The following paragraph is taken from the "Catholic Almanac"
Peter: Simon, son of Jona, born in Bethsaida, brother of Andrew, a fisherman; called Cephas or Peter by Christ who made him the chief of the Apostles and head of the Church as his vicar; named first in the listings of Apostles in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts of the Apostles; with James the Greater and John, witnessed the raising of Jairus' daughter to life, the transfiguration, the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani; was the first to preach the Gospel in and around Jerusalem and was the leader of the first Christian community there; established a local church in Antioch; presided over the Council of Jerusalem in 51; wrote two Catholic Epistles to the Christians in Asia Minor; established his see in Rome where he spent his last years and was martyred by crucifixion in 64 or 65 during the Neronian persecution; in art, is depiced carrying two keys, symbolic of his primacy in the Church; June 29th (with St. Paul), Feb. 22 (Chair of Peter).
The following is taken from "The Apostles" by Otto Hophan, O.F.M. Cap.
In the mother church of all Christendom, St Peter's in Rome, there stands a statue of Simon Peter, magnificent and impressive, depicted in all his apostolic majesty and authority as the first shepherd of the Church, keeping watch down through the ages. He lifts his right hand in blessing, commanding the near and the far, urbs et orbis. In his left hand he holds the heavy golden keys that bind and loose. Under his arm rests the holy burden of the Gospel which he spread over Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria, to the ends of the earth, and which caused him to journey to the vast and ancient city of Rome, his second home. What a great leader! What a highly gifted and religious person Simon Peter must have been!
St. Peter's Church in the Vatican, the greateat house of God in the Christian world, is one of the largest and most majestic creations of man. It rises above the relics of this apostle with a thrilling exultation, a worthy monument of this sovereign of the early Christian world. Rising up into the air in large letters in the chapel of Michelangelo are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ to Peter, which shall never pass away even if heaven and earth should pass away: "Tu es Petrus! Et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam.-Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.
On an important feast day, when the successor of Peter is carried into the cathedral to the loud shouting of a restless and surging crowd, when the silver trumpets ring out during the Consecration of the Mass, when the high priest turns to bless the people, then does Peter, first of the unbroken chain of pontiffs, inspire the awe of the thousands who have come to meet their intercessor-Peter, who now, in eternity, touches the hem of God's garment. How mighty and majestic is the statue of Peter! How mighty and majestic was Peter the man!
As one leaves behind the great city of Rome, the statue of Peter, and the great basilica, and turn his attention to the Gospels, he finds that the simplicity of this man, the lightning of God flashing around him, leaves him speechless. So expressive, in this fisherman that He should make him, and only him, the pastor of His flock and the father of His kingdom, the foundation of His Church and the ruler of all Christianity. If the man of the century had been Paul, or the genial John, or even James, who was so vehemently energetic-although these also were not fully deserving of such a great honor-one could understand it better. But Peter? Who was this fisherman, Simon Peter?
Peter's Home and Family
Peter's home was neither Rome nor Athens, neither Jerusalem nor Tarsus, but the very small and insignificant town of Bethsaida. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Genesareth. This is also called the Sea of Galilee and the Lake of Tiberias. The lake was thirteen miles long and six miles wide and forms the eastern coast of Galilee, the northern and most fertile region in Palestine. It was also the home of Philip the tetrarch. Very possibly, too, his home town could have been another, a very small Bethsaida on the western shore. In either case, however, Bethsaida is well-known in world history today only because Peter was from there.
During the years of Christ's public life, Peter was living in the neighboring city of Capharnaum, occupying a house there. Here the Lord humbly came and went as though He were at home. The traits and mannerism of Peter's native land were distinctly stamped on this prince of the apostles. On no other disciple of Christ was this Galilean character so strongly impressed. He had a very noticeable Galilean accent, which helped to betray him to the bystander at the time of his denial of Christ. Josephus Flavious, a Jewish historian of the first century, described the Galileans as enthusiastic, impetuously determined, and fired with spirit. Only the Judeans considered this people to be lawless and ignorant.
St. Peter's family ties were thoroughly simple. His father's name was Jona, or John-a spelling or writing mistake in the Greek transcription of Matthew's Gospel may be the reason for this difference. He was a quiet man, going about his business unnoticed, neither a councilor nor a financier, neither a politician nor a man of in fluence. But then the glance of the Lord fell upon his son, so his name will also endure as a star until the end of time: "'Blessed are thou, Simon, son of Jona!...Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?'"
The Gospels make mention of the quiet brother of Peter, Andrew, whose honor it was to be called together with Peter by the Lord to an apostolic mission. The two brothers were dedicated to the witnessing of the Gospels, the word of God. One of the first miracles of Jesus was the curing of Peter's mother-in-law, who was ill with "a great fever," as Luke, the doctor, diagnosed it in his Gospel.
The wife of Peter is never expressly mentioned in the Gospels. St Jerome conjectured that she may have died early. Perhaps it is for this very reason that Peter's mother-in-law, after her miraculous cure, was so busy and zealous in her work, serving the Guest, since there was no other woman in the house to see after the home affairs. Other commentators, however, propose that the "wife" of Peter should be understood as his "sister," whom Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians mentioned as a servant of Peter, helping him on his apostolic journeys. Clement of Alexandria reported that Peter accompanied his wife even to martyrdom, exhorting and encouraging, "Remember the Lord!" Jerome also wrote about the growing children of Peter. Very specifically, the conversions of a daughter of Petronilla also related this. The actual account is to be found in the "Acts of the Martyrs Sts. Nereus and Achilles." However, this holy Petronilla probably was related to the family of Petronius, who in turn belonged to the celebrated Roman family of Flavius.
Peter's Profession and Calling
By profession Peter was a fisherman. A fisherman certainly cannot be called a poor man, and by no means a beggar. Peter himself wanted to do away with such pious exaggerations. At all times he owned a house, a boat, and all the gear necessary for his work. He hired, most likely as day-laborers, the fisherman Zebedee and his family. A man who came from a background of utter poverty could not have walked so boldly and self-confidently up to the Lord when He called and have said, "'Behold, we have left all and followed thee.'"
We have left all! The sea, the wide blue sea, Peter gave up for the Lord, and in exchange was plunged headlong into the dirt and squalor of the streets and cities. Often later, as he walked through Antioch and Corinth and Rome, burdened with the cares and anxieties of the infant Church, he recalled his days on the sea. But it was the sea that prepared Peter for the storms and gales and furies, for the problems and difficulties of the universal Church.
Considering the origin, the domestic circumstances, and the social surroundings of this common fisherman, one would hardly prophesy the very high office heaven and earth were to bestow upon this man. Undoubtedly through the centuries many a common man has risen in his youth from the guidance of sheep to the guidance of men. Yet Peter possessed a personal, though not exceptional, natural talent which raised him above mediocrity. He had a lively and brilliant spirit, a quick and impetuous will, and, above all, a warm heart. He was a simple, upright person who, as he earlier had cared faithfully for his family and himself, later did not spare himself in looking after the new-born Church. His was a practical life: first things first. He planned boldly; his goals were high. If they were not completely rejected, they were at least opposed and discouraged. But Simon Peter could also persevere.
All this is evident from what Peter wrote about St. Paul:
Just as our most dear brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given him, has written to you, as indeed he did in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things. In these epistles there are certain things difficult to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable distort, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures also, to their own destruction.
By the high priest's Peter was judged as an "uneducated and ordinary" man. Although these Jewish religious rulers by no means opposed all groups and cultures, even St Paul was poorly depicted by them, as his life bears out.
How very little there is in the Bible about Peter's home life is best shown by his discourses in the Acts of the Apostles, so exclusively devoted to the word of God. There was at least one awkward handicap that remained with the fisherman from Bethsaida through his life, and this he had learned at home. It was his speech. The crowds in the streets of Jerusalem made fun of the halting delivery, the unpolished language and speech of the Galileans. Their dialect always reveal their origin.
Consequently, everything about Peter was plain and simple- with the exception of his divine mission. As a fisherman, he was not great hero of world-wide importance, no masterful genius who advanced to great height. Ancient pictures show Peter with an ordinary man of the street. One wonders why this uninfluential man was called to full such an influential and extraordinary office.
Undoubtedly this unadorned picture of simplicity has its golden side too. If one pays close attention to this picture of St Peter in the Gospels, he will be completely captivated by the magic of his unfeigned sincerity and cordiality, by his purity of intention. After the miraculous catch of fish, how quickly and willingly he poured out his soul before the Lord, with unconcealed cealed astonishment, with bare humility; "'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'" And still he himself did not forget to mention some of the complimentary words of our Lord to him, which Mark-who wrote down Peter's words-recorded for all posterity, as did the other evangelists. To the very depths of his soul Peter was a simple, unpretentious, pure person.
Does the reason behind our Lord's seemingly unwise choice perhaps lie in the fact that Christ Himself laid down the essential criterion for leadership: "'Let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest, and him who is the chief as the servant'"? Simon had to be at once great and small, the first and the last. Peter had a balanced character, a straightforward nature, as a defense against the severe temptations of self-praise- a praise which the Lord wanted him to have. In this ordinary man our Lord pointed out the directions He wanted this important and difficult office to take, lest it deteriorate into sheer pretentiousness, lest it become as meaningless as a piece of blank paper, let it lose sight of reality and become entagled in theories and problems.
There could have been a vastly different Peter, as Augustine so brilliantly and profoundly observed.
Peter was a fisherman...had God chosen an orator, the orator would have said, "for my rhetoric I was chosen." Or had He chosen a politician, the politician would have said, "For my politics I was chosen". Or even had God chosen a ruler, the ruler would have said, "for my powerful position I was chosen." Or even had God chosen a ruler, the ruler would have said, "For my rhetoric I was chosen." Or had he chosed a politician, the politician would have said, "For my politics I was chosen." Or even had God chosen a ruler, the ruler would have said, "For my powerful position I am chosen." Nevetheless, our Lord said: "Give me that fisherman. Give me that unlettered man. Give me that unlearned man. Give me that man with whom the politician never once would have stopped to speak. This one give me, and if I cannot fulfill what I wish, at least it will be clear that I have only myself to blame. Although I will call an orator and a politician and a ruler also just the same with a fisherman am I certain to remain myself."
It was on the River Jordan that our Lord first called the son of Jona. Perhaps Peter belonged to the group following John the Baptist, as did the other apostles, Andrew, John, and probably even Philip. There on the Jordan John the Baptist aroused their hope and desire for the Messias:
"'Make ready the way of the Lord'.... In the midst of you there has stood one whom you do not know. He it is who is to come after me, who has been set above me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose.
There, on a beautiful spring day, Andrew came dashing, out of breath and full of joy, calling to his brother, "We have found the Messias." And then Jesus and Peter stood next to each other for the first time.
Peter was curious, unsuspecting-as most men of his time were. Jesus was thinking, pondering the importance of this moment which would last till the end of time. His glance caught Simon as a summer sun pierces a cloud. Looking off into the distance, Jesus said, speaking more to Himself than to Peter, "'Thou art Simon, the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas (which interpreted is Peter).'" Simon stood there, speechless. How could he possibly have surmised that this meeting with Jesus was to lead him away from his narrow and short paths down to the sea onto the wide and endless highways of the whole world?
