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

A Table of Readings for the Pauline Year

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,"

A thought for the day from St. Paul 

Saint Paul: "the greatest Missionary of all times"

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




Born in Tarsus, he was sent as a young man to Jerusalem where he was given a strict training in the Law at the school of Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder.


After several years there he returned to Tarsus and so was not present in Jerusalem during Jesus’ preaching ministry but only returned to the city a few years after Christ’s passion.


During this phase of his life Saul was a fervent Pharisee: he witnessed the stoning of Stephen, holding the cloaks of his murderers as described in the Acts of the Apostles (8: 1-3). Soon afterwards he was given the task of going to Damascus to imprison the Christians there (Acts 9:2) since he was zealous and firmly against the religion of Jesus which was beginning to spread and establish itself.


His conversion took place on the road to Damascus when a light from heaven suddenly surrounded him and falling from his horse, he heard a voice saying ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’


Saul was blinded and groped around, stunned by what had happened: then for three days he waited without eating or drinking for someone to come and at that moment we could say that Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, was born. He decided to withdraw into the desert and spent three years there rethinking his life and meditating at length on the gift he had received.


Comforted by this light of truth, he returned to Damascus and began preaching with enthusiasm, provoking anger amongst the pagans who considered him a renegade and tried to kill him with the result that he was forced to flee the city.


He took refuge in Jerusalem and stayed a couple of weeks there meeting Peter, the leader of the Apostles and James to whom he explained his new life.

The Apostles understood and stayed with him for many hours each day, talking to him about Jesus. But the Christian community in Jerusalem did not trust him, mindful of the vicious persecutions he had inflicted on them, and it was only through the guarantees given by Barnabas, a formerly influential Levite, that their doubts were removed and he was accepted.


During the two weeks he spent in Jerusalem Paul tried to convert others to Christ, but this missionary activity annoyed the Jews and bothered the Christians so in the end, feeling ill at ease, Paul went first to Caesarea and then returned to his own city, Tarsus in Cilicia, where he returned to his job as a tent maker.



L´incontro di Pietro e Paolo

From 39 AD to 43 AD we have no news of him until Barnabas, invited by the Apostles to organise the emerging Christian community in Antioch, came to Paul and asked him to come too. It is at this point that Paul abandons forever the name Saul because he was convinced that his mission was not so much among the Jews as among those other peoples whom the Jews referred to as ‘Gentiles.’ It was in Antioch that the disciples of Christ were first known by the name ‘Christians.’


Thanks to Paul’s zeal, in a few years time ‘the Word went out from Jerusalem and the Law from Zion,’ as the prophet had predicted.




Paul was born around 10 AD to a Jewish family from Tarsus in Cilicia (modern-day Eastern Turkey). He was given the biblical name Saul and the Roman name Paul (his father had obtained Roman citizenship and perhaps wanted to show his gratitude to the people of Paulus). He was educated in Jerusalem.


‘As a student of Gamaliel the Elder I received strict instruction in the Law of our ancestors and was zealous towards God.’ From the Acts of the Apostles he says he is ‘a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees’ (Acts 23:6) and ‘circumcised on the eighth day’ (Phil 3:5-6)




At Stephen’s martyrdom ‘the witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul.....he was among those who approved of his murder and who began a cruel persecution against the Church.’


Saul, who defended with zeal ‘the traditions of the Fathers’ (Gal 1:14) could even have been a member of the Zealots (Acts 22:3) which would explain his mission to Damascus to hunt down the Greek missionaries, like Stephen, who contested the Temple ‘to break them, even through torture’ (Acts 25:6,9-11) This would also throw light on two unusual episodes: Paul never became part of the Church in Jerusalem and had to flee as a result of death threats (Acts 9:26-30). Later forty famous Jews voted to kill Paul, a prisoner of the Romans (Acts 23:12-22) and it was known that the Zealots punished those who betrayed their vows.




The Acts of the Apostles contain the famous words that Paul heard on the way to Damascus: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’


The way Paul himself recounts the apparition of the Risen Lord betrays a great inner turmoil, according to the prophetic vocation/conversion of the Old Testament which also contains a mission: ‘But God in his grace chose me even before I was born and called me to serve him. And when he decided to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the Gentiles..’ (Gal 1:15-17)


The radical ‘conversion’ of Saul does not represent in his mind a change of religion, rather he feels more Jewish than ever since it is ‘the God of our Fathers’ who sends him to preach the Gospel. As the evangeliser of the pagans, he continues to preach to the Jews wherever possible until his last journey to Rome. The conversion and baptism of Paul means he has discovered his true place in the life of Israel.


