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C.S. Morrissey – Global Theatre

St. Peter’s memoirs: a vivid take on a familiar Gospel

Voices April 9, 2019

The tradition of the Church is that St. Mark, above, based his Gospel on St. Peter as his source, writes C.S. Morrissey. A new version of The Memoirs of St. Peter offers “invaluable eyewitness testimony to the life of Christ. ” (Wikipedia)

Perhaps you have never heard of The Memoirs of St. Peter? In that case, the new translation of the memoirs, just published by Regnery Gateway, is a perfect opportunity for you to immerse yourself in them.

In 16 chapters, this vivid narrative by St. Peter provides us with invaluable eyewitness testimony to the life of Christ. It also offers the unique perspective of our first Pope.

More commonly known as The Gospel According to St. Mark, the memoirs of St. Peter are already easily available to you, as the second book of the New Testament.

But their new translation by Michael Pakaluk, a professor of ethics and social philosophy at the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America, opens up new dimensions for us to appreciate. 

He highlights the unanimous early tradition of the Church that St. Peter is St. Mark’s direct source. The new publication also includes Pakaluk’s thoughtful chapter-by-chapter commentary, which helps us to better appreciate the telling details that St. Peter includes.

Overflowing with interesting reflections, Pakaluk’s book runs to almost 300 pages in length, even after he worked with his editor to whittle down a manuscript that was double that size.

A special love for the Gospel of St. Mark is evident 

A special love for the Gospel of St. Mark is evident in Pakaluk’s tome. That love can be traced back to the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Harvard, when a high school friend invited Pakaluk to a weekly study of the Gospel. Pakaluk had just converted to Christianity, and the study of St. Mark’s Gospel set his heart aflame.

Pakaluk is a scholar in the field of ancient philosophy who has also written on, and translated, the books on friendship (Books VIII and IX) from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Here he shines a light on what is surely one of the most amazing friendships in history, between Jesus and Simon Peter.

Consider the heart-rending recollection of Jesus saying to Peter, “Today, this very night, before a cock crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mk 14:30).

Pakaluk notes that the other Gospel writers (Mt 26:34 and Jn 13:38) have Jesus saying, “Before a cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

There is no contradiction here, observes Pakaluk, because what Mark offers is simply an addition of information. The three denials happened before a cock crowed, but what Mark adds is the extra detail that it was before the second crowing of that same cock.

“We might ask why Mark, whose narrative is usually simple and clear, adds this complicating detail that the other evangelists omit,” writes Pakaluk.

Peter will characteristically emphasize his own foibles

Pakaluk notes, as he does throughout his commentary, that Peter will characteristically emphasize his own foibles whenever the episode he is reporting on involves him personally.

“His threefold denial of the Lord is bad enough,” observes Pakaluk, “but in the account he has given to Mark, it is even worse, since the first crowing of the cock should have been a warning to him.”

When one of Jesus’ followers (“a certain young man”) is captured at the same time Jesus is being arrested (in Mark 14:51-52), but then leaves his garment behind as he escapes naked, Pakaluk is able to make sense of the strange detail.

“It seems that this young man is Mark himself,” he writes. “It is a detail too small to include otherwise, and it seems unlikely that anyone else would have noticed it in the darkness and confusion. The telling of the incident has a humorous tone of self-congratulation, which is difficult to account for if it is someone other than Mark.”

Can you imagine if you had been the follower of Jesus who was apprehended at the same time as him, but then slipped away from your captors by wriggling free of your clothes? No doubt you would be wryly retelling that unique story for the rest of your life.

Pakaluk notes how the episode is only self-congratulatory for Mark in the same way that Peter ironically notes his own shortcomings: “The detail is humorous, and if written by Mark, self-depreciating.”

Imagine a story in which you yourself narrowly escaped

More importantly, Mark’s minor comic escape is offered in contrast with Jesus’ own great escape from death.

Pakaluk explains: “Jesus likewise escaped ‘capture’ by death, leaving his sindon [shroud, i.e., a fine linen garment] behind in the tomb and ‘getting away’ naked.”

The vividness of these eyewitness accounts and concrete details furnish us with a veracity that is astonishing to contemplate. Pakaluk’s translation and commentary offers us a wonderful way to immerse ourselves anew in this veracity.