Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Paul's Dealings With Peter
"Only Sincere Dialogue Could Guide the Path of the Church"
H.H. Benedict XVI
October 1, 2008
Dear brothers and sisters,
The respect and veneration for the Twelve, which Paul had always
cultivated, did not diminish when he frankly defended the truth of the
Gospel, which is nothing other than Jesus Christ, the Lord. Today, we
wish to pause on two episodes that show this veneration, and at the same
time, the freedom with which the Apostle addressed Cephas and the other
apostles: the so-called Council of Jerusalem and the incident in Antioch
of Syria, related in the Letter to the Galatians (cf. 2:1-10; 2:11-14).
Every council and synod in the Church is an "event of the Spirit" and
gathers together the solicitudes of the whole People of God. Those who
participated in the Second Vatican Council experienced this in first
person. Because of this, St. Luke, in informing us about the first
council of the Church, which took place in Jerusalem, introduces in this
way the letter the apostles sent in this circumstance to the Christian
communities of the diaspora: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and
of us" (Acts 15:28). The Spirit, who works in the whole Church, guides
the apostles by the hand in the hour of taking on new paths or
fulfilling their projects. He is the principal artisan of the building
up of the Church.
Nevertheless, the assembly in Jerusalem took place in a moment of not
little tension within the community of the origins. It regarded
responding to the question of whether it was opportune to demand
circumcision of the pagans who were converting to Jesus Christ, the
Lord, or whether it was licit to leave them free of the Mosaic law, that
is, free from the observation of the necessary norms for being a just
man, obedient to the law, and above all, free of the norms relating to
the purification rituals, pure and impure foods, and the Sabbath.
St. Paul in Galatians 2: 1-10 also refers to the assembly in Jerusalem:
Fourteen years after his encounter with the Risen One in Damascus -- we
are in the second half of the decade of the 40s -- Paul leaves for
Antioch of Syria with Barnabas, and also accompanied by Titus, his
faithful coworker who, though of Greek origin, had not been obligated to
be circumcised when he joined the Church. On this occasion, Paul
presents to the Twelve, defined as those of repute, his gospel of
freedom from the law (cf. Galatians 2:6).
In light of his encounter with the risen Christ, he had understood that
in the moment of passing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, circumcision was
no longer necessary for the pagans, nor the laws regarding food and
regarding the Sabbath, as a sign of justice: Christ is our justice and
"just" is all that which conforms to him. Other signs are not necessary
in order to be just. In the Letter to the Galatians, he refers, with few
words, to the development of the assembly: He enthusiastically recalls
that the gospel of liberty from the law was approved by James, Cephas
and John, "the pillars," who offered to him and to Barnabas the right
hand in sign of ecclesial communion in Christ (Galatians 2:9).
As we have noted, if for Luke the Council of Jerusalem expresses the
action of the Holy Spirit, for Paul it represents the recognition of the
liberty shared among all those who participated in it: liberty from the
obligations deriving from circumcision and the law; this liberty for
which "for freedom, Christ has set us free" and let us not submit again
to the yoke of slavery (cf. Galatians 5:1). The two forms with which
Paul and Luke describe the Assembly of Jerusalem are united in the
liberating action of the Holy Spirit, because "where the Spirit of the
Lord is, there is freedom," he would say in the Second Letter to the
Corinthians (cf. 3:17).
For all that, as clearly appears in St. Paul's letters, Christian
liberty is never identified with license or with the freewill to do what
one wants. It is carried out in conformity with Christ, and therefore,
in the authentic service of man, above all, of the most needy. Because
of this, Paul's report of the assembly closed by recalling the
recommendation the apostles gave him: "Only, we were to be mindful of
the poor, which is the very thing I was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10).
Every council is born from the Church and returns to the Church: On that
occasion it returned with the attention to the poor, which from Paul's
various notes in his letters, are above all those of the Church of
Jerusalem. In the concern for the poor, particularly testified to in the
Second Letter to the Corinthians (cf. 8-9) and in the conclusion of the
Letter to the Romans (cf. 15), Paul shows his fidelity to the decisions
that matured during the assembly.
Perhaps we are not yet able to fully understand the meaning Paul and his
communities gave to the collection for the poor of Jerusalem. It was a
totally new initiative in the panorama of religious activities. It was
not obligatory, but free and spontaneous. All of the Churches founded by
Paul in the West participated. The collection expressed the debt of
these communities to the mother Church of Palestine, from which they had
received the ineffable gift of the Gospel. The value that Paul
attributes to this gesture of participation is so great that he rarely
calls it a "collection": It is rather "service," "blessing," "love,"
"grace," even "liturgy" (2 Corinthians 9).
