Spirituality for Today – May 2010 – Volume 14, Issue 10

Editorial – The Peter Principle

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

As we all may know, the Peter Principle states: In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. This hypothesis was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their book The Peter Principle published in 1968. This article is not about that Peter Principle, but of the principles of a man named Peter who was principle among his colleagues. Saint Peter that is!

A painting of Saint Peter by Francesco del CossaSt. Peter
Francesco del Cossa

Conspicuously, the text of the New Testament attests to Peter as a man of strong devotion, leadership, and principle:

  • Peter always is ranked first among the apostles in any listing of these followers of Christ.
  • Peter is the "rock" upon which the Church is built.
  • It is of Peter that Jesus tests both the depth of faith and love.
  • Often, it is Peter who speaks on behalf of all the apostles.

In contrast, the frailties of Peter as a human being are not excluded from scripture:

  • It is Peter who steps out of the storm tossed boat and walks on the water toward Jesus only to loose focus on the Lord and begin to sink.
  • He tries to dissuade Jesus from his mission of salvation through suffering and death.
  • Peter's bravado dissolves before the mob arresting Jesus in the garden at Gethsemene.
  • Fearing for his life, Peter denies his discipleship three times while Jesus is on trial.

In his weakness, Peter illustrates the thoughts of Mark Twain who said, "I find that principles have no real force except when one is well fed." In his strength, the principled Peter was that man that Christ knew to be the true Peter. It was the Peter of principle, the Peter of the spirit of Pentecost, who would oversee the work of the apostles, guide and instruct the young Church, and bravely face martyrdom for love of Christ and the Church. That Peter exemplified the thoughts regarding principle uttered by Abraham Lincoln who said, "Important principles may, and must, be inflexible."

In our time, many question the possibility of true principle being dominant in both personal and professional relationships. Yet, on a strong foundation of principles and values does a thriving and viable human society rest. The past months have demonstrated the need of a principled people to bolster civilization and the calamitous results of an absence of such men and women. We can be at our best when functioning in a deep devotion and a loving accountability before our God. Commenting on a poll by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, wrote: "Interestingly, three fourths of Americans and more than nine in ten executives think that a business can be both successful and ethical... In the view of our current culture, perhaps one of the survey's most surprising findings is a consensus that religion provides a good ethical standard for doing business. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that religious beliefs should significantly influence executives' business decisions, and executives are even more likely to agree." Saint Peter, pray for us.