In the verses we have been studying, all agree that St. Paul is speaking with great caution, evidently not wishing to publish what he had communicated to them previously; the hints he drops being sufficient to call everything to their remembrance. Whatever Paul told the Thessalonians by word of mouth, he meant for it to remain secret at that time.
We've noted that commentators have said that this cryptic reticence is because it probably refers to the Roman Empire: Paul didn't want to provoke the Roman authorities since any talk of the (eventual) downfall of Rome would have been high treason.
How do we explain this evident wish for secrecy if it is not with reference to the Empire?
I propose that St. Paul enjoined secrecy NOT for fear of being accused of treason but because he was protecting St. Peter (who was most probably in Rome at the time).
Follow the thread.
St. Luke. Acts 12
Herod had Peter arrested, intent on beheading him as he had done James, the brother of St. John. Herod died in 44 AD and the imprisonment probably took place around 42AD. After his escape from prison, and stop-over in the safe-house of Mary the mother of John Mark (Acts 12), St. Luke tells us that St. Peter then 'left for another place' (12:17). This is remarkable since St. Luke in Acts never misses an opportunity to tell us where Paul, Barnabus, Silas, etc went or what they did next. But with St. Peter there is an embargo of silence. (This has precisely nothing to do with any so-called 'ascendancy' of St. Paul). We do not hear of Peter again until the Council of Jerusalem some 8 years later! It is not eisegesis to see something definitely cryptic here. Many have commented on it.
"The mysterious reference in 12:17 (Peter "went to another place") opens the door to speculation that Rome was the destination. Later church tradition asserts that Peter's ministry as bishop of Rome spanned 25 years. While the biblical evidence rules out a continuous presence in Rome, it is surmised that Peter could have founded the church in A.D. 42 and then continued his leadership over the church even when in other locations. Finally, Romans 15:20-24 could contain an allusion to Peter's ministry to the Romans, which dissuaded Paul from focusing his outreach in Rome. (Greg MaGee. www.bible.org - The Origins of the Church at Rome).
Having escaped from prison, Peter tells the church assembled in Mary's house to 'tell James and the brethren about this'. Now he had been telling the assembled about his miraculous escape; and it seems at first hand as if Mary, Rhoda and the others were to tell James and the Brethren about that. But wouldn't they have done so anyway without being told? The emphasis must be put on 'he went to another place'. James was to know where he was going. Peter was known in Jerusalem, he was known in the immediate Jewish 'diaspora' at least as far as Antioch. Peter was going somewhere where he wasn't recognisable. Perhaps this 'tell James' is Peter letting the church in Jerusalem know that James is to take precedence during his, Peter's, absence and, possibly, that he himself was off to Rome?
To repeat: after 'he left for another place', we hear of St. Peter only once more in Acts when he makes a magisterial appearance (as if out of nowhere) at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50. After that, St. Peter disappears from view completely and we hear no more until his encyclical (1 Peter) issued at Rome ('Babylon') in around AD 64. By AD 65/67 St. Peter is dead, martyred as we know under Nero. The Roman authorities had evidently cracked the 'Babylon Code/cipher' and tracked Peter down.
So what was our Pope doing between AD 50 and AD 65?
Both Sts. Eusebius and Jerome count Peter's episcopacy in Rome from 42AD. Extra-biblical in detail so it is, but there is every indication that they are right and that their dating corresponds to the internal biblical evidence.
But, if in Rome, how is it that he makes an appearance at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50? Suetonius relates how the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jewish population at Rome in, precisely, AD 49. The expulsion was due to public infractions of the peace (Suetonius says 'riot') over someone named "Chrestus". This would seem to be a reference to Christ. The Jewish Christians were making advances among the Jews in the large Jewish population at Rome. This would naturally have provoked outrage among the Jews for whom the Nazarene was a 'blasphemer'. Here were Jewish 'apostates' (Christians) causing other Jews to apostatise. The Roman authorities saw this as in-house fighting but it was such as to have become a threat to the public order
Between late AD 49 and AD 54 Peter was probably mostly at Antioch. Claudius died in AD 54 and the Jews were allowed to return. Peter went back with them and continued a clandestine ministry until his death in AD 64 (?).
