Wednesday, June 24, 2015

St. Paul and St. Peter at Rome

Reading N°21 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

Paul the Apostle
Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Four years after writing his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul entered Rome as a prisoner. He had been set upon in a tumult in Jerusalem, whither he had brought the offerings collected in Achaia for the brethren of Jerusalem, and had been arrested by the Roman police and haled before the governor of Judea. Before the tribune Claudius, he demanded his rights as a Roman citizen and uttered the solemn formula of appeal to Caesar. After an imprisonment at Caesarea, he was brought to Rome, reaching there in March, 62, just when Nero's personal reign was beginning. Burrus had just died and was replaced by the infamous Tigellinus, the companion of the Emperor's debauchery; Seneca had retired from public life, and, as has been said, "Nero now had only the Furies for his advisers."

But the ruler no doubt paid little attention to this Jewish prisoner and to the religious quarrel in which he was said to be involved. Paul had to wait two years for that appearance before the Emperor which he had demanded as the right of a Roman citizen. During those two years, he lived in a condition of mitigated imprisonment in the custody of a pretorian, freely receiving those who came to visit him.

The Christian community at Rome had grown. One of the letters written by the Apostle during his imprisonment speaks of Christians belonging to Caesar's household.[1] It would seem that his words brought about many conversions, even among the soldiers. In the same letter, he says that his chains have become a preaching of Christ in the whole pretorian camp near which he was lodged.[2] There it was that he wrote several of his Epistles: probably the short note to Philemon, the letter to the Churches of Asia Minor known as the Epistle to the Ephesians, the exhortation to the brethren at Colossa, and certainly the letter to the Philippians.[3]

These so-called Epistles of the Captivity are distinguished from the others by a tone of greater tenderness and a deeper mystical doctrine. The Apostle's first letters were merely an echo of his missionary preaching; the Epistle to the Romans condensed his fundamental dogmatic teaching. In his correspondence with the Churches of Asia in general, with the Christians of Colossa and of Philippi, his soul is poured forth in more touching accents. At the close of his letter to the Philippians, he writes these exquisitely delicate lines:
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow laborer and fellow soldier. [...] He was sick nigh unto death; but God had mercy on him; and not only on him, but on me also.[4]
To Philemon, he writes:
As Paul, an old man, and now a prisoner also of Jesus Christ, I beseech thee for my son, whom I have begotten in my bands.[5]
In these Epistles of the Captivity are to be found lofty and enlightening views upon the interior life, upon Christ considered as the foundation of all things, upon the abasement of the Son of God, upon the struggle we have to engage in against the infernal powers, upon the old man and the new man, upon the union of Christ and His Church.

There is nothing equal to the touching words with which the Apostle, on his knees, begs the Christians to strengthen the inner man within themselves:
I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles, bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [...] that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that, being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able [...] to know also the charity of Christ.[6]
For Christ is the foundation of all:
God, according to His good pleasure, hath purposed in Him [...] to reestablish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth.[7]
And it is this Christ who, out of love for us, so greatly humbled Himself:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. [...] He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.[8]
But alas, although on one hand Christ draws us, on the other the powers of evil seek to seduce us:
Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places.[9]
Of what, at bottom, does the whole Christian life consist?
To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.[10]
Paul's words are no less tender when he speaks of the Church than when he speaks of Christ and of God; for him, Christ is the living God, and the Church and Christ are one. The Church is the body of Christ; it is Christ continuing to live, through time and space, by His ministers and His Sacraments. If God, in His Church, has bestowed diverse ministries and graces, all this was done
[...] for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all meet into the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ, that, [...] doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity.[11]
St. Paul's trial was finally ended. In 63, he appeared, if not before the Emperor, at least before the council having jurisdiction in the case of his appeal.[12] The imperial tribunal, unconcerned with religious disputes, provided these did not disturb public tranquillity, may have regarded Paul's case as a mere conflict of Jewish sects, and acquitted the Apostle, who, as he himself expresses it, "was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."[13]

When Paul was set at liberty, he probably went to Spain; the Christian beginnings of that country seem to be connected with his apostolate. He also revisited the Christian communities of the Aegean sea-coast. The so-called pastoral letters, written to Titus and to Timothy, give us a few details of this journey.

