An examination of the name lists in the NT will reveal that Peter is most often at the head of them; another sign that he was considered the leader. But we should take care here; leader does not mean supreme autocrat. Language which sees him as the ‘prince’ of the Apostles can seriously mislead. We see from Acts that St James presided over the Council of Jerusalem, and we can see from Paul that whilst Peter was ‘one of the pillars’ he was not the sole one. The other Apostles had also been given the power to bind and loose, and whilst it seems that Peter’s pre-eminence was acknowledged, it would be a mistake to see him as in any sense of the word ‘a prince’.
Was Peter ever in Rome? Well, the tradition is that he was crucified there in Nero’s time, and it would have been difficult for that to have happened had he not set foot in the place. Let us turn to see what the Fathers say. I will add here that I am no fan of florilegia which simply cherry-pick quotations, and I shall, even at the risk of a couple of more posts, try not to do that.
Tertullian (150-220), writing in his Prescription Against Heretics: “Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the church should be built’ … ?” Tertullian wrote the Prescription c. A.D. 199, during the orthodox period of his life. Here, he equates the “rock” in question to the Apostle Peter. Like other Fathers he believes in Apostolic succession and in the authority of Rome. But one might easily say that what concerns Tertullian is the preservation of the truth of the gospel, not the establishment of a permanent Roman see with all the authority of an apostolic office. For example, according to Tertullian, Peter ordained Clement to succeed him as bishop of Rome and the teachings of Clement may be trusted because he received his teaching from the Apostle Peter himself. But does that mean that Clement inherited Peter’s apostolic office, or his position as “rock”? If it doesn’t, then it is hard to see why Tertullian attaches such importance to Clement receiving his teaching from Peter; if he did not succeed Peter, why bother to mention it?
In his On Modesty, which was written when he had become a Montanist, Tertullian rejects the claims of the Pope, Callistus in terms which show us what those claims were as early as the second century:
‘But,’ you say ‘the Church has the power of forgiving sins.’ This I acknowledge and adjure more (than you; I) who have the Paraclete Himself in the persons of the new prophets… . I now inquire into your opinion, (to see) from what source you usurp this right to ‘the Church.’ If, because the Lord has said to Peter, ‘Upon this rock will I build My Church,’ ‘to thee have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom;’ or, ‘Whatsoever thou shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens,’ you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord, conferring (as that intention did) this (gift) personally upon Peter? ‘On thee,’ He says, ‘will I build My Church; ‘and I will give to thee the keys,’ not to the Church; and, ‘Whatsoever thou shall have loosed or bound,’ not what they shall have loosed or bound. For so withal the result teaches. In (Peter) himself the Church was reared; that is, through (Peter) himself; (Peter) himself essayed the key… . For in accordance with the person of Peter, it is to spiritual men that this power will certainly appertain, either to an apostle or else to a prophet… . and thus from that time forward, every number (of persons) who may have combined together into this faith is accounted ‘a Church’ from the Author and Consecrator (of the Church). And accordingly ‘the Church,’ it is true, will forgive sins: but (it will be) the Church of the Spirit, by means of a spiritual man; not the Church which consists of a number of bishops.
So, we see that when he was orthodox, Tertullian supported the claims of the Pope; when he was not, he quibbled. It was an early example of a pattern with a long history. But it ought to put an end to the idea that the Petrine claims in any way arose with Leo the Great.