Pauline Year the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Holy Apostle Paul. 

The Persecutions of St. Paul

Intro to the Pauline Letters

All the Pauline Letters

In the Footsteps of St. Paul

Oratorio of San Paolo Mons. Marco Frisina listen...

Saint Paul the Apostle Rome Italy

The Life of Saint Paul Video

"Let us turn to Saint Paul to “learn the faith, learn Christ,"

Saint Paul: "the greatest Missionary of all times

"Witnesses to the faith to follow the example of the Apostle Paul"





Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) — Saint Paul "shines like a star of the brightest magnitude in the Church's history, and not only in that of its origins." (Pope Benedict XVI, Audience 25 October 2006). The Apostle of the nations, a rich and complex figure, was not only the author of Letters which we enjoy today, he was first and foremost a missionary. His encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus was the source of all his preaching and theology. As he travelled the Mediterranean basin, experiencing persecution, the dangers of the journey, he worked without tiring. His pride was to proclaim the Gospel in places where it had never been heard.
Contemplation on this emblematic and founding figure during this Jubilee year dedicated to the Apostle of the nations will be a source of new impulse for missionary activity. It will mean looking at the person of Paul, knowledge of his geographical and religious roots, in order to better grasp the nature of the overwhelming encounter with Christ and to understand how his being was transformed and harnessed in the service of the mission. Secondly we will see how Paul understood and set out on his missionary task. What is an Apostle? How can an apostle be identified? It will be interesting to see concretely to whom and where Paul spoke, how he announced the Gospel, where preaching, miracles and charisma came into his ministry. All these aspects should give us a better understanding of the fundamental workings of all missionary activity.

S. Paolo

Who was Paul?
His geographical and chronological origin
Saint Luke says Saul was probably born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3). His parents had emigrated to Tarsus or were perhaps deported there by the Romans. When they had settled, they were granted Roman citizenship which they handed on to Saul (Acts 25:11-12). We know he had a sister and a nephew (Acts 23:16). Paul grew up in Tarsus (Acts 9:11 & 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3), capital of the region of Cilicia, present day Turkey.
Tarsus, a large, rich city set on one of the most frequented roads in the world at that time, the door to Asia Minor, was famous for the quality of its linens. This might explain why as a trade Paul learned to be a tent-maker. Tarsus had its own administration, elected magistrates and currency. The presence of a Jewish community during the 1st century AD is well demonstrated. In 66 BC the city had opposed Cassius, the assassin of Julius Caesar, and as a reward Mark Antonio had made it a free city no longer subject to taxes.
Tarsus was known as a centre for education and philosophy. Strabone, in hisGeografia (14.5.14), affirms Tarsus outshone Athens, Alexandria and anywhere else for its education. He speaks of the excellence of its schools of rhetoric. Stoic philosophers had made it their favourite dwelling, and it was not a rare thing to see one of these exposing his teaching on the roadside. Saint Paul received this culture in his education. In many of his Letters he mentions local terms, arguments drawn from the philosophical and dramatic culture of his time.
The most certain elements of Paul's biography are his encounter with Jesus Christ around the year 32 and his imprisonment in Rome in the years 60-62. He was martyred in Rome sometime between 63 and 67. Other points are difficult to ascertain; for example the exact number of his journeys. Opinions vary from 2 to 4, but 3 would appear to be the correct number. Major stages and events in his life were his formation in Jerusalem at the school of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), his persecution of Christians in the years which followed, the encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus in the early 30s, meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem, mission to convert the gentiles, martyrdom in Rome.

