The Fisherman's Ring with the relief of St Peter fishing from a boat has been part of the Papal Insignia since at least the 13th century. This was a signet ring used until 1842 to seal official documents signed by the Pope. In the book of Genesis Pharaoh takes off his signet ring and puts it on Joseph's finger, thereby placing Joseph in charge of the whole of Egypt (Gen 41:42). Though the ring represents authority, and that of the highest kind, it is also a perpetual reminder that this authority is a delegated one.
Following his profession of faith, Peter was entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 16:19). In virtue of his disciplinary power the successor of Peter can receive or refuse people, individually and corporately, into the ecclesial communion. The decisions of Peter hold both in heaven and on earth. However, Peter must exercise his authority in obedience to Christ and his Gospel.
The Fisherman's ring expresses an existential relationship with Peter, the first Bishop of Rome and thereby with Christ. The symbolism of the ring is derived from the fact that Apostles were fishers of men (Mk 1:17). The greatest catcher of men was Jesus himself. Peter learned the trade from his master. Once the apostles recognized Christ, Peter, who was stripped to the waist, dived into the water as though he were `diving for the pearl of great price' (St Ephrem).
Rings arc commonly considered as tokens of fidelity. The episcopal ring binds the bishop in a stable pact of love and fidelity to his local Church. And the fisherman's ring is emblematic of the unique cor ad cor relationship of the Successor of Peter with Jesus Christ. The net is a symbol at once of Christ and his Church. Casting net is an eschatological act. The ultimate aim is an unexpected catch, the whole world. In order to realize this we have to put out into the deep (Duc in altum). "Today too the Church and the successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel — to God, to Christ, to true life" (Pope emeritus Benedict XVI).
Fishing is an essentially collegial act and one in which there is always a leader. Peter stood up — and with him the eleven —and raised his voice and spoke on behalf of the Twelve (Acts 2:14). The successor of Peter, as the head of the college of bishops, presides in charity over the Church spread across the world. .
*Bishop of Palai