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The Invention of Peter

Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity

By George E. Demacopoulos

Publication Year: 2013

On the first anniversary of his election to the papacy, Leo the Great stood before the assembly of bishops convening in Rome and forcefully asserted his privileged position as the heir of Peter the Apostle. This declaration marked the beginning of a powerful tradition: the Bishop of Rome could leverage the cult of St. Peter, and the popular association of St. Peter with the city itself, to his advantage. In The Invention of Peter, George E. Demacopoulos examines this Petrine discourse, revealing how the link between the historic Peter and the Roman Church strengthened, shifted, and evolved during the papacies of two of the most creative and dynamic popes of late antiquity, ultimately shaping medieval Christianity as we now know it.

By emphasizing the ways in which this rhetoric of apostolic privilege was employed, extended, transformed, or resisted between the reigns of Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Demacopoulos offers an alternate account of papal history that challenges the dominant narrative of an inevitable and unbroken rise in papal power from late antiquity through the Middle Ages. He unpacks escalating claims to ecclesiastical authority, demonstrating how this rhetoric, which almost always invokes a link to St. Peter, does not necessarily represent actual power or prestige but instead reflects moments of papal anxiety and weakness. Through its nuanced examination of an array of episcopal activity—diplomatic, pastoral, political, and administrative—The Invention of Peter offers a new perspective on the emergence of papal authority and illuminates the influence that Petrine discourse exerted on the survival and exceptional status of the Bishop of Rome.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-12

On June 29, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI ratified a document prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that sought to clarify the Roman Catholic Church’s position on certain contemporary ecclesiological questions rooted in the proclamations of Vatican II. Among other things, the document defined other Christian traditions as ‘‘defective’’ because ‘‘communion with...

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Chapter 1: Petrine Legends, External Recognition, and the Cult of Peter in Rome

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pp. 13-38

To understand the discursive horizon that made possible the connection between the Apostle Peter, Rome, and the Roman bishop, we must begin by gaining a greater appreciation for the various—sometimes competing— legends, rituals, and material representations of Peter that existed in the religious imagination of Christians in late antiquity. Of key importance, of...

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Chapter 2: The Many Faces of Leo's Peter

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pp. 39-72

As we might expect for a figure as significant as Leo ‘‘the Great,’’ scholars have explored many different aspects of his career and thought, ranging from the ideological and theological to the political.1 One historiographical trajectory in the scholarship of the twentieth century suggests an attempt to locate specific ways the pope appropriated or transformed imperial signs and symbols...

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Chapter 3: Gelasius' Domestic Problems and International Posture

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pp. 73-101

Pope Gelasius I, who sat in Peter’s chair from 492 to 496, is familiar to all students of papal history because he simultaneously offered the most assertive of late ancient papal claims to ecclesiastical authority and was the first pope to propose a specific model for church/state interaction. For the ninth-century advocates of papal authority, Gelasius was of fundamental importance...

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Chapter 4: The Petrine Discourse in Theoderic's Italy and Justinian's Empire

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pp. 102-133

Whatever Gelasius may have claimed with respect to the superiority of priestly authority to imperial authority, the sixth-century papacy rarely, if ever, enjoyed a position of privilege over the secular rulers of Italy or the empire. To that end, this chapter examines the continued interplay between the discursive possibilities available to papal actors through the Petrine discourse...

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Chapter 5: Restraint and Desperation in Gregory the Great's Petrine Appeal

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pp. 134-162

Gregory the Great was born in 540 in the midst of the Justinianic war against the Goths. The devastation of central Italy (and Rome in particular) was acute and was exacerbated by floods, famine, and plagues.1 In 568, just a few years before Gregory would begin his public career as praefectus urbi (prefect of the city of Rome), another Germanic tribe, the Lombards, crossed the...

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Postscript: The Life of St. Gregory of Agrigentum as a Seventh-Century Petrine Critique of the Papacy

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pp. 163-168

Gregory of Agrigentum was a Greek-speaking native of Sicily who was elected to the See of Agrigentum, on Sicily’s southern coast, at roughly the same time that Pope Gregory I was elected to the Roman See in 590. His vita was probably produced in the 630s by Leontius, a monk of the St. Savas monastery in Rome.1 If this date is accurate, it would fix the composition to a time...

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Conclusion: The Invention of Peter

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pp. 169-172

In Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire, Averil Cameron demonstrates the value of examining the ascendancy of Christianity in an otherwise unfavorable Roman context by seeking to understand the ‘‘articulation’’ and ‘‘ideology’’ of Christianity as dynamic factors in and of themselves.1 In doing so, she offers a prime example of how the field of early Christian studies can...

Appendix I: Pope Gelasius to Augustus Anastasius

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pp. 173-180

Appendix II: Tract VI

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pp. 181-190


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pp. 191-244


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pp. 245-254


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pp. 255-260


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pp. 261-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208641
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245172

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion