Paul in Chains at Rome
THE ARREST IN JERUSALEM
Paul arrived in Jerusalem in May, A.D. 58, just one year after his flight from Ephesus. In Jerusalem those political passions were already fermenting and ready to burst into flames, passions that would bring such terrible butchery on the nation in 69 and the destruction of the city in 70. The little person, Paul, was entering an atmosphere red hot against him. He represented universalism in a period of the most intense national particularism.
After the death of Herod Agrippa in 44, Judea lost her complete independence and was forced under the direct domination of Rome. Roman control was exercised through procurators. These functionaries descended upon the province and, for the most part, aimed at amassing a fortune during their short and uncertain term of office. They were unscrupulous of either the rights or dignity of individuals in acquiring their booty.
At that time the Procurator of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and Perea was a freedman, Antonius Felix, brother of Pallas, the favorite of Agrippina. Felix's power at court had increased when his mistress, in 54, had poisoned her husband Claudius, and had substituted for him on the throne, her son, Nero. Felix, who was an ex-slave, governed in a slave's way, although he had chosen his wives from among royalty. In Judea he hunted down whole bands of brigands, and crucified them. He had not, however, uprooted the bad plant from which, by way of reaction, there came forth the Sicarii, the worst form of brigandage.
These had not hesitated to kill even the High Priest Jonathan. No doubt this was done by order of the same Felix, who, when there was need, did not hesitate to use the Sicarii, or even to do the deed himself. In fact, the Sicarii fanatics cared less about robbing than they did about spreading terrorism in order to clear the country of Roman domination and of the Jews who supported it. Therefore, it was above all during the Feasts when, lost in the crowds with their short daggers hidden under their cloaks, they assassinated their adversaries-----the national enemies of Rome-----thus pushing the political fanaticism of zealots to the use of murder.
The terrorism of the Sicarii had, on the one hand, spread suspicion and fear among the people and, on the other, had excited the ambition of adventurers. Among these, there was a false Egyptian prophet who had incited many thousands of rash followers in all kinds of reckless daring. With these followers he had prepared a march upon Jerusalem from the desert, to overcome the Romans and to establish his own regime there.
Such plots were irritating Jewish nationalism, already strong and fierce, and were spreading suspicion and menace on all who seemed to deviate in the slightest degree from Jewish customs and usages. Paul, was looked upon as one of these. . . . During the first few days, they had not recognized Paul in the narrow streets nor under the Temple's porticoes. He was so broken with age and fatigue that he looked like another person. More than twenty years had passed since the time he had come to Jerusalem for orders to persecute the Christians, so those of the younger generation had never seen him. Furthermore, the city was full of Jews who had come from all parts of the Empire and beyond, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, so it was not easy among so many different faces and so many different languages, to identify Paul. . . .
In Jerusalem the Jews were more partisan than they were at Ephesus . . . here they were on Jewish soil and if the Romans were there, resentment towards subordination only burned the more fiercely. They espied Paul in the Temple and cried out, "there is the one who contaminates the temple, introducing pagans therein!" . . . the Apostle was taken. . . . In their rage they would have lynched him if Claudius Lysias, the tribune of the cohort, had not been notified and at once intervened. He came running with a force of soldiers and centurions. When they saw that armed force, the fanatical Jews refrained from killing the Apostle, knowing that Roman authority did not tolerate disorders in the Temple courts. . . . in those days Roman authority watched very attentively all the moves of the people in whom the passions of a deeply anti-Roman nationalism were apt to break out into tumult. . . . the tribune ordered Paul taken to the fortress. The fanatical Jews, emboldened by the sight of the chains and seeing their prey, whom they had vowed to lynch, taken from them, dashed in among the soldiers and began beating Paul with their fists, while from all sides they howled, "Kill him! Kill him!" They would have torn him to pieces if the legionaries had not carried him up the steps of the fortress to safety.
THE ROMAN CITIZEN
In all the noisy confusion the only one who kept calm was the victim. When they came near the entrance to the fortress, Paul made a sign to the tribune and asked: "May I speak to thee?"
"How? Dost thou speak Greek?" answered Lysias in surprise. "Art thou the Egyptian who caused four thousand Sicarii to revolt?" . . .
"I am not an Egyptian," answered Paul. "I am a Jew, a citizen of Tarsus a well-known city of Cilicia. I beg thee, let me speak to the people."
It took courage for a man in his condition to speak to that mob of demoniacs. But Paul was an Apostle as well as a Jew. He loved with a special love the souls of his compatriots even if they had turned against him. Standing at the head of the flight of stairs, bound with chains, he made a sign with his hand. Small of stature but raised higher by the steps, standing in the midst of the soldiers with their gleaming arms, although in chains, he seemed to dominate the scene. His proud calm was amazing. As the voices died out little by little, like a tempest subsiding, and silence ensued, Paul addressed them as "brothers and fathers" in the Aramaic language. He told the story of his conversion; how he had come to the Holy City from Cilicia to study the Law at the feet of Gamaliel; how for zeal for the Law, he had persecuted "that doctrine unto death," when one day there had appeared to him in a ray of light, Jesus the Nazarene. He told the story in all its details, how he had lost his sight, and how he had recovered it again; how, having come to Jerusalem, he had received in the Temple (the very Temple in which they were now standing) the command from the Lord Jesus to "go unto the Gentiles afar off, for so I send thee."
Behold the evil deed confessed by the doer himself! This was the point in question: he was demolishing the partition between Israel and other nations. The crowd had listened to the series of miraculous happenings told in such accents of sincerity, but the mention of privileges extended beyond the limits of the Chosen People, of a universality that abolished their exclusiveness, making no distinction between the pure and the impure, between the just and the unjust, were inflammable statements, and the crowd took fire again. They 'began to shout, "Kill him! Kill him! Away with such a one! He is not fit to live!" Then they began throwing dust in the air, and pulling off their outer garments, which is the oriental way of showing anger.
The tribune had understood nothing of the discourse. But seeing again that sea of congested, angry faces, of open mouths, dust and rags, he felt impelled to put an end to the disorder. "Take him into the fortress and scourge him before the interrogation takes place." . . . Paul, who knew something of Roman procedure, as he was being tied with straps for the flogging, turned to the centurion and asked, "'Is it lawful for you to scourge a Roman citizen not yet condemned?"
A Roman citizen! The centurion opened his eyes wide, and running to the tribune, exclaimed, "Tribune, what are you about to do? This man is a Roman citizen!"
"A Roman citizen?" said the tribune. In that mass of Jews, which he detested as all good pagans were wont to do, the tribune had not expected to find a civis Romanus," especially as he appeared to be merely a vulgar leader of seditions. Much surprised, therefore, he ran to the prisoner.
"Tell me, sir, art thou a Roman?" "Yes, in very truth," answered Paul. . . . Roman citizenship conferred immunity from torture; so much so, that the tribune feared at having tied a Roman citizen to the column for scourging. He had Paul unbound immediately. . . . In the meantime the tribune was still puzzled, not knowing yet whom he was dealing with nor the crime of the accused. Since the case concerned a Jew, he would have preferred letting the Sanhedrin take care of it, but Roman authority forbade, and at this time Roman authority was very watchful and strict. However, on the following day, relieved of his chains, Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin which was convoked especially for the purpose.
A PHARISEE AMONG PHARISEES
The Sanhedrin was the supreme tribunal, religious and civil, of the Hebrew people. It was composed of seventy-two members from various classes and parties, with a prevalence of Pharisees and Sadducees. It was presided over by the Supreme High Priest, who at that time was the haughty Ananias, son of Zebedee. He had been installed in his place of dignity ten years before by the little King Herod of Chalcis.
Paul would always have to suffer from his desire to bring salvation to his people and from being repulsed by them. He now stood looking at the members of the tribunal and fixed his eyes on them. Although appearing before them in the garb of the accused, he had every right to address those in the seats of the judges in familiar terms:
"Brethren, fellow-men, fathers, I have behaved with a right conscience before God till this day."
Ananias was not accustomed to meet right consciences. He was struck by that declaration which seemed directed to him personally, though in good faith he could not have said it of himself. He ordered one of the hired servants, standing near him, to strike the bold speaker on the mouth. The witnesses to the scene do not say whether this was actually done or not, but Paul . . . addressed the High Priest: "God will strike thee, thou whitened wall. How is it that thou sittest to judge according to the Law, and dost violate the Law in ordering them to strike me?"
None of those standing there had ever heard such an answer from a Jew to a Jewish High Priest, and they remarked that in speaking thus, Paul lacked respect for the Prince of the Priests. Paul excused himself bitterly and ironically:
"Brethren, I did not know he was the Prince of the Priests." No doubt he meant, "How could I suppose that a man so insolent filled a place of such high dignity?"
The Apostle's prophecy was fulfilled, for during the civil war in Jerusalem, the Sicarii struck that "whitened wall," killing [him] and his brother.
