Fourth century glass mosaic of St. Peter,
located at the Catacombs of Saint Thecla.
Below, an abridged translation from the second volume of
Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums.
The story of the discovery of Peter’s tomb
According to an ancient tradition, the tomb of the ‘prince of the apostles’ is on the Appian Way, and according to another version, under the church of St. Peter. It seems that in the middle of the 2nd century this tomb was already sought.
Around the year 200 the Roman presbyter Gaius believed he knew where Peter’s tomb was, ‘in the Vatican’, and Paul’s tomb, ‘on the way to Ostia’. And since Constantine it has been venerated—and visited—the presumed tomb of Peter in St. Peter’s church.
However, its historical authenticity has not been proven; simply, in the Constantinian era there was a belief that they had found Peter’s tomb. But this belief did not prove anything more in those times than today. What was found under the church of St. Peter (in whose vicinity was the Phrygianum, the sanctuary of the goddess Cybele) was a large number of pagan tombs: in the last excavations no less than twenty-two mausoleums and two open crypts.
Between 1940 and 1949 the archaeologist Enrico Josi, the architect Bruno Apolloni-Ghetti, the Jesuit Antonio Ferrua and another Jesuit, Engelbert Kirschbaum, excavated under the dome of St. Peter. The management was given to the prelate Kaas, who was then director of the centre.
The results of various critical researchers—Adriano Prandi, Armin von Gerkan, Theodor Klauser, A. M. Schneider, and others—ended up extracting from the Jesuits the confession that the (Catholic) report of the excavations was not ‘free of errors’. There were ‘defects in the description’. They spoke of ‘greater or lesser contradictions’ and mention that errare humanum est (to err is human) ‘which, unfortunately, continues to be fulfilled’. But the decisive thing is that they want to ‘believe’. In no way has criticism ‘caused them to falter’. Finally, Engelbert Kirschbaum records the following:
Has Peter’s tomb been found? We reply: the tropaion of the middle of the 2nd century has been found. However, the corresponding tomb of the apostle has not been ‘found’ in the same sense, but it has been demonstrated: that is, by means of a whole series of clues, its existence has been deduced, although there are no longer ‘material parts’ of this original tomb.
Ergo, the grave has been there, but it’s gone! ‘Fantasy would like to imagine how the corpse of the first pope rested on earth’, Kirschbaum writes, and assumes that Peter’s bones were removed from its tomb in the year 258—naturally, without the slightest demonstration.
When Venerando Correnti, a well-known anthropologist, studied the legs of the vecchio robusto (old robust), the presumed bones of Peter, he identified them as the remains of three individuals, among them with ‘almost total certainty’ (quasi ciertamente) those of an elderly woman of about seventy years old. However, on June 26, 1968, Pope Paul VI announced in his address on the occasion of a general audience: ‘The relics of St. Peter have been identified in a way that we can consider as convincing’.
In fact, any identification among the pile of buried remains was, both at the beginning and after two thousand years, impossible even if Peter was there. Erich Caspar has rightly pointed out, with a good dose of prudence, ‘that the existing doubts will never be eliminated’.
Within this same context, Johannes Haller has recalled, also rightly, the scepticism regarding the authenticity of the Schiller and Bach skulls, although the distance in time is much smaller and the conditions much better. Likewise, Armin von Gerkan writes that, even if Peter’s tomb were discovered with inscriptions that would attest to it—which is not the case—that would prove nothing ‘since that inhumation would come from the Constantinian era, and it is very possible it was a fiction’.
Norbert Brox, who in 1983 knows ‘with all certainty’ that Peter has been in Rome, confesses that the role that Peter played in the community of that city is unknown. ‘It is ruled out that he was its bishop’. The author of the First Epistle of Peter (the ‘apostle of Jesus Christ’ in ‘Babylon’, that is, Rome) did not present himself as bishop but, according to the Protestant theologian Felix Christ, ‘as a preacher and above all as an ‘elder’. Also for the Catholic Blank, Peter was not, ‘in all probability the first bishop of Rome’, and naturally not the founder of the Roman community.
Even for Rudolf Pesch, so faithful to the opposite line, there was no ‘such beginnings’, no episcopate in Rome. Neither Peter nor Paul—‘neither of the two apostles has had a direct’ successor ‘in a Roman bishopric’. However, at the end of his study, this Catholic declares that the papal primacy is ‘the Catholic primacy of Peter united to the succession of the apostles in the office of bishop, at the service of the faith of the Church, One and Holy’. This is the factum theologicum.
In plan English, hiding a fact to obtain what would not otherwise be achieved.
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