Pope St. Peter – The Very First Pope

Pope St Peter

Pope Saint Peter the Prince of the Apostles of Jesus Christ was the very first pope in history the history of the papacy. He is also the longest serving pope ever.

Other names used to describe him include Saint Peter, Simon and Simon Peter.

His father was a fisherman of Bethsaida, near the Lake of Gennesareth, in Galilee, which was also the birthplace of his brother, Saint Andrew.

Early Life

Peter is one of the only popes mentioned in the Bible. He appeared in the New Testament under the names Simon and Simeon. The Act of the Apostles and the New Testament both discuss his life and times.

Peter was originally a fisherman who saw Jesus heal the mother of his wife. He had a brother named Andrew who he often fished with before and after becoming an apostle. Peter began following Jesus and was with him at the Last Supper.

The notices of this Apostle’s early life are few, but not unimportant, and enable us to form some estimate of the circumstances under which his character was formed, and prepared for his great work.

Saint Peter’s Family

Saint Peter (Simon) was the son of a man named Jonas, and was brought up in his father’s occupation, a fisherman on the sea of Tiberias. The occupation was of course a humble one, but not, as is often assumed, mean or servile, or incompatible with some degree of mental culture. His family were probably in easy circumstances.

He and his brother Andrew were partners of John and James, the sons of Zebedee, who had hired servants; and from various indications in the sacred narrative we are led to the conclusion that their social position brought them into contact with men of education. In fact the trade of fishermen, supplying some of the important cities on the coasts of that inland lake, may have been tolerably remunerative, while all the necessaries of life were cheap and abundant in the singularly rich and fertile district where the Apostle resided.

He did not live, as a mere laboring man, in a hut by the sea-side, but first at Bethsaida, and afterwards in a house at Capernaum, belonging to himself or his mother-in-law, which must have been rather a large one, since he received in it not only our Lord and his fellow disciples, but multitudes who were attracted by the miracles and preaching of Jesus. It is certain that when he left all to follow Christ, he made what he regarded, and what seems to have been admitted by his Master, to have been a considerable sacrifice.

The habits of such a life were by no means unfavorable to the development of a vigorous, earnest, and practical character, such as he displayed in after years. The labors, the privations, and the perils of an existence passed in great part upon the waters of that beautiful but stormy lake, the long and anxious watching through the nights, were calculated to test and increase his natural powers, his fortitude, energy, and perseverance.

In the city he must have been brought into contact with men engaged in traffic, with soldiers, and foreigners, and may have thus acquired somewhat of the flexibility and geniality of temperament all but indispensable to the attainment of such personal influence as he exercised in after-life.

List of Events In The Life of Pope Peter

DateAgeEventTitle
1Born
3332.0AppointedBishop of Antiochia {Antioch}, Syria
3938.0ElectedPope (Roma, Italy)
6463.0DiedPope (Roma, Italy)

Education

It is not probable that Peter and his brother were wholly uneducated. The Jews regarded instruction as a necessity, and legal enactments enforced the attendance of youths in schools maintained by the community. The statement in Acts iv. 13, that “the council perceived they (i.e. Peter and John) were unlearned and ignorant men”, is not incompatible with this assumption. The translation of the passage in the A. V. is rather exaggerated, the word rendered “unlearned” being nearly equivalent to “laymen”, i. e, men of ordinary education, as contrasted with those who were specially trained in the schools of the Rabbis.

A man might be thoroughly conversant with the Scriptures, and yet be considered ignorant and unlearned by the Rabbis, among whom the opinion was already prevalent that “the letter of Scripture was the mere shell, an earthen vessel containing heavenly treasures, which could only be discovered by those who had been taught to search for the hidden cabalistic meaning”.

Peter and his kinsmen were probably taught to read the Scriptures in childhood. The history of their country, especially of the great events of early days, must have been familiar to them as attendants at the synagogue, and their attention was there directed to those portions of Holy Writ from which the Jews derived their anticipations of the Messiah.

The language of the Apostles was of course the form of Aramaic spoken in northern Palestine, a sort of patois, partly Hebrew, but more nearly allied to the Syriac. Hebrew, even in debased form, was then spoken only by men of learning, the leaders of the pharisees and scribes. The men of Galilee were, however, noted for rough and inaccurate language, and especially for vulgarities of pronunciation.

