Project Canterbury

From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp.

Christian and Catholic

Transcribed by Dr. Elizabeth G. Melillo
AD 2000

Chapter XV
Saint Peter and Saint John

The position of leadership held by Peter among the Twelve was one of distinguished honour and responsibility. With some of the fathers, we may call him prince of the Apostles, meaning thereby what Holy Scripture does when it records him as "first." It gave him no office of authority over the others, any more than when we say of some distinguished lawyer that he is the head or leader of the bar. He was, on many occasions, the spokesman of the Twelve. His special work, of confessor of Christ on the part of Israel, and his office as foundation layer, was not such as to allow of a successor. He was in every way a typical representative of the old dispensation. The idea is an ancient one. In the catacombs there has been found a symbolical device of Peter striking the rock. Peter is thus witnessed by the tradition of those early days not as the rock; but the rock out from whom the living water flow is Christ.

We have seen in contrasting the recorded lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul how that the latter was the typical representative of the spirit of the new and the former of the old Israelitish economy. One, the first opener with the keys of the new, whose power was subsequently given to all (Saint Matthew xviii.18.); the other, the efficient agent in its extension. In order that our examination of the spiritual significance of the prominence of Peter should be complete we must now contrast it with that of Saint John. If we find that the same interpretation is applicable to both cases, we shall have conclusive proof that it is the correct one. In discovering it we shall have found the exegetical key which fits and turns all the wards of the lock.

Let us then contrast the lives and sayings of the two Apostles, what they did and what they said, what they said to our Lord, and what He said to them. If we would be careful as well as reverent, remembering how pregnant with meaning Holy Scripture is, we must not neglect particulars however small. For it is often in seemingly insignificant details that the spiritual mind discerns the hidden treasure of divine wisdom. If we would discover it and make it our own, we must also seek for it with humble minds and prayer.

It is interesting to observe how Saint Peter first came to Christ. Saint Andrew brought him. It is the familiar type so often seen in the Old Testament, of the younger taking precedence of the elder. Peter is thus sought out, as God sought out his ancient people, and is by his younger brother brought to Christ.

Again, Saint Peter and Saint John stand together as the older and younger man; and the contrast of age begins to tell us of which dispensation each is the type. Their condition in life yet further portrays, and with more distinctness, the same idea. Saint Peter is the married man, Saint John the virgin disciple. The one thereby a type of the older Church, so often spoken of by the prophets as betrothed to God; the other a symbol of the Bride, yet in its virgin state and beauty, that was to be.

We know but little of their previous history, safe that both were fishermen; but of their respective homes, two references are recorded. In the beginning of the Lord’s ministry He goes to Peter’s house. And we may not wisely overlook the fact that it is at the beginning of it. He finds there quite a type of the state of the Jewish Church, Peter’s wife’s mother sick of fever. And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up and the fever left her and she arose and ministered to them. So at last, raised up and restored, comes converted Israel to the Master’s aid. Saint Peter’s house is a type of the Jewish Church. On the other hand, consider the house of Saint John. On the cross Christ says to Saint John, "Behold thy mother." And from that hour he took her, who is the special type of the Christian Church, "to his own home." The house of Saint John is thus symbolical of the Church of Christ.

No less declarative of the typical place these two Apostles occupy in the gospels is the different manner in which they are called to discipleship. Saint Peter when called was in his own boat, while Saint John, not yet arrived at independent ownership, was yet in the boat of his father. Peter, like the older organisation he represented, was diligently engaged in his occupation, "casting a net into the sea." John was not so engaged. He was not fishing, but only preparing to do so. John and his brother "were mending their nets." When Peter is called he leaves his fishing nets. John leaves his father and the ship and the hired servant and goes after him.

New names and titles are given to each. Simon has that of Cephas. It was emblematic of his destined transformation by becoming, through incorporation into the Living Rock, christianised and made a new creature, a rock-man. He is also called the "First," and in this office of leadership he is the spokesman and confessor of Christ’s Messiahship and Divinity. He is also the foundation layer on the Rock, which is Christ, of the new temple, of which, having the keys, he is the first opener to Jew and Gentile. To Saint John also a special name is given. Saint John is named Boanerges, "Son of Thunder." It tells of the light and life from heaven. He is therefore the special evangelist of the Incarnation. His title is that of "the loved disciple." This title by itself declares for which dispensation he stands. With a special love which is again and again emphasised Christ loved Saint John. He lay, as it was granted to no other, on Jesus’ breast. So Christ loved His Church and gave Himself for it. Everything about Saint John declares him to be the type and representative of the Christian Church.

We now easily understand the meaning upon which Romans have laid stress, that Christ preached out of Peter’s boat. The facts are these: there were two empty boats, one of them, Simon’s, in charge of James and John, who were partners with Simon. Our Lord selects Simon’s as His pulpit from which to address the multitude. The same reason incites Him to do this that made Him choose Solomon’s porch for his audience chamber. This porch was the only remaining part of the ancient temple which, at its dedication, "the glory of the Lord had filled." Our Lord’s life, unlike that of every other religious teacher, had been foretold. As the foretold Messiah, Christ came in the fulfilment of the law. The law bore witness to Him. He unfolded the true meaning of its prophecies and worship. Every ceremonial detail of its sacrifices, every Messianic utterance of its psalms, found their fulfilment in Him. So, not in any honour of Peter, but because his boat symbolised that which He came to fulfil, He preaches out of Peter’s boat.