Saul the Jew
Paul spoke about himself on various occasions and this helps us understand who he was. He supplies us with important information in Phil 3:5-6: "Circumcised on the eighth day of my life, I was born of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents. In the matter of the Law, I was a Pharisee. ". . . as for religious fervour" — He was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This shows the excellence of his origin: Paul was circumcised as prescribed by the Law of Moses, Lev. 12:3. "Israelite" is a technical expression denoting a religious identity. ". . . of the tribe of Benjamin" — To be a member of this tribe was a great honour in Judaism for various reasons. Benjamin was the son of Rachel, the favourite wife of Jacob, he was the only one to be born in the Promised Land (Gen. 35:16-18). This tribe gave Israel its first King (1 Sam 9:1-2) and it remained loyal to the lineage of David (1 Kings 12:21). With the Tribe of Judah, it was the first group to rebuild the Temple after the exile (Ex 4:1). It was an honour to be a member of this tribe. "A Jew of Jews" — or in other words of a 'practising family', which kept the law of Moses and spoke Aramaic. These verses present us with the perfect Jew.
Paul also presents himself as one of the Pharisees, who were known to love the law of Moses and oral law. This oral law, put into writing from the second century BC onwards, became known as the Talmud. Flavius Joseph, a Jewish historian at the service of the Romans, wrote: "The Pharisees have imposed on the people many laws of the tradition of the Fathers which are not written in the Law of Moses" (Antiquités Juives, 13.297). We find this idea again in the Apostle's Letter where he says he fanatically "defends the tradition of the Fathers" (Gal 1:14). Laws with regard to food, cashroute, were considered important. They symbolically define the Chosen People as separate from the rest of humanity. The new faith, within Judaism, overturned this distinction. This was inadmissible for a convinced Pharisee like Paul. To deny this law and say that salvation was for all peoples, meant that Israel was in mortal danger.
Nevertheless this description should not lead us to imagine a man closed in his religious culture. We have seen the context in which Paul grew up in Tarsus. His Letter confirms that he received his formation in the synagogue and also in a Greek environment. His familiarity with Greek rhetoric and his citations or references to classical Greek authors reveal that he had studied these matters at least until the age of 14 or 15. Then he was sent to Jerusalem to study the traditions of his Fathers at the school of Gamaliel. Even Rabbis in that epoch did not hesitate to give their students Greek authors to read. Hence the vastness of Paul's cultural and intellectual universe.

Paul's Conversion and Mission

Calling to mission and "conversion" are closely connected in St Paul. This is why it is interesting to study the nature of this spiritual transformation in order to better understand his calling to be a missionary.
Paul says little about this event in his Letters. The principal epistles are 1 Cor 15:1-11, Gal 1:13-17 and Phil 3:2-14, but they contain few historical details. The Apostle focuses more on the significance. He speaks of an experience which changed his life completely, but rather than an isolated event he sees it as a call since his mother's womb (Gal 1:15). Therefore we cannot interpret that encounter with Christ without considering as a whole his existence.
So what is the meaning of that event? Speaking of conversion, it would be mistaken to interpret this as changing from one religion to another. In fact, in no way does Paul think he has changed his religion.
It must be noted that the break between Judaism and Christianity had not yet happened. His was a conversion in the deepest sense of the word, an opening of the heart to God, the eruption of grace and the transformation of a person.
Paul describes his encounter with Christ in these words: "when God, who had set me apart from the time when I was in my mother's womb, called (Jer. 1:5) me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I should preach him to the gentiles" (Gal 1:15-16). The Apostle perceives this interior shock as the fruit of a long maturation which began from the first moment of his existence: since birth he had been guided by God, slowly, patiently, until the decisive moment when Christ took hold of him and made him His own for ever (Phil 3:12). Paul insists in his Letters on divine initiative. One moment, and everything is different.
That conversion was being born again. That event brought radical newness. Paul is blinded by the revelation of Christ. Baptism restores his sight (Acts 9:18), a most powerful symbol. The old man cannot see well before he his born to new life. A new world is revealed to the Apostle. The whole thought of Paul is based on that experience. It was not simply a vision of Christ. Instead it was a revelation of the profound transformation of the world achieved by the Risen Christ. Paul insists, in his writings, on the distinction between the old world and the new world. He experienced this distinction in his flesh.
He uses two expressions to described what happened: the Apostle "saw" Christ (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8) and received a "revelation" (Gal 1:16; 2:2; Eph 3:3), a term he uses frequently (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Cor 12:1 & 7 — although this list is incomplete). Both terms describe a divine act. Christ is not seen, instead it is He who allows Himself to be seen. When speaking of this vision Paul uses verbs in the passive form. God reveals Himself to man; this is communication of the divine mystery. Not without reason in Ephesians chapter 1, verse 17 Paul speaks of "spirit of wisdom and revelation", for Christians, the source of knowledge about the mystery of God.

