Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint Peter, The Prince of the Apostles

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Peter the Apostle; 19th century by F X Zettler, Munich, Germany; parish church of Saint Alban, Gutenzell-Hürbel, Biberach, Germany; photographed in January 2015 by Andreas Praefcke; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Died A.D. 65.

Saint Peter, the first Vicar of Christ on earth, was the son of Jona, a fisherman, and was originally named Simon. He was born at Bethsaida, a city of Galilee, situated on the Sea of Galilee. Some authors have fixed the date of his birth three years before that of the Most Blessed Virgin, and seventeen years before the birth of Christ. Saint Andrew, the Apostle, was his brother.

Peter removed from Bethsaida to Capharnaum, probably on account of his marriage, for his wife’s mother dwelt in the latter town. Capharnaum was equally well suited for fishing purposes, as it was built on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, near the mouth of the river Jordan. Here Peter and Andrew followed the hardy, laborious calling of fishermen.

When about forty years of age, Peter was introduced by his brother to our Divine Redeemer, who, looking upon him, said: “Thou art Simon the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted, Peter.”

For some time the future Prince of the Apostles did not make it a habit to attend our Lord on His journeys; but he always went to hear Him when He taught the multitudes. One day as Christ was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the water. “Come after Me,” said the Great Teacher, “and I will make you fishers of men.” They at once obeyed the divine call. It was on the same occasion that our Lord invited James and John to follow Him.

The attachment of Saint Peter to his Divine Master was from the first loving, faithful, and enthusiastic. When certain weak disciples deserted Him – being offended at His doctrine concerning the Holy Eucharist – He asked the twelve: “Will you also go away?” And Peter nobly answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that Thou art Christ, the Son of God.”

Out of affection he twice cast himself into the sea to meet Jesus Christ. He had not patience to wait till the boat neared the shore. On the first of these occasions, the Apostles were crossing the tempest-tossed water at night: and as our Lord approached the vessel, walking upon the waves, they were troubled.

In the words of the Holy Book, they exclaimed: “It is an apparition. And they cried out of fear. And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying; ‘Be of good heart; it is I, fear not.’

“And Peter making answer, said: ‘Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee upon the waters.’

“And He said: ‘Come.’ And Peter going down out of the boat, walked upon the water to come to Jesus.

“But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid; and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: ‘Lord, save me!’

“And immediately Jesus stretching forth His hand took hold of him, and said to him: ‘O thou of little faith! why didst thou doubt?'”

By Peter’s confidence in God we learn what we can do with the divine assistance; and by his fear we are wisely taught what we are in ourselves.

On a certain occasion, Christ asked His disciples: ” ‘Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?’

“But they said: ‘Some John the Baptist, and some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’

“Christ said to them: ‘But whom do you say that I am?’

“Simon Peter answered and said: ‘Thou art 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; and upon this rock I will build my Church, 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 also be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall also be loosed in heaven.”

Thus Peter confessed the divinity of our Lord, and, in return for that confession, he was honored with the promise of being made the foundation of the Church and the Vicar of Christ on earth, with wonderful powers and privileges.

Our Blessed Redeemer, who loved His own that were in the world, and loved them to the end, washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. He came first to Peter, who said: “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?”

“What I do,” answered Christ, “thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”

Peter said: “Thou shalt never wash my feet.”

“If I wash thee not,” replied the Divine One, “thou shalt have no part with Me.”

Peter was confounded at these words, and exclaimed: “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”

This zealous Apostle, however, was permitted to fall, doubtless in punishment of a secret presumption, and that we might learn with him more clearly to discover the weakness of our nature and to fear the dangers of human pride. “Lord, whither goest Thou?” said Peter to Christ during His last discourse.

“Whither I go, “answered the Great Master, “thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow hereafter.”

“Why cannot I follow Thee now?” said Peter, adding with energy: “I will lay down my life for Thee.”