Many months later there was a second calling, for the first apostles were not yet permanent followers of Christ, even after the first days on the Jordan. They were still more concerned about their daily needs. Their work seemed more important, more urgent. Their thoughts ran back to the fish in the sea. This then, was the situation when Christ came back a second time to lay His hand on Peter, this time, however, to call him away forever.
Troubled and annoyed, the men crouched on the shore, for the whole night through they had toiled but had taken nothing. Christ was glad to have arrived when their spirits were so low, in an hour of despair. "'Put out into the deep, and lower your nets for a catch,'" He ordered. Christ was by no means a fisherman, but they listened to Him. They were thinking He never would have dared to command such a hopeless attempt in broad daylight. Suddently the nets begain to sink into the water like lead, and they became so full and heavy that they pulled down on the boat and the boat began to tip and sink.
They enclosed a great number of fishes, but their net was breaking. And they beckoned to their comrades in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
The calling of the first four apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, is related by Luke at the same time he relates the events surrounding this miraculous catch of fish. In this way the calling is full of meaning, and the catch of fish profoundly symbolic. Now Peter was to fish for and catch men. His comrades were to come and help him. And for all their toil and perseverance Christ was to grant these fishers of men such an overwhelming success that the boats were soon to sink with an overabundance. All three Synoptics make special note of this sudden change in the lives of these apostles, how they were so quick and prompt to act with Jesus, how "at once they left the nets and followed him." Only a few weeks after this, then, Christ chose these four men, together with eight others, as His apostles. At the head of them was Simon Peter.
Peter's Temperament and Character
The Gospels make three brief and seemingly unimportant remarks about Peter; nevertheless, they throw a new light on his character. These three events occurred after Simon Peter was chosen as an apostle and before he acknowledged Christ as the Son of God, or before the day they entered the district of Caesarea Philippi, the greatest day in Peter's life.
The first happened on the way to the house of Jairus. "A great crowd was following him and pressing upon him.' Near our Lord, but almost lost in the throng of people, there was a poor woman who had an incurable hemmorrhage. She was able to reach out and touch the seam of Christ's garment.
And Jesus said, "Who touched me?" But as all were denying it, Peter and those who were with him said, "Master, the crowds throng and press upon thee, and dost thou say, 'Who touched me?'
The second instance recounted in this part of the Gospel took place on the night after Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of five thousand people. It happened on the stormy sea. Very late at night, during the fourth watch, Jesus approached the aposltes. He was walking on the turbulent water.
And they, seeing him walking upon the sea, were greatly alarmed, and exclaiming, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. Then Jesus immediately spoke to them saying, "Take courage; it is I do not be afraid." But Peter answered him and said, "Lord, if it is thou, bid me come to thee over the water." And he said, "Come.' Then Peter got out of the boast and walked on the water to come to Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind, he was afraid; and as he began to sink he cried out, saying, 'Lord, save me!" And Jesus at once stretched forth his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?"
There is yet a third instance. It happened in a crowd of Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees very sharply:
"What goes into the mouth does not defile a man; but what which comes out of the man defiles a man."... But Peter spoke to him, saying, "Explain to us this parable.'
These three brief observations, then, point out another characteristic feature of Peter: his was a quick, impetuous, and blustering personality. He was an out spoken person with a sanguine temperament, impressionable and adaptable. Often he would change his mood and state of mind without notice. He was the first to speak and the first to act, but the last one to think before he spoke or acted. Peter was often been represented as a man of choleric temperament, but actually he lacked the very essence of such a person, which is the headstrong, obstinate persistence in the conquest of any obstacle, to have persevered in any such obstinacy.
Peter's actions were swift and impulsive. One minute he was quiet; another, vivacious. At times he was prudent; at others, rash. On numberous occasions the evanglists noted his individuality.
When our Lord first foretold His passion and death, Peter was the one who chided Him.
Still again, at the solemn occasion of the Transfiguration, he knew he had to say something, and the first thought he had was, “’Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. And let us set up three tents, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.’” St Mark let it be known that he thought Peter spoke out of turn, as he commented, partly rebuking, partly excusing. “For he did not know what to say, for they were struck with fear
Another time, when a tax-collector asked Peter, “’Does your Master not pay the didrachma?’” he answered quite promptly, without thinking. “’Yes’”
Peter was quick to point out anther’s mistakes, but he did so with a spirit of forgiveness. He was also the first to ask pardon for an offense
“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to thee seven times, but seventy times seven.”
When Christ was washing the feet of the Twelve at the Last Supper, it was Peter who broke the silence and commanded, “’Thou shalt never wash my feet!’” And then only a matter of seconds later, after Christ had spoken, he changed his mind completely and begged, “’Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’”
Again at the Last Supper, after Christ had told the apostles that one of them would betray Him, Peter could not stand the suspense of being in the dark. So he immediately motioned to John-“whom Jesus loved,” and who “was reclining at Jesus’ bosom”-and told him to ask who the traitor was.
It was Peter, and only Peter, who solemnly swore to the Lord, “’Even though all shall be scandalized, yet not I.’” Then even more violently he shouted, “’even if I should have to die with thee, I will not deny thee!’” Shortly thereafter he sat calmly and warmed himself by the fire and denied that he had ever known Christ.
On the Mount of Olives, Peter rushed quickly to our Lord’s defense, waving his sword above his head. He “struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear”-the “right ear,” as Luke, the exacting doctor, did not forget to mention. But then suddenly Peter drew back and caused no further trouble.
Although Peter was impetuous and rash, he had a kind heart. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the most vivid and dramatic of all four, Peter’s temperament shines forth most clearly. Already in early Christian art this stirring and restless quality was brought out in Peter’s facial expressions. On a fragment of a tomb in St. Sebastian’s Church in Rome, the construction of which was begun in the fourth century, Peter is depicted as a nervous old man
Properly, therefore, the question may again be asked, this time more sharply: Was Peter, this stormy and sometimes impulsive man, capable of being the leader and very foundation of Christ’s Church? What a shifting and changeable foundation on which Christ chose to build His Church! This man was made a shepherd: he wanted to pardon but seven times; he demanded not only his feet, but also his head to be washed, he wielded the sword with a fiery passion. How unfortunate, how pitiable the defenseless flock this shepherd was to guide and care for!
Still, Peter’s vigorous and direct manner was well suited for his office. He was well fitted for the many and various tasks he was to encounter. It was this directness of character that made Peter a clear-sighted and shrewd apostle, a sympathetic and understanding apostle. It was this very character that gave Peter a certain sixth sense. He was the first to burst out with his confession of Christ. He discovered and understood the meaning of the Word before the others. He could make a quick resolution; he could act immediately; and he could get results
The grace of God put to good use this natural tendency of Peter. He was the first of all the Twelve to confess and proclaim Jesus as the Messias and the son of the living God. His versatility had a beneficial and lasting effect on the leadership of the Church. As a shepherd, he tended the flock of Christ, was quick to look after its welfare, passionately defended it in time of trouble, and all this without pompous formalities, without longwinded verbosity. With one glance he could see the heart of the matter, both sides of the picture. Immediately he would separate truth from falsehood, the good from the bad. He was not slow to adapt himself to changed conditions, and this versatility kept him from being obstinate in foolish matters. Flexible though he was, he stood where Christ had placed him, as a rock in the midst of seething waves. He braved and defied the surging waters, but let them wash away his old habits and faults
He could become very angry (as Malchus found out when Peter cut off his ear) or very sad. His quick and hasty nature permitted him to calm down as quickly as he had flared up, and his goodness soon atoned for his mistakes. In an old Coptic manuscript is found a beautiful and appropriate judgment of Peter: “He was a compassionate person, always ready and willing to absolve.” Certainly Peter’s flexible and amiable nature complemented and balanced the rigidity and austerity of his office
Nevertheless, Peter’s amiable temperament would have been his downfall, his ruin and destruction, if our Lord had not led him by the hand time and time again, just as He once took the sinking doubter by the hand and helped him out of the stormy sea. Peter, the apostle with a truly sanguine character, the apostle with a natural tendency to be unstable and unreliable, shows himself through the entire Gospel to be weak in times of difficulty. He failed when trouble threatened.
His sinking into the seething swells of the sea stands as a symbol of his unsettled nature. Even when Christ spoke openly for the first time about his passion and death-the most difficult mystery of our Lord’s life for the Jews and the apostles to understand-Peter protested: “And Peter taking him aside, began to chide him, saying, ‘Far be it from thee, O Lord; this will never happen to thee.’” But the result of this protest was frightening to Peter: Jesus “turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men.’” Still it was only six verses before this that the same Jesus called Peter “blessed.”
But even one who does not stand before the cross and take up his own cross may also, as Peter was doing, profess the glory and magnificence of the divinity of Christ. Such a person has no more favor with Christ than Satan, for he, as the tempter to the desert, only tries to draw our Lord away from the will of His Father to the power and grandeur of the world. A mere passive praise of the life of Christ without an active participation in it is hypocrisy
Christ’s new doctrine of the cross, which annoyed and scandalized every Jew, also confused the disciples. Even they need reassurance. So “about eight days after these word’ our Lord took the first of the Twelve, Peter, James and John and went up Mount Thabor where he showed them the brilliant illumination of the Transfiguration. Here Jesus permitted the hidden springs of His divinity to burst open and flow radiantly over the mountain top, brighter than a snowcap gleaming in the noon sun
The Epistle which Peter addressed to the faithful of the Christian communities of Asia Minor approximately thirty-five years after this event shows the indelible impression the Transfiguration made on him. He regarded this brilliant miracle as one of the most important reasons for the belief in Christ, the God-Man.:
For we were not following fictitious tales when we made known to you the power and coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his grandeur. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when from out the majestic glory a voice came down to him, speaking thus: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
And this voice we ourselves heard borne from heaven when we were with him on the holy mount. And we have the word of prophecy, surer still, to which you do well to attend, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
However, the distress and the pain of doubt was not completely taken away by the Transfiguration on Thabor. On the contrary, it was only to prepare Christ’s followers for the complete belief which was to come later. Even as they were descending from the mountain, the Lord brought up this dark mystery once more. And He found, to be sure, the same lack of understanding among the apostles as before.
This fundamental lack of sympathy-indeed, the indignation here-helps to explain the saddest hour in Peter’s life-he denial. In Peter’s denial that weakness erupted which had already made itself manifest with the announcement of the Passion. Even at the Last Supper the Lord had warned Peter urgently, “’Amen I say to thee, today, this very night, before a cock crows, twice, thou wilt deny me thrice.’” Peter, nevertheless, replied self-confidently, “’Even if I should have to die with thee, I will not deny thee!’” Jesus remained silent, like a person who knows that the course of events will prove him right. And how fearfully if did prove Him to be right!
Even on the Mount of Olives, an hour after the protestation, “’Even though all shall be scandalized because of thee, I will never be scandalized,’” and “Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death,’” to be sure, “’I will lay down my life for thee!’ “-the very next hour after this bold affirmation, the hero slept! James, too slept-even John slept! How could John, above all, sleep? And yet it was neither to James nor even once to John, the apostle of love, that Jesus made a special reproach as, trembling and spattered with blood, He confronted them. But to Peter! To Peter He spoke, “’Simon, dost thou sleep? Couldst thou not watch one hour?’”