Greek Language

It is doubtful whether our Apostle was acquainted with Greek in early life. It is certain that there was more intercourse with foreigners in Galilee than in any district of Palestine, and Greek appears to have been a common, if not the principal, medium of communication. Within a few years after his call St. Peter seems to have conversed fluently in Greek with Cornelius, at least there is no intimation that an interpreter was employed, while it is highly improbable that Cornelius, a Roman soldier, should have used the language of Palestine.

The style of both of St. Peter’s Epistles indicates a considerable knowledge of Greek it is pure and accurate, and in grammatical structure equal to that of St. Paul. That may, however, be accounted for by the fact, for which there is very ancient authority, that St. Peter employed an interpreter in the composition of his Epistles, if not in his ordinary intercourse with foreigners.

There are no traces of acquaintance with Greek authors, or of the influence of Greek literature upon his mind, such as we find in St. Paul, nor could we expect it in a person of his station even had Greek been his mother-tongue. It is on the whole probable that he had some rudimental knowledge of Greek in early life, which may have been afterwards extended when the need was felt, but not more than would enable him to discourse intelligibly on practical and devotional subjects.

Marriage

That he was an affectionate husband, married in early life to a wife who accompanied him in his Apostolic journeys, are facts interred from Scripture, while very ancient traditions, recorded by Clement of Alexandria (whose connection with the church founded by St. Mark gives a peculiar value to his testimony) and by other early but less trustworthy writers, inform us that her name was Perpetua, that she bore a daughter, or perhaps other children, and suffered martyrdom.

Papacy

The Church believes that Peter was at Jesus’s crucifixion and that he denied Him three times. Records also indicate that he was the first person who saw Jesus during his resurrection. Though Peter was just one of the apostles, he became the first leader of the Christian Church and the original pope. As he worked closely with James the Just, some consider Peter the Bishop of Rome and James the Bishop of Jerusalem.

See the full list of past popes.

Church Founder

As the Bishop of Rome, Peter is also recognized as the founder of the Church. He worked with Paul and the other apostle to spread the word and teachings of Jesus Christ and encouraged them to follow Him. Peter opened the first church in Antioch and later moved through the Roman Empire to build new churches and find new followers.

Prison And Deliverance

Peter left Jerusalem, but it is not said where he went. Certainly not to Rome, where there are no traces of his presence before the last years of his life; he probably remained in Judea, visiting and confirming the Churches; some old but not trustworthy traditions represent him as preaching in Caesarea and other cities on the western coast of Palestine; six years later we find him once more at Jerusalem, when the Apostles and elders came together to consider the question whether converts should be circumcised.

Peter took the lead in that discussion, and urged with remarkable cogency the principles settled in the case of Cornelius. Purifying faith and saving grace remove all distinctions between believers. His arguments, adopted and enforced by James, decided that question at once and for ever. It is, however, to be remarked, that on that occasion he exercised no one power which Romanists hold to be inalienably attached to the chair of Peter. He did not preside at the meeting; he neither summoned nor dismissed it; he neither collected the suffrages, nor pronounced the decision.

It is a disputed point whether the meeting between St. Paul and St. Peter, of which we have an account in the Galatians (II. 1-10) took place at this time. The great majority of critics believe that it did, and this hypothesis, though not without difficulties, seems more probable than any other which has been suggested. The only point of real importance was certainly determined before the Apostles separated, the work of converting the Gentiles being henceforth specially entrusted to Paul and Barnabas, while the charge of preaching to the circumcision was assigned to the elder Apostles, and more particularly to Peter (Gal. II. 7-9).

This arrangement cannot, however, have been an exclusive one. St. Paul always addressed himself first to the Jews in every city : Peter and his old colleagues undoubtedly admitted and sought to make converts among the Gentiles. It may have been in full force only when the old and new Apostles resided in the same city. Such at least was the case at Antioch, where St. Peter went soon afterwards.

