Simon Peter was an early Christian leader who is featured prominently in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and who is venerated as a saint. The son of John or of Jonah, he was from the village of Bethsaida in the province of Galilee. His brother Andrew was also an apostle
Peter’s life story relies on the four Canonical Gospels, The Book of Acts, New Testament Letters, Non-Canonical Gospels such as the Gospel According to the Hebrews and other Early Church accounts of his life and death. In the New Testament, he is among the first of the disciples called during Jesus’ ministry. It was during his first meeting with Jesus that Jesus named him Peter. Peter was to become the first Apostle ordained by Jesus in the early church.
Peter ran a fishing business in Bethsaida. He was named Simon, son of Jonah or John. The synoptic gospels all recount how Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus at their home in Capernaum which, clearly depict Peter as married or a widower.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Peter (then Simon) was a fisherman along with his brother Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. The Gospel of John also depicts Peter fishing, even after the resurrection of Jesus, in the story of the Catch of 153 fish.
In Matthew and Mark, Jesus called Simon and his brother Andrew to be “fishers of men.
In a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, Jesus asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples give various answers. When he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In turn, Jesus declares Peter to be “blessed” for having recognized Jesus’ true identity and attributes this recognition to a divine revelation. Then Jesus addresses Simon by what seems to have been the nickname “Peter” (Cephas in Aramaic, Petros (rock) in Greek) and says, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it
Peter is always mentioned first in the lists of the Twelve Apostles given in the canonical gospels and
in the Book of Acts. He is also frequently mentioned in the Gospels as forming with James the Elder and John a special group within the Twelve Apostles, present at incidents at which the others were not present, such as at the Transfiguration of Jesus. He often confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
Peter is often depicted in the Gospels as spokesman of all the Apostles. Catholics refer to him as chief of the Apostles, as do the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. In Coptic Orthodox Church Liturgy, he is once referred to as “Prominent” or “head” among the Apostles.
On the other hand, interpretation of Peter suggests that He was an unlikely symbol of stability. While he was one of the first disciples called and served as the spokesman for the group, Peter is also the exemplar of “little faith”, will soon have Jesus say to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” and will eventually deny Jesus three times. In light of the Easter event, then, Peter became an exemplar of the forgiven sinner. A great variance of opinions exists as to the interpretation of this passage with respect to what authority and responsibility, if any, Jesus was giving to Peter.
The Acts of the Apostles portrays Peter as an extremely important figure within the early Christian community, with Peter delivering a significant open-air sermon during Pentecost. According to the same book, Peter took the lead in selecting a replacement for Judas Iscariot. He was twice arraigned, with John, before the Sanhedrin and directly defied them. He undertook a missionary journey to Lydda, Joppa and Caesarea becoming instrumental in the decision to evangelize the Gentiles.
Peter is venerated in multiple churches and is regarded as the first Pope by the Catholic Church. After working to establish the church of Antioch, presiding for seven years as the city’s bishop, he preached to scattered communities of believers (Jews, Hebrew Christians and the gentiles), in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor and Bithynia. He then went to Rome, where in the second year of Claudius, it is claimed, he overthrew Simon Magus and held the Sacerdotal Chair for 25 years. Peter wrote two Catholic epistles. The Gospel of Mark is also ascribed to him (as Mark was his disciple and interpreter). On the other hand, several books bearing his name—the Acts of Peter, Gospel of Peter, Preaching of Peter, Revelation of Peter, and Judgment of Peter—are rejected by the Catholic Church as Apocryphal.
Peter is said to have been crucified under Emperor Nero, the cross being upside down at his own request since he saw himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus Christ. Catholic tradition holds that Saint Peter’s mortal bones and remains are contained in the underground Altar of the St. Peter’s Basilica, a site where Pope Paul VI announced the excavation discovery of a First-century A.D. Roman cemetery in 1968. Since 1969, a life-size statue of Saint Peter is crowned every year in St. Peter’s Basilica with a Papal Tiara, Ring of the Fisherman, and papal vestments every June 29th, commemorating the Holy Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
According to Catholic belief, Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and chief pastor of the whole Catholic Church—the Vicar of Christ upon Earth. Although Peter never bore the title of “Pope”, or “Vicar of Christ”, the Catholic Church believes him to be the first Pope. Therefore, they consider every pope to be Peter’s successor and the rightful superior of all other bishops.
The Catholic Church’s recognition of Peter as head of its church on Earth (with Christ being its heavenly head) is based on its interpretation of two passages from the Canonical Gospels of the New Testament; as well as Sacred Tradition. The first passage is John 21:15-17 which is: “Feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my sheep” (within the Greek it is to feed and rule as a Shepherd) which is seen by Catholics as Christ promising the spiritual supremacy to Peter. The Catholic Encyclopedia sees in this passage Jesus “charging Peter with the superintendence of all his sheep, without exception; and consequently of his whole flock, that is, of his own church”. The second passage is Matthew 16:17-20: “I say that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”.
In reference to Peter’s occupation before becoming an Apostle, the popes wear the Fisherman’s Ring, which bears an image of the saint casting his nets from a fishing boat. The keys used as a symbol of the pope’s authority refer to the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven” promised to Peter. Peter is often depicted in both Western and Eastern Christian art holding a key or a set of keys.