Reader's Encyclopedia

Peter, St.

One of the twelve disciples of Jesus, noted for his impulsive nature. More incidents are related to Peter in the Gospels than to any other disciple. He was first called Simon but, when introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, Jesus called him Cephas (Aram, "stone"), which was translated into the Greek Petros (Gr petra, "rock"). His position as first bishop of Rome led to the Roman Catholic belief that all popes are his successors. Jesus addressed to him the words on which papal authority is based: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it; I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:18 - 19). From the passage also derived the popular conception of St. Peter as keeper of the gates of heaven, to whom saints and sinners present themselves for admittance.

Peter was one of the leading disciples and often served as their spokesman. With James and John he witnessed the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1 - 13) and Jesus' despair in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36 - 45). After the Last Supper, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed. When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied his association with him three times and "he went out and wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:69 - 75).

After the Crucifixion, Peter became widely known for his miracles and his missionary activities, in Acts of the Apostles. He is the patron saint of fishermen, having been a fisherman himself, and is usually represented as a bald old man with a flowing beard, dressed in a white mantle and blue tunic and holding a book or scroll. His symbols are the keys and a sword. Tradition tells that he confuted Simon Magus, a magician at Nero's court, and that he was crucified (c ad 67) with his head downward at his own request, as he said he was not worthy to suffer the same death as Jesus.