Via Media

Via Media

On Peter’s Bones

posted by awelborn

I just want to clarify something I wrote in the Scavi post. As I recall, the tour guide (who of course was not just doing her own thing, but was acting as a representative of the site managers, aka the Vatican) was carefully-almost-agnostic about the bones. She didn’t quite say "We don’t know" but she did say, "It’s interesting that they didn’t find feet…it fits in with the stories of Peter’s martyrdom" and she did say "They could be" and "If they are…"

So it seems to me that even though the remains are carefully preserved there, the emphasis is not "Here are St. Peter’s bones." Rather, the emphasis is: the archaeological excavations have revealed that this is the spot where Constantine built his altar on top of the spot that had been revered for centuries as Peter’s burial spot."

I think that’s an important distinction to make…and I came away from the tour hearing that distinction rather subtly, but truly made by the tour guide.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 6:03 pm

The impression that I got, regarding whether they are or are not, is that the institutional Church has taken the same approach as it takes to many other purported relics, apparitions, etc. — You are free to believe or not believe.
And since a guy in our group, who was near death a few days earlier, looked as if he had fully recovered after we went on the Scavi tour and asked Peter to intercede for him, I believe.
We were fortunate to have a guide who was a seminarian from the North American College, who was quite good. An excellent book on the subject is The Bones of St. Peter by John Evangelist Walsh (although you may have to hunt to find a copy) —

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Michael Hugo

posted March 17, 2006 at 8:03 pm

Constantine and the early Christians must have TRIED to keep track of Peter’s bones, no?
Unless they were NEVER identified, and only guessed about in the beginning, it is unlikely the early Christians would have “lost them in the shuffle”.
It seems logical to me to assume they are Peter’s bones, unless there is reason to doubt it. To remain completely non-committal for NO reason seems like a mistake, given the significance of the authority question.
Or do you think the Church is remaining non-committal because it HAS doubts? Or do they not want to link the authority issue to something as sketchy as the attribution of the bones?

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Sean Gallagher (a.k.a., Bruce Dickinson)

posted March 17, 2006 at 8:13 pm

I took the Scavi tour 13 years ago and had the same experience. In fact, our guide at the time was a graduate archaelogical student. That made the explanation of everything else in the place much more interesting for me.

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Michael Hugo

posted March 17, 2006 at 9:08 pm

So, now that you’ve had the tour, do you BELIEVE?
That is the whole thing with skepticism, isn’t it? It only allows for belief in things that can’t be disproved. We have to stay on our toes, lest we fall victim to medieval superstition.
As for me, I believe they are the bones of Peter. If I’m wrong, then I’ll just become cynical later.

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posted March 17, 2006 at 10:40 pm

When you say that the tour guide is under the auspices of the Vatican, implying that the Vatican knows what is being said, you couldn’t be more wrong (if that is what you were implying).
A couple of years ago some buddies and I received a free tour of St. Peters when we were in Rome. We assumed the same thing. The woman that gave us the tour was an American studying art in Rome and giving tours was a way for her to earn credit (or something to that effect).
Anyways, I remember being amazed at the outright hostility to the Vatican and Catholicism that was unleashed with every piece of art she pointed out. For example- pointing to the Gold 12’ letters that encircled the top of the dome inside the basilica, she said something to the effect of, “no wonder Martin Luther rebelled” or “the protestants had a point.”
That was just an example that I remember- but little jabs were strewn throughout the entire tour, so much so that I made it a point to challenge her after the tour about the things she said.
I couldn’t believe it. I’m sure if the Vatican knew, they would have booted her in a second…I didn’t know who to talk with about the whole ting and I regret not doing more.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 1:04 am

Derek — Anybody can give a tour of the basilica, since it is more or less open to the public. So, yes, those guides might say any crazy and outrageous thing. But you need special access and permission from the Vatican Uffizi to even enter the scavi.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 1:41 am

Or do you think the Church is remaining non-committal because it HAS doubts? Or do they not want to link the authority issue to something as sketchy as the attribution of the bones?
I think it’s more likely that the Church is careful about such pronouncements because they cannot be made with certainty. They can be made with varying degrees of probability, but that’s as strong as it gets.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 1:44 am

otherwise, the skeptic well-versed in logic would ask the Church to provide the basis or rationale for such a certain judgment, and since it is not forthcoming, it would be relatively easy to discredit the Church…
(whether the bones are of St. Peter are not cannot be answered by Revelation or a declared dogmatic fact)

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Charles Collins

posted March 18, 2006 at 3:13 am

There is also controversy surrounding the finding of the bones, as is pointed out in Walsh’s book.
Several Vatican archeologists said they were not the bones…
Most observers say this was for professional reasons. Peter’s bones were not found in the ground, so to speak. They were found in a cardboard box, where certain Jesuit archeologists, missing their signficance, put them.
The fact that the person who figured out they were probably Peter’s bones was a woman also caused some displeasure among the almost completely male circle which surrounded the escavation.
Hence, other, political, factors have a role in this.

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Michael Hugo

posted March 18, 2006 at 4:14 am

Wow. Interesting story. Thanks for the info. If I have time, I’d like to read that book.
BTW, can anyone recommend a book about angels and angelic theology (if that is the right term)? I saw a priest on EWTN about ten years ago, talking about his book on angels. It had taken him something like twenty years to write. I’m looking for something meaty, but readable.
Thank You.

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posted March 18, 2006 at 10:19 am

Jean Danielou has a book on angels, it may still be in print.

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Sandra Miesel

posted March 18, 2006 at 5:03 pm

The text of the 1998 art exhibition catalog, ANGELS FROM THE VATICAN: THE INVISIBLE MADE VISIBLE is excellent and compact. ANGELS AND ANGELOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES by David Keck (Oxford, 1998) is a good academic source on where a lot of our theology of angels came from.

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Michael Hugo

posted March 19, 2006 at 2:10 am

Thank you tedschan and Sandra!

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