Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
In his letter to the Galatians, St Paul writes about the pope of his time: “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong” (Gal 2:11). That was the first example of a saint rebuking a pope, but it was not the last. In the sixth century, a brave Irish monk, St Columban, rebuked the current Pope, Boniface IV, who himself would go on to become a saint. On this feast of Saints Peter and Paul, it is worth quoting a letter that St Columban wrote to Pope St Boniface. St.Columban writes:
“We are the disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Hibernians receive no other doctrine but that of the Gospel and of the Apostles. Here the Catholic faith is preserved as intact as it was delivered to us by you, the successors of the Apostles. This fact has emboldened me to stir you up against those who calumniate you and decry you as patronizers of heretics.
“Watch over the peace of the Church; come to the aid of your sheep, terrified by the wolves. If you do not wish to lose the honor due to your apostolic office, preserve the apostolic faith; confirm it by your testimony; fortify it by a written instrument; cover it with the authority of a synod, and no one will have the right to resist you.
“Watch, therefore, Holy Father; again I say: Watch. Your vigilance will be the salvation of many, just as blind security on your part would be the undoing of many. Woe to us, if, in a land where the enemies of the true faith are armed for the fight, we give ourselves up to indolence and a false optimism. With pain and disappointment, not unmixed with fear, I view the battlefield, and turn my eyes to you, our sole hope, and bewail the rout of so great an army.
“Make a public profession of the true faith before a synod, and thus purge the Chair of Peter from every stain of error, should any, as is alleged, have crept into it. It would indeed be a subject of grief and dismay, if the Apostolic See, the chief seat of orthodoxy, did not maintain the rule of faith, and were on this account to be pointed at with the finger of scorn. For the love of Christ, I beg of you, defend your good name, which is being torn to shreds among the nations, and do not draw down upon yourself the charge of treason by persisting any longer in silence.
“Take away the confusion that covers the face of you sons and disciples, who are reviled on your account; take away, above all, the suspicion that envelops the Chair of St. Peter. For it is not a small matter that is laid to your charge. It is your fault if you have turned aside from the true faith, if ‘you have made void your first faith’. My great solicitude that peace and harmony should reign among you urges me to speak out frankly, and to hide nothing.
“We, as I said before, are sincerely attached to the Chair of St. Peter; for, great and renowned as Rome is, it is through this Chair alone that she is illustrious in our country. Rome, the capital of the world, is also the head of all the Churches, the place of Christ’s resurrection being alone holier and more privileged. Such being the dignity of your See, you ought to take care not to prejudice it by any act of yours.
“For only so long as right reason is on your side, will your authority remain undisputed: the true keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven is he who opens the gates to the worthy and closes them against the unworthy. If he did the contrary of this he could neither open nor close. All the world knows that the Savior gave the keys of Heaven to St. Peter; but if you are puffed up on this account, and claim above others some unheard of power in divine things, remember that such presumption will lessen your authority in the sight of God.
“Once more I entreat you, because many doubt the purity of your faith, to remove this stain from the beauty of the Holy See. For surely the charge of inconsistency raised against her, as if she could be turned from the firmness of the true faith, must not be allowed to rest on the Roman Church, the Church for which so many martyrs shed their blood, preferring to die rather than to prove traitors.
“Pray for me, Holy Father, above all at the tomb of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, the peerless champions of Christ crucified, whom they followed even to the shedding of their blood, that we may have grace to cling to Christ, that we may find favor in his eyes, that we may never be lacking in thankfulness to Him, and that we may join with you and all the saints in praising and glorifying Him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”