Bible Study: New Testament
The Life of St. Peter
The Prince of the ApostlesI. Some Extra-Biblical Details of His Life.
II. Writings Falsely Attributed to St. Peter.
I. Some Extra-Biblical Details Of His Life.
Without attempting a detailed life of St. Peter, it may be well to set down here some of the principal events outside the Gospel history. St. jerome has given us a summary which is really a masterpiece within a small compass:
"Simon Peter, son of John, of the Province of Galilee and the town of Bethsaida, brother of Andrew and Prince of the Apostles, after occupying the See of Antioch and preaching to the dispersed Jews of the circumcision who were dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1), came to Rome in the second year of Claudius in order to combat Simon Magus; for twenty years he held the priestly chair there, that is, until the last, or fourteenth year of Nero, from whom he won the crown of martyrdom, being fastened to a cross with his head downwards and his feet upwards, for he declared himself unworthy to be crucified as was his Lord.
He wrote two Epistles, which are known as Catholic Epistles, though many deny that the second of these is his, since its style is so diiferent from that of the former Epistle. But the Gospel according to Mark, who heard him and served as his interpreter, is called Peter's. The other works which are styled Peter's, e.g. the Acts, the Gospel, the Preaching, the Apocalypse, and the Judgment, must be accounted apocryphal.
"Peter was buried at Rome on the Vatican, hard by the Via Triumphalis; he is honored and venerated by the whole world."
Nearly every point in this statement has been controverted at one time or another. But of late years scholars have come to see that it is idle to dispute the main facts in St. Peter’s life, and least of all those connected with his sojourn in Rome.
"That St. Peter visited Rome between the years A.D. 62 and A.D. 65 and that he was put to death there by crucifixion is admitted by everyone who studies the evidence in a. fair and reasonable spirit. This is not a tradition; it may rather be described as a fact vouched for by contemporary, or nearly contemporary, evidence. On this point no statement could be stronger than that of Professor Lanciani: 'I write about the monuments of Rome from a strictly archaeological point of view, avoiding questions which pertain, or are supposed to pertain, to religious controversy. For the archaeologist, the presence and execution of SS. Peter and Paul in Rome are facts established beyond a shadow of doubt by purely monumental evidence.'"
The weakness of the arguments against St. Peter's lengthy sojourn in Rome could hardly be better displayed than in the efforts made by McGiffert, the learned and scholarly editor of Eusebius' Church History, to demolish the tradition. When St. Jerome affirms that St. Peter was Bishop of Rome for twenty-five years he is either right or guilty of an incredible blunder, or we are wrong in supposing that the twenty-five years necessarily mean continuous presence in the city.
His sojourn at Rome, however, and his crucifixion there are well-attested facts, and that is really all that is required. It is gratifying, too, to note that scholars nowadays accept the identification of "Babylon" in 1 Peter 5:13 with Rome; the fact that the Sybilline Oracles, book v., dating from the latter part of the first century, say of Nero, "The prince shall flee from Babylon, trembling and shameless," should be sufficient proof of the then common usage.
Tertullian furnishes us with several traditions on St. Peter's stay in Rome; he tells us that he baptized in the Tiber, that Peter and Paul were together in Rome, and that Peter was crucified there. Eusebius speaks of portraits of Christ with the two Apostles, and St. Augustine reiterates the statement and says that they are at Rome. St. Augustine also repeatedly insists that the two Apostles were martyred on the same day, that their tombs are in Rome, and that their twin feast is kept there.
II. Writings Falsely Attributed To St. Peter.It can be no matter for surprise that more apocryphal literature has attached itself to the name of St. Peter than to any other Apostle. Thus Eusebius  says: "The so-called Acts of Peter and the Gospel which bears his name, as also the Preaching and the Apocalypse, we know have not been accepted universally, because no ecclesiastical Writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from p298 them." Taking these works in order we have, besides Eusebius' reference, MSS. of various dates giving us what are termed "Gnostic" Acts of Peter, and also Catholic Acts; the former were edited by Lipsius in 1891, the latter by Tischendorf. Both contain many extraordinary details, and both give the story of "Quo vadis?" while the latter narrates how Peter asked to be crucified head downwards, as Eusebius also tells us, as also does Origen. Photius  speaks of these "Acts" as "valuable"; that they were in favor with the Manicheans we learn from St. Augustine.
