Pape (1 er) - apôtre (✝ 64)
Saint Pierre et saint Paul: On ne peut les séparer. Ils sont les deux piliers de l'Église et jamais la Tradition ne les a fêtés l'un sans l'autre. L'Église romaine, c'est l'Église de Pierre et de Paul, l'Église des témoins directs qui ont partagé la vie du Seigneur. Pierre était galiléen, reconnu par son accent, pêcheur installé à Capharnaüm au bord du lac de Tibériade. Paul était un juif de la diaspora, de Tarse en Asie Mineure, mais pharisien et, ce qui est le plus original, citoyen romain. Tous deux verront leur vie bouleversée par l'irruption d'un homme qui leur dit: "Suis-moi. Tu t'appelleras Pierre." ou "Saul, pourquoi me persécutes-tu? Simon devenu Pierre laisse ses filets et sa femme pour suivre le rabbi. Saul, devenu Paul se met à la disposition des apôtres. Pierre reçoit de l'Esprit-Saint la révélation du mystère caché depuis la fondation du monde: "Tu es le Christ, le Fils du Dieu vivant." Paul, ravi jusqu'au ciel, entend des paroles qu'il n'est pas possible de redire avec des paroles humaines. Pierre renie quand son maître est arrêté, mais il revient: "Seigneur, tu sais tout, tu sais bien que je t'aime." Paul, persécuteur des premiers chrétiens, se donne au Christ: "Ce n'est plus moi qui vis, c'est le Christ qui vit en moi." Pierre reçoit la charge de paître le troupeau de l'Église: "Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Église." Paul devient l'apôtre des païens. Pour le Maître, Pierre mourra crucifié et Paul décapité.
Solennité des saints apôtres Pierre et Paul. Simon, fils de Yonas et frère d’André, fut le premier parmi les disciples de Jésus à confesser(*) le Christ, Fils du Dieu vivant, et Jésus lui donna le nom de Pierre. Paul, Apôtre des nations, annonça aux Juifs et aux Grecs le Christ crucifié. Tous deux annoncèrent l’Évangile du Christ avec foi et amour et subirent le martyre sous l’empereur Néron; le premier, comme le rapporte la tradition, fut crucifié la tête en bas et inhumé au Vatican, près de la voie Triomphale, en 64; le second eut la tête tranchée et fut enseveli sur la voie d’Ostie, en 67. Le monde entier célèbre en ce jour le triomphe de l’un et de l’autre avec un honneur égal et une même vénération.
(*) c'est-à-dire 'proclamer sa foi' (voir le glossaire)
En un seul jour, nous fêtons la passion des deux Apôtres, mais ces deux ne font qu’un. Pierre a précédé, Paul a suivi. Aimons donc leur foi, leur existence, leurs travaux, leurs souffrances ! Aimons les objets de leur confession et de leur prédication !
Saint Augustin - Sermon pour la fête des saints Pierre et Paul
SIMON PIERRE, fils de Jean, frère d'André apôtre, et prince des apôtres, naquit à Bethsaïde en Galilée. Après avoir fondé l'Eglise d'Antioche, dont il fut l’évêque, et après avoir prêché l'Évangile aux Juifs convertis qui étaient dispersés dans le Pont, la Galatie, la Cappadoce, l'Asie-Mineure et la Bithynie, il vint à Rome la deuxième année du règne de l'empereur Claude, pour confondre Simon-le Magicien. Il y occupa pendant vingt-cinq ans la chaire pontificale, jusqu'à la quatorzième et dernière année du règne de Néron, époque à laquelle il reçut la palme du martyre. Il fut mis en croix la tête en bas, se jugeant indigne de mourir de la même manière que son divin maître. il a écrit deux épîtres appelées catholiques : la plupart des auteurs prétendent que la seconde n'est pas de lui, parce qu'elle fait disparate avec le style de la première; mais Marc l'évangéliste, qui avait été son disciple et son interprète, la lui attribue. Les ouvrages intitulés Evangile, Prédication, Apocalypse, Jugement, Actes de Pierre sont tous les cinq rejetés comme livres apocryphes. Il fut enterré à Rome dans le Vatican, près de la voie Triomphale. Le monde entier vénère et célèbre sa mémoire.
Saint JÉRÔME. Tableau des écrivains ecclésiastiques, ou Livre des hommes illustres.
SAINT PIERRE, APÔTRE (1)
Pierre eut trois noms : il s'appela 1° Simon Barjona. Simon veut dire obéissant, ou se livrant à la tristesse. Barjona, fils de colombe, en syrien bar veut dire fils, et en hébreu; Jona signifie colombe. En effet, il fut obéissant; quand J.-C. l’appela, il obéit, au premier mot d'ordre du Seigneur: il se livra à la tristesse. quand il renia J.-C. « Il sortit dehors et pleura amèrement. » Il fut fils de colombe parce qu'il servit Dieu avec simplicité d'intention. 2° Il fut appelé Céphas, qui signifie chef ou pierre, ou blâmant de bouche: chef, en raison qu'il eut 1a primauté dans la prélature; pierre, en raison de la fermeté dont il fit preuve dans sa passion; blâmant de bouche, en raison de la constance de sa prédication. 3° Il fut appelé Pierre, qui veut dire connaissant, déchaussant, déliant: parce qu'il connut la divinité de J.-C. quand il dit: « Vous êtes le Christ, le Fils du Dieu vivant » ; il se dépouilla de toute affection pour les siens, comme de toute oeuvre morte et terrestre, lorsqu'il dit: « Voilà que nous avons tout quitté pour vous suivre » ; il nous délia des chaînes du péché par les clefs qu'il reçut du Seigneur. Il eut aussi trois surnoms : 1° on l’appela Simon Johanna, qui veut dire beauté du Seigneur; 2° Simon, fils de Jean, qui veut dire à qui il a été donné ; 3° Simon Barjouay qui veut dire fils de colombe. Par ces différents surnoms on doit: entendre qu'il posséda la beauté de moeurs, les dons des vertus, l’abondance des larmes, car la colombe gémit au lieu de chanter. Quant au nom de Pierre, ce fut J.-C. qui permit qu'on le lui donnât puisqu'il dit (Jean, I) : « Vous vous appellerez Céphas, qui veut dire Pierre. » 2° Ce fut encore J.-C. qui le lui donna après le lui avoir promis, selon qu'il est dit dans saint Marc (III) : « Et il donna. à Simon le nom de Pierre. » 3° Ce fut J.-C. qui le lui confirma, puisqu'il dit dans saint Mathieu (XVI) « Et moi je vous dis que vous êtes Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon église.» Son martyre fut écrit par saint Marcel, par saint Lin, pape, par Hégésippe et par le pape Léon.
Saint Pierre, fut celui de tous les apôtres qui eut la plus grande ferveur : car il voulut connaître celui qui trahissait le Seigneur, en sorte que s'il l’eût connu, dit saint Augustin, il l’eût déchiré avec les dents : et c'est pour cela que le Seigneur ne voulait pas révéler le nom de ce traître. Saint Chrysostome dit aussi que si J.-C. avait prononcé son nom, Pierre aussitôt se serait levé et l’aurait massacré sur l’heure. 11 marcha sur la mer pour aller au-devant du Seigneur ; il fut choisi pour être le témoin de la Transfiguration de son maure et pour assister à la résurrection de la fille de Jaïre; il trouva, dans la bouche du poisson, la pièce d'argent de quatre dragmes pour le tribut ; il reçut du Seigneur les clefs du royaume des cieux; il eut la commission de faire paître les brebis ; au jour de la Pentecôte, par sa prédication, il convertit trois mille hommes ; il prédit la mort d'Ananie et de Saphire : il guérit Enée de sa paralysie; il baptisa Corneille; il ressuscita Tabithe; il rendit la santé aux infirmes par l’ombre de son corps ; mis en prison par Hérode, il fut délivré par un ange. Pour sa nourriture et son vêtement, il nous témoigne lui-même quels ils furent, au livre de saint Clément : « Je ne me nourris, dit-il, que de pain avec des olives et rarement avec des légumes ; quant à mon vêtement, vous le voyez, c'est une tunique et un manteau, et avec cela je ne demande rien autre chose. » On rapporte aussi qu'il portait toujours dans son sein un suaire pour essuyer les larmes qu'il versait fréquemment ; car quand la douce allocution du Seigneur et la présence de Dieu lui venaient à la mémoire, il ne pouvait retenir ses pleurs, tant était grande la tendresse de son amour. Mais quand il se rappelait la faute qu'il commit en reniant J.-C., il répandait des torrents de larmes : il en contracta tellement l’habitude de pleurer, que sa figure paraissait toute brûlée, selon I'expression de saint Clément. Le même saint rapporte qu'en entendant le chant du coq, saint Pierre avait coutume de se lever pour faire oraison et de pleurer abondamment. Saint Clément dit encore, comme on le trouve dans l’Histoire ecclésiastique (2), que lorsqu'on menait au martyre la femme de saint Pierre, celui-ci tressaillit d'une extraordinaire joie, et l’appelant par son propre nom, il lui cria : « O ma femme, souvenez-vous du Seigneur. » Une fois, saint Pierre avait envoyé deux de ses disciples prêcher; après avoir cheminé pendant vingt jours, l’un d'eux mourut, et l’autre revint trouver saint Pierre, et lui raconter l’accident qui était arrivé (on dit que ce fut saint Martial, ou selon quelques autres, saint Materné. On lit ailleurs que le premier fut saint Front, et que son compagnon, celui qui était mort, c'est-à-dire le second, fut le prêtre Georges). Alors saint Pierre lui donna soli bâton avec ordre d'aller retrouver son compagnon et de poser ce bâton sur le cadavre. Quand il l’eut fait, ce mort de quarante jours se leva tout vivant (3).
En ce temps-la, il se trouvait à Jérusalem un magicien, nommé Simon, qui se disait être la première vérité; il avançait que ceux qui croyaient en lui devenaient immortels ; enfin il prétendait que rien ne lui était impossible. On lit aussi, dans le livre de saint Clément; que Simon avait dit: « Je serai adoré comme un Dieu ; on me rendra publiquement les honneurs divins; et tout ce que j'aurai voulu faire, je le pourrai. Un jour que ma mère Rachel m’ordonnait d'aller dans les champs pour faire la moisson, je vis une faux parterre à laquelle je commandai de faucher d'elle-même : et elle faucha dix fois plus que les autres moissonneurs. » Il ajouta, d'après saint Jérôme: « Je suis la parole de Dieu; je suis beau, je suis le paraclet, je suis tout-puissant, je suis le. tout de Dieu. » Il faisait aussi mouvoir des serpents d'airain ; rire des statues de bronze ou de pierre, et chanter des chiens: Simon donc, comme le dit saint Lin, voulant discuter avec saint Pierre et montrer qu'il. était Dieu, saint Pierre vint le jour indiqué, au lieu de la conférence, et dit aux assistants : « La paix soit avec vous, mes frères, qui aimez la vérité. » Simon lui dit : « Nous n'avons pas besoin de la paix, nous : car si la paix et la concorde existent ici, nous ne pourrons parvenir à trouver la vérité : ce sont les larrons qui ont la paix entre eux ; n'invoque donc pas la paix, mais la lutte : entre deux champions il y aura paix, quand l’un aura été supérieur à l’autre. » Et Pierre répondit : « Qu'as-tu à craindre d'entendre parler de paix ? C'est du péché que naît la guerre, et là où n'existe pas le péché, règne la paix. On trouve la vérité dans les discussions et la justice dans les oeuvres. » Et Simon reprit : « Ce que tu avances n'a pas de valeur, mais je te montrerai la puissance de ma divinité afin que tu m’adores aussitôt. Je suis la première vertu et je puis voler parles airs, créer de nouveaux arbres, changer les pierres en pain, rester dans le feu sans en être endommagé et tout ce que je veux, je le puis faire. » Saint Pierre donc discutait contre lui et découvrait tous ses maléfices. Alors Simon, voyant qu'il ne pouvait résister au saint apôtre, jeta dans la mer tous ses livres de magie, de crainte d'être dénoncé comme magicien ; et alla à Rome afin de s'y faire passer pour Dieu. Aussitôt que saint Pierre eut découvert cela, il le suivit et partit pour Rome.
La quatrième année de l’empire de Claude, saint Pierre arriva à Rome, où il resta vingt-cinq ans. Et il ordonna évêques Lin et Clet, pour être ses coadjuteurs, l’un, comme le rapporte Jean Beleth (4), dans l’intérieur de la ville, l’autre dans la partie qui était hors des murs. En se livrant avec grand zèle à la prédication, il convertissait beaucoup de monde à la foi, et guérissait la plupart des infirmes. Et comme dans ses discours il louait et recommandait toujours de préférence la chasteté, il convertit les quatre concubines d'Agrippa qui se refusèrent à retourner davantage au près de ce gouverneur. Alors celui-ci entra en fureur et il cherchait l’occasion de nuire à l’Apôtre. Ensuite le Seigneur apparut à saint Pierre et lui dit: « Simon et Néron forment des projets contre ta personne; mais ne crains rien, car je suis avec toi pour te délivrer, et je te donnerai la consolation d'avoir auprès de toi mon serviteur Paul qui demain entrera dans Rome. Or, saint Pierre, sachant, comme le dit saint Lin, que dans peu de temps il devait quitter sa tente, dans l’assemblée des frères, il prit la main de saint Clément, l’ordonna évêque et le força à siéger en sa place dans sa chaire. Après cela Paul arriva à Rome, ainsi que le Seigneur l’avait prédit, et commença à prêcher J.-C. avec saint Pierre. Or, Néron avait un tel attachement pour Simon qu'il le pensait certainement être le gardien de sa vie, son salut, et celui de toute la ville. Un jour donc, devant Néron (c'est ce qu'en dit saint Léon, pape), sa figure changeait subitement, et il paraissait tantôt plus vieux et tantôt plus jeune. Néron, qui Noyait cela, le regardait comme étant vraiment le fils de Dieu. C'est pourquoi Simon le magicien dit à Néron, toujours d'après saint Léon : « Afin que tu saches, illustre empereur, que je suis le fils de Dieu, fais-moi décapiter et trois jours après je ressusciterai. » Néron ordonna donc au bourreau qu'il eût à décapiter Simon. Or, le bourreau, en croyant couper la tête à Simon, coupa celle d'un bélier: grâce à la magie,Simon échappa sain et entier, et ramassant les membres du bélier il les cacha ; puis il se cacha pendant trois jours : or, le sang du bélier resta coagulé dans la même place. Et le troisième jour Simon se montra à Néron et lui dit :
« Fais essuyer mon sang qui a été répandu ; car me voici ressuscité trois jours après que j'ai été décollé, comme je l’avais promis. » En 1e voyant Néron fut stupéfait et le regarda comme le vrai fils de Dieu. Un jour encore qu'il était dans une chambre avec Néron, le démon qui avait pris sa forme parlait au peuple dehors : enfin les Romains l’avaient en si grande vénération qu'ils lui élevèrent une statue sur laquelle ils mirent cette inscription : Simoni Deo sancto (5), A Simon le Dieu saint.
Saint Pierre et saint Paul, au témoignage de saint Léon, allèrent chez Néron et dévoilèrent tous les maléfices de Simon, et saint Pierre ajouta due, de même, qu'il y a en J.-C. deux substances, savoir : celle de Dieu et celle de l’homme, de même en ce magicien, se trouvaient deux substances, celle de l’homme et celle du diable.
