The Character of Saint Paul
The judges and lictors who brought about the death of that old man, dragging himself along on feet so tired and worn from walking thousands of miles through the years, could never have imagined the greatness they had cut down by their decision and their deed of execution. Never had a more glorious spirit passed through Rome. . . . There is in his manner a tenderness . . . In his relations to the Eternal God he reminds us of the prophets of old. In his relations to the earthly city of Rome he showed the wisdom of the ancient Consuls. In his relations with all social classes, he surpasses in penetration and tact the greatest masters of Greece and Rome.
The influence exercised by him has been so varied and so vast that whole libraries have been written to explain him; and after centuries his writings have lost nothing of their efficacy. Some have been impressed by his notions of civil law, others by his ideas of sociology. Some have seen in him the support of the Roman Empire and also the creator of medieval society; and a pillar of the Holy Roman Empire. . . . the sociologist. He is still all things to all men in the most amazing manner. Every sentence of his has generated conversions, every step of his has brought forth Apostles. Cornelius a Lapide, at the beginning of his famous Commentaries, condensed into eight points the admirable qualities of the little man of Tarsus. His nature and temperament; his vocation and grace; his wisdom; his heroic virtues; the efficacy and fruit of his evangelization; his glorious Martyrdom; the miracles; and his fame and glory.
Paul is one of the most complete men in recorded history, in whose formation, grace and nature, Judaism and Christianity combined to make of him a universal person. Such a man was needed to defend the universality of Christianity with superhuman vigor and strength. He was a Hebrew and he was a Greek; an agent and, perhaps, a member of the Sanhedrin; a citizen of Rome; an artisan and a student of the Scriptures; a most active man, and also a mystic. He satisfies the learned and the ignorant, the rich and the poor.
He was at ease in Athens among the monuments, and in Galatia among the mountains. He was timid and at the same time authoritative; prudent and yet intrepid; humble and full of just dignity as having been chosen by God. Verily, he was a "vessel of election."
All these qualities blended in him in a perfect synthesis, like a seven-branch candlestick which throws out but one light. He had but one great quality-----he was an Apostle.
. . . There was fused in him . . . an absorbing love for Christ translated into a self-surrendering love for men, a fiery style in the rough handwriting proper to the hand of a tent-maker. He was a man who could speak equally well to a group of philosophers or to a gathering of tanners. He gave into the power of Satan the incestuous man, and the Syncretists; and he could turn his attention to so small a matter as advising a bit of wine for Timothy. In him was united the most sublime mystic with the minutest details in organized activity. He put as much heart into developing the doctrine of the Priesthood of Christ as in writing a commendatory letter for a fugitive slave.
Paul's life was a full one. He gave himself wholly to Christ, allowing Christ to possess him totally, and he was intent on the service of Christ day and night. On he marched, climbing mountains, crossing plains, sailing over seas; resolute and indomitable, seeing Christ in all things, dead to all things else.
"Are they Hebrews? So am I! Are they Israelites? So am I! Are they the offspring of Abraham? So am I! Are they ministers of Christ? . . . Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and i am not inflamed? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that concern my weakness." 11
He said all this before he went up to Jerusalem, where he was so ill-treated and arrested; before his imprisonment in Caesarea and in Rome, the shipwreck at Malta, and before Nero's persecution. It sounds like the story of an adventurer; instead, it is merely a synopsis of his Apostolate. It is the story of heroic adventure, in which men and Angels play their part, the demons from Hell and Christ in Heaven.
Very often Paul had to consider how to earn his living and how to help those who were poorer than himself. He was tormented by an illness which he described as a sting in the flesh, but yet he never stopped. . . . He knew how to face the most opposing conditions; to be in abundance or in want; being able to do all in Him Who gave him strength. He was in Asia and thought of those in Macedonia; he was in Achaia and thought of those in Rome and in Ephesus; he was in Italy and thought of his children in Spain and Illyricum. Possessing a love that was universal, he considered himself a debtor to all. He offered himself as a holocaust to the Lord and for the benefit of the brethren. His life seemed to be consumed in giving life to others. In this, he was a faithful imitator of the Lord. The holocaust was complete; the persecutions of the enemies of the Church, the misunderstandings of friends and the want of confidence from his own people. There were apostasies and divisions among the Christians; the small annoying circumstances which overflow from the carnal works and influences of the times, seemed to mount up in an ascending scale. Then there were the frequent explosions of Satan against that magnanimous spirit of Paul who labored to spread the Gospel with such lavish generosity.
