Sunday, 11 September 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 27

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.

By G.R. Balleine

PETER was dead; but his name remained a name to conjure with. Many lands began to send `Romers' to Peter's tomb. Our Anglo-Saxon Kings show the lure of this pilgrimage. In 671 Oswy of Northumbria died while starting for Rome. In 688 Caedwalla of Wessex reached Rome and took the name of Peter, `to whose holy body,' says Bede, `love had brought him from the end of the earth.'

Twenty years later Cenred of Mercia and Offa the East Saxon laid aside their crowns, and went to end their days in Rome. Then King of Wessex and his queen did the same, and founded the Saxon School, a hostel for English pilgrims, for `many English', says Bede, `nobles and churls, laymen and clerics, men and women, were making this pilgrimage eagerly'.

English trade guilds had a rule, `If a brother make pilgrimage to Rome, all the brethren shall escort him to the city-gate, and each shall give him at least a halfpenny.' Some went of their own accord; others less willingly. Bishops' Courts inflicted this pilgrimage as a public penance. Antwerp magistrates habitually passed this sentence on undesirables. The pilgrim throngs swelled to such a size that one pilgrim wrote, `Often I saw men and women trodden underfoot, and several times I had hard work to escape this danger.'

Another sign of Peter's influence is the enormous literature that gathered round him. Every shade of opinion, orthodox and heterodox, sought shelter under his wing. Many books claimed to be written by him. One even crept into the Bible. Few scholars today consider his Second Epistle authentic. No certain trace of it is found till far on in the third century, when Origen said that Peter left one acknowledged Epistle `and perhaps a second, which is disputed'.

It is only in our Bibles today because Jerome admitted it to the Vulgate; yet he acknowledged, `Many deny that it is Peter's.' It is a fierce attack by some Egyptian Christian on certain teachers, whom he accuses of twisting Paul's teaching to their own damnation; and he borrows Peter's name to win a hearing for this castigation.

Another Egyptian wrote an Apocalypse of Peter about life beyond the grave. Heaven is `radiant with dazzling light', but most of the book is taken up with the torments of the damned. Usurers are writhing on red-hot pebbles; blasphemers hang by their tongues over pits of fire; women who practised birth-control are having their eyes burnt out by babies they might have borne.

The medieval horror-pictures of Hell were largely drawn from this book, which was popular in Rome, though the Muratorian Canon says, `Some will not read it in church.' A third Alexandrian about 140 tried to add weight to his message by calling his book The Preaching of Peter. This at first had considerable influence, but was denounced by Origen, and disappeared.

Meanwhile in Antioch someone, who thought the existing Gospels pictured Jesus as too human, wrote a Gospel of Peter in which Jesus `felt no pain' on the cross, and after the Resurrection was so tall that `His head was higher than the heavens'. At first Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, allowed this to be read in his diocese; but later he called it `an absurd and impious invention'.

Another Gospel of Peter taught quite different views. The one just mentioned was anti-Jewish. It blames the Jews for every-thing, and whitewashes Pilate. But this one was prized by ultra-Jewish Christians, to whom the tiniest tittle of Mosaic Law was binding.

Other books bearing Peter's name have vanished. There was a Syriac Preaching of Peter, distinct from the Egyptian, and a Latin Judgement of Peter, accepted by some as canonical. There was also a secret Petrine literature used by the Ebionites. An apocryphal Letter to James, supposed to be written by Peter, commits these books to James's care. No one must see them till he had had six years' testing. `Then make him stand in a river and say, `I call heaven, earth, air, and water to witness, that I will not reveal these books to anyone.'

All the above had a limited circulation; but the books that carried the Apostle's name throughout the civilized world were the innumerable Acts of Peter. There were Greek Acts and Latin Acts, Syriac Acts and Ethiopic Acts, Coptic Acts and Slavonic Acts, Armenian Acts and Arabic Acts. Doctrinally, some were orthodox, others Gnostic, Ebionite, Manichean, Elkesaite. Some were fairly early, and may possibly preserve a few fragments of authentic tradition; but it was their wild sensationalism that made them popular. There were also Travels of Peter, Exploits of Peter, and several Passions of Peter, in which he preaches long, doctrinal sermons from his cross; and the entirely fictitious Clementine Recognitions and Homilies, of which we have Greek, Latin and Arabic versions. No comparable literature was ever fathered on any other Apostle. The eagerness of East and West, Catholic and Heretic, to claim Peter's authority for their views shows what a unique position he had won in the Church.

But it was not these books that placed him on the top of Trajan's column, and made his name for fourteen centuries the most powerful name in Europe. It was the text from the Antioch Gospel, which flashes in golden letters six feet high round the great dome of St. Peter's, THOU ART PETER AND ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH. It is unlikely that these words were ever spoken by Jesus;' but no such doubts troubled the mind of the Middle Ages. And this promise was in time transferred to Peter's See.

