A reader sent me this very interesting question for discussion (and, by the way, you can now send questions or comments to eirenikonblog at me.com):
… I was hoping to use this forum to moot an issue that has troubled me relating to the transmission of the Petrine function in the early Church. It involves Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. I have always had difficulty with the traditional Catholic portrayal of the transmission as flowing seamlessly from Peter to Linus and their successors as president of the apostolic see down to our time. How could Linus have exercised the Petrine function (as Catholics understand it) of leadership within the universal Church while many of the apostles remained alive, indeed while Paul himself was not only present in Rome but actually writing from Rome to other churches from the capital (in a classic demonstration of Petrine leadership)? Surely this is only a role that could have been assumed by the bishop of Rome once the apostles had all died. This is why the traditional dating of Clement’s letter made sense to me as by the mid to late 90s, John would have either passed on or been sent on the exile that Tradition links with his martyrdom. If, as Dr Tighe and the current Pope seem to prefer, the letter is to be ascribed to the mid 70s, why would Clement be intervening in Corinth at all when the Apostle John himself could do so with greater ease (being closer at Ephesus) and with so much greater authority? Indeed, it is only the context of John absence or indisposition that Clement’s authoritative language and intervention makes any sense. Such an understanding of transmission (from the apostles as a whole and not just from Peter) to the Church of Rome would seem to explain satisfactorily from the Catholic point of view the otherwise embarrassing absence of demonstrable exercise of Petrine leadership by any Roman bishop between Peter and Clement. An earlier dating of the letter, while consonant with the traditional Catholic view of the chronological assumption of the Petrine role by Peter’s immediate episcopal successors, strikes me as deeply problematic ecclesiologically.
N.B. If I remember correctly, Dr Tighe argues on the basis of George Edmundson’s The Church of Rome in the First Century (the 1913 Bampton Lectures) (available online here). Also, I am not sure that the current Pope argues for the early date of Clement’s letter. Here, in his March 7, 2007 address on Clement of Rome, he seems to accept the later date of Clement’s letter, “immediately after the year 96.” Perhaps the younger Ratzinger argued differently?