We do not know the exact date of this pivotal event: the letter to the Galatians may indicate around 33-35 AD, shortly after the founding of the first Church in Jerusalem set up around ‘Peter with the other Eleven.’ (Acts 2:14)




‘Three years later’ Saul went to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (from the Greek ‘Petros’ meaning rock and the name Paul always uses) and ‘stayed fifteen days with him.’ Undoubtedly Peter taught him the oral tradition relating to the life of Jesus whom Paul himself never met (cf.1Cor 11:23-25) as well as a christological interpretation of the prophets according to the teaching of the Master with his disciples.
The visit was a discreet one: the only other leader of the Church whom Paul met was ‘James, brother of the Lord.’ Paul enriched himself spiritually within the Mother Church yet he was never able to integrate, probably because of his past history as a Zealot. At one point he even escaped an assassination attempt by Greek speaking Jews (Acts 9:29-30)
He was sent back to Tarsus where he took up his former profession as a tent maker and continued to proclaim his faith in the synagogue (Acts 18:3). These were years of personal growth.


At the beginning of the 40’s Barnabas was sent by the Church in Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria to take in hand the Church there founded by Greek missionaries who had been expelled from Jerusalem. He went to Tarsus to ask for Paul’s help, becoming a great evangeliser and one of the leaders of the community there. It was Paul’s first time away from the world of the synagogue since he also preached to the Greeks and a mixed community was established. The ‘invention’ of the title Christians, used for the first time in Antioch, is one of the finest fruits of Saul’s preaching ministry in the city.
From then on the Church in Antioch became a centre for the spreading of the Gospel and existed independently from the Temple and the life in Judea.
This community in Antioch enjoyed a solid foundation and organisation. Thus, during a prayer assembly, the inspiration of the community confirmed a personal vocation and the voice of the Holy Spirit was heard saying ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul to do the work to which I have called them.’ The assembly prayed, fasted, placeed their hands on the two men and sent them off on their mission.
Barnabas and Paul sailed towards Cyprus. Again it was the Holy Spirit which sent them in this direction: there they preached the Gospel in the synagogues on the east of the island at Salamis, then in the west at Paphos. From this moment on, Luke calls Saul by his Roman name Paul, thus underlining his full entitlement in the mission to go to ‘all nations.’


The two men travelled on into pagan territory, beyond the Taurus mountains to four strategic cities for the Romans on the road to Sebastopolis. Luke sets Paul’s first important missionary discourse in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia, a new Roman colony. Finding a hostile reception from most of the Jews, Paul addressed the pagans. The two Apostles then moved on to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe where they strengthened the young communities.

On the one hand, they encouraged a common life among former Jewish believers and new converts from paganism, thus provoking hostility from the leaders of the synagogues where they preached. On the other hand, they nominated ‘elders’ according to the model of the Church in Jerusalem. Having completed this mission, they returned to the great city of Antioch in Syria.



Towards the year 48 AD a problem arose over whether or not non-Jews should be circumcised, since some Christians from Judea claimed ‘the freedom acquired in Jesus Christ’ which Paul and Barnabas also invoked so as not to impose this ritual on pagans who became Christians. The community decided to ask the opinion of the Apostles and the Elders in Jerusalem so they sent Paul and Barnabas, together with a Greek companion Titus and a delegation.
The Apostles and the Elders in Jerusalem accepted Titus who was not circumcised, thus recognising the validity Paul’s proclamation of the freedom of grace. The Assembly also confirmed the principle leaders of the Church, recognising Peter’s vocation among the circumcised and Paul’s among the non-circumcised. From then on, the missionary work was divided with James, Cephas and John preaching to the Jews, while Paul and Barnabas went out to the pagans.


