Feast of Sts Peter & Paul (2019)

Forty Martyrs'; St Bede's (6.00)

You would have thought they would have been best buddies. Every on the 'phone to each other, “How are you mate? How is is going with the Gentiles? Have you written any good letters recently?” “I'm fine. Blisters are healing well. How are you? Heading for Rome soon I understand”. After all, they are linked for ever in the public imagination – never Peter without Paul; No Paul without Peter being in the picture. Sharing a feast day, blowing out the candles of the heavenly cake together year after year. Best friends. Muckers.

If this is your view of today's saints, Peter our teacher of the faith and Paul its fearless preacher, then think again. The two did meet; they shared some time together in the Church in Galatia, and Paul met Peter and James and John when he called in to see them in Jerusalem. But they did not get on. In Galatia they had a stand up row. Peter had been happy to eat in the company of Gentiles, as Paul had done for a long time. Then some people arrived from Jerusalem and rebuked Peter for his behaviour. Jews did not eat with Gentiles and the Jerusalem folk were having nothing of it; and Peter capitulated. He reverted to the old ways and that made Paul see red. He told Peter to his face that he was wrong. And it will not have been a gentle reprimand. Paul always did things at full power.

Reporting his visit to Jerusalem he refers to Peter, James and John as 'those so-called pillars of the Church'. He clearly does not think they are up to the job and he doesn't mind letting people know.

It is not entirely surprising that the two did not get on. They were very different people. Peter, a manual worker, a fisherman, though he was likely a moderately prosperous one as the family business could employ people. He may well have had basic literacy as well as strength to haul those nets. Intellectual he was not. Quick to speak without thinking first. He was a bit of a wind bag. His promises did not match his actions as his cowardice at the time of Jesus' arrest emphatically shows.

Paul was an intellectual. He was a linguist and a master of rhetoric. He could argue. His knowledge of the Scriptures was extensive. And he was single-minded. He brought the same forceful purpose to the persecution of Christians as he would to the proclamation of Christ. He certainly did not suffer fools, and was not a natural team-player. Which might explain why they did not get on, these titans of the early Church.

They were just too different.

But if Paul had little time for Peter, we have an interesting piece of advice in a letter that was attributed to Peter. The second Letter of Peter was written, not by Peter himself, but by a disciple of Peter who wanted to give his own words the authority of the chief apostle, and so used Peter's name. We call this 'misrepresentation' or 'fraud' and in later days it would most certainly be an infringement of copy-rite. In the ancient world it was common practice. It was not done with an intention to deceive to much as to gain notice. In this letter the anonymous author promotes the writings of Paul and places them on the level of the Scriptures, the inspired Word of God of, what we call, the Old Testament, which were 'The Scriptures' of the early Church until the Books of the New Testament were recognised and acknowledged to be God's Word. He refers to Paul as 'so dear to us', and while he admits that some of the things Paul wrote are difficult to understand, he speaks of his writings as being 'like the rest of Scripture'. Paul is equated with the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the rest.

So while Peter and Paul were not 'best buddies' and did not see eye to eye on all things related to the practice of Jesus' teachings, nevertheless, a disciple of Peter recognised the profound importance of Paul's words. And Both witnessed to the faith in the most extreme fashion, killed in the persecutions of the mad Emperor Nero in the 60's, in Rome.

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