S. Paolo

The Missionary
This revelation does not find in itself its reason for being. Paul explains that this revelation was given to him "that it (the mystery of Christ) might be announced to the pagans". This revelation destines him to be missionary, but his mission is understood along the lines of the calling of a prophet. Galations chapter 1, verses 15-16 is founded on two references to the vocation of the prophets Isaiah (Is 49:1) and Jeremiah (Jer 1:5). Paul sees his calling to go on mission to the nations as a continuation of the mission of the prophets and, especially as the Lord's servant as described in Isaiah. The missionary is the messenger who shoulders the mission of the Lord's servant as explained at Is 40:55. However in a vision while in Corinth Paul is told: "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, 'Be fearless; speak out and do not keep silence: I am with you. I have so many people that belong to me in this city that no one will attempt to hurt you". (Acts 18:9-10). We read at Is 41:10: "Don't you be afraid, for I am with you; don't be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness". Paul's task in Corinth is to carry on the task of God's servant.
Most of these texts concern Isaiah and especially the figure of the servant of Yahweh. Early Christian catechesis recognized in this mysterious personage a prophecy about Christ. It will suffice to call to mind the conversation between the Ethiopian enunch and Philip on the Gaza road (Acts 8:30-35). It follows, then, that Paul, applying the prophecy of the servant to himself, understands his mission as a prolongation of the mission of Christ. This identification of the preacher with his Lord should be understood in a dynamic rather than a static sense. At this point we encounter a fundamental point in Paul's theology: identification with Christ begins with Baptism and is a lifelong process. Being "won over" by Christ (Phil 3:12), being led to this profound personal transformation. This happens particularly in the case of the Apostle Paul.
Paul's self-justification when criticized is rich in teaching (2 Cor 4:7-15). Paul is forced to justify his quality of Apostle to Jewish-Christian missionaries little inclined to respect this quality: "We carry this treasure in vases of clay, that it may be clear that this extraordinary power comes not from us but from God". This verse announces the theory which he then demonstrates in the verses that follow: the Apostle's fragility in his apostolate, lived with persecution, is not a sign of weakness, instead it is the necessary condition for the treasure he bears, knowledge of Christ, to be revealed and for the Christian community to receive the life of the Risen Christ. Verses 10 and 11 illustrate how he identifies his sufferings with those of Christ. Paul states: we are "exposed to death". Now, the expression "to be exposed" is usually used by Paul and by the evangelists to designate the Passion of Christ. He continues this identification in verse 14, when he says he will rise from the dead with Jesus. Therefore his mission is to give his life as Christ did. ". . . always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor 4:10). This verse suggests that death operating in the preacher is the source of life for the community, just as the death of Christ is the source of our life. Through his ministry as an Apostles he makes present the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. ". . . in my own body I make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ" (Col 1:24). Here we have the Eucharistic essence of every missionary life.

To the Nations
Universality is an essential mark of Paul's mission. It is the direct consequence of the nature of the new faith. His task is to announce the Good News to the pagans. This statement found in Gal, chapter 1, verse 16 is amply confirmed by the promise of assistance we find in Acts 26:17: "I shall rescue you from the people and from the nations to whom I send you". Paul will be for Jews, and non-Jews, a witness of the Risen One, sent by the Lord of Exaltation whom, just like the Twelve, he had seen in person. Another report of that vision is the foundation of his mission to the pagans, the nations. Acts 22:17-21 refers to a vision which happened in the temple. Paul must go to all "nations". This can be applied to the non-Jews as well as other peoples living outside Jerusalem. Here we have one of the central points of the newness of the Christian faith and the theology of St Paul: the universality of Salvation. Christ gave his life for all mankind and he wishes every man and woman to be saved. Love of Christ, which burns in the heart of the Apostle, will lead him as far away as Spain (Rom 15:24), in those days, the very end of the known world.