Or, Simon dit, d'après le récit de Marcel et de saint Léon (6) : « Je ne souffrirai pas plus longtemps cet ennemi ; je commanderai à mes anges de me venger de cet homme. » Pierre lui répondit, : « Tes anges, je ne les crains point, mais ce sont eux qui me craignent. » Néron ajouta : « Tu ne crains pas Simon qui prouve sa divinité par ses oeuvres? » Pierre lui répondit : « Si la divinité existe en lui, qu'il nie dise en ce moment ce que je pense ou ce que je fais : je vais d'avance te dire tout bas à l’oreille quelle est ma pensée pour qu'il n'ait pas l’audace de mentir. » « Approche-toi, reprit Néron, et dis-moi ce que tu penses. » Or, Pierre s'approchas et dit à Néron tout bas : « Ordonne qu'on m’apporte un pain d'orge et qu'on me le donne en cachette. » Or, quand on le lui eut apporté, Pierre le bénit et le mit dans sa manche, et dit ensuite : « Que Simon, qui s'est fait Dieu, dise ce que. j'ai pensé, ce que j'ai dit, ou .ce qui s'est fait. » Simon, répondit : « Que Pierre dise plutôt ce que je pensé moi-même. » Et Pierre dit : « Ce que pense Simon, je prouverai que je le sais, pourvu que je fasse ce à quoi il a pensé. » Alors Simon en colère s'écria : « Qu'il vienne de grands chiens et qu'ils te dévorent. » Tout à coup apparurent de très grands chiens qui se jetèrent sur saint Pierre : mais celui-ci leur présenta le pain bénit, et à l’instant, il les mit en fuite. Alors saint Pierre dit à Néron : « Tu le vois, je t'ai montré que je savais ce que Simon méditait contre moi, et ce ne fut point par des paroles, mais par des actes : Car celui qui avait promis qu'il viendrait des anges contre moi, a fait venir des chiens, afin de faire voir que les anges de Dieu, ne sont autres que des chiens. » Simon dit alors : « Écoutez, Pierre et Paul ; si je ne puis vous rien faire ici, nous irons où il faut que je vous juge; mais pour le moment, je veux bien vous épargner. »
Alors, selon que le rapportent Hégésippe et saint Lin, Simon, enflé d'orgueil, osa se vanter de pouvoir ressusciter des morts; et il arriva qu'un jeune homme mourut. On appela donc Pierre et Simon et de l’avis de Simon on convint unanimement que celui-là serait tué. qui ne pourrait ressusciter le mort. Or, pendant que Simon faisait ses enchantements sur le cadavre, il sembla aux assistants que la tête du défunt s'agitait. Alors tous se mirent à crier en voulant lapider saint Pierre. Le saint apôtre put à peine obtenir le silence qu'il réclama : « Si le mort est vivant, dit-il, qu'il se lève, qu'il se promène, qu'il parle : s'il en est autrement, sachez que l’action d'agiter là tête du cadavre est de la fantasmagorie. Qu'on éloigne Simon du lit afin que les ruses du diable soient pleinement mises à nu. » On éloigné donc Simon du lit, et l’enfant resta immobile. Alors saint Pierre, se tenant éloigné, fit une prière, puis élevant la voix : « Jeune homme, s'écria-t-il, au nom de Jésus de Nazareth qui a été crucifié, lève-toi et marche. » Et à l’instant il se leva en vie et marcha. Comme le peuple voulait lapider Simon saint Pierre dit : « Il est bien assez puni de se reconnaître vaincu dans ses artifices; or, notre maître nous a enseigné à rendre le bien pour le mal. » Alors Simon dit : « Sachez, vous, Pierre et Paul, que vous n'obtiendrez rien de ce que vous désirez ; car je ne daignerai pas vous faire gagner la couronne du martyre. » Saint Pierre reprit : « Qu'il nous arrive ce que nous désirons : mais à toi il ne peut arriver rien de bon, car chacune de tes paroles est un mensonge. » Saint Marcel dit qu'alors Simon alla à la maison de son disciple Marcel, et qu'il y lia à la porte un chien énorme en disant : « Je verrai à présent si Pierre, qui vient d'ordinaire chez toi, pourra entrer. » Peu d'instants après saint Pierre arriva, et eu faisant le signe de la croix, il délia le chien. Or, ce chien se mit à caresser tout le monde, et ne poursuivait que Simon : il le saisit, le renversa par terre, et il voulait l’étrangler, quand saint Pierre accourut et cria au chien de ne point lui faire de mal; or, cette bête, sans toucher son corps, lui arracha tellement ses habits qu'elle le laissa nu sur la terre. Alors le peuple et surtout les enfants coururent après le chien en poursuivant Simon jusqu'à ce qu'ils l’eussent chassé bien loin de la ville, comme ils eussent fait d'un loup. Simon ne pouvant supporter la honte de cet affront resta un an sans reparaître. Marcel, en voyant ces miracles, s'attacha désormais à saint Pierre. Dans la suite, Simon revint et rentra de nouveau dans les bonnes grâces de Néron. Simon donc, d'après saint Léon, convoqua le peuple, et déclara qu'il avait été outrageusement traité par les Galiléens, et pour ce motif, il dit vouloir quitter cette ville qu'il avait coutume de protéger; qu'il fixerait un jour où il monterait au ciel, car il ne daignait plus rester davantage sur la terre. Au jour fixé, il monta donc sur une tour élevée, ou bien, d'après saint Lin, il monta au Capitole et, couvert de laurier, il se jeta en l’air et se mit à voler. Or, saint Paul dit à saint Pierre : « C'est à moi de prier et à vous de commander. » Néron dit alors: « Cet homme est sincère, et vous n'êtes que des séducteurs. »Or, saint Pierre dit à saint Paul : « Paul, levez la tête et voyez. » Et quand Paul eut levé la tête et qu'il eut vu Simon dans les airs, il dit à Pierre : « Pierre, que tardez-vous? Achevez ce que vous avez commencé déjà le Seigneur nous appelle. » Alors saint Pierre dit « Je vous adjure, Anges de Satan, qui le soutenez dans les airs, par N.-S. J.-C., ne le portez plus davantage, mais laissez-le tomber. » A l’instant il fut lâché, tomba, se brisa la cervelle, et expira (7). Néron, à cette nouvelle, fut très fâché d'avoir perdu, quant à lui, un pareil homme et il dit aux apôtres : « Vous vous êtes rendus suspects envers moi ; aussi vous punirai-je d'une manière exemplaire. » Il les remit donc entre les mains d'un personnage très illustre, appelé Paulin, qui les fit enfermer dans la prison Mamertine sous la garde de Processus et de Martinien, soldats que saint Pierre convertit à la foi : ils ouvrirent la prison et laissèrent aller les apôtres en liberté. C'est pour cela que, après le martyre des apôtres, Paulin manda Processus et Martinien, et quand il eut découvert qu'ils étaient chrétiens, on leur trancha la tête par ordre de Néron. Or, les frères pressaient Pierre de s'en aller, et il ne le fit qu'après avoir été vaincu par leurs instances. Saint Léon et saint Lin assurent qu'arrivé à la porte où est aujourd'hui Sainte-Marie ad passus (8), Pierre vit J.-C. venant à sa rencontre, et il lui dit : « Seigneur, où allez-vous? » J.-C. répondit : « Je viens à Rome pour y être crucifié encore une fois. » « Vous seriez crucifié encore une fois, répartit saint Pierre. » « Oui, lui répondit le Seigneur. » Alors Pierre lui dit : « Seigneur, je retournerai donc, pour être crucifié avec vous. » Et après ces paroles, le Seigneur monta au ciel à la vue de Pierre qui pleurait. Quand il comprit que c'était de son martyre à lui-même que le Sauveur avait voulu parler, il revint, et raconta aux frères ce qui venait d'arriver. Alors il fut pris par les officiers de Néron et mené au préfet Agrippa. Saint Lin dit que sa figure devint comme un soleil. Agrippa lui dit : « Es-tu donc celui qui se glorifie dans les assemblées ou ne se trouvent que la populace et de pauvres femmes que tu éloignes du lit de leurs maris? » L'apôtre le reprit en disant qu'il ne se glorifiait que dans la croix du Seigneur. Alors Pierre, en qualité d'étranger, fut condamné à être crucifié, mais Paul, en sa qualité de citoyen romain, fut condamné à avoir la tête tranchée.
A l’occasion de cette sentence, Denys en son épître à Timothée parle ainsi de la mort de saint Paul : « O mon frère Timothée, si,tu avais assisté aux derniers moments de ces martyrs, tu aurais défailli de tristesse et de douleur.0ui est-ce qui n'aurait pas pleuré quand fut rendue la sentence qui condamnait Pierre à être crucifié et Paul à être décapité ? Tu aurais alors vu la foule des gentils et des Juifs les frapper et leur cracher au visage. » Or, arrivé l’instant où ils devaient consommer leur affreux martyre, on les sépara l’un de l’autre et on lia ces colonnes du monde, non sans que les frères fissent entendre des gémissements et des sanglots. Alors Paul dit à Pierre: « La paix soit avec vous, fondement des églises, pasteur des brebis et des agneaux de J.-C. » Pierre dit à Paul : « Allez en paix, prédicateur des bonnes moeurs, médiateur et guide du salut des justes. » Or, quand on les eut éloignés l’un de l’autre, je suivis mon maître; car on ne les tua point dans le même quartier (saint Denys). Quand saint Pierre fut arrivé à la croix, saint Léon et Marcel rapportent qu'il dit : « Puisque mon maître est descendu du ciel en terre, il fut élevé debout sur la croix; pour moi qu'il daigne appeler de la terre au ciel, ma croix doit montrer ma tête sur la terre et diriger mes pieds vers le ciel. Donc, parce que je ne suis pas digne d'être sur la croix de la même manière que mon Seigneur, retournez ma croix et crucifiez-moi la tête en bas. » Alors on retourna la croix et on l’attacha les pieds en haut et les mains en bas. Mais, en ce moment, le peuple rempli de fureur voulait tuer Néron et le gouverneur, ensuite délivrer l’apôtre qui les priait de ne point empêcher qu'on le martyrisât. Mais le Seigneur, ainsi que le disent Hégésippe et Lin, leur ouvrit les yeux, et comme ils pleuraient, ils virent des anges avec des couronnes composées de fleurs de roses et de lys, et Pierre au milieu d'eux sur la croix recevant un livre que lui présentait J.-C., et dans lequel il lisait les paroles qu'il proférait. Alors saint, Pierre, au témoignage du même Hégésippe, se mit à dire sur la croix : « C'est vous, Seigneur, que j'ai souhaité d'imiter; mais je n'ai pas eu la présomption d'être crucifié droit : c'est vous qui êtes toujours droit, élevé et haut ; nous sommes les enfants du premier homme qui a enfoncé sa tête dans la terre, et dont la chute indique la manière avec laquelle l’homme vient au monde ; nous naissons en effet de telle sorte que nous paraissons être répandus sur la terre. Notre condition a été renversée, et ce que le monde croit être à droite est certainement à gauche. Vous, Seigneur, vous me tenez lieu de tout; tout ce que vous êtes, vous l’êtes,pour moi, et il n'y a rien autre que vous seul. Je vous rends grâce de toute mon âme par laquelle je vis, par laquelle j'ai l’intelligence et par laquelle je parle. » On connaît par là deux autres motifs pour lesquels il ne voulut pas être crucifié droit. Et saint Pierre voyant que les fidèles avaient été témoins de sa gloire, rendit grâces à Dieu, lui recommanda les chrétiens et rendit l’esprit. Alors Marcel et Apulée qui étaient frères, disciples de saint Pierre, le descendirent de la croix et l’ensevelirent en l’embaumant avec divers aromates: Isidore dans son livre de la Naissance et de la Mort des Saints s'exprime ainsi : « Pierre après avoir fondé l’église d'Antioche, vint à Rome, sous l’empereur Claude, pour confondre Simon ; il prêcha l’Evangile pendant vingt-cinq ans en cette ville dont il occupa le siège pontifical ; et la trente-sixième année après la Passion du Seigneur,- il fut crucifié par Néron, la tête en bas, ainsi qu'il l’avait voulu. Or, ce jour-là même, saint Pierre et saint Paul apparurent à Denys, selon qu'il le rapporte en ces termes dans la lettre citée plus haut: « Ecoute le miracle, Timothée, mon frère, vois le prodige, arrivé au jour de leur supplice: car j'étais présent au moment de leur séparation. Après leur mort, je les ai vus, se tenant par la main l’un et l’autre, entrer par les portes de la ville, revêtus d'habits de lumière, ornés clé couronnes de clarté et de splendeur. »
Néron ne demeura pas impuni pour ce crime et bien d'autres encore qu'il commit; car il se tua de sa propre main. Nous allons rapporter ici en peu de mots quelques-uns de ses forfaits. On lit dans une histoire apocryphe, toutefois, que Sénèque, son précepteur, espérait recevoir de lui une récompense digne de son labeur ; et Néron lui donna à choisir la branche de l’arbre sur laquelle il préférait être pendu, en lui disant que c'était là la récompense qu'il en devait recevoir. Or, comme Sénèque lui demandait à quel titre il avait mérité ce genre de supplice, Néron fit vibrer plusieurs fois la pointe d'une épée au-dessus de Sénèque qui baissait la tête pour échapper aux coups dont il était menacé ; car il ne voyait point sans effroi le moment où il allait recevoir la mort. Et Néron lui dit : « Maître, pourquoi baisses-tu la tête sous l’épée dont je te menace ? » Sénèque lui répondit: « Je suis nomme, et voilà pourquoi je redouté la mort, d'autant que je meurs malgré moi. » Néron lui dit: « Je te crains encore comme je le faisais alors que j'étais enfant : c'est pourquoi tant que tu vivras je ne pourrai vivre tranquille. » Et Sénèque lui dit « S'il est nécessaire que je meure, accordez-moi au moins de choisir le genre de mort que j'aurais voulu. » « Choisis vite, répondit Néron, et ne tarde pas à mourir. » Alors Sénèque fit préparer un bain où il se fit ouvrir les veines de chaque bras et il finit ainsi sa vie épuisé de sang. Son nom de Sénèque fut pour lui comme un présage, se necans, qui se tue soi-même : car ce fut lui qui en quelque sorte se donna la mort, bien qu'il y eût été forcé. On lit que ce même Sénèque eut deux frères : le premier fut Julien Gallio, orateur illustre qui se tua de sa propre main; le second fut Méla, père du poète Lucain ; lequel Lucain mourut après avoir eu les veines ouvertes par l’ordre de Néron, d'après ce qu'on lit. On voit, dans la même histoire apocryphe, que Néron, poussé par un transport infâme; fit tuer sa mère et la fit partager en deux pour voir comment il était entretenu dans son sein. Les médecins lui adressaient des remontrances par rapport au meurtre de sa mère et lui disaient : «Les lois s'opposent et l’équité défend qu'un fils tue sa mère : elle l'a enfanté avec douleur et elle t'a élevé avec tant de labeur et de sollicitude. » Néron leur dit : « Faites-moi concevoir un enfant et accoucher ensuite, afin que je puisse savoir quelle a été la douleur de ma mère. » Il avait encore conçu cette volonté d'accoucher parce que, en passant dans la ville, il avait entendu les cris d'une femme en couches. Les médecins lui répondirent « Cela n'est pas possible ; c'est contre les lois de la nature; il n'y a pas moyen de faire ce qui n'est pas d'accord avec la raison. » Néron leur dit donc: « Si vous ne me faites pas concevoir et enfanter, je vous ferai mourir tous d'une manière cruelle. » Alors les médecins, dans des potions qu'ils lui administrèrent, lui firent avaler une grenouille sans qu'il s'en aperçût, et, par artifice, ils la firent croître dans son ventre : bientôt son ventre, qui ne pouvait souffrir cet état contre nature, se gonfla, de sorte que Héron se croyait gros d'un enfant ; et les médecins lui faisaient observer un régime qu'ils savaient être propre à nourrir la grenouille, sous prétexte qu'il devait en user ainsi en raison de la conception. Enfin tourmenté par une douleur intolérable, il dit aux médecins : « Hâtez le moment des couches, car c'est à peine si la langueur où me met l’accouchement futur me donne le pouvoir de respirer. » Alors ils lui firent prendre une potion pour le faire vomir et il rendit une grenouille affreuse à voir, imprégnée d'humeurs et couverte de sang. Et Néron, regardant son fruit, en eut horreur lui-même et admira une pareille monstruosité : mais les médecins lui dirent qu'il n'avait produit un foetus aussi difforme que parce qu'il n'avait pas voulu attendre le temps nécessaire. Et il dit : « Ai-je été comme cela en sortant des flancs de ma mère ? » « Oui, lui répondirent-ils. » Il recommanda donc de nourrir son foetus et qu'on l’enfermât dans une pièce voûtée pour l’y soigner. Mais ces choses-là ne se lisent pas dans les chroniques; car elles sont apocryphes. Ensuite s'étant émerveillé de la grandeur de l’incendie de Troie, il fit brûler Rome pendant sept jours et sept nuits, spectacle qu'il regardait d'une tour fort élevée, et tout joyeux de la beauté de cette flamme, il chantait avec emphase les vers de l’Iliade. On voit encore dans les chroniques qu'il pêchait avec des filets d'or, qu'il s'adonnait à l’étude de la musique, de manière à l’emporter sur les harpistes et les comédiens : il se maria avec un homme, et cet homme le prit pour femme, ainsi que le dit Orose (9). Mais les Romains, ne pouvant plus supporter davantage sa folie, se soulevèrent contre lui et le chassèrent hors de la ville. Lorsqu'il vit qu'il nie pouvait échapper, il affila un bâton avec les dents et il se perça par le milieu du corps : et c'est ainsi qu'il termina sa vie. On lit cependant ailleurs qu'il fut dévoré par les loups. A leur retour, les Romains trouvèrent la grenouille cachée sous la voûte ; ils la poussèrent hors de la ville et la brûlèrent : et cette partie de la ville oit avait été cachée la grenouille reçut, au dire de quelques personnes, le none de Latran (Lateus rana) (raine latente) (10).
Du temps du pape saint Corneille, des chrétiens grecs volèrent les corps des apôtres et les emportèrent; mais les démons, qui habitaient dans les idoles, forcés par une vertu divine, criaient : «Romains, au secours, on emporte vos dieux. » Les fidèles comprirent qu'il s'agissait des apôtres, et les gentils de leurs, dieux. Alors fidèles et infidèles, tout le monde se réunit pour poursuivre les Grecs. Ceux-ci effrayés jetèrent les corps des apôtres dans un puits auprès des catacombes ; mais dans la suite les fidèles les en ôtèrent. Saint Grégoire raconte dans son Registre (liv. IV, ép. XXX,) qu'alors il se fit un si affreux tonnerre et des éclairs en telle quantité que tout le monde prit la fuite de frayeur, et qu'on les laissa dans les catacombes. Mais comme on ne savait pas distinguer les ossements de saint Pierre de ceux de saint Paul, les fidèles, après avoir eu recours aux prières et aux jeûnes, reçurent cette réponse du ciel : « Les os les plus grands sont ceux du prédicateur, les plus petits ceux du pêcheur. » Ils séparèrent ainsi les os les uns des autres et les placèrent dans les églises qui avaient été élevées à chacun d'eux. D'autres cependant disent que saint Silvestre, pape, voulant consacrer les églises, pesa avec un grand respect les os grands et petits dans une balance et qu'il en mit la moitié dans une église et la moitié dans l’autre. Saint Grégoire rapporte dans son Dialogue (11), qu'il y avait, dans l’église où le corps de saint Pierre repose, un saint homme d'une grande humilité, nommé Agontus : et il se trouvait, dans cette même église, une jeune fille paralytique qui y habitait; mais réduite à ramper sur les mains, elle était obligée de se traîner, les reins et les pieds par terre: et depuis longtemps elle demandait la santé à saint Pierre; il lui apparut dans une vision et lui dit : « Va trouver Agontius, le custode, et il te guérira lui-même. » Cette jeune fille se mit donc à se traîner çà et là de tous côtés dans l’église, et à chercher qui était cet Agontius : mais celui-ci se trouva tout à coup au-devant d'elle : « Notre pasteur et nourricier, lui dit-elle, le bienheureux Pierre, apôtre, m’a envoyé vers vous, pour que vous me délivriez de mon infirmité. » Il lui répondit : « Si tu as été envoyée par lui, lève-toi. » Et lui prenant la main, il la fit lever et elle fut guérie sans qu'il lui restât la moindre trace de sa maladie. Au même livre, saint Grégoire dit encore que Galla, jeune personne des plus nobles de Rome, fille du consul et patrice Symmaque, se trouva veuve après un an de mariage. Son âge, et sa fortune demandaient qu'elle convolât à de secondes noces ; mais elle préféra s'unir à Dieu par une alliance spirituelle, dont les commencements se passent dans la tristesse mais par laquelle on parvient an ciel, plutôt chie de se soumettre à des noces charnelles qui commencent toujours par la joie pour finir dans la tristesse. Or, comme elle était d'une constitution toute de feu, les médecins prétendirent que si elle n'avait plus de commerce avec un homme, cette ardeur intense lui ferait pousser de la barbe contre l’ordinaire de la nature. Ce qui arriva en effet peu de temps après. Mais Galla ne tint aucun compte de cette difformité extérieure, puisqu'elle aimait la beauté intérieure : et elle n'appréhenda point , malgré cette laideur, de n'être point aimée de l’époux céleste. Elle quitta donc ses habits du monde, et se consacra dans le monastère élevé auprès de l’église de saint Pierre, où elle servit Dieu avec simplicité et passa de longues années dans l’exercice, de la prière et de l’aumône. Elle fut enfin attaquée d'un cancer au sein. Comme deux flambeaux étaient toujours allumés devant son lit, parce que, amie de la: lumière, elle avait en horreur les ténèbres spirituelles comme les corporelles, elle vit le bienheureux Pierre,. apôtre, au milieu de ces deux flambeaux, debout devant son lit. Son amour lui fit concevoir de l’audace et elle dit : « Qu'y a-t-il, mon maître ? Est-ce que mes péchés me sont remis? » Saint Pierre inclina la tête avec la plus grande bonté, et lui répondit : « Oui, ils sont remis, viens. » Et elle dit : « Que sueur Benoîte vienne avec moi, je vous en prie. » Et il dit : « Non, mais qu'une telle vienne avec toi. » Ce qu'elle fit connaître à l’abbesse qui mourut avec elle trois jours après. — Saint Grégoire raconte encore dans le même ouvrage, qu'un prêtre d'une grande sainteté réduit à l’extrémité, se mit à crier avec grande liesse : « Bien, mes seigneurs viennent ; bien, mes seigneurs viennent; comment avez-vous daigné venir vers un si chétif serviteur? Je viens; je viens, je vous remercie, je vous remercie. » Et comme ceux qui étaient là lui demandaient à qui il parlait de la sorte, il répondit avec admiration : « Est-ce que vous ne voyez pas que les saints apôtres Pierre et Paul sont venus ici ensemble ? » Et comme il répétait une seconde fois les paroles rapportées plus haut, sa sainte âme fut délivrée de son corps. — Il y a doute, chez quelques auteurs, si ce fut le même jour que saint Pierre et saint Paul souffrirent. Quelques-uns ont avancé que ce fut le même jour, mais un an après. Or, saint Jérôme et presque tous les saints qui traitent cette question s'accordent à dire que ce fut le même jour et la même année, comme cela reste évident d'après la lettre de saint Denys, et le récit de saint Léon (d'autres disent saint Maxime), dans un sermon où il s'exprime comme il suit : « Ce n'est pas sans raison qu'en un même jour et dans le même lieu, ils reçurent leur sentence du même tyran. Ils souffrirent le même jour afin d'aller ensemble à J.-C. ; ce fut au même endroit, afin que Rome les possédât tous les deux; sous le même persécuteur, afin qu'une égale cruauté les atteignît ensemble.