Paul emptied himself so completely of self; one might say, even of his flesh and blood. He loved his own people for their place in God's plan of the Redemption. He had dismissed for himself all titles, honors and prestige; his place in the Sanhedrin, all wealth, and a career. . . . He regarded himself as the refuse of the world, as an abortive: and at the same time, he offered himself to his children as a model to imitate. And all this because it was not he that was living but Christ living in him; and because everything in him served the Gospel of Christ. He wished to increase the flame of Divine Love and threw into it everything both human or Divine, of knowledge or experience, even of his very life. . . .
Paul is a voice that speaks only for the Gospel; his person is a means for Evangelization. Having given himself to Christ, he sees only the glory of Christ: Christ and souls. To put it more concisely, souls are to be conquered for the glory of Christ. Paul, giving the whole of himself, gives the whole of the Gospel; his mouth is open wide to declare it, his heart is dilated with Christ. Just as he had identified himself with Christ, so also the souls he has generated in the Gospel become identified with him. Evangelization means for him generating souls for Christ and therefore he must keep in touch with these, spurring them on further to Christ. He loves them, he directs and corrects them as though they were sons, even little children, whom he must nourish with the milk of the Gospel.
"We are frank with you, O Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. In us there is no lack of room for you, but in your heart there is no room for us." 12 As a father is proud of his sons, so the Corinthians are his glory, his title of nobility before God. He understands the immense responsibility contracted with his election to the Apostolate; and therefore, he fights, and weeps and writes and travels, bears chains, makes tents, all in order to present to God on the day of Judgment an Apostolate complete, unspoiled, and unwasted.
. . . Because in love-----and the Apostolate is first of all love-----what we give is of more value than what we receive. Paul loves his children even jealously and with zeal in the Lord. It was Christ in Person Who made him an Apostle. It is by the Will of God he is chosen an Apostle of Jesus Christ; selected, called to that mission by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such he esteems himself an Apostle, and bears this title along with Peter and James and John and the rest of the Eleven. He is inferior in nothing to those who are the great Apostles called the "pillars" of the Church. Although of himself he is nothing, he remembers with sorrow that he once persecuted the Church of God. Because Paul knows Who has chosen him, he expects in his Apostolate the fruit of miracles and virtues.
The Judaizers and other rivals denied his rights to his titles but he vindicates them strongly. He writes these titles at the beginning of all his great Epistles and defends them against all detractors. He has seen Jesus Christ: and now he sees the evidence in the fruit of his labors. The Churches he founded set the seal on his Apostolate. Although his visible relations with Jesus were less continuous and were shorter than those of the other Apostles, he compensates for this by a greater intensity of work, and by what amounts to a hunger for Christ in order to see Him grow in His Church.
All his personal action is directed towards the Gentiles. There is, between him and Peter, a kind of understanding in the field of preaching; Peter went to the dispersed Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles; thus he became known as the "teacher of the Gentiles." For this function he was well suited. Although a member of the Israelite people, he belonged by birth to the Hellenic community, and he was a Roman citizen. It was part of the universality of the Christian message to cultivate an interest in any social group without distinction; Peter in fact spread the Gospel in Antioch and in Rome among both the Jews and pagans; Paul preached repeatedly in the Synagogues of Rome.
Paul was the docile and powerful instrument in calling the pagans to the Church of God, the new Israel, and the greatest glory of his Apostolate is in this. It cost him much, even his own blood. To a Pharisee, universality meant a cutting loose from the past, a revolt against his own people, a real tearing of the flesh, and he felt this keenly. Nevertheless, he imposed his mission on the doubters and the stubborn rejecters. He finally introduced the Gentiles into the Church and in this way opened the Kingdom of God to the pagans.
Through Paul, more than through any other person, Christ levelled the dividing wall between the Monotheists and the Polytheists, between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. If God Himself had called Paul to be an Apostle, he could be nothing else but an Apostle. He could be tormented, imprisoned, calumniated, but he must be an Apostle: he could not refuse to announce Christ. "I do all things for the sake of the Gospel, that I may be a partaker thereof." He would rather be in chains, on a ship adrift at the mercy of the waves . . . than not be ab Apostle.
CHRIST AND THE APOSTLE
Paul the Apostle preaches Christ and Christ crucified. He is always vigilant that his objective doctrine may never be supplanted by the subjective opinions of men. Faith is a condition for salvation and for unity. By faith men are saved, by grace they are united to Christ, by doctrine they are part of the organization of the Church.