S. Paolo

Mission and Church
Paul says he is an "Apostle", even though not one of the Twelve. This noun comes from the Greek verb meaning "to send out and far away". Paul's right to bear this title, often claimed, rests on the fact that it was the Risen Christ who sent him to preach (1 Cor 1:17), to the gentiles the mystery of Christ (Gal 1:16, Eph 3:8), and he is deeply aware of the great honour this implies: "For I am the least of the apostles and am not really fit to be called an apostle, because I had been persecuting the Church of God" (1 Cor 15:9). To be an apostle he had to be sent; the fact that he had seen Christ was not enough. In 1 Cor 15:5-7, Paul opposes the "five hundred brothers" to "all the apostles" (the latter in turn, distinct from the Twelve). The difference between these two groups lies in the fact that the former were not charged with a mission.
This semantic precision introduces the subject of Church. Paul being sent directly by Christ, as he affirms, can there be mission outside the Church? We notice in the different reports about his calling, in the Epistles and in the Acts, that the Church is never absent. So Paul often says that his mission is not an ecclesiastic charge, it is instead a divine charisma. We also see that it is the mediation of the Church which certifies to the authenticity of his vocation. Paul goes to meet Peter to avoid falling into the illusion of having run in vain (Gal 2:2). In Acts 9:10-18, we see he receives his missionary sending not directly from Christ but from Ananias. The purpose of Ananias' mediation was not to present the new doctrine to Paul but rather to help him understand his apostolic investiture in the light of ecclesial tradition. This is confirmed by the many references in Paul's Epistles to ecclesial tradition (1 Cor 11:2; 11:23; 15:1). However, Paul's continual concern is to be sent by a community. This is true from the outset of his missionary activity, when he departs from Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), to the very end. Paul will write to the community in Rome, asking among other things for support and recognition for his mission (Rom 15:24). There is no contradiction between his mission and ecclesial tradition.

Paul's Mission
We have seen the origin of mission and its meaning for Paul. Now we will develop concrete aspects of this mission. Did he have a strategy? How did he go about it? How did he start? These are questions which are of interest for anyone involved in spreading the Gospel.

Guided by the Spirit
Paul addresses himself to Jews first of all and only later to pagans, but he knows he must address non-Jews. Paul was a missionary for both peoples (Rom 1:16). His strategic plan was simple: he decided, in order to fulfill his assigned task, that he would announce the Gospel to non-Jews in places where it had never been heard (Gal 2:7; Rom 15:14-21). Traveling along Roman roads, Paul went from town to town in Arabia, Syria and Cilicia, then on to Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Achaia and, as he had foreseen, in Spain. Paul places his missionary path in God's hands. Even though his journeys are planned, he is aware of the working of the Holy Spirit by Whom he lets himself be led (Acts 16:9), even when this includes persecution. And the latter was the cause of Paul's numerous moves — they forced him to flee: Antioch (Acts 13:50-51); Iconium (14:5-6); Lystra (14:19-20); Philippi (16:19-40); Thessalonica (17:5-9), Berea (17:13-14) and Ephesus (20:1).

Synagogues, Public Places
Paul's strategy focused on urban centres, centres of Roman administration, Greek culture and Jewish presence, so that the Gospel might spread from the communities he founded there, outwards to the rest of the country.
On arriving in a city the first thing the Apostle would do was to go to the local synagogue on the shabbat, to take part in the service. As a stranger he would then be invited by the local religious authorities to give his interpretation of theTorah. This was his opportunity to take the floor and announce the Risen Christ. From a strategic point of view, pagans who adopted the God of Israel, "the God fearing people", were the best targets for an announcement to pagans. By announcing the Gospel in synagogues it was these people whom Paul won over. Reference to the synagogue is a constant in the life of Paul. Even at the end of his life, when he arrives in Rome, Paul invites the Jews in that city to listen to what he has to say (Acts 28).
With regard to the pagan environment, Paul's preaching in Athens as reported by the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 17:16-34) enables us to imagine that Paul usually chose public places in which to preach. He did not hesitate to take every possible opportunity to announce the Gospel of Christ, even in prison (Acts 16:25-34), which was to become a moving story — the conversion to Christ of a whole family.

