Sunday, 7 August 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 22

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

A Missionary To `The Dispersion'
by G.R. Balleine

INFORMATION about Peter now becomes scarce. Paul told us in 56 that Peter and his wife were then moving about as missionaries. But where? Not back in Rome. Paul's letter to Rome in 57 salutes twenty-six Christians by name, but Peter is not one of them. In 60 Paul reached Rome as a prisoner, and we read of his reception by the Christians there, but nothing is said about Peter. In the next two years he mentions many who are helping him, but again no word about Peter. 

For at least six years after leaving Antioch he cannot have been in Rome. Can we get a hint from the second-century Clementine Recognitions, which picture James sending Peter to chase Simon Magus, `the Samaritan Wizard, who is perverting our people', from city to city? Simon goes to Tyre, then to Sidon, with Peter hard on his heels. The chase continues to Beirut, Byblus, Tripolis and Laodicea; then on to Rome, where Peter and Simon dispute before Nero. Simon offers to prove his power by flying, and actually rises in the air; but Peter's prayers undermine his spells, and he crashes, and is killed.

This is queer, but Tubingen theologians detected something queerer still. The Simon of this romance bears some resemblance to Paul. So they suggested that the oldest tradition had pictured Peter hounding Paul across Asia Minor; but that later writers had veiled this scandal by substituting the Sorcerer's name.

One fact blows this theory sky-high. Paul never hesitated to denounce robustly all who opposed his teaching. His fierce invective sometimes shocks our less outspoken age. If Peter had really been dogging his steps and stealing his disciples, we should find some very emphatic protests in Paul's later Epistles.

But the question remains: Did Peter spend several months chasing Simon Magus? This was once widely believed. The statement is found in East and West, in orthodox and heretical writings. But its source is always the Clementine romances, which are obviously incredible. They are full of preposterous miracles. Simon makes statues talk and babies grow beards. Peter proves the truth of his doctrine by restoring a smoked sprat to life and making a camel pass through the eye of a needle. We are in an Arabian Nights atmosphere, listening to Christian fairy-tales.

So far our conclusions are negative. Peter did not yet return to Rome, nor was he pursuing Simon. Is any clue left? The New Testament offers two. Paul blames the Corinthians for their party-spirit: `One says, "I follow Paul!" another "I Apollos!" another "I follow Kephas!" another "I Christ!" ' Paul and Apollos had worked in Corinth; so it is not improbable that Peter had been there too. It was quite a likely place for him to visit. It had a large Jewish population. There was a regular boat service between Antioch and Corinth. The Church there was full of scandals, as Paul's letters show. It was time some responsible leader went to restore order. But, if Peter went, his visit only created an additional faction.

The opening words of his First Epistle give a more important clue. It was sent to the Churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia (i.e. the Roman Province of Asia), and Bithynia.

Many Churches would have welcomed a letter from Peter, his old friends in Caesarea and Jerusalem, in Antioch or Rome, or Churches like those in Egypt or Cyrene or in South Italy. Why did he choose the Churches in the Provinces which lay between the Taurus mountains and the Black Sea? He must have felt some personal responsibility for them.

He was probably not their founder, for he speaks in his letter of `those who preached the good news to you'. But among the hearers of his Pentecost sermon had been `dwellers in Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, and Phrygia' (which was part of Galatia), some of whom may have carried the message home with them.

Christian groups had evidently sprung up here and there; but they needed fuller instruction. This was just the kind of region that would attract Peter. It was swarming with Jews. Agrippa had boasted to the Emperor that there were Jews everywhere, even `as far as Bithynia and the furthermost corners of Pontus'. One incident shows the size of these Jewish settlements. The Propraetor of Asia was prosecuted for extortion. The fact that Cicero defended him made his trial famous. One charge was that he had stolen the half-shekels, the Temple tax, which the Jews were sending to Jerusalem. The weight was stated to be 100 lb. of gold, which would mean about 40,000 half-shekels.

As this was only paid by males over twenty, it meant a Jewish population in that Province alone of over 100,000. Since Peter considered the Jews of the Dispersion his special responsibility, in these Provinces he would find them in enormous numbers. This was almost virgin soil for missionary work. Paul had only touched South Galatia and the coast of Roman Asia. The greater part of this vast region of over 300,000 square miles, full of important cities and crowded Jewries, had not, so far as we know, been visited by any Apostle.

Since Peter's Epistle shows a special interest in it, it is not unreasonable to suppose that part of the six years about which we know nothing may have been spent there.

But we have no information. Paul had Luke with him, keeping a diary of their journeys. Peter had no literary companion to record their adventures. So any attempt to sketch what happened must be conjecture. If the order in which he lists these provinces shows the stages by which he visited them, he began with Pontus. Ships sailed from Corinth to Sinope on the Black Sea. Here he would wander past pagan temples, till he found the Jewish synagogue and some fellow-countrymen. If he said he had a message about the Messiah, he would be invited to speak on the Sabbath. Then he would announce, `The Messiah has come!' and a storm of questions would begin. A crowd would follow him to his lodgings to continue the discussion. The debate would go on for weeks. At last Peter and his converts would secede and form a synagogue of their own.

