Saints Peter and Paul

Saints Peter and Paul

Today marks the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. A simple statement would be that St Paul preached to the pagans or gentiles, and St Peter, the apostle appointed by Jesus, preached to the Jews. This is alluded to in the Preface of today’s Mass, and comes from Galatians 2:7-8.
The Acts of the Apostles paints a more complex picture. St Peter brings Cornelius, the first gentile convert, into the Church. On his journeys, St Paul goes to the local synagogue first, then preaches to the gentiles. Galatians 2:11-14 mentions an argument between Peter and Paul. The difficulties of maintaining a united policy in a religious context are quite clear even in the ministry of Saints Peter and Paul. There is a sense in which both these apostles came from different angles, having originated from different backgrounds, and undertook complementary missions. But Acts 15, and even Galatians 2, imply Peter, with James and John, basically supported Paul’s mission. Really, both apostles worked to foster unity in the Christian Church.
In Matthew 16:13-19, Christ tells Peter that he is the rock upon which the Church is built. The passage continues,“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven”. In his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ instituted Peter as an apostle, and the first leader of the Church. The Catholic Church has taken this as the basis of the authority of the Popes, who are in apostolic succession from St Peter.
Saint Paul was called by the risen Christ himself on the road to Damascus, to be the apostle to the gentiles. Both these apostles were united in bearing witness to Christ by their martyrdom in Rome, which we celebrate today as a joint feast. As today’s Preface says, they share a single united crown of martyrdom.

Fr Luke Doherty is assistant priest at Holy Cross, Leicester, and Catholic Chaplain to HMP Leicester