Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump. 1 Cor 5:7

Today is the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, “the two most glorious apostles.” I point out St. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians above, because it struck me as a particularly pertinent verse in light of the “purification” that has needed to happen regarding the subjects of this feast day since we have converted to the Church. I speak specifically of the supposed contrast between these imposing figures that is frequently played upon in apologetics circles. My mind is still not crystal clear on the subject, so forgive me if this comes out all muddled. There are several layers to it.

First is the supposed contrast between the prominence of Paul over Peter in the New Testament. I suppose this is mostly related to the fact that Paul’s epistles comprise the bulk of the New Testament. Furthermore, Paul’s missionary exploits are also the basis of much of the Church’s early growth. Consequently, there seems to be a mindset that those who most closely associate themselves with Paul are in some indeterminate way better off than those who so closely identify themselves with Peter. The former are supposedly Protestants, and the latter are supposedly Catholics, as we claim a succession from him.

Second, there is the supposed superior holiness of Paul over Peter. The New Testament, to the extent that it comments on this matter, certainly mentions at least one occasion where Paul had to directly confront Peter over his sinful behavior. This is usually supposed to advance some kind of attack on Petrine primacy.

Third, as touched upon above, there is a falsehood that is widespread that St. Paul’s theology was somehow a proto-Protestant theology, a theology which in one recorded instance, St. Peter refers to as “difficult”. Coupled with the high percentage of the New Testament that contains this “proto-Protestant theology”, this seems to give the impression that those who closely ally themselves with Peter are somehow missing the boat.

Lastly, as St. Irenaeus declared in yesterday’s quotes, the Church of Rome was founded by both St. Peter and St. Paul. As history progresses, one sees the Church fathers gradually speaking more frequently of Peter as the first bishop of Rome, and less of Paul as being a part of its foundation. This is usually brought forth to weaken the argument against Roman primacy. It is clear, they say, that the early Church did not consider Peter to be the rock of the Church, as they attribute Rome’s foundation to both apostles. Only later, they say, as Rome was seeking to attain power, was the story changed to reflect Petrine primacy.

What was needed in this matter was a good old fashioned purification of thinking. And really, this could not have happened but by the passage of time. Before we were Catholic, and even for some time afterward, these types of arguments resonated with me. But they resonated primarily because I was carrying with me a Protestant way of seeing things. Now that I have a better understanding of the Church and her faith, I see that each of the above claims are nonsense. I suppose I knew they were nonsense right off the bat, but whereas elaborate arguments were necessary to prove it to myself back then, the issue now would typically, I think, be best met with a hearty laugh.

Of course, Paul’s theology, Protestant arguments notwithstanding, is not what I had always supposed it to be. He wasn’t teaching that faith alone, apart from baptism, was necessary to receive sanctifying grace. He never taught that sanctifying grace can’t be lost. He always commended good works to his people as necessary. That was a necessary first purification. Secondly, Paul certainly may have been more holy than Peter, and may even have grasped the faith better than him. The bottom line, though, is: so what?! That has nothing to do with Petrine primacy. Same goes for Paul’s supposed greater prominence. Again, so what? Paul was one of the greatest saints, maybe the greatest. No one has given their lives away as he did. But this has nothing to do with whatever function Jesus may have conveyed to Peter. And finally, I acknowledge with heartfelt sincerity that Peter and Paul founded the Church of Rome. The Church of Rome’s glory rests firmly on their joint foundation. And it is certainly possible that Peter’s primacy came to be later emphasized in order to emphasize and legitimize Rome’s primacy. But that doesn’t mean Peter wasn’t Rome’s first bishop. And that the primacy isn’t Rome’s.

The point is, now that I have been able to distance myself from previous prejudiced ways of thinking, it is obvious that Catholics can rejoice at the glory of their glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.


~ by Rob on June 29, 2006.

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