The incident occurred during Peter’s visit to Antioch and it bears witness to the integrity of Paul, who would not allow for any adaptations of the truth of the Gospel. What happened? At that time, a circumcised Jewish Christian could not sit at the same table with a Gentile Christian without falling into impurity. Peter, had always testified to the supreme power of faith in Christ which gathers together within itself all human beings. He continued to do so in Antioch until the arrival of other Christians sent by James, who presided over the community of Jerusalem. It was then that Peter, who had previously eaten with the Gentiles, withdrew and separated himself from them for fear of the circumcision party (thus concealing what he truly believed). Therefore Paul became angry: “I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong” (Gal. 2:11).

The compromise agreed upon in Jerusalem protected the existence of the mixed communities of the young Churches of Asia Minor, to whom Paul had preached. Nevertheless full communion between circumcised and uncircumcised was difficult. Therefore, was the salvation in Jesus Christ considered secondary? Paul claimed new life in the faith, the gift of the Spirit and the primacy of the divine promise over the law… The controversy had originally occurred between, on the one side, James and the Church of Jerusalem along with Peter and Barnabas who, although hesitant, allied themselves with James, and on the other side, the same Church of Antioch which in the end approved the compromise reached in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15:31). Eventually Paul left Antioch to visit the towns where he and Barnabas had previously taught, taking along with him Silas alone, who had been sent back to Antioch with Paul by the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem after the compromise had been reached. After this long novitiate, which endured 15 years, Paul entered into a new phase. 






In Troas, Paul heard in a vision the appeal of a Macedonian: ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’ Immediately he sailed for Greece, stopping in Philippi, a commercial centre and Roman colony inhabited by veterans and Latin peasants, where Judaism showed Greek influences.
The house of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who was baptised with all her family and hosted the missionaries for their entire stay, fast became the centre of one of Paul’s most faithful communities, providing him with both affection and material support. (2 Cor 11:8) It was with her that Paul wished to celebrate Easter some years later, before his definitive departure from that region of the Aegean Sea.
Paul was soon accused of proselytism by the local authorities. In those days there was not a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism, even if the Jews enjoyed a privileged status. For the first time therefore, Paul was put in prison with Silas. At midnight, while they were busy praying and singing, an earthquake set the prisoners free and their jailer, seeing the prison door open, was about to kill himself. But Paul shouted ‘We are all here,’ whereupon the jailer was baptised with all his family. Paul demanded to be let out, not in secret but ‘triumphantly’ by laying claim to his Roman citizenship and then returned to Lydia’s house.

This time Paul angered the Jews when he went, according to his usual habit, to the synagogue and explained ‘during three Sabbaths’ the Scriptures which proved that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He was accused of fomenting trouble against the laws of the Emperor so his brothers organised his departure for Berea. But he was pursued there by the Jews from Thessalonica and once again forced to flee across the sea towards Athens where Silas and Timothy joined him.

Shortly afterwards the community in Thessalonica received the first two letters from Paul: they display all the fervour and the worries of a young Church.
At Jason’s house in Thessalonica, just as at Lydia’s house in Philippi, religion and worship was based at the family home and the social or business relationships that revolved around it.

In the capital of the Greek world,where people came from all over the Roman empire to study, Paul encountered the Greek culture and ‘he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was.’ He preached as much in the synagogue as in the public squares, until he came to the Areopagus, provoking the curiosity of intellectuals, Epicureans and Stoics, but little interest in the Christian faith. ‘I found an altar on which is written: To an Unknown God. That which you worship then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you.’ (Paul does not quote this episode. Rather, this kind of phrase suggests the preaching of the first missionaries in the Greek Church at the end of the 1st century faced with the pagan gods influenced by Stoicism. The absence of any mention of the cross or salvation makes it unlikely that Paul ever pronounced these words.)






