The Martyrdom of Peter and Paul

Today is the commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul. The Church’s tradition teaches that they both died as martyrs in Rome during the persecution under Nero in 64 A.D. According to tradition, Paul was granted the right of a Roman citizen to be beheaded by a sword, but Peter suffered the fate of his Lord, crucifixion, though with head downward. They each have separate commemorations as well: Peter on January 18, for his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and Paul on January 25, for his conversion.

A generation after their martyrdom, probably in 96 A.D., Clement of Rome, writes the following to the Church in Corinth:

Let us come to those who have most recently proved champions; let us take up the noble examples of our own generation. Because of jealousy and envy the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and competed unto death. Let us bring before our eyes the good apostles—Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy endured not one or two, but numerous trials, and so bore a martyr’s witness and went to the glorious place that he deserved. Because of jealousy and strife Paul pointed the way to the reward of endurance; seven times he was imprisoned, he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a preacher in both east and west, and won renown for his faith, teaching uprightness to the whole world, and reaching the farthest limit of the west, and bearing a martyr’s witness before the rulers, he passed out of the world and was taken up into the holy place, having proved a very great example of endurance.

The lives and deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul offer us examples and guidance for our lives today in a world that desperately needs martyrs, witnesses to the life and love of God.

  • Though Peter and Paul disagreed about the Christian mission their common commitment to Christ and the proclamation of his gospel proved stronger than their differences. Perhaps they offer an image of unity in diversity.
  • The Christian faith often calls us to a life of endurance and perseverance.
  • Martyrdom is a choice. It is less about how we die and more about how and for whom we live.

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  

– Book of Common Prayer, p. 241

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