Ce jour fut choisi pour célébrer leur mérite; le lieu pour qu'ils y fussent entourés de gloire ; le même persécuteur fait ressortir leur courage. » Bien qu'ils aient souffert le même jour et à la même heure, ce ne fut pourtant pas au même endroit, mais dans des quartiers différents : et ce que dit saint Léon qu'ils souffrirent au même endroit, doit s'entendre qu'ils souffrirent tous les deux à Rome. C'est à ce sujet qu'un poète composa ces vers:
Ense coronatur Paulus, cruce Petrus, eodem
Sub duce, luce, loco, dux Nero, Roma locus (12).
Un autre dit encore :
Ense sacrat Paulum, par lux, dux, urbs, cruce Petrum(13) .
Quoiqu'ils aient souffert le même jour, cependant saint Grégoire ordonna qu'aujourd'hui on célébrerait, quant à l’office, la solennité de saint Pierre, et que le lendemain, on ferait la fête de la Commémoration de saint Paul ; en voici les motifs : en ce jour fut dédiée l’église de saint Pierre; il est plus grand en dignité; il est le premier qui fut converti; enfin il eut la primauté à Rome.
(1) La plupart des faits qui: ont rapport à saint Pierre et que signalent les livres saints sont consignés ici. Le reste est tiré d'un livre connu sous le nom d'Itinéraire de saint Clément, regardé comme apocryphe, mais cité par un grand nombre d'auteurs des premiers siècles.
(2) Eusèbe, lib. III, c. XXX ; — Clément d'Alexand., l. VII. Ses paroles à sa femme qu'on menait au martyre.
(3) Harigarus, c. VI ; — Orton de Friocesque, Chronique, III., XV; - Pierre de Cluny, Contre les Petrobrusiens.
(4) Cap. CXXXVIII.
(5) Voyez Eusèbe, lib. II, c. XIII, et Tillemont, t. II, p. 482.
(6) Sigebert de Gemblours, Trithème, Conrad Gessner.
(7) Ce fait de la chute et de la mort de Simon le magicien est constaté par les Constitutions apostoliques d'Arnobe, par saint Cyrille de Jérusalem, saint Ambroise, saint Augustin, Isidore de Peluse, Théodorat, Maxime de Turin, etc.
(8) Origène sur saint Jean, saint Ambroise, sermon 68, saint Grégoire le Grand, sur le Psaume ci.
Cette église existe encore sur la voie Appienne et est connue sous le nom Domine quo vadis.
Hetychius, De excidio Hierosol.; saint Athanase, De fuga sua ; Innocent III, Pierre de Blois.
(9) Hist., lib. III, cap. VII.
(10) Sulpice Sévère, Hist., liv. II, n° 40, Dialogue II; — Saint Augustin, Cité de Dieu, liv. XX, chap. IX, rapportent des traditions étranges sur cet odieux personnage. Consultez une dissertation du chanoine d'Amiens de L'Estocq, sur l’auteur du livre intitulé : De morte persecutorum.
(11) Liv. III, c. XXIV et XXV.
(12) Traduction de Jean Batallier:
Pol fut couronné d'une épée;
Pierre eut la croix renversée.
Néron fut duc, si comme l’on nomme
Le lieu fut la cité de Romme.
(13) Paul est sacré par le glaive, Pierre par la croix : à tous deux, la même gloire, le même bourreau, et Rome pour théâtre.
La Légende dorée de Jacques de Voragine nouvellement traduite en français avec introduction, notices, notes et recherches sur les sources par l'abbé J.-B. M. Roze, chanoine honoraire de la Cathédrale d'Amiens, Édouard Rouveyre, éditeur, 76, rue de Seine, 76, Paris mdcccci
St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles
The life of St. Peter may be conveniently considered under the following heads:
- Until the Ascension of Christ
- St. Peter in Jerusalem and Palestine after the Ascension
- Missionary journeys in the East; the Council of the Apostles
- Activity and death in Rome; burial-place
- Feasts of St. Peter
- Representations of St. Peter
Until the Ascension of Christ
St. Peter's true and original name 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.
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 (Marriage 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 call 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 James and John) 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 revealed 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 Maria Laach", 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 swearing that 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.
Benjamin West, Saint Pierre prêchant lors de la Pentecôte
St. Peter in Jerusalem and Palestine after the Ascension
Our information concerning the earliest Apostolic activity of St. Peter in Jerusalem, Judaea, and the districts stretching northwards as far as Syria is derived mainly from the first portion of the Acts of the Apostles, and is confirmed by parallel statements incidentally in the Epistles of St. Paul.
Among the crowd of Apostles and disciples who, after Christ's Ascension into Heaven from Mount Olivet, returned to Jerusalem to await the fulfilment of His promise to send the Holy Ghost, Peter is immediately conspicuous as the leader of all, and is henceforth constantly recognized as the head of the original Christian community in Jerusalem. He takes the initiative in the appointment to the Apostolic College of another witness of the life, death and resurrection of Christ to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26). After the descent of the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost, Peter standing at the head of the Apostles delivers the first public sermon to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and wins a large number of Jews as converts to the Christian community (Acts 2:14-41). First of the Apostles, he worked a public miracle, when with John he went up into the temple and cured the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. To the people crowding in amazement about the two Apostles, he preaches a long sermon in the Porch of Solomon, and brings new increase to the flock of believers (Acts 3:1-4:4).
In the subsequent examinations of the two Apostles before the Jewish High Council, Peter defends in undismayed and impressive fashion the cause of Jesus and the obligation and liberty of the Apostles to preach the Gospel (Acts 4:5-21). When Ananias and Sapphira attempt to deceive the Apostles and the people Peter appears as judge of their action, and God executes the sentence of punishment passed by the Apostle by causing the sudden death of the two guilty parties (Acts 5:1-11). By numerous miracles God confirms the Apostolic activity of Christ's confessors, and here also there is special mention of Peter, since it is recorded that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and neighbouring towns carried their sick in their beds into the streets so that the shadow of Peter might fall on them and they might be thereby healed (Acts 5:12-16). The ever-increasing number of the faithful caused the Jewish supreme council to adopt new measures against the Apostles, but "Peter and the Apostles" answer that they "ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29 sqq.). Not only in Jerusalem itself did Peter labour in fulfilling the mission entrusted to him by his Master. He also retained connection with the other Christian communities in Palestine, and preached the Gospel both there and in the lands situated farther north. When Philip the Deacon had won a large number of believers in Samaria, Peter and John were deputed to proceed thither from Jerusalem to organize the community and to invoke the Holy Ghost to descend upon the faithful. Peter appears a second time as judge, in the case of the magician Simon, who had wished to purchase from the Apostles the power that he also could invoke the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:14-25). On their way back to Jerusalem, the two Apostles preached the joyous tidings of the Kingdom of God. Subsequently, after Paul's departure from Jerusalem and conversion before Damascus, the Christian communities in Palestine were left at peace by the Jewish council.
Peter now undertook an extensive missionary tour, which brought him to the maritime cities, Lydda, Joppe, and Caesarea. In Lydda he cured the palsied Eneas, in Joppe he raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead; and at Caesarea, instructed by a vision which he had in Joppe, he baptized and received into the Church the first non-Jewish Christians, the centurion Cornelius and his kinsmen (Acts 9:31-10:48). On Peter's return to Jerusalem a little later, the strict Jewish Christians, who regarded the complete observance of the Jewish law as binding on all, asked him why he had entered and eaten in the house of the uncircumcised. Peter tells of his vision and defends his action, which was ratified by the Apostles and the faithful in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18).
A confirmation of the position accorded to Peter by Luke, in the Acts, is afforded by the testimony of St. Paul (Galatians 1:18-20). After his conversion and three years' residence in Arabia, Paul came to Jerusalem "to see Peter". Here the Apostle of the Gentiles clearly designates Peter as the authorized head of the Apostles and of the early Christian Church. Peter's long residence in Jerusalem and Palestine soon came to an end. Herod Agrippa I began (A.D. 42-44) a new persecution of the Church in Jerusalem; after the execution of James, the son of Zebedee, this ruler had Peter cast into prison, intending to have him also executed after the Jewish Pasch was over. Peter, however, was freed in a miraculous manner, and, proceeding to the house of the mother of John Mark, where many of the faithful were assembled for prayer, informed them of his liberation from the hands of Herod, commissioned them to communicate the fact to James and the brethren, and then left Jerusalem to go to "another place" (Acts 12:1-18). Concerning St. Peter's subsequent activity we receive no further connected information from the extant sources, although we possess short notices of certain individual episodes of his later life.
Missionary journeys in the East; Council of the Apostles
St. Luke does not tell us whither Peter went after his liberation from the prison in Jerusalem. From incidental statements we know that he subsequently made extensive missionary tours in the East, although we are given no clue to the chronology of his journeys. It is certain that he remained for a time at Antioch; he may even have returned thither several times. The Christian community of Antioch was founded by Christianized Jews who had been driven from Jerusalem by the persecution (Acts 11:19 sqq.). Peter's residence among them is proved by the episode concerning the observance of the Jewish ceremonial law even by Christianized pagans, related by St. Paul (Galatians 2:11-21). The chief Apostles in Jerusalem — the "pillars", Peter, James, and John — had unreservedly approved St. Paul's Apostolate to the Gentiles, while they themselves intended to labour principally among the Jews. While Paul was dwelling in Antioch (the date cannot be accurately determined), St. Peter came thither and mingled freely with the non-Jewish Christians of the community, frequenting their houses and sharing their meals. But when the Christianized Jews arrived in Jerusalem, Peter, fearing lest these rigid observers of the Jewish ceremonial law should be scandalized thereat, and his influence with the Jewish Christians be imperiled, avoided thenceforth eating with the uncircumcised.
His conduct made a great impression on the other Jewish Christians at Antioch, so that even Barnabas, St. Paul's companion, now avoided eating with the Christianized pagans. As this action was entirely opposed to the principles and practice of Paul, and might lead to confusion among the converted pagans, this Apostle addressed a public reproach to St. Peter, because his conduct seemed to indicate a wish to compel the pagan converts to become Jews and accept circumcision and the Jewish law. The whole incident is another proof of the authoritative position of St. Peter in the early Church, since his example and conduct was regarded as decisive. But Paul, who rightly saw the inconsistency in the conduct of Peter and the Jewish Christians, did not hesitate to defend the immunity of converted pagans from the Jewish Law. Concerning Peter's subsequent attitude on this question St. Paul gives us no explicit information. But it is highly probable that Peter ratified the contention of the Apostle of the Gentiles, and thenceforth conducted himself towards the Christianized pagans as at first. As the principal opponents of his views in this connexion, Paul names and combats in all his writings only the extreme Jewish Christians coming "from James" (i.e., from Jerusalem). While the date of this occurrence, whether before or after the Council of the Apostles, cannot be determined, it probably took place after the council (see below). The later tradition, which existed as early as the end of the second century (Origen, "Hom. vi in Lucam"; Eusebius, Church History III.36), that Peter founded the Church of Antioch, indicates the fact that he laboured a long period there, and also perhaps that he dwelt there towards the end of his life and then appointed Evodrius, the first of the line of Antiochian bishops, head of the community. This latter view would best explain the tradition referring the foundation of the Church of Antioch to St. Peter.
It is also probable that Peter pursued his Apostolic labours in various districts of Asia Minor for it can scarcely be supposed that the entire period between his liberation from prison and the Council of the Apostles was spent uninterruptedly in one city, whether Antioch, Rome, or elsewhere. And, since he subsequently addressed the first of his Epistles to the faithful in the Provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Asia, one may reasonably assume that he had laboured personally at least in certain cities of these provinces, devoting himself chiefly to the Diaspora. The Epistle, however, is of a general character, and gives little indication of personal relations with the persons to whom it is addressed. The tradition related by Bishop Dionysius of Corinth (in Eusebius, Church History II.25) in his letter to the Roman Church under Pope Soter (165-74), that Peter had (like Paul) dwelt in Corinth and planted the Church there, cannot be entirely rejected. Even though the tradition should receive no support from the existence of the "party of Cephas", which Paul mentions among the other divisions of the Church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22), still Peter's sojourn in Corinth (even in connection with the planting and government of the Church by Paul) is not impossible. That St. Peter undertook various Apostolic journeys (doubtless about this time, especially when he was no longer permanently residing in Jerusalem) is clearly established by the general remark of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:5, concerning the "rest of the apostles, and the brethren [cousins] of the Lord, and Cephas", who were travelling around in the exercise of their Apostleship.
Peter returned occasionally to the original Christian Church of Jerusalem, the guidance of which was entrusted to St. James, the relative of Jesus, after the departure of the Prince of the Apostles (A.D. 42-44). The last mention of St. Peter in the Acts (15:1-29; cf. Galatians 2:1-10) occurs in the report of the Council of the Apostles on the occasion of such a passing visit. In consequence of the trouble caused by extreme Jewish Christians to Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, the Church of this city sent these two Apostles with other envoys to Jerusalem to secure a definitive decision concerning the obligations of the converted pagans (see JUDAIZERS). In addition to James, Peter and John were then (about A.D. 50-51) in Jerusalem. In the discussion and decision of this important question, Peter naturally exercised a decisive influence. When a great divergence of views had manifested itself in the assembly, Peter spoke the deciding word. Long before, in accordance with God's testimony, he had announced the Gospels to the heathen (conversion of Cornelius and his household); why, therefore, attempt to place the Jewish yoke on the necks of converted pagans? After Paul and Barnabas had related how God had wrought among the Gentiles by them, James, the chief representative of the Jewish Christians, adopted Peter's view and in agreement therewith made proposals which were expressed in an encyclical to the converted pagans.
The occurrences in Caesarea and Antioch and the debate at the Council of Jerusalem show clearly Peter's attitude towards the converts from paganism. Like the other eleven original Apostles, he regarded himself as called to preach the Faith in Jesus first among the Jews (Acts 10:42), so that the chosen people of God might share in the salvation in Christ, promised to them primarily and issuing from their midst. The vision at Joppe and the effusion of the Holy Ghost over the converted pagan Cornelius and his kinsmen determined Peter to admit these forthwith into the community of the faithful, without imposing on them the Jewish Law. During his Apostolic journeys outside Palestine, he recognized in practice the equality of Gentile and Jewish converts, as his original conduct at Antioch proves. His aloofness from the Gentile converts, out of consideration for the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, was by no means an official recognition of the views of the extreme Judaizers, who were so opposed to St. Paul. This is established clearly and incontestably by his attitude at the Council of Jerusalem. Between Peter and Paul there was no dogmatic difference in their conception of salvation for Jewish and Gentile Christians. The recognition of Paul as the Apostle of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-9) was entirely sincere, and excludes all question of a fundamental divergence of views. St. Peter and the other Apostles recognized the converts from paganism as Christian brothers on an equal footing; Jewish and Gentile Christians formed a single Kingdom of Christ. If therefore Peter devoted the preponderating portion of his Apostolic activity to the Jews, this arose chiefly from practical considerations, and from the position of Israel as the Chosen People. Baur's hypothesis of opposing currents of "Petrinism" and "Paulinism" in the early Church is absolutely untenable, and is today entirely rejected by Protestants.
Activity and death in Rome; burial place
It is an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter laboured in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course by martyrdom. As to the duration of his Apostolic activity in the Roman capital, the continuity or otherwise of his residence there, the details and success of his labours, and the chronology of his arrival and death, all these questions are uncertain, and can be solved only on hypotheses more or less well-founded. The essential fact is that Peter died at Rome: this constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter.
St. Peter's residence and death in Rome are established beyond contention as historical facts by a series of distinct testimonies extending from the end of the first to the end of the second centuries, and issuing from several lands.
- That the manner, and therefore the place of his death, must have been known in widely extended Christian circles at the end of the first century is clear from the remark introduced into the Gospel of St. John concerning Christ's prophecy that Peter was bound to Him and would be led whither he would not — "And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:18-19, see above). Such a remark presupposes in the readers of the Fourth Gospel a knowledge of the death of Peter.
- St. Peter's First Epistle was written almost undoubtedly from Rome, since the salutation at the end reads: "The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you: and so doth my son Mark" (5:13). Babylon must here be identified with the Roman capital; since Babylon on the Euphrates, which lay in ruins, or New Babylon (Seleucia) on the Tigris, or the Egyptian Babylon near Memphis, or Jerusalem cannot be meant, the reference must be to Rome, the only city which is called Babylon elsewhere in ancient Christian literature (Revelation 17:5; 18:10; "Oracula Sibyl.", V, verses 143 and 159, ed. Geffcken, Leipzig, 1902, 111).
- From Bishop Papias of Hierapolis and Clement of Alexandria, who both appeal to the testimony of the old presbyters (i.e., the disciples of the Apostles), we learn that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome at the request of the Roman Christians, who desired a written memorial of the doctrine preached to them by St. Peter and his disciples (Eusebius, Church History II.15, 3.40, 6.14); this is confirmed by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1). In connection with this information concerning the Gospel of St. Mark, Eusebius, relying perhaps on an earlier source, says that Peter described Rome figuratively as Babylon in his First Epistle.
- Another testimony concerning the martyrdom of Peter and Paul is supplied by Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians (written about A.D. 95-97), wherein he says (chapter 5): "Through zeal and cunning the greatest and most righteous supports [of the Church] have suffered persecution and been warred to death. Let us place before our eyes the good Apostles — St. Peter, who in consequence of unjust zeal, suffered not one or two, but numerous miseries, and, having thus given testimony (martyresas), has entered the merited place of glory". He then mentions Paul and a number of elect, who were assembled with the others and suffered martyrdom "among us" (en hemin, i.e., among the Romans, the meaning that the expression also bears in chapter 4). He is speaking undoubtedly, as the whole passage proves, of the Neronian persecution, and thus refers the martyrdom of Peter and Paul to that epoch.
- In his letter written at the beginning of the second century (before 117), while being brought to Rome for martyrdom, the venerable Bishop Ignatius of Antioch endeavours by every means to restrain the Roman Christians from striving for his pardon, remarking: "I issue you no commands, like Peter and Paul: they were Apostles, while I am but a captive" (Epistle to the Romans 4). The meaning of this remark must be that the two Apostles laboured personally in Rome, and with Apostolic authority preached the Gospel there.
- Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, in his letter to the Roman Church in the time of Pope Soter (165-74), says: "You have therefore by your urgent exhortation bound close together the sowing of Peter and Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both planted the seed of the Gospel also in Corinth, and together instructed us, just as they likewise taught in the same place in Italy and at the same time suffered martyrdom" (in Eusebius, Church History II.25).
- Irenaeus of Lyons, a native of Asia Minor and a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna (a disciple of St. John), passed a considerable time in Rome shortly after the middle of the second century, and then proceeded to Lyons, where he became bishop in 177; he described the Roman Church as the most prominent and chief preserver of the Apostolic tradition, as "the greatest and most ancient church, known by all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul" (Against Heresies 3.3; cf. 3.1). He thus makes use of the universally known and recognized fact of the Apostolic activity of Peter and Paul in Rome, to find therein a proof from tradition against the heretics.