In this cosmopolitan city where the culture of Aphrodite was flourishing, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, a married Jewish couple who had fled from Rome in 49 AD when the Emperor Claudius ordered all the Jews to leave the city ‘because the Jews were continually rising up under the instigation of a certain Chrestus’ (Suetonius, Claudius 25:11) They appear again in Rome after Claudius’ death in 54 AD to look after the jailed Apostle. At this point however, they accompanied Paul to Ephesus evangelising and taking care of the Church.
Paul, who hoped to be able to ‘work’ like the rabbis so that his apostolic service could be free to all, joined up with the couple and with them, pursued his tent making activities. On the Sabbath in the synagogue, he tried continuously to prove to the doctors of the Law that Jesus was the Messiah and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, was baptised along with his family. The Church in Corinth, which also welcomed pagans, grew up very quickly and became Paul’s base after Claudius’ expulsion decree meant he could no longer return to Rome. He remained there in Corinth for eighteen months.
Increasingly though, there were problems with the authorities in the synagogue who enjoyed many privileges and did not want the Christians to be confused with a dissident Jewish sect, even if they no longer depended on them. They ended up by accusing Paul of illegal religious propaganda in front of the Roman Proconsul Gallio (brother of the philosopher Seneca). After hearing the accusation, he refused to listen to Paul’s defence, declaring that he had no competence since Paul was a Jew and, to his mind, this was an internal dispute of the synagogue. (Acts 18:12-16) Paul then left with Priscilla and Aquila for Antioch and Ephesus, where the couple would become the cornerstone of the future community.
(It is at the end of this second journey, in 52 AD, that many historians place the incident at Antioch and the Council of Jerusalem.)


This is the third city, according to Acts, where the Word spread rapidly. Paul stayed for more than two years, founding a Church in this flourishing cultural, religious and commercial centre, a crossroads between East and West. The confrontation with Judaism gave way to the encounter with other religious trends: Artemis was the god most venerated in Ephesus but Priscilla and Aquila led their community and taught with great zeal. In this way they explained ‘more correctly the Way of God’ to Apollos who became a very successful catechist in Ephesus and in Corinth.


As he prepared to return to Jerusalem, Paul was ‘gripped by the Spirit’ and asked to meet with the Elders of the Church in Ephesus. Warning them that his own end was near, he spelt out his task to ‘Go, for it is far away to the Gentiles that I will send you.’ (Acts 22:21) He urged them to be vigilant and hardworking, to take care of the poor and weak: ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’ Finally he left them with the instruction ‘to build up the Church’ or rather to entrust it to the power of the Word ‘which is able to build you up.’ Preaching the Word is paramount: it is the Word which can build up the Church.
The scene ended in an emotional way as the assembly knelt and prayed together. Paul was embraced by all as they dedicated themselves to God and to his Word. This episode is important for the institutional history of the Church: these Elders (presbyteroi) summoned by Paul, who describes them as pastors and bishops, are instructed to nourish, spiritually guide and watch over (this is the original meaning of the Greek word ‘episcopos’ or bishop) the People of God. They do not receive their powers from the assembly of the faithful but rather from the Spirit.
Throughout the course of his ‘independent’ ministry, as he faced unprecedented situations, Paul had to introduce doctrinal innovations in order to justify his call to believers to form closely knit communities. In fact, wherever he went, Paul was able to create very united Churches that could survive and develop outside the formal structures of the synagogue.



Paul returned for the third time to Jerusalem to give a complete report to the Elders about his mission among the pagans. He brought with him a delegation of people representing the Churches he had founded, largely pagan Christians but also Jewish disciples such as Timothy. He became the acknowledged head (1Cor 12-14) of a group of local communities which were in conflict with the synagogues and were leading an autonomous existence within the pagan communities. He gave them the name of Church, according to the tradition of Deuteronomy, claiming for each one the dignity of assembly of people chosen by God and reserved first and foremost for the Church in Jerusalem. Paul exercised the authority of an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:21; 2Cor 1:1) a title to which he remained very attached.
But then, in the capital of the Jewish world and in the presence of the Church of Jerusalem led by James where ‘thousands of Jews had come to the faith,’ he was called to demonstrate his fidelity to the Fathers. He had written to the Corinthians ‘I became all things to all men’ (1 Cor 9:22) and so he went to the Temple with a group of Nazarenes to be purified so ‘everyone will know..that you live in accordance with the Law of Moses.’ It was here that he was arrested.
Everything was set for this explosion: the fear raised by Paul’s preaching in the synagogues and the development of this Christianity which threatened the structures and the laws. An incident blew up as Paul arrived at the Temple on the seventh and last day of his purification – maybe because he was accompanied by a non-Jewish Greek man, thus profaning the sanctuary? Some Jews from Asia Minor recognised him and inflamed the crowd: he was thrown out of the Temple.
Paul escaped death there thanks to the arrival of a commander with some soldiers and he talked to them again. ‘He stood on the steps..and when they were quiet Paul spoke to them in Hebrew.’ He explained his dedication as a Jew who studied under Gamaliel, then his blinding encounter on the road to Damascus which dominates and inspires his life. Then, in front of the Jews in Jerusalem, he added, ‘while I was praying in the Temple I had a vision in which I saw the Lord as he said to me “Hurry and leave Jerusalem quickly because the people here will not accept your witness about me.”’ And again: ‘I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ These last words provoked another uproar from the crowd: it meant that in effect, the Covenant made by God with the children of Israel was open to everyone.
CAESAREA, ROME                     
  • Paul is taken to the fortress in Jerusalem but avoids being whipped because he is a Roman citizen: first trial by the Council/Sanhedrin
  • Following a plot by Jewish Zealots who want to kill him, Paul is transferred to Caesarea: second trial before the governor Felix (57-59 AD)
  • Third trial by his successor Festus two years later
  • Fourth trail before Agrippa II: ‘This man has not done anything for which he should die or be put in prison....He could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.’