The first to do so was Callistus, who was Pope from 217 to 222; but his claim was soon challenged. Tertullian wrote:`You twist the obvious meaning of the words. This was a gift to Peter personally.' A sharp discussion then arose as to what the text meant. Origen applied it to all Christians, `If thou hast Peter's faith, thou too art a rock.' Chrysostom took the rock to be the creed that Peter had proclaimed. Augustine believed the rock to be Christ Himself. But great is the power of reiteration. For two centuries Popes asserted, `Jesus made Peter the Head of His Church, and the Popes have inherited that primacy.' And the Western Church accepted this as true.

Many things combined to make the idea plausible. Since in secular matters Rome ruled half the world, the Church shared its city's prestige. Its central position kept it in touch with all the other Churches. Its generosity to Churches in distress won for it what Ignatius called `a primacy of love'. When Jerusalem fell, Rome was the strongest surviving Church.

In the fourth century, however, Rome lost its high estate.In 303 the Emperor moved his residence to Milan. Thirty years later Constantinople was made the capital of the Empire, while Milan remained the seat of government in the West. Rome seemed destined to become a minor Italian city. Then the text, `Thou art Peter', saved it. When the Court left, the Bishop became the most important person in the city. Far-sighted Popes worked hard to make Rome the world's spiritual capital. Pope Damasus was a commonplace person compared with his great contemporary Ambrose of Milan; but he built up the idea that Rome was the Holy City. He proclaimed the value of pilgrimage; he repaired St. Peter's; he opened the catacombs, marking interesting graves with verses composed by himself. Someone has said, `He turned the Scarlet Woman into a concierge conducting parties of pilgrims round the tombs of the Saints.'

Meanwhile Popes unflinchingly claimed every right suggested by the text. In the fifth century, Simplicius placed over the door of St. Peter's, `He Who gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom, the guidance of earth and heaven, has granted the same to Simplicius.' Later Popes so completely identified themselves with the Apostle, that Pope Stephen could write to Pepin: `I, Peter, to whom Christ said, "On this rock I build My Church", summon you to defend Rome.' The annual tribute, which many nations paid to the Pope, was known as Peter's Pence.

A misreading of the text about the Keys increased the awe felt for Peter. Fourth- and fifth-century Fathers quote this as `the keys of Heaven'. Chrysostom habitually calls Peter `the blessed doorkeeper of Heaven'. With such a person one dared not run risks. Bede tells how Oswy of Northumbria decided to observe Easter on the Roman date, `lest, when I come to Heaven's door, I find none to open, because I have offended the janitor'.

One proof of the interest in Peter was the eager search for relics of him. In his church on the Vatican, in addition to the tomb, round which four hundred lamps burn night and day, his episcopal chair is shown, though Duchesne says, `I know no mention of it before 1217.' And every other church in Rome claims to possess something, a bone, a tooth, a nail from his cross, the pillar at which he was scourged. One even used to show the pillar from which the cock crew, till Innocent X had it removed `as it caused derision among heretics'.

Italy abounds in memories of Peter. Taranto claims to be the place where he landed, and crowds of sick bathe in the river hoping to be healed. Three cathedrals, Monza, Siena and Venice, show the sword which sliced Malchus' ear. Bologna in 1141 made a daring assertion. A sarcophagus was unearthed inscribed symol; and it boasted that this was the Apostle's tomb. Pilgrims flocked to it. Miracles began. Chaucer's Wife of Bath visited Bologna as well as Rome to make sure of not missing the right tomb. But the Pope closed the church, till its clergy confessed that their Symon might be an unbelieving Jew.

A list of Peter's relics scattered through Europe would fill a bulky volume. A few samples must suffice. Archbishops of Prague carry in their crosier three inches of Peter's staff. The chief treasure of Poitiers Cathedral, till the Huguenots sacked it, was Peter's jaw. A shaggy beard was attached, from which single hairs were plucked and presented to many cathedrals, including Canterbury, Lincoln, St. Albans and Exeter. Geneva thought it possessed Peter's brain, till Calvin opened the reliquary and found a pumice stone. In Ireland Peter's relics were so numerous that a legend declared that, when St. Patrick visited Rome, he put the inhabitants to sleep, and helped himself to whatever he fancied.

Many were in private hands. Popes often sent them as gifts to bishops and kings. When the Pope blessed William of Normandy's expedition against England, he sent him a ring containing one of Peter's hairs. The early poets, too, bear witness to the ubiquity of these relics. The Chanson de Roland tells how its hero had one of Peter's teeth in his sword-hilt. Chaucer's Pardoner was hawking shreds of Peter's sails.

