Today, we honor the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Paul was not among the first disciples of Jesus, nor were he and Peter companions in mission, yet both played a decisive role in the expansion and strengthening of the primitive Church and both suffered martyrdom in Rome.
Among the Twelve, Peter is the most prominent, who is consistently listed first in lists of the Twelve. He was a follower of John the Baptist before being introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, and his home in Capernaum served as a place of respite for Jesus during his missionary journeys.
Originally called Simon, or Simeon, in both the Synoptic and Johannine traditions, he was named Peter (Rock) by Jesus for the unique role he was to play in the primitive church. The first to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, Peter was present, along with James and John, at every decisive moment during the ministry of Jesus. His ardor and determination, and his failures as well, are legendary. Often the spokesman of the Twelve, Peter questions and even rebukes Jesus, when Jesus speaks of what lies ahead in Jerusalem. He boasts of being more faithful and constant than the other disciples, yet after Jesus’ arrest, he denies he is a disciple. Peter shed tears of repentance and was forgiven by Jesus.
In response to the command of the Risen Jesus, conveyed by Mary Magdalene, Peter and other disciples return to Galilee to await the Lord. There, the Lord instructs Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep. In John’s account of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there seems to be something of a rivalry between Peter and John, who is called the Beloved Disciple for his being particularly close to Jesus. In the final episode, however, it is Peter, who gathers the other disciples and it is Peter, who hauls the astounding catch of fish to shore.
Peter and other disciples of Jesus head back to Jerusalem, where James and John remain at Peter’s side. Peter presides over the election of Matthias and on Pentecost proclaims the Risen Jesus as Messiah to throngs of pilgrims. In frequent conflict with religious and civil authorities and imprisoned more than once.
The Acts of the Apostles, portrays Peter as the pre-eminent guide of the church in its early days. His is the decisive voice at the Council of Jerusalem, and thanks to his encounter with Cornelius, he is the first to evangelize the gentiles. Eventually, Peter left Jerusalem on mission to Judea, where he also preached to gentiles. Later, he settled in Antioch, where he was highly esteemed.
The New Testament attributes two letters to him. The Gospel According to John alludes to the manner of Peter’s death, and Clement’s Letter to the Corinthinas (circa 96 AD) affirms that Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome in 64 AD.
Paul is the best known character of the New Testament, and the only one that can compose a true biography. But he is called by the Lord and became the most prominent preacher of the Christian faith and the universalizing of it, to separate the Christians from the Jewish law. He was soon integrated in the influential community of Antioch, and actively participated in the so-called Council of Jerusalem. After the incident in Antioch, he moved on from the churches of Syria-Palestine and with a new team dedicated to founding communities in large cities of the Aegean region.
Paul was an expert of the Old Testament, thus leaving us a rich theological and spiritual heritage in his letters; of the 13 assigned to him in the New Testament, the critics recognize 7 as authentic and 6 from the theological school he left behind. He concluded his ministry around Greece (Rm 15:23), and decides to travel to Spain on the way visiting the community of Rome. By way of Jerusalem, he is captured and taken to Rome to be tried by the Imperial Court. He was executed around the year 58, a few years before Peter.
We know the veneration from Father Founder for the Holy Apostles. He did not want another title other than “Apostolic Missionary” which meant to live like the apostles.
St Paul – Apostle
Born in the diaspora of an observant Pharisaic family, Saul persecuted the Hellenistic Jewish Christian church for its broad interpretation of the Mosaic Law. However, after encountering the Risen Lord, Saul is baptized. (In its Hellenistic form, Saul means to ask God. In his letters, however, he always uses the Greco-Roman form Paulus.)
For fourteen years, Paul preaches in Damascus and nearby Saudi Arabia. Then, following a brief and all but secret visit to Peter in Jerusalem, Paul sets out to evangelize his native Cilicia in Asia Minor. A few years later, he returns to Antioch and he and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem to take a collection for the church of Antioch. Paul’s arrival arouses criticism of his pastoral policies with respect to gentile converts and observation of Mosaic Law. A council is convened and missionaries defend Paul’s teaching and pastoral practice. Peter and James are won over.