There the painful collision took place between the two Apostles; the most remarkable, and, in its bearings upon controversies at critical periods, one of the most important events in the history of the Church. St. Peter at first applied the principles which he had lately defended, carrying with him the whole Apostolic body, and on his arrival at Antioch ate with the Gentiles, thus showing that he believed all ceremonial distinctions to be abolished by the Gospel: in that he went far beyond the strict letter of the injunctions issued by the Council. That step was marked and condemned by certain members of the Church of Jerusalem sent by James. It appeared to them one thing to recognize Gentiles as fellow Christians, another to admit them to social intercourse, whereby ceremonial defilement would be contracted under the law to which all the Apostles, Barnabas and Paul included, acknowledged allegiance. Peter, as the Apostle of the circumcision, fearing to give offence to those who were his special charge, at once gave up the point, suppressed or disguised his feelings, and separated himself not from communion, but from social intercourse with the Gentiles.

St. Paul, as the Apostle of the Gentiles, saw clearly the consequences likely to ensue, and could ill brook the misapplication of a rule often laid down in his own writings concerning compliance with the prejudices of weak brethren. He held that Peter was infringing a great principle, withstood him to the face, and using the same arguments which Peter had urged at the Council, pronounced his conduct to be indefensible. The statement that Peter compelled the Gentiles to Judaize, probably means, not that he enjoined circumcision, but that his conduct, if persevered in, would have that effect, since they would naturally take any steps which might remove the barriers to familiar intercourse with the first Apostles of Christ.

Peter was wrong, but it was an error of judgment; an act contrary to his own feelings and wishes, in deference to those whom he looked upon as representing the mind of the Church; that he was actuated by selfishness, national pride, or any remains of superstition, is neither asserted nor implied in the strong censure of St. Paul : nor, much as we must admire the earnestness and wisdom of St. Paul, whose clear and vigorous intellect was in this case stimulated by anxiety for his own special charge, the Gentile Church, should we overlook Peter’s singular humility in submitting to public reproof from one so much his junior, or his magnanimity both in adopting St. Paul’s conclusions as we must infer that he did from the absence of all trace of continued resistance, and in remaining on terms of brotherly communion (as is testified by his own written words), to the end of his life (1 Pet. v. 10 ; 2 Pet. III. 15, 16).

From this time until the date of his Epistles, we have no distinct notices in Scripture of Peter’s abode or work. The silence may be accounted for by the fact that from that time the great work of propagating the Gospel was committed to the marvelous energies of St. Paul. Peter was probably employed for the most part in building up, and completing the organization of Christian communities in Palestine and the adjoining districts. There is, however, strong reason to believe that he visited Corinth at an early period; this seems to be implied in several passages of St. Paul’s first epistle to that Church, and it is a natural inference from the statements of Clement of Rome (1 Epistle to the Corinthians, c. 4).

The fact is positively asserted by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (A.D. 180 at the latest), a man of excellent judgment, who was not likely to be misinformed, nor to make such an assertion lightly in an epistle addressed to the Bishop and Church of Rome. The reference to collision between parties who claimed Peter, Apollos, Paul, and even Christ for their chiefs, involves no opposition between the Apostles themselves, such as the fabulous Clementines and modern infidelity assume. The name of Peter as founder, or joint founder, is not associated with any local Church save those of Corinth, Antioch, or Rome, by early ecclesiastical tradition.

That of Alexandria may have been established by St. Mark after Peter’s death. That Peter preached the Gospel in the countries of Asia, mentioned in his first Epistle, appears from Origen’s own words to be a mere conjecture, not in itself improbable, but of little weight in the absence of all positive evidence, and of all personal reminiscences in the Epistle itself. From that Epistle, however, it is to be inferred that towards the end of his life, St. Peter either visited, or resided for some time at Babylon, which at that time, and for some hundreds of years afterwards was a chief seat of Jewish culture. This of course depends upon the assumption, which on the whole seems most probable, that the word Babylon is not used as a mystic designation of Rome, but as a proper name, and that not of an obscure city in Egypt, but of the ancient capital of the East. There were many inducements for such a choice of abode. The Jewish families formed there a separate community, they were rich, prosperous, and had established settlements in many districts of Asia Minor. Their language, probably a mixture of Hebrew and Nabataean, must have borne a near affinity to the Galilean dialect. They were on far more familiar terms than in other countries with their heathen neighbors, while their intercourse with Judea was carried on without intermission.

Christianity certainly made considerable progress at an early time in that and the adjoining districts, the great Christian schools at Edessa and Nisibis probably owed their origin to the influence of Peter, the general tone of thee writers of that school is what is now commonly designated as Petrine. It is no unreasonable supposition that the establishment of Christianity in those districts may have been specially connected with the residence of Peter at Babylon.

