Sermon at Evensong on the Second Sunday after Trinity 2019
“With what two crownes is this Citie adorned?”
The Reverend Dr James Hawkey Canon in Residence
Sunday, 30th June 2019 at 3.00 PM
In 1580-81, the Englishman Gregory Martin wrote a book which marked a bit of a watershed. Martin was a Jesuit, a friend of St Edmund Campion, and his Roma Sancta was the second complete English book on Italy. Prior to the period surrounding the Holy Year of 1575, most medieval guide books of the city of Rome had focussed on the pagan monuments and their associated legends, other antiquities, and sometimes how and where to obtain indulgences. The city itself was frequently described as a den of prostitutes, thieves and general decay. Roma Sancta cast the city in an altogether different, more ancient, light – this was the City set on a Hill, of which the psalmist prophesied that glorious things would be spoken. Rome was a city of piety, devotion and good works. It was the great Christian city, hallowed by the blood of so many martyrs in whose very stones the Gospel had triumphed over decadent, indolent paganism; the rubble of ancient religion now either pushed to one side, or incorporated into the emerging church buildings of the counter-reformation. Gregory Martin reminds his reader that in the first millennium the pilgrimage to Rome was a pilgrimage to the tombs of Peter and Paul. Quoting St John Chrysostom, he asks rhetorically, “with what two crownes is this Citie adorned?” His answer – the twin princes of the courts of heaven, Peter and Paul.
Yesterday, here in the Abbey, we celebrated the feast of our Patron, the Apostle St Peter. The Book of Common Prayer lists 29th June as the Feast of St Peter alone, unlike in the Sarum calendar used in much of England before the reformation, where Peter and Paul were celebrated together, as they are now in so much of the wider church. This may well have been a move which consciously shifted the calendrical imagery away from anything which might have reminded the sixteenth century worshipper of the city of Rome. Equally, in the slimmed-down calendar of the reformers, St Paul already had a feast of his own – that of his conversion, useful to the reformers – so to add a second might have seemed overload! Either way, our celebration here of St Peter alone allows us to focus on the virtues and frailties of our heavenly patron, reflecting on Peter’s impetuous character, his passion, and his weakness.
However, when Westminster Abbey was consecrated in 1065, the choice of St Peter as our sole patron was not unrelated to St Paul. As some historians have claimed, the conscious choice of a great Minster in the West dedicated to St Peter was balanced out by the already-present East Minster of St Paul – what we know as St Paul’s Cathedral. Along with his advisors, St Edward the Confessor, then reigning as King, was spinning London as a model Christian city, perhaps even a new Rome, secure within two great poles: Peter and Paul, the twin lights of the ideal city. Although Gregory Martin never said it of London, the visitor may well ask “with what two crownes is this Citie adorned?”
Peter and Paul each underline different characteristics and priorities in the life of the Church, so much that it is possible to refer to the Petrine and Pauline principles. The Petrine Principle is about order, ministry, and structure. It encourages us to consider the fundamental importance of unity in the life of the Church, and prompts us to seek that unity not least with the rock from which we were hewn. The Petrine Principle reminds us that Christian disunity should never be normalised: we should not allow ourselves to become too comfortable in our denominations or national churches. The Petrine Principle recalls us to the deposit of faith which is handed onto us in every age, it stresses the objective reality and truth at the heart of the Gospel which is to be proclaimed afresh each generation.
The Pauline Principle, on the other hand, relates to mission, and signifies an outward-facing approach which celebrates diversity, and which insists on the radical faithfulness of God’s action in Christ. Whilst celebrating the Body of Christ, it perhaps looks more to the local than the universal. The Pauline Principle reminds us of the ever-expansive nature of the Kingdom of God. It encourages us to test the spirit of the age against the fathomless richness of Christ’s Gospel, whilst also resisting the temptation to foreshorten debate or close down enquiry. It insists on respectful dialogue with other cultures, expecting to find Christ – the firstborn of all creation – already at work.
These two sets of characteristics contribute towards a healthy, faithful church. In fact, they are indispensable to the Church’s claim to be Catholic and Apostolic. However, given that these two great pillars of the Church, Peter and Paul, mark our city geographically, I want to suggest that they offer some good inspiration and direction for a healthy city and a flourishing political society more broadly.
If, theologically-speaking, the Petrine Principle is principally about unity, objectivity and structure, in broader social terms it perhaps invites us to think very carefully about how we deal with questions of government and identity. Yes, what resources should the “centre” rely on, but also, to what kind of power are we allied? In other words, to what should – and shouldn’t – we pledge allegiance, and in what do we encourage people to trust? In an age of supposed alternative facts and fake news, we need a loud and intentional commitment to truth-seeking and truth-telling. Our antennae can become so desensitised, so ground down by the normalisation of spin and the dodging of accountability, that truth itself becomes a routine casualty in much public interaction. Politically – at local and national levels – we need to cultivate structures of truthfulness and reconciliation, so that the systems which govern and order our common life become more graceful, trustworthy, and generous. A Petrine Principle also might encourage us to attend to the kind of stories we tell ourselves about our history and identity. This is especially true at moments of celebration and crisis.
A political reading of the Pauline Principle, might begin by asking how the centre of government or influence serves the common good? If the Petrine Principle encourages us to think about unity and identity, the Pauline Principle suggests a commitment to subsidiarity and diversity, allowing other charisms to take root and flourish in ground which is not necessarily their own. St Paul became the internationalist of his day, claiming that the unity of all human society was found in Christ. How do we sensitively share the best of our own culture with others, whilst equally knowing that we need to receive from them, in order to be complete? A Pauline vision of society is one in which the weaker parts of the body are especially honoured, indeed prioritised, for their own sake and for the sake of the health of the whole.
The Church needs Peter and Paul, and their ability to disagree and to hammer things out whilst remaining passionately faithful to Christ. We need to allow different emphases within the Body of Christ to co-exist and mutually transform one another. Peter tempered by Paul, Paul rooted in Peter’s witness. Our City – London – and our communities more widely would benefit from considering what I’ve called, perhaps slightly provocatively, Petrine and Pauline principles.
In the 21st century, we are not building an imaginary Holy City: in fact, being free from the twin fantasy of the golden age and the utopia-just-around-the-corner, might help us to focus rather better on the challenges which present themselves day by day. It is possible and urgently necessary to consider how our communities might live in ways which celebrate their identity, with a strong consciousness of their history, whilst not fetishizing these issues, and rather allowing them to be part of dynamic whole which reaches out, welcomes the stranger, cares for those who don’t obviously fit within it, and knows its own limitations. And when we do so as Christians, it’s hard to think of two better patrons, who cheer us on, and offer us their own vision, character, personalities, and solidarity for our encouragement. With these “two crownes” might this Citie be adorned.