Private Homes
Private homes were another essential place for mission. The life of the first Christian communities was closely connected to the home, which included the whole 'family' including servants and slaves. The home, a point of reference, where the community meets for its assembly on the Lord's Day, is used by the mission as a base. This was nothing new for believers brought up as Jews, and being accustomed to meeting privately. The private home had other advantages. The celebration of the Eucharist could be followed with a shared meal. It guaranteed a degree of discretion, which would soon become necessary in order to escape persecution on the part of the Romans or hatred from the synagogue.
It is interesting to note that Paul urges the wife of a pagan not to leave her husband (1 Cor 7:13-14). This is most interesting since we know that the home was the family place of worship. The pagan gods had their own altars. The pater familias, the head of the family, was free to go to temples to pray or exercise some priestly function. He was also free to go regularly to houses of prostitution, which was the widespread custom. Very often we learn of the conversion of whole families: the family of Lydia and the family of the prison guard at Philippi (Acts 16:14-15, 32-34), the families of Crispus and Stephana in Corinth (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16; 16:15). Architectural studies show that houses, according to sizes at the time, could accommodate at least 20, and as many as 100 worshippers.

Paul's Listeners
Paul addressed every sector of society. Although the Corinthians were of very humble social condition, and names mentioned in Rom 16 also revealed a simple style of life, Luke reports more than once that Paul was in contact with members of the higher social classes: Lydia, a woman in the purple-dye trade, various women of high society in Thessalonica and in Berea (Acts 17:4, 12), and many Asiarchs (Acts 19:31). The latter are described as friends of Paul, quite probably fruits of his preaching. Acts 13:7 records for us the example of Sergius Paulus, Proconsul at Paphos.
Paul's meeting with proconsul Festus and King Agrippa is interesting because it shows Paul as he addresses personages at the top of the social ladder. To Festus, who calls him a madman, Paul replies by making an appeal to King Agrippa, who believes in the prophets (Acts 26:27), and concludes expressing the wish that sooner or later all his listeners many become like him, that is believers (Acts 26:29). This passage of the harangue of missionary discourse demonstrates not only Paul's courage but also that mission is becoming increasingly possible even among the Jews.
According to 2 Tm 4:16-17, Paul proclaimed the Gospel even during his trial by the Romans: "The first time I had to present my defence, no one came into court to support me. Every one of them deserted me — may they not be held accountable for it. But the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed for all the gentiles to hear; and so I was saved from the lion's mouth".
These contacts and conversations in similar environments help him obtain political support as well as access to sufficiently vast meeting places, and prove the fact that the Gospel touches every sector of society. Nevertheless there is nothing in these texts to indicate that for these environments Paul had a specific strategy.

Length of City Missions
A rapid reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul might give the impression that Paul did not stop long in any city, he passed from one to another. On the contrary, his missions lasted several months of years. For the mission in Syria (Antioch) Acts 11:26 speaks of one year. The mission in Macedonia and Achaia lasted three years from 49 AD to 51 AD. Paul founded in that time at least four communities: Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth. Paul spent 18 months (Acts 18:11) in Corinth (from February-March in the year 50 to September of the year 52). His mission to Asia, 52-55, focused on Ephesus, where Paul worked for three years (Acts 20:31): he teaches in the Synagogue for three months (Acts 19:8), at the school in Tyrannus, for two years and a little longer not exactly reported (Acts 19:22). A missionary knows that to hand on the faith to people he must spend time with them.

How did Paul communicate?
The Apostle's fecundity could make us envious! A careful reading of his epistles and the Acts of the Apostles reveals the reason for this extraordinary destiny. We have seen that the Apostle is like a clay vase, fragile and breakable. But this vase is inhabited by the Holy Spirit, the power of God. And Paul seeks in every way to facilitate this power, this working of the Holy Spirit. This will be our first point of presentation. Paul was wholly for the Gospel and with the Gospel. The Gospel is announced essentially with two means: preaching and the exercise of a charisma.

