1. A Brief Overview of the Life of Saint Peter, Apostle,
Martyr and First Pope, Part 1
There are three main sources for our knowledge of Saint Peter: (1) the New Testament: the Gospels show him among the disciples of Jesus; in the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul's Epistles we see him at work in the young Church immediately after the death and resurrection of Our Lord. (2) Tradition and (3) the Liturgy; to a lesser degree archaeology provides some information.
Peter was a native of Bethsaida, on the Jordan near the Sea of Gennesaret, a district of Gentile and Hellenistic influence. Peter himself originally bore the name "Simon," a Greek name which is applied to him in Acts 15:14.) As Peter's home was in this locale, his family must have been exposed to Gentile influences since they gave Greek names to both their sons, Peter and Andrew. In all probability they met Gentiles frequently and spoken Greek fluently, which may have had influence on Peter's later attitude to the Gentiles. He was not an educated man, either in the Greek tradition of higher education, or in the Jewish rabbinic tradition, though like most Jews living in Gentile or mixed surroundings he was literate. Peter pursued the usual local occupation, that of a fisherman, and carried on his work with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, as his partners. He was married, and seems at some stage to have moved to Capernaum, where he had settled by the time that Jesus began His public ministry. It is thought that he and his brother Andrew were members of the circle of John the Baptist's followers. According to the Fourth Gospel, it was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus, having come to see in Jesus the Saviour preached by John the Baptist. The Gospels refer to the change of name, from Simon to Peter, although they leave the time undecided; however, they make it clear that Jesus renamed Simon "Kepha," the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek petra [See peters-primacy2 for distinction between petra and petros], meaning "rock." In doing so, Jesus was following an old Jewish custom of giving someone a name which would in some way express one's expectations of him, the significance of his life and personality. But in the case of Simon we know that the appellation of Rock was much more significant because until Jesus called him Peter or Rock, that term Rock had always been reserved for God Himself and Abraham as God's representative. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old and the Old is revealed again in the New. Thus the close association with Christ and His Vicar, Peter. This significance was later made explicit in the saying of Jesus "You are Rock (i.e. Peter), and upon this Rock: I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." [Matt. 16:18]. The immense import of the name "Peter" is lost to us unless we remember that when Jesus gave it to Simon , "rock" was a noun, but not a proper name except in reference to God [Old Testament]. By using it as a proper name Christ was giving a special sign of His intentions not only for Peter but for His Church.
The Gospels are not clear on the exact time of Peter's being formally called to be an Apostle. But quite soon he is seen belonging, together with his brother Andrew and his partners James and John, to the Lord's intimate circle of followers. His home was always at Jesus' disposal when He was at Capernaum; so was his fishing boat, when required; Jesus cured Peter's mother-in-law, and Peter was among the group who went with Jesus to the wedding at Cana. This "inner circle" of especially trusted disciples lasted till the end of Jesus' public ministry. It is the group of three disciples, Peter, James, and John, that accompanies Jesus on specially significant occasions, such as His visit to the head of the Synagogue, His Transfiguration, and His Agony at Gethsemane.
And even among these three it is Peter who holds a special place; and when the Twelve appear together in lists, Peter always heads the list, whatever the order in which the other eleven appear. Often he is mentioned specially in a phrase in which the disciples are included generally, for instance "Simon and those with him" [Mark 1:36, ff.], "His [i.e. Jesus'] disciples and Peter" [Mark 16:7] and as we shall see in our review of the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter appears with the other disciples, it is generally he who plays the most prominent part, as in the story about the miraculous catch of fish, or the walking on the water. Numerous times it is Peter who appears as a spokesman for the rest of the disciples: he asks the questions, he speaks the thoughts which are in all their minds, and it is to him, as their representative that Jesus administers the rebuke deserved by all.
All four Gospels show Peter as the representative of the group of the disciples as a whole: acting as their spokesman, and being treated by Jesus as well as by outsiders as the representative of the whole group of disciples. This primacy of position of Peter appears very strongly in the dramatic narrative in which Jesus singles him out from among the group to give him a unique status. This is the story of Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi. The purposeful meaningfulness, and genuineness of parts of this narrative, have long been a matter of controversy between Catholic and Protestant scholars. It is only in recent years that a very large measure of agreement has come about on both questions. Suffice for now to say, that if Jesus did not intend Peter's primacy, certainly, given the nature of common interaction among men and given that St. John was especially beloved by Christ because the young Apostle was sublimely pure, virginal of body and heart, then Peter would most certainly not always be the first to be listed.