It was with the abruptness of a catastrophe that that which happened after this occurred. After the disturbance on Mount Olivet he was in the courtyard of the high priest. It was his friend John who had taken him in. Inside the court the Master was being tried and judged. Out side the court Peter stood, lost and afraid, in front of the stern-looking soldiers.
Then a maidservant, a weak, babbling portress, approached him . She had piercing eyes. She was pert with Peter, and accused him. “’Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean.’” Peter could not catch his breath. He wanted to speak. He could not. He stuttered. “No!” What had he said? His thoughts ran wildly and he wanted to take back that heinous word, but he saw the crown around him like a pack of wolves. Again he lost his breath, stuttered, stammered, was silent. It was better to be silent and to say nothing.
And so this “no” hung over him like a ghost, like the hollow gongs of the strike of twelve floating through the midnight darkness. Peter was spotted. The shy maidservant was interested in calling him forth. She insisted. One could easily notice this strange and awkward person. How out of place he was! Nervous, full of fear and anxiety, he began to leave, but another maidservant met him on the way and took him back to the fire. Here he tried to compose himself, and quietly he mixed with the servants. He tried to avoid any attention. But for a second time the fateful and disastrous question was put to Peter: “ ‘Art thou also one of his disciples?’”
Here now was another chance. Now perhaps he could extinguish that burning “no”. But Peter was already sinking into the sea, wind and waves pounding and covering him. And Christ was not near enough to help him. The storm grew worse. He was drowning. “And again he denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the man! But still, contrary to the words of his mouth, his eyes begged for mercy, showed how helpless he really was.
Both irritated and amused by the apparent contradiction, the crown closed in on their victim. Peter had already betrayed himself by his broken speech. He was sinking deeper and deeper, helplessly. Unmercifully they pushed him still deeper: “’ Surely thou also art one of them, for even they speech betrays thee. Already he had uttered two horrible “nos”. To breathe just one “yes” was no longer possible. Then after a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had slashed off with his sword, stepped up and accused him and testified against him, the lonely disciple was completely lost. “He began to curse and to swear: ‘I do not know this man you are talking about. ’”But even his solemn oath sounded like breaking glass, clashing and clattering like the highest window of a cathedral thrown down against the stone of the street.
The crowd gathered around him, not saying a word. Their very silence accused him loudly, louder than a brood of moaning owls trapped in a hollow cave. They had discovered him. They had him. Peter was captured. And out of this silence came the crow of a cock, a lonely cock awakening the silence in the lingering dusk of early morning; and all heard the cock crow. Then it was still again. Peter suddenly remembered. Never had he felt more miserable
Even if one read more than a hundred times the words written about Peter’s denial, each time he still wants to weep for this good apostle. Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” The Greek text say “eklausn pikros,” which means he not only wept but sobbed. The chief priests and the elders, who were seated in the court to pass judgment on the accused, looked up in surprise. As Jesus was being led away, He also raised His had and turned to look to the corner from where the sobbing came. “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” Already in His eyes there shone the glimmer of forgiveness.
But can we shame Peter? Should we be the ones to blame him? He who is without sin may cast the first stone at him. The apostle’s struggle for truth against his weakness was heart-moving. Of all the disciples with Christ when He was attacked in the Garden of Gethsemane Peter alone rushed to his Mater’s defense.” Jesus commanded him to put his sword away. Peter did not obey gladly, but he did obey. The Master was able to help Himself. But He did not help Himself.
Thoughtlessly, full of fear, the great disciple ran to his beloved brethen, to the dangerous den of Satan. Now all was past. Still, was this all? Under the ruins of real belief and a deep blossoming as a field of saffrons, buried beneath an avalanche. Only with words had Peter denied Christ, his Master, but not with his heart, for a cold heart cannot weep. His belief and love were soon to be revived, even stronger than at first. Here was the pillar of the Church, three times broken, three times rebuilt! Was Peter to be the solid and stable foundation rock of Christ’s Church?
Primacy of Peter
Peter was called Simon, a very common name among the Jews. It would be very close to our name of “John.” But when Jesus met this fisherman on the River Jordan, He gave him another name, “Cephas.” Nevertheless, Christ did not explain His reason yet or show the real meaning of this second name.
In the New Testament, Peter is called at first only Simon, then gradually Simon Peter, then Peter alone. Speaking of the apex of Peter’s mission, Matthew and Luke called him Simon Peter. All four evangelists generally used this double name, which expressed both the personality and the office of Peter. After Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, as Peter’s mission came more exclusively, especially in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul, too, used “Cephas,” denoting Peter’s very position. But our Lord Himself came back to the fisherman’s earlier name, Simon, when He warned or reprimanded him, first before the denial, and then after his sleep during His agony in the garden.
Just as significant as this new name is the position Peter’s name has in the four lists of the apostles in Scripture. His is always the first name. Matthew plainly emphasized this: “These are the names of the twelve apostles: first Simon, who is called Peter.” This is surprising, for one could expect Andrew, who was the one who took Peter to Jesus, or John, the most beloved of the Twelve, to be first on the lists. Without exception, however, it is always Peter whose name heads the lists. He received the highest honor of the already privileged few, the Twelve whom Christ himself chose. He was among the three who were given special favors on several occasions. And the greatest privilege and honor was that he was the first of the first.
Often the evangelists distinguished Peter from the others: “Peter, and those who were with him”; Peter and the other disciples; Peter and the Eleven. Throughout the Gospels there is the unwritten opinion that Peter was the spokesman and representative of the others. When Christ spoke to the crowds gathered on the shores of Lake Genesareth, He got into “one of the boats, the one that was Simon’s.” It was Peter whom our Lord directed to pay the temple tax. Of the Twelve at the Last Supper, Peter was the first to have his feet washed by our Lord. Who would dare to say that the evidence of this honor was only accidental? The evangelists, however, left no doubt whatsoever about this intended distinction when they wrote about the promise of the keys.
Primacy of Peter Promised
Caesarea Philippi is the place where Peter’s sun shone the brightest. A few weeks before Christ and His disciples entered this district, after the defection of a whole multitude on the synagogue at Capharnaum, Simon Peter swore his allegiance to his Master: “’We have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.’” This profession of faith was but a prelude to his full credo.
When the Lord proceeded toward the north, across the borders of the Holy Land and into Caesarea Philippi, He finally put the critical question to His follower: “’Who do men say the Son of Man is?…But who do you say that I am?’” Then the first of the follower of Christ opened up as an eagle taking to flight and poured out his soul. Up and up, higher and higher, he soared as though trying to shake off the bonds of human words! Not John the Baptist, not one of the prophets, not Jeremias, not Elias was the answer, but one even greater than all of these. Peter could go higher. He had approached Christ’s messiahship and divinity and was blinded by the everlasting brilliance of these two highest, snow-covered mountain peaks. He did not hesitate any longer: “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”
This confession to Jesus of Nazareth was so much above all human comprehension that Jesus Himself was surprised: He exclaimed with joy, “’Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven.’” These words of Christ rolled and swelled through the air as a flood tide freeing itself through a broken dike. The fullness of God rushed over the poor fisherman standing helplessly near the edge of the sea of time:
"And I say to thee, thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
What power was at that moment placed into the calloused hands of a fisherman! No ruler in the world ever possessed such tremendous authority. Not merely Peter’s belief is the rock foundation, but Peter himself! Christ’s words to him were forcible and penetrating: “’I say to thee, thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.’” My Church! The Church of Christ is one, built on a rock, Peter, so invincible that even the very gates of hell, the hostile and evil powers of destruction-“the gateway of the underworld.” To translate more literally and exactly-will never have the power to overcome it.
And Peter had the keys! They belonged to him alone, a symbol of his authority. They signify neither earthly power nor earthly riches, but the truth, the grace, the happiness of the kingdom of heaven. Peter is to the kingdom of heaven
the door and the doorkeeper and he has the keys to the door. He is the eternal doorkeeper and the eternal bearer of the keys. And I can assure you he is no jailer, but rather a guard of everlasting freedom (Peguy)
Peter could bind and loose. And even more thought-provoking, his judgment was final. It last forever. It is not questioned in heaven, for ‘’it shall be bound also in heaven, and it shall be loosed also in heaven..’” It is a frightful power, unlimited. Christ founded this power and bestowed it upon a certain few. These few were Peter and the Eleven: “’Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven….’” Without Peter the Eleven lost this power; but without the Eleven Peter retained it.
Great, indeed inconceivably great, was the power of Peter, the rock on which the Church was founded. Through his belief in Christ, the Son of the living God, he laid down his life as an everlasting foundation. He held the keys of the kingdom of heaven; to him our Lord entrusted the gold ark of truth. As lawgiver and judge, he could find forever and loose forever.
Christ never actually used the words “the primacy of Peter,” but today’s theologians show how the origin of the term was easily derived from the Gospel itself. The same is true of his other prerogatives-the primacy of honor, the primacy of jurisdiction. These are not without good foundation and reasoning.
Matthew recorded these proofs of the papacy. However, Mark omitted them, but this is readily understandable, for he wrote what Peter dictated, and Peter was compelled by his humility to pass over them. However, Luke also made no reference to them. Could these words of Matthew, then, possibly be a later interpolation? Still, they are found in all the manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel, even the oldest. The play on words of “Kepha”-rock-is possible only in the original Aramaic. They are not a later insertion. Did Matthew by chance exaggerate when he wrote about Peter just to make him appear more brilliant than Paul?
One can quietly read through the Gospel and find the answer. Matthew was careful when he recorded these important words; “’Thou art Peter (the rock) and upon this rock I will build my church.’” Precisely this word “Peter”-Kephas,” or “rock” is found not only in Matthew, but in all four Gospels of the New Testament in one particular passage. And in all four Christ was speaking only to Simon Bar-Jona. Here the apostles’s own personal name was lost and forgotten. Christ renamed him “rock,” and Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and even Paul were careful to note this. This in itself shows that it was not Matthew’s exaggeration, nor a latter addition to the original text, but the full intention of Christ Himself to make this fisherman the foundation of the new Church.
And there is more proof. There is a passage in Luke that echoes Matthew 16:18:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou has turned again, strengthen thy brethen.”
These words were spoken directly to Peter as Christ was predicting the denial. So after Peter turned again, after he found his way once more, he was to strengthen his brethen. This was his mission. Is this support and strengthening of the others in their faith not the very same thing that Matthew expressed when he wrote, “Thou are Peter, the rock”?
Primacy of Peter Bestowed
Even more important and more heart-moving are the words of the evangelist John concerning the primacy of Peter. Matthew and Luke related our Lord’s promise of the primacy. John recorded its fulfillment, which took place after the Resurrection, during those days filled at once with joy and melancholy. The risen Savior appeared to seven of His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. They had just made a sudden and remarkable catch of fish; certainly they must at this time have recalled their first miraculous catch of fish. In quiet awe of their risen Master, the uneasy group sat down to breakfast. He was a stranger, but they knew Him. “And none of those reclining dared ask him, ‘Who are thou?’ knowing that it was the Lord.”
Then Jesus took Peter off to the side, Once again they stood face to face, as they did on the Jordan, as they did a few weeks before in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter’s heart stopped beating. His most difficult hour had come. He certainly was glad and relieved that his Master had forgiven him. Already on Easter morning Christ had sent the women who were at the tomb specifically to Peter with a message for him. Luke explicitly stated that the Lord appeared to Peter, to Peter alone, before He appeared to the other apostles. The Lord was good and merciful to Peter, and His goodness and mercy endures forever. Never will the “rock’ crumble! The Savior could even then have taken this promised power and authority away from him. He could have given it to another, perhaps to John, who stayed with his dying Master to the very end through the storm of the Crucifixion on Calvary.