All that Paul does, all that he teaches, he does as another Christ. He is engaged in an intense drama with Christ for the center: Christocentric. As for himself, Paul wishes to be only an exemplar for Christ. If he asks his own disciples that they, too, become imitators of him, Paul, it is because he has become an imitator of Christ. In imitating Paul, his disciples had before their eyes a reproduction of Christ Himself. This was of immense importance, . . . they could understand, without too much effort, what it meant to see Christ living in Paul. It has been the same ever since; Christian people wish to see in their pastors so many copies of Christ; to see the living doctrine which is faith in action.
The heart of Paul is the heart of Christ; the word of Paul is the word Christ speaks through him. Paul was buried with the Lord in Baptism, and with Him rose again, changed,-----a new man and an Apostle. He carries Christ to others, and gives himself wholly to the life of Cnrist.
If this is the sentiment of the Apostle, it can readily be imagined that his doctrine and the whole range of his theology is centered in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Mediator Who brings man close to God, earth close to Heaven, Who reunites humanity with Divinity, the flesh with the spirit, the past with the future. Christ recapitulates in Himself in all things; He is the great High Priest, He is the Saviour and the Redeemer Who, in destroying sin, has vanquished death, bringing life back to the world. He is the source from which flows all the past and all the future; both meet in Him.
Redemption was accomplished through the shedding of Blood, the Blood of Christ. The Church is the result of that Blood; all the Sacraments draw their efficacy from that Blood, and by that Blood we live. Christ is the High Priest in a sanctuary not made by hands, offering to God in expiation for man's sins, His own Divine Blood, since He is both Priest and Victim. For this saving task He had humbled Himself, even to becoming man and embracing the whole state of man, sin excepted. Christ is, as it were, burdened with sin in order to destroy it by letting Himself be crucified; to bury it by allowing Himself to be buried.
This Divine operation has wrought the great miracle of re-establishing a universal reconciliation of all things; whether on earth or in Heaven; In the midst thereof, sin (the principle of disintegration) had entered like a flash of lightning, cleaving asunder what was human from what was Divine, producing dissensions and divisions among men.
By sin, the bonds between the Eternal God and man had been severed; the Blood of Christ, poured upon the world, had re-established them. It has destroyed enmities, demolished the wall that divided the Jews from the Gentiles; and in place of war caused by sin, He has given His peace among men.
The fountain of Blood pouring from those Five Wounds and that Divine Head, still flows from the Chalice of blessing and benediction which communicates to us the Blood of Christ. The Bread which is broken for us communicates to us the Body of Christ. And the Eucharistic Bread of which all eat, is One and the same Body of Christ. In this Body all are made one in Christ, and It is also the Body which all compose, the Church.
The Church is the Body of Christ; theologians would say more specifically, the Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharist is the spiritual food and drink which slakes our thirst for Divinity, which remolds those who are Baptized into the living organism of the Body Whose Head is Christ. It is Christ Who confers on this Body, the Church, His gifts of eternity and incorruptibility.
The greatest of all revolutions is seen in the new Christian society and universal unity actuated by Him. Hebraism is abolished, the differences between peoples annulled; all men are restored to a reconquered level of liberty; freed from the chains of legalism and the Law, from idolatry and innumerable defects. There are no longer Greeks or Jews, circumcised or uncircumcised, slaves or free; but all belong to Christ Who is all in all. He is in all things and in all men; that is, all men and all things are unified in the one and only Christ, forming with Him the Head of a single Organism: the Catholic
It is a universal, and at the same time, an individual revolution, because it embraces the whole of humanity at all times, and concerns every individual creature. The individual person, once Baptized, dies to his state of sin, to the "old man," and becomes another, a new . . . creature. Faith in Christ is an impulse to a continual renewal, an inexhaustible rebirth, so that, in the Church, her life is always new and always eternally young. It is a revolution that begins again at each moment, with each creature.
The Eschatology of Paul is the doctrine of the supreme dissolving of the universe under the power of Christ. The epilogue of those days when, after the last domination the enemy of Christ is vanquished, sin and death are destroyed forever, the Kingdom of Life everlasting (with the resurrection of the body) will make the Just to reign with Christ since they are co-heirs with Him for all Eternity. For this purpose Christ, the Son of God, already sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. He shall return in glory and power to destroy all His enemies, to make Himself known as King of kings, Lord of lords. He is over all, angels and men, heaven and earth. There is no greatness or glory above His.