The Gospels arrange their material differently, in keeping with the personality of the human authors and the intended purpose or focus, and to understand the full significance of Jesus' famous words "You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build My Church" [Matt. 16:18] we need to consider them in their setting, which must be reconstructed from the parallel narratives of the other evangelists, Luke, and especially, Mark [the three Synoptic Gospels]. At a crisis in His ministry Jesus asks His disciples [for the first time] "Who do you say that I am?" It is Peter who answers, once again expressing what they all think: "You are the Christ." They knew that they were the disciples of no ordinary master, but this moment reveals how very far they still were from the truth. Peter, again, voices their common reluctance to accept the idea of a rejected, persecuted and suffering Messiah; and Peter receives the rebuke "Get behind Me, Satan," on behalf of all. There would be no need to rebuke Peter on behalf of the rest unless he was set apart in some special manner as representative and authority, an authority who had just failed in his duty. This is the setting of Jesus' declaration to Peter, "You are Peter," answering his declaration, "You are the Christ."
With this avowal, and the explanation of the significance of Peter's name, which follows it, Peter's status is raised above that of the other disciples. While Christ lived, Peter was the disciples' representative; when He is gone, Peter is to be the "Rock" on which the Church is to be built. He is to hold the keys of the Kingdom of God, he is now appointed its administrator. He receives the power of "binding" and "loosing" and is given the promise that his exercise of this power will be Divinely ratified. It is in the Gospel of Luke that we learn how this special task of being the foundation raised Peter above the other disciples: Peter was to "strengthen" his brothers (22:31). If he was not to be their foundation Peter would strengthen his own faith primarily. But Christ is giving him a command and a promise all in one: to strengthen the faith of the others. In the Fourth Gospel, where the "beloved disciple" is shown as in some ways closer to Jesus, Peter's primacy among the Twelve is equally clear. The concluding chapter of this Gospel tells of the risen Christ asking Peter three times "Do you love Me?" not only as a reminder no doubt of Peter's denial of Him foretold by Jesus on another occasion, when Peter had declared himself ready to die with his master rather than deny Him, but most especially because in the custom of the time to ask a question three times was to give particular importance to it, for Peter's declaration is followed by the momentous commission given to him to be the shepherd of Christ's flock.
So far as the Gospels enable us to determine, there is nothing so special about St. Peter that he merits this unique position among the Apostles, in of himself: he is impetuous; at Our Lord's word he throws himself into the water, but he also quickly loses courage ["when he saw the wind, he was afraid"---Matt. 14:29]. He is the first to say that Jesus is the Messiah, protesting his fidelity and drawing the sword in defense of his master; but he is also the first to deny him. Humanly, there was little in Peter that deserved his title "Rock" while Jesus was on earth. In fact Peter is representative of the disciples, in their human weakness and instability.
However, after the Ascension, Peter's role is dramatically different: At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles we still find him the first among the disciples, but now as their leader rather than merely their representative. He takes the lead in making arrangements for the choice of the twelfth disciple to replace Judas who had hung himself rather ask for the mercy of God; after Pentecost, Peter, "standing with the eleven," preaches the first apostolic sermon. His has miraculous powers like the others but his are much more strongly stressed: even his shadow heals the sick. In Jerusalem, he is the unquestioned leader of the infant Church. It is he who defends it when the authorities take action against it. Although both he and John are imprisoned as the chief trouble-makers and are both miraculously released to go on preaching undeterred, it is again Peter who proclaims the salvation won by Christ. Peter also exercises authority over the discipline of the community: his powers to "bind" and to "loose" are displayed in his decision in the case of the fraud over the price of the land sold by Ananias and Sapphira, and its dramatic, miraculous, ratification. In the condemnation of Simon Magnus, too, Peter makes the decisions.
Now some argue that when the Gospel speaks of Peter as the first among the Apostles, the reference is to numeric listing only and not that of authority. However if it was important to have a numeric accounting then surely it would have continues with Such and Such, second and so forth. This does not occur. So we know that first means more than a numeric order.
The first part of the book of Acts shows the Apostles at work in and around Jerusalem [Acts 5:42] every day, both in public and in private. All the Apostles devoted themselves "to prayer and the ministry of the word" [Acts 6:5], and in this work Peter, took a leading part: althoughhe was not the first in the mission field, Peter nevertheless made the most important decision for the future of this work, the decision which was destined to spread their efforts further and further, moving the center of the Church away from the primitive Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem. The climax of the first part of the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the vision granted to Peter, in which he learned that nothing created by God was to be held unclean by man. Instructed by God, he thereupon went to the Gentile Cornelius and Baptized him. Among the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem there was consternation and unwillingness to believe that Gentiles, too, should have received the Holy Spirit. It was Peter who now convinced them that "to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life" [Acts 11:18]. Some of the refugees from Cyprus and Cyrene had probably already preached to Greeks at Antioch: now Peter's decision opened the way for these missions to be taken under the wing of the Church. His step was decisive in the formation of the Church's new mind, far exceeding in significance even his own missionary labors.
