Reflection for the Feast of St Linus

Qui non bajulat crucem suam, et venit post me, non potest meus esse discipulus.[1]
Whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, is not able to be my disciple.

Sacred tradition holds that St Linus succeeded St Peter as bishop of Rome. The main source for this is St Irenaeus whose own biography is steeped with the history of the infant church. He was born of Christian parents in Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey but then a Greek city in the first half of the second century. He was a student of Polycarp, himself a disciple of St John in Ephesus. Having been ordained a priest for Lugdunum in Gaul, present day Lyon, he was sent from there to Rome to consult with the Pope, Eleutherus, at that time. Returning to Lyon he was appointed bishop succeeding the first bishop, St Pothinus who had been martyred in the persecution of Marcus Aurelius. In his magnum opus “Against Heresies”, a major overview of Christian doctrine and a polemic against the various spurious teachings of the day, primarily Gnosticism, Irenaeus asserts “we can enumerate the bishops installed by the apostles and their successors from their times down to our own”.[2]
Little is known about Linus save that he was listed as a companion of Paul when greetings were sent in the second of his extant letters to Timothy. Eusebius, writing from Caesarea in Palestine some one hundred years later than Irenaeus, confirms that Linus succeeded Peter, yet he omits Anacletus and cites Clement as the third successor.

“… Linus who is mentioned in the second epistle to Timothy as being with Paul in Rome, as stated above was the first after Peter to be appointed bishop of Rome. Clement again, who became the third bishop of Rome, was, as the apostle himself testifies, Paul’s fellow-worker and fellow-combatant.”[3]

The papacy in the first and second centuries depended on the understanding of its scriptural foundations exemplified in the appointment by Christ of Peter immediately and personally to a primacy of jurisdiction.

The primacy was promised at Caesarea Philippi when Simon was addressed as Peter (Cephas):

“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[4]

The primacy was conferred at the Sea of Tiberias, after the resurrection, when Peter gave a three-fold assurance of his loving commitment:

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” he said to him, “yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him: “Feed my sheep.”[5]

By virtue of this, Peter was to assume leadership of the disciples and the first ecclesial community. This was borne out by his conduct of the election of Matthias; his proclamation of the crucified and risen Messiah at Pentecost; his confession of the faith before the High Priest’s Council;[6] his acceptance of the first pagan, Cornelius, for baptism; and not least, the one to whom Paul approached for ratification of his mission.[7]

Pre-eminently, the third successor of the office of Peter at Rome, is Clement who sent a letter to the church at Corinth exhorting it to fidelity to the apostolic teaching, to eschew dissent and to do penance. It is written from the church “built on Peter” and exemplified the nature of the Petrine office as that of strengthening the faith and leading by example. The primacy has the task of preserving the unity and solidarity of the Church, with a continuity unchanged until the end of time. Its essential purpose, the perpetuation of the work of salvation, continues to function on the foundation that supports it. In recent times, the munus of the successor of Peter has been separated from the ministerium. This has caused great consternation and confusion not least because the munus is the ministerium.[8]

Christ built his church on the person of Simon now Peter. This is no superficial change, but a supernatural transformation that makes each of his successors the representative of Christ on earth, in other words his vicar (Christi Vicarius). This is not an archaic expression that can be discarded easily, but a spiritual reality and as such a pastoral responsibility. The bishop of Rome is the visible representative of the invisible Christ, who has vowed to confirm in heaven what his vicarius has bound or loosed on earth.

Across the ages there have been bishops of Rome who have been unworthy of the office, some even scandalously so, especially in the High Renaissance. One could mention Rodrigo Borgia who presided over seventeen Sees simultaneously, and fathered children while he was pope! By contrast, Aeneus Silvius Piccolomini, a scholar, poet and historian, who, once elected, renounced his former worldliness with a Bulla Retractationem urging his subjects to “Reject Aeneas; accept Pius”.[9] Also there have been a cavalcade of anti-popes, thirty-seven at last count, yet the first, St Hippolytus, was reconciled before his death in 235 AD.

Popes may be good, bad or indifferent, some have been great, some canonised. Modern popes come under intense scrutiny unimaginable in earlier ages that inevitably exposes personal flaws and weaknesses Whether a demagogue or a shrinking violet each pope brings to the See of Peter God-given talents that can be used for the furtherance of evangelisation and the heralding of “God’s way, not man’s” or they can become a stumbling-block (skandalon) as when Peter was told “get behind me, Satan!”[10]

It is a delight to celebrate St Linus because we know so little about him, except that he was invested to succeed St Peter who undoubtedly had ordained him. Nevertheless, he continues to visit us each day in the Canon of the Mass. Across the ages his name has been murmured by officiating celebrants, in every conceivable context and place, whether for the canonisation of a saint or in a tiny private oratory, commemorating him and venerating him along with the apostles and early martyrs anticipating the consecration of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, his Lord and Master and ours.

PW 23 September, 2022

[1] Lk 14: 27. ὅστις οὐ βαστάζει τὸν σταυρὸν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ ἔρχεται ὀπίσω μου, οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής.
[2] Adversus haereses III, 3: 10-11. C. 170 AD. “The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in his epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place after the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric.” Linus was Pope from 64(7) to 76 AD.
[3]Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4: 11.
[4] Mt 16: 17-19.
[5] Jn 21: 15 et seq.
[6] Aa 4: 8 et seq
[7] Gal. 1: 18. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days.
[8] …For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from February 28, 2013, at 8 pm., the See of Rome, the See of St Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
[9] Aeneam reicite; Pium recipite, cited in Denzinger-Schönmetzer, p.345.
[10] Mt 16: 23.