S. Paolo

Everything for the Gospel and through the Gospel
The principal condition for missionary activity, according to the Apostle, is a consistent lifestyle. His own life must be a proclamation of the Gospel. In no way must it hinder this proclamation. Paul expresses this concept in one particular way. He does not intend to be a burden to the community he is visiting and to which he announces the Gospel, although he does acknowledge that a preacher has a right to live off his preaching. 1 Cor 9 presents us with the Apostle's evocative reflection on this point. Although he has the right to enjoy the fruits of his labour, he refuses to take advantage of his responsibility. The fundamental reason is this: This decision of Paul is, in fact, presented as a necessity. He is aware that the proclamation of the Gospel is a task with which he is entrusted: "Woe to me if I did not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16). It is not up to him to take the initiative. His reward lies in the very fact of freely announcing the Gospel! And to do this he strives to be all to all!
The only community from which he will accept financial support is that of Philippi. While Paul was in prison, the Philippi community had given him a most necessary gift in that time of discomfort when he was unable to work. Very often prisoners had no food except what was brought to them by family or friends. Prisoner Paul could no longer make tents.

His preaching
Paul was a master of preaching. A hasty reading of his Letters might lead us to think that he spoke off the cuff, without any special preparation, "inspired" by the Spirit, quite different from the pompous and often empty speeches of sophist rhetoricians in those times. On the contrary. 1 Cor 2:1-5 shows the fundamental workings of his preaching. Certainly, Paul is against the empty, visibility-seeking rhetoric in fashion at the time. However coming from a good school, he is also well aware that for any address, the fundamental rules of Greek rhetoric well-applied can be most effective. He puts this knowledge at the service of the Gospel. 1 Cor 2 offers us a valuable lesson on the matter which we would do well to examine with attention.
Under the guise of apparent criticism of the art of discourse, Paul develops a theology of preaching. First of all he recalls that his mission is to preach about Jesus as the Messiah, but a crucified Messiah. Proclamation of the Lord's death is central. Those who share the Lord's table proclaim his death (1 Cor 11:26), the word of God is proclaimed in the Synagogues (Acts 13:5). He tells the members of the Church, which is in Rome, that their faith is becoming famous all over the world (Rom 1:8). The emphasis is on presentation in public. Not necessarily understood as proclamation in public places or buildings. This would have obliged Paul to assume the stature of a public orator, which would have harmed his position in Corinth. Nevertheless proclamation is always public: not communication of an esoteric teaching to a group of initiated persons, but instead narration of events for anyone willing to listen.
Paul, unlike the rhetoricians of his time, refuses to use what might please the audience but hinder comprehension of the Gospel. The aim of his preaching is not to obtain an effect, a sort of parade to seduce the audience. His proclamation is the announcement of the mystery of the Cross. He desires to know one thing — Christ crucified. This is the entire content of his message; the rest is commentary. He actually incarnates this reality. The crucified Christ lives in him (Gal 2:20).
He tells how he preaches — trembling with fear — which comes as a surprise since great strength of character shines through his letters. Actually these two words form a special expression found in the Old Testament and usually used to describe someone facing a hostile enemy or a mortal assault. (Ex 15:16, Dt 2:25, Gdt 2:28, Ps 54:6, Is 19:16). Preaching is a struggle. His weakness among the Corinthians was no ordinary condition. It is the context in which the power of God reveals itself. We see this in 1 Cor 1:27-29 and in 2 Cor 12:9 ("my grace is enough for you"). This attitude is quite the opposite to that of the highly confident of sophists. Paul is not exactly what you would call a speaker come to amuse the crowds.
Awareness of the special nature of his preaching is explicit in verses 4 and 5 with a very subtle play on words. Many words used by Paul have a double meaning, which our translations fail to render. He uses words, which have meaning in the religious vocabulary and a technical meaning in rhetoric. The Holy Spirit is presented as the One who persuades hearts. This phrase attributes to the Holy Spirit the power of persuasion. He is the rector! The result of this "demonstration" (technical term in rhetoric) is not simply a proof, a conviction, it is faith and all these concepts are expressed with the same Greek word, which our Bibles translate as 'faith'! What great irony. The power of the Spirit counters the weakness of Paul and the demonstrative power of the Spirit counters the persuasive power of words which belong to human wisdom.
Apart from the historical context which determines to some extent the Apostle's discourse, we can identify some important elements for the announcement of the Gospel. The message centres on the mystery of the Cross; in other words, on salvation. This means it must be subordinate to its contents, or better, must favour its visibility. The fruit of proclamation is faith, not a form of persuasion. Faith in Paul is marked by obedience (cf. Rom 1:18). It is loyalty to the person and to the word of Christ. This is the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit who reveals Himself to be the real locutor, behind the missionary person whose duty is to act in "fear and trembling". At the same time this means that the situation is precarious — it is a battle, but also that it is necessary to realize that this is the work of God. It takes place in the presence of God. Hence missionary work is an eminently theological occupation. The subtle composition of the passage, which ably uses all rhetoric devices, shows that this does not mean poverty of language or ingenuity, on the contrary. Every means which language offers for the transmission of the message is used.