The Gospel of Peter.—Origen  tells us that certain folk held that the "brethren of the Lord" were sons of St. Joseph by a former wife; they derived this view, he adds, from "the Gospel which is styled 'according to Peter,' or from the book of James," viz. the Protevangelion. Eusebius further gives us an interesting account of how Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, wrote a treatise on "the so-called Gospel of Peter," which he declared to be spurious and full of the Docetic heresy, the views of those who held that Christ only "seemed" to suffer. This Gospel was discovered at Akhmim in Egypt and published in 1892; the text thus discovered fully confirmed Serapion's denunciation of it. Mr. Turner would assign the composition of this Gospel to an early date in the second century.
The Preaching of Peter.—In his commentary on St. John's Gospel Origen remarks that Heracleon, whose commentaries he had made such use of, had quoted from a book entitled The Preaching of Peter. Origen adds that this book taught very much what St. Peter would have taught, but he adds words that are instructive as showing whence Eusebius presumably drew his terminology when setting out his principles on the canon of the Bible: "We will not here discuss whether this is a genuine, a spurious, or a mixed book" In the Prologue to his treatise, De Principiis, Origen says: "Someone may quote against us the words found in the book known as The Doctrine of Peter, 'I am not an incorporeal daemon,' words said to have been spoken by our Saviour to His disciples"; but Origen is content to remark that this work "is neither by Peter nor by anyone inspired by the Spirit of God." It is of interest, however, to find that St. Ignatius quotes these very words when writing to the Smyrnaeans, and says they were spoken "to Peter and those who were with him." Eusebius remarks that Ignatius has got this passage "I know not whence," but St. Jerome twice quotes the same passage, and each time refers it to "the Gospel which I have recently translated," i.e. the Nazarene Gospel, or the Gospel according to the Hebrews. The difficulty is that Eusebius, who so often refers to the Gospel according to the Hebrews, should not have recognized a quotation from it. Modern critics refer the Preaching to an early date in the second century.
The Apocalypse of Peter.—Eusebius tells us that Clement of Alexandria in his lost Hypotyposes gave, amongst other things, an abridged account of the Apocalypse of Peter, and in his Eclogae Clement seems to regard it as genuinely St. Peter's work. It is given in the Muratorian Fragment  with the Apocalypse of St. John. It was rediscovered at Akhmim and published with the Gospel of Peter in 1892. Sozomen  says it was publicly read at Easter. It is generally referred to the early second century.
The Doctrine of Peter.—See above s.v. Preaching.
The Judicium of Peter is referred to by St. Jerome once.
In addition to the above we have the mass of the Clementine literature, consisting in the main of the Homilies and the Recognitions. A generic name for these works seems to have been the Περιόδοι or Itinerarium or Journeyings of Peter, with which is combined the journeyings of Clement in search of truth and Peter’s overthrow of Simon Magus. The Recognitions are known to us only in a Latin translation made by Rufinus about A.D. 400; the Homilies give us approximately the same stories in a Greek dress. An immense amount of early Christian tradition is enshrined in these books; their interest, however, for modern readers lies in the use made of them by Writers of the Tubingen school to substantiate their views about the strife between the ideals of Peter and Paul respectively. Undoubtedly these writings are to be referred to an early date; that Origen knew them is evidenced by a quotation preserved in the Philocalia, 22, from his Commentary on Genesis. St. Jerome refers to them more than once, and as the Periodoi or Travels of Peter, he quotes them as an authority for the statement that Peter was tonsured, also for the statement that he left his wife—"we read in the Περιόδοι of his wife and daughter." Jerome adds significantly, "But now all controversy touching the canon is over." That these books were familiar in the Middle Ages is seen from St. Thomas' quotation of the Itinerarium Clementis, which is, however, "now proscribed in the Decretals.”__________________________
1. Vir. Illustr. I., P.L. XXIII. 607.
2. Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, p. 47, being the Bampton Lectures for 1913.
