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Concerning the Coming of St. Peter to Rome and the Residence of St. John at Ephesus.

All are agreed that, from the end of the second century, the general belief of the Christian churches was that the Apostle Peter suffered martyrdom at Rome, and that the Apostle John lived at Ephesus until an advanced age. Protestant theologians from the sixteenth century have pronounced strongly against the visit of St. Peter to Rome. As to the opinion regarding the residence of John at Ephesus, it is only in our day that it has found contradiction.

The reason why Protestants attach so much importance to the denial of Peter’s coming to Rome is easily grasped. During the whole Middle Ages the coming of St. Peter to Rome was the basis of the exorbitant pretentions of the papacy. These pretentions were founded on three propositions which were held to be “of the faith,” let, Jesus himself conferred on Peter a primacy in the Church; 2nd, that primacy ought to be transmitted to Peter’s successors; 3rd, the successors of Peter are the Bishops of Rome. Peter, after having resided at Jerusalem, then at Antioch, having definitively fixed his residence at Rome. To overthrow this last fact, was therefore to overturn from top to bottom the edifice of Roman theology. Men expended much learning on this; they showed that Roman tradition was not supported on direct or very solid evidences; but they treated lightly the indirect proofs; they pointed in a troublesome way to the passage in I. Peter, v. 13. That Βαβυλών in that passage really means Babylon on the Euphrates, is an untenable thesis, first because at that time “Babylon,” in the secret style of the Christians, meant Rome; in the second place, because the Christianity of the first century had scarcely left the Roman empire, and spread itself very little among the Parthians.

To us the question has less importance than it had for the first Protestants, and it is easier to solve it impartially. We certainly do not believe that Jesus intended to establish a leader in his church, nor especially, to attach that primacy to the episcopal succession of a fixed city. The episcopate, at first scarcely existed in the thoughts of Jesus; besides, if it was 283a city of the world, among those whose names Jesus knew, to which he did not think of attaching the series of heads of his church, it was doubtless Rome. They would probably have horrified him if they had told him that this city of perdition, this cruel enemy of the people of God, should one day boast of his Satanic kingdom, to claim the right of inheriting by a new title the power founded by the Son. That Peter had not been at Rome, or that he had been, has therefore for us no moral or political consequence; there is in it only a curious historical question beyond which it is unnecessary to examine farther.

Let us say first that Catholics have exposed themselves to the most weighty objections on the part of their adversaries with their unfortunate theory as to Peter’s coming to Rome in the year 42—a theory borrowed from Eusebius and St Jerome, and which limits the duration of the pontificate of Peter to twenty-three or twenty-four years. It is sufficient not to retain any doubt on that point, to consider that the persecution of which Peter was the object at Jerusalem on the part of Herod Agrippa I. (Acts xii.) took place in the very year in which Herod Agrippa tired, that is, in the year 44 (Jos. Ant., xix., viii., 2). Apollonius the Anti-Montanist (at the end of the second century) and Lactantius at the beginning of the fourth did not certainly believe that Peter had been at Rome in 42, the former, when he affirms having heard by tradition that Jesus Christ had forbidden his apostles to leave Jerusalem before twelve years had passed from the time of his death; the latter, when he saw that the apostles employed the twenty-five years which followed the death of Jesus in preaching the gospel in the provinces, and that Peter did not come to Rome till after the accession of Nero. It would be superstitious to combat at length a theory which cannot have a single reasonable defender. We can go much further, indeed, and affirm that Peter had not yet come to Rome when Paul was brought there, that is in the year 61. The epistle of Paul to the Romans, written about the year 58, or at least which had not been written more than two years and a half before the arrival of Paul at Rome, is here a very considerable argument; we can scarcely conceive St. Paul writing to the believers whose leader Peter was, without making the smallest mention of him. What is still more demonstrative is the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. That chapter, especially vv. 17-29, is not intelligible if Peter was at Rome when Paul arrived there. Let us hold then as absolutely certain that Peter did not come to Rome before Paul, that is to say before the year 61, or nearly so.