But Christ replied: “Thou wilt lay down thy life for Me! Amen, amen I say to thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou deny Me thrice.”

Alas! this prophecy was to be fulfilled only too soon. Christ was betrayed by the wretched Judas, and led to the high- priest. Peter followed, and sat without in the court.

“There came to him,” writes the Evangelist, “a servant-maid saying: ‘Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean.’

“But he denied before them all, saying: ‘ I know not what thou sayest.’

“And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and said to them that were there: ‘ This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied with an oath, ‘That I know not the Man.’

“And after a little while they came that stood by, and said to Peter: ‘Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee.’ Then he began to curse and swear that he knew not the Man. And immediately the cock crew.

“And Peter remembered the words of Jesus which He had said: ‘Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny Me thrice.’ And going forth he wept bitterly.”

Though Saint Peter sinned, and sinned most grievously, he did not lose his faith in Christ. “He had a lie in his mouth,” says Saint Augustine, “but his heart was faithful.” Besides, his repentance was speedy, perfect, and life-long. So abundant were the bitter tears which he shed for denying his Lord that they are said to have formed two furrows in his cheeks, which remained there to the end of his days. From that hour the life which he led was so mortified that he usually ate nothing but herbs and roots.

As the chief of the Apostles fell by presumption, Saint Chrysostom tells us that he ever after lived in the light of profound humility. By his fall he learned to treat sinners with tenderness and compassion; and by the graces and dignities to which Christ exalted him after his denial, we see the boundless mercy of God, and how sin is perfectly blotted out by that wonderful beautifier of spiritual deformity – true repentance.

After the Resurrection, Christ manifested Himself to His Apostles as they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. So overjoyed was Peter at seeing his Lord on the shore that he girt his coat about him, plunged into the water, and boldly struck for the land, that he might the sooner pay his respects to the Great Master. The other Apostles followed, dragging a net full of large fishes.

On landing they saw some live coals and a fish broiling upon them, with bread lying near. The kind, adorable Redeemer had just prepared this repast for his toil-worn disciples. When it was over, He asked Peter if he loved Him more than the others did.

“Lord,” modestly answered Peter, “Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

“Feed my lambs,” said Christ.

Again our Ford asked Peter if he loved Him

“Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee,” replied Peter.

“Feed my lambs,” said Christ.

Even the third time He asked Peter if he loved Him

But Peter was grieved on hearing himself asked the question a third time. He was troubled, fearing lest our Divine Saviour had seen some secret defect in his love. “Do you not see,” writes Saint Chrysostom, “that the better he is grown, the more modest and timorous he has become?”

Peter, however, from the depth of his glowing heart answered: “Lord, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

“Feed my sheep,” said Christ.

Thus did Jesus Christ confide to Saint Peter the care of the whole flock, both lambs and sheep. He placed him over His Church. He made him His representative on earth, giving him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the spiritual charge of all mankind. This, in brief, was how the first Pope received that wonderful power and supreme jurisdiction which to this day are exercised by his successors in the Eternal City.

After the Ascension of our Lord, Peter first exercised his authority by calling together a council in Jerusalem, at which both the Apostles and disciples were present. The object was to fill the place of the wretched Judas Iscariot in the Apostolic College. Matthias was chosen. Peter presided over that venerable assemblage, and reminded it that the crime of Judas had been foretold by David.

When the Holy Ghost shed His wondrous graces on the disciples, Peter’s application of the Scriptures was again most happy.

“And when the days of Pentecost were accomplished,” says the Sacred Book, they were together in one place.

“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

“And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, 8 and it sat upon every one of them.

“And they all were filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.”

The Apostles were so transported by the fervor of zeal that their eloquent language astonished the people of Jerusalem, and even the strangers who listened to their bright and burning words. But some of the Jews jeeringly said: “These men are full of new wine.” Then Peter arose, and with such supernatural power did he preach Jesus Christ triumphant over death that three thousand persons were converted and asked to be baptized. This discourse of the Prince of the Apostles was at once wise and noble.

