referred to is The Chronicle. Jerome also translated The Chronicle of Eusebius in which it says, "Peter the Apostle founded the Church at Antioch, and there securing his (episcopal) throne, he sat (reigning as bishop) for 25 years." What Jerome translated was the Chronological Tables, a section of The Chronicle, but often the two names are used inter-changeably.

There are two ancient translations of The Chronicle: Jerome's Latin translation of The Chronicle and an Armenian translation of The Chronicle. This pro-Roman Catholic text admits it is indeed true that the earliest Greek manuscript of The Chronicle do not include the text that Peter was Bishop of Rome for twenty-five years. The text though points out that the early Armenian version (Fifth Century) of Eusebius states, "The Apostle Peter, having first founded the Church at Antioch, goes to the city of the Romans, and there preaches the Gospel, and remains Bishop of the Church there twenty years."

The obvious difference is this Armenian version says it was only twenty years, not twenty-five. This link (and this link) show the differences between Jerome and the Armenian text (the Armenian differences are noted in green). It's not just the twenty years sentence, there are a variety of differences in almost every sentence. I'm not certain this Armenian text is really from a Fifth Century manuscript (based on information from this link).

Some scholars think the "twenty years" is a copyist error. Some maintain Jerome didn't doctor his translation or insert anything. Others are more skeptical, noting there are a variety of time periods in which Peter is purported to have stayed in Rome. the early church fathers are far from unanimous on Peter's twenty-five year stay in Rome:

We read in the Chronicle of Eusebius, at the year 43, that Peter, after founding the Church of Antioch, was sent to Rome, where he preached the Gospel for twenty-five years, and was Bishop of that city. But this part of the Chronicle does not exist in the Greek, nor in the Armenian, and it is supposed to have been one of the additions made by Jerome. Eusebius does not say the same in any other part of his writings, though he mentions St. Peter's going to Rome in the reign of Claudius: but Jerome tells us that he came in the second year of this emperor, and held the See twenty-five years. On the other hand, Origen, who is quoted by Eusebius himself, says that Peter went to Rome towards the end of his life: and Lactantius places it in the reign of Nero, and adds that he suffered martyrdom not long after. Thus the testimony of the Fathers is at least divided, if it does not expressly disprove his long residence in Rome. Eusebius, indeed, says in his history, as observed already, that Peter went to Rome in the reign of Claudius: but this very passage, if read with attention, seems to imply that he did not stay there long. The Acts of the Apostles also make it impossible that he should have resided there during the eighteen first years after the Resurrection, whereas the second year of Claudius (which is the time mentioned by Jerome for his going to Rome)ffalls in with the ninth year after the Resurrection, or A. D. 42. The history contained in the Acts may perhaps allow him to have gone to Rome some time in the reign of Claudius, but his visit must have been a short one: if we follow Eusebius, it must have been before the events recorded in the 18th chapter of the Acts [source].

The Biblical evidence doesn't help prove Peter's twenty-five years in Rome either.

As far as Lorraine Boettner is concerned, it's possible he and Cave were right that the "twenty-five years" comment wasn't in the original Greek, as various current editions place the sentence in a footnote. It's also possible the Armenian version proves something like it may have been part of the original. If Boettner is guilty of anything on this point, it's not mentioning the argumentation surrounding the comparison of the Armenian version to the extant Greek evidence. One thing he's not guilty of though is pointing out that the earliest reference found in Eusebius about Peter's twenty-five years in Rome isn't a solid historical fact.

1 comment:

John Bugay said...

According to O'Connor, "Peter in Rome," "The expressions of confidence concerning the length of the episcopacy of Peter, like those concerning the exclusive episcopacy of Peter itself, are phenomena of the third century. It is not valid to dismiss the claim as a side manifestation of the development of the papal claims. More probably it evolved out of the desire for further details on the part of the early Roman ecclesiastics. As the list grew longer, the inclusion of the dates of accession for the various bishops made it more clear and obvious to the reader or hearer that no name had been lost from the list and that points of doctrine had been handed down in an unbroken line from the apostles themselves." (34-35)

* * *

About the "Chronicle" of Eusebius, O'Connor says:

The so-called Chronicle of Eusebius is preserved in three versions: the Armenian, Latin, and Syriac. The Armenian version, written according to Lightfoot in the fifth century and based upon the Greek or Syriac, contains the names of the bishops and the year of their accession. Peter, unaccompanied by Paul, is neither included in the enumeration of the bishops nor called bishop. The Latin version of Jerome in the section of the list with which we are concerned agrees with the Armenian version, aside from the fact that the Roman primacy of Peter, as might be expected, is more emphasized than it is in the Armenian version of the original Eusebius. Peter is unequivocally named as the first bishop of Rome. Oddly enough, however, in various references to bishops by number, Jerome's version follows what was probably the original plan of Eusebius--Peter is omitted. The common opinion is that the Armenian version is the more accurate and that Jerome altered various of the later dates according to an unknown catalogue which was used also by Eusebius as a source for the Ecclesiastical History. Lightfoot disagrees with this conclusion owing to the fact that 1) there is only an interval of a few months between the writing of the Chronicle (A.D.325) and the Ecclesiastical History (A.D. 326) and 2) there is no record of a boast by Jerome that he corrected the Eusebian list. Lightfoot takes the defensible position that whatever source had been used by Eusebius in the writing of one work was also used in the other. No matter what differences are found among the lists contained in the Ecclesiastical History and the Chronicle, it must be pointed out that they do agree in the names of the bishops, in the order, and in the sum total of the years from Peter to Urbanus.

In other words, what we have here is another instance of earlier fictions being passed off as "sober history" by names that were among the greatest minds of the early church.

Where did these "fictions" come from? That's a long story.