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Commentary from 




Rivingtons, London, 1884



[JUNE 29.]

This day is one of the oldest of Christian festivals, and one that was from the beginning of its institution celebrated with great solemnity. Ruinart [617] traces it back as far as the third century, and it is probably of even more primitive antiquity. In St. Jerome's Lectionary there are two Gospels and two Epistles, the one pair under the name of St. Peter, the other under that of St. Paul. As there is only one Vigil, and one Octave, which is called the Octave of the Apostles, the day was evidently then dedicated to both Apostles, as it was in the English Church until the Reformation [a " Commemoration " of St. Paul following on the 30th], and as it still is in the Latin and the Eastern Church. It was a very early custom for the Bishops of Rome to celebrate the Holy Communion in both St. Peter's and St. Paul's Churches on this day, a custom which is mentioned [a.d. 348] by Prudentius [Peristephano, carm. xii.],

Transtyberina prius solvit sacra pervigil saccrdos,
Mox hue recurrit, duplicatque vota.

He also speaks of the whole city frequenting each church, as if the festival was kept very generally and with great solemnity. St. Augustine, St. Leo, and several others of the Fathers have left sermons preached on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul; and no doubt the two, from their relative positions as the chief Apostles of the Jews and the Gentiles, from their joint ministrations at Rome, and from their martyrdom together there on the same day, have always had this day dedicated in their united names. Bishop Cosin restored the title " Saint Peter's and Saint Paul's Day" in his Durham Prayer Book, and added to the Collect, so that- it should read ". . . . commandedst him earnestly to feed Thy flock, and madest Thy Apostle St. Paul a choice vessel to bear Thy name before the Gentiles, make, we beseech Thee, all Bishops and all other ministers of Thy Church, diligently to preach Thy holy Word . . . ." He also altered the Epistle to 2 Tim. iv. 1—9; but none of these changes were adopted.

St. Peter was one of the first-called of our Lord's disciples [John i. 35—42], and as soon as he had come to follow Christ, he was marked out by a new name, that of Cephas, the Syriac equivalent of the one by which he has since been so familiarly known to the Church. Our Lord did nothing without a meaning, and in giving this new name to His disciple, He appears to have prophetically indicated the strong, immoveable faith in Him which that disciple was to exhibit; and the firmness of which is not contradicted even by that temporary want of courage which led him to try and save his life by denial of his Master in the bitter hour of His Passion. Such instances of faith as St. Peter's attempt to walk on the water, and his confession of Christ as the Son of the living God, seem to set him at the head of the Apostles, as one whom no shock could move from his belief in the Lord; and the striking words of our Lord which are recited in the Gospel for this day show that a special revelation had been vouchsafed to the Apostle to give him that knowledge of Christ on which his faith rested. It was, perhaps, because St. Peter's faith was stronger than that of the other Apostles that he had to undergo greater temptation. Satan desired to "sift him as wheat," as he had desired to tempt Job; but one look from Jesus brought him to himself and counteracted the temptation. A similar temptation is said to have assailed him just before his martyrdom, as our Lord's agony was a kind of second temptation. St. Peter too desired that the cup might pass from him, and endeavoured to escape from Rome. But as he was leaving the city he had such a vision of his Master as St. Paul had on his way to Damascus. "Lord, whither goest Thou?" were the words of the Apostle, and the reply was a question whether that Master must go to Rome and again suffer, since His servants were afraid to die for His sake. As when Jesus had "looked on" the Apostle years before in the hall of Pilate, so now, the trial of faith ended in a victory, and the servant returned to follow the Master by being girded by another than himself, and led whither he would not at the first have gone, to the Cross. At his own request he was crucified with his head downwards to make the death more ignominious and painful; and as being unworthy to suffer the same death as his Lord. This was in the year 63; and while St. Peter was being crucified at the Vatican, St. Paul was being beheaded at Aqua Salviae, three miles from Rome.

Our Lord's remarkable words, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven," do not seem to be wholly explained by saying that St. Peter represented all the Apostles, and that these words represented the power given to all. But if they implied any distinction of authority between St. Peter and his brethren, they do not give any foundation whatever to the claims which the Bishops of Rome have made as successors of St. Peter: for (1) there is no evidence that they are in any special sense successors of St. Peter, and (2) if our Lord's words cannot clearly be applied to the other Apostles, much less can they be applied to Bishops of later days who were not Apostles. There is nothing in the Scriptural account of St. Peter's Apostolic work which adequately explains these words; nor does the tradition of the Church respecting that work show any thing that at all helps to do so. He presided over the Church at Antioch for some time,—a fact commemorated by the festival of St. Peter's Chair at Antioch,—assisted, as it appears, in evangelizing Chaldaea, and was probably some years at Rome before his death. During these years it seems most likely that he was all the while acting chiefly as the Apostle of the Circumcision, having charge of Jewish Christians: and, while great works were undoubtedly assigned to the other Apostles, there are evident traces of a providential disposition of duties by which Jewish Christianity became the field of St. Peter's labours; Gentile Christianity that of St. Paul's (the successor of St. James); and the general government of the Church, when Jewish and Gentile Christianity were merging into one, the work of St. John, when the others had passed away from their labours.

Introit.—Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the Jews. Ps. And when Peter was come to himself he said. Glory be.