Acts of Peter

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The Acts of Peter is one of the earliest of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles in Christianity, dating to the late 2nd century AD. The majority of the text has survived only in the Latin translation of the Codex Vercellensis, under the title Actus Petri cum Simone ("Act of Peter with Simon"). It is notable for a description of a miracle contest between Saint Peter and Simon Magus, the first record of the tradition that Saint Peter was crucified head-down, and as the origin of the saying Quo vadis?

Dating and history[edit]

The Acts of Peter were originally composed in Koine Greek during the second half of the 2nd century, probably in Asia Minor.[1] The style of the Acts' writing is quite similar to that of four other apocryphal Acts – Acts of Andrew, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, and Acts of Thomas. For this reason, all five of these works were traditionally attributed to a single author; Photios I (c. 810/820 – 893) identified this author as Leucius Charinus. Epiphanius (c. 310/320 – 403) had earlier identified Leucius as a companion of John the Apostle.[2]

The Manicheans are believed to have collected these five apocryphals Acts into a single corpus by the end of the 4th century.[2] The current consensus is that the five works are interrelated, but were written by five separate authors, none of whom include Leucius.[3] Despite this, the works are still frequently referred to as the "Manichean Acts of Leucius Charinus", or simply the "Leucian Acts".[2]

The earliest extant manuscript of the Acts of Peter is a Late Latin translation contained in the Codex Vercellensis, which is believed to be the earliest manuscript of the Vetus Latina. This codex is preserved in the Capitulary Library of the Vercelli Cathedral. The chapters describing Peter's crucifixion (XXXIII–XLI) are preserved separately as 'Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Peter' in various manuscripts in Latin, Greek, Coptic, Slavonic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Arabic.[1]

It has been proposed that the martyrdom account was an earlier, separate text to which the preceding chapters were affixed.[citation needed]


Contest between Peter and Simon Magus (Benozzo Gozzoli, 15th century)

In the text, Peter performs many miracles, such as healing a crippled beggar.[4] Peter preaches that Simon Magus is performing magic in order to convert followers through deception. Outraged, Peter challenges Simon to a contest, in order to prove whose works are from a divine source and whose are merely trickery. In the contest, Simon takes flight, and in retaliation, Peter strikes him down with the power of God, praying that Simon not be killed but badly injured. Simon is then taken to Terracina to one Castor "And there he was sorely cut (Lat.[in Latin] by two physicians), and so Simon the angel of Satan came to his end."[5]

Peter's confrontation with Simon Magus has some resemblance to the Prophet Elijah's confrontation with the Priests of Baal, as depicted in the Old Testament's Book of Kings[6] – a text with which the writer of the Acts of Peter was likely familiar.

Following this incident, Peter plans to flee the city; however, he sees an apparition of Jesus, and takes it as a message that he must stay and be crucified to see Jesus again in Heaven (see Quo vadis?).

Crucifixion of Saint Peter, from a 15th-century painting

Peter preaches to Agrippa's concubines that they should practise abstinence and chastity. The enraged Agrippa orders Peter to be crucified; Peter requests to be crucified upside-down.[7]

The inverted crucifixion of Peter[edit]

No canonical text refers to the death of Saint Peter. Apart from the Acts of Peter, the earliest attestation that Saint Peter was executed by crucifixion is found in Adversus Gnosticos Scorpiace, a treatise composed by Tertullian in the first decade of the 3rd century.[8][9]

Sometime in the middle of the 3rd century, Origen of Alexandria popularized the tradition that Peter requested to be crucified upside-down.[10] At the end of the 4th century, Jerome wrote in his De Viris Illustribus ("On Illustrious Men") that the reason for this request was that Peter felt he was unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.[11][12]

However, in the Acts of Peter, the author writes that Peter's request to be crucified upside-down was to make a point: that the values of those crucifying him were inverted themselves, emphasising the need to look beyond these values and adopt those of Jesus.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b James, Montague Rhodes (1924). "Acts of Peter". The Apocryphal New Testament (1 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 300–36. ISBN 0198261217.
  2. ^ a b c Kirby, Peter (2021). "Manichean Acts of Leucius Charinus". Early Christian Writings. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  3. ^ Elliott, James Keith, ed. (2005). "Introduction". The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (reprint, revised ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 229. ISBN 9780198261810.
  4. ^ Acts of Peter, chapter 3
  5. ^ The Acts of Peter
  6. ^ 1 Kings 18:21
  7. ^ a b Pick, Bernhard (1909). "Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Peter". The Apocryphal Acts of Paul, Peter, John, Andrew and Thomas. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co. pp. 106–22. ISBN 9780837019123. Unless ye make the right as the left, and the top as the bottom and the front as the backward, ye shall not know the Kingdom (of heaven).
  8. ^ Tertullianus, Quintus Septimius Florens (1869). "Scorpiace (Antidote for the Scorpion's Sting)". In Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James (eds.). Ante-Nicene Christian library; translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Vol. XI: The Writings of Tertullian. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. p. 414. At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith. Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the cross.
  9. ^ Kirsch, Johann Peter (1911). "St. Peter" . Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11.
  10. ^ Barnes, Arthur Staplyton (1900). St. Peter in Rome and His Tomb on the Vatican Hill. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Company. p. 101.
  11. ^ Eusebius Sophronius, Hieronymus (1473). "Capitulum primum: Simon Petrus". De Viris Illustribus (in Latin). Utrecht: Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt. p. 5. A quo et affixus cruci, martyrio coronatus est, capite ad terram verso, et in sublime pedibus elevatis: asserens se indignum qui sic crucifigeretur ut Dominus suus.
  12. ^ De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men). New Advent. Retrieved June 27, 2021. At his hands he received the crown of martyrdom being nailed to the cross with his head towards the ground and his feet raised on high, asserting that he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)


  • Richard Adelbert Lipsius, Maximilian Bonnet: Acta apostolorum apokryphae pars prior, Hermann Mendelsohn, Leipzig 1891. (in Greek and Latin)
  • Elias Avery Lowe: Codices Latini Antiquiores: a palaeographical guide to Latin manuscripts prior to the ninth century. Ed. under the auspices of the Union Académique Internationale for the American Council of Learned Societies and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Vol. 4. Clarendon, Oxford 1947, Reprint Zeller, Osnabrück 1988. Description of codex vercelli 158.

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