The Charism of Peter And Paul

The Charism of Peter And Paul June 29, 2023

Anonymous: Sketch Of Sts Peter And Paul Based Upon Image From The Catacombs / World History Encyclopedia

Sts. Peter and Paul were both great men. They were not perfect. They made all kinds of mistakes. They had all kinds of foibles. They failed to live up to their potential many times. Yet, despite all of that, they embraced their mission, their identity in Christ, and in doing so, allowed grace to make them great. One can say that their greatness lay, in part, with the fact that they did not let their failures define them.  If they had, they would have fallen for despair, and with that despair, stumbled along from failure to failure until, at last, if they had not broken free, they would have ended up destroying themselves in one way or another (like Judas did). Their imperfections show us that we should not despair when we look at ourselves and see our own imperfections. We should not let them get the best of us, nor think they define us and who we are. We should discern the good in our lives, embrace it, and let it lead to our further development, so that, like Peter and Paul, we can find our mission in the world, using it to share the good we have with others.

Peter and Paul could, and did, get into disputes with each other. Often, it came out of the way one or the other failed to live up to their potential. Paul certainly argued with Peter when he found Peter not living up to the spirit of the teachings which he preached, with perhaps the most famous example of this being when he confronted Peter for segregating himself from Gentile believers (cf. Gal. 2:11-14). On the other hand, Paul often could be, and would be, arrogant and brash, perhaps even prideful of his background as he used it often to promote himself. He, like so many with a similar spirit, did not want anyone to tell him what to do, and yet he also recognized that Peter and the other apostles did have authority. Paul accepted that he had to connect his ministry with the rest of the apostles; he understood why he needed their approval (cf. Gal. 1:18-19). In doing so, he prevented himself becoming too attached to his own prejudices and biases and how they could have subverted his mission. Thus, just as Paul often confronted Peter, and made sure Peter lived what he preached, Paul likewise needed Peter to stand in the way of his pride, stand in the way of splitting off from the rest of the church and in that way, subverting the unity which Christ wanted for the church.

Peter had an authority which Paul recognized. When he found himself in some sort of conflict with Peter, it was not over that authority, nor Peter’s authoritative teaching, but in the way Peter personally failed to live up to the mission given unto him. Peter, likewise, helped challenge Paul so that he lived up to the great apostolic mission he had been given. This is why, in the end, they were able to establish a bond of love with each other, and with that bond, they were able to help and support each other at the end of their lives. They helped each other stay strong in the final act of their lives, as they became martyrs for Christ. They died, not in despair, but with hope and love. It was the love which they had also preached about when presenting the Gospel message. Sadly, as St. Sophronios of Jerusalem understood, Christians have found all kinds of excuses not only to ignore the way of love as taught by the apostles, but to act contrary to it:

But we pursue the opposite of what these men teach. Not only are we unwilling to love one another, but we want to hate our neighbors as enemies, not realizing, it seems, that enmity and hatred are offspring of the evil spirit. Hence, we treat them with injustice and oppress them and subject them to countless slanderous attacks, and totally bereft of love we inflict every kind of harm on them. [1]

Paul, to be sure, often had to help Peter remember this so that he could and would serve as the servant of servants in the church.  And yet, we must understand, when Peter ignored the Gentile converts, it was not done out of hate, but rather, because he felt more comfortable with his Jewish-Christian brethren. If he did not make the effort to overcome his natural inclination to be with the Jewish-Christians alone, the church would have suffered greatly, as it would not have had Peter’s example of the kind of unity which Christ wanted, not only for Christians, but for the whole world. Christ came to bring humanity together as one. The church is meant to serve as a sign of that unity to the rest of the world. Paul rightfully saw the consequences of Peter’s actions, and Peter, from all indication, was able to be convinced and so listened to Paul. This does not mean Paul always served as a perfect example of such love. He often found himself being in contention with people around him; he knew the truth, but did not perfectly act upon it himself, and this often meant many of his companions would leave him to be all by himself. What this teaches us is that we can know what is right, we can focus on what is right, we can preach us, but still fail to attain the perfection we want; when we do so, we need someone to help point it out to us so we do not let our failure get the best of us, become reified, before being turned into something far worse.

Peter and Paul, coming together as they did in the end, show us that whatever contention they had, it was able to be set aside when they found themselves facing the final trials and tribulations of their lives. Their victory in their martyrdom was a victory of love. They overcame their pasts and allowed themselves embrace their eschatological future, the future where all humanity is called to be one in and with love. And, while they were not perfect with it, they still served others with that love throughout their lives, indeed, it was that love which gave them much of their authority in the church. Thus, it was when Peter confirmed his love that Jesus confirmed Jesus’ ministry:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me” (Jn. 21:15-19 RSV).

Thus, it is after Peter’s confirmation of love, Peter was forgiven and told he could and would continue to serve Jesus by feeding the sheep. Once again, it was this love which gave him his authority:

And when the supreme authority for feeding the sheep was given to Peter and the Church was founded upon him as upon the rock, the confession of no other virtue is demanded of him except of love. [2]

Peter’s death was tied with his life. He was to live out the love which he confirmed he had to its conclusion. Paul helped him do this, even as Peter, then, served Paul and helped him do so as well. Paul had to go beyond all his early education and understanding and see the transcendence of love. He had to discern the meaning of the law and prophets and see how they pointed to and were one with the message and life of Jesus. The law and prophets were centered upon love, and Jesus himself, represented not only love, but the love that God had for all creation. Once Paul saw this, he was able to move beyond his initial biases and prejudices against Christ and so to become one of Christ’s greatest missionaries instead of one of Christ’s greatest persecutors. Peter and Paul died together to show the world the way love had changed them and brought them together to be one.  Thus,  as they came to their end together, even if they were not executed at the exact same spot or time, they were able to express their love for each other and help each other in their last trial and tribulation, to let all that had gone between them vanish as if it were nothing, showing us that they had fulfilled their mission and established a charism in  the church which was meant to continue throughout the ages, the charism of the see of Rome, a charism which comes from both of them and not just Peter alone. And, just as Peter and Paul could and did fail to meet all the expectations of love, so, too, many of the heirs of their charism could and did fail to do so as well. That failure did not get in the way of the charism and its continued presence in the world. It continued to be shared through time, providing all kinds of grace to the world. The charism was greater than those who participated in it, just as God’s love is greater than our sin. Seeing that this is the case, then, we can hope that we, too, with our failures to live out our own mission or charism, will find that our charism is not taken from us. We, too, can realize that God’s love will always be there, helping us even in the midst of our failure, so that if we embrace it in the end, we like Peter and Paul, can find ourselves drawn to the kingdom of God and the blessings God wants us to have.

[1] St Sophronios of Jerusalem, “Homily  7: Homily on the Blessed Apostles Saints Peter and Paul (On the Fourth Day of the Nativity)”  in Homilies. Trans. John M. Duffy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020), 319-21.

[2] Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: Books 1-5. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2001), 376.


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