The Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (A.D. 348-413), better known simply as Prudentius, was a Roman Christian poet, and of interest for today's feast, the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, is his poem, taken from his Liber Peristephanon (Book of the Martyrs Crowns), the Passion of the Apostles Peter and Paul (Passio Apostolorum Petri et Pauli).

Now whenever I read Prudentius, I am always interested in what one might historically glean from him about early Christian Rome and I would draw your attention to the first two stanzas of this poem, as well as to the last eleven. There we are given some sense of the festivities that occurred within Rome surrounding the feast of these two apostles.

For example we read:
"More than their wont do the people flock hither today; my friend pray tell me why do they hurry throughout Rome rejoicing?"
And still further:
"Mark how the people of Romulus surge through the streets in both directions, for two feasts on this day are celebrated. Now with glad steps let us hasten to visit these holy sanctuaries, and there let us unite in hymns of joy. First we shall go by the road that leads over the mighty bridge of Hadrian, and later we will seek the stream's left margin. After the vigil the Pontiff officiates first across the Tiber, then hither hastens to renew the offering."
Here then is Prudentius' full text.

* * *


The Passion of the Apostles Peter and Paul

More than their wont do the people flock hither
today; my friend pray tell me
Why do they hurry throughout Rome rejoicing?

Once more has come round the triumphal feast day
of two apostles,
By blood of Peter and of Paul made sacred.

One and the same day with space of a year intervening
was the witness
Of laurels won by glorious death in battle.

Well does the Tiberine marsh that is washed by the
river flowing through it
Know that its soil by these twin crowns was hallowed.

For it was witness to victories by cross and by sword,
which twice poured showers
Of crimson rain upon its grassy meadows.

Sentence fell first upon Peter, condemned by the laws
of cruel Nero
To die, upon a lofty tree suspended.

Fearing, however, to rival the glory won by his
Lord and Master
By death upon a towering wooden gibbet,

He was resolved to be nailed with his feet in the air
and head bent downward
So that the crown unto the base extended.

Straightaway his hand were then fastened below and
his feet turned toward the summit,
His soul more noble as his frame was humbled.

Mindful that heaven is wont to be reached from a
lowly place more quickly,
He bowed his head in giving up his spirit.

When the bright car of the sun had completed the
journey round its orbit,
And that day dawned again on earth's horizon.

Nero unleashed all his ire on the neck of the Doctor
of the Gentiles
And straightaway ordered Paul to be beheaded.

That his release from this life was at hand the Apostle
had predicted:
"I long to be with Christ, my course is finished."

Without delay he was seized and to death by the
sword was rudely sentenced.
The hour and day were those of his foretelling.

Flowing between the blest tombs of the martyrs, the
Tiber separates them,
Both banks made holy by their sacred ashes.

On the right bank in a golden basilica lie the bones
of Peter,
Mid olives gray and near a purling fountain.

Water that trickles from the springs on the hilltop
sustains this lively streamlet,
Forever fruitful of the holy chrism.

Now through a channel of marble it rushes and
moistens all the hillside,
At least emerging in a verdant basin.

Down in the lowermost part of the underground
crypt the stream falls loudly
Into a deep and icy pool of water.

Bright-hued mosaics above are reflected upon in
glassy surface,
The gold is tinged with green from shining
mosses.

While in the shades of the water is mirrored the
overhanging purple;
The ceiling seems to dance upon the billows.

There the great Shepherd now laves in this icy
cold spool of living waters
The sheep that thirst for Christ's eternal
fountains.

Opposite, near the left bank of the Tiber, the
Ostian Way now treasures
The temple that to Paul is dedicated.

Regal in style in this shrine that our dutiful sovereign
has embellished
And poured upon its walls his boundless riches.

Plates of bright gold he affixed to the beams, and the
light within is ruddy
As is the morning sun at its first rising.

Columns of Parian marble upholding the rich
gold-paneled ceiling
Adorn the central aisle in fourfold order.

Then with mosaics of many bright hues he inlaid
the vaulted arches,
Which shine like meadows gay with flowers
in springtime.

Lo, you behold the twin dowers of Faith by the
Heavenly Father given
To be revered by togaed Rome forever.

Mark how the people of Romulus surge through
the streets in both directions,
For two feasts on this day are celebrated.

Now with glad steps let us hasten to visit these
holy sanctuaries,
And there let us unite in hymns of joy.

First we shall go by the road that leads over the
mighty bridge of Hadrian,
And later we will seek the stream's left margin.

After the vigil the Pontiff officiates first across the
Tiber,
Then hither hastens to renew the offering.

Let it suffice that at Rome you have learned of these
feasts; in your own country,
Remember thus to keep this double feast day!


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