Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
June 29, 2014
There are very few
critical historians today who would deny that both Peter and
Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome. However,
June 29 is not the date of their martyrdom. In fact, it is unlikely
that they were martyred on the same day.
Some New Testament scholars
would place the death of Paul at the conclusion of the two-year
imprisonment with which Acts closes (about 62), and Peter’s death
during the Neronian persecution in 64, a view that this commentator
Why, then, June 29?
To quote P. Battifol, “The
festival of the two apostles will be celebrated on the same day,
June 29, not because this date is the anniversary of their martyrdom,
but because it is the anniversary of the institution of a joint
observance in their honor.”
Oscar Cullmann, the Swiss Protestant
scholar, agrees, adding that the choice of June 29 was due to
the earlier association of this day with the founder of the city
of Rome, Romulus. This Christian observance in Rome began in
Historically, it is difficult to connect the foundation of the
church in Rome with Peter or Paul. There must have been Jewish
Christians in that city before Claudius expelled all the Jews
from Rome in 48 (see Aquila and Priscilla, Acts 18:2).
time Paul wrote Romans (ca. 56), there were both Gentile and
Jewish groups in Rome (the strong and the weak of Romans 15).
Apparently the former had arrived between the expulsion of the
Jews in 48
and the death of Claudius in 54, while the Jewish Christians
would have drifted back after Nero’s succession. This is what
created the tensions that are discussed in Romans 15.
2:7 states that Peter and Paul were recognized as the heads of
the Jewish and Gentile missions respectively. In view of this,
it may be claimed that Peter and Paul were indirectly responsible
for the foundation of the Roman church.
Reading I: Acts 12:1-11
Agrippa reigned over the tetrarchy of Philip
(see Luke 3:1) from 37 C.E. and
over Galilee from 39 C.E. He
died in 44 C.E. For
reasons that are not clear, Agrippa reversed
prevailing policy of the Jewish authorities
toward the Aramaic-speaking Christians and
Presumably by now this was
a move that was likely to make him popular.
As a result, some of the leaders of the Aramaic-speaking
Church were maltreated, James bar Zebedee was
executed, and Peter was arrested (Acts 12:1-4).
All this serves as a preliminary to the story
about Peter’s miraculous escape from prison,
the first part of which (Acts 12:5-11) forms the
We have no other historical
record of this imprisonment, and the circumstances
of Peter’s escape follow a conventional
pattern familiar in Hellenistic literature
similar story about Paul and Silas in Philippi
in Acts 16:25-29). The self-opening door is
a conventional feature of these miraculous
Anyhow, the picture that Luke portrays
is that the Church prayed fervently for Peter
during his incarceration, and the Lord delivered
him by an angel. Peter remained completely
passive throughout the escape—in a dream,
as it were.
The main features of the story are pre-Lucan,
but the picture of the Church at prayer, a
favorite motif in Luke-Acts, and Peter’s final
acclamation (Acts 3:11), which functions like the
choric ending of the healing stories, will
be redactional additions.
Here we find the
theological content of the story: the fervent
prayer of the Church furthers its mission.
God had much for Peter still to do, right up
to the time of his martyrdom, which we celebrate
Responsorial Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9*
This psalm occurs
also on the fourth Sunday of Lent in series C and is commented
upon there. Note that today the refrain, “The angel
of the Lord will rescue those who fear him,” picked
up from the fourth stanza, follows aptly upon the story of
Peter’s miraculous escape in the first reading.
A cynic might
ask, Where was the angel of the Lord when Peter was martyred
at Rome? We may reply that the angel of the Lord was there
then, too, to take Peter to heaven.
With the firm establishment
of the community at Rome through the labors of Peter and
Paul, their task on earth had been fulfilled.
Reading II: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
the other readings
Timothy. Like the
it is part
which the “Pastor” has
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-19
See the twenty-first Sunday of the year in series A for comment [indented below].
This passage has been variously interpreted in the Church, so far as the continuance
of the Petrine office is concerned.
The usual Protestant interpretation, which
also has some patristic support, is that the “rock” refers to Peter’s
faith, and that therefore this text lives on effectively in the Church’s continuing
to confess Jesus as Messiah.
Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans have generally seen
the continuity of the Petrine office in the collective episcopate. Of course,
the traditional Roman Catholic position has always been, at least until Vatican
II, that this text was intended from the start to be the Lord’s institution of
Peter in that office which is still perpetuated in the papacy.
II, Roman Catholic scholars have put forward a more nuanced view that would see
in this text the beginnings of a trajectory that was destined to lead eventually
to the papacy, while Anglican and Lutheran scholars have been prepared to recognize
under certain circumstances a role for the papacy in a reunited Church which
would represent an acceptable implementation of this text.
Matthew has introduced
considerable alterations into his Marcan source. The words “Son
of the living God” are added to Peter’s confession.
In Mark, Jesus almost
ignores Peter’s confession and enjoins the disciple to silence. He then
proceeds at once to speak of the necessity of his passion.
Peter protests and is met by
the rebuke “Get behind me, Satan.”
Matthew has placed the prediction
of the passion, Peter’s objection, and Jesus’ rebuke in a separate pericope
following the confession. Instead, Jesus pronounces Peter
blessed and gives him the name
Then comes a series of promises: the building of the
Church on the foundation of Peter; the assurance that the powers of death
shall not prevail against that Church; the promise of the
keys; and the saying of the
binding and loosing.
There seems to be a growing consensus that the original situation of these
words to Peter was not in the earthly life of Jesus but in a post-resurrection
that the whole passage, verses 17-19, enshrines very early material going back
to the Aramaic-speaking Church; and that the Rock on which the Church is to
be built is Peter himself, not his faith, as some patristic and most Reformation
exegesis has supposed.
But there is division among exegetes along confessional lines over the
question of the continuation of Peter’s function in the Church.
sees the fulfillment of the saying about the Rock in the once-and-for-all
played such a large part in the foundation of the Church after the first
Easter and resurrection appearances (Cullmann), and sees the power of the
of binding and loosing as continued in the Church as a whole, though capable
being entrusted to particular officers by the community (Marxsen).
exegetes tend to agree with the Orthodox that the power of the keys and
of binding and
loosing is shared by the whole episcopate, though many of them would be
prepared to allow the Bishop of Rome a special place in this collegial
scholars naturally maintain that the Petrine office is vested in the papacy.
Nonetheless, it is significant that on all sides there is growing Christian
awareness that one aspect of the Petrine office—witness to the resurrection—belongs
to the events of the Christian beginnings and is therefore inalienable.
the same time, its other aspects—keys, binding and loosing—continue
in the Church. This continuity is a sign of the faithfulness of God.
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.
rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
|Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition),
548, 550-551, 517, 551-552, 161-162.
*Webmaster Note: Commentary on the Responsorial Psalm
is from the 1984 Revised Edition, p. 96.
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