First journey

From Cyprus to Anatolia, Paul and Barnabas preached zealously in the synagogues about the Good News of the Resurrection and salvation in Jesus Christ, founding new communities and healing the sick.

Second journey

In 50 AD Paul decided to leave again, heading this time to Asia Minor. His apostolic journey, which lasted until 53 AD, took him to Greece and Macedonia where he converted Philip. The two men were beaten and thrown in prison but one night there was an earthquake and their jailer was converted, with the result that they were released the next morning.

From there they went to Thessalonica, to Berea and to Athens before returning to Antioch where followers of Jesus were first known by the name ‘Christians.’

Third journey

In 53 or 54 AD Paul began his third great journey going first to Ephesus where he stayed for three years. His preaching led to a decline in worship of the goddess Artemis and the trade connected to her veneration also suffered a setback provoking a popular uprising, although Paul was unharmed by it.

He then visited the Christian communities he had founded in Asia Minor and was very touched by the encounter as he sensed he would not see them again.

The last stage of his journey took him to Caesarea, where the prophet Agabo predicted his arrest and imprisonment, before arriving in Jerusalem towards the end of May 58 AD, bringing with him the offerings collected during this last voyage.



In Jerusalem, alongside the joy of the community, Paul encountered a tense atmosphere as the Jews were very suspicious of him.
The Saint was handed over to the centurion Julius to be taken to Rome accompanied by Luke and Aristarchus. The journey, which in those days was an adventurous enterprise, was interrupted in Malta because of a shipwreck. The prisoner Paul found he was freer than the other 276 members of the crew: he was used to the sea and had experienced three previous shipwrecks (2 Cor 11:25) and above all he had a guarantee which came from God: ‘Not one of you will lose his life, only the ship will be lost,’ he told his companions when all seemed to be lost. ‘An angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship came to me and said: “Don’t be afraid Paul....God has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you.”’
The stay on this simple and idyllic island (‘the natives there were very friendly to us, around a great fire’) symbolises the welcome which the pagan world will give to the Gospel.
Here Paul performed miracles: a snake bit his hand while the Saint was tending the fire and he tossed it into the flames without any pain and later he healed a man by laying his hands on him.
In 61 AD Paul arrived in Rome for his trial. For the two years he was held under guard in the heart of the city near the River Tiber (the modern Jewish quarter) he evangelised and wrote while awaiting the trail which never materialised due to the lack of a prosecution. But after the fire of 64 AD Nero accused the Christians of starting the blaze: Paul was arrested, held in chains in the Marmertine prison and condemned to death by beheading which took place outside the Aurelian walls on the Via Ostiense.




The opening of the Covenant to everyone

The last words of Paul in the Roman capital, as recorded in Acts, were an appeal to the Jews. At the end of his mission, he whom the Lord had chosen as the Apostle of the Nations did not want to forget ‘the least of my brothers’ (Mt 25:40) ‘I am bound in chains .. for the sake of him for whom the people of Israel hope.’ Paul made a last, urgent appeal for the ‘conversion’ of his people, for the same upheaval that he had experienced: from now on, God’s Covenant is open to all.
Paul’s death is not the end of the story: on the contrary, it is the development of Christianity and of the Good News spread far and wide by the great witness to the Risen Christ, who became in his likeness ‘A Light for the Nations.’(Is 49:6; Acts 13:47)


© 2007 Basilica Papale San Paolo fuori le Mura 






Basilica di San Paolo



The Tomb of the Apostle
and the 2000th anniversary of his birth

Benedict XVI Announced the Pauline Year
Thursday, 28 June, in the homily delivered during the First Vespers of the
Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the
Walls, His Holiness Benedict XVI has announced the celebration of the Bimillenium
of Birth of the Apostle.


