Saint Peter

St. Peter's true and original {C}name{C}was Simon, sometimes occurring in the form Symeon. (Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1). He was the son of Jona (Johannes) and was born in Bethsaida (John 1:42, 44), a town on Lake Genesareth, the position of which cannot be established with certainty, although it is usually sought at the northern end of the lake. The Apostle Andrew was his brother, and the Apostle Philip came from the same town.

Capharnaum

Simon settled in Capharnaum, where he was living with his mother-in-law in his own house (Matthew 8:14; Luke 4:38) at the beginning of Christ's public ministry (about A.D. 26-28). Simon was thus married, and, according to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, III, vi, ed. Dindorf, II, 276), had children. The same writer relates the tradition that Peter's wife suffered martyrdom (ibid., VII, xi ed. cit., III, 306). Concerning these facts, adopted by Eusebius (Church History III.31) from Clement, the ancient Christian literature which has come down to us is silent. Simon pursued in Capharnaum the profitable occupation of fisherman in Lake Genesareth, possessing his own boat (Luke 5:3).

Peter meets Our Lord

Like so many of his Jewish contemporaries, he was attracted by the Baptist's preaching of penance and was, with his brother Andrew, among John's associates in Bethania on the eastern bank of the Jordan. When, after the High Council had sent envoys for the second time to the Baptist, the latter pointed to Jesus who was passing, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God", Andrew and another disciple followed the Saviour to his residence and remained with Him one day.

Later, meeting his brother Simon, Andrew said "We have found the Messias", and brought him to Jesus, who, looking upon him, said: "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter". Already, at this first meeting, the Saviour foretold the change of Simon's name to Cephas (Kephas; Aramaic Kipha, rock), which is translated Petros (Latin, Petrus) a proof that Christ had already special views with regard to Simon. Later, probably at the time of his definitive call to the Apostolate with the eleven other Apostles, Jesus actually gave Simon the name of Cephas (Petrus), after which he was usually called Peter, especially by Christ on the solemn occasion after Peter's profession of faith (Matthew 16:18; cf. below). The Evangelists often combine the two names, while St. Paul uses the name Cephas.

Peter becomes a disciple

After the first meeting Peter with the other early disciples remained with Jesus for some time, accompanying Him to Galilee ({C}Marriage{C}at Cana), Judaea, and Jerusalem, and through Samaria back to Galilee (John 2-4). Here Peter resumed his occupation of fisherman for a short time, but soon received the definitive {C}call{C}of the Saviour to become one of His permanent disciples. Peter and Andrew were engaged at their calling when Jesus met and addressed them: "Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men". On the same occasion the sons of Zebedee were called (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11; it is here assumed that Luke refers to the same occasion as the other Evangelists). Thenceforth Peter remained always in the immediate neighbourhood of Our Lord. After preaching the Sermon on the Mount and curing the son of the centurion in Capharnaum, Jesus came to Peter's house and cured his wife's mother, who was sick of a fever (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31). A little later Christ chose His Twelve Apostles as His constant associates in preaching the kingdom of God.

Growing prominence among the Twelve

Among the Twelve Peter soon became conspicuous. Though of irresolute character, he clings with the greatest fidelity, firmness of faith, and inward love to the Saviour; rash alike in word and act, he is full of zeal and enthusiasm, though momentarily easily accessible to external influences and intimidated by difficulties. The more prominent the Apostles become in the Evangelical narrative, the more conspicuous does Peter appear as the first among them. In the list of the Twelve on the occasion of their solemn call to the Apostolate, not only does Peter stand always at their head, but the surname Petrus given him by Christ is especially emphasized (Matthew 10:2): "Duodecim autem Apostolorum nomina haec: Primus Simon qui dicitur Petrus. . ."; Mark 3:14-16: "Et fecit ut essent duodecim cum illo, et ut mitteret eos praedicare . . . et imposuit Simoni nomen Petrus"; Luke 6:13-14: "Et cum dies factus esset, vocavit discipulos suos, et elegit duodecim ex ipsis (quos et Apostolos nominavit): Simonem, quem cognominavit Petrum . . ." On various occasions Peter speaks in the name of the other Apostles (Matthew 15:15; 19:27; Luke 12:41, etc.). When Christ's words are addressed to all the Apostles, Peter answers in their name (e.g., Matthew 16:16). Frequently the Saviour turns specially to Peter (Matthew 26:40; Luke 22:31, etc.).

Very characteristic is the expression of true fidelity to Jesus, which Peter addressed to Him in the name of the other Apostles. Christ, after He had spoken of the mystery of the reception of His Body and Blood(John 6:22 sqq.) and many of His disciples had left Him, asked the Twelve if they too should leave Him; Peter's answer comes immediately: "Lord to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Holy One of God" (Vulgate "thou art the Christ, the Son of God"). Christ Himself unmistakably accords Peter a special precedence and the first place among the Apostles, and designates him for such on various occasions. Peter was one of the three Apostles (with {C}James{C}and {C}John{C}) who were with Christ on certain special occasions the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51); the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:28), the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). On several occasions also Christ favoured him above all the others; He enters Peter's boat on Lake Genesareth to preach to the multitude on the shore (Luke 5:3); when He was miraculously walking upon the waters, He called Peter to come to Him across the lake (Matthew 14:28 sqq.); He sent him to the lake to catch the fish in whose mouth Peter found the stater to pay as tribute (Matthew 17:24 sqq.).

