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Thrones, Tonsures, & Schism

"O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ's lambs and sheep." This line is written on The Chair and it references Jesus commanding Peter to feed his sheep. After resurrecting Jesus appears to his apostles and does The Eucharist with them. He commands Peter then also to "feed" his sheep with this eucharist (John 21).

The Chair of St. Peter is February 22nd. It is The Patronal Solemnity for The Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter [OCSP]. There are three things we recall from this Solemnity: (1) Peter's Chair (2) Schism (3) Peter's Tonsure.

The Chair, a.k.a Throne or Cathedra

A "chair" frequently signifies Authority. We see this in two places in The Holy Scriptures:

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. -Matthew 23:1-2

This shows us that the Chair or Throne is a matter of Authority. Christ commands his disciples to obey the Pharisees teaching, but to ignore their way of life. The Reformation claimed to be reforming The Church for its corrupt members, but in fact it did not reform The Church, it simply made other churches. This is like saying I need to clean the soles and laces on my shoes, but instead I throw them out and get an entirely different pair. A problem with a part, is not a reason to reject the whole.

The Chair of St. Peter is like the Seat of Moses. Both are Authoritative. Both require responsibility. Both can be sat in by holy men. Both can be sat in by corrupt men. But corruption does not invalidate the Authority given. This is evidenced by The Pharisees for the Seat of Moses and The Borgias for The Chair of St. Peter. Man cannot overcome God, Moses' sins could not overcome The Lord's Authority, and neither could a bad Pope overcome The Lord's Authority. The Authority given is contingent on God's Power, not Man's sins.

The Borgias getting control of The Papacy, and having no power to change doctrine or practice of The Church is evidence for:

(1) The Pope is not an arbitrary tyrant whose will is law (2) Divine Law oversees the entire Church, including the Pope (3) The Holiness and Wholeness of The Church depends on Jesus, not the faithful.

Therefore corruption of members of the Church, "fake Christians, or hypocrites, does not invalidate authority. If anything Authority is what protects The Church from such folks substantially changing The Church!


If corruption is no excuse for schism from right authority, then this has strange implications for The Reformation and our Protestant brothers and sisters. No amount of corruption can ever allow one to logically conclude "they've given up their authority." The proper response to abuse, is proper use, not schism.

In fact, St. Paul commands us not to schism:

that there may be no schism in the body (KJV, Douay Rheims, English Revised) that there may be no division in the body (ESV, NIV, English Standard)

-1 Corinthians 12:25

Not only should we not schism, but it would seem the authority we're bound to is not just spiritual, but material! Noah's Covenant had the rainbow, Abe's had circumcision, and the Davidic Covenant had the physical sign of a chair/throne!

So Solomon sat upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was firmly established. -1 Kings 2:12

In other words, when Catholics want to go "directly to God," they go straight to the "stuff" God has used in creation for us to go to him. That includes saints, people, chairs, water, oil, wine, bread, etc. If you want to go directly to The Carpenter for help, expect to find His hammer somewhere. Thus to acknowledge Peter is not in contradiction with recognizing Christ, anymore than recognizing a hammer drives in a nail doesn't contradict saying the carpenter drove in the nail.

Jesus gave the keys of heaven and the authority to bind and lose to his Apostle Peter. Peter eventually went to Antioch where he was the first bishop (Gal 2; Acts 15). This seems to have been within 3 years from Jesus' Ascension. From there he ventured to Rome and was Bishop for some 20-25 years.

And some say that of his palace he made a church in the which all the people set up a chair for St. Peter to sit in more higher, for to preach the doctrine of Jesu Christ, and the better to be heard and seen. And of the exalting thus of St. Peter into this chair, this feast taketh the name of the chairing of St. Peter. And in this church was St. Peter seven years, and from thence he went to Rome and governed the church of Rome twenty-five years.

-The Golden Legend circa 1275 AD; Archbishop Jacobus de Voragine

The chair seems to have disappeared in the 400's, perhaps with the Gothic sacking of Rome. The one seen above seems to have built in the 500's, given to Pope Urban VIII in 875 AD by Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald, and given its ornate surrounding in the 1600's by Gian Bernini.


It is said that while Peter was at Antioch some of the pagans thought his preaching was ridiculous. They shaved his head to mock him. Thus began the tradition of the "tonsure" cut that monks are well known for. The tonsure is a round circle cut on the back of the head. It signifies the crown of thorns our Lord wore, and those with it are "fools for Christ" (1 Cor 4:10). It usually is a mark of one taking a vow to the eternal, for the circle, like God, is without beginning nor end.

At the Synod of Whitby 664 AD, The Catholics in England were fighting over whether to follow the "Roman Rite" or the "Celtic Custom." The latter said they followed St. James, the former St. Peter. It became easy to tell the sides apart around town based solely on the kind of tonsure cut they had! The followers of Peter had the round crown cut, and the Celts had another type. At the Synod the Celts were shown to not actually follow St. James' ways. Someone then pointed out that even if the Celtic Custom did follow St. James, St. Peter is still the higher authority. What text was this we might ask?

Jesus said, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" -Matthew 16:18

And thus Peter's Authority from Christ remained in England for another 870 years until 1534, when the seat of Henry VIII sought to overthrow Christ's own Apostle on matters of faith and morals. After another 478 years, in 2012, The Personal Ordinariate of The Chair of St. Peter was established Pope Benedict XVI to restore those of the Anglican Patrimony back into full communion with The See of Rome. St. Aelred is one such small Catholic Community hoping to do its part in this large mission that spans the millenia, to baptize the nations in the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Ghost.

O Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandedst him earnestly to feed thy flock: make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same; that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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