Minds were aflame. The outburst of passion on the previous day in the square was boiling up again inside the palace; no way was presented for settling the problem. It was sheer loss of time for the Apostle to free himself from the grasp of the Sanhedrin by affirming that his mission to the Gentiles was by Divine command. The very name of Jesus would have exposed him to the worst effects of anger, and his advocating a religious universality would have united all the various parties against him. Paul, though always genial and kind, knew all the shades of doctrines and factions in Judaism. So he suddenly threw into the midst of that gathering the apple of discord, thus giving Lysias and all present the unique spectacle of seeing the contention between the accusers and the judges.
"Brethren," said Paul, "I am a Pharisee, and the son of Pharisees. Behold, I am dragged here to be judged for our hope in God and the resurrection of the dead."
Hearing this, the Pharisees, who believed in the survival of the soul and in the resurrection of the dead, turned against the Sadducees, who were materialists and denied both the one and the other. Another of the many disputes between the two groups was now started in the Sanhedrin under the very eyes of the tribune.
Paul alone was unmoved and calm. He stood looking at the storm he had brought on. Some of the extreme Pharisees were shouting that perhaps he was innocent, or perhaps in him spoke an Angel, or some other spirit. The Sadducees, acting like wild beasts, attempted, by hurling all manner of charges against him, to do away with him on the spot. . . . To them this man Paul represented subversion and extinction. . . .
Lysias, seeing the danger and fearing that the prisoner might be torn to pieces, gave orders for the soldiers to take Paul into the fortress for safety. Once more Paul had foiled the snares of his adversaries. Once again Roman power had saved him. During the night the Lord appeared to him and said, "Be of good heart; for just as you have borne witness to me in Jerusalem, you shall bear witness to Me in Rome also." . . . Above all this political doom, Paul could read the decrees of the Divine Will of God, which was turning the inheritance of the prophets and the mission of the Apostles towards the principal city of the Gentiles. The Jews rejected the authority of Rome and thereby thrust the Apostolate of Christianity upon Rome. The Catholicity of Christianity frightened them, as it has frightened so many people, for nothing is ever renounced with such great effort as hatred and egoism. These are necessary props to lift oneself above others. The assembly of the Sanhedrin, brought about by that little man, had ended in an explosion. . . . Religion was for them reduced to the function of expressing hatred and committing murder, for their hearts were full of evil.
. . . They proposed to him that he induce the tribune to take the, prisoner before the Sanhedrin again under the pretext of further examination. They [a group of about forty Sanhedrin] would kill him on the way there or back.
Someone, probably one of the Pharisees and a member of the Sanhedrin, hearing of the conspiracy, secretly warned Paul's relatives. One of Paul's sisters sent her son, a mere boy, to put his uncle on his guard. The youngster succeeded in entering the fortress and he told Paul all he knew about the plot. Paul called one of the centurions and begged him to take the courageous nephew to the tribune, as he had important matters to reveal to him. . . .
The boy must have had some of his uncle's intelligence; so he told of the plot that was to be carried out the next day. "I understand," said the tribune. . . . He ordered . . . an escort of seventy horsemen, two hundred lancers, and a horse for Paul. In the evening, when the city was silent and dark, he sent Paul, thus escorted, . . . to Caesarea, seat of the procurator. Perhaps Luke also went with Paul as he is the historian of this mission . . .
At early dawn the escort reached Antipatris. . . . During the journey Paul had plenty of leisure to ponder over the hardness of heart shown him by the men of his own race who, in the name of the Mosaic Law, had sought to kill him. He pondered over the wisdom of the Roman Law which, in order to prevent an illegal act, had employed nearly three hundred men to escort one unknown little Jew to safety.
We may well imagine the shame and rage of the conspirators when they discovered that their victim had escaped. . . . How many imprecations they must have sent after Lysias and against Rome's domination, which had thwarted the plans of the people's leaders. When their first anger had somewhat died down, they began to think of other clever tricks and snares for dissimulation. When they complained to Lysias, he shrugged his shoulders and told them to carry their accusations to Felix at Caesarea; and this they had to do.
After five days (to be exact, the date was May 23, A.D. 58) the High Priest came in person. No doubt this was intended to impress Felix. He was accompanied by a commission of the principal Elders from the Sanhedrin, and he brought along a famous lawyer named Tertullus. It was the duty of this man to present the case before the presiding authority, the accused being present.
Like a real professional, Tertullus prefaced his exposition with a speech full of suave praise for the peaceful and vigilant administration of Felix. This was open hypocrisy, for everyone knew with what vulgar avarice Felix held his charge, intent on extracting all the money possible from his oppressed territory. By contrast, the orator classified Paul as a "pestilent" man. And this came to be the common way the Christians were referred to-----as a "pest" in the mouths of their adversaries. Paul was accused of being an "instigator of disorders" among the Jews all over the world (the clients of Tertullus had informed him of the complaints made by the various Synagogues). And it was alleged that Paul was "one of the leaders in the Sect of the Nazarenes." (From a Jewish standpoint this was true.) . . .
