18 January 2024

Daily prayers during
Christmas and Epiphany:
25, 18 January 2024

Saint Peter (right) and Saint Paul (left) in windows in the west porch in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The celebrations of Epiphany-tide continue today (18 January 2023), and this week began with the Second Sunday of Epiphany (14 January 2024). Christmas is a season that lasts for 40 days that continues from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today recalls Amy Carmichael (1951), founder of the Dohnavur Fellowship and spiritual writer. Today is also the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reflection, reading and prayer. My reflections each morning during the seven days of this week include:

1, A reflection on one of the seven people who give their names to epistles in the New Testament;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul holding the church in unity … an early 18th century icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

5, Saint Peter:

Saint Paul does not give his own name to any of his letters, but seven people give their names to a total of seven of the letters or epistles in the New Testament: Timothy (I and II Timohty), Titus, Philemon, James, Peter (I and II Peter), John (I, II and III John), and Jude.

The attribution of the authorship of the two letters of Peter (I and II Peter) to the Apostle Peter has been challenged by many commentators and critics in recent years.

I Peter is addressed, with a Trinitarian invocation, to the ‘exiles of the Dispersion’ scattered throughout ‘Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,’ five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (see I Peter 1: 1).

The author of I Peter presents himself as Saint Peter the Apostle, and the epistle was traditionally said to have been written while he was either Bishop of Rome or Bishop of Antioch. However, these titles are not used in the epistle.

The author describes himself as ἀπόστολος (apostolos, apostle; I Peter 1: 1) and as συμπρεσβύτερος (sympresbyteros, fellow priest; see I Peter 5: 1), a title that appears a little later in the development of early ecclesiology.

Saint Peter lived his early life in Bethsaida, which was granted city status under Philip the Tetrarch. Philip was a Helleniser or advocate of Greek culture, and Bethsaida probably had a large Greek speaking population.

There is general consensus, because of an internal reference to ‘Babylon’ (see I Peter 5: 13), that the epistle was written from Rome.

Those who favour the Petrine authorship date the letter to sometime shortly before Saint Peter’s martyrdom, which may have been as late as 68 CE. The reference to Silvanus at the end of the letter may indicate a date following Saint Paul’s arrival in Rome, and it may then date from as early as 63-64 CE.

The language, dating, style, and structure of this letter have led many scholars to conclude that I Peter letter is pseudonymous. They see evidence that the author had a formal education in rhetoric and philosophy, advanced knowledge of Greek, along with geometry, arithmetic and music, and a reading of classical authors such as Homer.

Some say it is most likely that I Peter was written during the reign of Domitian in the year 81, when the persecution of Christian became widespread – a date that is long after the death of Peter. On the other hand, the persecutions described in this letter do not need a time period outside of the Saint Peter’s lifespan.

Other scholars doubt the letter’s Petrine authorship. They say I Peter is dependent on the Pauline epistles – especially Ephesians, Colossians and the Pastoral Letters (I and II Timothy and Titus) – and so it was written after Saint Paul’s ministry. Yet others argue that it makes little sense to attribute the work to Saint Peter when it could have been ascribed to Saint Paul.

One theory supporting the Petrine authorship is the ‘secretarial hypothesis,’ which suggests that I Peter was dictated by Peter and was written in Greek by his ‘faithful brother; or secretary, Silvanus (see I Peter 5: 12). However, we could ask whether Silvanus was not the secretary, but the courier or bearer of I Peter?

Some scholars believe the language, dating, literary style and structure of the letter make it implausible to conclude that I Peter is the work of Saint Peter. They say I Peter is a pseudonymous letter, written later by one of Saint Peter’s disciples in his honour.

Yet there are similarities with Saint Peter’s speeches in the Acts of the Apostles, and the earliest attestation of Peter as author comes from II Peter (see II Peter 3: 1) and the letters of Clement.

One possible context for I Peter is by provided the trials and executions of Christians in the Roman province of Bithynia-Pontus under Pliny the Younger. In a letter to Emperor Trajan, written in 112 CE, Pliny asks Trajan if the accused Christians should be punished for the name ‘Christian’ alone, or for crimes associated with the name (for the use of the word ‘name,’ see I Peter 4:14-16). But this theory is rejected by those who argue the suffering in I Peter is caused by social, rather than official, discrimination.

The second letter, II Peter, is the first book in the New Testament to regard other New Testament writings as scripture (see II Peter 3: 15-16). The letter is addressed to the churches in general. II Peter is written to warn Christians about false teachers and to exhort them to grow in their faith in and knowledge of Christ.

II Peter opens with greeting: ‘Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ’ (II Peter 1: 1). The letter is ascribed by some scholars to Saint Peter, and the letter says that it is written shortly before the apostle’s death (II Peter 1: 14), and that it is Peter’s second letter (see II Peter 3: 1).

According to the letter, it was composed by the Apostle Peter, an eyewitness to Christ’s ministry. It criticises ‘false teachers’ who distort the authentic, apostolic tradition, and predicts judgment for them.

II Peter contains eleven references to the Old Testament, and also shows some knowledge, albeit, perhaps, second-hand knowledge of marginal apocryphal books. II Peter also refers to many of Saint Paul’s letters (II Peter 3: 15) and specifically (II Peter 3: 15, 16) to one letters (see I Thessalonians 4: 13 to 5: 11).

Most noticeably, though, II Peter quotes from Jude and adapts from that letter extensively, sharing a number of passages with the Epistle of Jude.

When it comes to dating II, commentaries vary, placing the letter in almost every decade between 60 and 160.

II Peter was not accepted into the Biblical canon without some difficulty, but doubts about the letter’s authorship were never used for definitive rejection. By the time of Jerome (ca 346-420) it had been mostly accepted as canonical.

Saint Peter’s Day (29 June) and Petertide are one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and Petertide are an appropriate time for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

In the Orthodox Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul are seen as figures of Church Unity, sharing a common faith and mission despite their differences. They are often seen as paired, flanking images at entrances to churches, and the icon of Christian Unity in the Orthodox tradition shows the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing each other – signs of the early Church overcoming its differences and affirming its diversity.

When Pope Francis marked the feast of Saint Peter and Paul some years ago, he stressed the importance of unity in the Church and allowing ourselves to be challenged by God, urging people to spend less time complaining about what they see going wrong, and more time in prayer.

He noted that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were two very different men who ‘could argue heatedly’ but who ‘saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love.’

God, he said, ‘did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.’

Saint Peter in chains (see Acts 12) … the window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral commemorating Dean Herbert Mortimer Luckock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 3: 7-12 (NRSVA):

7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8 hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9 He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10 for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ 12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 18 January 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is: ‘Climate Justice from Bangladesh perspective.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Right Revd Shourabh Pholia, Bishop of Barishal Diocese, Church of Bangladesh.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (18 January 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for ourselves, asking God to guide us so that we can play the stewardship role and take responsibility to heal the planet and protect it for future generations.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Eternal Lord,
our beginning and our end:
bring us with the whole creation
to your glory, hidden through past ages
and made known
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection (James)

Continued tomorrow (John)

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a pair of stained glass windows in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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