- In his "Hypotyposes" (Eusebius, Church History IV.14), Clement of Alexandria, teacher in the catechetical school of that city from about 190, says on the strength of the tradition of the presbyters: "After Peter had announced the Word of God in Rome and preached the Gospel in the spirit of God, the multitude of hearers requested Mark, who had long accompanied Peter on all his journeys, to write down what the Apostles had preached to them" (see above).
- Like Irenaeus, Tertullian appeals, in his writings against heretics, to the proof afforded by the Apostolic labours of Peter and Paul in Rome of the truth of ecclesiastical tradition. In De Præscriptione 36, he says: "If thou art near Italy, thou hast Rome where authority is ever within reach. How fortunate is this Church for which the Apostles have poured out their whole teaching with their blood, where Peter has emulated the Passion of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John". In Scorpiace 15, he also speaks of Peter's crucifixion. "The budding faith Nero first made bloody in Rome. There Peter was girded by another, since he was bound to the cross". As an illustration that it was immaterial with what water baptism is administered, he states in his book (On Baptism 5) that there is "no difference between that with which John baptized in the Jordan and that with which Peter baptized in the Tiber"; and against Marcion he appeals to the testimony of the Roman Christians, "to whom Peter and Paul have bequeathed the Gospel sealed with their blood" (Against Marcion 4.5).
- The Roman, Caius, who lived in Rome in the time of Pope Zephyrinus (198-217), wrote in his "Dialogue with Proclus" (in Eusebius, Church History II.25) directed against the Montanists: "But I can show the trophies of the Apostles. If you care to go to the Vatican or to the road to Ostia, thou shalt find the trophies of those who have founded this Church". By the trophies (tropaia) Eusebius understands the graves of the Apostles, but his view is opposed by modern investigators who believe that the place of execution is meant. For our purpose it is immaterial which opinion is correct, as the testimony retains its full value in either case. At any rate the place of execution and burial of both were close together; St. Peter, who was executed on the Vatican, received also his burial there. Eusebius also refers to "the inscription of the names of Peter and Paul, which have been preserved to the present day on the burial-places there" (i.e. at Rome).
- There thus existed in Rome an ancient epigraphic memorial commemorating the death of the Apostles. The obscure notice in the Muratorian Fragment ("Lucas optime theofile conprindit quia sub praesentia eius singula gerebantur sicuti et semote passionem petri evidenter declarat", ed. Preuschen, Tübingen, 1910, p. 29) also presupposes an ancient definite tradition concerning Peter's death in Rome.
- The apocryphal Acts of St. Peter and the Acts of Sts. Peter and Paul likewise belong to the series of testimonies of the death of the two Apostles in Rome.
In opposition to this distinct and unanimous testimony of early Christendom, some few Protestant historians have attempted in recent times to set aside the residence and death of Peter at Rome as legendary. These attempts have resulted in complete failure. It was asserted that the tradition concerning Peter's residence in Rome first originated in Ebionite circles, and formed part of the Legend of Simon the Magician, in which Paul is opposed by Peter as a false Apostle under Simon; just as this fight was transplanted to Rome, so also sprang up at an early date the legend of Peter's activity in that capital (thus in Baur, "Paulus", 2nd ed., 245 sqq., followed by Hase and especially Lipsius, "Die quellen der römischen Petrussage", Kiel, 1872). But this hypothesis is proved fundamentally untenable by the whole character and purely local importance of Ebionitism, and is directly refuted by the above genuine and entirely independent testimonies, which are at least as ancient. It has moreover been now entirely abandoned by serious Protestant historians (cf., e.g., Harnack's remarks in "Gesch. der altchristl. Literatur", II, i, 244, n. 2). A more recent attempt was made by Erbes (Zeitschr. fur Kirchengesch., 1901, pp. 1 sqq., 161 sqq.) to demonstrate that St. Peter was martyred at Jerusalem. He appeals to the apocryphal Acts of St. Peter, in which two Romans, Albinus and Agrippa, are mentioned as persecutors of the Apostles. These he identifies with the Albinus, Procurator of Judaea, and successor of Festus and Agrippa II, Prince of Galilee, and thence conciudes that Peter was condemned to death and sacrificed by this procurator at Jerusalem. The untenableness of this hypothesis becomes immediately apparent from the mere fact that our earliest definite testimony concerning Peter's death in Rome far antedates the apocryphal Acts; besides, never throughout the whole range of Christian antiquity has any city other than Rome been designated the place of martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Although the fact of St. Peter's activity and death in Rome is so clearly established, we possess no precise information regarding the details of his Roman sojourn. The narratives contained in the apocryphal literature of the second century concerning the supposed strife between Peter and Simon Magus belong to the domain of legend. From the already mentioned statements regarding the origin of the Gospel of St. Mark we may conclude that Peter laboured for a long period in Rome. This conclusion is confirmed by the unanimous voice of tradition which, as early as the second half of the second century, designates the Prince of the Apostles the founder of the Roman Church. It is widely held that Peter paid a first visit to Rome after he had been miraculously liberated from the prison in Jerusalem; that, by "another place", Luke meant Rome, but omitted the name for special reasons. It is not impossible that Peter made a missionary journey to Rome about this time (after 42 A.D.), but such a journey cannot be established with certainty. At any rate, we cannot appeal in support of this theory to the chronological notices in Eusebius and Jerome, since, although these notices extend back to the chronicles of the third century, they are not old traditions, but the result of calculations on the basis of episcopal lists. Into the Roman list of bishops dating from the second century, there was introduced in the third century (as we learn from Eusebius and the "Chronograph of 354") the notice of a twenty-five years' pontificate for St. Peter, but we are unable to trace its origin. This entry consequently affords no ground for the hypothesis of a first visit by St. Peter to Rome after his liberation from prison (about 42). We can therefore admit only the possibility of such an early visit to the capital.
The task of determining the year of St. Peter's death is attended with similar difficulties. In the fourth century, and even in the chronicles of the third, we find two different entries. In the "Chronicle" of Eusebius the thirteenth or fourteenth year of Nero is given as that of the death of Peter and Paul (67-68); this date, accepted by Jerome, is that generally held. The year 67 is also supported by the statement, also accepted by Eusebius and Jerome, that Peter came to Rome under the Emperor Claudius (according to Jerome, in 42), and by the above-mentioned tradition of the twenty-five years' episcopate of Peter (cf. Bartolini, "Sopra l'anno 67 se fosse quello del martirio dei gloriosi Apostoli", Rome, 1868) . A different statement is furnished by the "Chronograph of 354" (ed. Duchesne, "Liber Pontificalis", I, 1 sqq.). This refers St. Peter's arrival in Rome to the year 30, and his death and that of St. Paul to 55.
Duchesne has shown that the dates in the "Chronograph" were inserted in a list of the popes which contains only their names and the duration of their pontificates, and then, on the chronological supposition that the year of Christ's death was 29, the year 30 was inserted as the beginning of Peter's pontificate, and his death referred to 55, on the basis of the twenty-five years' pontificate (op. cit., introd., vi sqq.). This date has however been recently defended by Kellner ("Jesus von Nazareth u. seine Apostel im Rahmen der Zeitgeschichte", Ratisbon, 1908; "Tradition geschichtl. Bearbeitung u. Legende in der Chronologie des apostol. Zeitalters", Bonn, 1909). Other historians have accepted the year 65 (e.g., Bianchini, in his edition of the "Liber Pontificalis" in P.L. CXXVII. 435 sqq.) or 66 (e.g. Foggini, "De romani b. Petri itinere et episcopatu", Florence, 1741; also Tillemont). Harnack endeavoured to establish the year 64 (i.e. the beginning of the Neronian persecution) as that of Peter's death ("Gesch. der altchristl. Lit. bis Eusebius", pt. II, "Die Chronologie", I, 240 sqq.). This date, which had been already supported by Cave, du Pin, and Wieseler, has been accepted by Duchesne (Hist. ancienne de l'église, I, 64). Erbes refers St. Peter's death to 22 Feb., 63, St. Paul's to 64 ("Texte u. Untersuchungen", new series, IV, i, Leipzig, 1900, "Die Todestage der Apostel Petrus u. Paulus u. ihre rom. Denkmaeler"). The date of Peter's death is thus not yet decided; the period between July, 64 (outbreak of the Neronian persecution), and the beginning of 68 (on 9 July Nero fled from Rome and committed suicide) must be left open for the date of his death. The day of his martyrdom is also unknown; 29 June, the accepted day of his feast since the fourth century, cannot be proved to be the day of his death (see below).
Concerning the manner of Peter's death, we possess a tradition — attested to by Tertullian at the end of the second century (see above) and by Origen (in Eusebius, Church History II.1)—that he suffered crucifixion. Origen says: "Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer". As the place of execution may be accepted with great probability the Neronian Gardens on the Vatican, since there, according to Tacitus, were enacted in general the gruesome scenes of the Neronian persecution; and in this district, in the vicinity of the Via Cornelia and at the foot of the Vatican Hills, the Prince of the Apostles found his burial place. Of this grave (since the word tropaion was, as already remarked, rightly understood of the tomb) Caius already speaks in the third century. For a time the remains of Peter lay with those of Paul in a vault on the Appian Way at the place ad Catacumbas, where the Church of St. Sebastian (which on its erection in the fourth century was dedicated to the two Apostles) now stands. The remains had probably been brought thither at the beginning of the Valerian persecution in 258, to protect them from the threatened desecration when the Christian burial-places were confiscated. They were later restored to their former resting-place, and Constantine the Great had a magnificent basilica erected over the grave of St. Peter at the foot of the Vatican Hill. This basilica was replaced by the present St. Peter's in the sixteenth century. The vault with the altar built above it (confessio) has been since the fourth century the most highly venerated martyr's shrine in the West. In the substructure of the altar, over the vault which contained the sarcophagus with the remains of St. Peter, a cavity was made. This was closed by a small door in front of the altar. By opening this door the pilgrim could enjoy the great privilege of kneeling directly over the sarcophagus of the Apostle. Keys of this door were given as previous souvenirs (cf. Gregory of Tours, "De gloria martyrum", I, xxviii).
The memory of St. Peter is also closely associated with the Catacomb of St. Priscilla on the Via Salaria. According to a tradition, current in later Christian antiquity, St. Peter here instructed the faithful and administered baptism. This tradition seems to have been based on still earlier monumental testimonies. The catacomb is situated under the garden of a villa of the ancient Christian and senatorial family, the Acilii Glabriones, and its foundation extends back to the end of the first century; and since Acilius Glabrio, consul in 91, was condemned to death under Domitian as a Christian, it is quite possible that the Christian faith of the family extended back to Apostolic times, and that the Prince of the Apostles had been given hospitable reception in their house during his residence at Rome. The relations between Peter and Pudens whose house stood on the site of the present titular church of Pudens (now Santa Pudentiana) seem to rest rather on a legend.
Concerning the Epistles of St. Peter, see EPISTLES OF SAINT PETER; concerning the various apocrypha bearing the name of Peter, especially the Apocalypse and the Gospel of St. Peter, see APOCRYPHA. The apocryphal sermon of Peter (kerygma), dating from the second half of the second century, was probably a collection of supposed sermons by the Apostle; several fragments are preserved by Clement of Alexandria (cf. Dobschuts, "Das Kerygma Petri kritisch untersucht" in "Texte u. Untersuchungen", XI, i, Leipzig, 1893).
Feasts of St. Peter
As early as the fourth century a feast was celebrated in memory of Sts. Peter and Paul on the same day, although the day was not the same in the East as in Rome. The Syrian Martyrology of the end of the fourth century, which is an excerpt from a Greek catalogue of saints from Asia Minor, gives the following feasts in connexion with Christmas (25 Dec.): 26 Dec., St. Stephen; 27 Dec., Sts. James and John; 28 Dec., Sts. Peter and Paul. In St. Gregory of Nyssa's panegyric on St. Basil we are also informed that these feasts of the Apostles and St. Stephen follow immediately after Christmas. The Armenians celebrated the feast also on 27 Dec.; the Nestorians on the second Friday after the Epiphany. It is evident that 28 (27) Dec. was (like 26 Dec. for St. Stephen) arbitrarily selected, no tradition concerning the date of the saints' death being forthcoming. The chief feast of Sts. Peter and Paul was kept in Rome on 29 June as early as the third or fourth century. The list of feasts of the martyrs in the Chronograph of Philocalus appends this notice to the date — "III. Kal. Jul. Petri in Catacumbas et Pauli Ostiense Tusco et Basso Cose." (=the year 258) . The "Martyrologium Hieronyminanum" has, in the Berne manuscript, the following notice for 29 June: "Romae via Aurelia natale sanctorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, Petri in Vaticano, Pauli in via Ostiensi, utrumque in catacumbas, passi sub Nerone, Basso et Tusco consulibus" (ed. de Rossi-Duchesne, 84).
The date 258 in the notices shows that from this year the memory of the two Apostles was celebrated on 29 June in the Via Appia ad Catacumbas (near San Sebastiano fuori le mura), because on this date the remains of the Apostles were translated thither (see above). Later, perhaps on the building of the church over the graves on the Vatican and in the Via Ostiensis, the remains were restored to their former resting-place: Peter's to the Vatican Basilica and Paul's to the church on the Via Ostiensis. In the place Ad Catacumbas a church was also built as early as the fourth century in honour of the two Apostles. From 258 their principal feast was kept on 29 June, on which date solemn Divine Service was held in the above-mentioned three churches from ancient times (Duchesne, "Origines du culte chretien", 5th ed., Paris, 1909, 271 sqq., 283 sqq.; Urbain, "Ein Martyrologium der christl. Gemeinde zu Rom an Anfang des 5. Jahrh.", Leipzig, 1901, 169 sqq.; Kellner, "Heortologie", 3rd ed., Freiburg, 1911, 210 sqq.). Legend sought to explain the temporary occupation by the Apostles of the grave Ad Catacumbas by supposing that, shortly after their death, the Oriental Christians wished to steal their bodies and bring them to the East. This whole story is evidently a product of popular legend. (Concerning the Feast of the Chair of Peter, see CHAIR OF PETER.)
A third Roman feast of the Apostles takes place on 1 August: the feast of St. Peter's Chains. This feast was originally the dedication feast of the church of the Apostle, erected on the Esquiline Hill in the fourth century. A titular priest of the church, Philippus, was papal legate at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The church was rebuilt by Sixtus III (432-40) at the expense of the Byzantine imperial family. Either the solemn consecration took place on 1 August, or this was the day of dedication of the earlier church. Perhaps this day was selected to replace the heathen festivities which took place on 1 August. In this church, which is still standing (S. Pietro in Vincoli), were probably preserved from the fourth century St. Peter's chains, which were greatly venerated, small filings from the chains being regarded as precious relics. The church thus early received the name in Vinculis, and the feast of 1 August became the feast of St. Peter's Chains (Duchesne, op. cit., 286 sqq.; Kellner, loc. cit., 216 sqq.). The memory of both Peter and Paul was later associated also with two places of ancient Rome: the Via Sacra, outside the Forum, where the magician Simon was said to have been hurled down at the prayer of Peter and the prison Tullianum, or Carcer Mamertinus, where the Apostles were supposed to have been kept until their execution. At both these places, also, shrines of the Apostles were erected, and that of the Mamertine Prison still remains in almost its original form from the early Roman time. These local commemorations of the Apostles are based on legends, and no special celebrations are held in the two churches. It is, however, not impossible that Peter and Paul were actually confined in the chief prison in Rome at the fort of the Capitol, of which the present Carcer Mamertinus is a remnant.
Representations of St. Peter
The oldest extant is the bronze medallion with the heads of the Apostles; this dates from the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, and is preserved in the Christian Museum of the Vatican Library. Peter has a strong, roundish head, prominent jaw-bones, a receding forehead, thick, curly hair and beard. (See illustration in CATACOMBS.) The features are so individual that it partakes of the nature of a portrait. This type is also found in two representations of St. Peter in a chamber of the Catacomb of Peter and Marcellinus, dating from the second half of the third century (Wilpert, "Die Malerein der Katakomben Rom", plates 94 and 96). In the paintings of the catacombs Sts. Peter and Paul frequently appear as interceders and advocates for the dead in the representations of the Last Judgment (Wilpert, 390 sqq.), and as introducing an Orante (a praying figure representing the dead) into Paradise.
In the numerous representations of Christ in the midst of His Apostles, which occur in the paintings of the catacombs and carved on sarcophagi, Peter and Paul always occupy the places of honour on the right and left of the Saviour. In the mosaics of the Roman basilicas, dating from the fourth to the ninth centuries, Christ appears as the central figure, with Sts. Peter and Paul on His right and left, and besides these the saints especially venerated in the particular church. On sarcophagi and other memorials appear scenes from the life of St. Peter: his walking on Lake Genesareth, when Christ summoned him from the boat; the prophecy of his denial; the washing of his feet; the raising of Tabitha from the dead; the capture of Peter and the conducting of him to the place of execution. On two gilt glasses he is represented as Moses drawing water from the rock with his staff; the name Peter under the scene shows that he is regarded as the guide of the people of God in the New Testament.
Particularly frequent in the period between the fourth and sixth centuries is the scene of the delivery of the Law to Peter, which occurs on various kinds of monuments. Christ hands St. Peter a folded or open scroll, on which is often the inscription Lex Domini (Law of the Lord) or Dominus legem dat (The Lord gives the law). In the mausoleum of Constantina at Rome (S. Costanza, in the Via Nomentana) this scene is given as a pendant to the delivery of the Law to Moses. In representations on fifth-century sarcophagi the Lord presents to Peter (instead of the scroll) the keys. In carvings of the fourth century Peter often bears a staff in his hand (after the fifth century, a cross with a long shaft, carried by the Apostle on his shoulder), as a kind of sceptre indicative of Peter's office. From the end of the sixth century this is replaced by the keys (usually two, but sometimes three), which henceforth became the attribute of Peter. Even the renowned and greatly venerated bronze statue in St. Peter's possesses them; this, the best-known representation of the Apostle, dates from the last period of Christian antiquity (Grisar, "Analecta romana", I, Rome, 1899, 627 sqq.).
BIRKS Studies of the Life and character of St. Peter (LONDON, 1887), TAYLOR, Peter the Apostle, new ed. by BURNET AND ISBISTER (London, 1900); BARNES, St. Peter in Rome and his Tomb on the Vatican Hill (London, 1900): LIGHTFOOT, Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., pt. 1, VII. (London, 1890), 481sq., St. Peter in Rome; FOUARD Les origines de l'Église: St. Pierre et Les premières années du christianisme (3rd ed., Paris 1893); FILLION, Saint Pierre (2nd ed Paris, 1906); collection Les Saints; RAMBAUD, Histoire de St. Pierre apôtre (Bordeaux, 1900); GUIRAUD, La venue de St Pierre à Rome in Questions d'hist. et d'archéol. chrét. (Paris, 1906); FOGGINI, De romano D. Petr; itinere et episcopatu (Florence, 1741); RINIERI, S. Pietro in Roma ed i primi papi secundo i piu vetusti cataloghi della chiesa Romana (Turin, 1909); PAGANI, Il cristianesimo in Roma prima dei gloriosi apostoli Pietro a Paolo, e sulle diverse venute de' principi degli apostoli in Roma (Rome, 1906); POLIDORI, Apostolato di S. Pietro in Roma in Civiltà Cattolica, series 18, IX (Rome, 1903), 141 sq.; MARUCCHI, Le memorie degli apostoli Pietro e Paolo in Roma (2nd ed., Rome, 1903); LECLER, De Romano S. Petri episcopatu (Louvain, 1888); SCHMID, Petrus in Rome oder Aufenthalt, Episkopat und Tod in Rom (Breslau, 1889); KNELLER, St. Petrus, Bischof von Rom in Zeitschrift f. kath. Theol., XXVI (1902), 33 sq., 225sq.; MARQUARDT, Simon Petrus als Mittel und Ausgangspunkt der christlichen Urkirche (Kempten, 1906); GRISAR, Le tombe apostoliche al Vaticano ed alla via Ostiense in Analecta Romana, I (Rome, 1899), sq.