Paul was accustomed to polemics and was well trained in logic and dialetics. He speedily refuted each accusation, beginning with the last and most important.
"No one found me disputing in the Temple, or, gathering people together in any part of the city. I came here only twelve days ago. As for the doctrines of these, called the Sect of the Nazarene, I serve the God of our Fathers and follow the Law and the Prophets as they do also; and I believe in the resurrection of the dead, both for the just and the unjust. If I came to Jerusalem, it was to bring help to my people and to fulfill a vow; which is quite a different thing from plotting tumults. If any of the Jews from Asia, who recognized me, had anything of which to accuse me, they should have come here. Neither in the Sanhedrin did they find anything to reproach me with except that allusion of mine to the resurrection of the dead."
Paul's argument was conclusive and clever. He refuted all the accusations. Among them the capital one, in the eyes of a Roman magistrate, was that of having provoked disorders and promoting seditions. Always an Apostle, Paul was also exercising his Apostolate in announcing Christ, even before the tribunal. Hesitating between two expedients, Felix knew no better course than to suspend the hearing, alleging that he wanted to hear Lysias and to seek more information about the doctrines of that sect which Paul had mentioned.
He sent Paul back to prison, but with orders that he be treated better and given a certain freedom for his friends from outside to see him and serve him. If Felix had been of a different moral make-up, he would have set Paul free; but he feared to exasperate the Jews and, avaricious as he was, he hoped to receive some money for the deliverance of the prisoner. Nevertheless, it must be said, that with all the venality and with all the possibility of receiving bribes with greater facility from the accusers, he did not lend himself to their designs. . . . He kept [Paul] in prison two years. . . . Paul could have asked that a collection be taken among the brethren . . .thus obtaining a liberty useful to the Apostolate. But he preferred prison to bribery, trusting securely in the Lord's promise that he was destined to go to Rome. . . . The governor, Felix, had been hard on the Jews; and they, on their part, had not tried to lighten his task. . . . It was on account of Paul's . . . universality of the Gospel that they wished to see him dead. This was a crime because it opposed their national and ritualistic particularism, This mean nothing to the Roman Festus, [the procurator who succeeded Felix in 60] with his sense of right and justice. Festus would have liked to show some favor to the leaders of the Jews from whom he had received great exterior signs of deference, although their real aim he did not know. He had not had sufficient opportunity in dealing with them so he proposed to the prisoner, "Wouldst thou come to Jerusalem to be judged by me on the spot?"
Notice, it was not an order, simply a proposal. Paul, whose mind was always alert, saw the danger of a return to Jerusalem: the conspirators could kill him, and the procurator might leave the sentence to the Sanhedrin.
"No," he answered, "I stand at Caesar's tribunal; here must I be judged. I have done nothing against the Jews, thou well knowest. If I have done anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to be put to death; but if none of their accusations are true, no one can give me over to them solely to please them."
The reasoning was clear and convincing; but Paul, not knowing very well the mind of the new magistrate, feared lest Jewish pressure might induce Festus to remove him to Jerusalem. Therefore, to cut the matter short, he added, "I appeal to Caesar."
By appealing to Caesar, a right of every Roman citizen, Paul freed himself from the fluctuations of local justice and from the snares of the Jews at Jerusalem. At the same time, he was now taking the road to Rome, whither the Lord had called him.
Festus, having listened to the opinions of his counsellors, proceeded to carry out the appeal. So he made preparations for sending the accused to Caesar's tribunal, which was Nero's. Even Nero could be used in God's designs. Once more, the leaders of Judaism had to return to the city, foiled; whereas, before the coming of the idolatrous Romans, it was not so difficult, nor did it take so long, to do away with an individual; and above all, it did not depend upon the reasons he alleged. They regretted that they had not the power of stoning which would have quickly brought about his death, in contrast to the lengthy, hesitating procedure of the Romans.
VIEW IMAGE OF THE SAINT
After a few days two personages came to Caesarea to gain some favor from the new magistrate; they were King Agrippa II and Bernice, the brother and sister of Drusilla, who had wished to see and hear Paul. These two also, at the invitation of Festus, wished to have this pleasure and to hear the accused speak of a certain Jesus Who had died, but Who (so said the Procurator) Paul declared to be alive.
. . . The Ancients of the city accompanied the royal guests, curious to see the unusual spectacle. Unconsciously, the imposing audience paid homage to the importance of Christ's message and to the merit of His Apostle.
