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Paul

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PAUL, THE APOSTLE:

THE GREATEST APOSTLE

PAUL, THE PROPHET OF CHRIST, WAS BORN IN TARSUS, AN IMPORTANT ROMAN CITY IN THE PROVINCE OF CILICIA LOCATED ON THE NORTHEASTERN SHORE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, ABOUT 400 MILES NORTH OF JERUSALEM.

   BECAUSE HE WAS BORN A ROMAN IN A ROMAN CITY, PAUL WAS A ROMAN CITIZEN, BUT HE WAS BORN A JEW, OF THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN.  HE WAS EDUCATED AT HOME IN HIS EARLY YEARS IN THE TRADITIONS OF THE PHARISEES.  HE WAS SENT TO HEBREW SCHOOLS TO LEARN THE SCRIPTURES AND THE TRADITIONS OF THE FATHERS (HE HAD TO MEMORIZE THE SCRIPTURES AND BE ABLE TO RECITE FROM MEMORY THE PRINCIPLE THOUGHTS OF THE FAMOUS RABBIS OF JEWISH HISTORY), THEN HE WAS SENT TO JERUSALEM TO STUDY UNDER FAMOUS RABBIS OF THE PHARISAIC SCHOOL OF INTERPRETATION.  HE BECAME A DEDICATED, ZEALOUS JEW, PROUD OF HIS HERITAGE.  DURING MOST OF HIS LIFE, OF COURSE, HE HAD LIVED IN AND AMONG GREEKS AND ROMANS; HENCE HE SPOKE LATIN AND GREEK, LEARNED MUCH FROM THE ART, CULTURE, AND PHILOSOPHY OF THE GREEKS AND ROMANS, AND FAMILIARIZED HIMSELF WITH THEIR CURRENT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND PRACTICES. 

   PAUL WAS SHORT IN STATUE, WE ARE TOLD, AND EXTREMELY BRIGHT.  HE HAD ALMOST UNLIMITED ENERGY, A VOLATILE TEMPERAMENT, AND GREAT DEDICATION TO WHAT HE BELIEVED WAS RIGHT.  HE WAS A FORCEFUL, PERSUASIVE SPEAKER, A BRILLIANT WRITER, A MASTER LOGICIAN, AND A MAN OF GREAT COURAGE. HE WAS, MANY BELIEVE, ONE OF THE FOUR OR FIVE GREAT RELIGIOUS GENIUSES THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN. 

   AFTER HE WAS CONVERTED TO CHRIST, HE BECAME, PERHAPS, THE GREATEST MISSIONARY THE CHURCH HAS KNOWN.  HE TRAVELED TIRELESSLY THROUGHOUT THE ROMAN EMPIRE, SETTING UP CHRISTIAN CHURCHES AND COMMUNITIES IN ALMOST EVERY TOWN HE VISITED (STAYING, OFTEN, FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME UNTIL HIS CONVERTS LEARNED “THE CHRISTIAN WAY”).  HE WAS A MAN OF GREAT SPIRIT, TOTAL GENEROSITY, BROAD KNOWLEDGE, AND PENETRATING MIND.  HIS ADVENTURES ON LAND AND SEA HAVE ALL THE INTEREST AND COLOR OF ROMANTIC NOVELS: HE WAS BEATEN, STONED, SCOURGED, IMPRISONED, SHIPWRECKED, AND FINALLY BEHEADED.  AFTER THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AS “THE APOSTLE OF THE GENTILES,” PAUL WAS PUT TO DEATH IN ROME ABOUT 67 A.D.  HE HAD BEEN, TRULY, THE PROPHET OF CHRIST. 

   “IT IS IN THE APOSTLE OF TARSUS,” SAYS GEORGE T. MONTAGUE, S.M., ONE OF THE WORLD’S FOREMOST AUTHORITIES ON ST. PAUL, “THAT WE GET A REAL INTRODUCTION TO THEOLOGY, FOR WE SEE HOW PAUL, PENETRATING THE ROMAN EMPIRE WITH THE MESSAGE OF CHRIST, IS FACED WITH QUESTIONS OF DOCTRINE AND MORAL FROM BOTH JEW AND GENTILE, FROM PERSECUTOR, MAGISTRATE, AND CONVERT.  IN ANSWER, HE NOT ONLY RECALLS THE BASIC TRUTHS OF THE KERYGMA, (THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST), BUT DEEPENS HIS OWN UNDERSTANDING OF THEM AND FINDS IN THEM EVER NEW DEPTHS.  FOR PAUL, ABOVE ALL, CHRIST IS THE LIVING, RISEN LORD COMING AT THE END OF TIME BUT LIKEWISE PRESENT AND ACTIVE IN THE CHURCH, TRANSFORMING AND GIVING MEANING TO ALL ITS EXPERIENCES.