Following a missionary campaign through Cyprus and Asia Minor, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch, where Jewish visitors from Jerusalem intervene in the affairs of the community. Paul, Silas and Timothy, undertake a missionary journey and establish churches in Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. Following a brief visit to Antioch, Paul would stay for more than two years in Ephesus.
Finally, considering that he had completed his work in the Eastern Mediterranean (cf. Rm 15:19), he makes the decision to go to evangelize the remote region of Spain and on the way plans to visit the Christian community of Rome. But, he must travel to Jerusalem to deliver a collection from his churches in Greece (cf. Rm 15:24-26).
Paul led in expanding the Church in its first 30 years. An outstanding scholar of the Jewish religious tradition, Paul left a rich theological and spiritual heritage: seven letters by Paul himself and six by his disciples. Concluding his ministry in Asia Minor and Greece, Paul decides to travel to Spain, visiting the church of Rome along the way. In Jerusalem, he is received with some reserve, due to reports about Paul’s pastoral policies and practices among gentile Christians. Accused by non-Christian Jews of desecrating the temple, Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman Governors of Caesarea. He stands firm and, as a Roman citizen, appeals to the Imperial Court in Rome. Taken to Rome, Paul is under house arrest for two years and was executed around 58 AD, a few years before Peter.
St. Claret’s veneration of the Holy Apostles is well known. Nothing meant more to him than to be an apostolic missionary, living in the style of the Apostles.
In his Autobiography, Claret admires the effectiveness of Peter’s preaching. “[Peter] walked out of the upper room afire with the love he had received from the Holy Spirit, with the result that through just two sermons he converted 8,000 people, three in the first sermon and five in the second” (Aut 439s).
Peter confronts the obstinacy of his fellow Jews with the teaching of the prophets. He makes numerous converts among the Samaritans, who for centuries despised the Jews, as well as throughout the provinces of Asia. The stalwart faith of the church of Antioch, where Peter resided, is acknowledged far and wide. Disparate cultures and languages cannot deter him. He corrects discord, establishes churches, and ordains bishops. He sends letters to churches he cannot visit personally, admonishing, exhorting and encouraging. Claret writes: “But the zeal of St. Paul has always awakened my deepest enthusiasm. He went from place to place, a vessel of election, carrying the teachings of Jesus Christ. He preached, wrote, and taught in synagogues, prisons- everywhere. He worked and made others work, in season and out of season. He suffered scourging’s, stoning, persecutions of all sorts, as well as the fiercest calumnies, but he was never daunted; on the contrary, he so rejoiced in tribulations that he could say that he did not wish to glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ” (Aut 224).
Claret cites Paul throughout his autobiography, and worthy of note is that he chose for his episcopal shield a Pauline text: Caritas Christi Urget Nos. In a meditation entitled I Do Everything for the Gospel (1Cor 9.23), Claret notes that Paul does everything for the Gospel. All that he suffers, he suffers for the Gospel. Paul the preacher of the Gospel is also the victim of the Gospel. Paul exhibits in his preaching an energy and commitment coming from the depths of his heart. Given his vocation as an apostle and victim of the Gospel, Paul dedicated himself absolutely to the demands of his ministry and becomes an instrument for the conversion of the world.
- BROWN, R. E., The community of the Beloved Disciple, Salamanca 1983.
- BÜHNER, J. A., Voice Apostle, in exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, t. I, Salamanca 1996.
- CLARET. Collection of selected panegyrics, t. V, Barcelona 1860.
- Leon-Dufour, X., Voice Apostle, in dictionary of the New Testament, Bilbao 2002.
- MÜLLER, D., Voice Apostle, in theological Dictionary of the New Testament, t. I, Salamanca 1980.