The Church built on a pun.

The Church built on a pun.


Pope¡s buried in St Peter's Basilica
Popes buried in St Peter’s Basilica

There are many ways of reading a text, any text.  Matthew 16.18 is no exception. However, in the long tradition of Church Doctrine, there is only one, universal, authoritative teaching which can prevail and deliver for all mankind the true meaning of Matthew’s reporting of Jesus’ words, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”  The Catholic Church holds the key.

What speaks to me, today, on the feast of Peter and Paul is not so much the pun as the anachronism that in Jesus’ day the Church had not begun and when it did, after his death, there appear to have been quite a few churches and many different ways of expressing and living out the Good News.  Indeed Matthew is the only gospel to mention “Church”, a term which grew up as the early Christians began to form assemblies.

Indeed, the account in Acts of the first Council of Jerusalem, shows just how different the views were between some groups and the issue of the circumcision of Gentiles was a hot topic, a bit like gay marriage today, I imagine.  It was Paul’s liberal view which won out against Peter, the rock.

I let my imagination go further.  One predominant theme of Matthew’s Gospel is the way in which the Jewish scriptures foretold and point to Jesus as the Saviour of the Jews.  The Gospel is almost bitter about how the Jews have missed out on the Messiah. So would the church in which Matthew’s gospel took shape not, maybe, be a bit put out over the concessions to the gentiles, still smarting from Paul’s persuasiveness?

To me this could explain the text in quite a different light – an ironic pun which attempts to re-establish apostolic authority when the reality was very different.

What was actually happening was that the Holy Spirit, present in the churches, can be seen at work guiding and leading Christians in the most surprising ways through the “apostle” Paul.  Nothing, not even Papal authority, should get in the way of our openness to the Holy Spirit, lest we be like the Jews in Jesus’ day who missed out on their Messiah.

see also


Our Appetite for God

Our Appetite for God

The Dark Night of the Soul Gareald G. May MD
The Dark Night of the Soul
Gerald G. May MD

“….every part of us is, at its core, a desire for love’s fulfillment.  Though we seldom recognise it, our senses seek the beauty, the sweetness, the good feelings of God.  Our mind seeks the truth and wisdom of God.  Our will seeks to live out the goodness, the righteousness of God.  Our memory and imagination seek the justice and peace of God.  In other words,  we yearn for the attributes of God with every part of ourselves.  Human beings are two-legged, walking, talking desires for God.”

This is a quote from Gerald May’s “Dark Night of the Soul”

 Recognising our Appetite for God.

On reading the above I ask myself why, then, are we not more dedicated to the pursuit of this, the most powerful of all our desires and the only one which can lead us to entire satisfaction?

I sense that our spiritual appetite should be much more demanding,  persistent and urgent than it is, like sexual desire, hunger and thirst.  In May’s book he looks at two great saints, St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila who use just such metaphors to describe this, our most ultimate of all desires: so some human beings certainly experience this greatest of love-drives.  So why not everyone?

God in all things, in you and in me.

The answer is most likely that we are all always immersed in this desire.  It is constantly active in our very essence, in our hormones and the urges we feel,  and in each and every and all of  our passions and desires.

The answer probably lies in ourselves and, in particular, in our relentless seeking for love’s fulfilment in which and through which life itself begins and belongs..  We may need to ask how successful we are in pursuing this desire through our everyday hungers and thirsts and desires for union and intimacy, for here is certainly where we will encounter our deepest desire for love, for God.  We will not experience this longing as a drive apart, but it will be recognised in the ferocious, niggling, persistent and daily urgings we feel within us: through these God speaks to us.

St. John and St. Theresa, like St Augustine before them and many others in Christianity’s mystical tradition have found after much searching that God is to be encountered, not as separate from ourselves but in our own being, indwelling as we dwell in Him:   through an interior life of prayer ( see The Interior Lifeεν Χριστώ.