jimmyakin.com/wp-content/uploads/stpeterstpaul-builtchurch-640-300x256.jpgIn Galatians, St. Paul says at one point:
But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” [Gal. 2:11-14].
What are we to make of this?
Some among the Church Fathers thought that this was a fake disagreement that Paul and Peter engaged in for teaching purposes.
For example, in his Commentary on Galatians, St. Jerome states:
Now, if anyone thinks that Paul really opposed Peter and fearlessly insulted his predecessor in defense of evangelical truth, hewill not be moved by the fact that Paul acted as a Jew among fellow Jews in order to win them for Christ. What is more, Paulwould have been guilty of the same kind of dissimulation on other occasions, such as when he shared his head in Cenchrea,when he made an offering in Jerusalem after doing this, whenhe circumcised Timothy and went barefoot-all of which are*clearly aspects of Jewish religious ritual.
Later, he writes:
Just as people who walk normally but pretend to limp do nothave a problem with their feet, though there is a reason whythey [pretend to] limp, so also Peter, aware that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters but only keeping the commandments of God, ate beforehand with Gentiles but for atime withdrew from them to avoid alienating the Jews from theirfaith in Christ. Paul likewise employed the same pretense as Peter and confronted him and spoke in front of everyone, not somuch to rebuke Peter as to correct those for whose sake Peterhad engaged in simulation. Now, if anyone is not convinced bythis interpretation, that Peter was not in error and Paul did notrashly rebuke his elder, he must account for why Paul criticized*another for doing the same thing he had done.
St. John Chrysostom has the same interpretation here, and Jerome reports that Origen held it as well, though it does not appear in his surviving writings.
The Church Fathers were far from unanimous in this opinion, however, and it seems that Jerome and the others were in the minority.
The majority view, represented by St. Augustine, was that the two apostles had a real difference of opinion about the appropriateness of Peter’s actions. St. Augustine, in particular, points out that Jerome’s theory would involve the two apostles in lying.
A while back, I was reading one of Pope Benedict XVI’s audiences, where he weighed in on the subject:
[LEFT]Here the other epicenter of Mosaic observance emerges: the distinction between clean and unclean foods which deeply separated practicing Jews from Gentiles. At the outset Cephas, Peter, shared meals with both; but with the arrival of certain Christians associated with James, “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1: 19), Peter began to avoid contact with Gentiles at table in order not to shock those who were continuing to observe the laws governing the cleanliness of food and his decision was shared by Barnabas.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]This decision profoundly divided the Christians who had come from circumcision and the Christians who came from paganism.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]This behavior, that was a real threat to the unity and freedom of the Church, provoked a passionate reaction in Paul who even accused Peter and the others of hypocrisy: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2: 14).[/LEFT]
[LEFT]In fact, the thought of Paul on the one hand, and of Peter and Barnabas on the other, were different: for the latter the separation from the Gentiles was a way to safeguard and not to shock believers who came from Judaism; on the contrary, for Paul it constituted the danger of a misunderstanding of the universal salvation in Christ, offered both to Gentiles and Jews.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]If justification is only achieved by virtue of faith in Christ, of conformity with him, regardless of any effect of the Law, what is the point of continuing to observe the cleanliness of foods at shared meals? In all likelihood the approaches of Peter and Paul were different: the former did not want to lose the Jews who had adhered to the Gospel, and the latter did not want to diminish the saving value of Christ’s death for all believers.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]It has been noted that the fact that, after describing his rebuke of Peter, Paul does not immediately say, “And I won, and Peter agreed with me!” is a sign that he actually lost the argument.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]If so, it may have given him cause for further reflection, which may have led him to consider situations in which some accommodation to Jewish practices was warranted–even if the situation in Antioch was not one of them. Pope Benedict noted:[/LEFT]
[LEFT]It is strange to say but in writing to the Christians of Rome a few years later (in about the middle of the 50s A.D.), Paul was to find himself facing a similar situation and asked the strong not to eat unclean foods in order not to lose or scandalize the weak: “it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble” (Rm 14: 21).[/LEFT]
[LEFT]The incident at Antioch thus proved to be as much of a lesson for Peter as it was for Paul.[/LEFT]
[LEFT]Only sincere dialogue, open to the truth of the Gospel, could guide the Church on her journey: “For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14: 17).[/LEFT]
[LEFT]It is a lesson that we too must learn: with the different charisms entrusted to Peter and to Paul, let us all allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, seeking to live in the freedom that is guided by faith in Christ and expressed in service to the brethren General Audience, Oct. 1, 2008].[/LEFT]
Thus Paul might have regarded Peter as wrong in the Antioch incident but have been led to more closely consider situations in which accommodating Jewish practices was permissible and even needed.
That could explain Jerome’s question about Paul later did similar things himself.