The feast of the Chair of Saint Peter is very ancient in origin, arising from the second century, amid persecutions and pagan festivals. It was originally called Saint Peter's Banquet. It's not about any individual occupying the chair, but the chair itself.
As Jacobus de Voragine notes in his Golden Legend, compiled in 1260 AD, the chair is royal, in the way of King David, it is priestly, in the way of Eli, and it is magisterial in the way of Moses.
Voragine also notes that the feast is an exaltation of the Church militant, malignant, and triumphant. In his seven years as Bishop of Antioch, and the remaining years of his Roman pontificate, Saint Peter presided over Christians standing fast in the faith, living “in spirit, in faith, and in virtuous life.” This was the church militant. Saint Peter also presided over the “church of the malignant” by dispersing it, converting it, “bringing many back to the faith.” Thirdly, his chair is celebrated because from it he tasted the church of the triumphant precisely through his martyrdom. His chair nourishes the faithful, heals the malignant, and partakes of the most glorious City of God through conformity to Christ's sacrifice. Voragine also notes that Peter's chair should give every Christian hope for their own purification. “No sinner should despair even if he, like Peter, has denied God three times, provided that, like Peter, he confesses God in his heart, by his speech, and through his actions.”
A blessed feast of Saint Peter's Chair!
St. Peter, pray for us.
C. C. Pecknold is associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America.
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