April 17, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Early Church: What we know about St. Peter

John F. Fink(Second in a series of columns)

About 14 years after Jesus ascended into heaven, in the year 44 A.D., King Herod Agrippa had the Apostle James, the brother of John, beheaded. Then he had Peter arrested, apparently planning to have him executed, too.

Chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles tells of Peter’s miraculous release from prison by an angel. He went to the home of Mark’s mother, where people were praying for him, and knocked on the gateway door. I love the story of what happened next because it shows that Luke, the author of Acts, wasn’t afraid to include some humor in his account.

The maid Rhoda answered the knock at the door. When she saw Peter, instead of letting him in, she rushed to tell the people that Peter was there, leaving Peter to continue knocking. When they finally opened the door, he quickly explained what had happened and told them to report it to James, the cousin of Jesus. Then Peter “left and went to another place” (Acts 12:17), leaving James in charge of the community in Jerusalem.

Although it’s disputed, scholars believe that this James was the son of Alpheus, the Apostle usually called James the Less by tradition. It’s believed that his mother was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I’ll write more about him next week.

Where did Peter go when he went to “another place?” We don’t know. After the episode mentioned above, Acts concentrates on Paul’s missions rather than Peter’s. We know that he was in Antioch while Paul was there because Paul upbraided him for eating only with Jewish converts and not with Gentiles, too, as he had been doing before the Jewish converts arrived (see Gal 2:11-14).

However, Peter was back in Jerusalem by the year 50, when the Council of Jerusalem agreed that Gentile converts did not have to practice all of the Law of Moses. He spoke on behalf of the Gentiles, saying, “We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they” (Acts 15:11). This is the last mention of Peter in Acts.

From other sources, we learn that Peter then embarked on an extensive preaching tour of Asia Minor, apparently accompanied by his wife, whose name might, or might not, have been Perpetua. Paul mentions Peter’s wife in his First Letter to the Corinthians when he was defending himself, saying that he should have the same rights as other Apostles: “Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the Apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5).

Peter ended up in Rome, but we don’t know when he arrived there. Tradition holds that he was imprisoned for nine months in the Mamertine Prison before he was crucified upside down in 64 or 67. However, the Catholic Encyclopedia says that there is no reliable evidence that he was imprisoned there. Of course, there is reliable evidence that he was buried where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands. †

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