But did he not go there after Paul? This is what Protestant critics have never succeeded in proving. Not only does this late journey of Peter to Rome offer no impossibility, but some strong 284reasons militate in its favour. I believe that those who read our account with care will find that everything fits in well enough in this hypothesis. Besides that, the testimony of the Fathers of the second and third centuries are not without value in this matter, and here are three arguments, the force of which does not appear to me to be disdained.

1. An incontestable thing is that Peter died a martyr. The evidence of the fourth gospel, Clemens Romans, and of the fragment called the Canon de Muratori, Dionysius of Corinth, Caius and Tertullian, leave no doubt on this matter. That the fourth gospel may be apocryphal, and that the twenty-first chapter has been added at a latter date, is of no consequence. It is clear that we have in the verses where Jesus announces to Peter that he will die by the same penalty as himself, the expression of an opinion established in the churches before the year 120 or 130, and to which allusions are made as to a thing known to all. It was almost alone at Rome, indeed, that Nero’s persecution was violent. At Jerusalem or at Antioch, the martyrdom of Peter could be less easily explained.

2. The second argument is drawn from chapter v. verse 13, of the epistle attributed to Peter. “Babylon” in this passage evidently means Rome. If the epistle is authentic, the passage is decisive. It it is apocryphal, the induction to be drawn from this passage is not less strong. In fact the author, whoever he was, wished to have it believed that the work in question is indeed Peter’s work. He needed consequently to give probability to his fraud, to dispose the circumstances of the case in a way agreeable to what he knew and to what was believed at his time as to the life of Peter. If, in such a disposition of mind, he dated the letter from Rome, it was because the received opinion at the time when that letter was written was that St. Peter had resided at Rome. Now, in every hypothesis, 1st Peter is a very ancient work and enjoyed very early a high authority.

3. The system which served as the basis for the Ebionite Acts of Peter is also well worthy of consideration. This system shows us St. Peter following Simon Magus everywhere (see on that point St. Paul) to combat his false doctrines. M. Lipsius has brought into the analysis of this curious legend an admirable sagacity of criticism. He has shown that the basis of the different editions which have come down to us was a primitive record, written about the year 130, a writing in which Peter came to Rome to conquer Simon-Paul in the centre of his power, and found it dead, after having confounded this father in all his errors. It seems difficult to believe that the Ebionite author, at a date so remote, should have given so much importance to the journey of Peter to Rome, if that journey had not had some reality. The theory of the Ebionite legend must 285have a foundation of truth, in spite of the fables mixed up with it. It is indeed admissible that Peter came to Rome as he came to Antioch, following Paul and partly to neutralize his influence. The Christian community in the year 60 was in a state of mind which in no way resembled the tranquil waiting of the twenty years which followed the death of Jesus. The missions of Paul and the facilities which the Jews found for their journey, had put in fashion distant expeditions. The apostle Philip is even pointed out by an ancient and persistent tradition as having become settled at Hierapolis.

I regard then as probable the tradition of Peter’s residence at Rome; but I believe that this sojourn was of short duration, and that Peter suffered martyrdom a little time after his arrival in the eternal city. A coincidence favourable to this theory is the record of Tacitus, Annals xv., 44. This record presents a quite natural occasion with which to connect Peter’s martyrdom. The apostle of the Judeo-Christians formed part of the list of sufferers whom Tacitus describes as crucibus affixi, and thus it is not without reason that the Seer of the Apocalypse places, “the apostles” among the holy victims of the year 64, who applauded the destruction of the city which slew them.

The coming of John to Ephesus, having a dogmatic value much less considerable than the coming of Peter to Rome, has not excited such lengthened controversies. The opinion generally received up to the present day, was that the apostle John, son of Zebedee, died very old in the capital of the province of Asia, Even those who refused to believe that during his residence the apostle wrote the fourth gospel and the epistles which bear his name, even those who denied that the Apocalypse was his work, continued to believe in the reality of this, journey attended by tradition. The first, Lützelberger, in 1840, raised upon this point some elaborated doubts; but he was little listened to. Some critics who cannot be reproached with an excess of credulousness, Baur, Strauss, Schwegler, Zeller, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, all by making a large part in the legend in the records as to the sojourn of John at Ephesus, persisted in regarding as historical the very fact of the apostle’s coming into these regions. It is in 1867, in the first volume of his Life of Jesus, that M. Keim has directed against this traditional opinion quite a serious attack. The basis of M. Keim’s theory is that Presbyteros Johannes has been confounded with John the Apostle, and that the statments of the ecclesiastical writers upon him ought to be listened to first. This was followed by M.M. Wittichen and Holtzmann. More recently M. Scholten, of the University of Leyden, in a lengthened work, was forced to destroy one after another all the proofs of the formerly received theory, and to demonstrate that the Apostle John had never set foot in Asia.


