Thou art Paul, so rock on

Peter PaulGetReligion reader Arnold Barlow has, without a doubt, discovered the religion-news mystery of the day.

You may have heard on the radio or seen on the Web that archaeologists at the Vatican have unearthed a sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of St. Paul and the discovery was made right under Rome’s second-largest basilica.

But what you may not have heard is that, in doing so, the researchers radically altered the entire history of the Roman Catholic Church and, thus, all of Christian history.

What? You didn’t read that story?

Well, head over to the Associated Press report on the website of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We pick up the action in the middle of the wire story:

“Our objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons, so that it could be venerated and be visible,” said Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who headed the project at St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica.

The interior of the sarcophagus has not yet been explored, but Filippi didn’t rule out the possibility of doing so.

Two ancient churches that once stood at the site of the current basilica were successively built over the spot where tradition said the saint, the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church, had been buried. The second church, built by the Roman emperor Theodosius in the fourth century, left the tomb visible, first above ground and later in a crypt.

Did you catch the gaffe?

Barlow did. It’s the part about St. Paul being the “first pope of the Roman Catholic Church.” Actually, I think that was St. Peter — the gray-haired man shown greeting St. Paul in this traditional icon from Eastern Orthodoxy.

In an email to the GetReligion crew, Barlow raised a good question. Other versions of this Associated Press report online do not seem to contain this rather obvious error — at least, none of them do that I can find with Google News. Here is the wording in the International Herald Tribune:

Two ancient churches that once stood at the site of the current basilica were successively built over the spot where tradition said the saint had been buried. The second church, built by the Roman emperor Theodosius in the fourth century, left the tomb visible, first above ground and later in a crypt.

This raises a crucial question: Did the Associated Press catch the error early on or, perhaps, do Catholics in the great state of Georgia — or merely some folks on the Journal-Constitution copy desk — have different beliefs about the founding of the Church of Rome?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://featherlessbiped.blogspot.com Rachel

    The link to the AJC is broken. Here is the correct address.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Thanks Rachel,

    I had just spotted that and fixed it. I had pasted it in with two http commands. D’oh.

  • Martha

    Or it could be a spoiler for the plot of Dan Brown’s next book?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    And the thorn in the flesh is, well, you know what (cue the Bishop Spong PR tapes).

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Do a googlenews search for “where tradition said the saint”…
    This story got picked up lots of places. None of the other versions have the “pope” clause. Making it more likely it’s a local copy editing gaffe?

  • Dennis Colby

    According to a search of the A wire, only one version moved, with no reference to the papacy of Paul. I don’t see any write-thrus, either, so it looks like this might have been the locals.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The most important impact of this finding and the finding of the bones of St. Peter under St. Peter’s Cathedral is that it gives great credibility to the concept of Tradition in the Catholic Church.
    The media often derides Tradition as a source of Truth and treats Tradition as if it is the equivalent of “Fairy Tale.” It looks like Sts. Peter and Paul are determined to give the Catholic Church the last laugh.

  • Pingback: CaNN :: We started it.


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