Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
Peter, the Rock
"The Custodian of the Communion With Christ"
H.H. Benedict XVI
June 7, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We resume the weekly catecheses that we began this spring. In the last
one, two weeks ago, I spoke of Peter as the first apostle. Today we want
to return once again to this great and important figure of the Church.
The Evangelist John, when recounting the first meeting of Jesus with
Simon, Andrew's brothers, mentions a singular detail: "Jesus looked at
him and said, 'You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas'
-- which is translated Peter" (John 1:42). Jesus did not usually change
his disciples' names.
With the exception of the nickname "sons of thunder," addressed in a
specific circumstance to the sons of Zebedee (cf. Mark 3:17), and that
afterward he would not use, he never attributed a new name to one of his
disciples. He did so, however, with Simon, calling him Cephas, a name
that was later translated into Greek as "Petros," in Latin "Petrus." And
it was translated precisely because it was not just a name; it was a
"mandate" that Petrus thus received from the Lord. The new name "Petrus"
will return on several occasions in the Gospels and will end by
replacing his original name, Simon.
This detail is of particular importance if one keeps in mind that, in
the Old Testament, a change of name announced in general the conferring
of a mission (cf. Genesis 17:5; 32:28ff, etc.). In fact, Christ's will
to attribute to Peter a special prominence within the apostolic college
is manifested with many clues: In Capernaum, the Master stays in Peter's
house (Mark 1:29); when the crowds pressed upon him on the shores of the
Lake of Gennesaret, between the two moored boats, Jesus chose Simon's
(Luke 5:3); when in particular circumstances Jesus remains only in the
company of three disciples, Peter is always recalled as the first of the
group. Thus it occurred in the resurrection of Jairus' daughter (cf.
Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), in the Transfiguration (cf. Mark 9:2; Matthew
17:1; Luke 9:28), and finally during the agony in the Garden of
Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:33; Matthew 16:37).
The tax collectors for the Temple went up to Peter, and the Master paid
for himself and for Peter, and only for him (cf. Matthew 17:24-27); he
was the first one whose feet he washed in the Last Supper (cf. John
13:6) and he prays only for him so that his faith would not fail and so
that later he will be able to confirm the other disciples in it (cf.
On the other hand, Peter himself is aware of this particular position he
has. He is the one who speaks often on behalf of the others, asking for
explanations of a difficult parable (Matthew 15:15), or to ask about the
exact meaning of a precept (cf. Matthew 18:21), or the formal promise of
a recompense (Matthew 19:27). In particular, he is the one who surmounts
the awkwardness of certain situations intervening in the name of all.
In this way, when Jesus, grieved by the incomprehension of the crowd
after his discourse on the "bread of life," asks: "Do you also want to
leave?", Peter's answer was peremptory: "Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-69). Jesus then
pronounces the solemn declaration that defines, once and for all,
Peter's role in the Church: "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and
upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld
shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of
heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and
whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew
The three metaphors to which Jesus takes recourse are very clear in
themselves: Peter will be the rock foundation upon which the building of
the Church will be based; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of heaven
to open and close to whom he thinks it is just; finally, he will be able
to bind or loose, that is, will be able to establish or prohibit what he
considers necessary for the life of the Church, which is and will
continue to be Christ's. It is always Christ's Church and not Peter's.
He describes with plastic images what subsequent reflection will
describe with the term "primacy of jurisdiction."
This pre-eminent position that Jesus willed to give Peter is also seen
after the resurrection: Jesus tells the women to take the announcement
to Peter, singling him out among the other apostles (cf. Mark 16:7);
Magdalene runs to him and to John to tell them the stone has been
removed from the entrance of the sepulcher (cf. John 20:2) and John will
let him go first when they arrive before the empty tomb (cf. John
20:4-6); later, Peter will be, among the apostles, the first witness of
the apparition of the Risen One (cf. Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
This role, underlined with determination (cf. John 20:3-10), marks the
continuity between his pre-eminence in the group of the apostles and the
pre-eminence that he will continue to have in the community born with
the paschal events, as the book of the Acts of the Apostles attests (cf.
1:15-26; 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:1-11,29; 8:14-17; 10; etc.]. His
conduct is considered so decisive that it is the object of observations
and also of criticisms (cf. Acts 11:1-18; Galatians 2:11-14).
In the so-called Council of Jerusalem, Peter carries out an executive
function (cf. Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1-10), and precisely by the fact
of being witness of the authentic faith, Paul himself will recognize in
him a "first" role (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:7ff,
etc.). Moreover, the fact that several of the key texts referring to
Peter can be framed in the context of the Last Supper, in which Christ
entrusts to Peter the ministry of confirming his brothers (cf. Luke
22:31ff], shows how the Church, which is born from the paschal memorial
celebrated in the Eucharist, has in the ministry entrusted to Peter one
of its constitutive elements.
This context of the primacy of Peter in the Last Supper, at the moment
of the institution of the Eucharist, the Lord's Pasch, also indicates
the ultimate meaning of this primacy: For all times, Peter must be the
custodian of the communion with Christ; he must guide in the communion
with Christ so that the net will not tear but sustain the great
universal communion. Only together can we be with Christ, who is Lord of
all. Peter's responsibility thus consists of guaranteeing the communion
with Christ with the charity of Christ, guiding the realization of this
charity in everyday life. Let us pray so that the primacy of Peter,
entrusted to poor human beings, may always be exercised in this original
sense desired by the Lord, so that it will be increasingly recognized in
its true meaning by brothers who are still not in communion with us.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in several
languages. In English, he said:]
In our weekly catecheses on the mystery of the Church's apostolic
ministry, we have been considering the figure of the Apostle Peter. The
name "Peter" was given to Simon, the son of John, by Jesus himself (cf.
In the biblical tradition, a change of name often accompanied a new
mission. Christ wished to give Peter a special place among his apostles,
and from the beginning Peter often appears as their leader and
After he proclaimed the apostles' faith in Christ as the Son of God,
Jesus made Peter the Rock on which he would build his Church (cf.
Matthew 16:18-19). At the Last Supper the Lord prayed for Peter, that
his faith would not waver and that he would confirm his brethren in
faith (cf. Luke 22:31ff).
Peter was the first of the apostles to see the Risen Lord, and he
continued to exercise a pre-eminent role in the early Church, as we see
in the Book of Acts. The ministry which Christ entrusted to Peter is a
constitutive element of the Church, and is closely linked to the very
source of her life: the Lord's paschal mystery and its memorial in the
I greet all the English-speaking visitors, especially the many pilgrims
from England, Australia, India, Japan, Canada and the United States. I
also greet the delegates to the World Congress of the International
Federation of Kidney Foundations. Upon all present at today's audience I
cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
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