After a time he would pass on to the great seaport of Amisos, where the process would be repeated; then over the mountains to Ancyra, the capital of Galatia; on to Caesarea, the capital of wild Cappadocia. Here he would strike the military road to the Province of Asia. Groups would be formed or fortified at Apameia and Laodicea; but no memories of him survive at Ephesus, a Church about which we have a fair amount of information. So probably he turned north to Philadelphia, Sardis, Thyatira and Pergamum. (Of these Asian Churches thirty years later, when the Apocalypse was written, Laodicea had grown lukewarm and Sardis was almost dead, but Philadelphia, though weak in numbers, had remained true; Pergamum had stood firm in the face of persecution and one martyrdom; and Thyatira was praised for its works, its loyalty, its endurance, and its love.)

Then at Adramyttium he would find ships sailing for Rome. If he stopped in no other towns than these, the Roman milestones show that he trudged more than 3,000 miles over a windswept plateau 4,000 feet above the sea, where the vast plains are always chilly and the winters long and cold. This was a journey far longer than any of Paul's; but for lack of a Luke no record remains. If he stopped at each town long enough to build up a Church, it must have taken several years.

His Epistle gives glimpses of these Churches. The Jewish element was strong. He calls his readers `exiles of "the Dispersion" ', the technical name for Jews living outside Palestine.He could appeal to the Old Testament. Indeed some of his arguments would be unintelligible to people who were not familiar with it. Yet there were Gentiles too, to whom he said,God `called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.Once you were no people. Now you are God's People.' And there were apostate Jews, who had `lived like Gentiles in lasciviousness, drunkenness, revellings, and forbidden idolatries'.

The Church organization was of a primitive type. We read nothing of bishops, deacons, deaconesses, prophets, evangelists, or teachers. The only ministers are the Elders, who, rather unexpectedly, receive a stipend, and are warned not to seek office `for filthy lucre', though in Jewish synagogues Elders were honorary officials.

The letter also reveals the doctrines that Peter taught. These were, as the rest of the New Testament shows, the orthodoxy of the first century. He has moved in thought beyond the theology of his early speeches. He names the three Persons of the Trinity, but with no attempt to synthesize this with, `The Lord our God is One'. He uses the Jewish sacrifices to throw light on the death of Christ-'You were ransomed by blood like that of a lamb without blemish'. He proclaims the Resurrection-we were `born anew to a life of hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead'; the Ascension-Christ `has gone into Heaven and is at the Right Hand of God'; the imminence of the Advent-'The end of all things is at hand'; the hope of eternal life-'an incorruptible inheritance preserved for you in Heaven'. Like all Jews he believes in a personal Devil-'Your enemy the Devil is on the prowl, seeking someone to devour'. He lays strong stress on baptism-'which now saves you', and on the need for the closest unity among the baptized-'Be fervent in your love among yourselves'; `Greet one another with a loving kiss'.

On one point only does he seem to break new ground, when he states that Christ after His death `preached to the spirits in prison'. The Mystery Plays of the Middle Ages made much of this Harrowing of Hell; but Peter's assertion is quite in touch with his other teaching. Most Jews believed that the souls of the dead live on in an Unseen World. Jesus endorsed this idea in His parable of Dives and Lazarus. So Christians believed that, when He died, He too passed into Hades. Peter merely added his conviction that the Friend of Sinners would not cease His work, when He reached the Spirit World, but would still seek to save the lost, even such outrageous sinners as those whose vileness had caused the Flood.

The future showed how fine a work the pioneers in these provinces had done. Paul's Churches had a strangely undistinguished future. Corinth and Philippi, Athens and Thessalonica, played no leading part in later Church History. It was Asia Minor that became the Christian corner of the Empire. When Pliny in 112 became Governor of Bithynia and Pontus, he reported to Trajan that Christians were so numerous that `the temples are almost deserted, and sacred rites have for a long time been allowed to lapse'. `Persons of all ranks and ages and of both sexes are involved, for this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities, but has spread through the villages.'

Pliny wrote from the East of Asia Minor. Five years later in the West Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was being taken to Rome to be thrown to the lions. His journey was a triumphal progress. At every stopping-place Christians waited to receive his blessing. At Smyrna not only did the local Church give him an impassioned welcome, but the Bishops of Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles came with their clergy to greet him.

If we look further forward, all the early Church controversies arose in Asia Minor, the Quarto-deciman dispute about the date of Easter, the Gnostic heresy, the Montanist Revival of Prophecy. Later still, most of the great Church Councils met in this district, the Synod of Ancyra, for example, and the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. The first city in the world to become wholly Christian was Eumeneia in Asia. The first Province to become wholly Christian was Cappadocia. If the Churches in this vast region partly owed their success to the stimulus of Peter's visit, his work had not been in vain.

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