Throughout the Acts the name and deeds of St. Peter stand out, giving clear proof that from the very beginning he was regarded as the chief Apostle, the one appointed as the head of the Church. Not only is the name of Peter mentioned in the Acts more often than that of any other Apostle, except that of St. Paul, but it is always given special precedence. Whenever the names of St. Peter and another Apostle occur together, St. Peter’s is always mentioned first. The order is never reversed. It is always “Peter and John,” never “John and Peter.” The first chapters of the Acts, the book of the Bible which tells of the first establishment of the Church, relate in detail many of the activities of St. Peter which point conclusively to the fact that he held a special position over the other Apostles as their head.
St. Peter assumed his prerogative as head of the Church shortly after the ascension of Our Lord, when the Apostles were gathered together in the Cenacle to await the coming of the Holy Ghost. There, “rising up in the midst of his brethren,” he presided over the election of Matthias to take the place of Judas as an Apostle (Acts 1, 15-26.). After the descent of the Holy Ghost, Peter, who had formerly been so weak and timorous in his Master’s service, was first to preach the Gospel (Acts 2.14). When the multitude which had listened to his sermon begged him and the other Apostles to tell them what to do in order to be saved, Peter, acting as spokesman, answered their questions. (Acts 2.37,38).
On many different occasions St. Peter’s primacy was made manifest. It was he who worked the first miracle, curing a man who had been lame since birth (Acts 3.6). When Peter and John were apprehended by the Jews and taken before the Council, Peter spoke in defense of both himself and John (Acts 4.7-11). It was Peter who rebuked Ananias and Saphira for deceiving the Apostles (Acts 5.3-10).
St. Peter’s great power was evidenced by the fact that his very shadow was sufficient to cure the sick (Acts 5.15). He was the one who denounced Simon Magus for trying to purchase the gifts of God from the Apostles (Acts 8.18-23). St. Paul, three years after his conversion, went to Jerusalem to be confirmed as an Apostle by St. Peter. Otherwise he would not have been accepted as such by his hearers (Acts 8.26).
Peter demonstrated his supremacy over the whole church when he went about visiting all the churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9.31,32), whereas St. Paul visited only those cities where he himself had preached (Acts 15.36). Peter was first to convert a Gentile, having beheld a vision which gave him to understand that there was to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Acts 10.9-35). He defended this action before the Jews and convinced them that it was God’s will to save the Gentiles as well as themselves (Acts 11.1-18). During Herod’s persecution of the Church St. James was apprehended and beheaded, without there being any great commotion among the Christians, but when St. Peter was cast into prison, “prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for him” (Acts 12.1-5). The whole Church was aroused when its head was taken captive, and an angel from Heaven came to release him (Acts 12.6-11). All these instances show that St. Peter was outstanding in prestige, in leadership, in word, and in deed, and that he was given special privileges and protection by God.
At the time when the controversy arose concerning the necessity of circumcision as a requirement for becoming a Christian, St. Paul· did not settle the question himself, but rather went “up to the Apostles and priests to Jerusalem about this question.” There “they were received by the Church, and by the Apostles and ancients” for “The Apostles and ancients assembled to consider of this matter” (Acts 16.6). There was much disputing and dissension, until “Peter, rising up” spoke to them, after which “all the multitude held their peace” (Acts 15.7-12). St. Peter, as head of the Church, had settled the argument once and for all, whereupon the Apostles wrote to the Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, telling them of their decision, “For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things:–” (Acts 15.28). The Church, with Peter at its head, had spoken with the authority of God Himself.
This abundant evidence contained in the Acts of the Apostles gives clear, irrefutable proof that St. Peter was from the very beginning the visible head of the Catholic Church. Just as St. Peter was the rock on which Christ built His Church, so will the successors of St. Peter carry on his office, infallibly protecting the precious deposit of faith and exerting primacy of honor and jurisdiction over the whole Church, “even to the consummation of the world.”