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The Catholic Defender: St. Peter: Leader Of The Twelve And Bishop Of Rome

St. Peter was raised a fisherman in the house of Bar-Jonah and Brother of St. Andrew. Born in Bethsaida, near Lake Tiberias he was well acquainted with the Sea. Jesus called him Cephas (John 1:42) calling him to be a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19).

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-20)

Words to gleam from this scriptural text: Christ (Messiah), Rock (Kepa), Church (Εκκλησία/ekklēsía), keys, bound (bind), and loose. From this text we see who Jesus is, Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Christ. We see Jesus identifying who Simon, Son of Bar-Jona is, the Rock (Kapa) and we see Jesus as the Son of David transferring the keys of authority from the household of David (Isaiah 22:22) now to Simon Peter and the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15).

Peter alone was given the Keys, the office of the keys, plus in this text, Peter alone was given the power to bind and loose (Matthew 16:16-19), Notice in this text, Jesus speaking to Peter as“You” speaking to Peter seven times in this text. Clearly, Jesus was speaking to Peter! We see Matthew bring in the rest of the apostles with Peter representing the Church with this authority together (Matthew 18:18).

John 21:15-17 Jesus commissioned St. Peter as Shepherd of the sheep given the charge three times.

Acts 2:14-41 On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire, it was Peter who gave the first Papal discourse in which 3,000 were converted and baptized to the Catholic Faith that very day.

Acts 5:3-10 It was Peter’s word spoken to Ananias and Sapphira who had attempted to deceive the Apostles and thereby the Holy Spirit, causing them to drop dead!

Acts 5:15 People came just to have Peter’s shadow pass over them and the sick were healed.

Acts 8:18-23 St. Peter rebuked Simon Magus, the sorcerer, who thought he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 9:38-41 St. Peter raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead. This was through the power of God but it also shows God’s anointing on Peter.

Acts 11:1-18 St. Peter instructed the other apostles how God had granted power through their word to include what was clean and unclean. We can now enjoy bacon for example, how the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter that the Gentiles were being accepted and received by God into the Church.

Acts 15:7 At the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D., there was much debate until Peter stood up and spoke, that ended the debate. Some will look at this text and claim that James was the first Pope as he took control of the Council (Acts 15:13-21) but people do not always understand how the Bishop of Rome, the Pope respects the Bishop of any diocese he visits? The Apostle James was regarded the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Naturally Peter would respect that call. James was not over Peter.

1 Corinthians 15:5-7 After Jesus resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Peter then to the Twelve. This really ties in with Matthew 16:18 and John 21:51-17.

Galatians 2:6-10 St. Peter was given charge the gospel for the circumcision, here is this text:

“And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.”

What can we gleam from this? St. Paul is defending his right as an Apostle because Christ called him (Acts 9:1-19) to reach out to the Gentiles (uncircumcised) and Peter the mission to the circumcised. Notice St. Paul admits that Peter with Paul also worked for the Gentiles. This is important as both St. Peter and Paul would give their lives in Rome under the Roman Emperor Nero.

To better understand St. Peter’s role among the Apostles and the Church, it is best to see it from an Old Testament family structure, not a modern constitution like we have in the United States. God the Father is not seen as some court judge, but as a loving Father. Jesus is not some kind of lawyer who defends the right of the sinner, but as a brother, the first born. Yes, God is Judge, and Jesus died for sin, but the Church is a family, a household, so the judgement will be fatherly and the Lord’s passion will be for love of His people. The Church is born out of this understanding.

Jesus is the Master Builder, He is the Rock that the builders (Israelite) rejected who has become the corner stone (Psalms 118:22/Acts 4:11) and 1 Corinthians 10:4. St. Peters confession did not come from him, it came from God the Father and Jesus institutes upon St. Peter, this new name which is significant. When ever the Lord would change the name of someone, this was always significant. Firstly, in Genesis 17:5, He changed Abram’s (Father) name to ‘Abraham,’ (Father of many nations) as part of God’s Covenant making Abraham the ‘Father’ of a host of nations.

Secondly, in Genesis 35:10, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and stated, ”I am God almighty, be fruitful and multiply. A nation indeed an assembly of nations shall stem from you.”

Thirdly, He changed Simon, Bar Jonah to Peter, the Rock. This is important because we are now moving into the New Testament, a new Covenant and Jesus is preparing His Apostles for this great new season in human history.

Again, this very morning, Jehovah Witnesses arrived at my door and I was pleased to share with them the foundation of the Chair of Peter, the authority of the Catholic Church Jesus founded nearly 2,000 years ago.

I was recently challenged by a number of ministers from the Baptist, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, and some Non-Denominations on St. Peter even being a leader in the early Church. And with this group, using early Church Fathers will not fly high with them, so can we gleam anything from the New Testament that reveals St. Peter’s primacy?

From the discussion, some might concede that St. Peter was the “Chief Apostle”, consider Matthew 10:2 which lists St. Peter first among the Apostles. 1 John 35-41 tells us that St. Andrew, first a follower of St. John the Baptist, was at the baptism of Jesus and from that point on began to follow Jesus. It was then that Andrew informed his brother Simon about Jesus who is depicted by the Gospels of Matthew (4:18-20), Mark (Mark 1:16-18), and Luke (Luke 5:3-11) calling St. Peter and the others to follow him.