Peter becomes head of the apostles

In especially solemn fashion Christ accentuated Peter's precedence among the Apostles, when, after Peter had recognized Him as the Messias, He promised that he would be head of His flock. Jesus was then dwelling with His Apostles in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, engaged on His work of salvation. As Christ's coming agreed so little in power and glory with the expectations of the Messias, many different views concerning Him were current. While journeying along with His Apostles, Jesus asks them: "Whom do men say that the Son of man is?" The Apostles answered: "Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets". Jesus said to them: "But whom do you say that I am?" Simon said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God". And Jesus answering said to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not {C}revealed{C}it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter [Kipha, a rock], and upon this rock [Kipha] I will build my church [ekklesian], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven". Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21).

By the word "rock" the Saviour cannot have meant Himself, but only Peter, as is so much more apparent in Aramaic in which the same word (Kipha) is used for "Peter" and "rock". His statement then admits of but one explanation, namely, that He wishes to make Peter the head of the whole community of those who believed in Him as the true Messias; that through this foundation (Peter) the Kingdom of Christ would be unconquerable; that the spiritual guidance of the faithful was placed in the hands of Peter, as the special representative of Christ. This meaning becomes so much the clearer when we remember that the words "bind" and "loose" are not metaphorical, but Jewish juridical terms. It is also clear that the position of Peter among the other Apostles and in the Christian community was the basis for the Kingdom of God on earth, that is, the Church of Christ. Peter was personally installed as Head of the Apostles by Christ Himself. This foundation created for the Church by its Founder could not disappear with the person of Peter, but was intended to continue and did continue (as actual history shows) in the primacy of the Roman Church and its bishops.

Entirely inconsistent and in itself untenable is the position of Protestants who (like Schnitzer in recent times) assert that the primacy of the Roman bishops cannot be deduced from the precedence which Peter held among the Apostles. Just as the essential activity of the Twelve Apostles in building up and extending the Church did not entirely disappear with their deaths, so surely did the Apostolic Primacy of Peter not completely vanish. As intended by Christ, it must have continued its existence and development in a form appropriate to the ecclesiastical organism, just as the office of the Apostles continued in an appropriate form.

Objections have been raised against the genuineness of the wording of the passage, but the unanimous testimony of the manuscripts, the parallel passages in the other Gospels, and the fixed belief of pre-Constantine literature furnish the surest proofs of the genuineness and untampered state of the text of Matthew (cf. "Stimmen aus MariaLaach", I, 1896,129 sqq.; "Theologie und Glaube", II, 1910, 842 sqq.).

His difficulty with Christ's Passion

In spite of his firm faith in Jesus, Peter had so far no clear knowledge of the mission and work of the Saviour. The sufferings of Christ especially, as contradictory to his worldly conception of the Messias, were inconceivable to him, and his erroneous conception occasionally elicited a sharp reproof from Jesus (Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33). Peter's irresolute character, which continued notwithstanding his enthusiastic fidelity to his Master, was clearly revealed in connection with the Passion of Christ. The Saviour had already told him that Satan had desired him that he might sift him as wheat. But Christ had prayed for him that his faith fail not, and, being once converted, he confirms his brethren (Luke 22:31-32). Peter's assurance that he was ready to accompany his Master to prison and to death, elicited Christ's prediction that Peter should deny Him (Matthew 26:30-35; Mark 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:33-38).

When Christ proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples before the Last Supper, and came first to Peter, the latter at first protested, but, on Christ's declaring that otherwise he should have no part with Him, immediately said: "Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head" (John 13:1-10). In the Garden of Gethsemani Peter had to submit to the Saviour's reproach that he had slept like the others, while his Master suffered deadly anguish (Mark 14:37). At the seizing of Jesus, Peter in an outburst of anger wished to defend his Master by force, but was forbidden to do so. He at first took to flight with the other Apostles (John 18:10-11; Matthew 26:56); then turning he followed his captured Lord to the courtyard of the High Priest, and there denied Christ, asserting explicitly and swearingthat he knew Him not (Matthew 26:58-75; Mark 14:54-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-27). This denial was of course due, not to a lapse of interior faith in Christ, but to exterior fear and cowardice. His sorrow was thus so much the greater, when, after his Master had turned His gaze towards him, he clearly recognized what he had done.

The Risen Lord confirms Peter's precedence

In spite of this weakness, his position as head of the Apostles was later confirmed by Jesus, and his precedence was not less conspicuous after the Resurrection than before. The women, who were the first to find Christ's tomb empty, received from the angel a special message for Peter (Mark 16:7). To him alone of the Apostles did Christ appear on the first day after the Resurrection (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). But, most important of all, when He appeared at the Lake of Genesareth, Christ renewed to Peter His special commission to feed and defend His flock, after Peter had thrice affirmed his special love for his Master (John 21:15-17). In conclusion Christ foretold the violent death Peter would have to suffer, and thus invited him to follow Him in a special manner (John 21:20-23). Thus was Peter called and trained for the Apostleship and clothed with the primacy of the Apostles, which he exercised in a most unequivocal manner after Christ's Ascension into Heaven.

About this page – Used with Permission

APA citation. Kirsch, J.P. (1911). St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 26, 2012 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11744a.htm

MLA citation. Kirsch, Johann Peter. "St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 Nov. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11744a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerard Haffner.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.