S. Paolo


Charisma and Miracles
The question of charisma and miracles should be neither undervalued nor overvalued. The Acts of the Apostles show that miracles are not the principal cause of evangelization, even if they do sometimes contribute actively towards it. When crowds are converted this is due primarily not to miracles but to the word preached. It also happens that some miracles are misunderstood and become a source of confusion. It is enough to mention the healing of the paralytic at Lystra in Acts 14. At first the people of Lystra thought Paul and Barnabus were the gods Zeus and Hermes! Immediately following this episode we are told that Paul is stoned, after the crowd had been instigated by a group of Jews from Iconius and Antioch (Acts 14:19). Acts 16:18, reports how the liberation of a slave possessed by a spirit of divination arouses the anger of the man's master who lived off his slave's "gift". Lastly in Acts 28, Paul is bitten by a viper, but does not die. Those present are not converted but look at one another as if to say Paul was a god (they too!).
However miracles and charisma are not to be undervalued or considered non-existent or useless. The history of the proclamation of the Gospel is studded with these gifts of the Holy Spirit, which along ordinary and extraordinary ways, bring non-believers to the faith. To be convinced of this, it is enough to read the discourse on charisma in 1 Cor 12-14. The prophetic word, the inspired word pronounced at an assembly gathered in prayer, is the direct cause of the conversion of the non-believer.
Paul in his Letters says little about miracles except in his discourse on charisma, in 1 Cor 12-14 and probably in 1 Cor 2:4, where he mentions a demonstration of the power of the Spirit, a possible allusion to miracles. Only the Acts of the Apostles attest to their reality. We have to acknowledge that the latter, although at times misunderstood by those present, are often the source of conversions. The healing of the paralytic at Lydda and the resurrection of Tabitha at Jaffa (Acts 9:32-43), the miraculous release of Paul and Sila (Acts 16:25-34). Acts 14:3 is particularly interesting. Paul and Barnabus evangelize Iconium. It is reported that "Paul and Barnabas stayed on for some time, preaching fearlessly in the Lord; and he attested all they said about his gift of grace, allowing signs and wonders to be performed by them."

Paul has been considered, mistakenly, the founder of Christianity because of the strong impact of his missionary work on the spread of the faith in the beginning. Not without reason, then, he can be held up as a splendid example for all missionaries. The principal trait we should imitate is certainly his closeness to Christ: "what counts is to place Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and with his Word." (Benedict XVI, Audience 25 October 2006).
The second characteristic is his vision of mission as the work of the Holy Spirit combined with awareness of personal poverty. An apostle must be one with Christ, but with Christ on the Cross. The Apostle's strength is his weakness, since it allows the Holy Spirit to unfurl all His power. This openness to the Holy Spirit is the condition for a fruitful apostolate.
A third important mark is Paul's perception of the universal character of salvation. He is the man of universality. In a world marked by divisions and barriers between peoples and cultures, he realizes that Christ's message is for every man and woman of whatever culture or religion, nationality or social condition. He realizes that "God is the God of everyone" (Benedict XVI, General Audience 25 October 2006).
Lastly the centrality of the Church, the Body of Christ, is without a doubt the final lesson to draw from this example. Paul always thought that his mission was to be undertaken in the Church and through the Church. Mission is a matter of building up the body of Christ. This means he simply envisions preaching without being sent by the Church. Whether it is his meeting with Peter, to be reassured that he was not running in vain, or his request for support from the community in Rome, Paul knows that missionary work must always be the fruit of a living bond with the Church.