Kirsch, Johann Peter. "St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 Jul. 2017 <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.
- First Pope
- Pre-eminent Apostle
- Prince of the Apostles
- Shimon Bar-Yonah
- Shimon Ben-Yonah
- Simon bar Jonah
- Simon ben Jonah
- Simon Peter
- 29 June (feast of Peter and Paul)
- 22 February (feast of the Chair of Peter, emblematic of the world unity of the Church)
- 1 August (Saint Peter in Chains)
- 18 November (feast of the dedication of the Basilicas of Peter and Paul)
Professional fisherman. Brother of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the man who led him to Christ. Apostle. Renamed “Peter” (rock) by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built. Bishop. First Pope. Miracle worker.
- c.1 in Bethsaida as Simon
- martyred c.64 in Rome, Italy
- crucified head downward because he claimed he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Christ
- against feet problems
- against fever
- against foot problems
- against frenzy
- bridge builders
- clock makers
- net makers
- ship builders
- stone masons
- Universal Church
- watch makers
- Berlin, Germany, archdiocse of
- Brno, Czechia, diocese of
- Davao, Philippines, archdiocese of
- Montpellier, France, archdiocese
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, archdiocese of
- Calbayog, Philippines, diocese of
- Jackson, Mississippi, diocese of
- Knoxville, Tennessee, diocese of
- Las Vegas, Nevada, diocese of
- Maralal, Kenya, diocese of
- Marquette, Michigan, diocese of
- Namibe, Angola, diocese of
- Peterborough, Ontario, diocese of
- Providence, Rhode Island, diocese of
- Scranton, Pennsylvania, diocese of
- Trois-Rivières, Québec, diocese of
- Iles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, apostolic vicariate
- Isle of Guernsey
- Lessines, Belgium
- Leuven, Belgium
- Sint Pieters Rode, Belgium
- Exeter College, Oxford, England
- London, England
- Chartres, France
- Cluny, France
- Moissac, France
- Bremen, Germany
- Cologne, Germany
- Köpenick, Germany
- Naumburg, Germany
- Obersmarsberg, Germany
- Regensburg, Germany
- Wachtendonk, Germany
- Worms, Germany
- in Italy
- Abano Terme
- Adria, city of
- Bagni di Lucca
- Bagno a Ripoli
- Belvedere Ostrense
- Campiglia dei Berici
- Capriata d’Orba
- Castelletto d’Orba, Piedmont
- Castiglion Fibocchi
- Chatillon, Aosta
- Montecorvino Rovella
- Pogliano Milanese
- Ponte San Pietro
- Birzebbuga, Malta
- Mdina, Malta
- Nadur, Gozo, Malta
- Poznan, Poland
- Toa Baja, Puerto Rico
- Saint Petersburg, Russia
- Dunajská Streda, Slovakia
- Bath Abbey
- Berchtesgaden Abbey
- Corbie Abbey
- cock or rooster
- reversed cross
- keys of Heaven
- papal vestments
- Apostle holding a book
- Apostle holding a scroll
- bald man, often with a fringe of hair on the sides and a tuft on top
- man crucified head downwards
- man holding a key or keys
- pope and bearing keys and a double-barred cross
- fish with a coin in its mouth
St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles
ST. PETER, the most glorious prince of the apostles, and the most ardent lover of his divine Master, before his vocation to the apostleship was called Simon. He was son of Jonas, and brother of St. Andrew. St. Epiphanius 1 says, that though he was the younger brother, he was made by Christ the chief 2 of all the apostles. St. Chrysostom, on the contrary, takes him to have been the elder brother, and the oldest man in the apostolic college. If writers of the fifth age were divided upon this point, succeeding ages have not been able to decide it. St. Peter originally resided at Bethsaida, 3 a town much enlarged and beautified by Herod the tetrarch, situated in the tribe of Nepthali, in Upper Galilee, on the banks of the lake or sea of Genesareth. This town was honoured with the presence of our Lord, who, in the course of his ministry, preached and wrought miracles in it. Its inhabitants, however, were for the most part a stupid and obstinate set of men, and their abuse of the grace that was offered them, deserved the dreadful woe which Christ denounced against them. St. Peter and St. Andrew were religious, docile, and humble in the midst of a perverse and worldly-minded people. They were educated in the laborious trade of fishing, which was probably their father’s calling. From Bethsaida St. Peter removed to Capharnaum, 4 probably on account of his marriage, for his wife’s mother dwelt there. This place was equally commodious for fishing, being seated on the bank of the same lake, near the mouth of the river Jordan, on the confines of the tribes of Zabulon and Nepthali. Andrew accompanied his brother thither, and they still followed their trade as before. With their worldly employment they retained a due sense of religion, and did not suffer the thoughts of temporal concerns or gain to devour their more necessary attention to spiritual things, and the care of their souls. They lived in the earnest expectation of the Messiah. St. Andrew became a disciple of St. John the Baptist; and most are of opinion that St. Peter was so too. The former having heard St. John call Christ the Lamb of God, repaired to our Lord, and continued with him the remainder of that day, and, according to St. Austin, the following night. By the conversation of Jesus, he was abundantly convinced that he was the Christ, the world’s Redeemer; and, coming from him, he went and sought out his brother Simon, and told him, in a transport of holy joy, that he had found the Messiah. 5 Simon believed in Christ before he saw him; and being impatient to behold him with his eyes, and to hear the words of eternal life from his divine mouth, he without delay went with his brother to Jesus, who, looking upon him, in order to give him a proof of his omniscience, told him not only his own, but also his father’s name. He on that occasion gave him the new name of Cephas, which in the Syro-Chaldaic tongue, then used in Judæa, signifies a rock, and is by us changed into Peter, from the Greek word of the same import. 6 St. Peter and St. Andrew, after having passed some time in the company of our divine Redeemer, returned to their fishing trade; yet often resorted to him to hear his holy instructions. Towards the end of the same year, which was the first of Christ’s preaching, Jesus saw Simon Peter and Andrew washing their nets on the banks of the lake; and going into Simon’s boat to shun the pressure, he preached to the people who stood on the shore. After his discourse, as an earnest of his blessing to his entertainer, he bade Peter cast his nets into the sea. Our apostle had toiled all the foregoing night to no purpose, and had drawn his boat into the harbour, despairing of any success at present. However, in obedience to Christ, he again launched out into deep water, and let down his net. He had scarcely done this, when such a shoal of fishes was caught by the first draught, as filled not only their own boat, but also that of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were fishing near them, and were forced to come and help them to drag in the net, which was ready to break with the load; yet the boats were not sunk. At the sight of this miracle, Peter, struck with amazement, fell on his knees, and cried out, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” The apostle, by this humility, whilst he sincerely professed himself unworthy to appear in the presence of his Lord, or to be in his company, deserved to receive the greatest graces. By this miracle Christ gave the apostles a type of their wonderful success in the new employment to which he called them, when he made them fishers of men. Upon this occasion, he bade Peter and Andrew follow him. This invitation they instantly obeyed, and with such perfect dispositions of heart, that St. Peter could afterwards say to Christ with confidence: Behold, O Lord, we have left all things, and have followed thee. 7 They were possessed of little, having only a boat and nets to leave; but they renounced all future hopes and prospects in the world with so perfect a disengagement of heart, that they forsook with joy the whole world, in spirit and affection; and what went far beyond all this, they also renounced themselves and their own will. In requital, Christ promised them, besides never-ending happiness in the world to come, even in this life, an hundred-fold of true joys and spiritual blessings, in an uninterrupted peace of the soul, which surpasseth all understanding, in the overflowing sweetness of divine love, and in the abundant consolations of the Holy Ghost. From this time, St. Peter and St. Andrew became constant attendants upon their divine Master. Jesus soon after this returned and made some stay at Capharnaum, cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and after that miracle tarried some time in Galilee, healing many sick, casting out devils, and preaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath days with a dignity which bespoke his doctrine divine.
After the feast of the passover in the year 31, Christ chose his twelve apostles, in which sacred college the chief place was from the beginning assigned to St. Peter. Mr. Laurence Clarke 8 takes notice, that “in the enumeration of the twelve, all the evangelists constantly place Peter in the front. Our Lord usually directs his discourse to him, and he replies as the mouth of his fellows. Christ appeared to him after his resurrection before the rest of the apostles. He gave him a special command to feed his sheep. He was the first whom God chose to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. From these and other passages of the holy scripture, it is evident that St. Peter acted as chief of the college of the apostles; and so he is constantly described by the primitive writers of the church, who call him the head, the president, the prolocutor, the chief, the foreman of the apostles, with several other titles of distinction.” Christ, who had always distinguished St. Peter above the rest of the apostles, promised to commit his whole church to his care, above a year before his sacred death, 9 and confirmed to him that charge after his resurrection, 10 having exacted of him a testimony of his strong faith, on the first occasion, and on the second, a proof of his ardent love of God, and zeal for souls. These two virtues are especially requisite in a pastor of souls; and the prince of the apostles was possessed of them in the most heroic and eminent degree. Enlightened by God, and passing over all visible and created things, he made the most glorious confession of his faith in Christ, as truly God and Son of the living God. When certain weak disciples deserted Christ, being offended at his doctrine concerning the wonderful mystery of the blessed eucharist, our Saviour asked the twelve, Will you also go away? St. Peter answered resolutely, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. As upon the testimony of his divine word, he readily assented to the most sublime mysteries; so by the most sweet and tender love, he was desirous to keep continually in his holy company, and thought it was to perish, ever to be separated from him. In a transport of this same love, he cried out when he beheld the transfiguration of our Saviour, Lord it is good for us always to be here: ever to be with thee, and to have our eyes fixed on the adorable object of thy glory. But this happiness was first to be purchased by labours and great sufferings. When he heard Christ foretel his barbarous death, this love moved him to persuade his Master to preserve himself from those sufferings he told them he was to undergo; for he did not then understand the advantages of the cross, nor the mystery of our redemption by it. For this he was called by Christ Satan, or adversary; and that reprimand opened his eyes, and was his cure. Out of love, he twice cast himself into the sea to meet Jesus; for his heart melted at his sight, and he had not patience to wait till the boat came up to the shore. This happened once after his resurrection, as we shall see in the sequel, but first long before, when the apostles were crossing the lake, and Jesus came from the shore, walking on the waves to meet them. St. Peter begged and obtained his leave to come on the waters to his divine Master. When he had stept upon the waves, a sudden fear something abated his confidence, and he began to sink; but Jesus held him up by the hand. 11 By his confidence in God, we learn what we can do by the divine assistance; and by his fear, what we are of ourselves; also, that, no one receives from God the strength he stands in need of, but he who feels that of himself he is entirely without strength, according to the reflection of St. Austin. 12 St. Peter, influenced by this same strong love, offered himself to all sorts of difficulties and dangers, and to undergo death itself for his good Lord. Yet this zealous apostle, in punishment of a secret presumption, was permitted to fall, that we might learn with him more clearly to discover our own weakness, and fear the danger of pride. St. Peter had before given proofs of an exemplary humility. After the miraculous draught of fishes, he cast himself at our Lord’s feet, begging he would depart from him, because he was a sinful man; and when our blessed Saviour offered to wash his feet at the last supper, he cried out in surprise and humility: Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Thou shalt not wash my feet for ever. But being terrified by his threat, that otherwise he should have no part with him, he with fervour offered also his hands and his head to be washed, if needful. In answer to which, Christ signified to him, that he who was clean from grievous sins, stood in need only of wiping away smaller stains and imperfections, an emblem of which was this washing of the feet.
Who is not moved to tremble for himself, and to walk always in holy fear, and in the most profound and sincere humility, when he sees so great an apostle, endowed with such eminent virtues, grace, and spiritual gifts, fall at last by surprise into secret presumption, and by it into the grievous crime of denying his divine Master? His protestation, that he was ready to die with him, was accompanied with some degree of confidence in his own courage and in the strength of his resolution; whereas an entire and perfect distrust in ourselves is an essential part of true humility. Instead of praying in the humble sentiment of his own weakness and frailty, he relied on his courage as if it was proof against all dangers. To curb this rising presumption, Christ foretold him, that before the crowing of the cock and break of day, he would thrice deny him. 13 Jesus still ranked St. Peter among his favourite apostles; and as he had made him, St. James, and St. John, witnesses of his transfiguration, and of other extraordinary mysteries; so in the garden of Gethsemani he took these three with him when he retired from the rest, and at a distance of a stone’s throw from these three disciples fell into his agony and bloody sweat. Notwithstanding the courage of our fervent apostle, Christ was obliged to reproach him, with his two companions, that he was not able to watch with him one hour; when he ought to have been arming and strengthening himself by humble prayer against the assaults of the enemy. When Judas led the Jews to apprehend Christ, St. Peter’s zeal for his master made him draw his sword against his unjust persecutors, and smite Malchus, one of the busiest among them. But Christ taught him that the arms of his disciples are patience and humility. St. Peter, by his presumption, and by having neglected to watch and pray, deserved to fall from his fervour into a state of lukewarmness. He followed Jesus still when he was in the hands of his enemies, but at a distance, as St. Luke takes notice. He who just before thought of dying for his Master, and drew his sword to defend him, thus became afraid of sharing in his disgrace. “Oh!” cries out St. Chrysostom, 14 “by what means was the vehement fervour of Peter so much cooled?” Nor did he stop here. He who does not always advance, loses ground; and a soul which falls from fervour into a state of tepidity is guilty of an abuse of divine grace, and is in danger of perishing in the first snare. Accordingly, bad company soon completed the misfortune of this apostle. He mingled with the servants of the high-priest, and other enemies of Christ, in the lower hall of Caiphas’s palace. Here, at the reproach of the portress that had let him in, and soon after a second time, at that of another maid, he renounced all knowledge of him. The cock then crowed; yet Peter took no notice. About an hour after, another of the assistants said he was one of the disciples of Jesus; which others confirmed, because his accent betrayed him to be a Galilæan; and a cousin of Malchus, whose ear had been cut off, assured that he had seen him in the garden. Hereupon Peter protested a third time, with oaths and curses, that he knew not the man. Thus one sin, if it be not blotted out by speedy repentance, draws a soul, as it were by its own weight, into greater precipices.
How grievous soever this sin of St. Peter was, he never lost his faith in Christ, as appears from Christ’s words to him, 15 and as the fathers observe. 16 For, “though he had a lie in his mouth, his heart was faithful,” as St. Austin says; 17 his sin, nevertheless, was most heinous; but his repentance was speedy, perfect, and constant; and it bore a proportion to the heinousness of his crime. At the time of his third denial, the cock crowed the second time; yet this exterior sign did not suffice alone to make the sinner enter into himself; but Jesus, turning, looked on him, not so much with his corporeal eyes, as visiting his soul with his interior grace, says St. Austin; 18 and this it was that wrought in him the wonderful change, by which in a moment he became a perfect penitent. “Look on us, O Lord Jesus, that we may bewail our sins, and wash away our guilt,” cries out St. Ambrose. 19 Our blessed Redeemer has cast this gracious eye of his mercy on all the sinners whom he ever drew to repentance: his goodness disdains none. We therefore ought to cast ourselves at his feet, and though most undeserving of such a favour, most earnestly to beg that he afford us this gracious look, upon which our eternal salvation depends. St. Peter by it was pierced with grief, and the most sincere repentance; and instantly quitted the fatal company and occasions, and going forth gave full vent to a flood of tears, which flowed from a heart broken with contrition. “For Peter, when he had denied Christ, did not weep for fear of punishment; but this was the most bitter to him, and worse than any punishment, that he had denied him whom he loved,” as St. Chrysostom observes. 20 He thought not of any excuses from the circumstances of surprise, frailty, or compulsion: nor did he say anything to extenuate his guilt. A true penitent sees the enormity of his sins with all their exaggerating circumstances; and is his own most severe accuser. This apostle set no bounds to his sorrow; and his cheeks are said to have been always furrowed with the streams of tears which he often shed to the end of his life. And as he fell by presumption, he ever after made the most profound humility the favourite and distinguishing part of his virtue, as St. Chrysostom remarks. 21 From his example we must be apprized, that if we confide in our own strength, we are vanquished without fighting. This great model of pastors learned by his fall to treat sinners with tenderness and compassion; and Christ, by the graces and dignity to which he exalted him after his fall, shows his boundless mercy, and how perfectly true repentance blots out sin.
After the resurrection of our Divine Saviour, Mary Magdalen and the other devout women that went early on the Sunday morning to the sepulchre, were ordered by an angel to go and inform Peter and the rest that Christ was risen. Our apostle no sooner heard this, but he ran in haste with St. John to the sepulchre. Love gave wings to both these disciples; but St. John, running faster, arrived first at the place, though he waited there, doubtless out of respect; and St. Peter first entered the sepulchre, and saw the place where the sacred body had been laid. After their departure, Christ appeared to Mary Magdalen; and afterwards, on the same day, to St. Peter, the first among the apostles. 22 This favour was an effect of his tender mercy, in which he would not defer to satisfy this apostle’s extreme desire of seeing him, and to afford him comfort in the grief of his bitter compunction, by this pledge of his grace, and this assurance of his pardon. 23 The angel that appeared to Saint Mary Magdalen, had ordered that the apostles should go from Jerusalem into Galilee, where they should see their divine Master, as he had foretold them before his sacred death. Accordingly, some days after, St. Peter, whilst he was fishing in the lake of Tiberias, saw Christ on the shore; and not being able to contain himself, in the transport of his love and joy, he threw himself into the water, and swam to land, the sooner to meet his Lord. St. John and the rest followed him in the boat, dragging the net loaded with one hundred and fifty-three great fishes, which they had taken by casting on the right side of the boat, by Christ’s direction. When they were landed, they saw upon shore some live coals, and a fish broiling upon them, with bread lying near it. This repast Jesus had prepared for them. After it was over, he thrice asked St. Peter, whether he loved him more than the rest of his disciples: St. Peter told him, that He knew his love to be most sincere; and he was troubled in mind at the repetition of his question, fearing lest Christ discerned in his heart some secret imperfection or defect in his love. How different are now his modesty, fear, and humility from his former presumption? He dares not answer that he loved his master more than the others did, because he presumes not to judge of their hearts, and is mistrustful of the sincerity of his own, having now learned the whole extent of true humility. The vehemence of his love goes much beyond what any words could ever express. Yet he says only with trembling, that he loved; this he speaks as one most earnestly imploring the divine aid, that he might be enabled to love his master with his whole strength. “Do not you see,” says St. Chrysostom, 24 “that the better he is grown, the more modest and timorous he is become? He does not speak arrogantly, or contradict; he is not self-confident; therefore is he disturbed.” By this triple public testimony of his love, he was to repair the scandal of his former denial. “Let him confess by love who had thrice denied through fear,” says St. Austin. 25 By the ardour of his zeal and love was he to be qualified for the commission which he received hereupon to feed Christ’s sheep and lambs, that is, his whole flock; for he who enters the sanctuary under the least partial influence of any other motive than that of love, is a base hireling, and a slave of avarice and vain glory; not a pastor of souls, or minister of Christ. St. Peter’s greater love for Christ, and zeal for the interest of his glory raised him to the high charge with which he was intrusted by his divine Master. Upon this passage, St. Chrysostom writes as followeth: “Why does Christ, passing by the rest, now speak to Peter alone? He was eminent above the rest, the mouth of the disciples, and the head of that college. Therefore Paul came to see him above the rest. Christ says to him: If thou lovest me, take upon thee the government or charge of thy brethren. 26 And now give the proof of that fervent love which thou hast always professed, and in which thou didst exult. Give for my sheep that life which thou professedst thyself ready to lay down for me.” Jesus after this, foretold St. Peter his martyrdom by the cross; and this apostle was well pleased to drink the bitter cup, and to make his confession as public as his denial had been, that he might make some reparation for his former sin. His singular affection for Saint John prompted him to ask what would become of him, and whether he should not bear him company; but his Master checked his inquisitive curiosity.