At that time there must have been some communications between the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul, thus stationed at the two extremities of the Christian world. St. Mark, who was certainly employed about that time by St. Paul, was with St. Peter when he wrote the Epistle. Silvanus, St. Paul’s chosen companion, was the bearer, probably the amanuensis of St. Peter’s Epistle : not improbably sent to Peter from Rome, and charged by him to deliver that epistle, written to support Paul’s authority, to the Churches founded by that Apostle on his return.

More important in its bearings upon later controversies is the question of St. Peter’s connection with Rome. It may be considered as a settled point that he did not visit Rome before the last year of his life. Too much stress may perhaps be laid on the fact that there is no notice of St. Peter’s labours or presence in that city in the Epistle to the Romans; but that negative evidence is not counterbalanced by any statement of undoubted antiquity. The date given by Eusebius’ rests upon a miscalculation, and is irreconcilable with the notices of St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. Protestant critics, with scarcely one exception, are unanimous upon this point, and Roman controversialists are far from being agreed in their attempts to remove the difficulty.

The fact, however, of St. Peter’s martyrdom at Rome rests upon very different grounds. The evidence for it is complete, while there is a total absence of any contrary statement in the writings of the early Fathers. We have in the first place the certainty of his martyrdom, in our Lord’s own prediction (John XXI. 18, 19). Clement of Rome, writing before the end of the first century, speaks of it, but does not mention the place, that being of course well-known to his readers. Ignatius, in the undoubtedly genuine Epistle to the Romans, speaks of St. Peter in terms which imply a special connection with their Church. Other early notices of less weight coincide with this, as that of Papias, and the apocryphal Praedicatio Petri, quoted by Cyprian. In the second century, Dionysius of Corinth, in the Epistle to Soter, bishop of Rome, states, as a fact universally known and accounting for the intimate relations between Corinth and Rome, that Peter and Paul both taught in Italy, and suffered martyrdom about the same time. Irenaeus, who was connected with St. John, being a disciple of Polycarp, a hearer of that Apostle, and thoroughly conversant with Roman matters, bears distinct witness to St. Peter’s presence at Rome. It is incredible that he should have been misinformed. In the next century there is the testimony of Caius, the liberal and learned Roman presbyter (who speaks of St. Peter’s tomb in the Vatican), that of Origen, Tertullian, and of the ante- and post- Nicene Fathers, without a single exception. In short, the Churches most nearly connected with Rome, and those least affected by its influence, which was as yet but in considerable in the East, concur in the statement that Peter was a joint founder of that Church, and suffered death in that city. What the early Fathers do not assert, and indeed implicitly deny, is that Peter was the sole Founder or resident head of that Church, or that the See of Rome derived from him any claim to supremacy : at the utmost they place him on a footing of equality with St. Paul. That fact is sufficient for all purposes of fair controversy. The denial of the statements resting on such evidence seems almost to indicate an uneasy consciousness, truly remarkable in those who believe that they have, and who in fact really have, irrefragable grounds for rejecting the pretensions of the Papacy.

The time and manner of the Apostle’s martyrdom are less certain. The early writers imply, or distinctly state, that he suffered at, or about the same time with St. Paul, and in the Neronian persecution. All agree that he was crucified, a point sufficiently determined by our Lord’s prophecy. Origen, who could easily ascertain the fact, and though fanciful in speculation, is not inaccurate in historical matters, says that at his own request he was crucified with his head downwards. This statement was generally received by Christian antiquity: nor does it seem inconsistent with the fervent temperament and deep humility of the Apostle to have chosen such a death : one, moreover, not unlikely to have been inflicted in mockery by the instruments of Nero’s wanton and ingenious cruelty.

The legend found in St. Ambrose is interesting, and may have some foundation in fact. When the persecution began, the Christians at Rome, anxious to preserve their great teacher, persuaded him to flee, a course which they had Scriptural warrant to recommend, and he to follow; but at the gate he met our Lord. “Lord, whither goest thou?” asked the Apostle, “I go to Rome”, was the answer, “there once more to be crucified”. St. Peter well understood the meaning of those words, returned at once and was crucified.

