Vatican Invites Protestant, Orthodox Theologians To Debate Petrine Primacy At St. Peter’s


By Courtney Mares

The Vatican will host a discussion inside St. Peter’s Basilica next month between a Catholic, a Protestant, and an Orthodox theologian on the primacy of Peter.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Culture, announced Oct. 20 that the Petrine primacy dialogue will take place in the basilica on Nov. 22 with the theme “On this rock, I will build my Church.”

The theological discussion is part of a new lecture series on the apostle Peter in history, art, and culture that will take place in the basilica starting Oct. 25 and running through March 2023.

The Catholic Church holds that Jesus gave St. Peter a special place or primacy among the apostles, citing the Gospel of Matthew 16:18–19.

The primacy of the bishop of Rome, as a successor of Peter, is one of the major issues of disagreement that has kept Orthodox Christians apart from the Catholic Church. Last year, Pope Francis told Orthodox theologians that it is his “conviction that in a synodal Church, greater light can be shed on the exercise of the Petrine primacy.”

At a Vatican press conference, Ravasi underlined that the new lecture series is not only for believers who want to find the reason for the hope that is in them but also aims to reach non-Catholics as well.

The cardinal said that Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the chief architect of St. Peter’s Basilica, envisioned the basilica’s colonnade as “two arms that could embrace not only Catholics from all over the world but also those who were heretics or of other faiths.”

Ravasi founded the Courtyard of the Gentiles foundation within the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education to promote dialogue between believers and nonbelievers through events, debates, and research.

Courtyard of the Gentiles is co-hosting the new lecture series along with the Fratelli Tutti Foundation, founded by Pope Francis in December 2021.

Ravasi will be the featured speaker at the first lecture in the basilica on Oct. 25 on the topic of St. Peter’s life and martyrdom, which will feature a string quartet performance of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and Handel’s Cantate Domino.

The Vatican has not released the names of the theologians who will be speaking at the Petrine primacy discussion in November in the basilica, whose foundation is built on the tomb of St. Peter.

The two lectures scheduled for 2023 will focus on a more “cultural dimension” of the apostle Peter, Ravasi said. A lecture on Jan. 17 will analyze the figure of St. Peter in history and culture and a March 7 event titled “Quo vadis” will look at how Peter has been portrayed in art, literature, music, and film.


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