It is interesting that in the Gospel of St. John, Jesus first refers to Simon as "Cephas” which means “Peter”(John 1:42). Is this an example where St. John viewed St. Peter as the head of the Church? Consider the following story:

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” John 20:1-9

What can we gleam from this text? Peter was a much slower runner than John? Perhaps, but it is interesting that John reaches the tomb first but waits until Peter gets there and enters first. That is very significant to the respect John has for Peter’s role as the leader.

Following St. Peter during the early years after the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus we know that he was present at Pentecost. He gives the first Papal dissertation in Acts 2:14-41 when 3,000 people were baptized the first day.

A short time later, St. Peter gave a second speech at the portico called “Solomon’s Portico”. St. Peter and John were taken from there to the Sanhedrin where the Pharisees wanted to punish them but feared the people who were praising God (Acts 4:21).

We know that St. Peter was still in the Holy Land when persecution broke out against the Christians.

After St. Stephen was stoned to death, people went everywhere to escape Saul of Tarsus. Everyone except the Apostles. St. Peter gives a third speech and Baptized Cornelius near Caesarea.

St. Peter received a vision and message from an angel while in Joppa when three men came to see him to take him to Cornelius.

This would be very important for the early Church as God reveals to St. Peter his plan of salvation for the Gentiles.

St. Peter begins to speak when the Holy Spirit came upon the house of Cornelius.

St. Peter ensures the baptism of the entire household (Acts 10:9-48).

This would become important for the early Church and infant baptism.

King Herod captures St. Peter and puts him in prison, but God had other plans for St. Peter getting him away from the clutches of Herod (Acts 12:1-17).

We know that St. Peter was in Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem (49 A.D.),“After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you are well aware that from the early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts”.

After this scene, we do not see much of St. Peter in Jerusalem. This is the last time we see St. Peter in the book of Acts. St. Paul becomes the dominate figure from this point on.

So where does St. Peter Go? Does he ride his donkey into the sunset into retired life? No, not at all!

According to Tradition, St. Peter went to Antioch and ordained St. Evodius a bishop.

St. Peter appears to have gone immediately to Antioch after being released from jail by the angel. St. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John, who died around AD 110 AD.

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407 AD), grew up in Antioch, learned the history which taught that St. Ignatius had been ordained at the hands of Apostles, including St. Peter.

According to ancient tradition, St. Ignatius was the child whom Christ had held, as described in Matthew 18:4. It is also from here that St. John Chrysostom learned the history and tradition that Christ was born on December 25th, 2 B.C.

St. John Chrysostom would preach on the subject literally on Christmas day. It is important to understand from this tradition, St. Peter was in Antioch at one point. What about St. Peter in Rome?

Writing in his Annals circa A.D. 116, Tacitus a Pagan Historian, describes the response of Emperor Nero to the great fire that swept Rome in A.D. 64:

“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”

Suetonius, another Pagan historian also confirms Nero’s persecution of Christians at Rome (c. 120 A.D.): “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” (Lives of the Caesars 26.2)

One of the Early Church Fathers who heard from St. Peter personally, was ordained by St. Peter would become the third successor to St. Peter.

St. Clement of Rome about 95 A.D. wrote:

“Let us come to the heroes nearest to our times. . . . Let us set before our eyes the good apostles; Peter, who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one or two but many labours, and having thus borne his witness went to his due place of glory. Paul, by reason of jealousy and strife, pointed out the prize of endurance. . . . When he had preached in the East and in the West he received the noble renown of his faith. Having taught righteousness to the whole world, even reaching the bounds of the West, and having borne witness before rulers, he thus left the world and went to the holy place, becoming the greatest pattern of endurance.”

St. Clement writes of Peter‘s stay in Rome, “I do not command you, as Peter and Paul did”.

Ignatius of Antioch wrote:“Not as Peter and Paul did, do I command you [Romans]. They were apostles, and I am a convict” (Letter to the Romans 4:3 [A.D. 110]).

Such a comment would only make sense if Peter had been a leader, if not the leader, of the church in Rome.”

Later in the second century, Irenaeus of Lyons believed that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop.

Tertullian also writes: “But if you are near Italy, you have Rome, where authority is at hand for us too. What a happy church that is, on which the apostles poured out their whole doctrine with their blood; where Peter had a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John (the Baptist, by being beheaded).”

St. Dionysius of Corinth also serves as a late second-century witness to the tradition. He wrote: “You (Pope Soter) have also, by your very admonition, brought together the planting that was made by Peter and Paul at Rome and at Corinth; for both of them alike planted in our Corinth and taught us; and both alike, teaching similarly in Italy, suffered martyrdom at the same time”.

Later tradition, first found in Saint Jerome, attributes to Peter a 25-year episcopate (or apostolate) in Rome.

St. Peter’s crucifixion in Rome is the only recorded traditional account of St. Peters death. John 21:18 states,” Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God”. It is interesting to note that there are no viable examples or traditions of St. Peter having this experience anywhere else.

The grave that is claimed by the Church to be that of St. Peter lies at the foot of the aedicula beneath the floor under the main Altar. DNA testing reveals that the bones found were the bones of a 60-70 year old man.

On June 26, 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered. The evidence through scientific analysis found St. Peters name more than 20 times at the site, the bones had a purple and gold fabric.

From Scripture, tradition, history, from the very beginning, the evidence is clear that St. Peter was the first Pope, chief apostle, leader, Bishop of Rome, Royal Steward, Prime Minister, or any other name you can give this “office” that Christ commissioned Him as “Fishers of men” and “Shepherd of the Sheep”.

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