The tractate of M. Scholten is a true chef d’œuvre of argumentation and method. The author passes in review not only all the evidences which are alleged for or against the tradition, but also all the writings where it can and according to him ought to be mentioned. The learned Professor of Leyden had been formerly of a different opinion. In his long arguments against the authenticity of the fourth gospel, he had strongly insisted on the passage in which Polycrates of Ephesus, about the end of the second century, represents John as having been in Asia, one of the pillars of the Jewish and Quarto-deciman parties. But it is nothing to a friend of truth that it should be necessary in these difficult questions to modify and reform his opinion. M. Scholten’s arguments have not convinced me; they have put John into Asia among the number of doubtful facts; they have not put it among the number certainly of apocryphal facts. I believe, indeed, that the chances of truth are still in favour of the tradition. Less probable in my view than Peter’s residence at Rome, the theory of the residence of John at Ephesus maintains its probability, and I think that in many cases M. Scholten has given proof of an exaggerated scepticism. As I may permit myself once more to say, a theologian is never a perfect critic. M. Scholten has a mind too lofty to allow himself ever to be ruled by apologetic or dogmatic views; but the theologian is so accustomed to subordinate fact to idea, that rarely does he place himself in the simple point of view of the historian. For twenty-five years back, especially we have seen that the Protestant liberal school have allowed themselves to be carried away by an excess of negativeness in which we doubt whether the laic science which sees in those studies nothing but simply interesting researches, will follow it. Their religious position is come to this point, that they make a defence of supernatural beliefs more easy by “cheapening” the texts and sacrificing them largely, rather then by maintaining their authenticity.

I am persuaded that a criticism unprejudiced by all theological prepossession shall find one day that the liberal theologians of our century have been too much in doubt, and that it will agree not certainly in spirit, but in some results, with the ancient traditional schools.