Festus introduced the accused. "This is the man whose death Judea demands, but whom I judge to be innocent. Since he has appealed to Augustus, I shall send him to Rome; but I do not know what to write to my lord concerning him." The lord was not God but the Emperor; or rather, the Emperor was a god, in the mind of the good Roman official. As imperial power was gradually decaying inwardly, it was becoming more and more inflated outwardly, even to self-deification. In the statement, clear and concise, with which Festus presented Paul, he made the person of this little man stand out in bold relief; Paul was the man whose death a whole nation was demanding, considering him a national danger. Indeed, there was reason. The universality Paul announced would be the end of Judaism. Through faith in Christ the Law of Moses became a dead thing; and with it went the whole system of the civic and religious ideology of Judaism which had been built upon the Law of Moses.
The words of so important a person as Festus sounded clearly in the silence that pervaded the hall. Paul spoke, as he always did, as an Apostle, and addressed the King directly. Agrippa was a Jew, tetrarch of a Jewish province. Consequently he could understand the ideas in these separating influences better than could Festus, who had referred to "a certain Jesus." Moreover, since his disorderly moral life showed him to be a worthy descendant of Herod the Great, Paul felt this to be an added reason for trying to convert him.
Then there were all those persons surrounding him; Paul knew that such an occasion for announcing Christ should not be lost. He explained that the principal accusation against him was his hope in eternal life, the promise given to the fathers which he held in common with all true Hebrew people. He made no mention of the profanation of the Temple alleged against him, for that was evidently only a pretext. Neither did he speak of the universality of his teaching, that the Gospel was to be shared with the pagans also, because this was a positive command of the Risen Christ. If one believed in the Risen Christ then all else was clear, explained and justified. It was for this purpose that Paul told of the vision on the way to Damascus where he was going, as a principal agent of the persecution, to put in chains the followers of Jesus.
It was Jesus, appearing to him in a light more powerful than the sun itself, Who had assigned to him his mission among the Gentiles, in which he would not fail. It was for this reason he had taught the truths of the prophets and of Moses to the pagans as well as to the Jews; it was the prophets who had foretold the sufferings and resurrection of Christ. Paul's graphic account, his vibrating accents and decisive gestures, must have made a lively impression on the Jews. What he said must have seemed foolish to Festus who, as a good pagan, understood nothing of the prophets and could form no idea of the resurrection; so much so that, at this point, he interrupted.
"Paul, thou art mad; thy great learning hath turned thy head." It was not the first time that Paul had heard the doctrine of Christ defined as madness by pagan lips; but without losing his composure, and with a note of sadness in his voice, he replied, "I am not mad, excellent Festus, but I speak words of sober truth." This tranquil reply, which Paul directed to the pagan Festus, who knew only about arms and government, thus of no power higher than the Emperor, continues to be addressed to all pagans having no concept of the supernatural. Because these are steeped in the things of sense and matter, they continue to profess that Paul had lost his reason.
Paul . . . to the Jewish King who could understand him, said: "Do you, O King, believe in the Prophets? I know that you believe." And he wanted to say, "If you believe in the Prophets, you must believe also in the Messias predicted by them." Agrippa understood the import of the questions. "You almost persuade me to become a Christian." "I would to God," answered the Apostle, "that not only you, but as many as hear me would become what I am, without these chains."
There was much delicacy in that wish; the vigorous master of polemics revealed himself tender and tactful in dealing with souls. These alone had real value for him, and for their salvation no sacrifice was too great . . . Festus thought Paul a little unbalanced, but not guilty. The three admitted that they found no fault in him; on the contrary, Agrippa even said, "This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar."
It was necessary that Paul should go to Rome; and that he should go there in a manner worthy of an Apostle-----that is, in chains. His heart had been migrating to Rome for a long time now, his person would I be taken there by force, by Jews and pagans, who, unconsciously, were carrying out to complete fulfillment a great design of the Eternal God.
It is paradoxical, from a human point of view, that the message of Life should be brought by a man in chains; it is also paradoxical that pagan Rome, thinking that she is transporting a prisoner, is in reality transporting a great spiritual Firebrand. No one really knows the man he passes on the road; that man may be a genius or a dullard, a Saint or a criminal. Certainly Julius, the centurion of the Augustan cohort stationed at Caesarea, who accompanied Paul with other prisoners to Rome, would never have imagined the greatness of the man hidden under the poor tunic who was his prisoner. Neither could he anticipate the flood of books that would be written about the thoughts that throbbed behind that brow, beneath which were set two poor eyes.
