The case of Galatians 2:11-14…
The “St. Paul resisted St. Peter to his Face” Objection
Time and again we hear from those we call Semi-Traditionalists the argument that a Pope can lead the faithful astray into errors against the Faith through the exercise of his non-infallible Magisterium; and when that happens, it is then the right and the duty of the victim faithful to resist him, clinging to “Tradition”.
Those who defend this position often point to an incident that occurred between St. Paul and St. Peter recorded in Galatians 2:11-14, as supposed historical precedent for an error-teaching Pope being corrected and resisted by his inferiors. Just recently we saw this, for example, in a blog post written by Christopher Ferrara for The Remnant and in a speech given by Roberto de Mattei at the Rome Life Forum in May.
The pericope in question reads thus:
But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
The name Cephas is Syriac and means “rock”, and is thus the equivalent of the Greek Petros, the Latin Petrus, in English Peter. Our Lord Himself called Simon by this name when He first met him: “And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter” (Jn 1:42). Although there are some few who have disputed it, it is generally held that the Cephas referred to in Galatians 2 is indeed St. Peter (see Haydock Commentary on Gal 2:11).
Whenever we want to understand what a particular Bible passage does and doesn’t mean, we need to turn to Holy Mother Church. We do this most easily and fruitfully by consulting Church-approved commentaries on Sacred Scripture. Sometimes explanatory comments are included as footnotes in the sacred text itself, as is the case in the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims Bible and in the popular and extensive Haydock Bible. For people looking for an extensive in-depth commentary, the best choice is probably that of the seventeenth-century Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, S.J. Published in numerous volumes, some of them are only available in Latin, but some do exist in English.
So, what is going on in Galatians 2:11-14?
St. Paul relates that he rebuked St. Peter for scandalizing the Gentile converts, giving them the impression through his behavior that it was necessary for them to observe the Law of Moses (“judaizing”). He had done this by eating with the Gentile converts at Antioch until some Jewish converts arrived from Jerusalem, at which point he separated himself from the Gentiles and ate with the Jewish converts exclusively. These converts from Judaism were still keeping the dietary laws of Moses, which, at the time, was permissible for them to do:
We may distinguish four periods in the history of the Mosaic ceremonial law: (a) from Moses until Christ, it was the divinely ordained manner of worshipping God, and was obligatory for the Chosen People; (b) at the death of Christ, when the New Testament began, the Mosaic ceremonial ceased to be obligatory; (c) until the Gospel had been sufficiently promulgated (i.e., until the destruction of the City and the Temple of Jerusalem), the ceremonial law was permitted to Jewish converts, not as prefiguring Christ, but as a form of divine worship; (d) after the Gospel had been sufficiently proclaimed, it was no longer lawful to conform to the Mosaic observances.
(Rev. John A. McHugh & Rev. Charles J. Callan, Moral Theology, vol. 1 [New York, NY: Joseph F. Wagner, 1958], n. 342; underlining added.)
St. Thomas Aquinas explains that “…it was lawful for the Jewish converts to Christianity to observe [the legal ceremonies], provided they did not put their trust in them so as to hold them to be necessary unto salvation, as though faith in Christ could not justify without the legal observances. On the other hand, there was no reason why those who were converted from heathendom to Christianity should observe them” (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 103, a. 4, ad 1; see also Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, n. 29).
St. Peter’s conduct thus could lead people to believe that it was necessary still to observe the Law of Moses, thereby causing a stumbling block to the Faith, for in the New Covenant there is “neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Hence there is no room either for separating Jew from Gentile, nor for observing the Old Law: “But knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ; we also believe in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Acts 10:28).
Today’s Semi-Traditionalists, attempting to find historical precedent for their resistance to Francis while nevertheless recognizing him as a true Pope, have exaggerated the fault of St. Peter and also St. Paul’s response. It was simply a matter of improper personal conduct on the part of the first Pope, and this conduct was fraternally corrected by another Apostle. The visible head of the Church sinned in public, and another Catholic publicly rebuked him for it, thus repairing the scandal caused. This episode had nothing whatsoever to do with St. Peter professing heresy or teaching error in his Magisterium, nor with St. Paul refusing submission to the Pope.
But there is no need to take our word for it — everyone can simply look this up in the appropriate Church-approved sources.
