Saints Peter and Paul
Feast Day of
Saints Peter and Paul
Of all the disciples that Jesus chose we know most about Peter. He is one of the most carefully described characters in the New Testament . The Bible tells us that Peter was a fisherman by trade and that he lived in the village of Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee. Early in three of the gospel accounts there is a story of Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law, which clearly implies Peter had his own house and that it accommodated his extended family. All these details are historically plausible but recent archaeology has been able to support them with hard evidence.
Life was undoubtedly far from easy in first-century Galilee; the land was occupied by the Romans, taxes were high and labour was hard. Whatever Peter's life was like before, it was turned upside down by Jesus. In the Bible we learn that Jesus called Peter to follow him and Peter did not hesitate; he left everything and embarked on an incredible journey of discovery. In fact one could say that Jesus altered his very identity, for it was Jesus that changed his name from Simon to Peter. This was a hugely significant nickname, for in every language other than English Peter means 'The Rock'. Jesus appointed Peter as the rock on which he would build his church. In many episodes throughout the gospel narratives we get a great insight into Peter's character.
One stormy night the disciples were battling against the waves as they crossed the lake. As dawn was breaking they saw Jesus coming out to them, walking on the water. They were terrified, thinking it was a ghost, but Peter asked Jesus to call him out onto the lake with him. Peter took a few steps towards Jesus on the water but fear and doubt then made him sink. Peter is remembered in this episode for his lack of faith but, as commentators point out, although he failed he was the only one to try.
On another occasion Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is, Peter is the one who says "You are the Messiah". In Matthew's account Jesus commends Peter's observation. But just moments later Peter receives Jesus' sharpest rebuke "Get behind me Satan!" because he tries to dissuade Jesus from the path of suffering and death. Peter shows he does not fully understand the nature of Jesus' Messiahship. Throughout the gospel narratives Peter seems so near and yet so far from understanding Jesus' message and yet he is consistently portrayed not only as one of the chosen 12 but as one of Jesus' most intimate group of three or four.
Peter was the spokesperson for the disciples but frequently said the wrong thing at important moments. He was constantly asking questions and was not afraid to argue with Jesus. He was rash, impetuous and even foolish at times but he was never slow to pledge his absolute loyalty to his master. However, he was not to know how much this would be tested. To Peter’s dismay, Jesus predicted that he would deny him three times, but after Jesus had been arrested that is precisely what happened.
For Peter in that courtyard, it must have seemed like the end of the line. He had let his master down, Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross and the movement was over... but that was not the end of the story.
The gospels say that in the following days an incredible event took place. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers. The accounts differ as to what happened in those days but from the earliest sources Peter is listed as the first male witness to the resurrection. Whatever the precise nature of his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, the result was that Peter was transformed from a scared and dejected failure into the leader Jesus had predicted at the outset.
The opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles show Peter working miracles, preaching boldly in the streets and in the temple and standing up fearlessly to those who had condemned Jesus just days before. The number of believers grows enormously and it was Peter who leads them with authority and wisdom as chief of the apostles. From such unpromising beginnings it now seemed that Peter had indeed become the rock of the church.
Considering Peter's prominence in the Acts of the Apostles, it is remarkable that he completely disappears from the narrative halfway through. So what happened to Peter, where did he go and where did he die? It is certainly plausible that Peter went to Rome; after all, it was the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, so if the message took root there it would reach every corner of the known world.
However, although it may have been a strategic location, Rome was certainly not a safe place to preach a new message. Tradition has always maintained that Peter was martyred in Rome, crucified upside down so as not to be equated with his master. The written accounts of this event are detailed but relatively late. The strongest evidence lay unchecked for centuries, right under the noses of the Vatican.
In 1939 routine alterations under the floor of St Peter's unearthed an incredible find.
Archaeologists discovered a whole street of Roman mausoleums, highly decorated family tombs of both pagans and Christians dating to the early centuries AD. They asked for papal permission to dig towards the high altar. One of the Vatican officials overseeing the dig removed some bones from a niche above one of the graves for safe keeping after the team had gone home. Amazingly no one gave them a second thought until one of the experts asked whether there had ever been anything found in the niche. These bones were then analysed and the tests showed they were the remains of a man in his 60s or 70s and of stocky build. Yet perhaps even more revealing was the fragment of graffiti-covered plaster discovered next to the bones. The words were incomplete but could read petros emi, which means 'Peter is within'. It could be that the remains of Peter the apostle had finally been found.
Saint Paul is one of the most important and influential of all the saints. Many of his writings are contained in the Canon of the Bible and have influenced the growth and development of the Church since the first century.
St. Paul was originally known as Saul, and he was a Roman citizen and a Pharisee. He even presided over the persecutions of the early Christians and was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
However, Saul experienced a powerful vision that caused him to convert to Christianity while on the road to Damascus. He was duly baptized and took the name Paul.
Paul travelled the world, first to Arabia then back to Damascus. He also visited Jerusalem to see St. Peter, the first pope and pay homage to him. During these travels, he preached ceaselessly, often drawing criticism and anger from those who rebuffed his message. Jews, in particular, hated his preaching as they saw him convert people to Christianity from Judaism.
Paul’s mission was to establish churches throughout Asia Minor and beyond. He established several churches and after doing this he remained in communication with the faithful, often writing letters to answer questions and resolve disputes.
The letters that have survived have become part of the Bible. It is believed that Paul wrote other letters, which were lost even before the Bible was established by the Church. Paul's writings are important because they provide good advice for how Christians should live.
Paul travelled extensively throughout much of Europe, and in spite of being imprisoned and shipwrecked, he continued to spread the Christian message.
In 67 AD, Paul was arrested in Rome for a second time and this time he was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Nero.
Paul is among the most famous, intelligent and influential of the apostles. He is the patron saint of missionaries, evangelists, writers, journalists, authors, public workers, rope and saddle makers, and tent makers. His feast day is on June 29 when he is honoured with Saint Peter.