Paul's companion was the trusty Luke who jotted down every detail because he was, at least partially, conscious of their immense historical value. Aristarchus, the faithful Thessalonian, was also with them; for Paul's cause and for the Gospel, he had been arrested at Ephesus. No doubt others wanted to go but could not; Paul drew as many sympathizers among the friends of Jesus as he repelled those who were His enemies.
A ship going to Adrumythium, loaded with goods and prisoners, started from Caesarea. After a day's sail the ship anchored at Sidon in Phoenicia where Julius, a good-natured man, allowed the Apostle to visit the brethren of the city and take some rest there.
It seems that the first night at sea was not so pleasant; in fact, a wind was blowing from the west and this was not favorable to navigation. From Sidon they continued along the coast of Cyprus, leaving Cilicia and Pamphylia on the north; they touched at Myra in Lycia, the city that was to become famous through the bishop, Saint Nicholas. At Myra they changed vessels and took a ship coming from Alexandria which, after moving along the coast of Asia Minor and having laboriously reached Cnidus, entered the Aegean Sea, fighting contrary winds. They neared, Crete not far from Salmone, and veered to the south to a place called "Good Havens," near the city of Lasaea, where they landed.
The prisoners, crowded into the narrow ships, must have suffered much on an open sea swept by winds, deprived as they were of all convenience in their narrow quarters. The time of the great fast had passed, called "Yom Kippur" (the great Expiation), which fell between the latter part of September and the early part of October at the time of the autumn equinox. The sea was heavy with tempest, and navigation was unsafe. . . . Paul knew the sea. He had already suffered shipwreck three times; therefore he counselled the men to wait at Good Havens if they wanted to save the cargo, passengers and crew, two hundred and seventy-six persons in all. The centurion thought he could trust the pilot and the owner of the ship rather than a man who was a nobody and knew nothing of navigation. So he held to the plan, accepted by the majority, of pushing on towards the extreme western point of Crete, and then of casting anchor at the port of Phoenis to winter there. Since the wind was still mild, coming from the south, they moved along the shores of the island.
Hardly had they left the bay than a mighty wind, called the Euroaquilo, a "northeaster," seized the ship and drew it out on the high sea, sucking it into the vortex. In the midst of the howling wind and the frightful noise of the waves that swept the boat near the tiny island called Cauda, the mariners could only with great effort hold on to the lifeboat, in order to throw a rope around the keel of the ship so that it might resist the assault of the winds and waves. The storm was coming from the north towards the south and threatened to drive the ship on the quicksands of the Syrtis in Africa. The sailors, to diminish the resistance, furled the sails and abandoned themselves to whatever might happen.
The storm raged all day and all night, tossing the ship about on the waves like a straw, so that the men expected to be engulfed any moment. The ship was leaking, so they threw the cargo overboard to lighten it. The third day they did the same with the tackle of the ship; but the storm continued for several more days. They did not know where they were being carried, as the sun did not shine during the day, nor was a star to be seen at night. The sea wolves (mariners) economically ruined by the loss of their merchandise and of the rigging, began to lose courage and resistance; they refused to eat, fatalistically waiting for the final catastrophe. When all human hope seemed at an end, the insignificant prisoner of Christ, standing on his feet as best he could in that violent heaving and rolling, dragged himself into the midst of the crew to give them courage.
"Men, you should indeed have listened to me and not have sailed from Crete, thus sparing yourselves this disaster and loss. And now I beg you to be of good cheer, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night an Angel of the God I belong to and serve, stood by me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; thou must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted thee all who are sailing with thee.' So, men, be of good cheer; for I have faith in God that it will be as it has been told me. But we are to reach a certain island."
Even on the brink of death, Paul continued his Apostolate; he gave back to those unfortunates the hope of physical life and announced to them Eternal Life in the God Who was saving them. Some of them may have remembered it afterwards. In that dramatic moment, God reminded Paul of his mission to Rome and, for the sake of the mission, He made a gift of the lives of those men who were so near to death. It was so important a matter that Paul should reach the city. God used the sedition of Jerusalem and the tempests of the Mediterranean to transport this "vessel of election" to Rome. It was a complicated mystery which involved the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews and the acceptance of the Gospel by the Gentiles. In this great drama, Heaven and earth, men and elements all took part. Perhaps Paul's thoughts were revolving about this powerful evidence of God's Providence, while the wind and rain beat on his forehead and his hollow cheeks.
