Phenomenology of World Religions ©
The Apostle Saint Peter
What little is known about Simon Peter, known as Peter in the Gospels, as Jesus referred to him and chose to be one of his twelve disciples, is that he was a fisherman by trade and lived in house shared with his brother, Andrew, who also became a disciple of Jesus and later beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.
It was Andrew who discovered Jesus and who returned one day to Peter who was fishing along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and told Simon Peter that he had found the Messiah, as foretold by the prophets of the Hebrew/Greek scriptures of the Old Testament. Upon hearing this, Simon Peter dropped his fishing net and went to see for himself.
Nothing has been recorded, or at least survived in history, any reference to Simon Peter's life before that time. Much of what we do know was recorded in the Gospels of the New Testament scriptures of the canonical Holy Bible.
...And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thous shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
It has been proposed by scholars and theologians that Jesus meant that he would be the foundation of a new Jewish religious sect that would come to be called Christianity. However, passages in New Testament scriptures reveal that Peter and Paul clearly states that Jesus was the founder. (1 Peter 2:4-9) and 1 Corinthians 3:11).
In the 20th century, archaeologists discovered and restored the ancient Roman town of Capernaum. It has been the most visited spot in modern tourism, but few realized that it was the site of the apostle Peter's home, as well as the site of visitation by other apostles and Jesus himself. Ancient church history provided clues that led to the discovery of Peter's home.
The area had become an established Christian community that previously was dominated by orthodox Jews, until about 350, when Count Joseph converted to Christianity, he was awarded the governorship of Tiberius by Emperor Constantine, just before his death in 337. An imperial decree was declared to build a church on the site of Saint Peter's home in an area called Kfar Nacum. [Virgilo Corbo; New Memoirs of Saint Peter by the Sea of Galilee; Jerusalem, 1969; pp. 21-22].
The octagonal basilica was erected as a place of worship, not for any ordinary needs of a Christian community, but as a memorial. It was built over the ruins of a house which, from very ancient times, revealed proof of veneration on the part of the local Christians of Capernaum. All this had been long attested by tradition and was proven true by archaeological excavation.
The archaeological dig revealed that beneath the octagonal basilica there was a complete group of small buildings buried there of great antiquity. The architect of the basilica took care to preserve the site underneath that was directly beneath the central octagon room of the basilica, which was held in great reverence and even followed the older site's dimensions. While removing the upper parts of the ancient buildings, the architect too care to preserve the former home of Peter (and Andrew, his brother), as he had earth filled in around them.
One discovery on this site was most interesting and surprising.
In order to preserve the doorstep-doorway of Peter's home, a small bridge was built over it. The architect was unknown, but through his reverence of the historical importance of the revered site of Peter's home, archaeologists who unearthed it were thankful.
The basilica was designed and built as an octagon and its floors were built one metre and one half above the ancient buildings, leaving space as to not disturb the original site.
[Virgilo Corbo, New Memoirs of Saint Peter by the Sea of Galilee; Jerusalem, 1969; pp. 21-22].
Some interesting and vital information had been discovered:
The archaeological excavation beneath the pavements of the Byzantine Church has not only brought to light a network of habitations of the first century of our era, but has demonstrated with the same evidence also the evolution of a cultic character which made itself known in these habitations around the largest room of the complex. The sacred character of this hall is known from ancient Christian tradition, which has reached us though the testimony of Pilgrims; today we know this independently of the testimonies, also from the testimonies of the archaeological excavations …Peter the Deacon reports an ancient text ascribed to Egeria. “In Capernaum, however, a church has been made out of the house of the prince of the Apostles' its walls standing until until today as they were. There the Lord cured the paralytic.” [Virgilo Corbo, The House of Saint Peter at Capharnaum; Jerusalem Franciscan Press, 1969; pp. 53-54].
Father Corbo also describes the rooms of Peter's home:
The principal and largest room of a very poor habitation was venerated by the Jewish Christians of the first generation and in the following centuries by adapting some dependencies into a place of reunion and of prayer in order to preserve in this place the sacred character which it derived both from the person of the proprietor Peter and also from the consecration given to it by the long stay of the Lord. So whilst around this hall the cult of the primitive Jewish Christians of the community of Carpharnaum was centered, and the other surrounding rooms continued to throb with the ordinary life of men. Among the objects found on the floor of the house-church I mention two fishhooks and behind the east wall of the central octagon a small axe for cutting stones. [Virgilio Corbo, The House of Saint Peter at Capharnaum; Jerusalem, 1969; pp. 70-71].
Peter officiated at the first apostolic council where he defended the inclusion of Gentiles to the Christian religious sect; in compliance of Jesus' instruction that they be fishers of men. The demand that Jewish Christians in Jerusalem demanded to be separated from the Gentile Christians was blamed upon Peter by the apostle Paul, a convert who never met Jesus. Peter became angered and Paul backed down from making any further public condemnations. This and other passages clearly show there was animosity between Peter and Paul; possibly because Peter had not only been a disciple, but was apparently Jesus' favorite disciple.
About this time flourished Polycarp in Asia, an intimate disciple of the Apostle, who received the episcopate of the church of Smyrna (modern-day Izmir), at the hands of the eye witnesses and servants of the Lord. At this time, also, Papias was well known as bishop of the church at Hierapolis, a man well skilled in all manner of learning, and well acquainted with the Scriptures. Ignatius, also, who is celebrated by many even to this day, as the successor of Peter at Antioch, was the second that obtained the episcopal office there. [Eusebius; Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History; Baker House, 1962; p. 120].
The text of Eusebius and the agreement of historians have concluded that Antioch was the headquarters of Peter.
Hugo Hoever, Catholic scholar wrote:
Church historians affirm positively that Saint Peter founded the See of Antioch before he went to Rome. Antioch was the then capital of the East. St. Gregory the Great states that the Prince of the Apostles was bishop of that city for seven years. [Hugo Hoever, Lives of the Saints; NY, 1967; p.82]
In an article by V.K. George entitled The Holy See of Seleucia – Ctesiphon, traditions of the eastern church is recorded:
Meanwhile, the Apostles set out to preach the Gospel. The first missionary field of the Apostles were the Jews. They were their own racial kinsmen. They were the people who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Hence the work among them was very easy. The Apostles had only to add a few articles to their existing faith that the Messiah had come; that he had died for their sins and risen for their salvation; that he had ascended into heaven and had sent his Holy Spirit to his disciples; and that he was to be worshipped as God.
In that passage one can see that Jesus, born of Mary, had become deified at an early stage within the Christian Church. This would lead later into a great argument within the Christian sect, with the Church ultimately declaring that Jesus was to be worshipped as God – not as any replacement, but as God's equal, and as the biological Son of God as the Immaculate Conception dictated.
The Apostles missionary activity took them far across the known ancient world with St. Peter leading and as inspirational leadership.
St. Thaddeus (Mar Addai) went to Edessa to evangelize King Abgar of Edessa. St. Peter preached the Gospel in Babylon, as cited in 1 Peter 5:13:
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
St. Thomas worked among the Jews of Mesopotamia and later to the Jewish colonies on the coast of India, and into Granganore by the year 52.
St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus were also founders of the Church in the Far East.
Cities in the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire became important places of conversion: Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Alexandria, Rome, in the Roman Empire; and Edessa, Arbil (Erbil), Selucia-Ctesophon, and other cities of the Persian Empire.
Moreover, Eusebius asserts that the church of Antioch was founded by St. Peter, who became its first bishop even before his translation to the See of Rome. According to tradition, he presided for seven years over the newly established Antiochene Church, from 33 to 40 AD, where he nominated St. Evodius as his vicar before departure to the West. While the circle of preaching the Gospel was widened toward the East in Edessa, Nisibis, and distant Malhar by the Apostle Thomas and Mar Addai (St. Thaddeus), the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 could only have increased the number of Christian Jewish emigrants to Antioch. [Aziz S. Atiya, A History of Eastern Christianity; London, 1968; p. 172]
Some historians and theologians disagree with Eusebius that St. Peter was in Rome as early as 44 AD; and believe he was in Babylon, as the Eastern churches have established. In the first book of Peter, it is clear that Peter came from Babylon to Rome. He could not have been in Rome before the Epistle of Romans was written, looking at it logically and chronologically. St. Peter also stopped in Corinth after Paul had been there, as recorded in 1 Corinthians.
It is assumed and apparent that St. Peter took his wife with him as he journeyed, as is recorded in 1 Corinthians 9:5.
St. Peter had been in prison two times while in Jerusalem; and from there he went to many parts of the ancient world. In Peter's epistle notes he mentions Babylon, a large center of Jewish colonists and a place that St. Peter ministered. The Eastern churches trace their lineage to Babylon, St. Peter being their patriarch to this day.
In Acts 12:17, it is written that Peter went to another place, but the name of the place is unknown.
According to Galatians 2:9, the apostles in Jerusalem, including St. Paul, continued preaching to the Gentiles, while missionaries from Jerusalem, which included St. Peter, went preached to Jews.
It has become a theological controversy whether or not St. Peter had visited Britain, the western territory of the Roman Empire.
