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Dynamic Duo of the First Century

I love the feast of Saints Peter and Paul for many reasons — not least because it’s the ordination day of my good friend and sometime co-author, Father Kris Stubna. With Father Kris I wrote two small Q&A catechisms that have sold well and, I hope, served well. They’re What Catholics Believe and The Pocket Catechism for Kids. We have a third book under consideration with a publisher right now, and we wouldn’t mind at all if you prayed for its happy landing.

But I love the feast day mostly because I love Saints Peter and Paul. One of the great joys in my life is my job as vice-president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology — so there’s my Pauline connection. As for Peter: well, I take comfort in his life story, because even the most reverential of his ancient biographers portray him doing bonehead things and then repenting, and then repeating step one. This pattern is quite familiar to me. Just ask my wife for details.

Peter and Paul — two Jewish boys from the Levant — are undeniably Roman saints. The Bible tracks their steps on the way to Rome. And the early Church was lock-step consistent in assigning the locus of their martyrdom to the imperial city. Writing around 69 A.D., St. Clement of Rome used a curious and seemingly primitive phrase when he spoke not of “the twelve apostles,” but of “the two apostles.” Peter and Paul were Rome’s apostles, and so they were Clement’s.

Clement wrote his letter from the city of Peter to correct a church of Paul, the rowdy congregation in Corinth, to whom the Apostle to the Gentiles had written two (canonical) letters. The great patristic scholar Msgr. Thomas Herron (who died in 2004) once concluded from Clement’s letter that the papacy has not only a “Petrine trajectory,” which is often noted, but also a “Pauline trajectory,” which has been neglected. He called on future scholars to discern what that Pauline trajectory has meant historically, and what it might mean theologically.

Lots of Fathers follow Clement’s lead and talk up Rome’s “two apostles” — most notably Irenaeus, whose day we celebrated yesterday. And there’s no shortage of ancient graffiti attesting to the abiding presence and power of both apostles, in their legacy, in their bones, and in their spirit.

But the real cool guy for this feast day is Pope St. Leo the Great, who preached the model homily on the first century’s dynamic duo. He calls them the new founders of Rome. As Romulus and Remus had established the old Rome, pagan Rome, so Peter and Paul now received honor as founders of the new Rome, Christian Rome, an eternal city, as it were. If you have five minutes to spare today, please read St. Leo’s Sermon 82, “On the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul.” If you’ve got more time, here’s more to read on this very Roman day (and in the months of its afterglow):

* Kevin Edgecomb’s fresh new translation of 1 Clement.

* From The Way of the Fathers archive: Footsteps of the Fathers.

* And the big one: Father Luke Rivington’s 500-page study of The Primitive Church and the See of Peter (from 1894). Right now it’s posted entirely in PDF and partially in HTML.

In Rome there’s no work today — that is, even more “no work” than usual! In America and elsewhere, it’s best to celebrate the feast with chocolate.

8 thoughts on “Dynamic Duo of the First Century

  1. Hey, Mike.

    I get so many conflicting dates for Clement’s letter. William Jurgens puts it around the same time as you do, while Daniel-Rops dates it following Domitian’s persecution. Can you point me to some other good sources on this letter?

  2. John A.T. Robinson, Joseph Ratzinger, and Msgr. Thomas Herron (out of print, but soon to be republished) hold to an early dating, before 70 A.D.

    Herron’s argument is book-length and very good. God forgive me for the violence I’m about to do to it … Herron finds 11 instances where Clement’s letter sheds light on the dating question and he analyzes each in detail. Clement seems to assume a close proximity to the lives of Peter and Paul, that there are a goodly number of people still alive who knew them. He assumes that the Jerusalem Temple is still standing. The recent calamities he describes fit the early date better than the later. Also there’s external evidence. The ancient Roman catalogues of popes name Clement as the third pope, after Peter and Linus (Augustine too follows this sequence). Jerome seems to place Clement earlier in history than Eusebius does. Eusebius is the primary authority for placing Clement later (around 96). Herron shows why Eusebius might have got his wires crossed. I’ll put up an announcement once Herron’s book is nearing re-publication. In the meantime, start with Robinson.

  3. In addition to what Mike wrote above, there’s also the distinct possibility (I forget who first suggested this–it’s lost in the fog somewhere) that Clement was delegated to write the letter during a time before he was Pope, which would eliminate the seeming contradiction between an early date and Eusebius’ date for him. I find this more convincing than requiring Linus to be squeezed into 5 years at most and Clement to around 30. That Clement was alive, part of the Church, and active in Rome even before becoming Pope is something that needs to be taken into account. After all, he didn’t just pop up out of a vacuum, but there would be very good reasons that he was made successor to Linus. That letter would certainly qualify as one of those reasons.

  4. Kevin, I think you and I talked about that possibility. Herron actually reaches that conclusion — that Clement wrote as a presbyter representing the Church of Rome. Some folks who lean on Clement as an early example of papal authority are troubled by that conclusion. But I don’t think it makes the letter less valuable for Catholic apologetics if it’s an illustration of Roman primacy rather than papal primacy!

  5. Yep. One of the commenters over at biblicalia had exactly that same problem. I don’t see it though.

    Of course, as an Orthodox person, I don’t see a primacy issue, especially this early, so much as one of the local church’s referring to the nearest appropriate major church in this crisis they were facing. It was not only the nearest major church, but the cultural home for most of Corinth’s citizens. Corinth was a Roman colony, after all, and Rome was just across the Adriatic, making it certainly the closest of the great churches to which recourse could be made. But that whole issue is for another time!

  6. You’re right, Kevin. And all of those factors must eventually play into any discussion of primacy, whether the claim is a universal jurisdiction (as in Rome) or a more geographically limited primacy (as in the other ancient patriarchates). Human nature demands hierarchy. And grace does not destroy nature, but rather builds upon it and perfects it. Marshall McLuhan used to argue that if there were only two Catholics left on earth, one of them would have to be pope.

    What’s got to be deeply moving for any Orthodox or Catholic observer is how well developed the structures of authority were, even at that early date. It’s clear not only in Clement — whenever he wrote — but in Ignatius’s letters as well. That’s yet another point well developed by the late Msgr. Herron.

  7. Absolutely. Those who dismiss the existence of bishops, presbyters, and deacons early in the Church’s history are, for one thing, insane (in the sense that they are not dealing with reality, with the indisputable evidence at hand), but are anachronistic in their reasons. They think that “bishop” “presbyter” and “deacon” are all terms that are identical to the combined administrative/religious functionaries that we know of those names. Not being familiar with Tradition and how it works, however, they simply don’t or won’t understand that the roles played by these men (never women!) have changed through the years, while a core definition of their job descriptions has remained the same: the bishop (=overseer/inspector) was responsible for the integrity of the instruction and practice in each individual church; the presbyters/elders were those wise/established enough in the faith to advise the bishop; the deacons did the physical work of administering aid, serving at agape meals and the earliest eucharistic liturgies and so on. Again, it’s a lack of familiarity, willful or not, with the Church that leads to such ignorant skepticism. The bishop didn’t, so to speak, burst fully-robed from the head of Christ!

    You can see, also, the part that rejection of the existence of the bishop as preserver of integrity of the faith plays into all the faddish neo-gnostic nonsense touted by academics of various stripes these days. These stupid, crazy, theories of “Christianities” ignore reality. Ah well. Don’t get me started!

  8. Started? That’s a pretty good finish, too.

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