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The Chair of St Peter

Feast day - 22nd February

The gift of Christ to His Church      

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
General Audience, Wednesday 22 February 2006 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the Latin liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. This is a very ancient tradition, attested to in Rome since the IV century, on which we give thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the apostle Peter and to his successors. The "chair", in latin "cathedra", is literally the fixed seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese, which for this reason is called "cathedral", and is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and, in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, of the evangelical teaching that he, as successor of the Apostles, is called to safeguard and transmit to the Christian community. When a Bishop takes possession of the particular Church that has been entrusted to him, bearing the mitre and pastoral staff, he sits on the chair. From this seat, as teacher and pastor, he will guide the pathway of the faithful, in faith, hope and charity.

What then was the "chair" of St Peter? Chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which to build the Church (cf Mt 16, 18), he began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The first "seat" of the Church was the Upper Room, and it is probable that in this room where Mary, Mother of Jesus, prayed also with the disciples,
a special place would have been reserved for Simon Peter. Subsequently, the seat of Peter became Antioch, a city located on the River Oronte, in Syria, today in Turkey, at the time the third metropolis of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. Peter was the first bishop of this city, evangelized by Barnabas and Paul, where "for the first time the disciples were called Christians" (Acts 11, 26), hence where was born the name "Christians" for us, so that the Roman Martyrology, before the reform of the calendar, also provided a specific celebration of the Chair of Peter in Antioch. From there, Providence led Peter to Rome. So we have the pathway from Jerusalem, the nascent Church, to Antioch, the first centre of the Church assembled from pagans and still also united with the Church coming from the Jews. Then Peter went to Rome, centre of the Empire, symbol of the "Orbis" - the "Urbs" which expresses the "Orbis", the earth - where with martyrdom he concluded his race at the service of the Gospel. This is why the seat of Rome, which had received the greatest honour, also collected the burden entrusted by Christ to Peter of being at the service of all the particular Churches for the edification and unity of the entire People of God.

The seat of Rome, after these migrations by St Peter, was thus recognized as that of the successor of Peter, and the "chair" of its bishop represents that of the Apostle instructed by Christ to graze his whole flock. The most ancient Fathers of the Church attest to this, as for example St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, but who came from Asia Minor, who in his treatise Against Heresies, describes the Church of Rome as the "greatest and most ancient, known by all; ... founded and established in Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul"; and he adds: "With this Church, because of her eminent superiority, must be in accord the universal Church, that is, the faithful everywhere" (III, 3, 2-3). Tertullian, a little later, for his part affirms: "How blessed is this Church of Rome! It was the Apostles themselves who, in pouring out their blood, gave to her the doctrine in its totality" (The prescription of heretics, 36). The chair of the Bishop of Rome represents, therefore, not only his service to the Roman community but also his mission of guiding the entire People of God.

Thus to celebrate the "Chair" of Peter, as we are doing today, means to attribute to it a strong spiritual significance and to recognize in it a privileged sign of the love of God, the good and eternal Shepherd, who wants to gather his entire Church and guide her on the way of salvation. Among the many testimonies of the Fathers, I would like to quote that of St Jerome, taken from one of his letters, written to the Bishop of Rome, particularly interesting because it makes explicit reference precisely to the "chair" of Peter, presenting it as a safe haven of truth and peace. Jerome writes thus: "I decided to consult the chair of Peter, where is found that faith that an Apostle's mouth/lips has exalted; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no other primacy than that of Christ; for this reason I put myself in communion with your beatitude, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that on this rock is built the Church" (Letters I, 15, 1-2).

Dear brothers and sisters, in the apse of St Peter's Basilica, as you know, is situated the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini, realised in the form of a great bronze throne, supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church: two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East, St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius. I invite you to stand before this suggestive work, which today it is possible to admire decorated with numerous candles, and to pray in a particular way for the ministry that God has entrusted to me. Raising your gaze to the alabaster window that opens directly above the Chair, invoke the Holy Spirit, so that He may always sustain with his light and his strength my daily service to the whole Church. For this, as for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart."


"Je suis heureux de vous accueillir, chers pèlerins de langue française. Je salue en particulier le Comité fédéral d’Entreprise du Crédit Mutuel, les nombreux jeunes présents ce matin, notamment ceux du diocèse de Sens-Auxerre accompagnés de l’Archevêque, Mgr Yves Patenôtre, ceux du doyenné de Baziège, de Villeurbanne et de Montbrison. Que votre séjour à Rome vous aide à affermir en vous la foi de l’Église qui nous a été transmise par les Apôtres.

I warmly welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience. In particular, I greet the members of the Pro Oriente Syriac Commission, and also the members of the British Parliament. Today, I invite you all to visit the specially decorated monument to the ‘cathedra’ of Peter, in the Basilica. There, I ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit may enlighten me and support me in my service to the Church. Thank you and may God bless you all!

An diesem Festtag heiße ich euch, liebe Brüder und Schwestern aus dem deutschen Sprachraum, ganz herzlich willkommen. Besonders grüße ich die Pilger aus der Diözese Eisenstadt und die Teilnehmer an einem Seminar über das Papsttum aus Südtirol. Unterstützt mit eurem Gebet den Nachfolger Petri in seinem universalen Hirtendienst. Betet mit mir und für mich, daß der Heilige Geist mir mit seinem Licht und seiner Kraft in der Erfüllung meiner Mission stets beistehe. Dafür danke ich euch und dazu erbitte ich euch Gottes reichen Segen.

Saludo cordialmente a los visitantes venidos de España y de Latinoamérica, de modo especial a los peregrinos de la parroquia de Matamorosa (Santander), al Colegio San José Obrero de Hospitalet (Barcelona) y al grupo de la Universidad Cardenal Herrera, de Moncada (Valencia), así como a los peregrinos de Chile. Gracias de corazón por vuestras oraciones y por vuestra atención.

Caríssimos irmãos de língua portuguesa, A Igreja celebra hoje, com muita alegria, a festividade da Cátedra de Pedro. Cristo, o bom Pastor, quer reunir em torno a ela as suas ovelhas, inclusive as que não são ainda do mesmo aprisco, dando-lhes segurança e paz para prosseguir em direção ao seu Reino. Saúdo com especial afeto a todos os peregrinos presentes, especialmente os brasileiros do Santuário de Nossa Senhora Aparecida de Porto Alegre, recém vindos da Terra Santa, e a todos vos peço que rezem pelo Papa, na sua missão de levar adiante a Barca de Pedro. Que Deus vos abençoe!

Pozdrawiam serdecznie pielgrzymów polskich. W to szczególne święto proszę was o modlitwę w moich intencjach. Proście, by Duch Święty wspierał mnie zawsze swoim światłem i mocą w kierowaniu Kościołem, a zwłaszcza w trosce o budowanie jedności Ludu Bożego. Bóg zapłać! Niech Bóg wam błogosławi.

Srdečně vítám poutníky z Křesťanského gymnázia v Praze. Nechť tato pouť do Říma k hrobům apoštolů Petra a Pavla ve vás rozhojní touhu po duchovní dokonalosti. K tomu vám rád žehnám. Chvála Kristu!

S láskou vítam pútnikov zo Slovenska, osobitne Sestry Božského Vykupiteľa, ktoré slávia dvadsiate piate výročie svojej rehoľnej profesie. Drahi bratia a sestry, ďakujem sa vaše modlitby a rád žehnám vás i vašich drahých. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!

Facultatis Litterarum Christianarum et Classicarum placet salutare participes, qui huc advenerunt pontificia summi momenti documenta Veterum Sapientia necnon Studia Latinitatis commemoraturi. Iure meritoque Decessores Nostri permagni duxerunt Romani sermonis cognitionem, ut uberrimam doctrinam penitus adipisci possint qui in humanis ecclesiasticisque disciplinis versantur. Eosdem ideo incitamus ad studiose operam dandam, ut quam plurimi ad hunc thesaurum accedant eiusdemque percipiant praestantiam.

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i Chierici Regolari di Somasca e li esorto a servire con sempre attenta generosità Cristo e la Chiesa secondo il carisma che li contraddistingue. Saluto poi i rappresentanti dell'Associazione Interparlamentare "Cultori dell'Etica", ringraziandoli per il loro impegno teso a sottolineare l'importanza dei valori cristiani che sono a fondamento d'una società realmente rispettosa dei diritti inalienabili dell'uomo. Saluto inoltre gli esponenti dell'Associazione Alfa Victor di Massa Carrara, accompagnati dal Vescovo Mons. Eugenio Binini, e quelli del Serra Club, di Montepulciano.

Il mio pensiero va, infine, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Voi, cari malati, offrite al Signore i vostri momenti di prova perché si aprano le porte dei cuori all'annuncio del Vangelo. E voi, cari sposi novelli, siate sempre testimoni dell'amore di Cristo, che vi ha chiamati a realizzare un comune progetto di vita.

Concludiamo questo nostro incontro, cantando il Pater noster.


La festa della Cattedra di San Pietro è giorno particolarmente appropriato per annunciare che il prossimo 24 marzo terrò un Concistoro, nel quale nominerò i nuovi Membri del Collegio cardinalizio. Questo annuncio si colloca opportunamente nella festa della Cattedra, perché i Cardinali hanno il compito di sostenere ed aiutare il Successore di Pietro nell'adempimento dell'ufficio apostolico che gli è stato affidato a servizio della Chiesa. Non a caso, negli antichi documenti ecclesiastici, i Papi qualificavano il Collegio cardinalizio come "pars corporis nostri" (cfr F.X. Wernz, Ius Decretalium, II, n.459). I Cardinali infatti costituiscono intorno al Papa una sorta di Senato, di cui egli si avvale nel disimpegno dei compiti connessi col suo ministero di "principio e fondamento perpetuo e visibile dell'unità della fede e della comunione" (cfr Lumen gentium, 18).

Con la creazione dei nuovi Porporati, pertanto, intendo integrare il numero di 120 Membri Elettori del Collegio cardinalizio, fissato dal Papa Paolo VI di venerata memoria (cfr AAS 65, 1973, p.163). Ecco i nomi dei nuovi Cardinali:

1. Mons. WILLIAM JOSEPH LEVADA, Prefetto della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede;
2. Mons. FRANC RODÉ, C.M., Prefetto della Congregazione per gli Istituti di Vita Consacrata e le Società di Vita Apostolica;
3. Mons. AGOSTINO VALLINI, Prefetto del Supremo Tribunale della Segnatura Apostolica;
4. Mons. JORGE LIBERATO UROSA SAVINO, Arcivescovo di Caracas;
5. Mons. GAUDENCIO B. ROSALES, Arcivescovo di Manila;
6. Mons. JEAN-PIERRE RICARD, Arcivescovo di Bordeaux;
7. Mons. ANTONIO CAÑIZARES LLOVERA, Arcivescovo di Toledo;
8. Mons. NICOLAS CHEONG-JIN-SUK, Arcivescovo di Seoul;
9. Mons. SEAN PATRICK O'MALLEY, O.F.M. Cap., Arcivescovo di Boston;
10. Mons. STANISLAW DZIWISZ, Arcivescovo di Cracovia;
11. Mons. CARLO CAFFARRA, Arcivescovo di Bologna;
12. Mons. JOSEPH ZEN ZE-KIUN, S.D.B., Vescovo di Hong Kong.

Ho deciso inoltre di elevare alla dignità cardinalizia tre ecclesiastici di età superiore agli ottant'anni, in considerazione dei servizi da essi resi alla Chiesa con esemplare fedeltà ed ammirevole dedizione.
Essi sono:

1. Mons. ANDREA CORDERO LANZA DI MONTEZEMOLO, Arciprete della Basilica di S. Paolo fuori le Mura;
2. Mons. PETER POREKU DERY, Arcivescovo emerito di Tamale (Ghana);
3. P. ALBERT VANHOYE, S.I., il quale fu benemerito Rettore del Pontificio Istituto Biblico e Segretario della Pontificia Commissione Biblica. Un grande esegeta.

Nella schiera dei nuovi Porporati ben si rispecchia l'universalità della Chiesa: provengono infatti da varie parti del mondo e rivestono mansioni diverse nel servizio al Popolo di Dio. Per essi vi invito ad elevare a Dio una particolare preghiera al Signore, affinché conceda loro le grazie necessarie per svolgere con generosità la loro missione.

Come ho detto all'inizio, il prossimo 24 marzo terrò l'annunciato Concistoro e il giorno successivo, 25 marzo, Solennità dell'Annunciazione del Signore, avrò la gioia di presiedere una solenne Concelebrazione con i nuovi Cardinali. Per detta circostanza inviterò pure tutti i Membri del Collegio cardinalizio, con i quali ho in animo di avere anche una riunione di riflessione e di preghiera il giorno precedente, 23 marzo.

Concludiamo ora con il canto del Pater noster."