There were differences of opinion on important matters in the Church, such as, for instance, the early tension between the "Hellenists" and the "Hebrews" [cf. Acts 6:1 f.]. The authority of Peter's decision held in check the most serious conflict, that concerning the admissibility of the Gentiles to the Church.
Some fourteen years had passed when St. Paul returned to Jerusalem, for the conference at which the Apostles were to sort out the difficulties that had arisen from the large-scale conversion of Gentiles. At this meeting Peter stood up for Paul and for the missionary methods adopted by him, in face of Jewish-Christian opposition to permitting Gentiles to become Christians without imposing on them the burdens of the Jewish law.
Peter's advocacy secured the assent of James, and the parties were reconciled. Peter here appears in the role of a mediator between Paul and James, with his own sympathies clearly on Paul's side. But here we see Peter fail somewhat as Pontiff, a good lesson in the danger of human respect for all of us, but especially for our modern Popes and for those Catholics who think they cannot disagree with a Pope's decisions and express that disagreement on matters not closed by formal declaration of a dogmatic council or the Pontiff acting in the same wise:
St. Peter's anxiety not to offend either party was soon to land him in trouble. For although he had sided with Paul in his refusal to impose the burden of observing Jewish laws on Gentile converts Peter later allowed his principles to be undermined by his conduct. From fear of offending the Judaizing party centered around James, Peter ceased to eat with Gentile Christians. In this minor action of misguided tact Paul saw nothing less than a betrayal of the truth they had both stood for. When they met at Antioch----a city where the Jewish and the Gentile missions overlapped considerably----he "opposed Peter to his face" [Gal. 2:11]. Peter's reaction is not recorded but there is no reason to doubt that his convictions would have led him to accept Paul's rebuke.
The first part of the Acts ends with the story of Peter's imprisonment by Herod, and his miraculous release from prison. We are only told that "then he departed and went to another place" [Acts 12:17]. Beyond this, we learn from St. Paul that Peter went to Antioch. It is very likely that he traveled through Asia Minor, and may also have visited Corinth. The latter part of his life is shielded from us. We have no knowledge that he went to Constantinople, let alone was exiled from there. This is a fabrication on the part of those who are either ignorant and believe it or those with an agenda. If it is not a fabrication and there is actual evidence, then let it be shown to the rest of us. Since we only have the word of non-Catholics versus the word of the Fathers of the Church, most of them recognized Saints, it is not only wise to accept the Church's word through Tradition, it is imperative to do so [see below]:
We do know from Tradition, the writings of the early Fathers of the Church that Peter had got to Rome in the course of his travels and had there met a Martyr's death. On this there was no dispute among the Christians at the time. The New Testament itself contains hints in Romans 15:20-22 and 1 Peter 5:13 which point in this direction. During the second century the belief certainly gained wide currency, and thereafter, from the end of the second century onward, there is a host of testimony to the belief that both St. Peter and St. Paul both died in Rome. All in all, these indications are quite sufficient to support the Church's Tradition that both Peter and Paul ended their lives in Rome. All else, however, is obscure: how did Peter get to Rome? how long did he stay? what did he do there? The likelihood is that he was not there very long and that he died sometime between 64 and 67 A.D. under the persecution of Nero.
These conclusions are confirmed by archaeological and liturgical evidence. Excavations under the present church of St. Peter in Rome have brought to light evidence which shows that in c. 160-170 the spot could be identified on the Vatican Hill where Peter was thought to be buried. In 1915 St. Peter'sactual tomb was unearthed. A small memorial was erected to him the appearance of which can be reconstructed from fragments that still remain in their original position. There the Emperor Constantine built the great basilica dedicated to St. Peter; there the confessio of the present church, which replaces the original structure, still marks the spot of the Apostle's tomb.
In his monumental work of history, The Founding of Christendom, Volume 1, Warren Carroll writes: [Please note that Prof. Carroll has several footnotes for documentation but for the sake of brevity we are not including them here.] I hope I am not violating copyright law that permits under the fair use aspect, brief citations. Brief is not defined.
"Miraculously liberated from prison, Peter----after a last brief reunion with the disciples at the house of Mark and his family where the Cenacle probably was----departed from Jerusalem. It was natural that the head of the Church should go to Rome, the capital of the empire which the Church was to evangelize as its primary mission now that Christ's truth had been well and thoroughly preached to the Jews; and Rome was his ultimate destination . . . he went first to Antioch, to make sure that the very important church there was in good hands. The Jewish Christian disciple Barnabas, the friend of Paul, had for sometime been the effective leader of the church in Antioch; but he was a man of so much talent and zeal that Peter doubtless expected him soon to be called for evangelization elsewhere (as he was, with Paul). So Peter chose for bishop of Antioch a Greek convert (very likely a former pagan) named Evodius, who governed the church in that city until succeeded by the great St. Ignatius.