Among the writings passed in review by M. Scholten the Apocalypse holds naturally the first rank. This is the point where the illustrious critic shews himself weakest. Of three things, one is true either the Apocalypse is by the Apostle John, or it is by a forger who has intended to make it pass for a work of the Apostle John, or it is by a homonym of the Apostle John, such as John Mark or the enigmatical Presbyteros Johannes. On the third hypothesis it is clear that the Apocalypse less nothing to do with the residence of the Apostle John in Asia, 287but this hypothesis has little plausibility and in any case is not that which M. Scholten adopts. He is for the second hypothesis; he believes the Apocalypse apocryphal in the same way as the Book of Daniel. He thinks that the forger wished, according to a very common proceeding among the Jews of his time, to cover himself with the prestige of a venerated personage, that he has chosen the Apostle John as one of the pillars of the church of Jerusalem, and that he represents himself to the churches of Asia under that venerable name. Such a falsehood scarcely being conceivable during the lifetime of the apostle, M. Scholten declares that John had died before the year 68. But this theory includes downright impossibilities. Whatever may be the authenticity of the Apocalypse, I dare to say that the arguments which are drawn from that writing to establish the truth of a residence of John in Asia are as strong in the second hypothesis set forth here as in the first. There is no question here of a book being produced like the Book of Daniel some centuries after the death of the author to whom it is attributed. The Apocalypse was circulated among the believers in Asia in the winter of 68-69, while the great struggles between the generals for the competition of the empire and the appearance of the false Nero, of Cythnos, kept the whole world in a feverish expectation. If the Apostle John were dead as M. Scholten says, it was shortly before; in any case in M. Scholten’s hypothesis the faithful of Ephesus, of Smyrna, &c., knew perfectly at that date that the Apostle John had never visited Asia. What reception would they give to the account of a vision represented as having taken place in Patmos at some leagues from Ephesus, an account which is addressed to the seven principal churches of Asia by a man who is credited to have known the concealed thoughts of their consciences, who distributes to some the hardest reproaches, to others the most exalted praise, who takes with them the tone of an indisputable authority, who represents himself as having been the partaker of their sufferings; if that man had been neither in Patmos nor Asia, if their imagination had always fixed him settled at Jerusalem? The forger must be supposed to have been endowed with little good sense to have created in lightness of heart for his books such reasons of dislike against them. Why does he place the scene of the prophesy at Patmos? That island had never up till then any importance, any significance. People never touched at it except when they went from Ephesus to Rome or from Rome to Ephesus; for such travelling as that Patmos offered a very good part for resting, a small day’s journey from Ephesus. It was the first or the last halting-place, according to the rules of the little navigation described in the Acts, and of which the essential principle was to stop as much as was possible every night. 288Patmos could not be the object of a voyage. A man coming to Ephesus or going from Ephesus alone needed to touch there. Even admitting the non-authenticity of the Apocalypse, the first three chapters of this book constitute therefore a strong probability in favour of the theory of John’s residence in Asia, in the same manner as 1st Peter, although apocryphal, is a very good argument for the residence of Peter at Rome. The forger, whatever may be the credulousness of the public whom he addressed, seeks always to create for his writing conditions in which it may be acceptable. If the author of 1st Peter believed himself obliged to date his writing from Rome, if the author of the Apocalypse imagined that he would give a good exordium to his vision by making it appear to be written upon the threshold of Asia, nearly opposite Ephesus, and by addressing it with counsels which remind one of those of a director of the conscience to the churches of Asia, it is because Peter has been at Rome and John has been in Asia. Dionysius of Alexandria at the end of the third century feels perfectly the great embarassment which the question thus placed presents. Shewing that antipathy against the Apocalypse which all the Greek fathers possessed in a true Hellenic spirit, Dionysius accumulates the objections against attributing such a writing to the Apostle John, but he recognises that the work cannot have been composed except by a personage who had lived in Asia, and he puts aside the homonyms of the apostle; so much does this proposition agree with the evidence that the true or supposed author of the Apocalypse has really been connected with Asia.

M. Scholten’s discussion relative to the text of Papias is very important. It has been the lot of this ἀρχαῖος ἀνήρ to be badly understood since Irenæus, who has certainly wrongly made him an auditor of the Apostle John, until Eusebius, who also wrongly supposes that he knew directly Presbyteros Johannes. M. Keim had already shewn that the text of Papias, well understood, proves rather to be against than for the residence of the Apostle John in Asia. M. Scholten goes much further; he concludes from the passage in question, that even Presbyteros Johannes had not resided in Asia. He believes that this personage, distinct in his view from the Apostle John, resided in Palestine, and was a contemporary of Papias. We agree with M. Scholten, that if the passage in Papias is correct, it is an objection against the residence of the apostle in Asia. But is it correct? Are the words ἤ τί Ἰωάννης not an interpolation? To those who find this idea arbitrary, I would reply that, if they maintain ἤ τί Ἰωάννης, the words οἱ τοῦ κυρίου μαθηταί, placed after Ἀριστίων καὶ ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωαννης made a bizarre and incoherent collection. What, nevertheless, confirms M. Scholten’s doubts is a passage in Papias, quoted by George Hamartolus, 289and according to which John was killed by the Jews. This tradition appears to have been created to show the realization of words of Christ (Matt. xx. 23); Mark x. 39; it is not reconcilable with residence of John at Ephesus, and if Papias had really adopted it, it is because he had not the least idea of the coming of John into the province of Asia. Now it would be very surprising that a man zealous in research in apostolic traditions should have ignored such an important fact, which would take place in the same country as that in which he lived. The omission of all reference relative to the residence in Asia in the epistles attributed to St. Ignatius and Hegesippus gives certainly cause for reflection. At the beginning of the year 180 A.D., tradition is definitely fixed. Appollonius, the Anti-Montanist, Polycrates, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, have no doubt as to the remarkable honour which the city of Ephesus enjoyed. Among the texts which might be alleged, two are especially remarkable, that of Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, about 196, and Irenæus (at the same time) in his letter to Florinus. M. Scholten puts aside too lightly the text of Polycrates. It is important to find at Ephesus at the end of one century all the traditions so distinctly affirmed. “The small critical mind of Polycrates,” says M. Scholten, “draws from this circumstance that he represents John to us as decorated with the πέταλον, thus making recede by an anachronism to the apostolic age the usage existing then of giving to the Christian Bishop the dignity of high priest.” Formerly, M. Scholten did not judge thus; he saw in the πέταλον and in the title of “high priest” given to the Apostle John by Polycrates, a proof that the apostle was in Asia, the head of the Judeo-Christian party. He was right. The πέταλον, far from being an episcopal mark of the second century, is only attributed to two personages, and to two personages of the first century, to James and John, both belonging to the Judeo-Christian party, and this party believed to exalt them by attributing to them the prerogatives of the Jewish high priests. M. Keim and M. Scholten likewise reproach Polycrates with believing that the Philip who came to settle at Hierapolis with his prophetess daughters, is the apostle. I believe that Polycrates is right, and that if we compare attentively Acts xxi., v. 8, with the passages in Papias, Proclus, Polycrates, and Clement of Alexandria, as to Philip and his daughters, residing at Hierapolis, I think we shall be convinced that it is the apostle that is spoken of. The verse in Acts has all the appearance of an interpolation. M. Boltzmann seems to adopt upon this point the hypothesis which I have proposed in my Apostles. I hold to it more than ever.

