‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church’. Somebody once said: ‘I love St. Peter; whenever he opens his mouth he puts his foot in it’!
His CV was not ideal for the man who was to become the cornerstone of the Church! He walks on the water, but then panics and sinks! He makes the first profession of faith in Jesus Christ and then blunders by telling Jesus that he should not tread the road of the Passion. Jesus rebukes him: ‘Get behind me Satan; you are not on the side of God’. He betrays his Master.
St Paul was a difficult man. He fell out with St Peter. He fell out with his fellow missionary Barnabas.He was sensitive, critical and yet could be overbearing. It is easy to think that if Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, and Paul is the pillar, it is a building with many flaws.
Which, of course, it is, because spreading the faith depends in part on human beings. Thank God, the truth of the faith is vested in the Church and is not invalidated by the weakness and sin of some of its spokespeople.
Whatever the failings of Peter and Paul, Our Lord himself chose them to preside over the Early Church and spread the Gospel, and they did just that, even giving up their lives for the truth, like so many who have followed them.
What is it about the Church that reassures practising Catholics, that also draws some who previously had no belief, or others of another denomination and who sought and found a home in the Church of Rome?
It is knowing that what Our Lord taught the Apostles, they preserved and passed on intact to their successors the first Bishops and priests, who in turn handed on the faith to those who followed them. Through this direct and unbroken line stretching from the Apostles to the present day – (which we call the apostolic succession) – the integrity of divine revelation, the validity of the Sacraments, and the truth of the creeds is preserved and guaranteed. St Paul reminds us in his first letter to Timothy that the first duty of the Church, built on St Peter, is that she should be ‘The pillar and foundation of the truth’. (1 Timothy 3.15)
In this, the Church follows her Lord who, in the account of Jesus’s trial before Pilate in John 18, says: For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.’
Guarding and preserving doctrine intact for 2000 years has been no easy task. From the very start there had to be a guardian of orthodoxy which defined, preserved and ring fenced the truth. After the death of the apostles it was to the Pope and the bishops that the Christian community looked for guidance, and it was their function as faithful transmitters of the apostolic tradition which enabled the early church to come through the assaults of the heresies of the second century. This episcopal authority on which the Church depends to guard the faith is still vested in The Pope and the College of Bishops, but just as the Lord made Peter alone the ‘rock’ of his Church, the primacy of the Pope remains, and the authority of the Bishops is vested in him.
The Collect for today is a prayer for Orthodoxy: ‘O God, who on the solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul gives us the noble and holy joy of this day, grant, we pray, that your Church may in all things follow the teaching of those through whom she received the beginnings of right religion.’