Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Chair of St Peter at Rome - some reflections

As this year we shall lose the feast of the Chair of Peter as it fall on the same day, February 22 as Ash Wednesday it seems appropriate to say something about it on the day which was for long observed as that of the Chair of Peter at Rome, as opposed to that of the Chair of Peter at Antioch, celebrated on February 22 under that title until the changes resulting in the Novus Ordo effectively combined both celebrations.

There is an online history of the observance and the physical relic and reliquary here. The original date appears to be February 22, and that was the day observed as a feast in Rome until the post-Tridentine reforms of the calendar. Some places celebrated it as a feast on January 18th to avoid losing the observance with it often falling in Lent, and from this arose the idea of commemorating both of St Peter's cathedra - Rome in January, Antioch on the original feast day.

My two posts from February last year on the subject can be read at Chair of St Peter and More on the Chair of St Peter.

The feast is, of course more about the continuing Petrine ministry of the Papacy than about a tangible relic or past event, and that point gives me the opportunity to post one of my favourite quotations from an historian. It comes from Walter Ullmann's introduction to his A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages, first published in 1972 and still available in new editions, and, having made his essential point that the history of the Papacy is the history of an idea - the Petrine claim - this is what he then says...

the papacy is the only institution in the European or Western orbit of civilization which links the post-Apostolic with the Atomic age

Ullmann continues:

as an institution it has witnessed the birth, growth, prosperity, decay and disappearance of powerful empires, nations and even of whole civilizations; it has witnessed radical transformations in the cosmological field evidenced by bloody revolutions, intercontinental wars and popular upheavels of such magnitudes and dimensions that wholly novel political and social structures appeared in their train.

I think that the first phrase I have quoted, which I first read in 1994, and has stayed with me ever since, was working away at the back of my mind and was a contributory factor to my conversion.

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