For fourteen days the ship had been a prey to the waves which had driven it wandering across the Ionian Sea (called at that time the Sea of Adria) until, on the fourteenth night, the crew had the impression that they were nearing land. They took a sounding of the sea and found the depth to be only twenty fathoms; they sounded again after a short distance and found the depth to be only fifteen fathoms. There was great fear that the wind would drive the ship against the rocks and, to avoid this, they threw out four anchors at the stern in order to hold the ship steady, and waited for dawn. The mariners had such fear of a crash against the rocks that on the pretext of throwing out an anchor from the bow of the ship, they lowered the lifeboat with the intention of getting away, deserting the ship and the passengers. As usual it was Paul who discovered the plot, and once more proved that he had not lost his head like the majority of his companions. He notified the centurion and the military escort. "Be on your guard, because if these men do not remain on the ship, there is no rescue for you." At this warning the soldiers cut the rope of the lifeboat, which fell loose on the waves and was lost.
At the first rays of light Paul went again to those poor men to encourage them and to rouse them from the sad state of apathy into which fear and suffering had plunged them, and he begged them to take Some food. Because of nausea and despair, they had been fasting during the fourteen days, expecting the end. Again he reassured them that not so much as a hair of their heads should perish. It must have been an astounding sight to see that little Jew, so careless about himself, taking care of each upset stomach, encouraging each desperate soul, and giving to them all revived hope.
He, following the example of the Lord Jesus, gave even to the simple act of eating the ceremony of thanksgiving. In the presence of them all he took some bread, gave thanks to the Lord, broke it and began to eat. The men were encouraged and they too began to eat bread. Afterwards, in order to lighten the ship still more, they threw the whole cargo of wheat into the sea.
When day dawned they saw before them a shore line which they did not recognize; nevertheless, having spied a bay with a beach they planned to steer the ship towards it. Lifting the anchors and loosening the rudder, they unfurled the sails, maneuvering against the wind. Notwithstanding all their efforts, the bow struck a sandbar and remained fast, while the fury of the waves, beating on the ship, soon demolished it, piece by piece.
The wreck was complete. The captain probably called out, "Let each one save himself who can." The land could be seen not so far away, but the churning waves and a cold rain made rescue work dangerous. The soldiers, who were responsible for the prisoners, thought they would free themselves of all blame by hastily killing their charges; since, if the prisoners escaped, their punishment would have been death. The centurion, who was a man with some heart, and who had, during the terrible crossing, come to know by experience Paul's superior gifts of mind, in order to save Paul, prevented the soldiers from touching the prisoners. He commanded these latter to swim and to try to reach the land. Those who could swim did so, he saved others by planks or on the shoulders of the men of the rascally crew. It was as Paul had foretold: all were saved and all reached the land.
THE ISLAND OF MALTA, AND ON TO ROME
They landed on the island of Malta. Thus the island came to know the Gospel and its Apostle by means of a shipwreck. This island was far distant from the continent. Navigation was difficult and Malta had no particular importance of its own, the inhabitants being poor fishermen and farmers who led a miserable life. They were good simple people and hospitable. When they saw the struggling survivors of the disaster, they brought to them all the help they could provide. First of all, the inhabitants lighted a fire to warm the mariners, for they were drenched by the rain and the sea, and numb with cold.
All through the frightful adventure, the Apostle had shown a marked superiority of spirit, but not the least shadow of pride had ever entered his mind. His whole being was completely given to the service of God, and in no lesser measure it was given to the service of his brethren. He was among the first to help gather bundles of branches to feed the fire. It happened that as he dropped one of his bundles on the flames, a viper jumped out and clung to one of Paul's hands. They [the islanders] stood looking at Paul, expecting to see him swell and fall dead under the quick action of the poison . . . Paul shook off the viper into the fire and remained standing there peacefully, warming himself. . . . even in the rain, with drenched clothes, Paul always had the Apostolate in mind . . . even vipers can be of service in the work of Evangelization.
Just as Jesus would have done, Paul helped the poor islanders with miraculous deeds and by curing diseases. Since he observed no class distinctions, he also worked a miracle of cure for the father of the richest man on the island.
This man was a certain Publius who gave honorable hospitality to Paul and his companions for three days. Many gifts and attentions came from other people also whom he had benefited. The cold north wind having now been succeeded by a warm wind from the south, they made ready to depart. A ship was found which had wintered on the island. The good folk provided them with all necessary things, and thus Paul's presence among them proved to be a blessing to the very last. The departure took place, it seems, in February of the year 61. . . .