The most curious passage in the Fathers of the Church on the question which occupies as is the fragment of the epistle of 290Irenæus to Florinus, which Eusebius has preserved for us. It is one of the finest pages of Christian literature in the second century. “These opinions of Florinus are not of a sound teaching; . . . . . these opinions are not those which the elders who have preceded us, and who knew the Apostles, transmitted to thee. I remembered that when I was a child in Asia Minor where thou didst shine first by thy office at court, I saw thee near Polycarp seeking to acquire his esteem. I remember things which happened first rather than things which come later, for that which we have known in infancy grows with the mind, identifies itself with it; so much so that I could tell the place in which the blessed Polycarp sat to speak, his walk, his habit, his method of life, the features of his body, his manner of rendering assistance, how he related the familiarity he had had with John and with the others who had seen the Lord, and what he had heard them say as to the Lord and his miracles, and as to his doctrine. Polycarp reported it as having received it from eye witnesses of the Word of Life conforming all to the scriptures. Those things, thanks to the goodness of God, I listened to from the first with appreciation, not consigning them to paper, but in my heart, and I always, thanks to God, recorded them with authenticity. And I can attest in the presence of God, that if this blessed and apostolic elder had heard something like thy doctrines, he would have closed his ears and would have cried according to his custom: ‘Oh good God! to what times hast thou reserved me, that I should hear such words!’ and he would have fled from the place where he had heard them.”

We see that Irenæus did not make an appeal as in the greater part of the other passages in which he speaks of the residence of the apostle in Asia, to a vague tradition; he recites to Florinus some remembrances of childhood, under their common master Polycarp. One of these souvenirs is that Polycarp spoke often of his personal relations with the Apostle John. M. Scholten has seen thoroughly that it is necessary to admit the reality of these relations, or to declare apocryphal the Epistle to Florinus. He decides for this second view. His reasons seem to me to be very weak. And first in the book Against Heresies Irenæus expresses himself nearly in the same manner as in the letter to Florinus. The principal objection of M. Scholten is drawn from this, that to explain such relations between John and Polycarp, there must be supposed for the apostle, for Polycarp, and for Irenæus, an extraordinary longevity. I am not much moved by that; John could not be dead, until about the year 80 or 90, and Irenæus wrote about 180. Irenæus was therefore at the same distance from the last years of John, as we are from the last years of Voltaire. Now without any 291miracle of longevity whatever our fellow worker and friend M. Remusat knew with great intimacy the Abbé Morellet, who conversed at length with Voltaire. The difficulty which it is believed we find in the fact recorded by Irenæus, is that the martyrdom of Polycarp is placed in 166, 167, 168, 169 under Marcus Aurelius. Polycarp was at that time eighty-six years of age; he would therefore be born in the year 80, 81, 82, or 83, which would make him too young at the death of John. But the date of the martyrdom of Polycarp should be modified. This martyrdom took place under the Pro-Consulate of Quadratus. Now M. Waddington has demonstrated in a manlier which leaves no room for doubt, that the Pro-Consulate of Quadratus, in Asia, ought to be placed in 154-155, under the reign of Antoninus the Pious. Polycarp was therefore born in 68-69. If the Apostle had lived until the year 90, which nothing contradicts (he might be twelve years younger than Jesus), it is not unlikely that Polycarp had in his youth some conversations with him. It is not the Acts of the martyrdom of Polycarp which assigns as the date of that martyrdom the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it is Eusebius who by an erroneous calculation, of which M. Waddington gives a clear exposure believed that the Pro-Consulate of Quadratus fell under that reign.

