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Peter allowed Gentiles to be baptized

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 13 January 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The primary authority of Peter among the apostles was especially apparent in resolving the basic problem which the early Church had to face: the relationship with the Jewish religion and, thus, the constitutive basis of the new Israel. It was necessary to decide to draw the consequences of the fact that the Church was neither an offshoot of the Mosaic regime, nor some religious current or sect of ancient Israel. Concretely, when the problem was posed to the apostles and the first Christian community with the case of the centurion Cornelius requesting Baptism, Peter's intervention was decisive. The Acts of the Apostles describes how the event unfolded. In a vision the pagan centurion received from an "angel of the Lord" the order to call on Peter: "Summon one Simon who is called Peter" (Acts 10:5). The angel's order included and confirmed the authority possessed by Peter. His decision would be needed for allowing pagans to be baptized.

2. Peter's decision, moreover, was clarified by a light given him in an exceptional way from on high: in a vision, Peter was invited to eat foods forbidden by the Jewish law. He heard a voice saying to him: "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane" (Acts 10:15). This enlightenment, given to him three times, as previously three times he had received the power to shepherd Christ's flock, showed Peter that he had to move beyond the demands of dietary laws and, in general, beyond Jewish ritual observances. It was an important religious achievement for the acceptance and treatment reserved for pagans, of whose arrival he had a presentiment.

3. The decisive step was taken immediately after the vision, when the men sent by the centurion Cornelius presented themselves to Peter. Peter could have hesitated to follow them, since Jewish law forbade contact with pagan foreigners, considered to be impure. But the new awareness he had as a result of the vision compelled him to overcome this discriminatory law. In addition, the impulse of the Holy Spirit made him understand that he should accompany these men without delay, for they had been sent to him by the Lord. He abandoned himself completely to fulfilling God's plan for his life. It is easy to suppose that, without the light of the Spirit, Peter would have continued to observe the prescriptions of Jewish law. It was that light, given to him personally so that he would make a decision in conformity with the Lord's views, which guided and supported him in his decision.

4. Now for the first time, in front of a group of pagans gathered around the centurion Cornelius, Peter gave his testimony about Jesus Christ and his resurrection: "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34-35). It was a decision which seemed revolutionary, because of its relationship to the Jewish mentality regarding the current interpretation of Mosaic law. God's plan, kept hidden from preceding generations, foresaw that the pagans would be "coheirs in the promise of Jesus Christ" (Eph 3:5-6), without first having to be incorporated into the religious and ritual structure of the old covenant. This was the newness brought by Jesus, which by his gesture, Peter made his own and applied concretely.

5. It should be underlined that the opening began by Peter bore the seal of the Holy Spirit, who came down upon the group of pagan converts. There is a connection between Peter's word and the action of the Holy Spirit. We read: "While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word" (Acts 10:44). A witness to this gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter saw the consequences and said to his brethren: "'Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?' He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:47). This formal resolution of Peter's, obviously illumined by the Spirit, took on decisive importance for the Church's development by eliminating the obstacles stemming from the observance of the Jewish law.

6. Not everyone was prepared to accept this great innovation and make it his own. In fact, Peter's decision was criticized by the so-called "Judaizers," who formed an important nucleus in the Christian community. It was a prelude to the reservations and opposition which would occur in the future against those who would have the task of exercising supreme authority in the Church (cf. Acts 11:1-2). However, Peter responded to those criticisms by relating what had occurred when Cornelius and the other pagans had been converted and by explaining the descent of the Holy Spirit upon that group of converts with these words of the Lord: "John baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11:16). Since the proof came from God--from Christ's words and the signs of the Holy Spirit--it was judged to be convincing, and the criticisms died down. Peter thus appeared as the first apostle of the Gentiles.

7. We know that later the Apostle Paul, the Doctor Gentium, would be especially called to proclaim the Gospel among the Gentiles. However, he himself recognized the authority of Peter as a guarantor of the rightness of his own mission of evangelization. Having begun to preach the Gospel to Gentiles, he relates: "After three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas" (Gal 1:18). Paul was acquainted with Peter's role in the Church and recognized its importance. Fourteen years later he again went to Jerusalem for verification: " that I might not be running, or have run, in vain" (Gal 2:2). This time he spoke not only to Peter but "to those of repute" (Gal 2:2). He shows, however, that he regarded Peter as the supreme head. In fact, although in the geo-religious distribution of work Peter was entrusted with the Gospel to the circumcised (Gal 2:7), he still was the first to preach the Gospel to the pagans, as seen in Cornelius' conversion. On that occasion Peter opened the door to all the Gentiles who could be reached at the time.

