Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
I don’t know if you respond to questions concerning the Scriptures but if you do, I wonder if you can help with this question.
My question concerns Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.
“…..I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”
Now, if the Archbishop of Washington wrote a letter to the faithful in the Archdiocese of New York, eyebrows might be raised at the seeming audacity of the Archbishop to write to the faithful in an Archdiocese outside his jurisdiction. Yet this is what Paul appears to do. He writes to the brethren in Rome. Yet, at that time, Peter was in Rome so why did he not write to Peter rather than directly to the brethren?
Moreover, given Peter’s primacy, does it not appear to be a bit odd that Paul writes to the brethren almost as if Peter did not exist?
In so far as there were bishops in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, etc when Paul wrote his epistles to the brethren in these places, these bishops would have been appointed by Paul. But Paul most certainly did not appoint the Bishop of Rome. Yet his writes to the Romans in the same way he writes to the Corinthians, etc.
And why would the brethren in Rome be in need of such a letter when Peter was already there?
I suppose my basic response would be, "Who says Peter was there when Paul wrote the Romans?" It seems to me he could have been anywhere. Just as Paul founded Churches and moved on so Peter may have founded the Church at Rome and then gone on and been anywhere in the Empire when Paul wrote. The apostles tended to get around. As far as I know, the only thing solid we have from the Tradition is that Peter founded the Church at Rome and that both Peter and Paul were martyred there. I know of nothing in the Tradition which demands we believe Peter remained in Rome from the time he founded the Church until his death and can think of lots of reasons for presuming Peter was on the move like the other apostles till he returned to Rome to meet his destiny. The archeology that supports the fact that the tomb of Peter below the basilica of St. Peter is rather impressive. It is backed by the memoirs of apostolic Fathers who also remember Peter and Paul dying at Rome. Against this, the argument that Paul doesn't mention Peter in his letter is essentially an argument from silence—and a silence that can be accounted for in other ways than by supposing that the witness of the entire early Church and the bones of a crucified man (in a tomb bearing the inscription “Peter is within”) are somehow an elaborate fraud.
By the way, Peter’s first epistle is addressed to, among other people, the Galatians, Paul’s flock. And Paul, who hails from the Church at Antioch (where Peter was for a time), pastors the Church in Ephesus (Acts 19), where John would later reside and teach. There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of struggle for turf dominance among the apostles. So I see no particular reason why Paul would have felt a need to steer clear of Rome, particularly if Peter was not there at the time he wrote to them. Give that Paul's apostolic mission begins when Peter's Church, the Church at Antioch, lays hands on him and sends him out, it's very conceivable that Paul saw his work and Peter's as profoundly related. Bottom line: the argument that Peter was never in Rome based on the letter to the Romans is, I think, a very weak argument from silence.
Hope that helps! Thanks for writing!