When did the Pontificate of Pope Saint Peter begin? At the Ascension of Christ, according to Lyons I, St. Thomas, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XII, and Saint Ambrose.
Lyons I: “But when, after his Resurrection, he was about to ascend to His Father, that he might not leave the flock redeemed by his glorious blood without a shepherd, he entrusted its care to the blessed Apostle Peter, so that by the firmness of his own faith he might strengthen others in the Christian religion and kindle their minds with the ardor of devotion to the works of their salvation.” [First Council of Lyons,
Pope Pius XII: “After His glorious Ascension into Heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter, too, its visible foundation stone.” [Mystical Body of Christ, 40.]
Pope Leo XIII and St. Thomas: “But since He willed that His kingdom should be visible He was obliged, when He ascended into Heaven, to designate a vicegerent on earth. ‘Should anyone say that Christ is the one head and the one shepherd, the one spouse of the one Church, he does not give an adequate reply. It is clear, indeed, that Christ is the author of grace in the Sacraments of the Church; it is Christ Himself who baptizes; it is He who forgives sins; it is He who is the true priest who hath offered Himself upon the altar of the cross, and it is by His power that His body is daily consecrated upon the altar; and still, because He was not to be visibly present to all the faithful, He made choice of ministers through whom the aforesaid Sacraments should be dispensed to the faithful as said above’ (cap. 74). ‘For the same reason, therefore, because He was about to withdraw His visible presence from the Church, it was necessary that He should appoint someone in His place, to have the charge of the Universal Church. Hence before His Ascension He said to Peter: “Feed my sheep” ‘ (St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles, lib. iv., cap. 76).” [Satis Cognitum 11]
Saint Ambrose (quoted by Leo XIII, SC 12): ” ‘The Lord does not hesitate. He interrogates, not to learn but to teach. When He was about to ascend into Heaven He left us, as it were, a vicegerent of His love….and so because Peter alone of all others professes his love he is preferred to all — that being the most perfect he should govern the more perfect’ (S. Ambrosius [St. Ambrose], Exposit. in Evang. secundum Lucam, lib. x., nn. 175-176).”
Therefore, Peter had the papal charisms from then to his martyrdom. But prior to the Ascension, Peter did not have the papal charisms (as far as we know), as he was not Roman Pontiff then.
So when Peter denied Christ three times, this was not contrary to the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, since Peter was not the Roman Pontiff at that time and so did not have that charism. Some fathers say that Peter failed in faith in that denial; others say that a seed of faith remained. But if Peter had been Roman Pontiff, it is certain that he could never have denied Christ, as this is gravely contrary to a never-failing faith — even supposing that a “seed of faith” remained. The purpose of the charism of truth and of never-failing faith is to secure the salvation of the faith and to secure the indefectibility of the Church. But denying Christ is contrary to those purposes, so it is not permitted under that papal charism. That is why the prayer and promise of Christ on the never-failing faith of the Popes has this provision: “and you, once converted”. In this way, Christ made it clear that Peter only had this charism once converted, meaning sometime after his denial and repentance.
Since the charism of truth and of never-failing faith must work the same way in every Roman Pontiff, it would then seem a faithful and reasonable conclusion that Peter himself only had a never-failing faith, in the sense of a papal charism, once his Pontificate began at the Ascension. Prior to that point, he may have had personal gifts of grace, of any kind and extent, which were not handed down to his successors. But as for the papal charisms proper, these could only begin at the Ascension of Christ.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.