UBC Theses and Dissertations
Portraits of Peter : a study of trajectories in the early church Litke, Wayne Douglas
This study concentrates on the traditions concerning Peter as they evolved in the early church from the New Testament period to the fifth century. It is suggested that there are many ways in which Peter is portrayed by the early church writers, and these portraits of Peter are studied with emphasis on the situations in the church which produced these portraits and which affected their evolution over time. A portrait of Peter considered seminal for the study of the Petrine traditions is that of Peter as apostle. In this portrait Peter takes on the roles of missionary and witness to Christ's earthly ministry and resurrection. Generally the trajectory moves from the "actual" to the "ideal." Thus Peter becomes in the mind of the church the greatest missionary and the best apostolic witness. This process of idealization continued with the result that Peter came to be regarded as the ideal Christian. Peter was also considered pre-eminent among the apostles. As the Gentile church became the most powerful of the churches, Peter was adopted as its figurehead. Thus by the fourth century Peter's primacy over the apostles had become axiomatic. Other groups, often considered heretical by the orthodox church, ascribed importance to other disciples of Christ and compared them to Peter. However, the Peter trajectory tended to overpower these other traditions. Connected to the tradition of Peter as the ideal apostle are the traditions which describe him as the pre-eminent prophet and wonderworker in the church, the ideal bishop and the most eminent martyr. Not only is Peter represented as exercising the episcopacy in a great many places, most noticeably in Rome, but also he came to be viewed as the ideal bishop and the founder of the universal episcopacy. As a martyr, Peter was viewed as the perfect martyr in that he endured a death like that of his Lord. Similarly, Peter came to be regarded as the ideal guarantor of the apostolic tradition, and thus the foundation upon which the church was built. In this capacity, and connected to the idea that Peter was the founder of the episcopacy, he was regarded as possessing the keys of the kingdom, thus having the full authority of Christ for the doctrine and discipline of the church. It is concluded that in all these aspects Peter was idealized and in a sense took the place of Jesus in the mind of the church. It is suggested that as the foremost apostle Peter was conceived as having been sent forth by Christ with His full power and authority, and thus Christ was seen as working in the church through Peter, His delegated representative, and through those who were viewed in succession to Peter. Thus, apostolic succession from Peter connected the beliefs and practices of the church with Christ Himself.
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