Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
"On this rock I will build my church"
February 22, 2006
Today, the Latin-rite liturgy celebrates the Feast of the Chair of
St Peter. This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed
in Rome since the fourth century. On it we give thanks to God for
the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.
"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the Bishop,
placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is
known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority
and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical
teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to
safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community.
When a Bishop takes possession of the particular Church that has
been entrusted to him, wearing his miter and holding the pastoral
staff, he sits on the cathedra. From this seat, as teacher
and pastor, he will guide the journey of the faithful in faith, hope
So what 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
Church's first "seat" was the Upper Room, and it is likely that a
special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room where Mary,
Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples.
Subsequently, the See of Peter was Antioch, a city located on the
Oronte River in Syria, today Turkey, which at the time was the third
metropolis of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt.
Peter was the first Bishop of that city, which was evangelized by
Barnabas and Paul, where "the disciples were for the first time
called Christians" (Acts 11: 26), and consequently where our name
"Christians" came into being. In fact, the Roman Martyrology, prior
to the reform of the calendar, also established a specific
celebration of the Chair of Peter in Antioch.
From there, Providence led Peter to Rome. Therefore, we have the
journey from Jerusalem, the newly born Church, to Antioch, the first
centre of the Church formed from pagans and also still united with
the Church that came from the Jews. Then Peter went to Rome, the
centre of the Empire, the symbol of the "Orbis" - the "Urbs", which
expresses "Orbis", the earth, where he ended his race at the service
of the Gospel with martyrdom.
So it is that the See of Rome, which had received the greatest of
honours, also has the honour that Christ entrusted to Peter of being
at the service of all the particular Churches for the edification
and unity of the entire People of God.
The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be
recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's
"cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to
tend his entire flock.
This is testified by the most ancient Fathers of the Church, such
as, for example, St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, but who came from
Asia Minor, who in his treatise Adversus Haereses, 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 added:
"The universal Church, that is, the
faithful everywhere, must be in agreement with this Church because
of her outstanding superiority" (III, 3, 2-3).
Tertullian, a little later, said for his part: "How blessed is the
Church of Rome, on which the Apostles poured forth all their
doctrine along with their blood!" (De Praescriptione Hereticorum,
Consequently, the Chair of the Bishop of Rome represents not only
his service to the Roman community but also his mission as guide of
the entire People of God.
Celebrating the "Chair" of Peter, therefore, as we are doing today,
means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and
recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal
Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on
the path of salvation.
Among the numerous testimonies of the Fathers, I would like to quote
St Jerome's. It is an extract from one of his letters, addressed to
the Bishop of Rome. It is especially interesting precisely because
it makes an explicit reference to the "Chair" of Peter, presenting
it as a safe harbour of truth and peace.
This is what Jerome wrote: "I decided to consult the Chair of
Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle;
I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I
received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I
enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of
Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built"
(cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).
Dear brothers and sisters, in the apse of St Peter's Basilica, as
you know, is the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work
of Bernini. It is 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 pause before this evocative work which today can be
admired, decorated with myriads of candles, and to say a special
prayer for the ministry that God has entrusted to me. Raise your
eyes to the alabaster glass window located directly above the Chair
and call upon the Holy Spirit, so that with his enlightenment and
power, he will always sustain my daily service to the entire Church.
For this, as for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart.
To special groups:
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!
Lastly, my thoughts go to the sick and the newly-weds.
Dear sick people, offer to the Lord your moments of trial so that
they may open the doors of hearts to the proclamation of the Gospel.
And may you, dear newly-weds, always be witnesses of the love of
Christ who has called you to achieve a common project of life.
The Feast of the Chair of St Peter is a particularly suitable day
for announcing that next 24 March I will be holding a Consistory at
which I will appoint new Members to the College of Cardinals. It is
appropriate to make this announcement on the Feast of the Chair
because the task of Cardinals is to sustain and assist the Successor
of Peter in carrying out the apostolic office that has been
entrusted to him at the service of the Church.
It is not by chance that in ancient ecclesiastical documents the
Popes described the College of Cardinals as "pars corporis nostri"
(cf. F.X. Wernz, Ius Decretalium, II, n. 459). In fact, the
Cardinals form a sort of Senate that surrounds the Pope and of which
he avails himself in carrying out the tasks connected with his
ministry as the "lasting and visible source and foundation of the
unity both of faith and of communion" (cf. Lumen Gentium, n.
With the creation of the new Cardinals, therefore, I intend to bring
to 120 the number of Members Electors of the College of Cardinals,
as fixed by Pope Paul VI of venerable memory (cf. AAS 65,
1973, p. 163).
The following are the names of the new Cardinals:
1.- Archbishop William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;
2.- Archbishop Franc Rodé, C.M., Prefect of the Congregation
for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic
3.- Archbishop Agostino Vallini, Prefect of the Supreme
Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura;
4.- Archbishop Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino of Caracas,
5.- Archbishop Gaudencio B. Rosales of Manila, the
6.- Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, France;
7.- Archbishop Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Toledo, Spain;
8.- Archbishop Nicholas Cheong-Jin-suk of Seoul, Korea;
9.- Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., of Boston,
10.- Archbishop Stanis³aw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland;
11.- Archbishop Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy;
12.- Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, S.D.B., of Hong Kong, China.
I have also decided to raise to the dignity of Cardinal three
ecclesiastics who are older than 80, out of esteem for the services
they have rendered to the Church with exemplary faithfulness and
1. Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest
of the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls;
2. Archbishop Peter Poreku Dery, Archbishop emeritus of
3. Fr Albert Vanhoye, S.J., the former praiseworthy Rector of
the Pontifical Institute the Biblicum, and Secretary of the
Pontifical Biblical Commission: a great exegete.
The Church's universality is clearly reflected in the group of new
Cardinals. Indeed, they come from various parts of the world and
carry out different offices at the service of the People of God. I
ask you to raise to God a special prayer to the Lord, so that he
will grant them the necessary graces to carry out their mission
As I said at the outset, I will be holding the announced Consistory
next 24 March and the following day, 25 March, the Solemnity of the
Annunciation, I will have the joy of presiding at a solemn
Concelebration with the new Cardinals. I also invite all the Members
of the College of Cardinals to take part; I have in mind to organize
a meeting with them for reflection and prayer on the previous day,
Let us now end with the singing of the Pater Noster.
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