Then “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, dost thou love more than these do?’” Peter was astounded. The Lord had asked him, Peter, about love! “Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’” Peter felt let down and lost. How could the Lord possibly begin to imagine that “these” might love Him “more” than he love Him? Quietly Jesus said to him, “’Feed my lambs.’” Peter’s eyes, full of joy, but somewhat alarmed, beamed with pride. In spite of his denial and desertion he was to feed the flock of Christ.
And the Lord “said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?’” Then Peter was confused, bewildered, even embarrassed. Did the Lord really doubt? How could the Master have any reason to doubt His faithful servant? Quickly, loudly, firmly he repeated his answer, as if to drown out that unhappy oath and curse in the courtyard of the high priest still ringing in his ears, “ ‘Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’” Jesus “said to him, “Feed my lambs.’” Kindly, with mercy and pardon, the Lord reprimanded Peter. Now Peter could breathe freely again.
Yet, “a third time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?’” Peter could not hold himself back anymore. He wept. He wept as he did when the cock was crowing. Throwing himself down, he protested, and swore, and entreated, and begged, “’Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.’” Yes, the Lord knows all. He knew that even the very one who had denied Him also loved Him. The third time Jesus said, “’Feed my sheep.’”
Meaning of the Word “Love”
In the Greek text there are two different words for the term “to love.” Each has a slightly different connotation. But the English translation of this passage avoids this difference by using one word, ”love,” for the Greek words “agapan” and “philein”; the Latin text, however, distinguishes by using “diligere” and “amare” respectively. When our Lord questioned Peter, He used the word agapan. Agapan (diligere) denotes a love of respect and reverence, of awe and esteem. But Peter invariably answered all three times with the word philein. Philein (amare), on the other hand, denotes a love of feeling and sentiment, of affection and attachment.
After the denial Peter did not dare to promise his Master again a real agapan, a love ready to sacrifice. But Christ was pleased and satisfied with Peter’s love. When Peter fed the lambs and sheep of Christ’s flock, he proved by his vigilant care and ceaseless concern that his philein, a love of sentiment, was also an agapan, a love of reverence. It was not only a heartfelt love, but also an active love.
And here the profound “bilingual” conversation between the Master and the servant on Lake Tiberias is concluded. Three times Jesus asked Simon whether he loved Him. And three times Simon said he loved Him. This was much more than a mere reconciliation after the apostle had denied that he knew the God-Man. The three questions and answers should be for all ages an expression of the primacy of Peter. The mission of the leader of the apostles was to care lovingly for and to love carefully the flock of the Good Shepherd. He was charged to guard it in the time of peril, to feed it in time of need, to help it in the time of difficulty, but not to domineer. He had to be a knight, a servant of the servants of God-servus servorum Dei!-not the chief.
Even so, Christ was not preventing him from having full authority in His Church. The Saviour Himself spoke of the “rock” and the “keys,” of the power to “bind” and to “loose.” But all power in the Church begins and ends with God, and therefore it begins and ends with love, for God is pure love. For this very reason Peter was made the foundation of the Church, that he could feed the lambs and sheep. For this very reason Peter was given the keys, that he could open the gates of heaven and close the gates of hell. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?…If you love Me, then feed My flock!…”
After the last soul of Christ’s Church has been lovingly cared for, then will we understand more fully why our Lord entrusted this high office to a man who once fell by the wayside. The first leader of the new Church exercised his authority from day to day, but only with the constant recollection and realization of his own human weakness. Neither proudly nor heartlessly did he take up his new duties, but as one who himself was burdened with weak flesh. And because he was weak, Peter was “able to have compassion on the ignorant and erring.” His human weakness also kept him on his guard gain pride.
Just as St. Paul had to endure a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him, lest the greatness of his revelations made him proud, so St. Peter always felt the thorn of his denial, nor did his greatness make him proud. Only God could build a solid foundation on a weak rock. This is a fine example of divine irony; God chose a weak man, so that in this weak man His strength would be glorified. Peter, the weak man chosen by God, is not to be praised in himself. God alone is to praised, and then His chosen instrument is praised insofar as he is united with, and strengthened in, Christ, the God-Man.
Peter in the Acts of the Apostles
Books have been written about the apostle Peter which present information gathered exclusively from the Gospels. Others take their information from the Acts of the Apostles alone. Here both sources are being used in order to obtain a fuller and clearer picture of the first of the Twelve. To a certain extend the Gospels only touch upon what Peter did. The Acts, however, give a larger insight into the personality of this apostle. The words of Peter in this part of the New Testament are copious. The first eleven chapters have sometimes been referred to as the “Acts of Peter.”
After Christ’s Ascension into heaven, surprisingly, but understandingly, the first head of the infant Church immediately took up the reins and began to drive forward. Peter-not John, not James, not another of the Twelve-was in the first place, in the leading and decisive position.
Peter ordered another apostle to be chosen to take the place of the betrayer, Judas, and even pointed out the essential qualities the new candidate had to have.
Peter delivered the first public sermon on the first Pentecost.
Peter performed the first miracle of the apostolic Church when he healed a lame beggar.
Peter stood up before the rulers, elders, scribes, Annas, Caiphas, John, Alexander; he stood up before all in the council chamber and let the dawn of morning shine upon these men of darkness:
“Jesus Christ of Nazareth…(He is) ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the corner stone.’ Neither is there salvation in any other.”
Peter called down the justice of God upon the hypocritical Ananias and Sapphira, and they both fell dead in his presence. He went with John from the mother church in Jerusalem to Samaria to visit and to confirm. He made the first apostolic excommunication when he met Simon, the unrepenting magican.
After the conversion of Saul, Peter made the first journey through Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The very important decision to receive the first Gentile, Cornelius, into the Church was made by Peter.
And Peter was the one who stood up at the council of the apostles, the first Church Council in Jerusalem, and interpreted and explained the Law of Moses as it applied to the Gentiles:
“Why then do you now try to test God by putting on the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are save through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.”
At all the important turning-points of the apostolic Church Peter was there to bind and to loose, to close and to open. He stood as a rock, as Christ had said. God Himself sanctioned in heaven what Peter bound or loosed on earth.
And the multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord increased still more, so that they carried the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and pallets that, when Peter passed, his shadow at least might fall of some of them.
The apocryphal “Acts of the Apostles” go one step beyond Luke’s historically true narration about Peter’s leadership. Naively they narrate how Peter supposedly established a different province and separate office of the Church for each apostle.
An Ethiopic "Acts of Peter" even goes into detail, falsely maintaining that Peter installed Simon, the son of Cleophas, in Jerusalem and Bartholomew in the "Oasis"; Andrew he sent to Greece and Philip to Africa; James and Thomas were appointed to India; Jude Thaddeus was given a domain in Syria; and John had his province in Ephesus. But these legends which conceal Peter's real authority, his historically true work.
More surprising than his authority itself is the manner in which Peter exercised this authority in the Acts. Here it clearly manifested that not only the office of Peter matured, but also his person. In no other apostles after the first Pentecost is the change so patent as it is in Peter. When one reads the Gospels, he cannot help but fear what will happen when this bold and uneducated fisherman takes up his office. How astounded the reader is as the contrast takes form in the Acts!
From rash to clever, from weak to strong, from uneducated to docile-was this same Peter? Was this the same man who only a few weeks earlier had shriveled up on from of a shy maid-servant? Was this the same apostle who denied Christ and swore, "'I do not know this man'"? And now, before thousands he proclaimed with a loud voice, "'God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.'" In front of the high council, in face of certain imprisonment, torture, and death, he spoke out clearly and with equal wisdom:
"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
When the high authorities wanted to suppress this new doctrine, even if it meant using force, Peter was quick to remind them with sublime and simple and straightforward words of the centuries-old Christian conscience, "'We must obey God rather than men.'" Was this Peter the Peter of the Gospels?
He never retracted his words so courageously delivered, not when they imprisoned him, not when they threatened to kill him and the whole group of apostles, not even when he was already impatiently waiting for the morning of his execution by Herod. He showed the same promptness and conscientiousness in directing the internal affairs of the Church, such as the well-handled, dangerous situation conjured up by Ananias, Sapphira, and Simon Magus.
Amid internal and external trials, Peter was truly the "rock." In the Gospels he sank in the face of wind and wave; in the Acts he stands firmly, making true his words, "'Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death!'"
Peter and Paul
At one time a question arose in the young Church concerning the admission of Gentiles into the ranks of Christianity. Thus began what has often been called the "conflict at Antioch," a conflict with a long and painful history. It is profoundly symbolic that Peter had to suffer for the growth of the young Christian community and its formation into the universal Church. This was the cross of the first pontiff.
With the baptism of the first Gentile, Cornelius, Peter had made a great decision: the Gentiles as well as the Chosen People had a place in the kingdom of God.
"You know it is not permissible for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean...Can anyone refuse the water to baptize these, seeing that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
This far-reaching decision only too soon brought this criticism and reproach of the Jews down upon the leader of the apostles, but he remained firm in his decision.
In this instance Peter used his authority with tact and discretion. His words were not loud and sharp; he did not thunder and bluster, "Sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas!" rather he "began to explain the matter to them in order." It was an understanding but firm Peter who justified this practice so difficult for all to comprehend. He explained,
"If God gave to them (the Gentiles) the same grace as he gave to us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should be able to interfere with God?" On hearing this they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, "Therefore to the Gentiles also God has given repentance unto life."
This conflict, the question of whether a Gentile cold be a Christian, flared up a second time. The same circle of narrow-minded Christian Jews insisted on teaching : "'Unless you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved."" Strongly opposed to this doctrine, Paul and Barnabas tied to check it with all the apostolic power and vigor they had. This unsolved question was brought up at the council of the apostles in Jerusalem in the year 49. The atmosphere tingled with excitement. Discussions were long and forceful, for the question was a weighty one, and the answer would affect the Christian world for ages to come.
The apostles and presbyters debated. Again Peter was there, no longer a soldier wielding a sword but a leader who was prudent and discreet, thoughtful and considerate. He finally stood up to give a decision on the question, and it was made in favor of the Gentile Christians:
"God, who knows the heart, born witness by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Why then do you now try to test God by putting on the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
But this first Church Council had not settled the issue for all time. There was more to the problem, and soon the gaps and loopholes begin to appear, and to widen. In his Epistles to the Galatians, St. Paul added a further note. The council had made no clarification about the practice of the Jewish Christians adhering to the Covenant of the Old Testament. There had seemed to be no immediate necessity to make such a clarification. The Jewish Christians faithfully held on to the Old Law, and this set them apart from the converted Gentiles. Naturally, this led to tension and trouble where the two lived side by side. And Peter found himself between the two.
Soon after the apostles had returned from the meeting in Jerusalem, Peter set out for Antioch, and there, unafraid, he cared for the Gentiles, even eating with them. But in his Epistle St. Paul reproved Peter,
For before certain person came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, be began to withdraw and to separate himself, fearing the circumcised.
This was a weakness of Peter.