Following a sharp dispute with emissaries from Jerusalem (the mother local church, now, in Peter's absence, under the authority of St. James), the church at Antioch appointed Paul and Barnabas to 'go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and presbyters about this question' (circumcision, conforming to Jewish law etc.). Meanwhile, as said I believe elsewhere, Catholics would like to read here 'to see Peter and the Apostles about it' or 'Peter and the Eleven' (St. Mark 16:7; Acts 3:14, 5:29; the apostles as a group are never mentioned without specific mention of Peter; and Paul makes a point of singling out Peter/Cephas whenever it is a question of the original apostolic nucleus).
And I mentioned that there was perhaps good reason not to mention Peter here, not this time to do with secrecy as to his whereabouts (nor to imply, as the Protestants do, that Peter held no universal jurisdiction) but to the simple fact that they probably didn't know Peter had returned from Rome and was in Jerusalem in the first place. For all they knew, he was still in Rome. Peter's turn-up at the Council also smacks of a 'hit-and-run' job (if I may say that!), and there is a reverence attached to Peter's presence there that bespeaks a certain distance, a lack of personal familiarity (see St. Paul and the Papacy: The First Generation)
With St. Luke's 'secrecy' in mind, let's return to St. Paul. For it is not only in his epistle to the Thessalonians that we discover a cryptic tone.
St. Paul. Epistle to the Church in Rome
Romans, Chapter 1
8 First I give thanks to my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all, because your faith is spoken of in the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you; 10 Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: 12 That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. (Romans 1: 8-12)
By A.D. 57 (the likeliest date St. Paul wrote to the Romans) the faith of the Church in Rome is 'spoken of in the whole world.' So solid is this (Roman) faith that Paul wishes not only to offer it 'some spiritual gift' but he himself wishes to be comforted by the Romans' faith. The NIV brings this out better than the Douay in this instance: 'I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift to make you strong - that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.'
Notice how the Apostle corrects, or explains what he means by 'strong' ('that is to say') - he has not chosen the wrong word for his epistle is indeed very strong and will strengthen the Roman church - but it could be misconstrued as though the Romans were not already strong, and so he puts the Romans faith on a par with his own. To no other Church is he so effusive - and almost apologetic about writing to.
St. Paul's epistle to the Romans is a doctrinal treatise of powerful theological argument written to largely unknown readers. He was aware that he was not writing to neophytes but to a church already well-established and grounded in the Faith. N. T. Wright writes in The New Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nasanville: Abingdon Press, 2002)on page 395 that Romans is "by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages.... What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision".
Who could have established an originally heterogeneous and split church so solidly in the Faith? There is only one: ST. PETER.
Romans, Chapter 15:
20 And I have so preached this gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation. (Romans 15: 20)
One of the reasons, then, Paul had not written to the Romans, or gone to Rome himself (despite the fact that, he says, he had long wanted to) is that was someone else had been laying the foundations in Rome and he didn't want to interfere. Now where someone else had laid foundations in other churches, before Paul had preached, Paul tells us their names. For example he acknowledges that Epaphras founded the church at Colossae (Colossians 1: 7). So why does he fail to greet or acknowledge the one who had founded, or at least strengthened and matured, the church in Rome?
Now that the foundations of that church were secure (and he had done his work in the East) there was no longer any reason for Paul not coming to Rome; and he hoped to do so on his way to Spain.
Now, Peter was a wanted man in Jerusalem where he would have been beheaded, as St. James had been. He would also have been wanted in Rome where he would have been crucified (he was not, like St. Paul, a Roman citizen) as an 'atheist' (someone who did not give even lip-service to the pantheon of gods). The capture of the leader of the 'sectarian misanthropes' (as we Christians were known!) would have been prized by the Romans. Peter's whereabouts had to be kept secret for as long as possible.
St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans around AD 57 or 58. He wrote His Second Epistle to the Thessalonians in 53 or 54 according to the commonly received scheme of Pauline chronology.
OBJECTION: Why 'was probably in Rome as early as 42 AD'?
1. Because there is no record of him at all in the Jerusalem church which is clearly under the immediate authority and jurisdiction of St. James by 49 AD. Even Protestants admit that, at least until the arrival, or, better, active ministry, of Paul, Peter was recognised as the 'leader'.
2. St. Peter probably did not go to Rome and 'found' the Church there as such. It is more likely that the Faith was carried there by the first Jewish converts present in Jerusalem for Pentecost but resident in Rome (Acts 2:10). For the first few years, the church in Rome would have been maintained by presbyters (Andronicus and Junias - Rom.16:7 - among them). The Church grew rapidly there but became increasingly problematic not because of any heresy (Paul does not warn the Romans of apostasy as he does the other churches) but because of the strife reported with the Roman synagogues, and no doubt because of Rome's strategic importance. An Apostle was needed.
3. This fits with Eusebius and Jerome and there is no credible reason to abandon the tradition(s) they had received just because it is 'extra-biblical'.
Romans, Chapter 16.
Paul gives a very long list of people to be greeted. He mentions 26 people by name. In no other epistle does he do this. This is only surmise, but could it not be that by being so comprehensive he is saying 'and of course do not miss You-Know-Who (Peter), out'?
16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you... 19 For your obedience is published in every place.
To other churches he says that 'the saints greet you' or 'the church at' greets you. There is no universality as such. Similarly, while he tells the Corinthians that they 'do not lack any spiritual gift' (1 Corinthians 17) he spends ten chapters warning and admonishing them.
First Epistle of St. Peter 5: 13
13 The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you: and so doth my son Mark.
No one these days doubts but that by 'Babylon' the Fisherman means Rome. This is intensified by the mention of Mark since the internal evidence of St. Mark's gospel suggests that Mark wrote for a specifically Latin speaking (i.e. predominantly Roman) audience and that Mark's primary source was none other than St. Peter himself.
Peter himself as it were 'claims' secrecy by using the Babylon cipher. I personally think he made a mistake in employing it since the code must have been cracked by then because within a year, perhaps less, he was captured and martyred.
Now to tie all this in. In Thessalonians, St. Paul has told us that a future "Katechon" (whom he has identified as a 'chief high priest'), is going to quit the Church: he's going to come right out of 'the middle' of it and, in his defection, he is going to lead practically the whole Church into apostasy. Only those who have steadfastly held to the Katechesis (the original Apostolic Deposit of Faith - and a body of Faithful shown in the rest of sacred Scripture to be a pitifully small remnant) do not follow him. Having given us the Restrainers's very broad location (the Church in her highest priestly office, i.e. the Papacy) if my subsequent comments regarding Peter in Rome hold water, Paul has also given us his precise geographical location as well: Rome.
There is a distinction to be made between how the Thessalonians read Paul all those centuries ago, and how we should read him today. Being told that a future katechon would defect, the Thessalonians would have noted it and then consigned it, precisely, to the future. It was not their problem. It is ours. Secrecy was enjoined on them not to protect the future apostate, but to protect the present Katechon who was faithful, i.e. St. Peter. We are not under the obligation of secrecy. At the same time, there is still a parallel because 'secrets' are known only to the few; and while the fact that Paul VI (if not John XXIII before him) was the defecting (and defective) Katechon is no secret, yet there are so few who know it. And even if we were able to take out a full-page ad in 'The Times' tomorrow telling all the world, who would believe us?
Such is the depth of the deception. To all intents and purposes the 'katechonic mystery' is still a 'secret.' Unlike the Thessalonians, we are enjoined to preserve no longer a merely pragmatic secret but to carry a crushing burden, a knowledge that few have ears to hear.
This thesis has managed to skirt - yet even so begs - the question: Is the (defective) Katechon to be identified with the Son of Perdition, the Antichrist? Many of the Faithful (even without such identification between the two terms) have concluded that the (stolen, usurped) See of Rome is now the seat of Antichrist. My thesis obviously inclines to that position but must be taken up, with that angle in view, in a later contribution. It will be a question of 'where angels fear to tread.'
The iniquity that has so wantonly installed itself in Mother Church since the massive defection of Paul VI and his successors, and which parades itself before the world as though it is Christ's holy Catholic Church (but isn't, cf. Apocalypse 3: 9 'those who say they are Jews, but are not') is a mystery that calls for 'the patience of the saints, who keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus',(Apocalypse
14: 12. (The word 'hupomonE' [ηυπομονΕ] can be equally well translated 'endurance' and thus many versions give the 'patient endurance of the saints'; the NASB has 'perseverance'). The 'patience' denotes the apparent length of the period of the severe testing (connoted by 'endurance').
Meanwhile, for as long as the Lord permits this frightful situation to continue in His Church, we (like relics) must, with patient endurance yet even so painfully, place ourselves 'sub altare' and, together with the martyrs and witnesses of the ages, cry out 'How long, O Lord (holy and true) dost Thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?' (Apocalypse 6: 10).
This is unbearable and is going on for far too long. But each was given 'a white robe'; and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brethren who were to be slain as they had been was completed. We are told to 'wait just a little longer'. To which, I think, we humanly reply 'Yes, but how long?!' The answer is in the 'white robe'