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The Early Church Fathers Church Fathers on the Primacy of Peter.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A.D. 200-258)
    Macarius of Egypt, (A.D. c.300-391)
    St. Ephrem the Syrian, (of Edessa), (A.D. 306-378)
    St. Hilary of Poitiers, (A.D. 315-367)
    St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386)
    St. Basil the Great, (A.D. 328-379)
    St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384)
    St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403)
    St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394)
    St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396)
    St. Jerome, (A.D. 342-420)
    St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407)
    Prudentius, (A.D. 348-c.413)
St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A.D. 200-258), North African; bishop; biblical scholar, martyr.

"Peter on whom the Church had been built by the Lord Himself, one speaking for all, and replying with the voice of the Church, says, "Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life and we have come to believe."

Ep. lv. ad Cornel, p. 178.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 8

With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the Chair of Peter and to the principal church [at Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source".

Epistle to Cornelius [Bishop of Rome] 59:14 [A.D. 252]

The Lord says to Peter: "I say to you," he says, "that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" . . . On him he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?

The Unity of the Catholic Church 4 [A.D. 251]

"Custom is not to prescribe, but reason to conquer. For not even did Peter, whom the Lord chose the first, and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul afterwards disputed with him respecting circumcision, claim anything to himself insolently, or assume anything arrogantly, so as to say that he held the primacy, and that obedience ought rather to be paid to him by those who were novices and had come after him. Nor did he despise Paul because he had been originally a persecutor of the Church, but he admitted the counsel of truth, and readily assented to the legitimate reasons (or method) which Paul vindicated, giving, to wit, to us an example of unanimity and patience, that we may not with pertinacity love what is our own, but rather the things which are at times usefully and beneficially suggested by our brethren and colleagues, to account them, if they be true and lawful, as our own."

Ep. lxxi. ad Quintam, p. 273.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 8-9

It is on one man that He builds the Church; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles after His resurrection, when He says, "As the Father has sent me, so also do I send you; receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven; and if you retain any man's sins, they shall be retained [John 20:21], nevertheless, in order that unity might be clearly shown, He established by His own authority a source for that unity, which takes its beginning from one man alone. Indeed, the other Apostles were that also which Peter was, being endowed with an equal portion of dignity and power; but the origin is grounded in unity, so that it may be made clear that there is but one Church of Christ.

The Unity of the Catholic Church, A.D. 251-256, ch 4

Macarius of Egypt, (A.D. c.300-391), also known as Macarius the Elder and the Lamp of the Desert was an Egyptian Christian monk, hermit and priest. contemporary with St. Athanasius, and the friend of the great St. Anthony, died at the advanced age of ninety, after passing sixty years in the desert.

"For of old Moses and Aaron, when this priesthood was theirs, suffered much; and Caiphas, when he had their chair, persecuted and condemned the Lord. . . . Afterwards Moses was succeeded by Peter, who had committed to his hands the new Church of Christ, and the true priesthood."

Hom. xxvi. n. 23, Galland, t. vii. p. 101.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 22

St. Ephrem the Syrian, (of Edessa), (A.D. 306-378), Syrian; born in Nisebis, deacon, hymnist, poet. His works were even during his own lifetime almost all translated into Greek, and were, as St. Jerome informs us, held in such high estimation, as to be read in some churches after the Holy Scriptures. We have his life by St. Gregory of Nyssa.

"Oh! the ineffable power that has vouchsafed to dwell within us by means of the imposition of the sacred hands of the priests. . . . Peter, who was called Cephas, he who was captured on the sea shore, and who received a testimony from the great Pastor, that upon this rock I will build my Church, by means of the priesthood received also the keys of Heaven, as worthy (of them)."

T. iii. Gr. De Sacerd. p. 3.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 20

Simon, My follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for Me. If they should wish to build that is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which My teaching flows, you are the chief of My disciples. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in My institution, and so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures!

Homilies, 4,1

St. Hilary of Poitiers, (A.D. 315-367), French; husband, theologian, bishop of Poiters around A.D. 355, and Doctor of the Church. Referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians" and the "Athanasius of the West.". He was obviously a firm supporter of St. Athanasius.

Having explained from St. Matthew 16. how St. Peter was the first to proclaim Christ the Son of the living God, he continues,

"And in sooth Peter's confession obtained a worthy recompense. Blessed is he that is praised as having both remarked and seen beyond the ken of human eyes, not regarding what was of flesh and blood, but, by the revelation of the heavenly Father, beholding the Son of God, and accounted worthy to be the first to acknowledge what was in the Christ of God. Oh, in thy designation by a new name, happy foundation of the Church, and a rock worthy of the building up of that which was to scatter the infernal laws, and the gates of Hell, and all the bars of death! O blessed keeper of the gate of Heaven, to whose disposal are delivered the keys of the entrance into eternity; whose judgment on earth is an authority prejudged in Heaven, so that the things that are either loosed or bound on earth, acquire in Heaven too a like state of settlement."

