Bookmark and Share

Peter ranks first among the Apostles

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 16 December 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The texts which I have presented and explained in the previous catecheses directly concern Peter's mission of strengthening his brothers in the faith and of shepherding the flock of Christ's followers. They are the basic texts on the Petrine ministry. However, they must be seen in the larger context of the entire New Testament discussion of Peter, beginning with the place of his mission in the whole New Testament. In the Pauline letters, he is mentioned as the first witness of the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:3ff.) and Paul says that he went to Jerusalem "to confer with Kephas" (cf. Gal 1:18). The Johannine tradition records a strong presence of Peter, and there are numerous references to him in the Synoptics as well. The New Testament discussion also concerns Peter's position among the Twelve. The trio of Peter, James and John emerges; think, for example, of the transfiguration, the raising of Jairus' daughter, and Gethsemane. Peter is always first on all the lists of the apostles (in Mt 10:2 he is even called "first"). Jesus gave him a new name, Kephas, which is translated into Greek (so it was considered significant), to designate the office and position that Simon would have in Christ's Church.

2. These facts enable us better to grasp the historical and ecclesiological meaning of Jesus' promise contained in Matthew's text (16:18-19), and the conferral of the pastoral mission described by John (21:15-19): the primacy of authority in the apostolic college and the Church. At issue is a matter of fact, recounted by the evangelists as those who recorded Christ's life and teaching, but also as witnesses of the belief and practice of the first Christian community. It is clear from these writings that from the Church's beginning Peter exercised decisive authority at the highest level. This exercise, accepted and recognized by the community, is historical confirmation of the words Christ spoke regarding the mission and power of Peter. It is easy to admit that Peter's personal qualities in themselves were not sufficient to obtain the recognition of a supreme authority in the Church. Although he had a leader's temperament, already apparent in the little fishing concern he had at the lake with his "partners," John and Andrew (cf. Lk 5:10), he could not assert his authority over the others on his own, given his well-known limitations and defects. On the other hand, we know that during Jesus' earthly life the apostles discussed who among them would be first in the kingdom. The fact, then, that Peter's authority was calmly recognized in the Church is due exclusively to Christ's will. It shows that the words with which Jesus assigned to the apostle his unique pastoral authority were understood and accepted without difficulty in the Christian community.

3. Let us briefly review the facts. According to Acts, the apostles came together immediately after the ascension. In their list Peter is mentioned first (cf. Acts 1:13), as in the lists of the Twelve provided for us in the Gospels and in the references to the three privileged ones (cf. Mk 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33 and parallels). Peter spoke with authority: "During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers" (Acts 1:15). It was not the assembly which designated him. He acted as one possessing authority. At that meeting Peter presented the problem created by Judas' betrayal and death, which reduced the number of apostles to eleven. In fidelity to Jesus' will, filled with symbolism about passing from the old to the new Israel (twelve constitutive tribes--twelve apostles), Peter indicated the necessary solution: appoint a replacement who, with the Eleven, would become "a witness to his [Christ's] resurrection" (cf. Acts 1:21-22). The assembly accepted and implemented this solution, casting lots so that the choice would come from on high. Thus "the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26). It should be pointed out that among the witnesses to the resurrection by virtue of Christ's will, Peter was first. The angel who announced Jesus' resurrection to the women said to them: "But go and tell his disciples and Peter..." (Mk 16:7). John let Peter enter the tomb first (cf. Jn 20:1-10). To the disciples returning from Emmaus the others said: "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" (Lk 24:34). That the risen Christ appeared to Peter first was an early tradition received by the Church and recorded by St. Paul: "He appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve" (1 Cor 15:5). This priority corresponds to the mission assigned to Peter of strengthening his brothers in the faith as the first witness to the resurrection.

4. On the day of Pentecost Peter acted as the leader of the witnesses to the resurrection. He speaks on a spontaneous impulse: "Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed..." (Acts 2:14). Remarking about what happened, he declared: "God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:32). All the Twelve were witnesses of this; Peter proclaimed it in the name of them all. He was the official spokesman, we could say, of the first community and the group of apostles. He told his listeners what they were to do: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ..." (Acts 2:38). It was also Peter who worked the first miracle, astonishing the crowd. According to the account in Acts he was accompanied by John when he looked at the cripple begging for alms. He was the one to speak. "But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, 'Look at us.' He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, 'I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise and walk.' Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood and walked around..." (Acts 3:3-8). In his words and deeds Peter was the instrument for this miracle, convinced that he had power given him by Christ in this area as well. This is precisely the way he explained the miracle to the people, showing that the healing manifests the power of the risen Christ: "God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses" (Acts 3:15). Consequently, he urged his listeners: "Repent, therefore, and be converted" (Acts 3:19). During the questioning by the Sanhedrin, Peter, "filled with the Holy Spirit," spoke to proclaim the salvation won by Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:8f.), crucified and risen (cf. Acts 7:10). Later on Peter was the one who "with the apostles," said in reply to the prohibition against teaching in the name of Jesus: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

