Questions of Faith
All Catholics know that the first Pope was St Peter, but after his martyrdom, who succeeded him?
While we’re not entirely sure who followed on from Peter, according to Church tradition, St Linus was the second bishop of Rome who reigned some time between 67-80AD.
Multiple sources attest to this, the most notable of which is the book Adversus haereses (Against Heresies) written by the Greek bishop Irenaeus in the 2nd Century. It reads: “After the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul) had founded and set the Church in order (in Rome) they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St Paul in his Epistle to Timothy. His successor was Anacletus.”
According to this text, the Linus that is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:21 is the same man who later took on the pontificate after Peter. It’s not clear how historically accurate this claim is – maybe it developed from oral tradition or perhaps Irenaeus was referencing an ancient, reliable source.
If this was the only mention of Linus to go by, we’d be rightly sceptical of his claim to the pontificate. However, people like Jerome (born 347AD), Eusebius (born 260AD) and John Chrysostom (born 349AD) all assert that Linus succeeded Peter – so there’s probably some credence to it.
There’s not much known about St Linus. The Liber Pontificalis (Book of Popes) states that he was born in Tuscany and that his father’s name was Herculanus. There is speculation that his mother was called Claudia but a separate tradition associates this name with his sister.
Linus is probably most well-known for issuing a decree “in conformity with the ordinance of St Peter” that women should have their heads covered in Church. However, scholar JP Kirsch writes that this decree which is recorded in the Liber is undoubtedly apocryphal, and “arbitrarily attributed to the first successor of the Apostle in Rome”.
The same book also mentions Linus’ death – he was allegedly martyred and buried in the Vatican beside St Peter. It is possible that the earliest Roman bishops were laid alongside St Peter at the foot of Vatican Hill after their death, but there’s no known liturgical tradition to prove this.
If this was the only mention of Linus to go by, we’d be rightly sceptical of his claim to the pontificate”
The Roman martyrology – the official martyrology of the Church – does not refer to Linus as a martyr. It simply states: “At Rome, commemoration of St Linus, Pope, who, according to Irenaeus, was the person to whom the blessed Apostles entrusted the episcopal care of the Church founded in the City, and whom blessed Paul the Apostle mentions as associated with him.”
The feast of St Linus is celebrated on September 23, which is also the date of his death recorded in the Liber Pontificalis.