Christ appeared to the apostles, assembled together on a certain mountain in Galilee, 27 where he had appointed to meet them, and gave them a commission to preach the gospel throughout all nations, promising to remain with his church all days to the end of the world. He manifested himself also to five hundred disciples at once. 28 When the apostles had spent some time in Galilee, they returned to Jerusalem, where, ten days before the feast of Pentecost, Christ favoured them with his last appearance, and commanded them to preach baptism and penance, and to confirm their doctrine by miracles. 29 Faith being essentially dark, mysterious, and supernatural; and the dispensations of providence, and of the divine grace and mercy being above the reach of human reason, the great and necessary knowledge of these most important saving truths can only be conveyed to men by the divine revelation. This in the new law of the gospel, was immediately communicated to the apostles, with a charge that they should promulge and propagate it in all nations of the earth. Poor illiterate men, destitute of every human succour, were made the instruments of this great work; and at their head was placed an ignorant fisherman, whose knowledge, when he was called to the apostleship, did not reach beyond his nets and boat. Yet this little troop triumphed over the wisdom of philosophers, the eloquence of orators, the authority of the greatest princes, the force of customs, policy, interest, superstition, and all the passions of men; over the artifices and persecutions of the whole world confederated against them. So powerful was the Spirit of God which enlightened their understandings, and spoke by their mouths; such was the evidence of their testimony, confirmed by innumerable incontestable miracles, and by the heavenly temper and sanctity which their words and actions breathed; and lastly, sealed by their blood. So bright and illustrious in this holy religion were the indications of its divine original, that he who takes an impartial review of them, will be obliged to cry out with Hugh of St. Victor, and Picus of Mirandula: “If I could be deceived in thy faith, thou alone, O Lord, must have been the author of my error, so evident are the marks of thy authority which it bears.” To all who sincerely seek after truth, this revelation is a pillar of light; though to the perverse, God often turns it into a cloud of darkness. Their pride and passions are haunts to which the beams of this sun, though most bright and piercing, are impervious.
The extraordinary gifts and graces by which the apostles were qualified for this great function, were the fruit of the descent of the Holy Ghost, who shed his beams upon them on Whitsunday. After the ascension of Christ, they waited the coming of that Divine Spirit in retirement and prayer. In the mean time, St. Peter proposed to the assembly the election of a new apostle, whereupon St. Matthias was chosen. The prince of the apostles, having received the Holy Ghost, made a sermon to the Jews, who were assembled about the disciples upon the fame of this prodigy, and he converted three thousand by the mildness and powerful unction of his words. “We should have a share of this courage; and the ardour of the Holy Ghost would make every thing easy to us, if we were worthy to receive it, and if we drew this grace down upon us as the apostles did by assiduity in prayer, and by our charity towards our brethren,” says St. Chrysostom. 30 We have great reason to admire the change which the grace of the Holy Ghost wrought in St. Peter, both in the intrepidity and courage which he showed, and still more in his humility, patience, and meekness. He appeared always so ready to yield to every one, and to humble himself before all the world, that he seemed to forget the rank which he held in the Church, only when God’s honour called upon him to exert his authority; and the natural warmth and vehemence of his temper was no more to be discerned in his actions, only in the fervour and constancy with which he underwent all manner of labours and dangers for the cause of God and his Church. The new converts received with the faith a share of the same Spirit. They persevered in the participation of the holy mysteries and in prayer, and selling all their possessions, gave the price to the apostles to be distributed among the poor brethren. Their humility, simplicity of heart, meekness, patience, and joy in suffering were such, that they seemed on a sudden to be transformed into angels, to use the expression of St. Chrysostom, 31 so perfectly were they disengaged from the earth. The abundant effusion of the Holy Ghost, the advantage of persecutions, and the inflamed words and example of the apostles effected this change in their hearts, by the power of the right hand of the Most High.
The preaching of the apostles received a sanction from a wonderful miracle, by which St. Peter and St. John raised the admiration of the people. These two apostles going to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, which was one of the hours for public prayer among the Jews, they saw a man who was lame from his birth, and was begging alms at the gate of the temple, which was called The Beautiful; and being moved with compassion, St. Peter commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and walk. These words were no sooner spoken, but the cripple found himself perfectly whole, and St. Peter lifting him up, he entered into the temple walking, leaping, and praising God. After this miracle, St. Peter made a second sermon to the people, the effect of which was the conversion of five thousand persons. Upon this, the priests and Sadducees, moved with envy and jealousy, prevailed upon the captain of the guard of the temple to come up with a troop of soldiers under his command, and seize the two apostles, and put them into prison, upon pretence of a sedition. Next morning they were summoned before the great court of the Sanhedrim, in which Annas, Caiphas, John, and Alexander appeared busiest in carrying on the prosecution against them. The point of the sedition was waved, because groundless; and St. Peter boldly declared, that it was in the name of Jesus, in which all men must be saved, that the cripple had been made sound. The judges not being able to contest or stifle the evidence of the miracle, contented themselves with giving the apostles a severe charge not to preach any more the name of Jesus. But to their threats St. Peter resolutely replied: “Whether it be just to obey you rather than God, be you yourselves judges.” The two apostles being discharged, returned to the other disciples, and after they had prayed together, the house was shaken, for a miraculous sign of the divine protection; and the whole company found themselves replenished with a new spirit of courage. The converts learned from the example of their teachers, so perfect a spirit of disinterestedness, contempt of the world, and thirst after eternal goods, that they lived in common; and the rich, selling their estates, laid the price at the feet of the apostles, that it might be equally distributed to such as had need. But neither miracles, nor the company and example of the saints could extinguish the passion of avarice in the hearts of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Being rich, they pretended to vie with the most charitable, and sold their estate; but whilst they hypocritically pretended to resign the whole price to the public use, they secretly retained a part to themselves. St. Peter to whom God had revealed their hypocrisy, reproached them singly, that they had put a cheat upon their own souls, by telling a lie to the Holy Ghost in the person of his ministers. At his severe reprimand, first the husband, and afterwards the wife, fell down dead at his feet.
The apostles confirmed their doctrine by many miracles, curing the sick, and casting out devils. The people laid their sick on beds and couches in the streets, “That when Peter came, his shadow at the least might overshadow any of them and they might be delivered from their infirmities.” The high priest Caiphas, and the other heads of the Sanhedrim were much incensed to see their prohibition slighted, and the gospel daily gain ground; and having apprehended the apostles, they put them into the common prison; but God sent his angel in the night, who, opening the doors of the prison, set them at liberty; and early the next morning they appeared again preaching publicly in the temple. The judges of the Sanhedrim again took them up, and examined them. The apostles made no other defence but that they ought rather to obey God than men. The high priest and his faction deliberated by what means they might put them to death; but their sanguinary intentions were overruled by the mild counsel of Gamaliel, a famous doctor of the law, who advised them to wait the issue, and to consider whether this doctrine, confirmed by miracles, came not from God, against whom their power would be vain. However they condemned the servants of God to be scourged. The apostles after this torment went away full of joy, that they had been judged worthy to bear a part in the ignominy and sufferings of the cross, the true glory and advantages of which they had now learned. This their spirit, says St. Chrysostom, 32 was the greatest of their miracles. Many Jewish priests embraced the faith of Christ; but the daily triumphs of the word of God, raised a persecution in Jerusalem, which crowned St. Stephen with martyrdom, and dispersed the faithful, who fled some to Damascus, others to Antioch, and many into Phœnicia, Cyprus, and other places. The apostles themselves remained still at Jerusalem to encourage the converts. The disciples preached the faith in all places whither they came; so that this dispersion, instead of extinguishing the holy fire, spread it the more on all sides. On this occasion St. Philip the deacon converted many Samaritans, who were esteemed, though schismatics, to belong rather to the Jewish nation than to the Gentiles, and Christ himself had preached among them. St. Peter and St. John went from Jerusalem to Samaria to confirm the Samaritan converts, and St. Peter had there his first conflict with Simon Magus. In the mean time, the persecution had ceased at Jerusalem after the conversion of St. Paul. The favourable dispositions of the emperor Tiberius might contribute to restore this calm. That prince was one of the worst of men, and so cruel a tyrant, that Theodorus Gadareus, his preceptor, sometimes called him a lump of flesh, steeped in blood. Yet from the account sent him by Pilate concerning the miracles and sanctity of Christ, he had entertained a high opinion of him, had some thoughts of enrolling him among the gods, and testified his inclinations in favour of the Christians, threatening even with death those who should accuse or molest them, as we are assured by Tertullian, 33 St. Justin, 34 and others.
St. Peter who had staid at Jerusalem during the heat of the persecution, after the storm had blown over, made a progress through the adjacent country, to visit the faithful, as a general makes his round, says St. Chrysostom, 35 to see if all things are every where in good order. At Lydda, in the tribe of Ephraim, he cured a man named Æneas, who had kept his bed eight years, being sick of a palsy; and at Joppe, being moved by the tears of the poor, he raised to life the virtuous and charitable widow Tabitha. The apostle lodged some time in that town, at the house of Simon the Tanner; which he left by the order of an angel to go to baptize Cornelius the centurion, a Gentile. Upon that occasion God manifested to the Prince of the Apostles, both by this order, and by a distinct vision, the great mystery of the vocation of the Gentiles to the faith. It seems to have been after this, that the apostles dispersed themselves into other countries to preach the gospel, beginning in the adjoining provinces. In the partition of nations which they made among themselves, St. Peter was destined to carry the gospel to the capital city of the Roman empire and of the world, says St. Leo. But the apostles stopped some time to preach in Syria and other countries near Judæa before they proceeded further; and St. Peter founded the church of Antioch, which was the metropolis not only of Syria, but of all the East. St. Jerom, 36 Eusebius, 37 and other ancient writers assure us, that Antioch was his first see. It was fitting, says St. Chrysostom, that the city which first gave to the faithful the name of Christians, should have for its first pastor the Prince of the Apostles. Origen 38 and Eusebius 39 call St. Ignatius the second bishop of Antioch from St. Peter. St. Chrysostom says St. Peter resided there a long time; the common opinion is seven years, from the year thirty-three to forty. 40 During this interval he made frequent excursions to carry the faith into other countries. For though several of the apostles chose particular sees for themselves among the churches which they founded, they did not so confine themselves as to forget their universal commission of preaching to all nations. St. Peter was at Jerusalem in 37, when St. Paul paid him a visit, and staid with him fifteen days. 41 Our great apostle preached to the Jews dispersed throughout all the East, in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and the Lesser Asia, before he went to Rome, as Eusebius testifies. The same is confirmed by the inscription of his first epistle. He announced the faith also to the Gentiles, as occasions were offered, throughout these and other countries, as appears by many instances. St. Peter is the only apostle whom the gospel mentions to have been married before his vocation to the apostleship; though we are assured by ancient fathers and historians that St. Philip and some others were also married men when they were called by Christ. St. Clement of Alexandria, 42 St. Jerom, and St. Epiphanius expressly affirm, that from the time of their call to the ministry, or the commencement of their apostleship, they all embraced a state of perpetual continency; and St. Chrysostom proposes St. Peter as an illustrious model of chastity. 43 So mortified and abstemious was the life of this great apostle, that St. Gregory Nazianzen relates, 44 that his diet was only one penny-worth 45 a day of an unsavoury and bitter kind of pulse called lupines, and sometimes of herbs; though on certain occasions he ate of what was set before him.
Peter planted the faith in many countries near Judæa before the dispersion of the apostles, which happened twelve years after the death of Christ, in the fortieth year of the vulgar Christian æra. In the partition of nations among the apostles, St. Peter chose Rome for the chief seat of his labours, and having preached through several provinces of the East, by a particular order of divine providence, he at length arrived there, that he might encounter the devil in that city, which was then the chief seat of superstition, and the mistress of error. Divine providence, which had raised the Roman empire for the more easy propagation of the gospel in many countries, was pleased to fix the fortress of faith in that great metropolis, that it might be more easily diffused from the head into all parts of the universe. St. Peter foresaw, that by triumphing over the devil in the very seat of his tyranny, he opened a way to the conquest of the rest of the world to Christ. It was in appearance a rash enterprise for an ignorant fisherman to undertake the conversion of the capital of the empire, and the seat of all the sciences; to preach the contempt of honours, riches, and pleasures in that city, in which ambition, avarice, and voluptuousness had fixed their throne. The humility of Calvary suited not the pride of the capitol. The ignominy of the cross was very contrary to the splendour of that pomp which dazzled the eyes of the masters of the world. Peter neither knows the humour, nor the genius, nor the policy, nor even the language of the people. Yet he enters alone this enemy’s country, this fortress of impiety and superstition; and he preaches Jesus crucified to this great city. First, he announced this wonderful mystery to the Jews who lived there, whose apostle he was in the first place: then he addressed himself to the Gentiles, and he formed a church composed of both. Eusebius, 46 St. Jerom, and the old Roman Calendar, published by Bucherius, say that St. Peter held the see of Rome twenty-five years; though he was often absent upon his apostolic functions in other countries. According to this chronology, many place his first arrival at Rome in the second year of the reign of Claudius, of Christ, 42; but all circumstances prove it to have been in the year 40, the twelfth after the death of Christ, in 39. 47 Lactantius mentions only his last coming to Rome under Nero, 48 a few years before his martyrdom. 49 If he staid at Rome from the year 40 to 42, he returned speedily into the East; for in 44 he was thrown into prison at Jerusalem by king Agrippa; 50 and being miraculously delivered by an angel, he again left that city, and travelling through many countries in the East he established in them bishops, as St. Agapetus assures us. He was at Rome soon after, but was banished from that city when, on account of the tumults which the Jews there raised against the Christians, as Suetonius relates, the emperor Claudius expelled them both, in the year 49. But they were soon allowed to return. St. Peter went again into the East, and in 51 was present in the general council held by the apostles at Jerusalem, in which he made a discourse to show that the obligation of the Jewish ceremonies was not to be laid on the Gentile converts. His determination was seconded by St. James, bishop of Jerusalem, and formed by the council into a decree. The same synod confirmed to St. Paul, in a special manner, the apostleship of the Gentiles, 51 though he announced the faith also to the Jews when occasion served. St. Peter, whilst he preached in Judæa, chiefly laboured in converting the Jews. They being tenacious of the legal ceremonies, the use of them was for some time tolerated in the converts, provided they did not regard them as of precept; which being always condemned as an error in faith, was called the Nazarean heresy. 52 After the council at Jerusalem, St. Peter went to Antioch, where he ate promiscuously with the Gentile converts, without observing the Jewish distinction of unclean meats. But certain Jewish converts from Jerusalem coming in, he, fearing their scandal, withdrew from table, at which action the Gentile Christians took offence. To obviate the scandal of these latter, St. Paul publicly rebuked his superior, 53 lest his behaviour might seem to condemn those who did not observe the Jewish ceremonial precepts, and lest they might apprehend some disagreement in the doctrine of the two apostles. St. Peter, whilst he studied to avoid what might give offence to the weak Jewish converts, had not sufficiently attended to the scandal which the Gentile proselytes might take at his action. Nevertheless St. Austin justly observes, that both these apostles give us on this occasion great lessons of virtue; 54 for we cannot sufficiently admire the just liberty which St. Paul showed in his rebuke, nor the humble modesty of St. Peter; 55 “But,” says that father, 56 “St. Peter sets us an example of a more wonderful and difficult virtue. For it is a much easier task for one to see what to reprehend in another, and to put him in mind of a fault, than for us publicly to acknowledge our own faults, and to correct them. How heroic a virtue is it to be willing to be rebuked by another, by an inferior 57 and in the sight of all the world?” “This example of Peter,” says he in another place, 58 “is the most perfect pattern of virtue he could have set us, because by it he teaches us to preserve charity by humility.” Every one can correct others; but only a saint can receive well public rebuke. This is the true test of perfect humility, and heroic virtue: this is something far more edifying and more glorious than the most convincing apologies. St. Gregory the Great says of this conduct of St. Peter: 59 “He forgot his own dignity for fear of losing any degree of humility. He afterwards commended the epistles of St. Paul as full of wisdom, though we read in them something which seems derogatory from his honour. But this lover of truth rejoiced that all should know that he had been reproved, and should believe the reproof was just.”
