St. Peter (Died c. 64)

In Roman Catholic teaching, Peter was the first pope, appointed by Jesus. Yet despite the best of intentions, he denied his master and was not to be found near the Crucifixion. Peter has also been described as uneducated; yet once Peter came to believe in Jesus, he spent the remainder of his years preaching, advancing the cause of Christianity, and establishing the new church.

He was said to have been a large man, bold and sometimes speaking without thinking, yet in other instances fearful. He seemed to spend his years stumbling over one mistake or another, then getting up, tripping again, dusting himself off, and trying once more. When one thinks of Peter, one can't help but think of a story from an ancient monastery in which a monk was asked what they did there all day and he replied, “We fall and get up, fall and get back up again.”

Early Years

Peter was born in a small village near Lake Tiberias and was called Simon. He lived and worked as a fisherman on Lake Genesareth, alongside his brother, who was the apostle Andrew. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, who called him “Cephas,” the Aramaic version of the word rock. Aramaic is a language closely related to Hebrew; a form of it is thought to be the language spoken by Jesus. In Greek, “rock” translates as Peter. Peter was told by Christ, “Come with me and I will make you a fisher of men.”

Although there were twelve apostles, the trio of Peter, James, and John were closest to Jesus. Peter was reportedly in attendance at Jesus's first mira-cle: at the marriage feast at Cana, when Mary told her son the guests had no wine. Jesus said to her, “My time has not yet come,” but added “What would you have me do?” although he must have known what she was requesting. Soon water that had magically become wine materialized, enough to see the wedding guests happily through the day's festivities.

Peter was married, and his wife often traveled with him. He was with Jesus throughout his public life, making his boat and home available to him. Jesus stayed with the apostle on a few occasions and once while at his home healed Peter's mother-in-law.

Figure 2-4: St. Peter

At the Last Supper, Peter made the dangerous statement to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” (Mark 14:29) When Jesus was held prisoner at Pontius Pilate's palace, Peter denied him three times. Peter wept after his betrayal. Later, when he heard that Jesus had risen, he went to the empty tomb to see for himself. An angel had told Mary Magdalene and the other women to take the news that Jesus had risen “to the disciples and to Peter,” mentioning him by name.

It is apparent from all of Peter's too-human faults that Jesus intended his message to be more important than the messenger. Jesus emphasized the importance of love. He was forgiving to those who showed their love in service to others, in love of God, and in self-sacrifice. As Jesus said about Mary Magdalene, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

The risen Christ asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” And, of course, Peter, who had three times denied him, now said three times, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus commanded him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17)

E-FACT

Christ said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” and “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19) Roman Catholics believe that this statement established Peter as the first pope, and helped give rise to the larger concept of authoritycentered in the papacy.

The Early Church

Peter took the helm of the small band of Christians after the Crucifixion and was the first apostle to perform a miracle. In Jerusalem and in later travels, he combined preaching the news about Jesus with defending the faith in courts and settling squabbles among individuals and groups of believers. An especially important move for Peter was authorizing a missionary outreach to the gentiles.

He did not stay in Jerusalem for the rest of his life, although most of the other apostles did. He went on to Lydda in Palestine, and beyond. In Antioch he met with St. Paul and worked closely with him.

Peter was arrested and imprisoned more than once during those years, and then, miraculously, was set free. Eventually he became the first bishop of Rome. During the reign of Nero (c. 54–68), he was martyred. He died by crucifixion, although Peter insisted that he be hanged upside down on the cross, saying that he was not fit to die in the same way as his master.

Peter is still considered the first bishop of Rome. To this day the pope carries the title of bishop of Rome. Peter's tomb is presumed to be under St. Peter's Basilica. Bones found there, however, are still being studied. His feast day is June 29, which he shares with St. Paul. He is the patron saint of longevity and fishermen.

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