A difficulty in the chronological system, which we would explain is the journey which Polycarp made to Rome, under the pontificate of Anicet. Anicet, according to the received chronology, became Bishop of Rome in the year 154, or rather sooner. There is, therefore, some little difficulty to find a place for the journey of Polycarp. M. Waddington’s results appeal decisive; if it be necessary to be in sequence with these results, to ante-date a little the elevation of Anicet to the pontificate, we ought not to hesitate, seeing that the pontifical lists offer some trouble in that direction, and that many lists place Anicet before Pius. It is to be regretted that M. Lipsius, who has published recently a very good work upon the Chronology of the Bishop of Rome up to the Fourth Century, had not known M. Waddington’s treatise; he would have found there matter for an important discussion.

Is it likely, says M. Scholten, that an old man, already nearly a centenarian, would have taken such a voyage and that at a time when it was much more difficult to travel than in our days? The voyages from Ephesus or from Smyrna to Rome would have been more easy. A merchant of Hierapolis tells us in his epitaph that he had made seventy-two times the distance from Hierapolis to Italy by doubling the Malean Cape. This merchant continued therefore his journeys up to an age advanced as that when Polycarp made his voyage to Rome. Such navigations (they 292travelled very little during the winter) did not entail any fatigue. It is possible that Polycarp carried out his voyage to Rome during the summer of 154 and yet suffered martyrdom at Smyrna on the 23rd February, 155. M. Keim’s hypothesis, according to which the John whom Polycarp would know would not be John the Apostle, but Presbyteros Johannes, is full of improbabilities. If this Presbyteros was as we believe a secondary personage, the disciple of John the Apostle flourishing in the year 100 to nearly the year 120, the confusion of Polycarp or Irenæus would be inconceivable. As to the Presbyteros being really a man of the great apostolic generation, an equal of the apostles, who might be confounded with them, we have already presented our objections to this theory. Let us add that even then the error of Polycarp would not be much more easy to explain.

One of the most curious parts of M. Scholten’s treatise is that in which he recurs to the question of the fourth gospel, which he had already treated with no much fulness some years before. M. Scholten does not only admit that this gospel may be the work of John, but he still refuses it all connection with John. He denies that John is the disciple named many times in this gospel with mystery and designated as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” According to M. Scholten that disciple is not a real person. The immortal disciple who, as distinguished from the other disciples of the Master, should live until the end of the ages by the force of his mind, this disciple, whose evidence, reposing upon spiritual contemplation, is of an absolute authenticity, ought not to be identified with any of the Galillean apostles. He is an ideal personage. It is quite impossible for me to admit that opinion. But let us not complicate difficult questions by another more difficult still. M. Scholten has removed many supports upon which formerly rested the opinion of the residence of the Apostle John in Asia. He has proved that this fact does not arise from the penumbra through which we see nearly all the facts of Apostolic history. In what concerns Papias he has raised an objection to which it is easy to reply; nevertheless he has not set forth all the arguments which can be alleged in favour of the tradition. The first chapters of the Apocalypse, the letter of Irenæus to Florinus, the passage in Polycrates remain three solid bases upon which we cannot build up a certainty, but which M. Scholten, in spite of his trenchant dialectic, has not overturned.

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