S. Paolo

Bible Resources

Saint Paul: "The Greatest Missionary of All Times" 

St Paul the Apostle, in the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI
Since his election as Pope, Benedict XVI has frequently mentioned the figure of St Paul, the Apostle of the nations. And in the very beginning on 25 April 2005, the Holy Father made a visit the tomb of St Paul where he said in his homily "I am here to revive in the faith this 'apostolic grace', since God, as the Apostle to the Gentiles has likewise said, has entrusted me with 'anxiety for all the Churches'".
The Apostle is known primarily as the one who worked to announce the Gospel to all nations. If the Church's duty is mission, the successor of Peter comes "on a pilgrimage, so to speak, to the roots of mission". (Visit to St Paul's Basilica, 25 April 2005)
The Pope has spoken of Paul on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul and on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul at the close of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He spoke at length on the figure and theology of Paul at Wednesday general audiences (October, 8, 15 and 22 November 2006, and when announcing the Year of Saint Paul, he presented him as an example to imitate.
The Pope has contemplated on the person of Paul underlining the radical nature of his encounter with Christ and the revelation received on the way to Damascus as the source of Paul's theology. "He understood in an instant what he would later express in his writings: that the Church forms a single body of which Christ is the Head. And so, from a persecutor of Christians he became the Apostle to the Gentiles." (Vespers in St Paul's in Rome, 25 January 2006).
Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes Paul's awareness that he is chosen and sent by God. This divine calling, the manifestation of God's mercy, is for Paul, the reason for his personal involvement in mission. His self-giving is the principal cause of the fruitfulness of his apostolate (Vespers, 28 June 2007). The life of Paul, described by the Pope at a general audience on 25 October 2006, is marked by centrality of the person of Christ and the universal aspect of Paul's apostolate. What made him undertake difficult journeys was Christ's love for him and his love for Christ (2 Cor 5:14-15). Martyrdom appears then as a logical consequence, the extreme expression of total love which leads to identification with the Divine Master even in death.
For the Pope, Paul's message is markedly Christ-centred, (General Audience 8 November), the work of the Holy Spirit (15 November), the Church so present in his heart (General audience 22 November 2006).
Christ justifies man "with God's mercy" entering into deep communion with him, forgiving his sins. This was the fundamental experience of the Apostle's conversion. Man is justified by faith. The second element which shows this Christ-centred aspect is the Christian identity: "This Christian identity is composed of precisely two elements: this restraint from seeking oneself by oneself but instead receiving oneself from Christ and giving oneself with Christ, thereby participating personally in the life of Christ himself to the point of identifying with him and sharing both his death and his life". . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .. . . . . . .(General Audience 8 November)
The life of the Apostle becomes a manifestation of the life of Christ. This comes about in us through the life of the Holy Spirit whom Paul calls the Spirit of Christ. St Paul analyzes the working of the Spirit in the life of the Christian: in his being and acting (Audience 15 November 2006). Divine sonship, fruit of the presence of the Spirit in the baptized Christian, for the Pope is the first and main gift of the Spirit which leads Christians to call God 'Abba, Father'. This presence of God's love in us is a promise of future glory.
The Church, the last chapter of the Pope's meditation on St Paul who, "is converted to Christ and to his Church" (General Audience, 22 November 2006). The Church rightly finds herself in the life of the Apostle. The various Churches are for him a source of joy and sorrow. He is for them father and mother. The Body of Christ received in the Eucharist (1 Cor 10:17). St Paul's call for unity and charity are the immediate result of his theological vision. The Church is the place of communion with God and among ourselves, the assembly of those who invoke the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict's reflection on the figure of the Apostle is indeed a summary of the apostle's teaching. He puts us face to face with an author judged, even by Saint Peter, difficult to understand. This could be an excellent method for an analysis of the Letters of St Paul.
© Agenzia Fides