Today we contemplate Christ in the desert, fasting, praying, and being tempted. As we begin our Lenten journey, we join him and we ask him to give us strength to fight our weaknesses. Let me also thank you for the prayers and support you have shown me in these days. May God bless all of you!
By the way – you might have missed it, but on February 8, Pope Benedict spoke to the seminarians of Rome – his topic was Peter. So his thoughts – on Peter, the Petrine ministry – given when he knew he was resigning, but before the rest of us did – are worth a look.
Peter the Apostle is speaking but the exegetes tell us: it is impossible for this Letter to have been written by Peter because the Greek is so good that it cannot be the Greek of a fisherman from the Sea of Galilee. And it is not only the language — the syntax is excellent — but also the thought which is already quite mature, there are actual formulas in which the faith and the reflection of the Church are summed up. These exegetes say, therefore: it had already reached a degree of development that cannot be Peter’s. How does one respond? There are two important positions: first, Peter himself — that is, the Letter — gives us a clue, for at the end of the writing he says I write to you: “By Silvanus… dia Silvanus”. This “by” [dia] could mean various things. It may mean that he [Silvanus] brings or transmits; it may mean that Silvanus helped him write it; it may mean that in practice it was really Silvanus who wrote it. In any case, we may conclude that the Letter itself points out to us that Peter was not alone in writing this Letter but it expresses the faith of a Church, which is already on a journey of faith, a faith increasingly mature. He does not write alone, as an isolated individual; he writes with the assistance of the Church, of people who help him to deepen the faith, to enter into the depths of his thought, of his rationality, of his profundity. And this is very important: Peter is not speaking as an individual, he is speaking ex persona Ecclesiae, he is speaking as a man of the Church, as an individual of course, with his personal responsibility, but also as a person who speaks on behalf of the Church; not only private and original ideas, not as a 19th-century genius who wished to express only personal and original ideas that no one else could have expressed first. No. He does not speak as an individualistic genius, but speaks, precisely, in the communion of the Church. In the Apocalypse, in the initial vision of Christ, it is said that Christ’s voice is like the sound of many waters (cf. Rev 1:15). This means: Christ’s voice gathers together all the waters of the world, bears within it all the living waters that give life to the world; he is a Person, but this is the very greatness of the Lord, that he bears within him all the rivers of the Old Testament, indeed, of the wisdom of peoples. And what is said of the Lord also applies here, in a different way, to the Apostle. This does not mean to say a word that is his alone, but one that really contains the waters of faith, the waters of the whole Church, and in this very way gives fertility, gives fecundity. Thus it is a personal witness which is open to the Lord and thereby becomes open and broad. So this is very important.
Then I think it is important that in the conclusion of the Letter Silvanus and Mark are mentioned, two people who were also friends of St Paul. So it is that through this conclusion the worlds of St Peter and St Paul converge: there is no exclusive Petrine theology as against a Pauline theology, but a theology of the Church, of the faith of the Church, in which there is — of course — a diversity of temperament, of thought, of style, between the manner of speaking of Paul and that of Peter. It is right that these differences should also exist today. There are different charisms, different temperaments, yet they are not in conflict but are united in the common faith.
I would like to say something more: St Peter writes from Rome. This is important. Here we already have the Bishop of Rome, we have the beginning of Succession, we already have the beginning of the actual Primacy located in Rome, not only granted by the Lord but placed here, in this city, in this world capital. How did Peter come to Rome? This is a serious question. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that after his escape from Herod’s prison, he went to another place (cf. 12:17) — eis eteron topon — where he went is not known; some say to Antioch, others, to Rome. In any case, in this capital it should also be said that before fleeing he entrusted the Judaeo-Christian Church, the Church of Jerusalem, to James, and in entrusting her to James he nevertheless remained Primate of the universal Church, of the Church of the Gentiles but also of the Judaeo-Christian Church. And here in Rome he found a great Judaeo-Christian community. The liturgists tell us that in the Roman Canon there are traces of a characteristically Judaeo-Christian language. Thus we see that in Rome both parts of the Church were to be found: the Judaeo-Christian and the pagan-Christian, united, an expression of the universal Church. And for Peter, moving from Jerusalem to Rome meant moving to the universality of the Church, moving to the Church of the Gentiles and of all the epochs, to the Church that also still belongs to the Jews. And I think that in going to Rome St Peter not only thought of this transfer: Jerusalem/Rome, Judaeo-Christian Church/universal Church. He certainly also remembered Jesus’ last words to him, recorded by St John: “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (cf. Jn 21:18). It is a prophecy of the crucifixion. Philologists show us that “stretch out your hands” is a precise, technical expression for the crucifixion. St Peter knew that his end would be martyrdom, would be the cross: that it would therefore be following Christ completely. Consequently, in going to Rome there is no doubt that he was also going to martyrdom: martyrdom awaited him in Babylon. The primacy, therefore, has this content of universality but it has a martyrological content as well. Furthermore, Rome had been a place of martyrdom from the outset. In going to Rome, Peter once again accepts this word of the Lord: he heads for the cross and invites us too to accept the martyrological aspect of Christianity, which may have very different forms. And the cross may have very different forms, but no one can be Christian without following the Crucified One, without accepting the martyrological moment too.