But was this really weakness? After all, the good apostle found himself in a difficult position, caught between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. If he ate with the Gentiles, he alienated himself from the Jews. If he sat at the table with the Jews, he hurt the Gentiles. Already twice he had settle disputes in favor of the Gentiles. So was it not only human and pardonable if this third time he made just one concession the Jews? Anyway, was the matter not unimportant, an ordinary, day-to-day problem, or a mere misunderstanding?
Paul's sharp eyes, however, certainly say deeper into the question. He made it clear that Peter was not to accept the Gentiles one day and then exclude them the next. As it was, Peter considered them only as second-class Christians. Despite the fact they were promised freedom from the laws of the Jews, they were obliged to change their way of life to the Jewish mode of living if they wanted to be included in Peter's circle of friends when the Jews were present. This, however, was a deadly danger, which could have been fatal for the entire mission of converting the Gentiles. It was betrayal of the very being of Christianity, the existence of which was not sustained by the letter of the Jewish law printed on paper, but by the shedding of the blood of Christ crucified.
Already the example of Peter had left a dangerous crevice in the rock-like friendship of the Christians at Antioch. Along with Peter other Christian Jews withdrew from the Gentiles circles; and even Barnabas, a disciple from the ranks of the Gentiles, left his own. Provoked at this situation, Paul wrote, in the Epistle to the Galatians,
But when Cephas came to 'Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was deserving of blame...But when I saw that they were not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, though a Jew, livest like the Gentiles, and not like the Jews, how it is that thou dost compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews?
It would be difficult to erase this sharp and bitter statement or to soften this hard and swift blow. But what harm can it do to realize that Peter and Paul were only human? Actually Paul was right. Had St. Paul not intervened, Peter's actions would have caused a disaster: the Christian Jews might have gone back to Judaism and the converting of the Gentiles would have been halted. Paul dared not be silent. He had to remove the impending danger. Nevertheless, one could also be of the opinion that Paul might have spoken in a more conciliatory tone-fortiter in re, suaviter in modo-firmly, but gently. However, Paul was always firm in his intentions and just as firm in his actions, full of energy and vigor.
In the heat of this ordeal the gold of Peter's character shone forth. Humbly he accepted Paul's sharp, public censure. He did not seek refuge behind his authority. He did not try to excuse or justify himself, nor did he dispute with Paul. This passage in Galatians shows that Paul won a complete victory in this mater of the difference between himself and Peter. The rebuked apostle did not retort. And shortly thereafter, in the closing of his second Epistle, St. Peter wrote "our most dear brother Paul." These are almost the very last words of Simon Peter that have been recorded.
How noticeable is the change in this son of Jona from the first of the Gospels to the last of the Epistles! Only his simplicity was consistent throughout, and this simplicity is the beautiful ornament of his authority, which he exercised so humbly that he endured much criticism and censure. He neither feared his task nor avoided his duty. Truly St. Peter's humility is no less worthy of admiration than St. Paul's frankness.
The convert from Tarsus, however, did not leave the scene proud and boasting. His friendly ties with the fisherman from Bethsaida remained firm. This incident at Antioch has certainly occasioned too much talk and imagination. There are even those who would interpret Paul's remark as evidence and proof against the primacy of Peter. They see in this conflict the expression and explosion of two opposing tendencies in the early Church. And soon they are speaking of "Peterism," and then "Paulism." Others attempt to maintain that the conflict between Peter and Simon the magician, in Samaria and later in Rome, is merely a camouflage of the conflict between Peter and Paul. The Bible itself refutes such an interpretation.
The same Epistle to the Galatians which reports this conflict between the two apostles also testifies to Paul's recognition and acceptance of the authority of Peter. He acknowledged that he must go to Jerusalem to see Cephas, and he stayed with him for fifteen days. He classed Cephas among "the men of authority" from whom he received the sanction of this mission to preach to the Gentiles. And the incident itself at Antioch is much more a proof for the prominent position of Peter in the first years of the Church than it is against it. It was precisely because St. Paul knew and understood and recognized Peter's position that he demanded from him so impetuously and pitilessly an immediate end to his current course of action.
St. Paul did not oppose the authority of Peter, but rather the dangerous way in which this leader of the Church was handling that authority. He did not want dissension in the Church; he wanted unity and friendship between the Gentiles and this "man of stone" on whom the Lord had founded His Church. No one could have been more opposed to Petrine and Paulistic factions with the Church than St. Paul himself. When he was reforming the various factions in the Christian community of Corinth="I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ"-St. Paul wrote to them,
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing; and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be perfectly united in one mind and in one judgment... Has Christ been divided up? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The liturgy and Christian art from the first century down to the present day emphasize the friendship between Peter and Paul. In a sermon St. John Chrysostom called the two "the apostle team." Ancient pictures depict them as brothers, and in pictures of the Twelve painted since the third century they occupy the places of honor of the immediate right and left of the Lord. In the liturgy their feast is celebrated on the day of their death, June 29. However, because of the great distance between the two churches of St Peter and St. Paul in Rome and the difficulties of holding services in both on the same day, the feast was divided, and June 30 was made the day on which to honor St. Paul.
Whenever St. Peter is named on the liturgical calendar, St. Paul is also mentioned. It may be that art and the liturgy have drawn from legend, especially from the "Acts of Peter" and the "Acts of Paul," which originated between the years 170 and 250. These legends go far beyond the personal friendship of Peter and Paul. The two supposedly became contemporaries in Rome with joint responsibility in one mission; they were confined in the same prison and underwent the same punishment; they suffered a common death on the same day. Poetic fantasy is the only authority for these legends, but nevertheless they would not have arisen had not a truly sincere friendship existed between the two apostles or had there been a constant friction between them.
It is the evangelist Luke who unites Peter and Paul as brothers in the first and second parts of the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts is the first complete picture we have of Peter and Paul together. In spite of the day at Antioch, they were not opponents. They were neither rivals nor enemies, but rather two rays from the one divine Sun. They were one voice with two echoes, preaching the one divine Word over the mountains and valleys of the earth. Christ was one in both, and both were once in Christ. To Him, all in one and one in all, be honor and glory!
After the Ascension of the risen Savior until the year 42 or 43, Simon Peter stayed and worked with the other apostles in Palestine. St Luke recorded in the Acts Peter's visits to the churches in Judea and Galilee and Samaria.
A passage in Galatians may have been the basis for the supposition that Peter and Paul divided various lands between themselves, and that Peter preached the Gospel only to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles: "They saw that to me was committed the gospel for the uncircumcised, as to Peter that for the circumcised." But actually the apostolate was not so rightly exclusive. Peter preached not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. One of his first sermons he delivered in the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. On the other hand, Paul journeyed not only to the Gentile, but also to the Jews.
The persecution of Herod Agrippa in the year 42/43 was the divine signal for the apostles to leave the small corner of Palestine and go out to the four corners of the earth. After the martyrdom of James the Great, Peter was saved from a similar fate by an angel. While the guards were drowsy with sleep, he stumbled through the prison door, which opened itself before him. Wondering if it was reality and not just a dream or a vision, he soon found himself in the street, a free man. Immediately he made his way to Mark's house in Jerusalem, where many had gathered to pray. After relating the story of his escape, and before he departed, he merely said, " ' Tell this to James (the Younger) and to the brethren.' "
Luke certainly did not make a very precise report; apparently he was trying to maintain Peter's secrecy: "And he departed, and went to another place." About this other place much has been conjectured. According to an old, but certainly not completely reliable tradition, Peter at that time had already gone to Rome. It was during the first years of the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54). The Bible itself confirms this, and the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, written during the winter of 57-58, presupposes a flourishing Christianity in Rome. The journeying Paul excused himself for not being able to come to Rome as he had intended. Perhaps this is an allusion to Peter as the first pastor of Rome.
Around the year 50 the Jews were banished from Rome by a royal decree. During this exile from Rome, Peter made a journey to Jerusalem (49-50) to attend the first Church Council. After this meeting Peter set out for Antioch in Syria where his open conflict with St. Paul was to occur. This historian Eusebius considered Peter the founder of Christianity in the community of Antioch. Jerome called him the first bishop of this city. Gregory related that Simon labored for seven years in this capital of Syria. And the liturgy solemnizes February 22 as the feast of the bishopric of Peter in Antioch. The conflict at this Syrian city merely stands as a reminder of Peter's labors as a bishop. But Ignatius, a bishop martyred around the year 110, named Evodius rather than Peter as first bishop of this capital. And Ignatius himself was the second bishop of this see.
After leaving Antioch, where he spent a considerable amount of time, Peter traveled through the provinces of Pontus, Galatians, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, districts of present-day Turkey. Later he wrote two Epistles to the faithful of these Christian communities of Asia Minor. In these letters he scarcely permitted himself any personal reference or remarks to the faithful, but his numerous missionary works in this district are mentioned.
The legends concerning the apostolic works of Peter and his brother Andrew in this region on the Black sea and in surrounding areas are very old. They were acknowledged as early as Origen (185-254). A local tradition from Sinope in Pontus testifies to the long stay and numerous works of the two brothers apostles. According to this same tradition the two separated in Sinope, Peter traveling to the West, Andrew traveling to the East.
At this time the missioner also visited Corinth. His stop in this city even gave rise to a faction that misunderstood Peter-"I am Cephas," Clement of Rome alluded to this visit, and Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his letter to a Roman community of Christians between the year 170 and 175 quite expressly testified to the apostolic works of Peter in Corinth:
Both (Peter and Paul), as seedlings of our community, have instructed our Corinth. In life manner they have instructed Italians also. And now they have died as martyrs.
Peter in Rome
Of special significance are Peter's sojourn and activity in Rome. The traditions of the Oriental and Occidental Church testify with one voice to these , and to the death of St. Peter in Rome. An earlier testimony of the Western Church is found in the writings of Bishop Dionysius. But already a decade before this, Pope Clermont of Rome (81-96) wrote in his exhortations to the Christians community of Corinth about the offerings "of the good apostles, Peter and Paul, who withstood torments and tortures as a magnificent example for us (in Rome).
In a letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius, bishop and martyr (98-110), spoke of these two leaders of the Church as the teaching authority of the Church in Rome: "I do not command you as Peter and Paul." And St Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (177), testified in detail that Peter and Paul preached in Rome and established Christianity there.
To this testimony of the spoken word is added the silent, but no less important, proof of old Christian monuments. A whole group of sarcophagi in Rome of the third, fourth, and fifth centuries have various scenes of Peter's life pictured on them. As early as the first century the remembrance of Peter was more evident and active in Rome than in any other community of the East or West. A singularly important proof of the fact that Peter worked and died in Rome is the location of his tomb. Around the year 200, Gaius, a Roman priest, pointed out to one of the teachers of a heresy that he could show the heretic "the signs of victory" of the graves of the apostles, Peter's in the Vatican, Paul's on the way to Ostia.
To our own century was allotted the task of rediscovering Peter's tomb. It was uncovered under the Altar of the Confession in St. Peter's basilica, exactly where the earliest reports of traditions had promised it would be. The research and investigation, which lasted for almost ten years, were made public in November, 1951, in the monumental two-volume work: Esplorazioni sotto la Confessing di S. Pietro in Vaticano.
