Today’s memorial of the dedication of the basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul – following upon that of the Lateran Basilica earlier this month – reminds us of the importance of the Church in Rome, as a universal entity, which exists throughout the world as the ‘pillar and bulwark of the truth’, and the path to salvation, and will do so, against the very gates of hell, until the end of time.
Today’s memorial also calls to mind that the Church, founded by Christ, was established in the world under the leadership and guidance of these two Apostles, collaborators and friends in life and in death, meeting their end in the bloody persecution under the deviant, perverted, anti-Christian emperor Nero, in the precincts of that very city that would be called ‘eternal’. The two basilicas are built over the sites of the martyrdom of the two Apostles, and where their bones now rest until the parousia and the resurrection.
The basilica of Saint Peter is perhaps the most famous church in the world, decorated by some of the greatest of the renaissance artists, not least Michelangelo, his Sistine chapel, the immense and precise statuary (the indescribable Pieta), as well as the delicate proportions of the massive cupola, which was considered an architectural and engineering impossibility, until the same Michelangelo’s incomparable mind discovered a solution in making the shape almost spherical, but with a slight ellipse, scarcely noticeable; this is much as God did with the orbits of the planets, most of which are nearly perfectly circular, but with just the tinge of an ellipse, as Johannes Kepler would deduce a century and a half later.
Like the cosmos, the Church is a finely crafted jewel in the hand of God, a precise spiritual, moral and intellectual edifice, showing with clarity and precision the way and the truth to the fullness of life – even if such is at times obscured in this vale of tears. We must look past what obfuscation there be in any particular holders of the offices of Peter and Paul – and I need not make a dirty laundry list – to the truth that lies behind, all those central mysteries of our faith, at least for those with ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, outside the Church, there is no salvation, and all others paths must eventually lead to Rome, or they lead nowhere good at all.
So might we trod, with Peter and Paul and all the saints, that straight and narrow way that will bring us where we belong, here and into eternity.