Peter’s Primacy

Wednesday 25th June 2014

Photos uploaded on 27 June at Ecce Homo in Jerusalem.

Our third stop for the day was the Church of Primacy of Saint Peter. It is a small chapel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and is run by the Franciscans.

Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, Galilee

Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, Galilee


The church commemorates Jesus’s response to Peter’s declaration of faith, granting him the keys of the Kingdom. The first part of the story is told in Mark Chapter 8, where it is located in Banias/Caesarea Philipi (which we visited yesterday):

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Matthew gives a much more amplified version of the event, adding a more detailed response from Jesus to Peter:

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

This quote has been used ever since by the Roman Catholic Church as a basis for the primacy or pre-eminence of the Pope’s authority in Rome; first among equals, the bishop of Rome among the other bishops of the church, a single head of the Christian church in service of the unity of the church. Yes, the Roman claim has been contested down through the ages and in our present day. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have both expressed willingness to discuss how the primacy of the pope can better serve the unity of the church. But without a head, the body becomes divided, as has been seen all too often in the more free-flowing Pentecostal churches, forever splitting to follow new leaders. But leadership should not be authoritarian either, or monarchical, but rather serve the unity of the church. It is a service of love, of communion, by the servant of the servants of God. Pope Francis has been giving us a good example of what it is meant to be.

Like all sites, the present church on the shore of Galilee is a modern structure, but it claims to be built on an earlier 4th century church.

Given the “rock” imagery which is central to the story, the designers included a rock in the middle of the sanctuary. Again, it is a creative exercise, which focuses the devotion and attention of pilgrims, who kneel before it, kiss it, and love to be photographed touching it.

The "rock" in front of the altar in the Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, Galilee

The “rock” in front of the altar in the Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, Galilee


The "rock" in front of the altar in the Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, Galilee.  The Latin inscription on the stone tablet in front of the rock reads "Mensa Christi", which translates as "The Table of Christ".  Our guide said that this is the rock on which Jesus laid the loaves and fishes.  I think it is mixing events, either the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (see previous post) or the post-resurrection appearance and meal with the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (see below).  In either instance, I think the claim of this being the actual rock is very imaginative!

The “rock” in front of the altar in the Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha, Galilee. The Latin inscription on the stone tablet in front of the rock reads “Mensa Christi”, which translates as “The Table of Christ”. Our guide said that this is the rock on which Jesus laid the loaves and fishes. I think it is mixing events, either the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (see previous post) or the post-resurrection appearance and meal with the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (see below). In either instance, I think the claim of this being the actual rock is very imaginative!


Our guide told us that there is a freshwater spring which bubbles up in the Sea of Galilee a short distance from the shore. This made it a popular spot for fishermen to wash and mend their nets. The implication of this was that it was a likely spot where the disciples may have been when called by Jesus, as recorded in Mark 1:16-20.

Jesus Calls the First Disciples
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The site is therefore used to commemorate another event recorded in John’s Gospel, after the resurrection, when Peter and some of the disciples go fishing. Here is the story according to John 21:

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6 He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

The story then continues with a dialogue between Peter and Jesus. While not directly related to the Primacy of St Peter as such, which is commemorated by the Church of this name on this site, nevertheless the site is also associated with the “Restoration of Peter” or “Re-Commissioning of Peter”, in which Peter makes a three-fold affirmation of love for Jesus, thus undoing his threefold denial of Jesus in the High Priest’s house at the time of Jesus’ arrest in Jerusalem. John gives an account of the story in the continuation of the above resurrection appearance:

Jesus and Peter
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

There is a lovely, elegant statue on the foreshore which commemorates Jesus’ re-commissioning of Peter. Unfortunately it was in the shadow of the trees so you can only see a silhouette. However, I hope you can get some idea of the flow of the statue.

"Feed my sheep", a statue of the re-commissioning of St Peter by Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

“Feed my sheep”, a statue of the re-commissioning of St Peter by Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee


For more information and images of the Church of the Primacy of St Peter see:
http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/tabgha-church-of-primacy-of-peter

For the Restoration of Saint Peter see:
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_of_Peter

Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!

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2 thoughts on “Peter’s Primacy

  1. Yu-ping Huang

    Hello,
    My name is Yu-ping.
    I am an editor from Kuangchi Cultural Group in Taipei, Taiwan.
    We’d like to use one of the photos in this article which is the “feed my sheep statue”.
    Please contact us asap if you’re willing to give the royalty of the photo or not.

    Reply

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