5. In the painful case of Ananias and Sapphira too, Peter showed his authority as the one responsible for the community. Rebuking that Christian couple for their lie about the purchase price of some property, he accused the two guilty parties of having lied to the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 5:1-11). Peter responded in the same way to Simon the magician, who had offered money to the apostles in order to receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands: "May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.... Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that your intention may be forgiven" (Acts 8:20, 22). Moreover, Acts tells us that the crowd thought of Peter as the one who worked marvels, even more than the other apostles. Certainly he was not the only one to perform miracles: "Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles" (Acts 5:12). However, cures were expected above all from him: "They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them" (Acts 5:15). One thing is clearly evident in this first stage of the Church's beginning: under the power of the Spirit and in conformity with Jesus' command, Peter acted in communion with the other apostles, but took the initiative and decided personally as the head.

6. This explains the fact that when Peter was imprisoned by Herod ardent prayer was offered by the Church for him: "Peter was being kept in prison, but prayer was fervently being made to God on his behalf" (Acts 12:5). This prayer arose from the common conviction of Peter's unique importance. It was the beginning of the uninterrupted sequence of prayers which the Church would offer in every age for Peter's successors. The angel's intervention and the miraculous release from prison (cf. Acts 12:6-17), moreover, show the special protection which Peter enjoyed, a protection which allowed him to fulfill the pastoral mission assigned to him. The faithful will always ask for this protection and assistance for the successors of Peter in the sufferings and persecutions they will inevitably encounter in their ministry as "servants of the servants of God."

7. We can conclude by recognizing that truly at the Church's beginning Peter acted as one who possessed the primary authority within the college of the apostles, and for this reason spoke in the name of the Twelve as a witness to the resurrection.

Therefore, he worked miracles which resembled Christ's and performed them in his name. He assumed responsibility for the moral behavior of the members of the first community and for its future development. He was the focus of concern for the new People of God and of the prayer they made to heaven to obtain his protection and deliverance.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini francesi

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

À l’approche de Noël, je salue avec plaisir les pèlerins franco phones présents à cette audience et je leur offre mes vœux cordiaux de bonnes et saintes fêtes de la Nativité du Sauveur. Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous aide tout au long de l’année nouvelle!

Ai gruppi di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the young people from Australia visiting Rome as part of the youth exchange programme of the International Association of Lions Clubs. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from the Philippines and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Zum Abschlub dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgrub an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Mögen wir uns alle für den Anruf Gottes in unserem Leben bereithalten und in dieser Adventszeit voll wacher Erwartung dem Herrn entgegengehen, der in der Menschwerdung seines Sohnes uns in besonderer Weise nahe geworden ist. Euch alle und Eure lieben Angehörigen daheim begleitet dazu mein Gebet und mein Apostolischer Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me complace saludar ahora a los peregrinos de lengua española, de modo particular a las Religiosas Hijas de Cristo Rey, de Latinoamérica, así como a las Hermanas de la Caridad del Sagrado Corazón, de Madrid. Igual que la primera comunidad cristiana oraba por Pedro cuando fue perseguido, espero también que todos vosotros pidáis al Señor que ilumine y guíe siempre a los Sucesores de Pedro en su ministerio pastoral por el mundo.

Con todo afecto os imparto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, de passagem pela Cidade Eterna, e desejo-lhes as maiores felicidades, para que neste Natal, todos possam descobrir, no mistério do nascimento do “Emanuel” - Deus connosco -, o apelo do amor fraterno, ao ver Cristo nos irmãos. E que Deus vos abençoe!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Serdecznie witam obecnych na audiencji pielgrzymów z Polski, w szczególności z parafii Św. Rodziny w Zakopanem, prócz tego wszystkich innych, zarówno pochodzacych z kraju, jak i z emigracji.