[After five days] the wind being favorable, they came to Puteoli [where] there was a flourishing community of Christians who welcomed Paul and his companions . . . they knew of some of Paul's letters, and had heard so much of his bold enterprises . . . and he experienced once more the solidarity in the Mystical Body of Christ. [Puteoli is mow the town of Puzzuoli.] In some way the news reached Rome; and when Paul and his escort were on the road thither, groups of the faithful came to meet him as far as the Forum of Appius, on the majestic Appian Way, forty miles from the city. Perhaps they were Christians converted by Peter, and anxious to know this other giant of the Apostolate. . . . The kindly brethren . . . accompanied Paul on his walk, that peculiar step of the prisoner bound with chains. . . . The chains, old age, and the tribulations he had suffered, made his steps painful, but never lessened his determination . . . As the cortege neared the center of the city, Paul found himself in the midst of a curious crowd of magistrates in cap and gown; of soldiers in shining armor. Then they reached the miliarium aureum, the gilded column erected by Augustus from which point radiated Roman roads to all parts of Italy. Paul must have been filled with admiration and surprise at the evidence of so much power and with the outward show of wealth. Any ordinary man coming from the rural districts would have felt small and insignificant in the midst of the great amphitheaters, the great basilicas and arches of the Forum, the comings and goings of gilded chariots, luxurious litters with their numerous escorts; and an ordinary prisoner would have felt his last bit of courage oozing away. On the contrary, Paul admired all those marvels of human achievement and saw in them the genius of God. If he felt his own nothingness more keenly, he was also keenly conscious of the power of the Lord Whom he served and for Whom he wore those chains.
He never doubted but that the city would be won for Christ-----but won only through bloodshed and persecutions. The barrier of idolatry would fall, and the whole Empire become a realm of Christian justice. . . . The extraordinary qualities of the Apostle Paul had won for him the admiration of Julian the centurion; and the report of Festus presented him as one accused only of bickerings concerning the Jewish religion. For this reason the prefect assigned him to a private house where, guarded by a soldier, Paul could have a certain amount of liberty to go about the city and to receive friends and acquaintances. There he settled down as well as he could with the assistance of the faithful of Rome. . . . Peter was missing, absent, no doubt, because of the duties of his Apostolate which called him here and there. Paul, who never thought of himself at any time, turned at once to his Apostolate. First he called a meeting of the heads of the eight or nine Synagogues scattered about Rome. It was always his conviction that he must announce the Gospel to the sons of Israel first; to his own people his heart always turned with affection, notwithstanding their persecution of him for twenty years.
The Elders came and Paul addressed them in a humble and affectionate discourse. "Brethren, although I have done nothing against the people or against the Law or the customs of our fathers, yet I was handed over as a prisoner in chains to the Romans at Jerusalem." This sounded like a reproach to the Jews who, if they were consistent in their exclusiveness, should never have given one circumcised into the hands of pagans-----what is still worse, one attached to Mosaism. However, the Romans would have set him free but because of the opposition of the Jews he had been constrained to appeal to the Emperor.
So he concluded, "Not that I had any charge to bring against my nation. This then, is why I asked to see you and speak with you. For it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain." The hope of Israel was the Messiah; and Paul could have revealed the Messiah to them. The members of the Synagogues prudently answered, "We ourselves have received no letters about you from Judea, and no one of the brethren upon arrival has reported or spoken any evil of you. But we want to hear from you later what your views are; for as regards. this sect, we know that everywhere it is the subject of opposition."
The Apostle spent the entire day speaking to them about Moses and the Prophets, proving that the one and the others meant Jesus Who is the Messiah. The Jews, always clever in argument, accustomed to dissecting every syllable of the Bible, could not accept Paul's message, nor did they agree among themselves on this vital point of their whole faith. . . . Some believed, agreeing that in the Crucified and Risen Christ all their faith in the promises had been fulfilled. Others could not be persuaded, and they went away talking the matter over, down the dark, narrow streets and into the little houses so poorly lighted by a lantern. These hovels composed the poor part of Rome built of bricks.
Neronian justice moved slowly. Nero was bored at the tribunals; he preferred to be at the races or at those performances where he could show himself off and win some applause which, in his vanity, he never recognized as insincere and a sham. Compared with these personal satisfactions, the cases of the prisoners awaiting justice lost all their importance.
Also, the reports from Palestine were late in coming. Now that their worst enemy was out of the way, the Sadducees and other leaders forgot about Paul for a while; they were absorbed by other local political intrigues. So Paul remained for two years in his little house under the "custodia militaris," a chain fastened to his right wrist with the other end fastened to the left arm of the soldier who had charge of him. Paul was fettered, but his speech was not.
His little dwelling was open day and night; whoever wished could enter freely to hear him tell of the Kingdom of God. The Word of God went forth from a prison in regal fashion. Paul's chains only enhanced the Apostolate with new luster and glow; within the Praetorium the officers and guards knew that he bore them for Christ; consequently they learned who Christ was, and more than one embraced the Gospel.