The same symbolical meaning is to be found in the other incidents of the story. We find, in conformity to the type, that it is Peter’s net that breaks. The fish once enclosed now rush back into the sea. It is the remnant, not all Israel, that is saved. Then in his distress Peter must call upon his partners in the other boat, that they come and help him. The old order thus calls for help unto the new to secure and complete its work. John does not call out to Peter, but Peter, beckoning entreatingly, summons John to his aid. If, it is to be observed, Christ thus signifies Peter’s symbolic prominence by preaching out of his boat, the favour he subsequently grants to John is of far more emphatic character. Saint John, as a type of the Christian Church, is taken up into heaven. To him are revealed the deep and hidden things of the kingdom, the glories of heaven, the mysteries of the underworld, the progressive battle between the Church and her foes.

Equally declarative of their respective positions are the questions and sayings they separately address to Christ. The inquiries of Peter for the most part are relative to Israel’s search for the promised Messiah. Those of John relate to the rights and powers of the new kingdom. Thus Saint Peter says to Christ: "Declare unto us this parable!" "Speakest Thou this to us or unto all?" "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Saint John, filled with holy indignation at the Samaritans’ reflection of Christ, asks: "Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume?" However misapplied, the Son of Thunder is filled with a sense of the awful powers which the Christian Church possesses.

When Jesus said, "Who touched Me?", Saint Peter must, in Jewish-like undiscernment say, "Master, the multitude presses on Thee and sayest Thou, ‘Who touched me?’" How unlike Saint John, who requires no angel to tell him as he enters the empty tomb that Christ is risen, gut at once, as Peter did not, "sees and believes." Peter, like Israel, seeks a sign. "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee on the water." John needs no sign. He never asks for one. But when Jesus stood on the shore and the disciples in the boat knew not that it was Jesus, then "the disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’" It is John who here discloses and points out Christ to Peter.

Again, the Old Testament spirit is seen in Peter’s conduct at the transfiguration. He is bewildered, and not discerning Christ’s superiority to Moses and Elias, says, "Master, let us make here three tabernacles," "for he wist not what to say." He comes, exhibiting the same Jewish temper in respect to morals, asking of Christ, "How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him; seven times?" In like manner, not discerning our Lord’s right to exemption from the temple tax, because it was His Father’s house, he compromises his Master’s claims by telling the tax collectors that it is due from Christ. Saint John falls into his own grave errors likewise, but they have reference to the new kingdom. He begins to exercise authority before it had been conferred on him: "Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us." Peter, with the old Messianic, earthly triumph in view, says, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee: what shall we have therefore?" Saint John, looking beyond temporal things, with right vision but with ambitious heart, says, "Master, grant unto us that we may sit one on Thy right hand and the other on Thy left in Thy glory."

The rebukes which our Lord administered to them, and He rebuked most those He loved, are also deserving our attention. He rebuked the Twelve collectively, for their hardness of heart, want of discernment, lack of trust, keeping the children from Him, and for their strife amongst themselves for pre-eminence. The only title to the latter was that of service. Every other distinction of rank was forbidden. "It shall not be so among you." But to none did He utter such severe and humiliating reproofs as to Peter and John. Peter, voicing Israel’s carnal mind, would not have our Lord be a suffering and crucified Messiah, saying, "Be it far from Thee, O Lord, this shall not be unto Thee!" And our Lord rebuked him, saying, "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence to me." Again, when Peter drew his sword, appealing, as earthly kings may do, to force, the Lord rebuked this idea of earthly power and said, "Put up thy sword into its sheath." Saint John, giving way to his natural temper, falls into his own sin. In his burning zeal he would, Boanerges-like, call down fire from heaven to consume Christ’s enemies. It was not the spirit of the gospel. Christ rebuked His loved disciple with the withering words: "Ye know not what spirit ye are of."

Further, let us consider Christ’s questions to the two. "Peter," we read, "and they that were with him, followed after Christ." The Master’s object was to bring Israel to a confession of His true nature. Thus the crucial question He puts to the loved disciple is: "are ye able?" "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?" Voicing believing Israel, Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." John, speaking in the strength of the grace of the new dispensation, said, "We are able." Prevenient grace is given to the Jew to discern Christ. Sanctifying, indwelling grace is given to the Christian to become like Him.