Duchu Święty, Boży, gdy nie umiemy się modlić, przyjdź nam z pomoca i wspomóż prośby nasze, oświeć umysły nasze, abyśmy zrozumieli najgłębszą i niepowtarzalna wartość ludzkiego życia. Prosi Cię o to Kościół Święty w Polsce. Daj nam łaskę wrażliwości, szacunku i miłości względem życia. Obudź wrażliwość naszych sumień na wartość życia każdego człowieka, w szczególności życia człowieka nie narodzonego, od chwili poczęcia. Razem z Kościołem w Polsce modlę się tymi samymi słowami. Również z całej duszy łączę się ze słowem, jakie biskupi polscy skierowali z Jasnej Góry na poczatku Adwentu. Wszystkie sprawy w tym słowie przedstawione, poruszone, sa równocześnie moimi sprawami, moimi troskami i treścia mojej codziennej modlitwy. Sprawa bowiem jest największej wagi. W zjednoczeniu więc z Episkopatem Polski, w zjednoczeniu z wszystkimi ludźmi, którzy wspólnie się modlą w sprawie obrony życia poczętego i nie narodzonego, zwłaszcza w zwiazku z pracami Parlamentu w tej dziedzinie, i ja również zwracam się do naszej Jasnogórskiej Matki słowami, które kończa orędzie biskupów z Jasnej Góry: “Rozpoczynamy okres Adwentu, któremu patronuje Matka Boża z Dzieckiem pod sercem. Tej Matce, zatroskanej o swe jeszcze nie narodzone Dziecię, polecajmy sprawy ochrony życia poczętych dzieci, . . . w szczególny sposób pełne zrozumienie i respektowanie prawa dożycia przez wszystkich ludzi dobrej woli w naszej Ojczyźnie”.

Ai fedeli italiani

Saluto ora tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Un pensiero particolarmente affettuoso desidero rivolgere al gruppo formato dai Padri Cappuccini di Reggio Emilia e dai loro collaboratori ed amici, i quali hanno curato la realizzazione dell’interessante “Presepe Itinerante”, in favore delle popolazioni balcaniche provate dal terribile flagello della guerra. Con la vostra iniziativa, carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle, che prende luce e stimolo dal mistero del Natale, mistero di amore e di fraternità, voi intendete recare un concreto sostegno a quanti sono vittime del grave conflitto tuttora in atto e coinvolgere in così importante azione umanitaria la gente che incontrate lungo l’itinerario percorso dalla vostra carovana della speranza.

Il Signore vi accompagni, e ricompensi quanti appoggiano il vostro progetto e contribuiscono fattivamente alla sua riuscita. A coloro che incontrerete, a chi vi offre il suo apporto, alle persone che, grazie alla vostra generosità, potranno trascorrere un Natale più sereno, portate i miei cordialissimi auguri. Possa il Natale del Signore essere per tutti una festa: la festa della speranza in un avvenire migliore, irradiato dalla luce del Redentore, venuto nel mondo per la salvezza degli uomini.

Un saluto caloroso rivolgo altresì ai fedeli della diocesi di Belluno-Feltre, accompagnati dal loro Vescovo, Monsignor Maffeo Ducoli. Carissimi, nell’accogliervi con gioia, vi rinnovo il mio ringraziamento per la gentile ospitalità durante il mio soggiorno a Lorenzago e vi assicuro il costante ricordo nella mia preghiera, augurando Buon Natale a tutti.

Saluto, pure, il gruppo delle Focolarine, venute a Roma per un corso di approfondimento della spiritualità del Movimento. Vi auguro, care Sorelle, di tornare ai rispettivi paesi ricche di nuovo slancio spirituale per collaborare efficacemente alla diffusione del messaggio cristiano nel mondo.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Mi è gradito ora rivolgere una parola di saluto e di esortazione ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli.

In questi giorni che ci preparano al Natale, siamo chiamati ad aprire il nostro cuore a Dio, che s’è fatto uomo per innalzare gli uomini fino a Dio. A voi giovani, tra cui sono 15 studenti di Udine, premiati in occasione del Congresso Eucaristico Diocesano, auguro di poter vivere sempre coerentemente il messaggio della salvezza alla luce del mistero di Betlemme. A voi ammalati, testimoni della Chiesa sofferente, dico: siate forti nelle vostre prove e lasciatevi confortare dalla speranza che ci viene dal Natale. Esorto voi, sposi novelli, perché sul modello della Famiglia di Nazareth siate sinceri nell’amore reciproco e premurosi nella educazione dei figli che Dio vi concederà. A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana