A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Feast of the Chair of St Peter – 22 February

Fr Kevin Head sm

Behind the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome there is a remarkable bronze sculpture with a stained glass window above it. The sculpture is of the Chair of St. Peter, pictured on the front cover. The centre-piece is a throne, designed by Bernini, symbolising the ‘seat’ of the Pope’s authority. Within this gilt-bronze throne, there is a wooden seat. There is a tradition that says this seat was used by St Peter as Bishop of Rome, but the most recent study of this object, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, determined that no part of the chair pre-dated the sixth century.

There are four bronze figures holding the chair. They are four of the Fathers of the early Church: Saints Augustine and Ambrose from the Western Church, and Saints John Chrysostom and Athanasius from the East. Their teachings contributed richly to the Tradition of the Church. Above the Chair is the window of the Holy Spirit.

Thus the Pope’s authority is shown as being supported by Tradition under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The feast of the Chair of St Peter has been celebrated in Rome since at least the fourth century. It commemorates and celebrates the teaching authority of the Pope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that ‘it is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error’ so that ‘the people of God abides in the truth that liberates’ (#890).

Pope Benedict XVI, in the General Audience of 22 February 2006, said that ‘the Chair represents the Pope’s mission as guide of the entire People of God. Celebrating the “Chair” of Peter means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognising it as a privileged sign of the love of God.’

Celebrating the feast of the Chair of St Peter expresses our loyalty to the Pope as head of the Church, much as we do when we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the Pope’s Cathedral Church. We give our loyalty to the Pope because he is the one chosen to sit in the Chair of St Peter and to continue the apostolic ministry of St Peter in the Church.

Many in the Church, including a number of Cardinals, feel free to disagree with the Pope, for example, in regard to climate change. We do not have to agree with everything that the Pope says; loyalty to the Pope does not mean unthinking obedience.

It does mean, though, that we do not dismiss out of hand what the Pope says when our views do not agree with his. It seems to me that climate change deniers in the Church have made no effort to understand properly Laudato Si’. Nor have they taken any notice of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI on this subject.

The Pope is a very important symbol of our unity as Catholics. He is not only a symbol of our unity; in some way or another his ministry and teaching is meant to bring about the unity that he symbolises. The task the Pope has in this regard is impossible from a human point of view.

Thanks be to God, the Pope has the support of Tradition as well as the light and the gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Tagged as: , ,

Comments are closed.