Nor did he confine himself to words. He brought the sanction of miracles to confirm the divinity of his mission. One day Saint Peter and Saint John were going to the Temple in the afternoon. “And a certain man,” writes Saint Luke, “who was lame from his mother’s womb, was carried – whom they laid every day at the gate of the Temple which is called Beautiful, that he might ask alms of them that went into the Temple.

“He, when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the Temple, asked to receive an alms.

“But Peter, with John, fastening his eyes upon him, said: ‘Look upon us.’

“But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them.

“But Peter said: ‘Silver and gold I have none; but what I have I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.’

“And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and went with them into the Temple – walking, and leaping, and praising God.”

The first Christians learned from the lofty example of their teachers so perfect a spirit of disinterestedness, contempt of earthly riches, and desire after the things of heaven that they lived in common. The wealthy sold their estates, and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles. This was then distributed according to the wants of all. But even the example of the saints and the force of miracles cannot always destroy the grovelling spirit of avarice.

“A certain man,” relates the Holy Book, “named Ananias, with Saphire his wife, sold a piece of land, and by fraud kept back part of the price of the land, his wife being privy thereunto; and bringing a certain part of it, laid it at the feet of the Apostles.

“But Peter said: ‘Ananias, why hath Satan tempted thy heart, that thou shouldst lie to the Holy Ghost, and by fraud keep part of the price of the land?

“‘Whilst it remained did it not remain to thee? And after it was sold, was it not in thy power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thy heart? Thou hast not lied to men, but to God.’

“And Ananias hearing these words, fell down, and gave up the ghost. And there came a great fear upon all that heard it.

“And the young men rising up, removed him, and carrying him out, buried him.

“And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in.

“And Peter said to her: ‘Tell me, woman, whether you sold the land for so much.’ And she said: ‘Yea, for so much.’

“And Peter said unto her: ‘Why have you agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold the feet of them who have buried thy husband are at the door, and they shall carry thee out.’

“Immediately she fell down before his feet, and gave up the ghost. And the young men coming in, found her dead, and carried her out, and buried her by her husband.

“And great fear came upon the whole Church, and upon all that heard these things.”

So great was the fame and sanctity of the Prince of the Apostles that the people laid their sick friends on beds and couches in the streets, “that when Peter came his shadow might at least pass over any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities.”

Persecution now came. The Apostles were scourged, but the faith triumphed. The holy spirit of Christianity, like a mighty fire, forced its way on all sides. Saint Stephen was crowned with martyrdom. Saint Paul was converted, and after his conversion the persecution ceased at Jerusalem.

Saint Peter remained in Judea five years after the Ascension of our Lord. But when the storm of persecution had blown over, he took his way through the surrounding country to visit the faithful, as a general makes his round to see if all things are everywhere in good order. Miracles marked his footsteps. He held his first dispute with Simon the Magician in Samaria.

Thence he proceeded to Caesarea to baptize Cornelius the centurion, who commanded the garrison in that city. Cornelius was the first Gentile who received baptism. He afterwards became Bishop of Caesarea.

From Palestine, Peter passed to Antioch, the capital of Syria. This was then the most famous city of the East. It was considered the third city of the Roman Empire, coming immediately after Rome and Alexandria. He founded the Church of Antioch, and fixed his see there for seven years – that is, from the year 33 to 40.

“This” writes Saint John Chrysostom, “is one of the privileges of this our city (Antioch), that it had at first as teacher the chief of the Apostles. For it was befitting that that city which, before the rest of the world, was crowned with the Christian’s name, should receive as shepherd the first of the Apostles; but after having had him as our teacher, we did not retain him, but gave him to regal Rome.”