Here are his words:
“I am happy to officially announce that to the Apostle Paul we will
dedicate a special jubilee year from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009, on the occasion of the
bimillenium of his birth, which historians put between the 7th and 10th A.C. This Pauline
Year could be developed in a privileged manner in Rome… In the Papal Basilica and in the
adjoining homonym of the Benedictine Abbey, a series of liturgical, cultural and ecumenical
events can take place, as well as various pastoral and social initiatives, all inspired by Pauline
spirituality… Likewise, in every part of the world, analogous initiatives can be realised in the
Dioceses, Sanctuaries and places of worship of Religious Institutes, of study, or of assistance,
that bear the name of St Paul or that is inspired by his figure and his teachings”.

from June 28th 2008 to June 29th 2009 to mark the bimillennium of his birth!’



  • Encounters and in particular a retreat for priests on St Paul
  • Rediscovery of the Apostle of the Gentiles and of his letters
  • Pilgrimages in the footsteps of St Paul
  • Meeting and conversation with other Christian communities
  • A special liturgy in the Basilica in front of the tomb of the Apostle and his chains
  • An internet site, a Pilgrims’ Manual, documents to support all pilgrims as they prepare for this Jubilee

© 2007 Basilica Papale San Paolo fuori le Mura 




1. Paul of Tarsus

(General Audience, Wednesday October 25th 2006)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have concluded our reflections on the Twelve Apostles, called directly by Jesus during his earthly life. Today, we begin to examine the figures of other important early Church personalities.
They also spent their lives for the Lord, the Gospel and the Church. They are men and also women who, as Luke writes in the Book of Acts, "have risked their lives for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (15: 26).
The first of these, called by the Lord himself, by the Risen One, to be a true Apostle, is undoubtedly Paul of Tarsus. He shines like a star of the brightest magnitude in the Church´s history, and not only in that of its origins. St John Chrysostom praised him as a person superior even to many angels and archangels (cf. Panegirico, 7, 3). Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, inspired by Luke´s account in Acts (cf. 9: 15), describes him simply as "vessel of election" (Inf. 2: 28), which means: instrument chosen by God. Others called him the "13th Apostle", or directly, "the first after the Only".
Certainly, after Jesus, he is one of the originals of whom we have the most information. In fact, we possess not only the account that Luke gives in the Acts of the Apostles, but also a group of Letters that have come directly from his hand and which, without intermediaries, reveal his personality and thought.
Luke tells us that his name originally was Saul (cf. Acts 7: 58; 8: 1), in Hebrew also Saul (cf. Acts 9: 14, 17; 22: 7, 13; 26: 14), like King Saul (cf. Acts 13: 21), and he was a Jew of the diaspora, since the city of Tarsus is situated between Anatolia and Syria.
Very soon he went to Jerusalem to study the roots of Mosaic Law in the footsteps of the great Rabbi Gamaliele (cf. Acts 22: 3). He also learned a manual and common trade, tent making (cf. Acts 18: 3), which later permitted him to provide personally for his own support without being a weight on the Churches (cf. Acts 20: 34; I Cor 4: 12; II Cor 12: 13).
It was decisive for him to know the community of those who called themselves disciples of Jesus. Through them he came to know a new faith - a new "way", as it was called - that places not so much the Law of God at the centre but rather the person of Jesus, Crucified and Risen, to whom was now linked the remission of sins. As a zealous Jew, he held this message unacceptable, even scandalous, and he therefore felt the duty to persecute the followers of Christ even outside of Jerusalem.