In the West four days were set apart in Peter's honour. The old Church Calendar of 354 marks z9 June as the Festival of Peter and Paul. This was the day when Romans celebrated the foundation of their city by Romulus and Remus, and the Church often found it convenient to make its own festivals coincide with public holidays. Leo the Great in a sermon for this day draws the moral that the founders of the Church did better work than the founders of the City. But in the eighth century the so-called Gregorian Sacramentary moved `the commemoration of St. Paul' to the following day; and all the West followed suit. Rome still retains the two names for the 29th; but for all practical purposes Paul is transferred to the 30th, and Peter left in undisputed possession of the 29th.

How great a Festival this was in the Middle Ages can be seen by customs that lasted till the Reformation. Stow's Survey of London in 1598 said, `On Peter's Vigil every man's door was garnished with garlands of flowers and had lamps burning all night.' Eton boys for years made a great bonfire on St. Peter's Day. Even in Presbyterian Scotland in the eighteenth century the Minister of Loudon wrote, `The custom remains among herds and young people to kindle fires on high ground on 29 June.'

The old Calendar of 354 adds on 22 February a Festival of St. Peter's Chair. This was another attempt to use the date of a pagan Festival, the Day of Remembrance of the Dead, when a meal was eaten and an empty chair left for a member of the family who had died. But the Tours Calendar of 490 interpreted the chair to mean Peter's episcopal throne, `O God, Who didst give Blessed Peter to be the Head of Thy Church.' The Festival spread; but some French dioceses moved it to 18 January, perhaps to avoid the possibility of its falling in Lent.

And in 595 the Auxerre editor of the Hieronymian Martyrology, confronted by two Feasts of the Chair, called 18 January `Dedication of the Chair of St. Peter, in which he was the first to sit in Rome', and 22 February, `The Chair of St. Peter, in which he sat at Antioch'. In 1558 the Pope officially sanctioned this explanation, which at all events shows that Rome recognized the Antioch episcopate as a fact.

A fourth Feast on 1 August, the Festival of St. Peter's Chains, was the day of the consecration of the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli at Rome, where two chains, alleged to be those with which Herod had bound Peter, lie under the high altar. Legend says that they were presented to the Empress Eudocia, when she visited Jerusalem. Gifts of filings from these chains led other Churches to observe this Feast, and by the eighth century it had become so popular in England that the day was called Petermas.

Peter's pre-eminence over other Saints appears in another way. By the Doctrine of Apostolic Succession, as held in the Middle Ages, every true Bishop must trace his line of descent back to one of the Twelve. Orders derived from any Apostle were in theory equally valid, but few Dioceses were content with anyone but Peter. Every Diocese in Italy but two claimed him as its founder; so did all the old French sees, nearly all the Spanish ones, and the great Rhine Bishoprics, through which most German Bishops received their orders. England, not content with the fact that Augustine's orders came from the Pope, cherished a legend that Peter himself had worked in Britain.

Symeon Metaphrastes, the tenth-century hagiographer, said, `Peter came and built up a Church, and appointed Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and then returned to Rome.' The Jesuit Parsons in Elizabeth's reign laid great stress on this; `England should be specially loyal to the Pope, for the first Pope was her first missionary.' Even Eastern Bishops liked to trace their orders back to Peter, declaring that their Sees had been founded by disciples whom he had ordained.

Visions of Peter abound in medieval writings. When Augustine died Bede says that Lawrence, his successor, decided to return to Rome, `but the Prince of the Apostles appeared in the night and scourged him with sharp stripes for forsaking the flock Peter had entrusted to him'. The Norman-French Life of Edward the Confessor tells how on the eve of the consecration of Westminster Abbey Peter hailed a Thames fisherman, and was ferried across the river, and consecrated the church himself; and the Bishop of London decided that he could not reconsecrate a church already consecrated by Peter. So still the Abbey remains independent of Bishops of London.

Folklore teems with Peter-legends. It says that Peter's mother is in Hell, because she took too much pride in having such a son. Scores of medieval sermons drew the moral: parents cannot be saved by their children's virtue. A strange tradition in medieval ghettos made Peter the author of some famous synagogue hymns, and declared that he only pretended to be a Christian to keep the Church from persecuting the Jews.

In innumerable ways Peter's name got linked with common things. Among flowers, wild thyme was petergrass, the cowslip herb-peter, samphire peter-cress ('samphire' is a corruption of Saint Pierre), feverfew St. Peter's wort, and deadly nightshade petermorel. If a fish had a spot on each side, these were said to have been left by Peter's finger and thumb, when he took the coin from its mouth. This is said in Italy of the carp, which they call the San Pietro, in France of the John Dory (le poisson de Saint Pierre), in Scotland of the haddock. Among birds, the petrel (i.e. little Peter) gets its name because it seems to walk on the water (Germans call it the peters vogel). Even the priest's tonsure is explained by saying that Peter was bald; so priests must be bald too!

Enough, however, has been said to show in what odd ways a Galilean fisherman grew into a demigod.

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