George F. Jowett, a researched of early Christianity, takes from tradition and speculation and wrote in his book, The Drama of the Lost Disciples:
Peter fled to Britain. This is affirmed by Cornelius in Lapide in his work “Argumentum Epistolae St. Paulis and Romana” in which he answers the question as to why St. Paul does not salute St. Peter in his “Epistle to the Romans”. He replies: “Peter, banished with the rest of the Jews from Rome, by the edict of Claudius, was absent in Britain”. …There is plenty of evidence to show that Peter visited Britain and Gaul several times during his lifetime; his last visit to Britain taking place shortly before his final arrest and crucifixion in Nero's circus at Rome.In Gaul, Peter becomes the Patron Saint of Chartres, by reason of his preference to preaching in the famous Druidic Rock Temple known as 'The Grotto des Druides', this is considered to be the oldest Druidic site in Gaul, on which is built the oldest cathedral in France.Dean Stanley wrote of the vision that foresaw the doom of St. Peter:Knowing that shortly I must put off this tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hast shewed me. (2 Peter 1:14), appeared to St, Peter on his last visit to Britain, on the very spot where once stood the old British Church of Lambedr; where stands the present Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster.
PETER IN ROME
The traditional legend that Peter founded the Church of Rome has not been verified, as of this writing.
Like the biography of Jesus, Peter's biography has periodic gaps.
Jean Danielou wrote:
Was Paul's the only mission to the West? The Acts of the Apostles tells us that in 43, after the death of James, Peter left Jerusalem “for another place” (Acts 12:17). He is lost from sight until 49 when we find him at the Council of Jerusalem. No canonical text has anything to say about his missionary activity during this time. But Eusebius writes that he went to Rome about 44, at the beginning of Claudius's reign (HE II, 14:61). It seems certain that Rome was evangelized during the period from 43 to 49.Suetonius says that Claudius expelled the Jews in 50, because they were growling agitated “at the prompting of Chrestos”. This shows that discussions between Jews and Judaeo-Christians were taking place, leading to conflicts which came to the ear of the emperor. In fact at Corinth in 51, Paul met some converted Jews driven from Rome by Claudius: Aquila and Priscilla. In 57 Paul addressed the community of Rome, already considered important. In 60 he found communities established in Puteoli and in Rome. [Danielou and Marrou; The Christian Centuries; p. 28]
Christian tradition has established that Peter died in Rome. Excavations under the Church of St. Peter in Rome at the end of the second World War has brought evidence to match traditions. It was archaeological digs that provided physical evidence and the Pope announced that the grave of Peter had been found. It is believed that Revelation 11:3-13 contains a cryptic account of the martyrdom of Paul and Peter in Rome. [Dr. Wm. S. McBirnie; The Search for the Twelve Apostles; p. 35]
Tradition dictates that Nero had Peter crucified head-downward on the Vatican Hill. McBirnie, who often uses his own translated words instead of accepted original language like in the King James version text, stated that John 21:18 is a prophecy made by Jesus as to the prediction of Peter's crucifixion.
Jowett; The Drama of the Lost Disciples; p. 176:
Maliciously condemned, Pete was cast into the horrible, fetid prison of the Mamertine. There, for nine months, in absolute darkness, he endured monstrous torture manacled to a post. …Historians write of it being the most fearsome on the brutal agenda of mankind. Over 3,000 years old, it is probably the oldest torture chamber extant, the oldest remaining monument of bestiality of ancient Rome, a bleak testimony to its barbaric inhumanity … In classical history it is referred to as Gernonium or the 'Tullian Keep'. In later secular history it is referred to as the Mamertine. … The Mamertine is described as a deep cell cut out of solid rock at the foot of the capitol, consisting of two chambers – one over the other. … In this vile subterranean rock the famed 'Jugurtha' was starved and went stark raving mad. Vercingetorix, the valorous Druidic Gaulish chieftain, was murdered by the order of Julius Caesar. It is said that the number of Christians that perished within this diabolic cell is beyond computation … One can re-read the denouncing words of the noble Queen Boadica … She branded them for they were. These people of the Roman purple, who scorned all their enemies as barbarian, were the greatest and most cruel barbarians of all time.
How Peter managed to survive those nine months is beyond imagination. … History tells us the amazing fact that in spite of all the suffering Peter was subjected to, he converted his gaolers – Processus, Martianus, and forty-seven others. … He refused to die in the same position as our Lord, declaring he was unworthy. Peter demanded to be crucified in the reverse position, with his head hanging downward. Ironically, this wish was gratified by the taunting Romans in Nero's circus in AD 67.
This description of St. Peter's death is found in other accounts, most of them placing the location at Vatican Mount near the Tybur (Tiber) River. His body was embalmed by Marcellinas, the Presbyter in the Jewish custom, then buried in the Vatican near the Triumphant Way. Over his body a small church was erected, later destroyed by Heliogalachis. [Dorman Newmann; The Lives and Deaths of the Holy Apostles; London, 1685; p. 20-21]
Dorman Newmann described Peter's appearance:
His body was slender of a middle size inclining to tallness. His complexion pale and almost white. His beard curled and thick, but short. His eyes black but flecked with red due to frequent weeping. Eye brows thin or none at all.
Edgar J. Godspeed wrote in The Twelve, p. 157:
They say that when the blessed Peter saw his wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name and saying, 'O thou, remember the Lord!'