September 2017

Peter: Keys to Following Jesus.  By Tim Gray. Ignatius Press. 204 pages. $16.95.

President of the Augustine Institute and renowned Bible scholar Tim Gray offers insight into the original Pope, just when we need inspiration. As Gray sees it, a proper understanding of the papal office is only possible if we have a proper understanding of its first occupant. Gray presents evidence from Scripture, Tradition, and archeology, and gives attention to ancient references to Peter, such as the recurring symbol of the Church as the fisherman’s barque. Gray rounds all this out with examinations of classic paintings that depict key episodes in the life of St. Peter, such as his miraculous adventure on the Sea of Galilee and his upside-down crucifixion in Rome.

Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee is a kind of exegesis, Gray implies. In it, the disciples are clearly arranged by the artist into three groups, with some gloomily sitting in the dark shadows of the storm clouds, others trusting to their valiant but puny personal efforts, and still others gathered around Christ, who Himself radiates light. Rembrandt places Peter in the second group. Foolhardy overconfidence is not the only defining characteristic of Peter, Gray hastens to add, for the converse virtue of said vice is zeal. It is that daring, innocent zeal that inspires Peter to try to walk on the sea. “Curiously, you don’t get this reaction from the other Apostles,” Gray observes. “Peter was the only one to ask if he could walk on the water. God loves boldness — and childlike trust and abandonment.”

However weak or foolish he may have proven himself at times, Peter exhibited a simple faith — a faith that is, in turn, the reason for his pre-eminence. The most famous episode revealing Petrine faith, as well as the scriptural basis for papal authority, is found in the Book of Matthew, when Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, prompting Jesus to identify Peter as His foremost Apostle using the Greek word petra, meaning “rock.” The term in question was powerfully invested with spiritual significance. As Gray explains, “While Solomon was known for a lot of things, by far his most important accomplishment was building the Temple in Jerusalem. And he built his Temple on a rock — called the Eben Shetiya in Jewish tradition.” Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah (cf. 2 Chron. 3:1-3), Gray continues, “on the same rock upon which Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. Now Jesus turns to Peter and says, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church,’ my temple, my house par excellence.”

Although not found in Scripture, Peter’s martyrdom is almost as well known as his appointment as the Rock, thanks in part to the 1951 film Quo Vadis. As relayed by oral tradition and documented in a non-canonical second-century text known as The Acts of Peter, while fleeing Rome the Apostle encountered the risen Christ, who in response to Peter’s query Quo vadis? (“Where do you go?”), replied that He was headed to Rome to be crucified again. Interpreting this as a sign that he himself should return to Rome, Peter did an about-face and re-entered the imperial capital to lead and guide the nascent Christian community. This leadership culminated in Peter’s crucifixion. He was crucified upside down, according to tradition, for Peter felt unworthy to be put to death in precisely the same manner as his Master.

The aforementioned scene has been the subject of great Western art, such as The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio. The work depicts three men struggling to heft the still-robust, albeit elderly, Apostle’s frame into position, while the crucified Peter’s face remains serenely resigned. Along with Caravaggio’s depiction of Paul’s transformation on the Damascus road, The Crucifixion of St. Peter has adorned the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo since the beginning of the 17th century. As Gray explains, “The hope was that pilgrims entering Rome from the north would stop by this church and be inspired by these dramatic paintings…[and] would understand the importance and truth of the papacy. Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome, were used for outreach in ‘the new evangelization’ focused on re-converting Catholics who had entered into Protestantism.”

Gray’s earnest and diligent apologetics occasionally digresses. At one point, he uses a tenuous connection to Peter as a pretext for bringing up Pope St. John Paul II’s book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Elsewhere, Gray wanders into the weeds with a suggestion that the Apostle Luke was “subverting the Greek and Roman praxis stories.” But more important than digressions is an omission: Next to nothing in Gray’s book bears directly on the recent and spectacular collapse of ultramontanism.

