Two patron saints for Rome

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Rome is the city of popes because it was in Rome that St. Peter taught the gospel and it was there that he was martyred in A.D. 67 during Nero's persecution of the Christians. Our Lord appointed Peter the first pope in the famous scene in St. Matthew's gospel when Jesus declares, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:18-19).

According to ancient tradition, St. Paul was martyred on the same day as St. Peter. Paul was beheaded, and Peter was led into an arena that stood on the site of St. Peter's Square where he was to be crucified. When he protested that he was not worthy to die as Christ as had died, the executioners complied and crucified him upside down.

Rome's Christians were inordinately proud that their city could claim that Peter and Paul - the two greatest apostles - had brought the faith to their city and had been martyred there. And they had no patience for anyone who challenged the pre-eminence of Rome among the other churches of the Roman world. In 199, a Roman priest named Gaius wrote in a letter to Proclus, a heretic who tried to assert the primacy of the churches of Asia Minor over the church of Rome because the apostle St. Philip and his daughters were buried there. Gaius was not impressed. He said he could show victory monuments of the apostles. "If, in fact, you go out towards the Vatican or along Via Ostia, you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church," he wrote.

Nonetheless, we can't be sure how close Peter and Paul were at the time of their deaths. Peter exercised his ministry primarily among Jewish converts who insisted that all pagan converts to Christianity must keep kosher and the men and boys must be circumcised. Paul objected. These laws were a severe stumbling block to his mission to the Gentiles. Convincing non-Jews to give up pork and shellfish and never mix meat with diary would be difficult enough, but Paul could not imagine how he would persuade men and boys that they must be circumcised.

Meanwhile, God had revealed to Peter in a vision that the kosher laws were abolished, but Peter kept the revelation to himself. When he dined with Gentiles, Peter ate whatever was placed before him; when he dined with Jewish converts, he kept kosher. When Paul learned that Peter was playing both sides against the middle, he denounced him as a hypocrite (see Gal 2:11-21). The quarrel caused a rift between the two apostles, and we do not know if they ever reconciled.

Putting aside St. Peter's equivocation and St. Paul's short fuse, the Church celebrates today the greatest of the apostles, who for all their foibles, shared one faith and one goal - to bring the faith of Christ to all nations.

Craughwell is the author of This Saint Will Change Your Life (Quirk, 2012)and St. Peter's Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found … Then Lost and Found Again (Image Books, 2014).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016