For example, Scripture scholar Fr. Bernard Orchard, O.S.B., writes: “Paul reproached Peter not with a doctrinal error, but with not holding firm in the principle which he recognizes” (A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture [London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953], n. 895h). In other words, St. Peter’s actions did not conform to his teachings and beliefs, something that all of us are guilty of to some degree (see Jn 8:7; 1 Jn 1:8).
Bishop Richard Challoner, following St. Augustine, identifies St. Peter’s sin as nothing more than “a certain imprudence”:
The fault that is here noted in the conduct of St. Peter, was only a certain imprudence, in withdrawing himself from the table of the Gentiles, for fear of giving offence to the Jewish converts; but this, in such circumstances, when his so doing might be of ill consequence to the Gentiles, who might be induced thereby to think themselves obliged to conform to the Jewish way of living, to the prejudice of their Christian liberty.
Quoting biblical scholar Fr. Robert Witham, Fr. George Haydock, too, observes that “the opinion of St. Augustine is commonly followed, that St. Peter was guilty [merely] of a venial fault of imprudence” and adds that “[Cardinal Cesar] Baronius held that St. Peter did not sin at all, which may be true, if we look upon his intention only, which was to give no offence to the Jewish converts; but if we examine the fact, he can scarce be excused from a venial indiscretion” (Note on Galatians 2:11; italics given).
Fr. Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary provides insight with greater depth:
It may be urged that in this act of Peter’s there was at least something sinful, if not actually erroneous in faith, as some have rashly asserted. By his action it may be thought that he thoughtlessly made a profession of Judaism, and so put a stumbling-block in the way of the Gentiles, and tempted them to Judaise with him. He had previously lived with the Gentiles, but he afterwards withdrew from them suddenly, went over to the Jews, and lived with them. From this the Gentiles might properly infer that Judaism was necessary to salvation, both for him and themselves, and was binding on Christians ; for though the Old Law, with its ceremonies, was not yet the cause of death, and might be preserved so as to secure for itself an honourable burial, and also to draw the Jews to the faith of Christ, yet it was dead, and in one sense deathgiving, viz., to any one who should keep it on the supposition that it was binding on Christians. Although Peter, however, did not so regard it, yet his action was so imprudent as to give the Gentiles good reason for thinking that he did.
…This sin of Peter’s was venial, or material only, arising from want of thought, or from want of light and prudence. He seems to have thought that, being the Apostle of the Jews especially, that he ought rather to avoid scandalising them than the Gentiles, and that the Gentiles would readily recognise the rightfulness of this line of action. In so doing he erred, for “although,” as S. Thomas says, “the Holy Spirit who descended on the Apostles at Pentecost established them thereafter in such prudence and grace as to keep them from mortal sins, yet he did not also save them from venial sins.”
…Peter, in the act under discussion, had partly a just cause, viz., the fear of offending the Jews. His withdrawal from the Gentiles was not a formal declaration that he was a Judaiser, but only tantamount to saying that he preferred to serve the Jews rather than the Gentiles, the just cause of this preference being that he was more an Apostle of the former than of the latter. I say partly, for he was not wholly justified in so acting, inasmuch as he was bound, as universal pastor, to care for the Jews without neglecting the Gentiles. Hence it follows also that in one respect he sinned through want of due consideration. The infirmity of man’s mind, however, is such that he cannot always hit the exact mean, and under complex circumstances benefit one without harming another.
(W. F. Cobb, ed., The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide: II Corinthians and Galatians [Edinburgh: John Grant, 1908], pp. 245-247)
It should be evident that there is simply no comparison between St. Paul’s rebuke of hypocritical behavior on St. Peter’s part with Francis’ full-scale apostasy and his relentless undermining of Catholicism.
Having expounded the Catholic teaching on papal primacy, the Jesuit dogmatic theologian Fr. Joachim Salaverri responds to two objections from Galatians 2 as follows:
[Objection:] From Gal 2:11. St. Paul in the presence of Gentiles reprimanded St. Peter. Therefore he supposes that his authority does not extend to the Gentiles.
[Answer:] I distinguish the antecedent. He reprimands correcting him fraternally, conceded; authoritatively, denied.
[Objection:] From Gal 2:14. St. Paul corrected St. Peter in his teaching. But correction of teaching cannot not [!] be authoritative. Therefore St. Paul corrects St. Peter authoritatively as a subject.
[Answer:] I distinguish the antecedent. St. Paul corrects St. Peter for an error in teaching, denied; he corrects St. Peter because of his way of acting, because it was less suited to the truth of the teaching, I subdistinguish: extrinsically or by reason of those who could be led into doctrinal error because of that way of acting, conceded; intrinsically or by reason of the teaching of the truth, denied.
