Listers, on this Solemnity of St. Peter and Paul, it is important to reflect on what their martyrdom meant for the early church. Many modern day academics enjoy setting St. Peter and St. Paul in enmity with one another; however, the over emphasis of Galatians 2:11-14 by modern scholarship fails to acknowledge that even though they had a disagreement their mission of spreading the Gospel was the same. In this spirit, I present to you five reflections by members of the early church on the mutual impact that St. Peter and Paul had on the early church. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to let St. Peter and St. Paul’s example of faithfulness unto death be your focus today and everyday.
#1 St. Irenaeus on St. Peter and Paul’s Influence in the Church in Rome
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meeting; [we do this, I say] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; also [by pointing out] the faith they preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. – Against Heresies 3.3.2.
#2 Tertullian on Paul’s Transition from Persecutor to Persecuted*
But how Paul, an apostle, from being a persecutor, who first of all shed the blood of the church, though afterwards he exchanged the sword for the pen, and turned the dagger into a plough, being first a ravening wolf of Benjamin, then himself supplying food as did Jacob, how he, (I say) speaks in favour of martyrdoms, now to be chosen by himself also, when rejoicing over the Thessalonians, he says, “So that we glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations, in which ye endure a manifestation of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be accounted worthy of His kingdom, for which ye also suffer!” As also in his Epistle to the Romans: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, being sure that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh us not ashamed”…
…You see what he decides the bliss of martyrdom to be, in honour of which he is providing a festival of mutual joy. When at length he had come to be very near the attainment of his desire, greatly rejoicing in what we saw before him, he writes in thse terms to Timothy: “For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; there is laid up for me the crown which the Lord will give me on that day” — doubtless of his suffering. Admonition enough did he for his part also give in preceding passages: “It is a faithful saying: For if we are dead with Christ, we shall also live with Him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we believe not, yet He is faithful: He cannot deny himself.” “Be not thou, therefore, ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His Prisoner;” for he had said before: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” For we suffer with power from love toward God, and with a sound mind, when we suffer for our blamelessness. But further, if He anywhere enjoins endurance, for what more than for sufferings is He providing it? It anywhere He tears men away from idolatry, what more than martyrdom takes the lead, in tearing them away to its injury?” — Scoripace, 8.
#3 St. Clement of Alexandria on the Example of Martyrdom
But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience…
…These things, beloved, we write unto to you, not to merely admonish you of your duty, but also to remind ourselves. For we are struggling on the same arena, and the same conflict is assigned to both of us. Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. –The First Epistle of Clement, 5-6.
#4 St. Augustine on the Purpose and Value of Marytrdom
What then have all those deaths of the martyrs accomplished? Listen: “As the fatness of the earth is spread over the earth, our bones have been scattered beside the pit.” “The bones” of the martyrs, that is, the bodies of the witnesses of Christ. The martyrs were slain, and they who slew them seemed to prevail. They prevailed by persecution, that the words of Christ might prevail by preaching. And what result of the deaths of the saints? What meaneth, “the fatness of the earth is spread over the earth”? We know that everything that is refuse is the fatness of the earth. The things which are as it were contemptible to men, enrich the earth…. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints.” As it is contemptible to the world, so is it precious to the husbandman. For he knoweth the use thereof, and its rich juice; he knoweth what he desireth, what they seeketh, whence the fertile crop ariseth; but this world despiseth it. Know ye not that “God hath chosen the contemptible things of the world, and those which are not, like those which are, that the things which are may be brought to nought”? From the dunghill was Peter lifted up, and Paul; when they were put to death, they were despised: now, the earth having been enriched by them, and the cross of the Church springing up, behold, all that is noble and chief in the world, even the emperor himself, cometh to Rome , and whither does he hasten? to the temple of the emperor, or the memorial of the fishermen? –On the Psalms, 141.
#5 St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the Nobility of St. Peter and Paul
And thus thou wilt be reminded of His pre-eminence, by the thought that a servant of Christ was caught up to the third heaven. For if Elias attained as far as the first heaven, but Paul as far as the third, the latter, therefore, has obtained a more honourable dignity. Be not ashamed of thine Apostles; they are not inferior to Moses, nor second to the Prophets; but they are noble among the noble, yea, nobler still. For Elias truly was taken up into heaven; but Peter has the keys of the kingdom of heaven, having received the words, “whatsoever thou shalt loose earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Elias was taken up only to heaven; but Paul both into heaven, and into paradise (for it behoved the disciples of Jesus to receive more manifold grace), and “unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter.” But Paul came down again from above, not because he was unworthy to abide in the third heaven, but in order that after having enjoyed things above man’s reach, and descended in honour, and having preached Christ, and died for His sake, he might receive also the crown of martyrdom. But I pass over the other parts of this argument, of which I spoke yesterday in the Lord’s-day congregation; for with understanding hearers, a mere reminder is sufficient of instruction. –Catechetical Lectures 14:26.
St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!
*Tertullian is not a saint; however, his ancient words on the goodness of St. Paul are still excellent to reflect on this holy day.