In the partition of nations among the Apostles, Saint Peter chose Rome for the scene of his labors. This great city was then the headquarters of idolatry and superstition. God, who, it seems, had raised up the Roman Empire that the Gospel might be more easily spread in many countries, was pleased to fix the fortress of the faith in its very capital. Thus the light of truth was the more readily diffused from the head to the most distant parts of the known world, which then acknowledged the imperial sway of the Caesars. The spiritual dominion of Peter, however, was destined to extend far beyond the bounds of this vast empire.

The Prince of the Apostles arrived at Rome in the year 40. “Under the reign of Claudius,” writes the ancient historian Eusebius, “by the benign and gracious providence of God, Peter, that great and powerful Apostle, who by his courage took the lead of all the rest, was conducted to Rome. He was a noble general appointed by God and armed with heavenly weapons. He brought the precious merchandise of intellectual light from the East to the dwellers in the West, announcing the light itself and the salutary doctrine of the soul – the proclamation of the kingdom of God.”

The holy Pontiff first lived near the site of the church of Saint Cecilia. In a short time, however, Pudens, a Roman senator, having heard the preaching of Peter, declared himself converted, and the Apostle was conducted to a beautiful palace which Pudens possessed on Mount Viminal.

Saint Peter soon returned for a time to the East. While visiting the afflicted Church of Jerusalem, he was arrested, in the year 44, by order of Herod Agrippa; but Christ did not permit his Vicar to remain long in the clutches of the tyrant. He was miraculously delivered by an angel, who led him from the prison.

Again we find Saint Peter in Rome, but only for a short time, as he was banished by order of the Emperor Claudius. In the year 51 he was present at the first General Council held by the Apostles in the city of Jerusalem. On this occasion he made a discourse in which he showed that the obligation of the Jewish ceremonies was not to be laid on the Gentile converts. It immediately became a decree of the council.

One of the last events in the life of this illustrious Apostle was his glorious conflict, at Rome, with that prince of impostors, Simon the Magician. So highly was Simon honored in the imperial city that even during his life a statue was erected to him on an isle of the Tiber, bearing the blasphemous inscription, Simoni Deo Sancto – “To the Holy God, Simon.”

Simon and the brutal tyrant Nero became fast friends. The magician even boasted that he would fly in the air, carried by his “angels,” in imitation of the Ascension of our Blessed Redeemer. He was to perform this daring feat for the amusement of the emperor and the corrupt Roman populace. The day came. “He went to the Capitoline Hill,” says Saint Ambrose, “and, throwing himself from the rock, began his ascent. Then Peter, standing in the midst, said: ‘O Lord Jesus, show him that his arts are vain!’ Hardly were these words pronounced when the wings which Simon had made use of became entangled, and he fell.” And great was the fall thereof. He was dashed to the ground with a bruised body and fractured thigh; and, in a few days after, the mighty magician died in rage and confusion.

The progress of the faith and the miracles of the Apostles soon drew down the crime-stained hand of Nero on the Church; and Christians were persecuted, hunted down, and put to death like wild beasts of the wilderness. The faithful entreated Saint Peter to conceal himself from the pursuit of the imperial monster. It was with some unwillingness that the venerable Apostle yielded to their earnest desire and made his escape by night. As he was passing out of the gate of the city, he met Christ in a vision. “Lord, where are you going?” asked Peter. “I am going to Rome,” answered Christ, “to be crucified again.”

To the loving soul the Prince of the Apostles this vision was most suggestive. It seemed to be a pointed reproof for turning his back upon death and suffering. He retraced his steps, was soon arrested, and, with Saint Paul, was cast into the Mamertine Prison. After eight months’ imprisonment they were led to execution on the same day. Saint Peter was scourged, and, at his own desire, crucified with his head downward, humbly deeming himself unworthy to suffer in the same position as his Divine Master. And thus died at Rome, on the 29th of June in the year 65, the wonderful fisherman of Galilee, whom Jesus graciously took from his nets, made a fisher of men, placed him over his whole Church, gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and who will be known for time and eternity as the first Pope and Vicar of Christ on earth.

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Peter, The Prince of the Apostles”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 September 2018. Web. 18 November 2018. <>