This last term, in particular, is surprising; it confers on the
collection of money a value even of veneration: On one hand, it is a
liturgical gesture or "service," offered by each community to God, and
on the other, it is an action of love carried out in favor of the
people. Love for the poor and divine liturgy go together; love for the
poor is liturgy. These two horizons are present in every liturgy
celebrated and lived in the Church, which by its nature opposes a
separation between worship and life, between faith and works, between
prayer and charity toward the brothers. Thus the Council of Jerusalem is
born to resolve the question of how to behave with the pagans who
arrived to the faith, choosing freedom from circumcision and the
observances imposed by the law, and it ends with the pastoral solicitude
that places at the center faith in Christ Jesus and love for the poor of
Jerusalem and the whole Church.
The second episode is the well known incident in Antioch, in Syria,
which allows us to understand the interior liberty that Paul enjoyed.
How should one behave on the occasions of communion at the table between
believers of Jewish origin and those of Gentile background? Here is
revealed the other epicenter of the Mosaic observance: the distinction
between pure and impure foods, which deeply divided the observant
Hebrews from the pagans. Initially, Cephas, Peter, shared the table with
both, but with the arrival of some Christians linked to James, "the
brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19), Peter had begun to avoid contact
at the table with pagans, so as not to scandalize those who continued
observing the rules regarding food purity. And this choice was shared by
Barnabas. That choice deeply divided the Christians come from
circumcision and those come from paganism.
This behavior, which truly threatened the unity and liberty of the
Church, brought a fiery reaction from Paul, who arrived to the point of
accusing Peter and the rest of hypocrisy. "If you, though a Jew, are
living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the
Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Galatians 2:14). In reality, the concerns
of Paul, on one hand, and Peter and Barnabas on the other, were
different: For the latter, the separation of the pagans represented a
way to teach and avoid scandalizing the believers coming from Judaism.
For Paul, it constituted, on the other hand, the danger of a
misunderstanding of the universal salvation in Christ offered as much to
the pagans as to the Jews. If justification was brought about only in
virtue of faith in Christ, of conformity with him, without any work of
the law, then what sense was there in still observing the [rules on]
purity of food when participating at the table? Very probably the
perspectives of Peter and Paul were different: for the first, not losing
the Jews who had embraced the Gospel, for the second, not diminishing
the salvific value of the death of Christ for all believers.
It is interesting to note, but writing to the Christians of Rome a few
years later, (around the middle of the decade of the 50s), Paul will
find himself before a similar situation and he will ask the strong that
they not eat impure food so as not to lose the weak or cause scandal for
them. "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that
causes your brother to stumble" (Romans 14:21). The incident in Antioch
showed itself to be a lesson both for Peter and for Paul. Only sincere
dialogue, open to the truth of the Gospel, could guide the path of the
Church: "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but
of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).
It is a lesson that we should also learn: With the distinct charisms
entrusted to Peter and Paul, let us all be guided by the Spirit, trying
to live in the liberty that finds its orientation in faith in Christ and
is made tangible in service to our brothers. It is essential to be ever
more conformed to Christ. It is in this way that one is truly free, in
this way the deepest nucleus of the law is expressed in us: the love of
God and neighbor. Let us ask the Lord to teach us to share his
sentiments, to learn from him the true liberty and evangelical love that
embraces every human being.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider two events
which illustrate Paulís relationship to the Twelve, which combined
respect for their authority with frankness in the service of the Gospel.
At the Council of Jerusalem Paul defended before the Twelve his
conviction that the grace of Christ had freed the Gentiles from the
obligations of the Mosaic Law. Significantly, the Churchís decision in
this matter of faith was accompanied by a gesture of concrete concern
for the needs of the poor (cf. Gal 2:10). By endorsing Paulís
collections among the Gentiles, the Council thus set its teaching on
Christian freedom within the context of the Churchís communion in
charity. Later, in Antioch, when Peter, to avoid scandalizing Jewish
Christians, abstained from eating with the Gentiles, Paul rebuked him
for compromising the freedom brought by Christ (cf. Gal 2:11-14). Yet,
writing to the Romans years later, Paul himself insisted that our
freedom in Christ must not become a source of scandal for others (cf.
Rom 14:21). Paulís example shows us that, led by the Spirit and within
the communion of the Church, Christians are called to live in a freedom
which finds its highest expression in service to others.
I offer a warm welcome to the new students of the Pontifical Irish
College. May your priestly formation in the Eternal City prepare you to
be generous and faithful servants of Godís People in your native land. I
also greet the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary on the occasion
of their General Chapter. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims,
especially those from Ireland, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea,
Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the United States, I invoke Godís
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