3. Notes on H.E. II. xiv. 6.
4. Edmundson, l.c., pp. 49 and 71, and note that St. jerome had access to all the chronological works of antiquity, e.g. the Chronography of Julius Africanus, the Chronicle of Hippolytus, and the Memorials of Hegesippus, but all these are now lost. Further, it would be misleading to suppose that it is only in the above-quoted Catalogue that Jerome gives twenty-five years for St. Peter's Roman Episcopate. He repeats the statement in his translation of Eusebius' Chronicle, of which the Greek is now lost, but of which the Syriac version agrees with Jerome in assigning the same period of twenty-five years; see Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, part i., vol. i., pp. 214-246. For a criticism of Edmundson's views on St. Peter's journeys see the Expositor, March to June, 1919.
5. Cf. infra, p. 301, note 1; also Edmundson, l.c., p. 120, and Zahn, Introd., Engl. tr., II., pp. 167-169.
6. De Baptismo, iv.
7. Scorpiace, xv.; Adv. Marcion, IV. 5; Lactantius, Instituta, IV. 21; H.E. II. xiv. 25.
8. Scorpiace, xiv.; cf. St. Ambrose, De Interpellatione Job et David, I. i. 2, P.L. XIV. 836; St, Chrysostom, Hom. LVI. on Gen. xlviii., P.G. LIV. 567, etc.
9. H.E. VII. xviii. 4.
10. De Consensu, I. x. (16). The archaeologist Garrucchi examined no less than 340 gilded glasses from the catacombs, and 80 of them had portraits of SS. Peter and Paul painted on the flat bottom in gold leaf; cf. Cobern, The New Archaeological Discoveries, 2nd ed., 1917, p. 520. These portraits are referred to the period A.D. 150-220. See, too, Marucchi, Éléments d' Archéologie Chrétienne, I., p. 330; Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, p. 212. Cobern, l.c., p. 492, gives us a facsimile of a portrait of St. Paul from the cemetery of Domitilla, fourth century; the Apostle is depicted as bald, with longish features and a beard; cf. Wilpert, Le Pitture delle Catacombs Romane, Tav. 48 and 252, 1903.
11. Sermo, ccxcvi. 5, 7; ccxcviii. 1.
12. Enarr. in Ps. xliv. 23.
13. Sermo, ccxcvii. 4.
14. H.E. III. iii. 2; cp. xxv. 6.
15. H.E. III. iii. I.
16. Tom. III. in Genesim.
17. Bibliotheca, cxiii., P.G. XCIII. 387.
18. Contra Faustum, XXX. 4, cf. also J.T.S., July, 1915.
19. Tom. X. 17 in Matt.; Delarue, III. 463.
20. H.E. VI. xii. 2-6.
21. Egypt Exploration Fund Reports, 1895-1896, p. 51; R.B., October, 1894, April, 1895.
22. J.T.S., January, 1913.
23. Tom. XIII. 17 in Joan., πότερόν ποτε γνήσιόν ἐστιν, ἢ νόθου, ἢ μικτόν, cp. h.l. vol. ii., p.75.
24. De Princip. Prol. viii. ed. Delarue, I. 49.
25. H.E. III. xxxvi. 11.
26. Vir. Illustr. xvi, Praef. in Lib. xviii. in Isaiam. Clement of Alexandria has several quotations of the Preaching, e.g. on the Law, Strom. I. 29; on Monotheism, VI. 5; on Christ's parabolic teaching, VI. 15.
27. H.E. VI. xiv. 1.
28. Cf. vol. xxxiii., p. 90.
29. Socrates, H.E. VII. xix.
30. Vir. Illustr. I.
31. On Gal. i. 18, P.L. XXVI. 429.
32. Adv. Jovin. I. 26, P.L. XXIII. 246.
33. At least we presume that this is the meaning of "Sed nunc nobis de canone omne certamen est," since he does not discuss any question of the canon here.
34. Summa Theologica, Ia. Qu. CXVII. 4. the second difficulty.
Very Rev. Hugh Pope, O.P., S.T.M.
Doctor in Sacred Scripture,
Member of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and
late Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the Collegio Angelico, Rome.
Luke Walker, O.P., S.T.L.;
Austin Barker, O.P., S.T.L.
Bede Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., M.A.