Peter confesses, Paul converts

“Saints Peter and Paul,” by El Greco

*   *   *   *

January 20, 2016 – Here’s a parable.  Or at least a quasi-parable.

Two marathon runners were enrolled in a race.  By all accounts they were perfectly equal, in speed and endurance. But there was one minor difference:  One runner wanted to do it all on his own.  He didn’t want help from anyone.  But the other runner could imagine.  So as the race wore on and each runner got more and more tired, the second runner “imagined.”

He imagined wearing a harness, attached to a long rope.  And he further imagined that long, strong rope pulled him along, pulled him forward.  And as he imagined that long, strong rope, he could feel himself pulled along, a process that seemed to give him extra strength.

So here’s the question. Which runner has a better chance of winning the marathon?

“Just sayin’…”

But getting back to the topic at hand, see Peter, Paul – and other “relics:”

On January 18 we celebrate the Confession of Peter:  “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.”  A week later on January 25 we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.  Then comes June 29, when we celebrate both men…

That post – from last June 25 – noted that the June 29 Feast Day remembers both Peter and Paul, together.  We remember that both men were martyred at about the same time.  (In Rome, around 65 A.D.)  We also remember on June 29 that their body parts – relics – were removed (translated) at about the same time, to keep them from being desecrated.

(That’s where the “relics” came in, in the post title.  In turn, the image at right – from that June 25 post – shows “St. Corbinian’s relics being moved…”)

But on the other side of the liturgical year – here, in the dead of winter – we remember both men separately, on January 18 and 25.  Or more precisely, we remember how these two “Pillars of the Church” took two completely different paths to the same destination.

On 18 January we remember how the Apostle Peter was led by God’s grace to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20), and we join with Peter, and with all Christians everywhere, in hailing Jesus as our Lord, God, and Savior.

(See Confession of St. Peter, from the Satucket website.)  Put another way, the January 18 Feast Day commemorates Peter being the first apostle “to confess Jesus as Messiah.”

On the other hand, the January 25 Feast Day commemorates how “Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus, formerly an enemy and persecutor of the early Christian Church, was led by God’s grace to become one of its chief spokesmen.”  (See Conversion of St. Paul, emphasis added.)

In other words, Peter came to his position of authority from “inside the church.”  Paul on the other hand was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority.

Turning to the Confession of Peter, that refers to “an episode in the New Testament:”

[The] Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus to be Christ – the Messiah.  The proclamation is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20.  The proclamation of Jesus as Christ is fundamental to Christology … and Jesus’ acceptance of the title is a definitive statement for it in the New Testament narrative.

On the other hand, the Conversion of St. Paul commemorates “an event in the life of Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus.”

Wikipedia noted that before that event, Paul – known as Saul – was a zealous “Pharisee who ‘intensely persecuted‘” what might then have been called the Jesus Movement.  (An allusion to an arguably-similar movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s):

…beginning on the West Coast of the United States … and spreading primarily throughout North America and Europe, before subsiding by the early 1980s.  [The Jesus movement] was the major Christian element within the hippie counterculture…  Members of the movement were called Jesus people, or Jesus freaks.

Getting back to Paul:  He wrote about his former life – as a devout and zealous enemy of the budding Christian church – in Galatians 1:13-14.  There he wrote about his being “extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”  Accordingly, he intensely “persecuted the church of God” – that is, the newly-formed Christian Church –  “and tried to destroy it.”  

But then he had his Damascus Road Experience (illustrated above right).  In that episode he was literally struck blind, for three days.  So like I said before, Paul was “pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority.”

Paul also wrote about his former life – as a persecutor of the church – and in particular his part in the stoning of Stephen, in Acts 7:57-8:3.  (“Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”)

In plain words, Paul’s Damascus experience “changed him from a Christ-hating persecutor of Christians to the foremost spokesman for the faith.”  But before that could happen, the people most afraid of him – in Jerusalem especially – had to be convinced that his change of heart was genuine.  In turn, that change of heart by those early Christians started with Barnabas:

To sum up, if it hadn’t been for Barnabas and his willingness to give Paul a second chance – a second chance for the formerly zealous persecutor of the early Church – he might never have become Christianity’s most important early convert, if not the “Founder of Christianity.”

See St. Barnabus’ Day, 2015, and also On St. Barnabas – from 2014.  Both posts noted:

[E]ven after Paul’s Damascus Road experience, most Christians in Jerusalem “wanted nothing to do with him.  They had known him as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church.  But Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance.”

I concluded the second Barnabas post by saying:

“So we might just call Barnabas ‘the Apostle of Second Chances.’”

Which seems – after all – to be pretty much what “the Jesus movement” is all about.

*   *   *   *

The original post had an upper image courtesy of Saints Peter and Paul by GRECO – Web Gallery and showed:

The two saints … the most influential leaders of the early Church … engaged in an animated discussion.  The older, white-haired Peter … inclines his head thoughtfully to one side as he looks towards the text being expounded.  In his left hand he holds his attribute, the key to the kingdom of Heaven.  His right hand is cupped as if weighing up an idea.  Paul presses his left hand down firmly on the open volume on the table, his right hand raised in a gesture of explanation as he looks directly at the viewer.

The article said El Greco painted the two together several times “with remarkable consistency.”  Peter always has white hair and a beard, while “Paul is always shown slightly balding, with dark hair and beard, wearing a red mantle…”  See also Feast of Peter and Paul – Wikipedia, with caption:  “Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Oil on canvas by El Greco. circa 16th-century. Hermitage Museum,Russia.”

*   *   *   *

A “marathon” image was courtesy of Marathon – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “A competitor collapses just prior to the finish line of the 2006 Melbourne Marathon.”

The point of the parable:  That if the second runner couldn’t “imagine” the existence of that Helping Rope, he had no hope of “finding” that Source of Help…

The death-dates of Peter and Paul.  The best answer seems to come from

Tradition has it that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, Italy.  The actual date is unknown but is probably around the late 50s to late 60s AD.  The Annuario Pontificio gives the year of Peter’s death as … A.D. 67.  Early church tradition says Peter probably died at the time of the Great Fire of Rome of the year 64.  His co-worker Paul was also executed a little later, but as Paul was a Roman citizen … he was granted a swift death by beheading by sword … as opposed to crucifixion which was reserved for foreigners.

Re:  “Pillars of the church.”  A Google-search will lead to widely disparate answers as to who or what such “pillars” are.  (Some sites refer to people, but most refer to Biblical principles.)  But see especially The Three Pillars of the First Century Christian Church, citing Galatians 2:9.  In the New Living Translation, Paul wrote of a meeting in Jerusalem:  

James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers.  They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews.

This was some 14 to 17 years or more after his Damascus Road Experience.

*   *   *   *

A “Conversion of St. Paul” image was courtesy of The title of the painting, “The Conversion of St. Paul, 1767 by Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie.” See also Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie | Conversion of St. Paul.  (For a print.)

A quote about Paul changing from “Christ-hating persecutor of Christians” can be found at the post, Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.”  That post discussed Doubting Thomases in general, and specifically “the ‘mother of all‘ such skeptics,” the Apostle Thomas himself.   The post also discussed the differences between “skeptical” and “cynical.” 

A lower image was courtesy of  See also Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn.

*   *   *   *

An original caption: “Two Scholars Disputing” – Peter and Paul – but working together… 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *