We are back! Well, we’re back with a QUESTION!!!!!
Marcy asks: “Why was there a split between what I think of as the doctrine Peter and the doctrine of Paul? Was it a matter of ‘money talks’? And, of course, why no married priests if Peter was married?”
I don’t know if Marcy is getting at the famous phrase “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” If she is, the best my research can show indicates that the phrase has nothing to do with these two Apostles. Most of the sources I’ve found in my research say that the “Peter” in question is actually Westminster Abbey (aka, the Abby of St. Peter’s), while the “Paul” is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Apparently, after King Henry VIII took over the monastery lands, including Westminster Abbey, in the sixteenth century, he used money from the monastery to pay for repairs to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Thus Peter was robbed to pay for Paul. The phrase had nothing to do with the doctrines of the two disciples. There is evidence for earlier references to the phrase, but they always have to do with moving money around and nothing to do with the actual Apostles.
However, there is a deeper topic of discussion here. Marcy mentions the debate over the doctrine of St. Peter vs. the doctrine of St. Paul. Many Protestant theologians embrace the writings of St. Paul as an antidote to the theology of the Catholic Church, and since the first pope is St. Peter, these theologians set up St. Paul as an antidote to St. Peter. It is a hot topic in many interdenominational debates.
In order to approach this hotly debated topic, we must first get to know the two great men in question, Sts. Peter and Paul. Both men helped form the Church. If there was a divide between them, if one’s beliefs were suppressed for the other, then perhaps the entirety of Christian history is a lie. That would be bad.
But first, a little about St. Peter.
He was a fisherman named Simon, a strong man, tough and weathered by years on the Sea of Galilee. He was like all of us, a sinner. He admits as much to Jesus when Our Lord helps him catch a miraculous net of fish. He was outspoken, saying his mind, a sometimes-flaw which Christ used to spread His Word. Christ did not choose him randomly to be the “Rock” upon which He would build His Church. Matthew 16 is clear on this; it was a defining moment in Church history, and as such merited the change of the Apostle’s name from Simon to Peter. Yet this same man who declared Christ was the “Son of God” later tried to forbid Christ from going to Jerusalem. Christ’s rebuke of Peter serves to remind us that though Christ works with us for our salvation and the salvation of others, He is in charge, we are not. Jesus used this man of conviction, in spite of his brash nature, to transform the world. It was Peter who, after Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, stood up and took charge of the Apostles; Christ had, after all, left Peter the task (see Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-19). No one challenged him. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, it was Peter who addressed the crowd, and 3000 joined the Church that day. Peter was the leader, and the Church followed his lead.
Paul was similar to Peter in that he too had great faith and spoke his mind. Unlike Peter, Paul (whose original name was Saul) was well educated and, notably, a Roman citizen. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most notable rabbis of first century Jerusalem. On fire for God, Saul joined the Persecution of Christians in Jerusalem. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there when a blinding light knocked him to the ground, and Christ’s voice announced that Saul was persecuting Him, not merely His followers. This conversion transformed Saul. After retreating to the Arabian desert for three years, Saul met with the Apostles in Jerusalem. During this time, Paul drew into Christ, and soon he referred to himself not by his given name (Saul) but by a Greek version of that name (Paul).
These two men are, as Fr. Robert Barron says in his Catholicism series, “the indispensable men” of the early Church. The Church would not exist as it does today if not for these men. They together formed a huge bulk of the New Testament. St. Peter wrote two letters contained in the Canon of Scripture, as well as working with St. Mark on his Gospel account. St. Paul is responsible for the bulk of the New Testament, penning the majority of the New Testament Letters, as well as working with St. Luke to write the third Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. These two men, Peter and Paul, presented to the Church an authentic understanding of Christ’s mission and teaching. St. Peter helped spread the word to Jewish Christians; St. Paul’s preaching earned him the title “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
What, then, of this split between their teachings? Did they teach different doctrines? If so, who was right?
The controversy stems from a rather strong passage in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (2:11ff). Here Paul describes how he went to preach to the Gentiles, as Peter, James, and John preached to the Jews. However, while in Antioch, Paul stood up to Peter “to his face” because Peter ate with the Jewish Christians but not the Gentile ones. Protestant scholars see in Paul’s statement proof that he and St. Peter were at odds with each other, and that Paul had enough authority to counter the authority of Peter. Peter, it seems, taught one thing while Paul taught something else, and given the chance, Paul would reject Peter’s authority. Does this mean Peter was not really in charge of the Christian Church following Christ’s Ascension?
The answer lies in the Acts of the Apostles (side note: remember to read the Bible, especially St. Paul’s letters, as one book; St. Paul’s writings fit into the historical narrative relayed in Acts of the Apostles, and oftentimes the historical writings are helpful for making sense of Paul’s writings). In Acts 10 there is the story of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius was one of the “God-fearers,” pagans who believed in the one true God, but didn’t want to go through the rather painful process of becoming Jewish. Cornelius received a vision telling him to send for Peter. He does this immediately. The next day, as the messengers from Cornelius approach the place where Peter stayed, Peter himself received a vision of a sheet with all sorts of animals, clean and unclean. Peter, though very hungry (it was lunch time), refused to touch the animals, saying “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). A voice responded, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This happened three times, and at the end of it, Peter was confused. Then he met the messengers from Cornelius, and things started to make sense. He went with the men to Cornelius, and long story short, Cornelius and his household were baptized, even though they were not Jewish. They became the first Gentile Christians, baptized by the hand of Peter himself.
Now as time progressed, many Gentiles became Christians. Some of the Jewish Christians (converts from Judaism) were upset that the Gentile Christians didn’t have to follow the law of Moses before becoming Christians. Other Christians said the law of Moses no longer had the authority it did before Christ. Christ fulfilled the law, the logic went, and so we don’t need the explicit law any more. Paul supported this latter view. The final decision on this question finally came at the Council of Jerusalem (the first council of its kind in Church history). There the Apostles decided that Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were equal, and that Gentile Christians did not have to follow the Mosaic law (the whole story is in Acts 15). Peter not only supported this decision, it was his speech in the council that rallied the Apostles to agree. So there in Acts 15 Peter and Paul agree on this issue of Gentile vs. Jewish Christians. They are the same, and one can interact with both groups. All are one in Christ.
What, then, of Galatians 2:11 ff? Look at what Paul says he said to Peter. First, the context.
Chapter two of Paul’s letter begins by Paul saying how he went to Jerusalem to defend his ministry to the Gentiles. He gives a beautiful, reflective summary of the council in Jerusalem:
“When they [the other Apostles] saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do” (Gal 2:7-10).
Paul left the council with the blessing and prayers and support of Peter, James, and John (Peter = Cephas). However, the very next verse is the startling one: “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” Does Paul know better than Peter? Does a normal bishop dare stand up to the pope? The rest of the passage holds the answer.
For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose. (Gal. 2:12-21)
This isn’t an example of a bishop (Paul) splitting off from the pope’s (Peter’s) teaching. This is a bishop reminding the pope of his own teaching. Paul does this reprimand not to break off from Peter or to try to take control of the Church, but to unite the Church, rallying the faithful around the teaching of the Apostles.
And before anyone gets too excited, no, this episode does nothing to diminish papal infallibility. Peter was causing scandal through his actions (a discipline-related matter), but he did not break from the set doctrine of the Church.
So there was no conflict between Peter and Paul. In fact, one finds in one of Peter’s letters an endorsement of Paul’s letters: “Count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3: 15-17). Likewise, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul lists Peter first among those who saw the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:5). Paul also discourages the Corinthians from distinguishing between his teaching and that of Peter. As Paul states, “let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3: 21-23).
Peter and Paul together transformed the Church. It is no wonder that the Church celebrates both men together on June 29 (which, on a completely unrelated side note, is also my wedding anniversary).
Above: An Icon of Peter and Paul. See, they’re bros!
One final note about Peter. Marcy asked why there are no married priests if Peter was married. We know that Peter was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (see Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 4 for the story). Why, then, can’t priests be married?
The celibate priesthood is a discipline of the Church. Disciplines can change. In the early church, some priests were married (as we mentioned in the post about the question of women priests in Church history), and this discipline is still practice in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. Likewise, in the Roman Catholic Church, certain clergymen who convert from certain Protestant groups (like former Anglicans) may, under certain circumstances, be ordained even though they are married. There are also permanent deacons in the Roman Rite who are married. However, there is a major condition for all of these men, whether they are Eastern or converts or permanent deacons: married clergy must be married prior to receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, that is, before ordination. Married men can become priests. Priests can’t become married men.
There is a lot more which could be said about this. I have a special section in the For More Information below concerning married priests.
For More Information
On “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”
On Married Priests
Thurston, Herbert. “Celibacy of the Clergy.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. Accessed June 8, 2014. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03481a.htm
Catholic Answers. “Celibacy and the Priesthood.” Accessed June 8, 2014. http://www.catholic.com/tracts/celibacy-and-the-priesthood
“Clerical Celibacy (Catholic Church).” Accessed June 8, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerical_celibacy_(Catholic_Church)
Cattaneo, Arturo. Married Priests?: 30 Crucial Questions about Celibacy. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2012.