The case of Ananias and Saphira, and S. Peter’s remarkable and most significant exercise of authority in connection with the sin of those two unfortunate souls is not mentioned by Dr. Oxenham, but he, of course, lays hold, with much eagerness, of the famous incident recorded in the Epistle to the Galatians, when S. Paul rebuked S. Peter. It was not likely that Dr. Oxenham would fail to try and make capital out of that notable event, in support of his contention, as so many Protestants have done before him, wresting the text “as they do also the other Scriptures to their own destruction.” [2 Pet. iii., 16.] Dr. Oxenham, as we have remarked before, [See Introductory chapter.] gives proof here that he has not understood the nature of the prerogative of infallibility which is claimed for S. Peter and for his successors, and very little, too, of the supremacy. Had he understood what we mean by infallibility, he could never have written the following sentence : “For whether S. Peter’s fault on this occasion were one ‘of faith’ or ‘of fact,’ whether his fault were ‘light and venial’ or not, the fact remains that he was in the wrong, that S. Paul withstood him before the Church, and openly rebuked him.” [Page 58.] Now, we have explained elsewhere what is meant by infallibility, and the reader will see at a glance that in order to prove anything against this prerogative of S. Peter, the point which Dr. Oxenham had to establish, was precisely that S. Peter’s fault on that occasion was one “of faith.” That is the kernel of the whole question, unless the true meaning of infallibility, as taught by Catholics, is misrepresented and made to signify something very different to that which is really claimed for S. Peter and for his successors. Dr. Oxenham has not proved the point that concerns us in this controversy, and he could not do so.
But what was the reason of S. Paul’s rebuke and the subject of discussion? The facts are clearly before us. S. Peter was blamed by S. Paul for what he did, and not for what he taught. He was rebuked because “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.” [Gal. ii. 12.] It was therefore not his faith, but his manner of acting which S. Paul thought it necessary to censure under the circumstances. Precisely because Peter occupied such a pre-eminent position, his behaviour influenced others, and influenced them in a way which might hamper the conversion of the Gentiles, with whom S. Paul was so especially dealing. And it was on account of S. Peter’s pre-eminent position that S. Paul attached such great importance to S. Peter’s behaviour. S. Chrysostom tells Dr. Oxenham this : “If it had been another Peter,” he writes, “his change would not have had such power as to draw the rest of the Jews with him. For he did not exhort or advise, but merely dissembled and separated himself, and that dissembling and separation had power to draw after him all the disciples, on account of the dignity of his person.” [Hom. in loc.] The Jewish practices, that were not incompatible with the New Law, were not forbidden, and were permitted to the Jewish converts, who clung very naturally to many of their old traditionS. On the other hand, they constituted a yoke which was not to be imposed upon the Gentiles, as S. Peter, speaking of the doctrinal principle, had clearly declared at the Council of Jerusalem. Whether or not S. Peter was really at fault in acting in two different ways, according to his manner of appreciating the circumstances, the fact is that when he was with the Gentiles, “before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles,” [Gal. ii. 12.] and when those Jews did come from James, he feared displeasing or scandalising them, and acted according to their custom, a custom which, presumably, was allowed by S. James. Has Dr. Oxenham forgotten that S. Paul, when he thought that the circumstances justified his doing so, acted precisely on the same principle? Let Dr. Oxenham consider the two texts which I have here placed side by side.
|Galatians ii. 3.||Acts xvi. 3.|
|But neither Titus, who was with me, being a gentile, was compelled to be circumcised.||And taking him (Timothy) he circumcised him, because of the Jews who were in those places. For they all knew that his father was a gentile.|
Here we have S. Paul, out of regard for the Jews, not merely eating according to the Jewish custom, but actually obliging his disciple Timothy to be circumcised, because he was the “son of a Jewish woman that believed, but his father was a Gentile.” The fact of Timothy’s father being a Gentile, and his mother a Jewish convert was not sufficient in S. Paul’s eyes to dispense with the rite of circumcision, because of “the Jews who were in those places.” Whereas, in other circumstances, he did not compel Titus to be circumcised. It was on the same principle that S. Peter acted in Antioch, eating with the Gentiles, in one instance, and separating himself in the other. S. Paul, however, did not consider that the circumstances at Antioch were such as to allow of Peter acting in this way. The two Apostles therefore took a different view of those circumstances. Hence the rebuke. But what has this to do with infallibility? And as to S. Peter’s supremacy, a little attention suffices to show that the whole tenor of S. Paul’s argument to the Galatians, who had calumniated him, constitutes a fresh indication of the supremacy which he acknowledged in S. Peter. For, the force of his reasoning lies precisely in this, that he had resisted even Peter, and blamed his conduct at Antioch, thus placing beyond doubt that he could not be accused of considering the “works of the Law” as necessary in the Law of Christ. S. Paul could not fail to convince his accusers when he showed them that he had not hesitated to protest on one occasion even against Peter’s condescension towards the Jews. And Peter, as they knew, held the most exalted position.
Does Dr. Oxenham imagine that even to-day a Bishop might not expostulate with a Pope, who, in his judgment, might be acting in a way which was liable to mislead those under his own charge, and then write to his critics that he had not hesitated to pass strictures upon the action of the successor of S. Peter? The hypothesis is quite conceivable, and in no way destroys or diminishes the supremacy of the Pope. And yet an individual Bishop does not occupy the exceptional position of S. Paul, a fellow-Apostle of the Prince of the Apostles. Even a humble nun, S. Catherine of Siena, expostulated with the reigning Pontiff, in her day, whilst fully acknowledging all his great prerogatives.
We may conclude this argument with another text from S. Chrysostom, who again steps in to refute Dr. Oxenham’s views about S. Peter. “Observe his (Paul’s) prudence,” writes that Father of the Greek Church, “he said not to him (Peter), thou dost wrong in living as a Jew, but he alleges his (Peter’s) former mode of living, that the admonition and the counsel may seem to come, not from Paul’s mind, but from the judgment of Peter already expressed. For, had he said, thou dost wrong to keep the Law, Peter’s disciples would have blamed him, but now, hearing that this admonition and correction came, not from Paul’s judgment, but that Peter himself so lived, and held in his mind this belief whether they would or not, they were obliged to be quiet.” [Hom. in loc.]
An excerpt from the 1904 book The Truth of Papal Claims: A Reply to The Validity of Papal Claims by F. Nutcombe Oxenham, D.D. by Rafael Merry del Val, D.D., Part III: Arguments against the Supremacy and Infallibility (pp. 70–75). Footnotes inlined, bold emphasis supplied.