                         ST. PAUL, PROPHET OF CHRIST

PAUL WAS ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OLDS WHEN JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED.  APPARENTLY HE NEVER SAW JESUS WHILE JESUS WAS PREACHING IN AND AROUND PALESTINE, BUT HE HAD MOST LIKELY HEARD ABOUT HIM.  AT ANY RATE, PAUL WAS IN JERUSALEM WHNE THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE SPREADING THE WORD ABOUT JESUS BEING THE MESSIAH (ACTS 7) AND ARMED WITH AUTHORITY FROM THE CHIEF PRIESTS, HE TOOK IT UPOIN HIMSELF, AS A KIND OF PERSONAL MISSION, TO STAMP OUT WHAT HE WAS CONVINCED WAS A HERETICAL SECT.  HE ADMITTED AS MUCH IN HIS LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS, WRITTEN SOME FIFTEEN YEARS AFTER HIS CONVERSION TO CHRIST. 

   HOW DID IT HAPPEN THAT HIS YOUNG ACTIVIST (HE CALLED HIMSELF A FANATIC), ZEALOUS FOR THE THE  DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITIES THAT HAD ACCEPTED JESUS AS MESSIAH AND LORD, BECAME THE MOST FAMOUS OF ALL CHRISTIANS?  THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES TELLS THE STORY, AND PAUL REPEATED IT MANY TIMES. (HIS CONVERSION, ACTS 9:1-11, 13-20)

    IT WAS AFTER THIS THAT PAUL’S CAREER AS AN APOSTLE BEGAN.  FOR NEARLY 35 YEARS HE TRAVELED THROUGHOUT THE ROMAN EMPIRE, SETTING UP CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES IN ROME AND NEARLY EVERY MAJOR CITY IN ASIA MINOR AND GREECE.  HE FIRST TRIED TO CONVICE HIS FELLOW JEWS THAT JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH, BUT LATER HE WENT TO THE NON-JEWISH CENTERS PREACHING ABOUT JESUS TO WHOEVER WOULD LEND AN EAR TO HIS MESSAGE.

HE WAS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL APOSTLE. 

  IT IS NOT ONLY BECAUSE ESTABLISHED SO MANY CHRISTIAN CENTERS THAT THE CHURCH IS INDEBTED TO HIM, HOWEVER.  IT IS ALSO BECAUSE PAUL IS THE FIRST MAJOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGIAN. 

   IT IS FROM HIM THAT CHRISTIANITY RECEIVED ITS CHRISTOLOGY (THEOLOGY THAT DEALS DIRECTLY WITH JESUS CHRIST AS A PERSON).  THUS, CHRISTOLOGY MIGHT BE CALLED THE SCIENCE OF THE STUDY OF JESUS) AND ITS UNDERSTANDING OF THE MEANING OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD.

   THE IMPORTANCE OF ST. PAUL’S ROLE IN GIVING CHRISTIANITY A THEOLOGICAL FORMULATION CANNOT BE OVER-ESTIMATED.  IT WAS FROM HIS UNDERSTANDING OF THE MEANING OF JESUS THAT THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH WAS ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT WAS MORE THAN A JEWISH SECT:  IT UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS DESTINED BY DIVINE INTERVENTION IN HISTORY TO BRING PEOPLE TO SALVATION IN CHRIST.  AFTER JESUS, ST. PAUL IS THE OUTSTANDING PERSON IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY AND THE MOST INFLUENTIAL.

   WHAT WAS PAUL’S BASIC THINKING ABOUT CHRIST?  IT IS PROBABLY BEST SUMMED UP IN HIS FAMOUS LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS.  JESUS WAS NOT SIMPLY A JEWISH MESSIAH, HE WAS THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.  PAUL SAW ALL OF CREATION SAVED IN CHRIST.  HE SAW JESUS AS THE FOCUS OF HISTORY AND BECAME THE PROPHET OF CHRIST.

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