Saint Peter and Saint Paul



Readings: Zechariah 4: 1 -6a, 10b-end; 2 Timothy 4: 6 -8,17,18; Matthew 16:13-19.

S. Peter and S. Paul have been recognized from the early days of the Christian community as the twin pillars of the Church. They clashed fiercely on occasion and even though they both were apparently in Rome for quite a period at the same time, they did not meet or even refer to one another in their correspondence. And yet, although such different people in nature and in back-ground, there was a complementarity, and a binding together through a common love of Jesus Christ. They are bound together too in the affections and respect of Christians by their martyrdom, both of them in Rome, probably in 64 AD.

Of course they had one other thing in common: they both knew the forgiving love of God: Peter, in his denial of his Lord immediately prior to his crucifixion; Paul in his zealous persecution of the infant Church. Both had forfeited in normal human terms any part of Christ’s love. But such is the depth of the love of God that these two were restored to be, as we have said, the two essential elements in the formation of the Christian Church. Simon, the fisherman disciple’s confession of his belief in Jesus as the Christ of God earned for him the name of Peter: the symbolic rock of the Apostleship with Peter as its head, on which the Church of God was to be built.

The responsibility for the guidance and the strengthening of his brothers and sisters in the faith fell on him. The surprising ways of God, in contrast to our expectations, are epitomized in this bestowing of such authority on a man of uneducated and uncultured background who in fact had at times let the Lord down so badly in the past. If S. Peter were to apply today for training for the sacred ministry, he most certainly would not survive the selection processes of the Church of England. Saul of Tarsus, who also had a change of name in the service of his Lord, and thus became Paul, came late to Christian faith. On the face of it he was much better equipped than Peter for leadership, both by birth and by his intellectual formation. He was always alert, full of energy, and consumed by love of him whom he had once persecuted. He has become known as God’s instrument for making known to the Gentile world the ‘good news’, the gospel of salvation. No trial, and he had more than his fair share of these, could ever separate S. Paul from the love of Christ, whom he will never deny.

Both Peter and Paul had his place in the development of the faith. S. Peter, the guide, by his role of direction and confirmation ? the voice of conservatism: S. Paul, the sower by his energy and zeal, and his mental adaptability, having a vision of the new possibilities in the circumstances. Their meetings at Antioch and Jerusalem show up their differences, but also a common inspiration, one in Christ. It is in Rome, where both were martyred, that they were united by death in that love which both had striven to promote. The interface between the Church as institution and charism, which these two represent, is an often troubled area; but this tension appears to be a necessary component of progress.

The stagnation we see in churches, particularly the Orthodox Churches, which in other ways have so much to offer in terms of spirituality, is a result of the suppression of charism. The staggering fragmentation of Western Protestantism is the price which has to be paid when Church order is suppressed in favour of so-called inspiration. In order to avoid both extremes the Church of S. Peter and S. Paul must reconcile stability on the one hand, and the movement of the Spirit, which it was promised would lead us into all truth, which is necessary to relate to the world in which it exists, on the other. Perhaps as Anglicans we are aware of that tension more than many others.

With our Reformed Catholic traditions we have maintained the structures and faith of the Church which the Lord founded ? at the same time we try to be aware of the leading of the Spirit as we seek to be true to the Lord’s vision of unity for his people. We seek to be inclusive, but not at any cost. We must be true to our Catholic principles ? sometimes this can lead to painful decisions and situations. But being true will lead, in God’s good time, to that unity which many have seen our Church as being the focus of. We ourselves at the present time are experiencing more than the usual internal stresses. In a fast-changing world there are those within the Church who want the Church to reflect the world’s values. In fact we are here to reflect eternal values rather than the world’s values.

The basic sign of our unity is to be found in baptism. S. Paul was, if you like, the theologian of the early Church, but S. Peter also had things to say about the effects of baptism ? so we will briefly dip into what both had to say on the subject. So, first for Paul, what is baptism all about? In his letter to the Colossians (3: 9,10) he writes about ‘putting off the old nature and putting on the new, and being renewed in the image of the creator’, i.e., starting out on the process of becoming what the Creator intended us to be. The ‘new nature’ put on by Christians is Christ himself ? he is the reflection or ‘image’ of God himself. So, once incorporated into the body of Christ, believers are progressively ‘renewed’ so as to become like the ‘image’. In the same letter (2:11) he likens baptism to being ‘buried’ with Christ in order that we may ‘be raised with him through faith in the working of God.’ Similarly in the letter to the Romans (6:3ff.) he uses the same analogy and sees the purpose of being raised with Christ that we might walk with him in the new life in the Spirit which the Lord experienced following his resurrection. In a real sense in baptism we do become all part of a new family ? brothers and sisters with Christ himself, incorporated into the family of God our Father.

Naturally for an infant this new beginning has to be nurtured by parents and god-parents, and the church family into which the baby has become a new member. Later, as a young person confirmation offers the opportunity to the baptized to answer for themselves. So, baptism is a death, and a new life, it is being ‘born again’. For S. Peter, the new life in Christ which baptism makes possible comes from above, the ‘Holy Spirit sent from heaven’ (1 Per. 1:12). He likens the baptized to living stones, specially chosen, to be built into a spiritual temple. He goes on to describe the new person, or rather the new person as part of the new community, in a passage which is profoundly encompassing and worthy of being considered in depth: ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people;’. Once we were no people, but now, in Christ, we are God’s people. These two incomparable heroes of our faith may have had their differences, but that sentence sums up their common experience of life in Christ ? it sums up so much of what they wanted the world to know. It sums up what they want the world today to know through us and the witness of our lives.

Rev’d Canon Denis Moss

edited by Simon Harding