The truth of the teaching, that must be held by all, is this: that the observance of the Mosaic Law for Christians, in addition to the Law of Christ, is not necessary for salvation, but they are free to observe it if they wish [at that time, before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD]. Therefore de facto to observe it could not be said to be forbidden intrinsically, or by reason of the truth itself of the teaching; but extrinsically or by reason of scandal, namely, if ordinary Christians from its observance might conclude from the circumstances, although falsely, that it is necessary, it could be forbidden in order to avoid the fall of the little ones, according to the teaching of St. Paul himself about the eating of meat that had been orffered to the pagan gods (1 Cor 8:4-13); and so Paul himself, when he took on Timothy as a companion, circumcised him because of the Jews (Acts 16:3). Rightly therefore Tertullian said, “surely this was a fauly in his companionship, not in his preaching”….
(Fr. Joachim Salaverri, Sacrae Theologiae Summa IB: On the Church of Christ, trans. by Fr. Kenneth Baker [original Latin published by BAC, 1955; English published by Keep the Faith, 2015], nn. 283-284; italics in original.)
Lastly, we cannot fail to have a look at what St. Robert Bellarmine says about the matter, the great Doctor of the Papacy:
…[W]hen St. Peter compelled the Gentiles to Judaize, this was not an error of preaching but of conduct, as Tertullian suggests in his work de Praescriptionibus adversus haereticos. St. Peter did not ratify by some decree that they must Judaize, rather, he formally taught the contrary in Acts XV. Nevertheless, when he was still in Antioch, he separated himself from the dinner table of the Gentiles lest he would give offense to those recently converted to the faith from the Jews and by his example compelled them to Judaize in a certain measure, even Barnabas. But we do not deny that Popes can offer the occasion of erring through their own bad example, rather, we deny that they can prescribe the whole Church to follow some error ex cathedra. Moreover, the examples and doctrines of the Pontiffs are not equally pernicious to the Church, seeing that the Lord instructed them, saying: “Do what they say, but do not do what they do.”
(St. Robert Bellarmine, On the Roman Pontiff, vol. 2, trans. by Ryan Grant [Mediatrix Press, 2016], Book IV, Ch. 8, pp. 175-176; italics given; underlining added.)
Clearly, St. Peter sinned through bad example, through imprudence, through hypocritical behavior. He made a serious mistake from which some could gather a doctrinal error, but he did not teach any error, much less magisterially so in his capacity as Pope. St. Paul rebuked him for his scandalous comportment, and St. Peter humbly accepted the fraternal correction. That was the end of it.
We see, then, that there is absolutely nothing in this incident to help the Semi-Traditionalists in their perpetual quest to find justification and historical precedent for resisting (what they believe is) the papal Magisterium, a (Novus Ordo) Magisterium that teaches error not just concerning a matter still under dispute but even against defined dogma. Truth be told, these would-be traditionalists have long moved beyond resisting individual teachings or acts of the Novus Ordo Magisterium — they really refuse Francis’ entire religion. The Society of St. Pius X has gone so far as to establish an entire parallel church, as it were, although they are currently trying very hard to be accepted by the Vatican Modernists.
Therefore, next time someone tries to tell you that we have to recognize Francis as Pope but resist him like St. Paul resisted St. Peter, you can respond that this incident is by no means a historical precedent for such an idea, as Catholic theologians and approved scriptural commentaries have pointed out again and again.
St. Peter was guilty of a “venial fault of imprudence” because he had engaged in an action that, while not being wrong in and of itself, gave the impression that the Gentiles had to observe the old Jewish law. This is a far cry from the actions of the Modernist antipopes, who constantly commit spiritual crimes which are in and of themselves sins against the Faith, such as saying that Martin Luther was a witness to the Gospel, that requiring the Eastern Orthodox to become Catholics is “not valid today”, that trying to convert others is a “great sin”, that the baptized cannot lose their status as children of God, that atheists go to Heaven if they are “good”, that Catholics who are in mortal sin are not Christians, and so forth ad nauseam.
If the Semi-Trads are serious about taking St. Paul’s divinely-inspired teaching as their standard for dealing with Francis, they will find a wholly applicable passage just one chapter earlier, in Galatians 1:8-9: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema.”
The right course of action with regard to Francis is not to rebuke or resist him. It is to hold him anathema.
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