This laborious and painstaking excavation, approximately twenty-three feet under the present-day floor of St. Peter's uncovered a large pagan burial place. This discovery confirmed the old Roman tradition that Peter was buried on a Vatican hill in a pagan cemetery. In this great necropolis, over which a beautiful mausoleum was built around the year 50, stands a comparatively small part, the campo centrale, which lies under the middle aisle of St. Peter's. It this central section, directly under the main altar, the main research was concentrated.
In this place three distinct groups of graves were discovered, from different ages, in different forms, with different adornments. One of these sepulchers, which according to the recent findings, dates back to the first century and resembles in its form a capuchin's cowl, is, significantly, set above all the others. This one grave, a small, plain surface, but very conspicuously placed, remained unopened evening the middle of the second century when a great number of rich, pagan burial places covered this district. Apparently the other graves were grouped around this one grave as closely as possible, on all sides of it, under it, and later, as the level of the floor changed with remodeling, and reconstructions, even it. Around the middle of the second century a wall, the so-called "red wall," was built around this burial place to protect it. Under this "red wall" the remains of another wall were found which served also as a protection and an embellishment of this distinguished grace.
Throughout the centuries which followed, this small place remained the central point. Even in the second half of the second century it was known as monument of honor, as the priest Gaius made mention. The tropaion remained until the fourth century when Emperor Constantine had the basilica of St. Peter erected. "During the persecution of Emperor Valerian, around the year 258, the mortal remains of the apostle Peter were removed to a place of interment in the Vatican hill, just as the remains of the apostles Paul were taken to the road to Ostia for protection. Such a place was the catacombs of St. Sebastian on the Apian way. As the persecutions diminished, these relics war again restored to their original places of honor.
This recent research and excavation threw light also upon the great technical and psychological difficulties Constantine must have encountered when we set out to build the great basilica. But these difficulties are in themselves proof that the choice of a site for St. Peter's Church was not made on the basis of usefulness alone. The site chosen was appropriate, but practically it was almost unwise to build on that spot. The building site of this mammoth monument, directly above the grave of St. Peter, was chosen on the basis of good authority. After many years of research and study and digging to find the grave of Peter, the late Pope Pius XII, giving an audience on December 19, 1951, could say that the goal attained had far surpassed the expectations of scholars, and that the historical and theological value and significance of this unique, archaeological discovery could escape the notice and attention of no one.
Peter himself gave evidence that he resided in Rome: "The church which is at Babylon, chosen together with you, greets you; and so does my son Mark." This "Babylon' was a cryptic designation of the city of Rome, as attested to as early as the ages of Papias, Clement of Rome, Jerome. In those days there was a Babylon in Western Asia or the Near East, on the Euphrates River, and there was an important city with the same name in Egypt. But Peter could have been referring to neither of these; it has never been known that he worked in either of the two. On the other hand, the Rome of that time was often called Babylon by the persecuted Christians. For example, this is true in various passages of St. John's Apocalypse. Mark's stay in Rome is , in addition, confirmed by other testimony.
This was the chosen community of "Babylon"! Cries of fright, terror, horror echo between the lines written about early Rome. But one has only to reread the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the short but exact description of the vile immorality of the first century Rome, and he will not only hear but also understand these frightening and terrifying and horrifying cries:
As they have resolved against possessing the knowledge of God, has given them up to a reprobate sense, so that they do what is not fitting; being filled with all iniquity, malice, immorality, avarice, wickedness; being full of envy, murder, contention, deceit; malignity; being whisperers, detractors, hateful to God, irreverent, proud, haughty, plotters of evil; disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy.
It seems Peter came to Rome the first time during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54), and the second time during the reign of Nero (54-68). Claudius was a whimsical, narrow minded specimen of all that is odd. He tolerated the regiment of his first wife, Mescaline-an impudent character whose shamelessness became a byword-and put up with an army of Gripping, his niece and second wife-an ambitious criminal who later on was to poison the emperor with her own hand in order to bring Nero, a son by her first marriage, to the throne.
The name of Nero became synonymous with murderer. He schemed. He contrived. He was a hypocrite. Anything good he stifled and suppressed, unless it furthered his unprecedented self-indulgence. Before food and drink he loved sensuality and blood, and slow torture. He poisoned his stepbrother Britannic. With typical cowardice and hypocrisy, he murdered even his mother, the last of his own family he had left. The one who raised him to the throne, he slew his first wife, a stepsister, Octavia, and kicked to death his second wife, Poppea Sabina, a Roman matron. He was a mad brute, good only at displaying an unprecedented extravagance, and for this profligacy the poor of the entire Roman Empire had to suffer. With certainty can he be accused of the horrible catastrophe of burning Rome in the year 64, as Tacitus implied. He made a definite effort to draw all suspicion away from himself by accusing the Christians in the city. But the eternal glow of the glory of the innocent martyrs has long since smothered the last flickering coal of the burning Babylon
What did the humble fisherman of Bethsaida accomplish with his cross and Gospel in such a Babylon? Did his words of admonition, his message from the crucified Christ, Saviour and Redeemer, go unheeded and unheard there in the midst of the blatant pomp, lust, and sensuality of the powerful but degenerating empire? Was his voice drowned by the waves and shells of paganism even more hopelessly than when he at one time sank into the deadly jaws of the sea? Let it not be forgotten that St. Peter him self called it the "chosen community of Babylon." a flower in a swamp, a dawn breaking through a stormy night.
Today the old Rome lies in ruins. Many of its rulers went down in history under a curse. Over the tomb of this simple fisherman is arched a huge dome of triumph. Nor far from this magnificent creation a bold obelisk towers up into the heavens. Even our modern warfare, so sweeping, sudden, and all-destructive, has not damaged them. Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat! Were this monument and its victorious inscription and even the mammoth pillars and vaults of the great basilica someday to fall by the evil deeds of men, the rock on which Christ built His Church would never break. Till the end of time and through all eternity Christ will be the Victor, Christ will be the Ruler, Christ will be the Lord!
This is Rome, the Eternal City, the Rome of Peter and the Rome of Paul and the Rome of the martyrs. Christians kiss its holy ground which has drunk the tears and blood of the apostles and martyrs. Thankfully we pray the Credo that Peter and Paul brought to the lands of the West from the East, from the rough and rugged hills of the sunrise to the smooth and level plains of the sunset. Peter and Paul, safeguard your Credo for the whole world!
The teachings of St. Peter have been directly preserved in his eight discourses in the Acts of the Apostles and in his own two Epistles. Certainly these "discourses" from the Acts are only extracts, very brief sketches by St. Luke; but they do not falsify the thought of Peter, nor are we left with an incomplete picture of the apostles's style and temperament. They are truly worthy documents of the words of 'Simon, valuable records of an old tradition handed down to posterity. They are the oldest discourses, even two decades older than the first Epistle of Paul, the earliest stream freed by a warm spring sun from the hold of a white-cold winter.
Compared with the Pauline Epistles, or even the Gospel of St. John, the sermons of Peter are simple; but they are no poorer in content. Peter's influence can be felt throughout the entire New Testament.
These eight discourses-which are only too infrequently noticed and utilized-are the following: the speech delivered before the choosing of Matthias as an apostle, the discourse on the first Pentecost, the admonition to the people after the miraculous cure of a lame beggar; the two appeals of self-defense before the high priest; the talk in the house of Cornelius; the explanation at Jerusalem concerning circumcision and the address at the first Church Council of the apostle.
There are three of these discourses which stand out above the others: the bold sermon before the vast crowds on Pentecost; the direct answer to the curious troublemakers on the temple porch called Solomon's after the healing of the lame beggar; and the beautiful explanation, brief but meaningful, of the mission of Christ to Cornelius.
What is so striking in all eight of these is their strong connection with and dependence of the Old Testament. Peter worked tirelessly to point out the Old Testament proofs for the New Testament. He constantly quoted from the books of the Old Testament. In his first discourse, when speaking to the apostles about choosing another apostle to replace the betrayer Judas, he saw in the incident a fulfillment of a prophecy from the Book of Psalms. Pentecost was foretold already by the prophet Joel, and also by the psalmist David. While speaking to the people at the temple, the apostles, who had just worked a miracle by healing a crippled beggar, stated what " ' God fulfilled what he had announced by the mouth of all the prophets.'"
St. Peter used the same approach in his discourses that Matthew had used in his Gospel. Both used the Old Testament to prove the teachings of Christ to the Jews. It has been said that the Old Testament became meaningless after Christ, but even the first pontiff of the Church condemned such a false opinion. The New is contained in the Old; and in the New is the Old fulfilled
The main theme of all Peter's sermons is Jesus Christ. All his thoughts are directed to Him, and everything he says is derived from the words of His Master. To such an extent are Peter's discourses centered around Jesus that, if the Pauline Epistles or even the Gospels were lost, one could reconstruct the life of our Lord from these simple and plain speeches.
What St. Peter spoke to Cornelius remains today as a compact summary of the Gospels:
"He sent his word to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (who is Lord of all). You know what took place throughout Judea; for he begain in Galilee after the baptism preached by John; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went about doing good and healing all who were in the power of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem; and yet they killed him, hanging him on a tree. But God raised him on the third day and caused him to be plainly seen, not by all the people, but by witnesses designated beforehand by God, that is, by us, who ate and drank with him after he had risen from the dead. And he charged us to preach to the people and to testify that he it is who has been appointed by God to be judge of the living and of the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that through his name all who believe in him may receive forgiveness of sins."
Just as the preaching of Christ was very chose to the heart of the St. Paul, so was the Resurrection of Christ to Peter. In his discourse before the people as well as in his self-defense before the high priests, Peter came to speak about this basic truth and fundamental doctrine of Christianity. His sermons on Pentecost is in its essence an Easter morning sermon. This special calling to preach the glory of the Resurrection of our Lord, particularly to his Jewish listeners, was not only a theological necessity, but also a psychological one; he had to free his audience of the shock and scandal of the cross.
It was Peter who was always proving that Jesus, despite His Crucifixion, was the true, prophesied Messias. The divinity of Christ is referred to by Peter in his discourses again and again. Jesus is the "Holy One," "the Holy and Just One," "the author of life," the "Lord of all" or simply the "Lord." "'Neither is there salvation in any other.'" "'Him God exalted with his right hand to be Prince and Savior.'" Peter had anticipated and struck out against what Paul and John later were also to combat.
There is still a third thought that dominated the words and thoughts of Peter: the Redemption. This the prophets had foretold, and in Jesus Christ it was fulfilled. "'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,'" so the Pentecost sermon resounds, exhorting, admonishing. In Peter's words the Christian credo shines brilliantly, like a morning breaking over the horizon.
Peter's Two Epistles
The Petrine Epistles go beyond the discourses recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The first begins with greetings "to the sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia." The Christian communities of these countries in the north and northwest of Asis Minor, some of them established by St. Paul, were in a very trying position. The pagans considered them as evildoers, and the converts suffered because of their "godless wickedness" in a truly Christian manner.
This Epistle sounds like an echo from the Sea of Tiberias: "'Feed my lambs...Feed my sheep'" As the shepherd of the entire flock of our Lord, the prince of the apostles admonished the faithful, more with love than with logic, to patience and perseverance. The very first thought is surprising: the nobility of the Christians. More masterful words about the dignity of man have scarcely ever been written:
You know that you were redeemed from the vain manner of life handed down from your fathers, not with perishable things, with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot...You, however, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people; that you may proclaim the perfections of him who has called you out of darkness light.