Even so, Peter: Keys to Following Jesus puts us “into the deep” of the story of the first Pope and the meaning of his office. And since papal authority is a principle most difficult for non-Catholic Christians to accept, Gray can be commended for doing solid ecumenical work. From Rome to St. Petersburg, the memory of the chief Apostle haunts Christian civilization. Thanks to Tim Gray, we know why this is so.

- Jerry Salyer



Racketeer for Life: Fighting the Culture of Death from the Sidewalk to the Supreme Court.  By Joseph M. Scheidler. TAN Books. 470 pages. $24.95.

Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League, is a well-known and longtime abortion-clinic protester and pro-life activist. He was chief defendant in the Scheidler v. National Organization for Women case filed in 1986. A federal court decided in favor of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1998, deeming Scheidler guilty of interstate racketeering. That decision was unanimously overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. NOW then brought a slightly different case before another federal court, which also decided against Scheidler. This too was brought to the Supreme Court, which again unanimously decided in his favor and even granted him damages. The entire exercise in patience and conviction — a literal trial — spanned 20 years, from 1986 to 2006.

Scheidler and his publisher have had their bit of fun turning the bogus racketeering charges into a book title. The interstate-racketeering law (RICO) was drafted to combat the Mafia and other organized-crime syndicates; NOW abused the law to ruin or perhaps eventually wear down their opponent. Of course, nobody in the pro-life community believes Scheidler to be a man who levels death threats or behaves like a racketeer. He calls on the Lord to help him intercede between an expectant mother and the abortionist on the other side of a wall, lawn, or door. Scheidler is not, even with his towering height, a threat to anyone. Yet, as he describes courtroom scenes and the vile words his opponents directed against him, in court and outside, one is left wondering what compels these people to do all within their power to bring down Joe Scheidler.

From his early days in the seminary to his unconventional marriage for the times (his wife was a great deal younger than he), Scheidler did things according to the whisperings of the Lord that he heard in his ears and in his very soul. He knew, for example, that in the seminary, where he was thinking of becoming a priest, there was a change in theology and the way it was taught. Being a man of discernment, Scheidler understood and left. Had he not done that, had he not married the love of his life and become a father, countless preborn children would not have lived to celebrate Joe Scheidler today, even though they will never know his name. (God knows, and that’s enough for Joe.)

The tales of this man’s life journey unfold the way a masterplan unfolds when we listen to great tales of heroism or the lives of the saints. The reader is eager to discover how our hero will deal with the improbable, the impossible, and the mystical in every aspect of his life.

Scheidler’s true pro-life philosophy shines through in blow-by-blow detail. He relates that early on, he led a campaign to get the Catholic Church to pull out of a fundraising campaign called the Crusade of Mercy because Planned Parenthood was one of the groups it was funding. A Chicago Magazine story on this effort used a label Pat Buchanan had ascribed to Scheidler, “the Green Beret of the Pro-life Movement.” Scheidler writes that he was “proud to earn that title, because in many ways pro-life activism is a form of guerilla action.” Then he makes a crucial distinction: “The media still refers to pro-life activism as ‘militant’ — but it absolutely must be nonviolent.”

Elsewhere, Scheidler writes, “Clergy who accept a pro-abortion theology preach a gospel of convenience and disposability, a gospel without Christ’s wounds.” About politics, he counsels, “Pro-lifers appreciate and recognize politicians who steadfastly uphold the right to life, and we keep calling out those who don’t. It’s a hard battle wherever you are, but it’s one we have to fight. Our future depends on it.” Of his personal life he reveals, “As hard as it was for my children to belong to a pro-life activist family, I do believe it taught them an important lesson. When something is very wrong in society, we have a Christian obligation to do something about it. It’s not good enough to wait for someone else to do it. We have to step up and do it ourselves.” Notably, Scheidler’s son, Eric, is executive director of the Pro-Life Action League.

Racketeer for Life teaches why it is that those committed to saving the vulnerable can only pursue that goal with faith and trust in God. I found the gripping descriptions of Scheidler’s heroic faith in times of trial to be as real on paper as they were when he lived them.

- Judie Brown





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