Saint Peter

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Saint Peter, d. AD 64?, most prominent of the Twelve Apostles, listed first in the Gospels, and traditionally the first bishop of Rome. His original name was Simon, but Jesus gave him the nickname Cephas [Aramaic, = rock], which was translated into Greek as Petros [Gr. petra = rock]. Peter was a native of Bethsaida and the brother of St. Andrew; he was married. He and Andrew, both fishermen, were called by Jesus to be disciples at the same time as James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Mark 1.16–20, 29–31; 3.14–16; Luke 5.1–11; John 1.40–44). There are several feasts of St. Peter in the West: St. Peter and St. Paul, June 29; the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle, Feb. 22; and St. Peter in Chains, Aug. 1. A second feast commemorating the Chair of St. Peter (i.e., his episcopal throne) was celebrated on Jan. 18 until abolished in 1960.

In the Gospels

Peter appears throughout the Gospels as leader and spokesman of the disciples, and Jesus most often addressed him when speaking to them (Mat. 10.2; 14.28; 15.15; 17.24; 19.27; Luke 8.51; 12.41). His honored position comes out most clearly in two high points of Jesus' ministry—when Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ and was told "Upon this rock I will build my church" ; and when he, together with James and John, was chosen to see the Transfiguration (Mat. 16.13–20; 17.1–13). After the Last Supper he, again with James and John, witnessed Jesus' agony in Gethsemane. When Jesus was betrayed, Peter drew his sword to defend him, but denied him later in the same night, as Jesus had predicted he would (John 13; Mat. 26.26–46, 57–75).

After the Resurrection

After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared by the Sea of Galilee and charged Peter to "feed my sheep" (John 20.1–10; 21). The first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles describe Peter's role as leader of the Twelve in the election of a replacement for Judas and in the public declaration at Pentecost (Acts 1.15–26; 2.14–40). Much attention is given to Peter's miracles and to his defense of Christianity; his deliverance from prison by an angel is a celebrated incident (Acts 3; 4; 5.1–11, 29–32; 8.14–25; 9.32–43; 10; 11.1–18; 12.1–19). He was a leader at the council of Jerusalem that was called to discuss the integration of non-Jews into the Christian organization; his hesitation to accept them freely was rebuked by St. Paul (Acts 15; Gal. 2).

A few facts of St. Peter's life are known from 2d-century sources. He apparently left Antioch for Rome c.AD 55; there he died, head of the local church, a martyr under Nero. According to traditional accounts he was crucified with his head downward. From earliest times the Vatican hill has been pointed out as the place of his martyrdom. Constantine erected a church over the supposed burial place of Peter; in the 15th cent. work was begun on a new, huge St. Peter's Church, built on the same location. It is the principal shrine of Roman Catholicism. Excavation has yielded remains of human bones at the site, but they cannot be identified as those of St. Peter. There is a very ancient tradition, accepted by many scholars, that the Gospel of Mark was written with St. Peter's help and that it consists essentially of his memoirs. The epistles of Peter (see Peter, epistles) are regarded by most critics as mistakenly attributed.

Peter and the Papacy

From earliest times Christians looked for leadership to the successors of Peter as the bishop of Rome. However, whether this primacy should be one of honor only (as held by the Orthodox Eastern Church) or of actual rulership of the whole church (as claimed by Roman Catholics; see papacy) is one of the dividing questions of Christian history. The biblical passages cited to support Petrine supremacy are Mat. 16.13–20 and John 21.15–25. From the first passage comes the familiar image of the keys, which are seen to represent papal power, as well as that of St. Peter as the gatekeeper of heaven.


See D. W. O'Connor, Peter in Rome (2 vol., 1960); R. E. Brown et al., Peter in the New Testament (1973).

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Peter, St. In Christianity, foremost of the apostles. His name was Simon but according to the gospels Jesus called him from his work as fisherman and gave him the name ‘Cephas’, the Aramaic equivalent of Greek ‘Peter’ (petra, ‘rock’). According to early tradition Peter visited Rome where he was martyred (1 Clement 5, etc.); but the claim that he was its bishop is an anachronism. According to the 2nd-cent. Acts of Peter, the apostle, while fleeing from Nero's persecution, met Jesus on the road. Peter asked, ‘Domine, quo vadis?’ (‘Lord, where are you going?’). When Jesus answered ‘I am coming to be crucified again’, Peter turned back to the city to face his martyrdom. His tomb in St Peter's basilica may be authentic. Feast day, 29 June.

The two Letters of Peter are found among the Catholic Epistles of the New Testament. 2 Peter is a warning against false and corrupt teachers; 2. 1–3. 3 seems to be borrowed from Jude; features such as the treatment of Paul in 4. 15–16 suggest a date well after Peter's death.

Other 2nd-cent. books attributed to Peter include the Gospel of Peter (a docetic retelling of Jesus' death and resurrection based on the four New Testament gospels) and The Apocalypse of Peter (a description of heaven and hell put into the mouth of Christ after his resurrection).

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Peter, Saint (d. c.64) Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was born Simon, son of Jonas. A fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, he and his brother Andrew were called by Jesus to be disciples. Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (John 1:42). Peter was one of Jesus' closest and most loyal associates. With James and John, he witnessed the Transfiguration. While Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin, Peter denied knowing him three times, just as Jesus had predicted. After Jesus' ascension, Peter was the first publicly to preach Christianity in Jerusalem. He took Christianity to Samaria. Imprisoned by King Herod, he was allegedly rescued by an angel and returned to Jerusalem. In his final years, he seems to have left Jerusalem and undertaken a missionary journey. Roman Catholic theology accepts him as the first head of the Church and the first bishop of Rome, from whom the popes claim succession. His feast day is June 29.