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.