Saints Peter and Paul are the two greatest pillars of the Church. Their lives are very different, and this helps us understand from a divine perspective how it takes all kinds – not only of people but also of leaders – to build up the Church. The message of Christ appeals way beyond any narrow segment of humanity, culture, or way of life. We need leaders that lead in very different ways. Let us meditate on the lives of Saints Peter and Paul to grasp how their different styles of leadership bore witness to the Gospel.
We know that Saint Peter did not follow advanced religious studies, though he was probably a Jew devoted to whatever religious training he had received growing up. He was certainly sensitive to the Word of God, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” He was an honest man and prided himself on being the one upon whom Jesus could depend. He was probably one of the oldest of the Apostles if not the eldest. When Peter discovers his inability to remain faithful to Jesus at the moment of His betrayal, he does not despair but learns to trust more in the Grace of God and Jesus’ love for him than on his own strength. Certainly that was a humbling lesson, but one that gave him great peace and joy. When Saint Peter is cast into prison to be executed, he sleeps. This is not a sleep of sadness, but one of total abandon to the Love of his Lord. When he is freed miraculously by the angel, he continues to lead the Church by showing us that whatever joy or suffering we have to endure – even if we are unfaithful – He remains faithful. We can rest secure and at peace in the barge of our salvation: the Church.
Saint Paul leads in stark contrast to Saint Peter. When Saint Paul is in prison he leads the prisoners in hymns all night. Saint Paul travels everywhere, he brings the Gospel as far as the Holy Spirit will permit him. He uses his great wealth of learning to unlock insights into God’s plan that remained hidden in the Scriptures before the coming of Christ. Saint Paul had to discover his own weakness and incapacity: he would not be able to rely on his own fervor and intellect to become perfect. Saint Paul’s discovery of the absolute of Love beyond anything we can do, and the extraordinary power of God’s grace made even more manifest in our weaknesses give his witness the edge that leads us beyond human fears. This is God’s work in us, not our work in God. Our work in God is itself a gift from Him for our happiness.
SEVERUS OF ANTIOCH:
This we urge you, by both supplications and tears, to contribute to us—insignificant ones. For the shared sufferings of the church call for shared prayers, just as when Peter, the head of the apostles, was bound in prison by two chains and watched over by guards … “there was made constant prayer by the church to God for him.” When this is the case for an apostle, who needs help, and prayers are offered up by the church, how would we, the uninitiated and brood of sin, not all the more beg these prayers to be offered for us by the faithful, those noble limbs of the church and educated to groan with godly and spiritual perception?1
See how Peter slept and was not in anguish or fear. In the very night when he was about to be brought before the court he slept, leaving everything to God. Indeed the multitude becomes powerful when virtue is present. And it had such a power that even though the doors were closed, chains bound the apostle and the jailers slept at both his sides, virtue delivered him and saved him from all those difficulties. So if virtue is present the multitude has great strength, but if vice is present it makes no benefit.2
Why was this not done through themselves? In this way God honors them, rescuing them through his angels. Why did it not happen like this in the case of Paul? With good reason, because there the prison guard was to be converted, while here only the apostle was to be released. In different ways God disposes different things. There, it is well for Paul to sing hymns; here, for Peter to sleep.3
THEODORET OF CYR:
Paul calls his destruction a libation, as if his blood were poured out for the sake of true religion.4
Hear Paul the apostle first acknowledging grace and afterwards seeking what was owed. What is the acknowledgment of grace in Paul? He “was before a blasphemer and a persecutor and contumelious,” he says, “but I obtained mercy.” He said that he was unworthy to obtain it, but that he obtained it not by his own merits but by the mercy of God. Hear him now ready to receive what is owed, he who had first accepted unmerited grace. He says, “For I am even now ready to be sacrificed, and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice.” Now he demands what is owed. Now he exacts what is to be paid. For look at the following words: “Which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me in that day.”5
NEMESIUS OF EMESA:
If anyone should think it out of all reason that a godly man should suffer grievously so that someone else should be put right, let him reflect that this life is a contest and a striving ground for virtue. The victors’ chaplets are splendid in exact proportion, therefore, to the pains with which they are won. That is why Paul was allowed to fall into countless afflictions. The purpose was that the crown of victory which he should bear off might be the greater.6
For in a contest there is much labor needed. After the contest victory falls to some, to others disgrace. Is the palm ever given or the crown granted before the course is finished? Paul writes well when he says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but to all who love his appearing.”7
BASIL THE GREAT:
For, eternal rest lies before those who have struggled through the present life observant of the laws, a rest not given in payment for a debt owed for their works but provided as a grace of the munificent God for those who have hoped in him.8
And again Paul, giving thanks to the Lord for his own salvation, says, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth, meaning the one who roars to devour souls.” For he is full of wiles and at times he makes a lie appear as truth.9
The apostles could not do everything. They did not dispense miraculous gifts upon all occasions, lest more should be ascribed to them than was right.… For many things were permitted by God that the weakness of human nature might be manifested.10
He did not ask “Who do the scribes and Pharisees say that I am?” even though they had often come to him and discoursed with him. Rather, he begins his questioning by asking “Who do men say the Son of man is?” as if to inquire about common opinion. Even if common opinion was far less true than it might have been, it was at least relatively more free from malice than the opinions of the religious leaders, which was teeming with bad motives.11
EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN:
Did the Lord not know what people called him? But by questioning he brought forth the conviction of the apostle Peter and left for us in the future a strong affirmation of faith. For the Lord questioned not only Peter but all the apostles when he said, “Who do you say that I am?” Yet one on behalf of all answered the King, who is in due time to judge the whole world. He is God, both God and man. How miserable does this make those who are false teachers and strangers now, and to be judged in eternity. If Christ is the Son of God, by all means he is also God. If he is not God, he is not the Son of God. But since he himself is the Son, and as the Son takes up all things from the Father, let us hold this same one inseparably in our heart because there is no one who escapes his hand.12
EPIPHANIUS THE LATIN:
For Christ is a rock which is never disturbed or worn away. Therefore Peter gladly received his name from Christ to signify the established and unshaken faith of the church.… The devil is the gateway of death who always hastens to stir up against the holy church calamities and temptations and persecutions. But the faith of the apostle, which was founded upon the rock of Christ, abides always unconquered and unshaken. And the very keys of the kingdom of the heavens have been handed down so that one whom he has bound on earth has been bound in heaven, and one whom he has set free on earth he has also set free in heaven.13
- CATENA ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 12.5. Martin, F., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Acts (p. 152). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATENA ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 12.6–7. Martin, F., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Acts (p. 153). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 26. Martin, F., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Acts (p. 154). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTERPRETATION OF THE SECOND LETTER TO TIMOTHY. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 273). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATES ON JOHN 3.10. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 273). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- OF THE NATURE OF MAN 44.69. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 273). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Duties of the Clergy 1.15.58. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (pp. 273–274). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES 22. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 274). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE FIRST GREEK LIFE OF PACHOMIUS 135. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 278). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON 2 TIMOTHY 10. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 278). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 54.1. SImonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 44). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS 28. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 45). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS 28. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.