St. Peter wrote two canonical epistles. The first he dates from Babylon, by which, St. Jerom and Eusebius tell us, he meant Rome, at that time the centre of idolatry and vice. The Jews usually called such cities by that figurative name; as they gave to a city infamous for debaucheries the name of Sodom, to an idolatrous country that of Egypt, to a race accursed by God that of Canaan. Rome is also called Babylon in the Apocalypse. This name might be frequently given it among the Christians of that age. 60 This epistle seems to have been written between the years 45 and 55. It is chiefly addressed to the converted Jews, though the apostle also speaks to the Gentile converts, as St. Austin observes. His principal view in it was to confirm them in faith under their sufferings and persecutions, and to confute the errors of Simon and of the Nicolaits. Erasmus, Estius, and all other judicious critics, admire in the style a majesty and vigour worthy the prince of the apostles, and a wonderful depth of sense couched in a few words. His second epistle was written from Rome a little before his death, and may be regarded as his spiritual testament. In it he strongly exhorts the faithful to labour earnestly in the great work of their sanctification, and cautions them to stand upon their guard against the snares of heresy. It is a tradition at Rome, that St. Peter converted the house of Pudens, a Roman senator, into a church, which now bears the name of St. Peter’s, ad vincula. Many ancient Martyrologies mention a feast of “The dedication of the first church in Rome consecrated by St. Peter.” The Christians only seem to have built churches at Rome after the persecution of Severus; but had before oratories and chapels in such manner as the persecutions would allow; and the most sacred of these were afterwards converted into churches. St. Paul mentions a Christian in Rome called Pudens, 61 whom some think to have been this senator. We cannot doubt but St. Peter preached the gospel over all Italy, as Eusebius, Rufinus, and others assure us; and likewise in other provinces of the West, according to the commission which the apostles received to carry the gospel over the whole earth. Whence they did not confine themselves to single cities, except that St. James fixed his residence at Jerusalem for the sake of the Jews. Our island among other places lays claim to the happiness of having been visited by St. Peter, though this is only supported by modern vouchers, as may be seen in Alford, Usher, and Cressy. Lactantius writes, 62 that the two great apostles, SS. Peter and Paul, foretold at Rome, that God should in a little time send a prince against the Jews, who should overcome them, and level their metropolis with the ground: that during the siege of it, they should pine with hunger and thirst, even to the eating of one another: that after it should be taken, they should see their women grievously tormented before their eyes, their virgins deflowered, their young men torn asunder, their babes dashed to pieces, their country wasted with fire and sword; and the whole nation banished out of their own land, because they had exalted themselves above the most gracious and approved Son of God. St. Athanasius 63 mentions that SS. Peter and Paul had often fled from persecutors in times of danger, till, being assured of their martyrdom by a revelation, they courageously went to meet it. Our Saviour, immediately after his resurrection, had foretold St. Peter in what manner he should glorify him in his old age, and that he should follow him even to the death of the cross. 64 He afterwards revealed to him the time of his death. 65 Several triumphs over the devil prepared him for that crown. To give a clear view of his last glorious conflict, it is necessary to introduce the history of that remarkable event, by a short account of the last adventure of his celebrated antagonist. Simon Magus, after passing through divers provinces, came to Rome, and there gained a high reputation. St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenæus, Tertullian, Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and Theodoret, assure us, that divine honours were paid him there, and that a statue was erected to him in the isle of Tiber, by the emperor Claudius and the senate, with this inscription: “Simoni Deo Sancto.” 66 If Simon inclined the humour of Messalina that way, she was capable of being carried to all sorts of extravagances, and of persuading Claudius to the same; for that emperor is justly called a child with grey hairs, a greater idiot having never worn the purple. Messalina being slain for her public adulteries and other crimes, in the year 48, Claudius took to wife his niece Agrippina, by an incest till then condemned in the Roman state. Being a greater firebrand than Messalina had ever been, she pushed Claudius on many acts of cruelty; for out of mere stupidity, and without malice, he could sport himself in blood. She prevailed on him to adopt Nero, who was her son by Domitius, her first husband. Claudius left a son of his own by Messalina, called Britannicus. Agrippina afterwards poisoned Claudius, in the year 51; and by a complication of crimes, opened the way to the imperial throne for her son Nero. The young prince soon set aside his mother, but governed five years with great clemency, leaving the direction of all things to his master Seneca, and to Burrhus, the prefect of the prætorian cohorts; except that he poisoned his brother Britannicus, whilst they were supping together, in the year 55. But after he had killed his own mother Agrippina, in 58, he became the greatest monster of cruelty and vice that perhaps ever disgraced the human species. Simon Magus found means to ingratiate himself with this tyrant; for Nero was above all mortals infatuated with the superstitions of the black art to the last degree of folly and extravagance. To excel in this was one of his greatest passions; and for this purpose he spared no expense, and stuck at no crimes. But all his endeavours were fruitless. When Tiridates, a Parthian prince, who was a magician, came to Rome, and was crowned by Nero, king of Armenia, in the forum, the tyrant hoped to learn of him some important secrets of that detestable superstition. The most skilful of the Parthian magicians exhausted all their science to satisfy him; but only gave the world a new proof of the emptiness of that art. Pliny concludes from this want of success in Nero, and Tillemont repeats the same of Julian the Apostate, that seeing the utmost skill of those who have most addicted themselves to this deceitful art, joined with the greatest power and impiety, was never able to effect anything by it, every one must rest convinced, that magic is not less vain and idle, than it is impious and execrable. Simon Magus, by his vain boastings, and illusions, could not fail to please this tyrant. The fathers assure us that this famous magician had promised the emperor and people to fly in the air, carried by his angels, thus pretending to imitate the ascension of Christ. Accordingly he raised himself in the air by his magical power, in presence of the emperor. St. Peter and St. Paul, seeing the delusion, betook themselves to their prayers; upon which the impostor fell to the ground, was bruised, broke a leg, and died a few days after in rage and confusion. This wonderful event is related by St. Justin, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Austin, St. Philastrius, St. Isidore of Pelusium, Theodoret, and others. Dion Chrysostomus, a heathen, writes that Nero kept a long time in his court a certain magician, who promised to fly. 67 And Suetonius says, 68 that at the public games a man undertook to fly in the presence of Nero, but fell in his first essay, and his blood even stained the balcony in which the emperor stood. This history Baronius, Tillemont, Ceillier, and Orsi, understand of Simon Magus.
The great progress which the faith made in Rome, by the miracles and preaching of the apostles, was the cause of the persecution which Nero raised against the church, as Lactantius mentions. Other fathers say, the resentment of the tyrant against the apostles was much inflamed by the misfortune of Simon Magus; and he was unreasonable enough to make this credible. But he had already begun to persecute the Christians from the time of the conflagration of the city, in 64. St. Ambrose tells us, 69 that the Christians entreated St. Peter to withdraw for a while. The apostle, though unwillingly, yielded to their importunity, and made his escape by night; but, going out of the gate of the city, he met Jesus Christ, or what in a vision appeared in his form, and asked him, “Lord, whither art thou going?” Christ answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” St. Peter readily understood this vision to be meant of himself, and taking it for a reproof of his cowardice, and a token that it was the will of God he should suffer, returned into the city, and, being taken, was put into the Mamertine prison with St. Paul. The two apostles are said to have remained there eight months, during which time they converted SS. Processus and Martinian, the captains of their guards, with forty-seven others. It is generally asserted that when they were condemned, they were both scourged before they were put to death. If St. Paul might have been exempted on account of his dignity of a Roman citizen, it is certain St. Peter must have undergone that punishment, which, according to the Roman laws, was always inflicted before crucifixion. It is an ancient tradition in Rome that they were both led together out of the city by the Ostian gate. St. Prudentius says, that they suffered both together in the same field, near a swampy ground, on the banks of the Tiber. Some say St. Peter suffered on the same day of the month, but a year before St. Paul. But Eusebius, St. Epiphanius, and most others affirm, that they suffered the same year, and on the 29th of June. St. Peter when he was come to the place of execution, requested of the officers that he might be crucified with his head downwards, alleging that he was not worthy to suffer in the same manner his divine Master had died before him. 70 He had preached the cross of Christ, had bore it in his heart, and its marks in his body, by sufferings and mortification, and he had the happiness to end his life on the cross. His Lord was pleased not only that he should die for his love, but in the same manner himself had died for us, by expiring on the cross, which was the throne of his love. Only the apostle’s humility made a difference, in desiring to be crucified with his head downwards. His master looked towards heaven, which by his death he opened to men; but he judged that a sinner formed from dust, and going to return to dust, ought rather in confusion to look on the earth, as unworthy to raise his eyes to heaven. St. Ambrose, 71 St. Austin, 72 and St. Prudentius ascribe this his petition partly to his humility, and partly to his desire of suffering more for Christ. Seneca mentions, that the Romans sometimes crucified men with their heads downward; and Eusebius 73 testifies that several martyrs were put to that cruel death. Accordingly the executioners easily granted the apostle his extraordinary request. St. Chrysostom, St. Austin, and St. Asterius say he was nailed to the cross; Tertullian mentions that he was tied with cords. He was probably both nailed and bound with ropes. 74 F. Pagi places the martyrdom of these two apostles in the year 65, on the 29th of June. 75
St. Gregory writes, that the bodies of the two apostles were buried in the catacombs, two miles out of Rome. 76 The most ancient Roman Calendar, published by Bucherius, marks their festival at the catacombs on the 29th of June. An ancient history read in the Gallican church in the eighth century says, their bodies only remained there eighteen months. From those catacombs where now stands the church of St. Sebastian, the body of St. Paul was carried a little further from Rome, on the Ostian road; and that of St. Peter to the Vatican hill, probably by the Jewish converts who lived in that quarter. At present the heads of the two apostles are kept in silver bustoes in the church of St. John Lateran. But one half of the body of each apostle is deposited together in a rich vault, in the great church of St. Paul, on the Ostian road; and the other half of both bodies in a more stately vault in the Vatican church, which sacred place is called from primitive antiquity, “The Confession of St. Peter, and Limina Apostolorum,” and is resorted to by pilgrims from all parts of Christendom. The great saint Chrysostom never was able to name either of these holy apostles without raptures of admiration and devotion; especially when he mentions the ardent love of St. Peter for his divine Master. He calls him “the mouth of all the apostles, the leader of that choir, the head of that family, the president of the whole world, the foundation of the Church, the burning lover of Christ.” 77
St. Peter left all things to follow Christ, and in return received from him the promise of life everlasting, and in the bargain a hundred fold in this present life. O thrice happy exchange! O magnificent promise! cries out St. Bernard. O powerful words, which have robbed Egypt, and plundered its richest vessels! which have peopled deserts and monasteries with holy men, who sanctify the earth and are its purest angels, being continually occupied in the contemplation and praises of God, the ever glorious uninterrupted employment of the blessed, which these spotless souls begin on earth to continue for all eternity in heaven. They have chosen with Mary the better part, which will never be taken from them. In this how great is their everlasting reward! How pure their present comfort and joy! and yet how cheap the purchase! For, what have they left? what have they bartered? Only empty vanities; mere nothings; nay, anxieties, dangers, fears, and toils.—Goods which by their very possession are a burden; which by their loss or continual disappointments, perplex, fret, disturb and torment; and which, if loved with attachment, defile the soul. Goods which Crates, the heathen philosopher, threw into the sea, to be rid of their troubles, saying: “Go into the deep, ye cursed incentives of the passions. I will drown you, lest I be drowned by you.” 78 I am too weak to bear your burden. To possess you without defiling my heart, to enjoy you without covetousness, pride, or ambition, is a difficult task, and the work of an extraordinary grace, as truth itself hath assured us. Happy are they who follow the Lord without incumbrance or burden; who make their journey to him without the load of superfluous baggage or hindrance! All are entitled to this present and future happiness, who repeat these words of St. Peter in their hearts and affections, though they are seated on thrones, or engaged by the order of providence in secular affairs. They used the world as if they used it not, living in it so as not to be of it, and possess its goods so as to admit them into their houses not into their hearts. They are solicitous and careful in their temporal stewardship, that they may be able to give an account to their Master, who has intrusted them with it; yet live in their affections as strangers on earth, and citizens of heaven. Those on the other side are of all others most unhappy, who in some measure imitate the hypocrisy of Ananias and Saphira, whilst they repeat the sacred words of the apostle with lying mouths; who renounce the world in body only, and carry in affection its inordinate desires and lusts, its spirit and contagion, into the very sanctuaries which are instituted to shelter souls from its corruption.
Note 3. John i. 44. On Herod’s enlarging Bethsaida, and giving it the name of Julias, see Josephus, Wells, Geogr. of the N. Testament. [back]
Note 6. In imitation of St. Peter’s receiving a new name on this occasion, the popes, upon their advancement to the pontificate, usually exchange their own name for a new one, as they have done ever since Sergius II. in 844; whose former name being Peter, he, out of humility, and respect for the prince of the apostles, did not presume to bear it. Christians in like manner have a new name given them at baptism, and generally take a new one at confirmation, also when they enter a religious state, partly to express their obligation of becoming new men, and partly to put themselves under the special patronage of certain saints, whose examples they propose to themselves for their models. [back]
Note 13. The cock crows first about midnight, but the hour of his principal crowing is about break of day, which is called by St. Luke, and St. John, his crowing; and by St. Mark his second crowing. [back]
Note 16. St. Ambr. l. 10 in Luc. S. Chrys. hom. 39, ol. 38, in Matt. St. Hilary in Matt. St. Leo, Serm. 68. [back]
Note 34. Apol. 1. ol. 2. On these acts of Pilate concerning Christ, sea Universal History, vol. 10, p. 625. [back]
Note 40. According to the unanimous testimony of the ancients, Christ suffered in the year of the consulate of the two Gemini, which was the twenty-ninth of the vulgar era. St. Peter founded the see of Antioch in the year 33, the fifth from Christ’s crucifixion: sat there seven years, and afterwards twenty-five complete years at Rome. [back]
Note 47. See Solierus in Histor. Chronol. Patriarcharum Antiochen. ante tom. 4, Julij, Bolland. p. 7, Item Cuperus, Diss. de Divisione Apostolorum, ib. p. 12, and Henschenius in Diatribâ Præliminari ante tom. 1, Aprilis. [back]
Note 48. Nothing can be more incontestible in history, than that the city of Rome was honoured by the presence, preaching, and martyrdom of the prince of the apostles, and that he was the founder and first bishop of that see. Hence Rome is styled by the more venerable ancient councils, The See of Peter. In this the concurring testimony of all ancient Christian writers, down from St. Ignatius, the disciple of this apostle, is unanimous. Eusebius tells us, that one motive which brought him to Rome, was to defeat the impostures of Simon Magus, who had repaired thither from the East, whence St. Peter had expelled him. “Against that bane of mankind, (Simon,)” says this parent of Church History, “the most merciful and kind providence conducts to Rome Peter, the most courageous, and the greatest among the apostles, and him who for his prowess was the chief, and the prince of all the rest.” [Greek]. Eus. Hist. l. 2, c. 14, ed. Vales.
Mr. Whiston, in the Memoirs of his own Life, p. 599, writes as follows: “Mr. Bower, with some weak Protestants before him, almost pretends to deny that St. Peter ever was at Rome; concerning which matter take my own former words out of my three Tracts, p. 53. Mr. Baratier proves most thoroughly, as Bishop Pearson has done before him, that St. Peter was at Rome. This is so clear in Christian antiquity, that it is a shame for a Protestant to confess that any Protestant ever denied it. This partial procedure demonstrates that Mr. Bower has by no means got clear of the prejudices of some Protestants, as an impartial writer of history, which he strongly pretends to be, ought to do, and he has in this case greatly hurt the Protestant cause, instead of helping it.”
N. B. Mr. Baratier, a Protestant divine, printed at Utrecht in 1740 his Chronological Inquiry about the most Ancient Bishops of Rome, from Peter to Victor, in which he demonstrates that St. Peter was at Rome, as Bishop Pearson had done before by a learned dissertation in his posthumous works.
Eusebius, l. 2. c. 17. and St. Jerom, Catal. c. 11. relate, that St. Peter met at Rome Philo, the most learned Jewish philosopher, who flourished at Alexandria, and was famous for the smoothness and sweetness of his eloquence, in which he seemed to rival Plato. In his moral writings he depreciates the dignity of the Mosaic divine precepts and history, by intermixing false Platonic notions, and by remote allegorical comments; in which latter, Origen, in some degree, became too much his imitator. Philo was sent to Rome by the Jews of Alexandria, in the year 40, on an embassy to Caius Caligula, by whom he was very ill-treated; an account of which, with a genuine natural description of the folly, pride, inconstancy, and extravagances of that tyrant, he has left us in his discourse against Flaccus. In his book, on the Contemplative Life, he describes the Therapeuts of Egypt in his time, who, according to Eusebius and St. Jerom, were Christian ascetics, or persons particularly devoted to the divine service and heavenly contemplation, under a rule of certain regular exercises of virtue. Photius pretends (cod. 105.) that Philo was converted to the faith by St. Peter at Rome, whither he made a second voyage in the reign of Claudius. But notwithstanding his friendship and commerce with St. Peter, he seems to have been too much intoxicated with the pride of the world, and never to have opened his eyes to the truth. His nephew, Tiberius Alexander, a philosopher, apostatized to idolatry, and was made by the Romans governor of Judæa in 46. [back]
Note 52. The ceremonial precepts and rites of the Jewish law were all typical, pointing out a Redeemer to come; and were therefore to cease by their accomplishment; as shadows they were banished by the reality. The various legal uncleannesses were sensible emblems of the spiritual uncleanness of sin, which was wiped away by the death of Christ. God also would signify by so many peculiar laws in this respect, that the Jews were his chosen people, separated from the world; and he would put them in mind what cleanness of heart he requires. The distinction of unclean meats was likewise a trial of obedience, and a bar to familiar commerce with infidel nations, to preserve the people of God from infection amidst an idolatrous world, as Theodoret observes, in Levit. qu. 1. It was removed when all nations were adopted into the Church. The flesh of animals, called in the Levitical law unclean, was usually unsavoury and unwholesome. This distinction of unclean meats is mentioned in general long before Moses, in the divine precepts given to Noah, and was perhaps almost as old as the world. See the Interpreters in Levit. xi. 1. &c. [back]
Note 55. This is the answer which St. Austin gives to the senseless slander of Porphyrius, who had charged these holy apostles, on this occasion, with hypocrisy and pride. It is strange to see this absurd calumny, equally inconsistent with the circumstances of this fact, and with the avowed character of these holy men, renewed in our days, in an express dissertation on this passage, among the works of one who professed himself a Christian. See the posthumous works of Dr. Conyers Middleton. [back]
Note 60. Calmet demonstrates that in St. Peter’s epistles we cannot understand either Babylon in Chaldæa, which was then in ruins, as Pliny and Strabo testify, and had been abandoned by the Jews some years before, or Babylon in Egypt, which was then no more than a castle, &c. [back]
Note 66. Several moderns have called in question this statue, and fancy that St. Justin was led into a mistake by a statue which was dug up in the isle of Tiber, near two hundred years ago, dedicated to Semo Sancus, or Sangus, a demigod of the Sabines, with this inscription: “Semoni Sancho Deo Fidio sacrum Sex. Pompeius, Sp. F. Mussianus—donum dedit.” In answer to this surmise of Salmatius, Le Clerc, and some others, the judicious Tillemont makes the following reflections: (Note on Simon Magus t. 2, p. 340.) “Justin Martyr affirms, that a statue was erected in Rome to Simon Magus, as to a god; this he repeats twice in his great apology addressed to the emperor, to the senate, and to all the people of Rome; and sufficiently intimates that it was the emperor Claudius and the senate who caused this statue to be set up. It is evident that St. Cyril of Jerusalem thus understood him. St. Irenæus, (l. 1, adv. Hær. c. 20, p. 115,) Tertullian, (Apol. c. 13,) Eusebius, (Hist. l. 2, c. 14,) St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (Cat. 6, p. 53,) St. Austin, (L. de Hæres, c. 1. p. 8,) and Theodoret, (Hæret. Fab. l. 1, c. 1,) assert the same. Tertullian, Eusebius, and St. Austin say it was raised by public authority: and Tertullian and St. Cyril make mention of the same inscription. Can any one imagine that St. Justin, a person then living in Rome, well acquainted with all the mythology of the heathens, writing to the emperors and senate, could have fallen into so ridiculous a mistake, of which the meanest artizan could have convinced him? On the other side, the heathens could not fail to take notice of such a blunder, and turn it to the scorn of the apologist and his religion. Yet this they never did; otherwise the author would have excused himself in his second apology; and could never have the boldness to cite this very passage in his dialogue with Trypho. (p. 349.) Irenæus and Tertullian (than whom no man was better acquainted with the follies of paganism) could not have had the assurance to repeat so gross a blunder, had the heathens shown it to be such. St. Austin was no stranger to the Sancus or Sangus of the Sabines; for he makes mention of him, (l. 18, de Civ. c. 19,) yet he says, that a statue was, by public authority, erected, not only to Simon, but also to his Helena; which he did not take from St. Justin, no more than Theodoret did the circumstance that the statue of Simon was of brass. Moreover, the difference between Semoni Sanco, or Sango, and Simoni Sancto is obvious; and the word Fidio quite changed the sense, meaning that god to be the Roman Fidius who presided over oaths. If Justin thought this denoted the quality of the Son of God, why did he not take notice of it? Lastly, the statue of Semo was erected by a private person, not by the emperor or senate. Several statues were consecrated to Semo Sancus, besides this in the isle of Tiber; one is mentioned by Baronius, (ad. an. 44,) which was erected on the Quirinal hill; and two others have been found in Italy. (Gruter, Inscript. p. 96, 97, 98.) It is clear in Gruter, that the Romans sometimes added the epithet Sanctus to their gods, and that of Deus, though not so often as Divus, to those whom they had known only men. St. Irenæus and St. Cyril say this statue was erected by the order of Claudius; St. Austin says at the instance of Simon himself. The Romans offered sacrifices to Caligula and Domitian in their lifetime: Philostratus says that Apollonius Tyanæus was worshipped for a god whilst living. Athenagoras informs us, that about the year 180 the city of Troas erected several statues to one Nerullinus, offered sacrifices to one of them and pretended that it gave oracles and healed the sick, even when Nerullinus himself lay sick. (Legat. pro Christ, p. 29.) And SS. Paul and Barnabas had a great deal of difficulty to hinder those of Lystra from offering sacrifices to them.” Thus Tillemont. The learned Mr. Reeves, in his notes on this apology of St. Justin, (p. 50,) says, “We must also observe, that our martyr himself was a Samaritan, and lived in the next age; that he was a person of great learning and gravity; of a genius wonderfully inquisitive about matters of this nature; that he was at this time at Rome, where every one could inform him of what god this was the statue, as easily as any one about London could tell now whose the statue is at Charing cross; that he presented this apology to the emperors and senate, and pressed for the demolishing of this statue, which if it was grounded on so notorious a mistake, must have a very ill effect upon his apology and cause, and must needs be resented,” &c. See this fact defended by Baron, ad. an. 44. n. 55. Spenser, Not. in Orig. contra Cels. l. 1, p. 44. Hammond, diss. 1, de Epis. Grotius, l. 3. Oper. p. 488. Halloix in St. Justin, and especially Weston, in an express dissert, p. 17. [back]
So also Orig. in Gen. apud Eus. l. 3, c. 1; S. Chrys. Hom. 5, in 2 Tim. 2, S. Hier. de Script. [back]
Note 74. The oldest pontificals and calendars say, that St. Peter was crucified and buried near Nero’s palace, on the Vatican, in the same place where his great church now stands. See Schelestrate, t. 1. Ant. Eccl. p. 402, Berti, t. 2. Diss. Hist. p. 12. Bozius, and Aringhi, Roma Subterranea. [back]
Note 75. To settle the chronology of St. Peter’s history, it is necessary first to determine the year in which Christ died. When the consulates, by which years were most frequently dated in the Roman empire, began to be confused, and were soon after extinct, Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian by extraction, a learned abbot in Rome, in the last year of the Emperor Justin, of the Christian era 527, published a Paschal Cycle, in which he computed the dates of the years from the first day of January following, reputing the time of the birth of Christ, on the 25th of December. George Syncellus mentions Panodorus, an Egyptian monk, in the reign of Arcadius, in the fifth age, who in a chronicle had made use of this epoch, in which several orientals had imitated him. Dionysius Exiguus first made use of it in the West; but before the close of the eighth century, its use was so universal, that it has been called the Common Christian Era; though Bede, in 731, both in his history, and in his learned book, De Temporum Ratione, and some others, date their era one year before Dionysius, and from the feast of the incarnation of Christ, or the annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, the 25th of March. Modern chronologists discovering that this common era was erroneous, and that the birth of Christ certainly preceded it, have run into opposite extremes, and by their different opinions, and perplexed dissertations, have rendered the exact chronology of the first period of our holy religion the more obscure and unsettled. To avoid ambiguity, and to throw a light on this part of sacred history, it is necessary to premise some short observations which may serve as a clue to conduct us through this labyrinth. The neglect of the deference due to the authority of the fathers who lived near those times, has been a source of many mistakes, which their testimony removes, and presents a system most consistent both with itself, and with the gospel history. By this rule Christ will be proved to have been born in the year of Rome 749, according to the computation of Varro, the fortieth of Augustus, and the fifth before the common era, in the consulate of Augustus twelve, and L. Cornelius Sulla. He was beginning his thirtieth year when he was baptized; celebrated from that time four Passovers, and was crucified on the 25th of March, in the 33rd year of his age, of the common era 29, the two Gemini being consuls, as Tertullian, (adv. Jud. c. 8,) St. Austin, (l. 18, de Civ. c. 54,) Victor Aquitanus, (in Chron.) the Liberian Calendar, and many other old calendars quoted by Henschenius, testify. (See Berti, Diss. Hist. 6, t. 1, p. 232, and Orsi, t. 1.) The death of Christ happened in the fifteenth year of Tiberius reigning alone, as Tertullian, (adv. Jud. c. 8,) Lactantius, (l. 4, Inst. c. 10,) S. Prosper, &c., assure us; i. e. in the eighteenth since he was associated with Augustus in the government of all the provinces. It is objected, that this full moon fell not that year on a Friday. But the astronomical cycles have been often altered; nor do we know those which the Jews followed. Samuel Petit demonstrates them to have been confused, especially after Herod had introduced the Roman correction and calendar, nor do we know how the Jews reconciled to it their lunar month Nisan; their manner of observing the new moon, as described by Lamy, and their Veader, demonstrate them not to have been nice in these cycles. Usher and Lancelot contradict the gospel when they say Christ was thirty-three or thirty-four years old when he was baptized; and whereas St. Ignatius Martyr, St. Austin, &c., say Christ lived only thirty-three years, they prolong his life to thirty-seven years.