Thus closes the Apostle’s life. Some additional facts, not perhaps unimportant, may be accepted on early testimony. From St. Paul’s words it may be inferred with certainty that he did not give up the ties of family life when he forsook his temporal calling. His wife accompanied him in his wanderings. Clement of Alexandria, a writer well informed in matters of ecclesiastical interest, and thoroughly trustworthy, says that “Peter and Philip had children, and that both took about their wives, who acted as their coadjutors in ministering to women at their own homes; by their means the doctrine of the Lord penetrated without scandal into the privacy of women’s apartments”. Peter’s wife is believed, on the same authority, to have suffered martyrdom, and to have been supported in the hour of trial by her husband’s exhortation. Some critics believe that she is referred to in the salutation at the end of the first Epistle of St. Peter.

The Apostle is said to have employed interpreters. Basilides, an early Gnostic, professed to derive his system from Glaucias, one of these interpreters. This shows at least the impression, that the Apostle did not understand Greek, or did not speak it with fluency. Of far more importance is the statement that St. Mark wrote his gospel under the teaching of Peter, or that he embodied in that gospel the substance of our Apostles oral instructions. This statement rests upon such an amount of external evidence, and is corroborated by so many internal indications, that they would scarcely be questioned in the absence of a strong theological bias. The fact is doubly important in its bearings upon the Gospel, and upon the character of our Apostle. Chrysostom, who is followed by the most judicious commentators, seems first to have drawn attention to the fact, that in St. Mark’s gospel every defect in Peter’s character and conduct is brought out clearly, without the slightest extenuation, while many noble acts and peculiar marks of favor are either omitted, or stated with far less force than by any other Evangelist. Indications of St. Peter’s influence, even in St. Mark’s style, much less pure than that of St. Luke, are traced by modem criticism.

The only written documents which St. Peter has left, are the First Epistle, about which no doubt has ever been entertained in the Church; and the Second, which has both in early times, and in our own, been a subject of earnest controversy.

Death

The death of Pope Saint Peter is still discussed by historians today. Some interpret a section of the Bible to mean that Peter died in prison sometime around 44. Other historians believe that his death occurred much later and that he was crucified in the same way that Jesus was. The official stance of the Church is that he did by crucifixion just a few months after Rome was destroyed by a fire.

Pope Clement was one of the first popes to mention Peter as a martyr. His body was moved to a tomb later called the Saint Peter’s Tomb. Emperor Constantine would later build a church called Saint Peter’s Basilica near the spot where the Church had the pope buried. Pope Vitalian gave a chain to the queen of the Anglo-Saxons that he believed contained the remains of the chains used to hold Peter to the cross. During the 1950s, workers found bones buried beneath the church that many historians now believe were his final remains.

Quick Facts About Pope Peter

  • Saint Peter was in Bethsaida, which was part of Syria and the Roman Empire.
  • He was born circa 1 AD.
  • Peter died between 64 and 69.
  • Historians are divided on how Peter died. While some think that he died while in prison for following Jesus, others think that he was crucified.
  • The Church lists his papacy as beginning in 30 AD and then again in 64 AD.
  • His first papacy ended 33 AD and the second around 68 AD.
  • Pope Saint Linus served as the successor to Peter.

Interesting Facts About Pope Peter

  • In Matthew in the Bible, Peter is one of the apostles who sees Jesus walk on water. He attempts to follow in his path but only takes a few steps before sinking.
  • As a saint, Peter shares a feast day with Paul the Apostle. Their feast day is June 29 in the Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church and Eastern Orthodox Church. He is also recognized with the Confession of Saint Peter on January 18 and the Chair of Saint Peter on February 22.
  • Two of the writings attributed to Saint Peter are 1 Peter and 2 Peter. Both of these letters appear in the New Testament. Some believe that he also influenced the Gospel of Mark as John Mark who wrote it was Peter’s assistant.
  • The first artist to create a portrait of Peter did so during the 4th century and gave him an iconic look that later artists would also use. Peter is often balding and has white hair with a small beard. Saint Peter Sinking on the Water is a famous piece that depicts him holding onto Jesus as Peter sinks into the water beneath Him.
  • Saint Peter is the patron saint for many different groups, including butchers, bakers, cobblers and locksmiths. There are 11 institutions named in his honor such as St. Peter’s College and St. Peter’s School.