The Spice Woman and the Symmachan Forgeries

The Called to Communion guys have an article out by this long title:

The Primacy of Peter According to the New Testament: and the Principle of Historical Fulfillment

The article, “a guest post written by R.E. Aguirre, General Editor of Paradoseis Journal,” defends the notion that Peter was an important apostle, and it seeks to “consider how history via the Church’s general opinion concerning the Petrine text has unfolded, perfectly accomplishing the Scriptures.”

In essence, this article claims that the texts in which Peter is mentioned in the New Testament are a kind of prophecy that are fulfilled in the ongoing existence of the papacy.

There is no question that Peter was given a great gift by the Lord. But Rome, typically, wants to appropriate Peter’s gifts and authority to itself. That such an argument as this one must appear in defense of the papacy is clear evidence of the bankruptcy of their previously grandiose historical claims.

There is neither any biblical or historical warrant for Aguirre’s conclusion. He is grasping at straws, and he has come up with a heretofore unknown principle, “the Principle of Historical Fulfillment.”

Now, as far as anyone knows, “the Principle of Historical Fulfillment” is purely a figment of Aguirre’s imagination. Google this phrase in quotes, and no instances of this “principle” will appear anywhere but at Called to Communion and now, here.

In a footnote, Aguirre, gives a further explanation of this “principle”:

In short what it entails is the idea that certain New Testament excerpts presuppose historical actualization…The historical record is simple and speaks for itself; for the first thousand years of the Church’s existence the Roman Church gradually gained prominence mainly through the authoritative witness of the patristic fathers, Church Council’s and official pronouncements – all of which were in turn based on the Petrine texts of the New Testament. In the second millennium and beyond into the third, the single largest Christian body in the world (Roman Catholic) continues to hold to the dogma that the Petrine texts of the New Testament are best fulfilled in the office and person of the Bishop of Rome, i.e, the Pope. This is another example of the principle of historical fulfillment.

We are back to Ratzinger’s undefined “base memory of the Church.”

What that means is, the popes ruled for a long time. That means that God’s perfect plan intended the development of the papacy. Therefore the papacy is a divine institution.

Well, Satan has been around much longer than the papacy. But that doesn’t make Satan into a divine institution. But the link between Satan and the papacy is well taken. Now with this argument, Roman apologists are seeking to turn the papacy into a prophecy of the New Testament.

It should rather be said that popes lied, cheated, and stole their way to continuing power, along with some really really important help from a series of emperors, an incompetent Arian king named Theoderic, and the development of a series of forgeries attesting the power of the pope.

To put this into perspective, Joseph Ratzinger, in his “proof” of the “Roman primacy,” now affirms that Roman primacy “developed faithfully in the nascent Church” (Called to Communion, 72). Klaus Schatz, in his historical and theological study, “Papal Primacy,” confirmed that “the initial phases” of this development “extended well into the fifth century.”

Roger Collins, in his history of the papacy, provides many examples of how this “faithful development” took place, in concrete terms. Here is his account of how this “faithful development” occurred surrounding Pope Symmachus (498-514):

Charges were brought against Symmachus, accusing him of adultery and squandering the wealth of the church. He was said to have had numerous women followers, being especially devoted to one Conditaria (Spice Woman).

Street fighting broke out. … With the charges brought against the pope still unanswered and Easter of 502 approaching, Festus and others persuaded [the Arian king] Theoderic to appoint a Visitor, a bishop from another see, to go to Rome to conduct the celebrations … He was also to take over control of the Church’s property from Symmachus. In August the king also ordered the regular synod, meeting in the Church of Santa Croce, to hear the charges against the pope. Symmachus demanded the removal of the Visitor as a condition for attending, and then refused to continue to participate when attacked by partisans of [his opponent] on his way to the synod. For nearly two months the bishops tried unsuccessfully to find a solution to the problem of how to judge someone who was their hierarchical superior and who refused to appear before them. At the same time they made persistent efforts to persuade Theoderic to try the case himself, something he claimed he was incompetent to do. In the end they proclaimed that the holder of the See of Peter could be judged by God alone, and, declaring themselves in full communion with Symmachus, headed for home.

The decision that had been reached raised a claim that would be repeated in succeeding centuries, that no man could sit in judgment on the pope, and that there was no earthly jurisdiction, civil or ecclesiastical, to which he was subject. In practice this decision resulted from an argument developed out of necessity in a situation of impasse. Popes had in the past been judged. Damasus had submitted to hearings both in a Roman synod and before the emperor, and Pope Sylvester (314-335) appeared before Constantine … So this claim made in 501 was not based on precedents…

Amongst the most important products of this period are texts written almost entirely by the pro-Symmachan camp justifying the view of the synod … This would provide vital ammunition for later generations of papal theorists.

So too would the spurious historical texts written anonymously or ascribed to earlier authors that are known collectively as the Symmachan forgeries. This was the first occasion on which the Roman church had revisited its own history, in particular the third and fourth centuries, in search of precedents (see “The Catholic Historical Method.”) That these were largely invented does not negate the significance of the process. Forgery is an emotive word, and it should not necessarily be assumed that the documents, including the acts of two synods, were cynically concocted to justify a particular claim. Some of the periods in question, such as the pontificates of Sylvester and Liberius (352-366), were already being seen more through the prism of legend than that of history, and in the Middle Ages texts were often forged because their authors were convinced of the truth of what they contained. Their faked documents provided tangible evidence of what was already believed true.

The Symmachan forgeries reinterpreted some of the more embarrassing episodes in papal history, both real and imaginary. … How convincing these forged texts seemed in the early sixth century is unknown, but when rediscovered in later centuries, they were regarded as authentic records with unequivocal legal authority. … (Collins, “Keepers of the Keys of Heaven,” pgs 80-82).

It is no coincidence that the first systematic works of papal history appear at the very time the Roman church’s past was being reinvented for polemical purposes.

To attribute to Peter the works affected by that criminal line known as the papacy is to besmirch his good name. There is no question that Peter was an important apostle. But the gifts that the Lord gave to him were uniquely his; for a bishop of Rome centuries later to claim them for his own is nothing less than theft.

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