"From Antioch, probably by way of Asia Minor, Peter then made his way to Rome, where a convergence of later tradition from many sources indicates that he arrived before the end of the year 42, the year in which he had been forced to leave Jerusalem at Passover time. To the fisherman from Galilee, the enormous, teeming city must have seemed overwhelming at first sight and sound. Its population at this time probably exceeded one million, enormous for the ancient world. . . .
"It seems almost sure that he would have gone to live in the large community of poor Jews in the Fourteenth District of Rome, extending along the right bank of the Tiber and up the slopes of the Vatican hill----an undesirable area, full of the stench of tanneries. At least among his own people he could find an oasis of familiar customs; some rumors of Christianity had probably already reached them, and there may have been a few actual Christians among them. But in all probability Peter was soon treated as the Apostle Paul was to be treated by the Jewish communities in the cities he evangelized, where he always made it a point to go to them first: acceptance by a few, rejection by the majority, and soon, expulsion and hatred. In such circumstances, Paul always turned at once to the Gentiles. Peter would surely have done the same in Rome. He could have had some useful introductions from friends and relatives of his first Gentile convert, the centurion Cornelius who had been stationed in Joppa on the coast of Palestine, and served in a cohort of Italian volunteers. By the next year after his arrival Peter seems to have made his first notable Roman convert: Pomponia Graecina, wife of Aulus Plautius, the general commanding the Roman armies then engaged in the conquest of Britain, who had sought consolation for the execution of a beloved friend and found it in an unnamed "foreign superstition," to which she held with unflagging perseverance throughout the remaining forty years of her long life, though it isolated her from the normal social life of Roman matrons and led to much gossip and criticism. Her "foreign superstition" was not Judaism and does not seem to have been any Greek or Asiatic mystery cult; in all probability it was Christianity, preached to her by Peter." [pp. 404-405].
William A. Jurgens, in his three-volume set The Faith of the Early Fathers, a masterly compendium that cites at length everything from the Didache to John Damascene, includes thirty references to this question, divided, in the index, about evenly between the statements that "Peter came to Rome and died there" and that "Peter established his See at Rome and made the Bishop of Rome his successor in the primacy." Here are but a few examples:
Dionysius of Corinth, writing his Letter to Soter, the twelfth pope, about A.D. 170, said, "You have also, by your very admonition, brought together the planting that was made by Peter and Paul at Rome." It was commonly accepted, from the very first, that both Peter and Paul were Martyred at Rome, probably in the Neronian persecution.
Tertullian, in The Demurrer Against the Heretics [A.D. 200], noted "how happy is that Church . . . where Peter endured a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned in a death like John's" [referring to John the Baptist, both he and Paul being beheaded]. Fundamentalists admit Paul died in Rome, so the implication from Tertullian is that Peter also must have been there.
Pope Clement wrote his Letter to the Corinthians perhaps before A.D. 70, just a few years after Peter and Paul were killed; in it he made reference to Peter ending his life where Paul ended his.
In his Letter to the Romans [A.D. 110], Ignatius of Antioch remarked that he could not command the Roman Christians the way Peter and Paul once did, such a comment making sense only if Peter had been a leader, if not the leader, of the Church in Rome.
Irenaeus, in Against Heresies [A.D. 190], said that Matthew wrote his Gospel "while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church." A few lines later he notes that Linus was named as Peter's successor----that is, the second pope----and that next in line were Anacletus (also known as Cletus) and then Clement of Rome.
Clement of Alexandria wrote at the turn of the third century. A fragment of his work Sketches is preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History, the first history of the Church. Clement wrote, "When Peter preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had been for a long time his follower and who remembered his sayings, should write down what had been proclaimed."
Peter of Alexandria was bishop of Alexandria and died around A.D. 311. A few years before his death he wrote a tract called Penance. In it he said, "Peter, the first chosen of the Apostles, having been apprehended often and thrown into prison and treated with ignominy, at last was crucified in Rome."
Lactantius, in a treatise called The Death of the Persecutors, written around A.D. 318, noted that "When Nero was already reigning Peter came to Rome, where, in virtue of the performance of certain miracles which he worked by that power of God which had been given to him, he converted many to righteousness and established a firm and steadfast temple to God." Nero reigned from A.D. 54-68.
These citations could be multiplied. Let it suffice to note that no ancient writer claimed Peter ended his life elsewhere than in Rome. True, many refer to the fact that he was at one point in Antioch, but most go on to say he went on from there to the capital. Remember, these are the works which form the basis of Christian historical writing in the immediate post-New Testament centuries. On the question of Peter's whereabouts they are in agreement, and their cumulative testimony should carry considerable weight.
Catholic haters like Boettner do not know what they are talking about when they claim there is no "historical proof of any kind" and that "all rests on legend." In summary, the truth is that all the historical evidence says that St. Peter was In Rome and was Martyred there.