1578: Five sodomite monks, by Calvinist Ghent 1962: Georges Kageorgis, assassin

Feast Day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

June 29th, 2009 Headsman

June 29 is the shared feast day (in both the Latin and Greek rites) of the two biggest wheels in first century Christianity, Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Tradition holds that both men were martyred in Rome during the persecutions of Emperor Nero after Rome burned: Paul beheaded, Peter crucified upside-down at his own request not to die in the manner of his lord.* Some traditions have both being put to death on the same day; others do not.

Concrete dates** are going to be hard to come by, of course, and the purported historical doings of New Testament Christians are inextricably conjoined to theological ox-goring.

But it is their lives and not their deaths that make them memorable, and to judge by the conquest of the faith they propounded, their feast day honors are richly deserved. Some scholars with no fear for their soul will tell you that Paul in particular can be rated a more consequential historical person than the Nazarene himself, having formulated the doctrine and conducted the ministry needed to turn a dead-end Jewish sect or inchoate reform movement into a surging universal religion that would play to Praetorians.

More from this program — and other resources on early Christianity — at this Frontline page.

While linked on this day, Peter and Paul appear in the Bible as sometime rivals. One might well speculate at the dynamics between them: Peter, after all, got his commission straight from the Savior himself; the upstart Saul of Tarsus, late of the Jewish establishment, arrived fired with the zeal of the converted and went from persecuting Christians to appropriating their doctrine, even calling Peter out publicly.

However they sublimated that awkwardness, their respective offices as Apostle to the Jews (Peter) and Apostle to the Gentiles (Paul) allude to an oft-explored problem whose resolution would prove decisive for the nascent faith: did Christianity require adherence to the strict Mosaic law?

The stakes: would anyone outside of already-existing Jews actually want to convert?

Paul looks like the firebrand, boldly enacting his revolutionary faith-alone revelation (so central to the Protestant Reformation 15 centuries later) on the pacified highways and sea lanes of the Pax Romana; Peter seems the compromiser (or a vacillator), instinctively granting precedence to the Jewish tradition but being carried along by events towards Paul.

Peter is seen in the Bible acceding to Paul’s opposition to making Greeks eat kosher and circumcise, and even persuading the most august Judaizer and leader of the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, Saint James.

Amongst these illustrious names, we may perceive or imagine — “through a glass darkly”, as it were — what must have been a blossoming multitude of contending beliefs and practices.

Paul made Christian doctrine amenable† to the practices that would make it a phenomenal evangelical success (and separate it from the faith of Abraham), but on that same winners-write-history basis one is entitled to wonder whether the authority of Peter and James have been appropriated ex post facto by the Biblical writers of the Pauline party. If so, you wouldn’t say his reputation has suffered for it: the pope still claims to speak as “the unworthy heir of St. Peter” … and in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Whatever the faithful and the merely interested may speculate about their historicity, their names are on the founding charter of Christianity.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day … (St. Paul, 2 Timothy 4:7-8)

A very few of the very many books about Peter and Paul and their times

* See the apocryphal Acts of Peter.

** Italian archaeologist Margherita Guarducci, however, argued that Peter’s death could be assigned to a precise date: October 13, 64. We can pose against this skepticism that Peter ever went to Rome at all, a sometime Protestant hobby-horse supposed to undermine the primacy of the Holy See.

† But not so decisively that he wasn’t soon at loggerheads with the Jerusalem Jewish Christians again.


Update: Just as this post was getting set to publish, the Vatican announced the discovery of what it claims may be the oldest image of St. Paul, a 4th century fresco uncovered in a Roman catacomb.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Language,Martyrs,Myths,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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12 Responses to “Feast Day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul”

  1. 1
    ExecutedToday.com » 305: Feast Day of St. Philemon the Actor Says:

    [...] obscure saint — he’s not to be confused with the first-century prelate to whom St. Paul addressed the shortest of his canonical epistles — is, of course, a byproduct of [...]

  2. 2
    ExecutedToday.com » Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews Says:

    [...] than a few basics, including most importantly Jesus’ crucifixion. The Gospels narrate it; Paul the Apostle (who never met Jesus in the flesh, as it were) hangs his theology on it, together with the equally [...]

  3. 3
    ExecutedToday.com » 1901: “Black Jack” Tom Ketchum, who was left in three pieces Says:

    [...] If so, they’re more like what Ketchum’s last words ought to be. Although let St. Peter’s ledger reflect that Ketchum was a decent enough chap to post a letter to President McKinley [...]

  4. 4
    ExecutedToday.com » 1957: Jacques Fesch: playboy, cop killer, saint? Says:

    [...] within the Catholic Church — although Fesch’s defenders here observe that saints from Paul on down have often had unsavory [...]

  5. 5
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s Third Annual Report: Third Time Lucky Says:

    [...] After that, you need to get all the way down to #40 to find the next post about someone who was executed before the 20th century … even though just a bit over half the site’s content concerns pre-20th century executions. By my count, World War II alone accounts for 13 posts in the top 40, and 20 more of those entries are postwar executions. The same effect is also visible in the search terms. The Stefaneschi Triptych: Christ, flanked by the executions of St. Peter and St. Paul. [...]

  6. 6
    ExecutedToday.com » 1755: Rowley Hanson Says:

    [...] had besides his pay arose from the advantages which he received from those worse than brutes, whom St. Paul has complimented with the name of men, who leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their [...]

  7. 7
    ExecutedToday.com » 1606: Caravaggio murders Ranuccio Tomassoni Says:

    [...] who could grace a chapel with awe-inspiring stuff like this: Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter, painted in 1601 for Rome’s Santa Maria del [...]

  8. 8
    ExecutedToday.com » 1834: The bushrangers John Jenkins and Thomas Tattersdale Says:

    [...] 10th, 2011 Headsman Cried Peter, where’s your certificate Or if you have not one to show Pray who in Heaven do you [...]

  9. 9
    ExecutedToday.com » Feast Day of St. Stephen Says:

    [...] The persecuting “Saul” at the end of this text is, of course, Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul. [...]

  10. 10
    ExecutedToday.com » 1555: John Hooper Says:

    [...] — naturally — took solace from the Word, “as St. Paul that loved the policy, laws, order, and wisdom of the Romans, yet disliked very much the vice and [...]

  11. 11
    ExecutedToday.com » 1561: Cardinal Carlo Carafa, papal nephew Says:

    [...] the boy’s (similarly pro-French) Carafa clansman ascended St. Peter‘s throne as Pope Paul IV in 1555, Carlo Carafa beat his sword into a galero as the Catholic [...]

  12. 12
    ExecutedToday.com » Feast Day of the Holy Maccabees Says:

    [...] more than a century before Christ, they are revered most especially by the Christian faith that elbowed Judaism aside. Their story comes from 2 Maccabees, a “deuterocanonical” text that is part of the Old [...]

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