THE CHURCH AND THE APOSTLE
Paul's theological doctrines moved abreast with his Christological doctrines. There is Christ and there is the Church. Christ has founded a society, the Church; it is a living organism of which He is the Head, a Head completed by the members, both constituting the Body. Christ lives and operates in the Church . . . the Mystical Body of Christ, the total Christ; and Paul loves the Church just as he loves Christ, with Whom he sees it identified. . . . the Church, like Christ, is both flesh and spirit . . . it is one as Christ is One.
. . . The [Catholic] is not an isolated person and cannot be an individualist because, being Baptized, he is vitally ingrafted into an organism which is both human and Divine. In many incisive and descriptive ways Paul never wearies of explaining to his disciples, who had been brought up in the idea of atomic individualism or in the exclusiveness of sects, that they are a part of a vital and living organism. This organism, the Church, is a universal Body that comprehends in itself Heaven and earth, breaking down all barriers of individualism and exclusivism. The consequences of this teaching were far-reaching. The first duty of Christians was to preserve this solidarity among themselves by sharing responsibilities. Each must be united to each, and each to all, working for the good of Christian brethren, and thus making Christ realized continually in the world. . . . "Now you are the body of Christ, member for member. And God indeed has placed some in the Church, first Apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healing, services of help, power of administration, and the speaking of various tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have the gift of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interptet? Yet strive after the greater gifts." 13
There is one gift all may possess and which is above all other gifts in value and importance, and that is charity. Paul, who is filled with the Spirit of Christ, intones the most sublime hymn to charity. Charity is both heat and life in the Body of Christ. Charity can be described as the cement which binds together all social life in the world. The more there is of charity, the better society is fused into one. It is the bond of perfection; the more it unifies, the more it perfects. We are as perfect as we are united in the Church, and the more we adhere to the Church, the nearer we come to Christ. To live in the Church and with the Church and of the Church is an unceasing transformation into Christ.
The Romans especially had a clearer conception of what Paul meant by the "body," although their idea was a juridical one. Paul teaches that we are members of a single body and also belong to one another. The Church is a perfect society organized in multiplicity and unity. Her ministers, apostles, bishops, priests, deacons, prophets, and assemblies of the faithful are all under one head.
The Church is a perfect society in still another sense; it is a true state, "sui generis" whose See is in Heaven and, as such, Paul calls it the "Heavenly Jerusalem" in his letter to the Hebrews. Its members are called "citizens of Heaven" fellow citizens with the Saints, all are one family of God.
"But you have come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, and to the Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in the heavens, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect." 14
In its unity and its stability, Paul compares the Church to an edifice constructed on. the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, whose corner-stone is Jesus Christ Himself. This edifice rises like a great temple of the Lord, a house of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. The component parts of the Church are, on the one hand, the just and, on the other hand, the sinners. They resemble vessels of gold, of silver, of wood, or of clay for use in a home. The Lord and Master of the home knows what belongs to Him.
In regard to all that preceded the Cross, the Church is likened to a tree; always a shady olive tree, a favorite simile of the Hebrews. The Chosen People of the Promise are the natural branches, and the pagans are the wild branches grafted into the tree. The Jews who refuse to believe are the branches cut off. The pagans grafted in because of their faith, take the places of the Jews who refuse to believe. Faith in Jesus Christ has made all equal, made all into one family.
An organism so complex and so united, a society so vast and of such solidarity, must have its laws and its doctrines. These are found in Tradition and Scripture. It must have a hierarchy and organs for action; these are the bishops, the priests, and the deacons. All these must faithfully transmit the teaching received from the Apostles who in their turn received it from Christ.
Orthodoxy consists in a faithful, uninterrupted transmission of truth from those who have the authority to rule, just as any inheritance is handed on from father to son. It is with scrupulous fidelity that the teachings of Christ are thus transmitted. Those in authority, entrusted with this transmission, must be on their guard against spurious doctrines and innovations put forward by false teachers. St. Paul calls these false leaders "dogs." They are false workmen who do not labor for the building up of the Church but for the destruction of the edifice. Therefore bishops, priests, and deacons must be not only irreprehensible and blameless in their personal lives, but they must also be sure and true in the doctrines they teach.
In the first sowing of the Gospel it is evident that the hierarchy is still in the process of formation; however, particular deference is shown Peter, and the spirit of discipline is already established. The bishops and priests ordained by the Apostle Peter, by the imposition of his hands, are venerated and obeyed by the Communities since they represent the Apostle himself.
11. 2 Cor. 11:22-31.
12. 2 Cor. 6:11-14.
13. 1 Cor. 12:12-31.
14. Heb. 12:22-24.