On the first anniversary of his election to the papacy, Leo the Great stood before the assembly of bishops convening in Rome and forcefully asserted his privileged position as the heir of Peter the Apostle. This declaration marked the beginning of a powerful tradition: the Bishop of Rome would henceforth leverage the cult of St. Peter, and the popular association of St. Peter with the city itself, to his advantage. In The Invention of Peter, George E. Demacopoulos examines this Petrine discourse, revealing how the link between the historic Peter and the Roman Church strengthened, shifted, and evolved during the papacies of two of the most creative and dynamic popes of late antiquity, ultimately shaping medieval Christianity as we now know it.
By emphasizing the ways in which this rhetoric of apostolic privilege was employed, extended, transformed, or resisted between the reigns of Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Demacopoulos offers an alternate account of papal history that challenges the dominant narrative of an inevitable and unbroken rise in papal power from late antiquity through the Middle Ages. He unpacks escalating claims to ecclesiastical authority, demonstrating how this rhetoric, which almost always invokes a link to St. Peter, does not necessarily represent actual power or prestige but instead reflects moments of papal anxiety and weakness. Through its nuanced examination of an array of episcopal activity—diplomatic, pastoral, political, and administrative—The Invention of Peter offers a new perspective on the emergence of papal authority and illuminates the influence that Petrine discourse exerted on the survival and exceptional status of the Bishop of Rome.
Chapter 1. Petrine Legends, External Recognition, and the Cult of Peter in Rome
Chapter 2. The Many Faces of Leo's Peter
Chapter 3. Gelasius' Domestic Problems and International Posture
Chapter 4. The Petrine Discourse in Theoderic's Italy and Justinian's Empire
Chapter 5. Restraint and Desperation in Gregory the Great's Petrine Appeal
Postscript: The Life of St. Gregory of Agrigentum as a Seventh-Century Petrine Critique of the Papacy
Conclusion: The Invention of Peter
Appendices (translations by Matthew Briel)
I: Pope Gelasius to Augustus Anastasius
II: Tract VI
"The genius of Demacopoulos's book is that it takes an entrenched assumption about Roman papal authority—that the late ancient pope claimed to speak through Peter, Christ's chosen apostle, when asserting matters of doctrine or discipline—and turns it on its head."—Early Medieval Europe
"The Invention of Peter makes a valuable contribution to two fields that have not yet much affected each other: intellectual history of the papacy and late antique cultural studies. It encourages fresh, innovative scrutiny of a subject too important to languish."—Kevin Uhalde, Ohio University
"Demacopoulos's meticulous study with helpful appendices should be read carefully by everyone, especially by those who think that they already know well enough the history of the early papacy."—Tarmo Toom, Journal of Theological Studies