Comm. in Matth. c. xvi. n. 7, pp. 749-50.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 15

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386), Palestinian; ordained by Maximus, he was made bishop of Jerusalem in A.D. 345; scholar and Doctor of the Church. None of his writings have been preserved to us, except eighteen catechetical instructions addressed to catechumens, and five mystagogic discourses addressed to neophytes.

In the power of the same Holy Spirit, Peter, both the chief of the apostles and the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, in the name of Christ healed Aeneas the paralytic at Lydda, which is now called Diospolis. [Acts 9;3 2-3 4]

Catechetical Lectures 17;27 [A.D. 350]

"Our Lord Jesus Christ then became man, but by the many He was not known. But wishing to teach that which was not known, having assembled the disciples, He asked, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man, am?" And all being silent (for it was beyond man to learn) Peter, the foremost of the Apostles, and chief herald of the Church, not using language of his own finding, nor persuaded by human reasoning, but having his mind enlightened from the Father, says to Him, "Thou art the Christ", nor simply that, but, "the Son of the living God." And a blessing follows the speech. . . . "Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jonas ..."

Catech. xi. n. 3, jp. 150.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 17

St. Basil the Great, (A.D. 328-379), Cappadocian; bishop of Cæsarea in A.D. 369, theologian, monk. Studied in Palestine, Constantinople, and Athens. Many of the subsequent years of his life were spent in the deserts of Egypt and Libya. His character and works have gained for him the surname of "the great".

"When we hear the name of Peter, that name does not cause our minds to dwell on his substance, but we figure to our minds the properties that are connected with him. For we at once, on hearing that name, think of the son of him that came from Bethsaida, Andrew's brother; him that was called from amongst fishermen unto the ministry of the Apostleship; him who on account of the pre-eminence of his faith received upon himself the building of the Church."

T. i. P. i. I. ii. Adv. Eunom. n. 4, p. 340.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 22

St. Optatus of Milevis, (unknown - A.D. 384), bishop of Milevis, Numidia, in Africa; from Augustine's writings we can assume Optatus was a convert; he is best known for his opposition to the heresy of Donatism.

"Blessed Peter, to whom, after his denial, it were enough if he obtained pardon, merited both to be preferred before all the Apostles, and he alone received of the kingdom of Heaven the keys to be communicated to the others, . . . The head of the Apostles could so have governed himself as not to incur a crime of which he would have to repent."

De Schis. l. vii. n. 3.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 18

St. Epiphanius of Salamis, (A.D. 332-403), Palestinian; bishop, abbot, scholar.

"The Lord and His Church receive the penitent; even as Manasses, the son of Ezechias, was converted and received by the Lord. And the blessed Peter, who for awhile denied the Lord, Peter who was the chiefest of the Apostles, he who became unto us truly a firm rock upon which is based the Lord's faith, upon which (rock) the Church is in every way built; first, in that he confessed that Christ was the Son of the living God, and heard that upon this rock of firm faith I will build my Church. . . . Further, he then also became a firm rock of the building, and foundation of the house of God, in that having denied Christ, and being again converted, being both found of the Lord, and found worthy to hear, "Feed my sheep and feed my lambs."

Adv. Hæres. (59) p. 500.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 24-25

St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394), bishop of Nyssa in A.D. 371, an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. He was the brother of the great St. Basil.

"The memory of Peter, the head of the Apostles, is celebrated; and magnified indeed with him are the other members of the Church; but (upon him) is the Church of God firmly established. For he is, agreeably to the gift conferred upon him by the Lord, that unbroken and most firm rock upon which the Lord built His Church."

Alt. or. De S. Steph. Galland. t. vi. p. 600.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 21

St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396), German; reluctantly made bishop in the A.D. 374., Doctor of the Church. He closed a great and glorious career in A.D. 396. We have his life by Paulinus.

[Christ] made answer: "You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church . . ."
Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church? [Matthew 16:18]

The Faith 4:5 [A.D. 379]

"It is that same Peter to whom He said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." Therefore, where Peter is, there is the Church; where the Church is, there death is not, but life eternal."

T. 1, In Ps. xl. n. 30, pp. 879-80.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 25-26

"This, then, is that Peter who answers for the rest, yea as above the rest, and therefore is he called the foundation, because he knows how not only to keep his own, but also what is common (to all). . . Faith, therefore, is the foundation of the Church, for not of Peter's flesh, but of his faith was it said that "The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it"; but that confession vanquished Hell. And this confession has shut out more than one heresy; for whereas the Church, like a good ship, is often buffeted by many a wave, the foundation of the Church ought to have strength to withstand every heresy."