8. The incident that occurred in Antioch does not imply that Paul denied Peter's authority. Paul reproved his way of acting, but did not question his authority as head of the apostolic college and the Church. Paul wrote in Galatians: "And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles, but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the uncircumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Kephas in front of all, 'If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (Gal 2:11-14). Paul did not exclude in an absolute way every concession to certain demands of the Jewish law (cf. Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor 8:13; Rom 14:21; cf. also 1 Cor 9:20). In Antioch, however, Peter's behavior had the disadvantage of compelling Christians of Gentile origin to submit to Jewish law. Precisely because he acknowledged Peter's authority, Paul protested and reprimanded him for not acting in accordance with the Gospel.

9. Later on, the problem of freedom regarding the Jewish law was finally resolved at a meeting of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, during which Peter played a decisive role. A long discussion set Paul and Barnabas against a certain number of converted Pharisees, who asserted that all Christians had to be circumcised, even those coming from paganism. After the discussion Peter stood up to explain that God did not want any discrimination and that he had given the Holy Spirit to Gentile converts to the faith. "We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they" (Acts 15:11). Peter's intervention was decisive. Then, according to Acts: "The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them" (Acts 15:12). This showed that Peter's position was confirmed by the facts. James too adopted it (cf. Acts 15:14), adding the confirmation of inspired Scripture to the testimonies of Barnabas and Paul: "The words of the prophets agree with this" (Acts 15:15), and citing an oracle of Amos. The assembly's decision was thus in conformity with the position enunciated by Peter. His authority thus played a decisive role in resolving an essential question for the Church's development and for the unity of the Christian community. The person and mission of Peter in the early Church are situated in this light.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

À chacun de vous, pèlerins de langue française qui êtes ici ce matin, j’adresse un très cordial salut.

J’offre mes vœux, en particulier, aux membres de la presse du Bénin. Je leur dis toute ma joie de me rendre prochainement dans leur pays et, à travers eux, je salue chaleureusement la communauté catholique du pays ainsi que tout le peuple béninois.

A tous, jeunes et adultes, je souhaite un bon séjour à Rome. Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the English–speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrimage groups from Australia, Great Britain, the Philippines, South Korea and the United States. Upon all of you, especially the young people and university students, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich meinen herzlichen Willkommensgrub an Euch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher. Besonders heibe ich die Schwestern aus verschiedenen Ländern und Kongregationen willkommen, die an einem geistlichen Erneuerungskurs in La Storta teilnehmen. Mit dem innigen Wunsch, mit Hilfe des Heiligen Geistes und im Vertrauen auf seine Treue und Weggemeinschaft, mit Freude und Überzeugungskraft unseren Lebens – und Glaubensweg auch im neuen Jahr zu gehen, erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie allen, die uns geistlich verbunden sind, meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España. En particular, a los alumnos del Colegio “ Charles de Gaulle ” de Concepción (Chile).

A todos bendigo de corazón. 

Ai pellegrini di espressione portoghese 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, faço votos de uma feliz estadia na Cidade Eterna, e de que este encontro com o Sucessor de Pedro reforce os seus propósitos de unidade e de comunhao na única fé em Cristo Jesus. Que Deus vos abençoe e vos proteja!

Ai fedeli polacchi

Szczególnie serdecznie pozdrawiam dzisiaj wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, a wśród nich w sposób wyjątkowy pielgrzymów – arcybiskupów i biskupów – “ ad limina Apostolorum ”. Wraz z nimi są obecni także inni pielgrzymi, przede wszystkim z Częstochowy “ Dzieło miłosierdzia ”, oraz indywidualni przybysze zarówno z kraju, jak z emigracji.