As to St. Peter, we are assured by St. Jerom (l. de scriptor. in S. Paulo,) that he suffered in the thirty-seventh year after Christ’s crucifixion; consequently in the year of the common era 65, the twelfth of Nero. He therefore governed the church thirty-seven years. The apostles remained in Judæa twelve years from the ascension of Christ, before their dispersion into other nations, as the ancients agree; but we count the first and the last only begun. This brings the apostolic history to the forty-first year of the Christian era. St. Peter then came to Rome, and fixed there his episcopal chair. Eusebius writes in his chronicle: “Cum primum Antiochenam fundasset ecclesiam, Romam proficiscitur, ubi evangelium prædicans, 25 annis ejusdem urbis episcopus perseverat.” And St. Jerom, (in Catal.) “Secundo Claudij anno ad expugnandum Simonem Magundum Romam pergit, ibique 25 annis cathedram sacerdotalem tenuit.” Sulpicius Severus, (l. 2, Hist.) Paulus Orosius, (l. 7, c. 6,) St. Leo, (Serm. 8, in Nat. Apost.) &c., affirm the same, which is likewise clearly expressed in the Liberian Calendar, and in all the oldest pontificals. Bede, De ratione Temp. St. Prosper, &c. are vouchers for the same point. St. Peter suffered death in the year 65, Nerva and Vestinus being consuls, in the thirty-seventh from the crucifixion of Christ, and the twelfth of Nero. The Liberian Calendar writes: “Passus est tertiâ ante Calendas Julias, Consulibus Nerva et Vestino.” Lactantius (l. 1, de Mortibus Persec.) says the apostles had preached twenty-five years before the reign of Nero, when Peter came to Rome; by which he does not affirm that he had not been at Rome before; and these twenty-five years exactly coincide with our chronology. Nero certainly raised his persecution immediately after the burning of Rome, in the year 64, of his reign the eleventh, as is clear from Suetonius, Tacitus, and Sulpicius Severus. (l. 2.) This last writer and St. Epiphanius (hær. 27,) say, the apostles were not cut off in the beginning, but in the twelfth year of Nero. Papebroke calls it the eleventh, because Nero began his reign in October; but Petavius demonstrates (Doctr. Temp. l. 11, c. 14,) that the years of the reigns of the Roman emperors were always counted from the beginning of the first year, not from the day upon which they entered upon their reigns. Tillemont imagined that the apostles suffered a year later, but does not remove the objection raised from the absence of Nero, who went into Greece before the month of June, and passed there the remaining part of the year; and in the following, laid violent hands upon himself, on the 9th of June, as we learn from Xiphilin’s epitome of Dion Cassius. See Solerius Bolland. in Hist. Chronol. Patriarch. Antioch. ante Tomum 4, Julij. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866
San Pietro Apostolo
Bethsaida (Galilea) - † Roma, 67 d.C.
Pietro, scelto da Cristo a fondamento dell'edificio ecclesiale, clavigero del regno dei cieli (Mt 16,13-19), pastore del gregge santo (Gv 21,15-17), confermatore dei fratelli (Lc 22,32), è nella sua persona e nei suoi successori il segno visibile dell'unità e della comunione nella fede e nella carità. Gli apostoli Pietro e Paolo sigillarono con il martirio a Roma, verso l'anno 67, la loro testimonianza al Maestro. (Mess. Rom.)
Patronato: Papi, Pescatori
Etimologia: Pietro = pietra, sasso squadrato, dal latino
Emblema: Chiavi, Croce rovesciata, Rete da pescatore
Martirologio Romano: Solennità dei santi Pietro e Paolo Apostoli. Simone, figlio di Giona e fratello di Andrea, primo tra i discepoli professò che Gesù era il Cristo, Figlio del Dio vivente, dal quale fu chiamato Pietro. Paolo, Apostolo delle genti, predicò ai Giudei e ai Greci Cristo crocifisso. Entrambi nella fede e nell’amore di Gesù Cristo annunciarono il Vangelo nella città di Roma e morirono martiri sotto l’imperatore Nerone: il primo, come dice la tradizione, crocifisso a testa in giù e sepolto in Vaticano presso la via Trionfale, il secondo trafitto con la spada e sepolto sulla via Ostiense. In questo giorno tutto il mondo con uguale onore e venerazione celebra il loro trionfo.
San Pietro è l’apostolo investito della dignità di primo papa da Gesù Cristo stesso: “Tu sei Pietro e su questa pietra fonderò la mia Chiesa”. Pur non essendo stato il primo a portare la fede a Roma, ne divenne insieme a s. Paolo, fondatore della Roma cristiana, stabilizzando e coordinando la prima Comunità, confermandola nella Fede e testimoniando con il martirio la sua fedeltà a Cristo.
Nacque a Bethsaida in Galilea, pescatore sul lago di Tiberiade, insieme al fratello Andrea, il suo nome era Simone, che in ebraico significava “Dio ha ascoltato”; sposato e forse vedovo perché nel Vangelo è citata solo la suocera, mentre nei Vangeli apocrifi è riportato che aveva una figlia, la leggendaria santa Petronilla; il fratello Andrea, dopo aver ascoltato l’esclamazione di Giovanni Battista: ”Ecco l’Agnello di Dio!” indicando Gesù, si era recato a conoscerlo ed ascoltarlo e convintosi, disse poi a Simone “Abbiamo trovato il Messia!” e lo condusse con sé da Gesù.
Pietro fu chiamato da Cristo a seguirlo dicendogli “Tu sei Simone il figlio di Giovanni; ti chiamerai Cefa = Pietro (che in latino è tradotto Petrus); in seguito dopo la pesca miracolosa, avrà la promessa da Cristo che diventerà pescatore di anime.
Fu tra i più intraprendenti e certamente il più impulsivo degli Apostoli, per cui ne divenne il portavoce e capo riconosciuto, con la celebre promessa del primato: “E io ti dico che sei Pietro e su questa pietra edificherò la mia Chiesa e le porte dell’inferno non prevarranno contro di essa. Ti darò le chiavi del regno dei cieli e tutto ciò che legherai sulla terra sarà legato nei cieli e tutto ciò che scioglierai sulla terra sarà sciolto nei cieli”.
Ciò nonostante anche lui fu preso da grande timore durante l’arresto e il supplizio di Gesù, e lo rinnegò tre volte. Ma si pentì subito di ciò e pianse lagrime amare di rimorso; egli non è un’asceta, un diplomatico, anzi è uno che afferma drasticamente le cose e le dice, protesta come quando il Maestro preannuncia la sua imminente morte, Pietro pensa e poi afferma: “Il Maestro deve morire? Assurdo!”, come altrettanto decisamente si rifiuta di farsi lavare i piedi da Gesù, durante l’ultima cena, ma in questa ed altre occasioni riceve i rimproveri del Maestro ed egli pur non comprendendo, accetta sempre, perché sapeva od aveva intuito di trovarsi davanti alla Verità.
È un uomo semplice, schietto, diremmo sanguigno, agisce d’impeto come quando cerca con la spada, di opporsi alla cattura di Gesù, che ancora una volta lo riprende per queste sue reazioni di essere umano, non ancora conscio, del grande evento della Redenzione e quindi, privato delle sue forze solo umane, non gli resta altro che fuggire ed assistere impotente ed angosciato agli episodi della Passione di Cristo.
Dopo la crocifissione e la Resurrezione, Pietro ormai convinto della missione salvifica del suo Maestro, riprende coraggio e torna quindi a radunare gli altri Apostoli e discepoli dispersi, infondendo coraggio a tutti, fino alla riunione nel Cenacolo cui partecipa anche Maria.
Lì ricevettero lo Spirito Santo, ebbero così la forza di affrontare i nemici del nascente cristianesimo e con il miracolo della comprensione delle lingue, uscirono a predicare le Verità della nuova Fede.
Gli Apostoli nell’ardore di propagare il Cristianesimo a tutte le genti, non solo agli israeliti, dopo 12 anni trascorsi a Gerusalemme, si sparsero per il mondo conosciuto di allora.
Pietro ebbe il dono di operare miracoli, alla porta del tempio guarì un povero storpio, suscitando entusiasmo tra il popolo e preoccupazione nel Sinedrio. Anania e Zaffira caddero ai suoi piedi stecchiti, per aver mentito e Simon Mago che voleva con i suoi soldi comprare da lui il potere di fare miracoli, subì parole durissime e cadendo rovinosamente, in un tentativo di operarli da solo.
Risuscitò Tabita a Giaffa per la gioia di quella comunità fuori Gerusalemme. Ammise al battesimo il centurione romano Cornelio e la sua famiglia, stabilendo così che cristiani potevano essere anche i pagani e chi non era circonciso, come fino allora prescriveva la legge ebraica di Mosè.
Subì il carcere e miracolosamente liberato, lasciò Gerusalemme, dove la vita era diventata molto rischiosa a causa della persecuzione di Erode Antipa, intraprese vari viaggi, poi nell’anno 42 dell’era cristiana dopo essere stato ad Antiochia, giunse in Italia proseguendo fino a Roma ‘caput mundi’, centro dell’immenso Impero Romano, ne fu vescovo e primo papa per 25 anni, anche se interrotti da qualche viaggio apostolico.
A causa dell’incendio di Roma dell’anno 644, di cui furono incolpati i cristiani, avvenne la prima persecuzione voluta da Nerone; fra le migliaia e migliaia di vittime vi fu anche Pietro il quale finì nel carcere Mamertino e nel 67 (alcuni studiosi dicono nel 64), fu crocifisso sul colle Vaticano nel circo Neroniano, la tradizione antichissima fa risalire allo storico cristiano Origene, la prima notizia che Pietro fu crocifisso per sua volontà, con la testa in giù; nello stesso anno s. Paolo veniva decollato sempre a Roma ma fuori le mura.
Il corpo di Pietro venne sepolto a destra della via Cornelia, dove fu poi innalzata la Basilica Costantiniana.
La grandezza di Pietro consiste principalmente nella dignità di cui fu rivestito e che trascendendo la sua persona, si perpetua nell’istituzione del papato. Primo papa, Vicario di Cristo, capo visibile della Chiesa, egli è il capolista di una gerarchia che da venti secoli si avvicenda nella guida dei fedeli credenti.
L’umile pescatore di Bethsaida, si trovò a guidare la nascente Chiesa, in un periodo cruciale per l’affermazione nel mondo pagano dei principi del Cristianesimo; istituì il primo ordinamento ecclesiastico e la recita del ‘Pater noster’.
Indisse il 1° Concilio di Gerusalemme, fu ispiratore del Vangelo di Marco, autore di due lettere apostoliche nonostante la sua scarsa cultura, nominò apostolo il discepolo Mattia al posto del suicida Giuda Iscariota.
Il primo simbolo che caratterizza la figura di Pietro e dei suoi successori è la ‘Cattedra’, segno della potestà di insegnare, confermare, guidare e governare il popolo cristiano, la ‘cattedra’ è inserita nel grande capolavoro della “Gloria” del Bernini, che sovrasta l’altare maggiore in fondo alla Basilica Vaticana, a sua volta sovrastata dall’allegoria della colomba, raffigurante lo Spirito Santo che l’assiste e lo guida.
Il secondo simbolo, il più diffuso, è lo stemma pontificio, comprendente una tiara, copricapo esclusivo del papa con le chiavi incrociate. La tiara porta tre corone sovrapposte, quale simbolo dell’immensa potestà del pontefice (nel pontificale romano del 1596, la tiara o triregno, stava ad indicare il papa come padre dei principi e dei re, rettore del mondo cattolico e Vicario di Cristo). Questo simbolo perpetuato e arricchito nei secoli da artisti insigni, nelle loro opere di pittura, scultura, araldica, raffiguranti i vari papi, oggi non è più usata e nelle cerimonie d’incoronazione è stata sostituita dalla mitria vescovile.
Questo ad indicare che il papa più che essere al disopra di tutti regnanti, è invece vescovo tra i vescovi e che il suo primato è tale perché vescovo di Roma, a cui la tradizione apostolica millenaria aveva affidato tale compito. Le chiavi simboleggiano la potestà di aprire e chiudere il regno dei cieli, come detto da Gesù a Pietro.
Per tutti i secoli successivi, s. Pietro, rimase fino al 1846 il papa che aveva governato più a lungo di tutti con i suoi 25 anni, poi venne Pio IX con i suoi 32 anni di governo; ma, recentemente, il pontefice Giovanni Paolo II ha raggiunto anch’egli il quarto di secolo come s. Pietro.
Nessun successore per rispetto, ha voluto chiamarsi Pietro. Nella Basilica Vaticana, nella cripta sotto il maestoso altare con il baldacchino del Bernini, detto della ‘Confessione’, vi sono le reliquie di s. Pietro, venute alla luce durante i lavori di restauro e consolidamento archeologico, fatti eseguire da papa Pio XII negli anni ’50.
Sulla destra dell’immensa navata centrale, vi è la statua bronzea, opera attribuita ad Arnolfo di Cambio, raffigurante l’Apostolo assiso in cattedra, essa si trovava originariamente nel mausoleo che all’inizio del V secolo l’imperatore Onorio, volle costruire sul lato sinistro della basilica, per stare accanto alla tomba del martire; durante le cerimonie pontificie essa viene rivestita con i paramenti papali.
Sporgente dal basamento vi è il piede, ormai consumato dallo strofinio delle mani e dal tradizionale bacio di milioni di fedeli e pellegrini, alternatosi nei secoli e provenienti da tutte le Nazioni.
La festa, o più esattamente la solennità, dei ss. Pietro e Paolo al 29 giugno, è una delle più antiche e più solenni dell’anno liturgico. Essa venne inserita nel messale ben prima della festa del Natale e vi era già nel secolo IV l’usanza di celebrare in questo giorno tre S. Messe: la prima nella basilica di S. Pietro in Vaticano, la seconda a S. Paolo fuori le mura e la terza nelle catacombe di S. Sebastiano, dove le reliquie dei due apostoli dovettero essere nascoste per qualche tempo, per sottrarle alle profanazioni barbariche.
Il giorno 29 giugno sembrerebbe essere la ‘cristianizzazione’ di una ricorrenza pagana, che esaltava le figure di Romolo e Remo, i due mitici fondatori di Roma, come i due apostoli Pietro e Paolo sono considerati i fondatori della Roma cristiana.
Autore: Antonio Borrelli