Peter gave the persecuted a second reason to remain steadfast in the faith: the power of good example.
In like manner also let wives be subject to their husbands; so that even if any do not believe the word, they may without word be won through the behavior of their wives.>
The grace and strength to perservere in the good through thick and thin in the midst of these earthly temptations comes from God. With the ardent and sincere desire to do good which was uppermost in the minds of the apostles and the first Christians, Simon Peter wrote about the last judgment and the coming of the Lord, the end of all toil, affliction, distress:
Christ also died once for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God...Baptism now saves you...through the resurrectin of Jesus Christ; who is the right hand of God, swallowing up death that we might be made heirs of eternal life; for he went into heaven, Angels, Power and Virtues being made subject to Him.
The first Petrine Epislte has always been recognized as genuine and authentic; the second, however, did not achieve universal recognition until after the fourth century. The contents and form of the second Epistle of St. Peter differ considerable from the first. Nevertheless, there are many internal marks and characteristics that help to establish its reliability. It is so candid and honesy that one can not maintain it is mere fraud. The composer and sender introduced himself in the first lines as >
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained an equal privilege of faith with ourselves through the justice of our God and savior Jesus Christ.
The second Epistle written by St. Peter can be dated in the year 66, for the apostle and marytr (imprisoned in Rome before his death in 66 or 67 was already speaking openly of his impending death:
As long as I am in this tabernacle, I think it right to rouse you by a reminder, knowing as I do that the putting off of my tabernacle is at hand, just as our Lord Jesus Christ signified to me.
The status of the Christian community among the pagans in the north and northwest of Asis Minor had changed since the first Epistle had been written-"This, beloved is now the second epistle that I am writing to you"-but the change was not for the better. These varied circumstances make the difference in form and content of this second exhortation more easily understandable. The menacing evils were no longer the earlier external threats and dangers, but rather now internal ones, the false doctines of lying teachers:
But there were false prophets also among the people, just as among uyou there will be lying teachers who will bring in destructive sects. They even disown the Lord who bought them... Because of them the way of truth will be maligned. And out of greed they will with deceitful words use you for their gain.
These teachers of false doctrine preached an "evangelical freedom" which enjoined the disavowal of, and the breaking off from, the legitimate ties with the Church. Earlier the apostle St. Jude, with sharp words against false teachers, had warned the faithful in his own community of the spreading heresies. Publicly these heretics preached to the Gentiles converts of Asis Minor, leaving a dangerous gash on the body of the Church, and soon a poisonous infection had set in.
The second Episle of St Peter is in perfect harmony with that of St. Jude, the apostle Thaddeus. The two so resemble each other that it would seem Peter copied Jude's sharp and direct style:
Rash and self-willed, such men (false prophets) in their deriding do not regard majesty... But these men, like irrational animals created by nature for capture and destruction, abuse what they do not understand, and will perish in their own corruption...For what that true proverb says has happened to them, "A dog returns to his vomit," and "A sow even after washing wallows in the mire."
The fighting disciple of Christ counteracted this distortion of Christianity by preaching the second coming of Christ, the end of the world. This is the main theme of the English. It casts a light on the confusion of darkness shadowed by the clouds of heresy. There were those who scornfully denied Christ's second coming, saying with mockery,
"Where is the promise or his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."
Then Peter, drawing from the Old Testament, explained and gave testimony of the last judgment, and continued,
But, beloved, do not be ignorant of this one thing, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord does not delay in his promises, but for your sake is long-suffering, not wishing that any should perish but that all should turn to repentance.
Then Peter made a mysterious allusion to the end of the world, another synoptic piece of writing comparable to the Apocalypse:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; at that time the heavens will pass away with great violence, and the elements (The elements! How surprisingly this old word is used in a scientific modern sense!) will be dissolved with heat, and the earth, and the works that are in it, will be burned up...But we look for new heavens and a new earth, according to his promises, wherein dwells justice.
And how did St. Peter end this second Epistle? How could he have ended it, except with a thought about Christ? With this doxology of his beloved Master the writings of this faithful, tired and old apostle are brought to a close:
But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
And soon St. Peter's very life was drawn to an end.
Spring with its blue sky and warm sun bedecked the shores of the sea of Tiberas when the Master asked the strong, young fisherman three times whether he loved Him. The Good Shepherd looked out into the distance, as if seeing a vision, and said to the prince of the disciples,
"Amen, amen, I say to thee, when thou wast young thou didst gird thyself and walk where thou wouldst. But when thou are old thou wilt stretch forth they hands, and another will gird thee, and lead thee where thou wouldst not."
Suddenly Peter was caught us with a strange feeling and fear of future. These words of Christ concernng the disciples's death stood before him as a high, creviced mountain he was to climb alone. Quickly
turning around, Peter saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who, at supper, had leaned back upon his breast and said, "Lord, who is it that will betray thee?" Peter, therefore, seeing him, said to Jesus, "Lord, and what of this man?"
This man was John.
One can hear the supplication in Peter's question. He knew it was going to be difficult to be alone, to walk the way alone. He knew it would be a way he did not want to walk, not as easy way. Peter was to lead the way, alone, and he was to prepare the way for the others, alone. but Sacred Scripture itself states,
It is better therefore that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society. It one fall, he shall be supported by the other. Woe to him that is alone: for, when he falleth, he hath none to lift him up.
If Peter could have gone through life with his friend John, he would have gladly and willingly gone where he had not wanted to go. John could have helped him carry the heavy keys. John could have helped him up if he fell. Would it not have been a great blessing if God had joined Peter and John as cooperating partners on the long winding way of life? Peter was the power and the law; John was the love and the spirit. What a happy union these two followers of Christ could have achieved! Long and far did the pair travel together through the Acts of the Apostles. These first two of the Council of Jerusalem were apparently bound together by a deep friendship; Peter and John went into the temple together; Peter and John were the first to be imprisoned and released together; and Peter and John left Jerusalem and went to Samaria together to pray and call down the Holy Spirit. They were together in prayer, together in suffering, together in work. Their one apostolic way had been a beautiful one. But the day came when this one way divided. The will of God came before the will of man.
Earnestly, almost unwillingly, did the Lord answer Peter's interrogative plea about John: "'If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee? do thou follow me.'" Peter had to follow the Lord without John, and now he had to take a way, again alone, that he did not want to travel, especially not without John. After this incident-over which hangs so much dark secrecy and mystery, and even a feeling of resentment-the evangelist added a startling remark, expressive and positive: "Now this Jesus said to signify by what manner of death Simon Peter should glorify God."
What the Messias had predicted to Peter by the sea of his home was fulfilled thirty-five years later in distant Rome. The old apostle "stretched his arms out" over the cross of wood with which his executioner "girded" him. Legend has passed down the incident of the "Quo vadis": Peter was fleeing the Roman community, the wicked, sinful city, at the urging and pleas of the faithful. But at the gate of the city he met the Lord, burdened with the cross, and Peter quickly asked his Mater, "Quo vadis, Domine?" "Whither art thou going, Lord?" Jesus answered him, "To Rome to be crucified again." Peter looked at the Lord and understood immediately what He meant, and turned to go back to carry his own cross, to be crucified.
Again in Rome, Peter could not repeat his earlier denial of his Master, could no longer flee his cross. Once before this apostle had been led to, and stood before, a shy maidservant and had shuddered. And now he was led to, and stood before, the arena of Nero and shuddered, the arena in which Christian Jews were martyred before an amused, pagan crown-" 'And another will...lead thee where thou wouldst not.'" But also once before Peter had drawn his sword and longed to defend his master single-handed against an army. And now he drew himself up and longed to defend his Master with the painful embracing of the cross.
Eusebius has written that this apostle and martyr pleaded to be crucified upside down since he felt unworthy to die in the exact manner in which Christ had died. With blood flowing from his eyes he looked up to heaven. In his second Epistle he had consoled the Christians, "The Lord does not delay in his promises." No, the Lord did not delay! A smile came over the dying martyr's countenance. Daily the pagans celebrated a wild "triumph" similar to that of the Jews on Good Friday.
Succession of Peter's Primacy
The death of St. Peter raised the question of the permanence of his office on the Church. A recent book by a Protestant scholar points out unreservedly that the Lord Himself endowed Peter with power and authority. It was on Peter alone that the Church was founded. The primacy of the prince of the apostles was willed and bestowed by Christ Himself. But still quite emphatically, even vigorously, this same Pretestant author denies there was a successor of Peter. With the death of Peter, even with his departure from the mother community in Jerusalem, the office of Peter supposedly became extinct.
Such an assumption appears doubtful from the very beginning. If Christ made Simon Peter the cornerstone of His Church-and indeed He did-then did He not intend the completed structure to remain a permanent establishment? but this would have been impossible without a permanent foundation. A foundation is laid but once. It must be a substantial one, sound, lasting, permanent.
The words of Christ to Simon Peter at the promise and investiture of the primacy are proof enough for all ages to come.
"'Upon this rock I will build my Church.'" Did Christ intend His Church, built on rock foundation, to collapse at the death of Simon? Only Simon died. Peter did not die. He lives on today and will live on to the end of time.
"'I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.'" If, however, the hands of Peter grew tired and stiff, did these keys suddendly not fit the locks? There must always be one in the Church who hold the highest authority, who can close and open, who can bind and loose.
"'The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'" For hundreds of years the gates of hell, the power of evil, have assailed the Church. And they will storm and attack for hundreds more to come. Was there any possible reason why the Church no longer needed protection from the raging furies of Hell after the death of the first pontiff? How then could the promise of Jesus be fulfilled?
"'Feed my lambs...Feed my sheep.'" Did Christ mean only that flock which pressed around Peter during the apostle's own lifetime? But if it was the flock of sheep of all times that He meant-and indeed it was-then how could Simon have guided it over the rough mountainside of the world after his death? Shephers die, but flocks live on. New shepherds are born, but flock continue to grow without ceasing. These words spoken by Christ, and recorded by Matthew (16:18) and John (21:15), did not stop with Peter; rather, they began with him.
The last consideration, but not the least, is this: could Christ and His apostles possibly have been of the erroneous opinion that the end of the world was near at hand? Many passages in the New Testament refute such an interpretation. We read:"'The bridegroom was long in coming''; "'But after a long time the master of those servants came'"; and "'This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a witness to all nations; and then will come the end.'" If the Lord had thought that the end of the world were immediately at hand, then why did He go to the trouble of establishing His Church, and all this with so much solemnity?
Christ did not explicitly speak of the "successor of Peter," or the popes,or bishops. But this is understandable from the fact that He did not wish to make known the time of His second coming. Had Christ spoken of successors, it would have been an indicaton that the day of the last judgment lay in the distant future. Even though such an allusion would have been small and seemingly meaningless, it nevertheless would have fixed a definite duration for the office and mission of Peter and the other apostles. Till the end of time, whether soon or in the distant future, he should be the foundation of the Church.
Peter received fullness of power and authority for the Church. It has endured since his death, and will continue to endure until the Messias comes again. When Peter was dying, he laid the keys down, and another was chosen to come and pick them up. This successor also died, and then came a third,and so it went on through the centuries, and goes on today.
When the Lord, "after a long time," returns to his servants, He will no longer need a vicar on earth. Then will all missions and offices be fulfilled. Then will Christ Himself, now and forever the invisible Head of His Church, feed and love us in the visible glory of His Epiphany.