To spotkanie ma szczególną swoją wymowę. Biskupi reprezentują tu wszystkie polskie diecezje, reprezentują Lud Boży żyjący w tych diecezjach. Tylko mała cząstka tego ludu jest obecna, ale reprezentuje wszystkich, cały Kościół w Polsce, całą katolicką społeczność w naszym narodzie. Dlatego serdecznie witam was, a zarazem nawiązuję do prawdy katechizmowej, do katechezy na dzień dzisiejszy wyznaczonej. Ta katecheza odnosi siędo ministerium petrinum, posługi Piotra w Kosciele. Ukazuje rzecz znamienną, że chociaż wiadomo, iż szczególne zasługi dla nawrócenia pogan poza Izraelem miał apostoł Paweł, to jednak pierwszy krok w tym kierunku został podjety przez Piotra. Został podjety za wyraźnym natchnieniem Bożym. Ten pierwszy krok opisany jest szczegółowo w Dziejach Apostolskich. Chodzi mianowicie o chrzest centuriona rzymskiego Korneliusza i jego rodziny. Piotr decydując sie na udzielenie tego chrztu, kieruje sie tą świadomością, że również i oni otrzymali Ducha Świetego, również dla pogan łaska zbawienia w Chrystusie jest w pełni otwarta. To stanowisko Piotra, wsparte potem wielką działalnością apostolską św. Pawła Apostoła, Apostoła Narodów, to stanowisko rozstrzygneło o przyszłości Kościoła, który sie stał Ludem Bożym spośród wszystkich narodów ziemi. Można dodać, że w tej decyzji Piotrowej, a potem z kolei w posługiwaniu Pawłowym oraz w tak zwanym pierwszym soborze w Jerozolimie rozstrzygneły się także przyszłe losy naszego narodu, który jest ochrzczony od z górą tysiąca lat. To właśnie tam została podjeta ta apostolska decyzja, która owocowała przez stulecia i pokolenia aż do czasu, kiedy zaczeła owocować na naszych ziemiach, wśród naszych przodków. I my także jesteśmy wdzieczni za to wielkie natchnienie, które ukazało Piotrowi drogę do Kościoła zgodnie z Chrystusowym poleceniem: “ Idźcie na cały świat i nauczajcie wszystkie narody ”, które ukazało Piotrowi droge również do naszego narodu. O tym myślimy z wdzięcznością, zwłaszcza gdy tutaj “ ad limina Apostolorum ” znajdują się biskupi tego przed milenium ochrzczonego naszego narodu.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana 

Nel rivolgere ora il mio pensiero ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, saluto le Suore e le Novizie della Congregazione delle Domenicane del Sacro Cuore di Gesù e formulo fervidi voti augurali a quelle che si accingono a partire per la missione in Bolivia.

Il mio pensiero va, poi, al gruppo di giovani provenienti dall’Africa e da altri Paesi extraeuropei, ospiti del Collegio Santa Maria di Gesù, assistiti dai Padri Francescani e dalle Suore di Santa Maria Antida Touret. A tutti voglio dare il mio benvenuto, invocando su di loro la continua protezione di Dio.

Saluto, altresì, il numeroso gruppo degli Allievi, provenienti dalla Scuola dei Carabinieri di Velletri. Saluto particolarmente il Signor Generale Comandante, Angelo Nannavecchia, che accompagna il Battaglione, gli Ufficiali e Sottufficiali dei diversi Reparti, i Cappellani Militari e le Famiglie del Personale Permanente della Scuola. Cari giovani, il vostro servizio è prezioso: voi tutelate il bene pubblico, la tranquillità della vita sociale dei cittadini, salvaguardando il diritto e la giustizia con una dedizione davvero esigente. Siate fieri del compito che la società vi affida. Dedicatevi con ogni impegno al servizio, compiendolo con animo generoso e con spirito evangelico, in atteggiamento di vero amore verso il prossimo. Siate sempre operatori di bene, come fedeli e sinceri “soldati di Cristo”. Vi protegga nel vostro impegno, soprattutto nei momenti più difficili, la Madre del Redentore, a cui avete poc’anzi elevato il vostro canto, invocandola col bel titolo di “Virgo Fidelis”.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Il mio saluto va, infine, ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli. Cari giovani, con lo slancio e la generosità di credenti in Cristo, siate sempre e ovunque operatori di pace, mediante un costante impegno di dialogo e di solidarietà verso chi è nella necessità. La pace ha bisogno di voi, cari ammalati; ha bisogno della vostra preghiera assidua, della vostra croce che, se offerta a Cristo, diviene strumento di redenzione e di riconciliazione. A voi, sposi novelli, ricordo che la pace è dono del Signore e fiorisce nel cuore di quanti vivono nell’operosità della fede salda e dell’amore autentico. A tutti la mia benedizione.

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