June 29 – Apostles Peter and Paul

The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (I cent.) dominate today’s saint calendar, and rightly so. The leader of the twelve (that’s Peter) and the Apostle to the Gentiles (that’s Paul) have long been held up by the church as the greatest of our Lord’s apostles. (It is strictly jocular and not at all historical to refer to them as the First Catholic and First Protestant, respectively.) (Who that makes the first Orthodox is another question entirely. John?)

The Blessed Augustine (Aug 28) gave a lovely sermon on this topic, which starts “Today the Holy Church piously remembers the sufferings of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Apostles Peter and Paul.” He goes on to point out that it was Peter who first identified Christ as the Son of the Living God, which confession (according to Augustine and he should know) our Lord referred to as the “rock” upon which he would found his Church. To Peter Jesus assigns the task of feeding his sheep (Jesus’ sheep, not Peter’s, as Augustine bends over backwards to point out), which refers to feeding them spiritually and not, as none have suggested, with Purina Sheep Chow.

Peter goes on to become Bishop of Rome, which in time came to be called the Pope (of Rome), as many of my readers will know. (There also being from antiquity a Pope of Alexandria, which some of my readers may not know.) He was crucified upside-down according to tradition, having told his executioners that he didn’t deserve to be crucified in the same position as his Lord. (It was considerate of the executioners to concede his last wishes, don’t you think? I’ve always felt that considerate executioners are the best kind to have, if you have to have executioners at all.)

Paul, as any well-educated atheist knows, started his life as a student of Rabbi Gamaliel (okay, well, he started his life as a baby, but you know what I mean). He enters the Scriptures as the coat-check boy at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (or “protomartyr,” as Stephen is called by the Greeks, with their inveterate love of Greek). He was on the way to Damascus to do more damage when he was struck blind and had a vision of Christ (or had a vision of Christ and was struck blind) telling him, “Saul [for that was his name in those days], why are you giving me the shizzle?” (Or words to that effect.) They had a little tete-à-tete (or tete-à-nuage), and Saul learned that his interlocutor was Christ, who moreover took all this stoning Christians stuff very personally. Other people in the group didn’t hear the words, but only a loud noise.

Later they arrove in town, and Saul was baptized by one Ananias (which does not mean “pineapple”). Previously our Lord had mentioned to Ananias (in a vision) that Paul was coming, and told him to baptize him. Ananias informed Jesus in no uncertain terms that this Saul guy was bad news, but the Savior wasn’t budging, adding that he has lots of suffering in store for Saul. We will charitably assume that Ananias did not feel any Schadenfreude about that. Anyway. After that Barnabas (as we saw on his day) (Jun 11) introduced Paul (the name he took at baptism, presumably—this only makes sense, as adult converts often take a saint’s name at baptism, and Paul was after all one of the greatest saints) to the other Apostles, and he (Paul) went on to spread the Gospel all over the Roman Empire, or at least a whole bunch of it.

He got into a bit of an argument with Peter at the Council of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15), but clearly they had made up by the time the icon of them kissing was made. Paul, as any well-educated secular humanist could tell you, wrote the lion’s share of the New Testament, primarily in order to slap various local churches that were getting out of line (so glad that never happens these days). Tradition says he was beheaded in Rome.