Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Today is the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which commemorates their martyrdom on a single occasion. Both were killed in Rome, but (apparently) not on the same day; this particular date marks the anniversary of a day in the third century when their remains were moved from their original burial places to keep them out of the hands of persecutors.

Both Peter and Paul also have separate feast days in January: The
Conversion of Saint Paul is on the 25th and the Confession of Saint Peter is on the 18th. Yet there may be other reasons for them to have a shared celebration. Both were considered strong leaders among the early followers of Christ, yet their circumstances were different and sometimes their teaching clashed. In Galatians 2:11-21 Paul writes of Peter (also called Cephas) that he (Paul) "opposed him to his face" regarding some of Peter's instructions. It seems to me that today is intended to show that though these two had their differences they were really working toward the same goal and their disagreements were really not that significant. That is also the reason that they are often depicted in art while embracing or even kissing, sharing the early Christian sign of peace.

This hymn is part of a longer Latin text that begins Decora lux aeternitatis auream and was translated by John Mason Neale. Note the reference to summer, when this day always falls (in the northern hemisphere, anyway).

It is no earthly summer's ray
That sheds this golden brightness round,
Crowning with heav'nly light the day
These nobles of the church were crowned:

The blessed Paul, to whom was given
The hearts of all to teach and school,
And Peter, keeping keys of heav'n
For those on earth that own God's rule.

All honor, pow'r, and praise be giv'n
To God who reigns in bliss on high,
For endless, endless years in heav'n,
One only God in Trinity.

Latin, tr. John Mason Neale, 19th cent.; alt.
Henry Baker, 1854

The reference of Peter and the keys of heaven jumped out at me, reminiscent of the well-known concept of St. Peter as some kind of heavenly gatekeeper, which doesn't seem terribly scriptural, but in fact that legend probably derives from Matthew 16:13-19, where Jesus says that Peter will be given those keys.

I took this text from the Catholic Church Hymnal of 1905 which gives a longer version of Neale's translation with some stanzas more specifically appropriate for Roman Catholics (remember that Neale, though never leaving the Church of England, also flirted with the pro-Catholic Oxford Movement). These are two of those stanzas, which would come between the second and third above:

O happy Rome, made holy now
By these two martyrs' glorious blood;
Earth's best and fairest cities bow,
By their superior claims subdued.

For thou alone art worth them all,
City of martyrs! thou alone
Canst cheer our pilgrim hearts and call
The Savior's sheep to Peter's throne.

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