Saturday, September 28, 2013

Whatever Happened to St. Peter? by Chris White

Whatever happened to Peter? 

St. Peter is featured prominently in the Gospels and Acts and then ends (at least in the narratives) with the words “he departed and went to another place” (Acts 12:17).  In his first epistle Peter also sends greetings from Babylon to the Churches in Asia Minor.  Ss. Ignatius, Eusebius, and Gregory the Great all suggest that “Babylon” was a code word for Corinth, Antioch, and even another place in Asia Minor.  Over the last few years a couple of New Testament scholars have suggested Peter actually wrote from Babylon in Mesopotamia based on the fact that the order of the cities in Asia Minor that he addresses are listed in order if you were looking at them from the east.  Another possibility that makes a lot of sense is that the Babylon Peter speaks of is a section of ancient Cairo that was called by that name because expatriate Jews from all over the world (thus making it a “Babel” of languages) dwelled there.  If Peter was fleeing pressures and persecutions in Jerusalem this would a close by choice where as a stranger he would hardly stand out.     That Peter eventually went to Rome and did do some apostolic ministry there has never been seriously doubted.  That he went there and became the first pope as we understand it has little merit.  This is reading later developments in the Church into past history which is always erroneous.  That said, Peter certainly was greatly respected as an apostle and was revered as a spiritual father during his time in Rome.  In that sense he was a pope which is derived from the word “papa”.  There are some traditions that also would indicate that Peter made missionary forays into Britain and France as well.  Some of the earliest and most reliable testimony of the early church has Peter captured in Rome during the  persecution of Nero and 9 months later being killed with his wife at a horse track that was once located on Vatican hill.  Whether or not his bones have been identified as was declared by the Vatican in the 1960’s, his grave under the altar of St. Peters, excavated in 1939 corresponds perfectly with the ancient records about his burial spot.  That Peter would have appreciated the gigantic basilica over his grave which glorifies his memory is yet to be determined.  You can ask him yourself when you meet him at the pearly gates of heaven.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Whatever Happened to the Apostle Philip? by Chris White

Just as there is a tomb in Ephesus for John, in the nearby resort city of Hieropolis in modern Turkey there is a tomb for Philip.  By all indications in scripture, Philip was a close friend of the Apostle John.  This might account for why they lived and died in close proximity to one another.  Hieropolis was a huge health resort town with mineral springs which attracted both the ancients and people of today as visitors.  It would have been a strategic spot to spread the gospel of Christ.  Church tradition has it that Philip was martyred for his faith by being hung from large hooks.  Another tradition states that he and his daughters were all clubbed to death in the same city.  In 560 AD, Pope John III had his body removed from its tomb in Turkey and placed in a Church in Rome.  In Hieropolis (the sacred city) today there are the remains of a great church built in the shape of an eight point star that once stood over the site of Philip’s martyrdom.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Whatever Happened to Bartholomew? by Chris White

St. Bartholomew depicted by Michelangelo

Outside of mentions in the Gospels and Acts the trail of authoritative evidence goes cold.   According to an ancient apocryphal work known as the Acts of Philip, Bartholomew escaped persecution in Jerusalem and went to Armenia to preach.  Armenia claims Bartholomew as the founding apostle of their Church.  Church history in Iran says that during Bartholomew’s 16 year ministry in Armenia he also came and evangelized them.  The church father known to us as Jerome says that he evangelized India, but back in the day India was considered to start at Iran so there is a good chance this is a duplicate tradition.  Two accounts are given of his martyrdom, one is that he was drown and the other is that he was flayed alive and then crucified in Armenia.  This is depicted in Michelangelo’s fresco of The Last Judgment.  In the 10th century, his remains were taken to Rome and placed in a Church dedicated to him.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Whatever Happened to Judas Iscariot? by Chris White

Judas Iscariot was the only member of the apostolic band that was a Judean and not a Galilean.  While we associate his name with someone who is a traitor or “sell-out” today, his name comes from one of Israel’s great war heroes Judas Maccabeus.  The war that Judas Maccabeus led was one of purification of the nation and temple after it had been defiled by foreign powers.  Judas Iscariot fell far from the heroism of his namesake.  In fact, Jesus said he was a devil and it would have been better if he was never even born.  Judas made himself available to those conspiring to destroy Jesus in Jerusalem and his betrayal set in motion the events of Good Friday.  The Bible teaches us that Judas felt remorse for his crime and ended up destroying himself through suicide.  Many attempts have been made through the ages to rehabilitate Judas’ image.  In the 3rd Century a sect known as the Cainites produced a document we call today “The Judas Gospel”.  This spurious narrative has Jesus thanking Judas for betraying him because in dying Jesus will finally experience the liberation of having his spirit leave the trap of his body.  In recent times the Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar made an attempt at rehabilitating Judas by portraying his betrayal as a misguided effort to promote Jesus.  Scripture does nothing but portray Judas Iscariot as traitor and opportunist that had regrets about his treachery later.  The amazing thing is that Jesus chose Judas Iscariot knowing the evil he would eventually do would result in his death for the salvation of mankind.  It was not a good thing to betray Jesus but in the mysterious will of God, it was necessary for evil to prevail in that moment to accomplish a greater good.  Judas Iscariot is an example of what we are all capable of doing if we think Jesus exists to serve us and not the other way around.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Whatever Happened to James the Elder? by Chris White

 James is the first of the apostles who is martyred in scripture.  The book of Acts tells us that Herod had James killed and when he saw it pleased the Jews he proceeded to have Peter captured for the purpose of executing him in Jerusalem as well.  This was the incident where Peter was being prayed for by the Church and when the Lord delivered him, no one at the prayer meeting believed it was him at the front door.  Despite the fact that in Jerusalem there is a Cathedral and burial spot for him, there is a fascinating belief that James was the first to evangelize Spain and died there.  So strong is this belief that in the Middle Ages, Compostela in Spain, the alleged burial site, became the third most important pilgrimage site after Jerusalem and Rome.  Today, 10’s of thousands of people continue to hike this pilgrimage route for spiritual or secular reasons and this phenomenon formed the background of a Hollywood film starring Martin Sheen a couple of years ago called The Way.   It would not be out of the question for James to have been in Spain since there was 14 years from Pentecost until his death and travel was very easy to accomplish in that era.  But this story is probably more an illustration how legends can become fact given enough time and enthusiasm.  James the elder is one of the few apostles for which we know the end of his story directly from the pages of scripture.