Each of the Apostles needed spiritual transformation. Saint Peter needed conversion to Christ; Saint John, conformity to His Spirit. Peter’s natural lack was want of faith. Our Lord so addresses him: "O thou of little faith!" Saint John, in his natural heat, would call down fire on Christ’s enemies. Saint Peter was great, warm-hearted, affectionate, sympathetic, and impulsive. Saint John was very unlike the popular conception of him. He was no soft, gentle, tender-hearted person. He was awful and sublime in the singleness and purity of his soul. He loved not so much with passion or emotion, and never on impulse, but with a heart controlled by a will of steel. We all, especially we stumblers and sinners, love Peter, and Peter ever attracted others about him. They followed Peter. He bravely goes as the pioneer out of the boat to meet Christ. He is a leader and he leads the way. Saint John, ere his nature had been mellowed and enriched by grace, walked, with wonderful insight indeed, into divine mysteries, but for the most part alone. Our Lord said to Peter, pointing out and asking about the fig tree, a symbol of the Judaism, that had withered away, "Have faith." Our Lord loved John that by His love there might be developed in him the charity that is divine. Our Lord said to him, "Behold thy mother." One needed perfection in faith; the other to be perfected in love.

Having in mind the representative character of Saint Peter, it is, moreover, interesting to study the process of his conversion. The miraculous sign of the great catch of fish at Christ’s word brings to Peter that which is the basis of all true conversion, the deep sense of his own sinfulness. Falling on his knees, he cries out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" Then gradually he is brought by divine help to confess Christ: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of God." Then, trusting in his own strength, boasting that "though all shall be offended yet will not I," he falls. He who confessed the true faith, that Christ is the Son of God, denies that faith, saying, "I know not the man." But the prayer of our great Advocate availed for his recovery. Satan had asked to sift the Apostles as wheat; but Christ had prayed for their leader that his faith fail not. Christ did not pray that Peter should not deny the faith, but that, denying it, his faith in Christ should not fail. So, on his bitter weeping and repentance, he is forgiven, and on his threefold reversal of his thrice-denial, he is restored. Converted, he is to strengthen his brethren, feed after Pentecost the lambs of the new kingdom, and guide to Christ the sheep of the old. He is now, in his great office as leader, to draw the unbroken net to Christ standing on the shore. He brings what has been gathered by the co-operation of both dispensations to the risen Christ, to participate in the full blessings and gifts of the gospel covenant; to the living coals of fire of the Holy Spirit; to incorporation into the Incarnate One; and to feeding on the bread that Jesus gives His own.

The relative spiritual positions of the two Apostles is further seen at the Last Supper, where Saint Peter earnestly asks our Lord to wash not his feet only, but his hands and head. What an acknowledgement of the intellectual and moral Jewish condition! It needed a cleansing both in will and heart and mind. Here, too, while John is seen resting on Jesus, a type of Christ and His Church, Peter, being troubled, desires to know who will betray Him. But he seeks the solution of the mystery, not directly from Christ Himself, but indirectly through John. It is not of John to seek through Peter, for the Christian comes to Christ not through the law, but it is Peter who asks through John; for Israel, through the Gospel, comes to Christ.

Both Apostles follow Christ to the judgement hall. Peter remains without. John enters within. Peter, like Israel, starting aside, falls away. John remains faithful to the end. At the cross, Saint John and the Blessed Mother are to be found, in different ways, types of the Church.

The resurrection also is full of the symbolic meaning we have unfolded. We find on the day itself the two Apostles together. Christ had sent these two, Peter and John, to prepare the Passover. Both dispensations had part in that He both fulfilled and instituted. They were together near Him at the transfiguration, where the law and prophets bore witness to Him, and where He revealed Himself as the Light that had come. They were together near Him in the garden, for Jew and Gentile needs alike for salvation to be gathered in union with His passion. They also went together to His tomb. There Peter, like the law, enters in first, and then departs. It is all dark to him. But John, entering in, sees and believes. The tomb for him is bright with the revealed glory of the resurrection.

To penitents our Lord first disclosed Himself. So it is He speaks first to Mary Magdalene, seeks out the two wandering disciples, and so, as most needing it, sends a message to broken-hearted Peter: "Go and tell Peter." As type of restored Israel, and of Peter to his Apostleship, our Lord says to him, "Feed my lambs; tend my sheep." But in contrast with this, our Lord gives Saint John the care of His Blessed Mother, and says of John, symbolical of the enduring life of the Christian Church, "What and if I will that he tarry till I come."

We have rested our exposition on the Word alone. But if traditions may be cited for their illustrative value, the legend declares how at last Peter, condemned to death, and fleeing from it, was met by our Lord, who said, "Peter, where goest thou?" Noble and glorious was his martyrdom we confess. But when John had been apprehended and dipped into the oil, to be made a living flambeau, then we read that, as a type of the Christian Church, against which nothing can prevail and which will last till the Lord comes again, Saint John was, by some miracle of providence, delivered and preserved. He lingers on, surviving all the Apostles, the organ of communication between heaven and earth, and revealing to the Church the mind of the ascended Lord.

Now if this be the Holy Spirit’s exposition of that word He inspired, it will enlighten all humble minds and keep them from seeing in the rightful pre-eminence of Saint Peter any proof the wrongful supremacy assigned him by Rome.

Note: In the Resurrection, Christ is seen standing on the shore. John reveals Him to Peter. Peter draws the net through the water, a type of the initial sacrament of baptism, to Christ, just as he brings the sheep and lambs of the old and new dispensation to Him.

Project Canterbury