We need only watch and wait. Thus concludes Otto Hophan's information from "The Apostles."
The following three paragraphs is taken from the doctor, St Leo the Great, taken from Terry H. Jones on the Calendar of the Saints on St Peter's feast day on June 29th. This website can be also found through the homepage of Doctors of the Catholic Church.
Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside over all nations and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God's people many bishops and many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing in his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.
Jesus said: "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
Blessed Peter is therefore told: "To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven."
No pope had a more serious and tremendous devotion toward St Peter as Leo the Great. This was during the time of great duress, persecutions and grave dangers from Attila the Hun. He thought to capture Rome but was stopped through St Peter's intercession from decimating and pillaging Rome and the Vaticum. Read about the Doctor, St Leo the Great, in the link below
From a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great
Peter's family was very simple and His father's name was Jona, or John. The Gospels make mention of the quiet brother of Peter, Andrew, whose honor it was to be called together with Peter by the Lord to an apostolic mission.
The wife of Peter is never expressely mentioned in the Gospels. St Jerome, doctor of the church, conjectured that she may have died early. There was a name of Petronilla in the Acts of the Apostles, but we are unsure of this person.
As Peter was called, so are we. We should remember that all have a sacred calling and special office as Peter did, for all scripture informs us that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
St Peter said that it is noble to announce the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light in His own inimitable manner. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Jesus rose from the dead by His own divine power on Easter Sunday. His body shone like the sun. His wounds flashed like precious jewels and were a scene of adorable beauty.
Christ's body was glorified and united to His soul. His body took on spiritual qualities of immortality, beauty and glory. His divinity shone through His glorified body.
The resurrection was the final completion of glory on earth for Jesus as God-Man. It was also the absolute proof of the power of our faith and its victory over death for all believers. It was also the beginning of the glorious life that was due to Him as the Son of God and the reward of His life of suffering.
Shortly thereafter, Jesus appeared to His disciples by the shore and had breakfast with them. When they finished eating, Jesus said to Peter:
Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these others do?
Peter said yes. After Jesus asked him the same question two more times, Peter said:
Lord you know everything; you know that I love You.
Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep.
After this morning meal, Jesus conferred the primacy upon him in all its fullness and majesty in the presence of the other apostles.
Sometime later and during the Easter liturgy Peter said:
You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the Devil, for God was with Him.
We are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that He be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.
St Peter, the fisherman, pictured above with a huge key in his left hand was selected by Jesus Christ as the first appointed leader of the Church. He received the first commission to establish the Church with full authority from Christ. Peter is the first pope and that is why genuine Catholics look to the popes, down through the centuries, for guidelines and directons.
Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus told Him He would be the "rock" to build God's Church. Our Lord also told him that no mortal man told him to say this.
These words gave to St Peter and his successors an extraordinary mandate and ecclesiastical power to "bind and loose". It was Peter's faith and gift from God that allowed him to live this truth and also be crucified for it.
It is consoling to know for us sinners that Peter misunderstood Jesus' gift to him. It took Jesus' sternness to correct him. His prayers for Peter were that he would not fail in his mission and ministry.
The Gospel tells us that at least once, Jesus called Peter a "satan" because he was not thinking as God but as a human being. This tells us indirectly that human beings have the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to guide our thinking and reasoning process and that it's very easy to be misled especially when we misunderstand the role of the suffering Messiah's mission from our heavenly Father.
Peter had to learn much about forgiveness, without any limits, and humility, as all Christians must, if they are to extend the Church of God as Peter did. This requires not mere human knowledge but divine knowledge.
We learn from St Peter's epistles in the New Testament that human beings need to be sober and vigilant because, in addition to the weakness of human nature and worldly concerns, we have an opponent, the Devil, who roams abound like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
Peter's wise advice for all with no exception is to be thoughtful, caring and prayerful. This requires one to be obedient, humble and act as a servant toward all human beings and the Church. It has been purchased for us by the suffering servant, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Savior of the human race by His achieving His Father's will, but it requires our cooperation and goodwill.
The feast day of Saints Peter and Paul are celebrated together on June 29th. The opening prayer on their Solemnity states:
These men, conquering all human fraility, shed their blood and helped the Church to grow. By sharing the cup of the Lord's suffering, they became the friends of God.
A second opening prayer.
God our Father, today you give us the joy of celebrating the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul. Through them your Church first received the faith. Keep us true to their teaching...
They lived together and both were martyred about the same time. Peter held the keys of authority and Paul held the sword that represented the word of God etched and ablazed into fourteen New Testament books.
Listen and reflect on the Acts of the Apostles when Peter was thrown in jail after the resurrection.
Peter was thus detained in prison, while the Church prayed fervently to God on his behalf. During the night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the door. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood nearby and light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. "Hurry, get up!" he said.
With that, the chains dropped from Peter's wrists. The angel said, "Put on your belt and your sandals! This he did. Then the angel told him, "Now put on your cloak and follow me." Peter followed him out, but with no clear realization that this was taking place through the angel's help. The whole thing seemed to him a mirage. They passed the first guard, then the second, and finally came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them of itself.
They emerged and made their way down a narrow alley, when suddenly the angel left him. Peter had recovered his senses by this time, and said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel to rescue me from Herod's clutches and from all that the Jews hoped for."
The solemn blessing or prayer over the people and for you the reader of these words on this feast day of Peter and Paul.
The Lord has set you firm within his Church, which he built upon the rock of Peter's faith. May be bless you with a faith that never falters. Amen.
The Lord has given you knowledge of the faith through the labors and preaching of St Paul. May his example inspire you to lead others to Christ by the manner of your life. Amen.
May the keys of Peter, and the words of Paul, their undying witness and their prayers, lead you to the joy of that eternal home which Peter gained by his cross and Paul by the sword. Amen.
Peter was the first apostle to be listed on this website and it began during Easter 2003. It was shortly after the first Easter that Peter received the primacy. The resurrected Jesus subtly reminded Peter that he had denied His Master three times during his trial and that is why He asked Peter three times if he truly loved Him now.
In receiving the keys that Jesus bestowed upon him, this signified neither earthly power nor worldly riches but the truth, light and life of Christ. It is an awesome power of authority and unlimited. Without Peter the Eleven do not have this this power but without the Eleven, Peter retained it. Christ never actually used the word "the primacy of Peter," but theologians show how the origin of the term was easily derived from the Gospel itself.
Peter assummed the leadership role most mindful of his past failures and denials. Peter, the weak man, chosen by God, is not to be proud but compassionate toward others all his life for the very reason that the Master had forgiven him and was compassionate toward him. As soon as Jesus ascended, Peter took full reign of his role as the head of the apostles and ordered another apostle to be chosen to take the place of the betrayer, Judas, and even pointed out the essential qualities the new candidate had to have that is listed in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Acts of the Apostles, especially the first eleven chapters, have also been referred to as the "Acts of Peter". From these pages we see the personality of Peter whereas the Gospel only mentioned what he did. From these pages we see Peter using his authority for the opening of doors and the feeding of members with the keys that Christ commissoned him with. Peter was nuturing the flock and building up new growth in membership and in leading the other Eleven in specific directions.
What was Peter's lasting vocation and under what circumstance was Peter chosen to be an apostle?
Let us listen to Luke's gospel:
Now it came to pass in those days, that he (Jesus)went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when day broke, he summoned his disciples; and from these he chose twelve (whom he also named apostles): Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James and John...
Peter's name always heads the list of names of the apostles and there is never any doubt who is the leader of the group. St Paul would always have a leading position in the Church through his writings, example and missionary work but Peter is the foundation and the rock of the Church with full authority, leaderhip and primacy. Most important of all, Christ said that He would built His Church upon the rock of Peter.
When the Master prayed all night to God, the night before he chose the apostles, we can be sure He made the right choice. He made the right choice with Peter, Judas and the rest. All creatures have a free will and although many will choose wisely, some will not, but that doesn't offset the factor that creatures have full freedom. Imagine the pleading and petitioning in this very important decision by Christ in the selection of His first twelve apostles. This action of Christ is a sign to inform us that the time to make important decision should always be preceded by prayer to God to obtain the best results and let there be no time limit on it but according to our strength, seriousness and sincerity.
Paul highlighted the Resurrection of Jesus as the preaching of Christ was at the heart of Paul's thought. The divinity of Christ is referred to by Peter in his discourses again and again. Jesus is the "Holy One," "the Holy and Just One," "the author of life," the "Lord of all" or simply the "Lord."
Of special significance are Peter's sojourn and activity in Rome. The traditions of the Oriental And Occidental Church testify with one voice to these, and to the death of St Peter in Rome.
He was buried on the Vatican Hill in Rome about the year 64 AD. Accurate research maintains that Peter's remains are buried beneath St Peter's Basilica.
The Vatican empire, Vatican City and the History of the Church and the Papacy are fascinating, intriguing and incredible stories that fill volumes. There have been only two pope doctors:
Saints Gregory the Great and Leo the Great.
Both pope-doctors leadership was exemplary. Both had a deep devoton to St Peter and they received heavenly assistance to support their leadership and the Church though St Peter's holy intercession.
Some of the popes down through the century have not been good. In fact, a few have been notoriously bad. However, Christ stands behind the Church and its leadership because Christ knew the weakness of human beings, its sins and crimes. Nevertheless, He said that Peter would be the "rock" (His office) and gives us the assurance and confidence that the "gates of hell" will never prevail against the Church. We have God's invincible words.
Listen to the same invincible words that St Peter Damian said about the Church: "The mystery of holy Church's inward unity can never be marred in its integrity." Any human being, even the pope, can sin but the Church's oneness in the direction of where God wants the Church to be directed and lead is guided by God's almighty Spirit. There is no doubt that devils have lived in the Vatican and in the Church but Christ stands behind the Church and its leadership with sure protection, care and infinite love because of God's promise.
St Peter was pope for 34-37 years, 25 of them in Rome and in prison. Peter will undoubtably keep the record for the longest number of years serving as pope. Of the Church's 264 popes, the following pontiffs follow him in numbers of years as head of the Church: Leo XIII, (25 years), Pius IX, (31 years), and our current pontiff, John Paul II, (24-25 years as of 2003-2004).
There is a miraculous legend associated with a relic of St Peter that is kept at the Basilica of St Peter in Vincoli, Italy. As the story goes, Peter was imprisoned in Rome for nine months at the Mamertine Prison near the Forum. A chain found nearby was reported to be that which bound the Apostle. This miraculous chain was described in Act 12:6, whereby the heavenly angel caused the chains to be loosened from St Peter. Thereafter, he walked out of his prison and into the light of freedom. It is said that Eudocia, wife of Emperor Teodosio, found these chains and sent part of them to Constantinople and another part to Rome as a gift to her daughter Eudossia, In turn, Eudossia gave the relics to Pope Leo the Great. At the time, another chain in Rome was claimed to be that which had bound St. Peter. After Pope Leo compared the two chains, it is reported that they miraculously fused into one link again. Later on, the Empress Eudocia built the Basilica at Vincoli to house and preserve this precious relic.
The above is quoted from Michael Freze's, S.F.O., book entitled "Voices, Visions and Apparitions", published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, Indiana 46750.
The following links provides insight on St Peter:
A companion website to the Apostles site is listed below.