Sunday, May 01, 2005

Successor to Peter?

In this week's Tablet, there's an enjoyable piece in which Jesuit theologian José Ignacio González Faus writes an open letter to the new pope Benedict XVI "urging him to explore the meaning of the Petrine ministry":

Successor to Peter
José Ignacio González Faus
. . . Today, the ministry of Peter really needs restoration, like Michaelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, to recover the freshness of the original colours. And not only the ministry of Peter: our politicians have now forgotten that the word “ministry” means service, which gives me the chance to discuss with you some biblical features of this service . . .
Of course one of the difficulties with taking the Biblical evidence seriously is that so much of it presents Peter in a largely negative light, but to his credit Faus attempts to reflect positively on this, for example:
Peter had his hesitations. He was intuitive and impulsive, but cowardly. And sometimes, for the sake of avoiding trouble, he betrayed the step that he had previously taken towards those who were not Jews. Paul, the whirlwind, criticised him for it in public. And Peter gave us a great lesson in humility when he accepted this criticism and did not silence Paul for saying so. You will no doubt remember what Augustine was to say later on: “I dare declare that even more exemplary than the courage of Paul was the humility of Peter.”
There is a little bit of creative embellishment of the story here, though, with Peter "accept[ing] this criticism" and "not silenc[ing] Paul". Peter's silence at the end of Gal. 2.11-20 is simply a function of Paul's rhetoric, and many a historian has (I think rightly) read between the lines to see Paul attempting to avoid relating the obvious conclusion of the Antioch incident, that Paul lost and Peter won.

I am writing a paper at the moment on the portrait of Peter in Matthew and I was pleased to see Faus stressing both sides of the Caesarea Philippi narrative of Matthew 16 in which Peter is first blessed and then rebuked:
The Church was founded on the faith of Peter. When this faith looked at Jesus from God’s viewpoint, Peter was described by the Lord as a “rock”. But Peter is also called by Jesus nothing less than “Satan” when he thinks of God in terms of power and triumph, and not in terms of a committed life (Mt. 16:18,23).
All too often in Biblical scholarship, it is only the "Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah . . ." material that gets spotted, because it is distinctive to Matthew, while the "Get thee behind me Satan!" material is missed because it is shared with Mark.

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