T. ii. De Incarn. c. iv. n. 30, 32; et c. v. n. 1, pp. 710-11.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 29

"In fine, Peter, after having been tempted by the devil, is set over the Church. The Lord, therefore, foreshowed (referring to St. Luke 22:31-32) what that was, that He afterwards chose him as the pastor of the Lord's flock. For to him He said, "But thou when converted confirm thy brethren."

T. 1, In Ps. xliii. n. 40, p. 904.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 26

"Thou, O Lord, didst say to Peter when he excused himself from Thy washing his feet, "If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me."

What fellowship then can these men (Novatians) have with Thee; men who receive not the keys of the kingdom, and who deny that they ought to forgive sins? Which, indeed, is rightly acknowledged on their parts; for they have not Peter's inheritance who have not Peter's chair, which, with impious disunion, they rend asunder; but they act wickedly in that they deny that even in the Church, sins can be pardoned; whereas to Peter it was said, "To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound upon Heaven and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven."

T. ii. De Paen. l. v. c. vi. n. 33, p. 399.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 27-28

St. Jerome, (A.D. 342-420), Dalmatian; born in Strido; priest, hermit, abbot, biblical scholar, translator and Doctor of the Church. In an age distinguished by men of the greatest eloquence and learning, St. Jerome, especially in all matters connected with the Sacred Scriptures, was then preeminent, and has probably never since been equalled.

Asserting that St. John the Apostle was the best beloved disciple, he says: "But, you say that the Church is built upon Peter, though, in another place, the same thing is done upon all the Apostles, and all receive "the keys of the kingdom of Heaven", and the strength of the Church is settled equally upon them; yet for this reason one is chosen out of the twelve, that a head being appointed, the occasion of schism might be removed.' But why was not John, the virgin, chosen? Deference was paid to age, seeing that Peter was older; lest one yet a youth, and almost a boy, should be set above men of advanced age."

T. ii. adv. Jovin. n. 26, col. 279.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 30

I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails.

Letter of Jerome to Pope Damasus, A.D. 374-379, 15,2

St. John Chrysostom, (A.D. 344 - 407), Syrian; archbishop, Doctor of the Church. Born at Antioch in 344; he was ordained priest in A.D. 383, and raised to the see of Constantinople in the year A.D. 398. His eloquence gained him the title of Chrysostom, or the mouth of gold. His expositions of Scripture, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, are very valuable. This illustrious prelate died on his road to exile, in A.D. 407.

"Peter himself the chief of the Apostles, the first in the Church, the friend of Christ, who received a revelation not from man, but from the Father, as the Lord bears witness to him, saying, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in Heaven"; this very Peter,— and when I name Peter, I name that unbroken rock, that firm foundation, the great Apostle, the first of the disciples, the first called and the first who obeyed,— he was guilty of a deed not slight, but exceedingly great, even the denying of the Lord. I say this not in accusation of that great man, but as giving thee a ground for penitence."

T. ii. Hom. iii. de Paenit. n. 4, p. 353.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 31

Prudentius, (Aurelius Prudentius Clemens), (A.D. 348-c.413), Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis, now Northern Spain. He probably died in Spain, as well. The hymn Salvete, flores Martyrum, is by this writer.

"And already have we most assured pledges of this hope; for here already reign two princes of the Apostles; one the Apostle of the Gentiles, the other, holding the first chair, flings open the portals of eternity, that have been entrusted to him."

Hymn. ii. in Honor. S. Laur. v. 457-64, Galland, t. viii.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 39



Catholics believe, that unique and superior powers were given to St. Peter and His successors by Christ, and that the bishop of Rome, as his successor, is the head of the whole Catholic Church. For this reason, what the Early Church Fathers referred to as the Church of Rome, we refer to today as the Roman Catholic Church; being a universal visible body, united under one visible head.


The Church's Scriptures that support the Primacy of Peter in the Church:


Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ

13 When Jesus came into the region of Cæsarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" 14 So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven."


Matthew 16:13-19

Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial but prays for his (singular) faith.

31 "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you (second person plural pronoun, meaning "all of you") that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee (singular, Peter) that thy faith fail not: and thou being once converted, confirm thy brethren."

Luke 22:31-32

Christ, after His resurrection, commissioned St. Peter to feed His lambs, and to feed His sheep, i.e., to be Shepherd over the whole flock:

15 "When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? He saith to Him: Yes, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again: Simon son of John, do you love me? He saith to Him: Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love you. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 17 He saith to him the third time: Simon son of John, do you love me? Peter was grieved, because He had said to him the third time, Do you love me? And he said to Him: Lord, Thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love Thee. He said to him : Feed my sheep."

John 21:15-17

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