It is generally admitted that the original icon representing today’s liturgical event offers Sts Peter and Paul embracing one another. This apostolic embrace has been the object of different interpretations. To some, the embrace marks the reconciliation of both apostles after their divergence in Antioch. To others, it represents the meeting of the East (in the person of Paul) and the West (in the person of Paul). To the thirds, it is the symbol of their common end, i.e. their martyr in Rome, the one by decapitation whereas the other by crucifixion at the image of his Master.
No matter how much precise such theories may seem, some, especially the last, provide a strong and constructive solution. It is clear, however, that the two apostles represent two distinct worlds. Nevertheless, we are in the presence of two biblical figures of unique importance, each one having excelled with its proper virtues very distinctively.
In fact, a trinity of virtues designates particularly Saint Paul, whereas another trinity Saint Peter.
Beginning with Saint Paul, it is easy to notice from New Testament’s narrations that he has been characterized by three attributes which radically helped him succeeding in his apostleship and his heroic efforts:
- 1. Paul was a roman citizen and possessed by this token unique civic rights, a fact that he benefited from whenever need raised to. For example, he was liberated from the jail of the city of Philippians, when he revealed his roman identity. Elsewhere, he could disable the attempt of being judged in Judea, referring to his right to compel to the court of Cesar in Rome. Here we remark Paul’s use of authority.
- 2. Paul was versed in Greek and philosophy; a fact that made him a “pot of election” that God chose to evangelize the gentiles. Using Greek he could bring forth to Christ the immense Greek and civilized world of that time. He was able to benefit from the power of philosophy and his linguistic mastership as a mean of encounter, of dialogue and of communication, at the service of the divine Word. Here we notice the role of science and of philosophy.
- 3. Paul possessed a third asset, his Jewish religion. He was from the Jewish Diaspora, boasting of being Pharisee who received his education from Gamaliel. Here we face religion.
On the other side, we observe a trinity of virtues in Apostle Peter:
- 1. Jesus named him pastor; when Peter affirmatively replied to Jesus’ question “do you love me”, he was assigned the task of pastoral ministry. Thus love designates pastoral ministry. We are facing here the task of pastoral ministry.
- 2. Peter confessed the most important truth. The major and distinguishing event in Peter’s life was his ultimate confession “you are Christ the son of the living God”. It is the truth that the Lord took into consideration to build on his church.
- 3. A zeal of love distinguished Peter. We can easily notice from New Testament’s narrations that Peter always wanted to show zeal of love to Jesus greater than all the apostles. It is this zeal that motivated him to promise Jesus that he will follow Him even to death, that urged him to cut the Great Priest servant’s ear, and that pushed him to plunge rapidly in the lake of Tiberiade to meet, first among the others, Jesus resurrected from the dead. He was distinguished by a good zeal.
It is true that the two trinities of virtues complete or embrace one another. Indeed, authority should be pastoral ministry, philosophy should be truth, religion should be an ardent zeal.
It is true that the true meaning of authority is the pastoral ministry of men. “He who wishes to be great among you should be the servant of all; and he who wants to be the first among you should be the servant of all” (Marc 10, 43-44).
It is true that the true philosophy is the Christian truth, and that the true science meets with the Christian faith.
It is true that religion without the flame of love of an ardent zeal is deprived of its vitality and becomes pharisaic, static, formative and dead.
Indeed, the “way” is the pastoral ministry inherent to authority, the “truth” inherent to philosophy, and the “life” inherent to religion. That is what ultimately designates Peter and Paul’s embrace. It is the embrace of Paul’s authority with Peter’s pastoral ministry, Paul’s encounter of sciences with Peter’s truth, and last, Paul’s fulfillment of religion in Peter’s zeal of love.
The embrace of Paul’s virtues with that of Peter, the encounter of two worlds, and, last, the interference the two apostles’ qualities lead to the accomplishment of Jesus’ proclamation: “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Amen.