|St. Peter preaches, while St. Mark writes his Gospel|
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
The second Gospel, that written by St. Mark, will be the primary Gospel used in the Church’s Liturgy (in the Novus Ordo) during the coming year. In the daily Mass readings, St. Mark’s Gospel is used consistently up till Lent; while, for the Sunday Gospel, Mark will be used throughout Ordinary Time (excepting this Sunday, January 15th).
In preparation for the Church’s use of this Gospel in the Sacred Liturgy, we will consider first the Petrine authority of the Gospel, and then (in a later article) the structure and style of the book.
St. Peter’s Gospel
According to an ancient tradition, which is rooted in manifold sources and quite beyond dispute, the Gospel according to St. Mark is very much the Gospel of St. Peter. The Prince of the apostles did not compose his own Gospel, but instead left it to his close disciple St. Mark to put his preaching into text.
All the Gospels are founded upon the authority of one or other of the apostles: Sts. Matthew and John were themselves among the Twelve, while St. Luke wrote with the authority of St. Paul. St. Mark, then, not an apostle himself, writes what he heard preached by St. Peter.
The witness of the tradition
We reproduce (in an abridged form) the scholarship of the Catholic Encyclopedia [“The Gospel of St. Mark”, here]:
“All early tradition connects the Second Gospel with two names, those of St. Mark and St. Peter, Mark being held to have written what Peter had preached. […] So Irenæus says: ‘Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing what was preached by Peter’ (Against Heresies III.1 and III.10.6). St. Clement of Alexandria, relying on the authority of ‘the elder presbyters’, tells us that, when Peter had publicly preached in Rome, many of those who heard him exhorted Mark, as one who had long followed Peter and remembered what he had said, to write it down, and that Mark ‘composed the Gospel and gave it to those who had asked for it’ (Eusebius, Church History VI.14). Origen says (ibid., VI, xxv) that Mark wrote as Peter directed him, and Eusebius himself reports the tradition that Peter approved or authorized Mark's work (Church History II.15).
“To these early Eastern witnesses may be added, from the West, the author of the Muratorian Fragment, which in its first line almost certainly refers to Mark's presence at Peter's discourses and his composition of the Gospel accordingly; Tertullian, who states: ‘The Gospel which Mark published is affirmed to be Peter's, whose interpreter Mark was’ (Contra Marc., IV, v); St. Jerome, who in one place says that Mark wrote a short Gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome, and that Peter authorized it to be read in the Churches (De Vir. Ill., viii), and in another that Mark's Gospel was composed, Peter narrating and Mark writing (Ad Hedib., ep. cxx).
“In every one of these ancient authorities Mark is regarded as the writer of the Gospel, which is looked upon at the same time as having Apostolic authority, because substantially at least it had come from St. Peter.”
The evidence in the text
Further, beyond the tradition of the Church, there is internal textual evidence which leads us to believe that the Gospel comes from the authority of St. Peter. As we shall shortly see (in a post later this week), this Gospel contains more details than any of the other Gospels (with the possible exception of St. John’s), and this indicates that an eyewitness was an immediate source for St. Mark (since no one claims Mark to have been an eyewitness himself). Further, this Gospel tells of the weaknesses of the apostles more clearly than any of the others, and particularly of the deficiencies of St. Peter – but, if any other than Peter had been the source, there would have been a tendency to brush these aside out of charity for the Prince of the apostles (just as St. Matthew alone states his name clearly as the tax-collector, while Sts. Mark and Luke give his other name Levi).
We do not claim that this textual evidence alone proves that Peter is the source for this Gospel, but we do say that it corroborates what has been maintained in the tradition of the Church, most probably from the later part of the first century (and no later than by Papias around the year AD 150).
St. Mark and St. Peter, Pray for us!