St. Paul's stay at Rome, though he was a prisoner, had been of advantage to the progress of the Church. The Christians, comforted by his presence and example, showed themselves more confident and courageous.

At the very time when Paul left the Eternal City, Peter reached there. There can be no doubt of this second journey of the chief of the Apostles to Rome. But the fact of Peter's residence at Rome has borne such consequences and aroused so great controversies, that it is worth while considering the evidence for it.

After the middle of the second century, a precise and universal tradition clearly existed as to St. Peter's visit to Rome. It is very remarkable that a position entailing consequences of such crucial importance never was questioned in any of the controversies between the East and Rome. But the evidence goes back farther than the end or even the middle of the second century. In his letter to the Romans,[14] St. Ignatius of Antioch alludes to their Apostolic traditions. Without speaking of the allusions to it which it has been thought possible to trace in the Apocalypse and the Epistle to the Hebrews, the last chapter of the Fourth Gospel contains an extremely clear allusion to the way in which St. Peter met his death.[15] St. Clement, in the celebrated passage on Nero's persecution,[16] connects the Apostles Peter and Paul with the Danaides, the Dirces, and other victims who suffered as a result of the burning of Rome. There is no one, even including St. Peter himself, but records his sojourn in Rome. His letter to the Christians in Asia Minor finishes with a greeting which he sends them in the name of the Church of Babylon, that is, the Church of Rome.[17]

Though the reality of St. Peter's residence in Rome is historically established, we have only vague data about his labors there. In Trastevere, in the ghetto, on the Aventine, at St. Prisca; on the Viminal, at the spot marked by St. Pudentiana; on the Via Nomentana, at the Ostrian cemetery, at the place called Ad nymphas sancti Petri, or Ubi Petrus baptizabat; in the Vatican region, where he shed his blood: at these spots a few traditional souvenirs enable us vaguely to follow the Apostle by the half-effaced traces of his footsteps.[18]


[1] Phil. 4:22.
[2] Phil. 1:13.
[3] Each of these letters alludes to an imprisonment of the Apostle. The Epistle to the Philippians certainly dates from the Roman imprisonment. It is possible that the other Epistles were written by St. Paul while he was in prison at Caesarea. Cf. Jacquier, Histoire des livres du Nouveau Testament, IV, 282.
[4] Phil. 2:25-27.
[5] Phil. 9 f.
[6] Ephes. 3:1, 14-19.
[7] Ephes. 1:9 f.
[8] Phil. 2: 6-8. Cf. Durand, "La Divinité de Jésus-Christ dans saint Paul," in the Revue biblique, 1903, pp. 550 ff.
[9] Ephes. 6:12.
[10] Ephes. 4:22-24.
[11] Ephes. 4: 11-16. We have purposely given as literal a translation as possible of this sentence, in which the most personal, the most grammatically involved, the densest and the most powerful traits of St. Paul's style are revealed.
[12] Willems, Le Droit public romain, p. 475.
[13] 2 Tim. 4:17.
[14] St. Ignatius, Romans, 4.
[15] John 21:18 f.
[16] First Epistle to the Corinthians, 5 f.
[17] Cf. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church, I, 45; cf. Fouard, St. Peter, pp. 407 f.; Guiraud, Questions d'histoire et d'archéologie chrétienne, la venue de saint Pierre à Rome; De Smedt, Dissertationes selectae in primam aetatem Ecclesiae, pp. 12-22; Grisar, History of Rome and the Popes in the Middle Ages, I, 284 ff. Guignebert, in a voluminous work, La Primauté de Pierre et la venue de Pierre à Rome, attempts to reopen the question and to revise the claims of the Christian tradition to historical certitude.
[18] Cf. Gondal, Au temps des apôtres, p. 239.


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