It was precisely on the road to Damascus at the beginning of the 30s A.D. that, according to his words, "Christ made me his own" (Phil 3: 12). While Luke recounts the fact with abundant detail - like how the light of the Risen One touched him and fundamentally changed his whole life -, in his Letters he goes directly to the essential and speaks not only of a vision (cf. I Cor 9: 1), but of an illumination (cf. II Cor 4: 6), and above all of a revelation and of a vocation in the encounter with the Risen One (cf. Gal 1: 15-16).
In fact, he will explicitly define himself as "apostle by vocation" (cf. Rom 1: 1; I Cor 1: 1) or "apostle by the will of God" (II Cor 1: 1; Eph 1: 1; Col 1: 1), as if to emphasize that his conversion was not the result of a development of thought or reflection, but the fruit of divine intervention, an unforeseeable, divine grace.
Henceforth, all that had constituted for him a value paradoxically became, according to his words, a loss and refuse (cf. Phil 3: 7-10). And from that moment all his energy was placed at the exclusive service of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an Apostle who wants to "become all things to all men" (I Cor 9: 22) without reserve.
From here we draw a very important lesson: 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. In his light every other value is recovered and purified from possible dross.
Another fundamental lesson offered by Paul is the universal breadth that characterizes his apostolate. Acutely feeling the problem of the Gentiles, of the pagans, to know God, who in Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen offers salvation to all without exception, he dedicates himself to make this Gospel - literally, "good news" - known, to announce the grace destined to reconcile men with God, self and others.
From the first moment he understood that this is a reality that did not concern only the Jews or a certain group of men, but one that had a universal value and concerned everyone, because God is the God of everyone.
The point of departure for his travels was the Church of Antioch in Syria, where for the first time the Gospel was announced to the Greeks and where also the name "Christians" was coined (cf. Acts 11: 20, 26), believers in Christ.
From there he first went to Cyprus and then on different occasions to the regions of Asia Minor (Pisidia, Laconia, Galatia), and later to those of Europe (Macedonia, Greece). The most famous were the cities of Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, without forgetting Berea, Athens and Miletus.
In Paul´s apostolate difficulties were not lacking, which he faced with courage for love of Christ. He himself recalls having endured "labours... imprisonment... beatings... numerous brushes with death.... Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, cold and exposure. And apart from these things there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the Churches" (II Cor 11: 23-28).
From a passage of the Letter to the Romans (cf. 15: 24, 28) appears his proposal to push on even to Spain, to the Far West, to announce the Gospel everywhere, even to the then known ends of the earth. How can one not admire a man like this? How can one not thank the Lord for having given an Apostle of this stature?
It is clear that he would not have been able to face such difficult and at times desperate situations if he did not have a reason of absolute value, before which no limit could be considered insurmountable. For Paul, this reason, as we know, is Jesus Christ, of whom he writes: "The love of Christ impels us... so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (II Cor 5: 14-15), for us, for all.
In fact, the Apostle renders the supreme witness of blood under the Emperor Nero here in Rome, where we keep and venerate his mortal remains. Clement of Rome, my Predecessor to this Apostolic See, wrote of him in the last years of the first century: "Because of jealousy and discord, Paul was obliged to show us how one obtains the prize of patience.... After preaching justice to all in the world, and after having arrived at the limits of the West, he endured martyrdom before the political rulers; in this way he left this world and reached the holy place, thus becoming the greatest model of perseverance" (To the Corinthians, 5).
May the Lord help us to put into practice the exhortation left to us by the Apostle in his Letters: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (I Cor 11: 1).

Other teachings of Pope Benedict XVI on St Paul

2. Paul – the centrality of Jesus Christ

(General Audience, Wednesday November 8th, 2006)
Dear Brothers and Sisters
In our previous Catechesis two weeks ago, I endeavoured to sketch the essential lines of the biography of the Apostle Paul. We saw how his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus literally revolutionized his life. Christ became his raison d´être and the profound motivation of all his apostolic work.
In his Letters, after the Name of God which appears more than 500 times, the name most frequently mentioned is Christ´s (380 times). Thus, it is important to realize what a deep effect Jesus Christ can have on a person´s life, hence, also on our own lives. Actually, the history of salvation culminates in Jesus Christ, and thus he is also the true discriminating point in the dialogue with other religions.
Looking at Paul, this is how we could formulate the basic question: how does a human being´s encounter with Christ occur? And of what does the relationship that stems from it consist? The answer given by Paul can be understood in two stages.
In the first place, Paul helps us to understand the absolutely basic and irreplaceable value of faith. This is what he wrote in his Letter to the Romans: "We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (3: 28).
This is what he also wrote in his Letter to the Galatians: "[M]an is not justified by works of the law but only through faith in Jesus Christ; even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (2: 16).
"Being justified" means being made righteous, that is, being accepted by God´s merciful justice to enter into communion with him and, consequently, to be able to establish a far more genuine relationship with all our brethren: and this takes place on the basis of the complete forgiveness of our sins.
Well, Paul states with absolute clarity that this condition of life does not depend on our possible good works but on the pure grace of God: "[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom 3: 24). With these words St Paul expressed the fundamental content of his conversion, the new direction his life took as a result of his encounter with the Risen Christ.
Before his conversion, Paul had not been a man distant from God and from his Law. On the contrary, he had been observant, with an observance faithful to the point of fanaticism. In the light of the encounter with Christ, however, he understood that with this he had sought to build up himself and his own justice, and that with all this justice he had lived for himself.
He realized that a new approach in his life was absolutely essential. And we find this new approach expressed in his words: "The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2: 20).
Paul, therefore, no longer lives for himself, for his own justice. He lives for Christ and with Christ: in giving of himself, he is no longer seeking and building himself up. This is the new justice, the new orientation given to us by the Lord, given to us by faith.
Before the Cross of Christ, the extreme expression of his self-giving, there is no one who can boast of himself, of his own self-made justice, made for himself! Elsewhere, re-echoing Jeremiah, Paul explains this thought, writing, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord" (I Cor 1: 31 = Jer 9: 23-24ff.); or: "Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6: 14).
In reflecting on what justification means, not for actions but for faith, we thus come to the second component that defines the Christian identity described by St Paul in his own life.
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. This is what Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans: "[A]ll of us... were baptized into his death... we were buried therefore with him... we have been united with him.... So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6: 3, 4, 5, 11).
These last words themselves are symptomatic: for Paul, in fact, it was not enough to say that Christians are baptized or believers; for him, it was just as important to say they are "in Christ Jesus" (cf. also Rom 8: 1, 2, 39; 12: 5; 16: 3, 7, 10; I Cor 1: 2, 3 etc.).
At other times he inverted the words and wrote: "Christ is in us/you" (Rom 8: 10; II Cor 13: 5) or "in me" (Gal 2: 20).
This mutual compenetration between Christ and the Christian, characteristic of Paul´s teaching, completes his discourse on faith.
In fact, although faith unites us closely to Christ, it emphasizes the distinction between us and him; but according to Paul, Christian life also has an element that we might describe as "mystical", since it entails an identification of ourselves with Christ and of Christ with us. In this sense, the Apostle even went so far as to describe our suffering as "the suffering of Christ" in us (II Cor 1: 5), so that we might "always [carry] in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (II Cor 4: 10).
We must fit all this into our daily lives by following the example of Paul, who always lived with this great spiritual range. Besides, faith must constantly express humility before God, indeed, adoration and praise.
Indeed, it is to him and his grace alone that we owe what we are as Christians. Since nothing and no one can replace him, it is necessary that we pay homage to nothing and no one else but him. No idol should pollute our spiritual universe or otherwise, instead of enjoying the freedom acquired, we will relapse into a humiliating form of slavery.
Moreover, our radical belonging to Christ and the fact that "we are in him" must imbue in us an attitude of total trust and immense joy. In short, we must indeed exclaim with St Paul: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom 8: 31). And the reply is that nothing and no one "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8: 39). Our Christian life, therefore, stands on the soundest and safest rock one can imagine. And from it we draw all our energy, precisely as the Apostle wrote: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4: 13).
Therefore, let us face our life with its joys and sorrows supported by these great sentiments that Paul offers to us. By having an experience of them we will realize how true are the words the Apostle himself wrote: "I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me"; in other words, until the Day (II Tm 1: 12) of our definitive meeting with Christ the Judge, Saviour of the world and our Saviour.

3. Paul – the Spirit in our hearts

(General Audience, Wednesday November 15th, 2006)
Dear Brothers and Sisters
Today too, as in our last two Catecheses, we return to St Paul and his thought. We have before us a giant, not only in terms of his actual apostolate but also of his extraordinarily profound and stimulating theological teaching.
After meditating last time on what Paul wrote about the central place that Jesus Christ occupies in our life of faith, today let us look at what he said about the Holy Spirit and about his presence in us, because here too, the Apostle has something very important to teach us.
We know what St Luke told us of the Holy Spirit from his description of the event of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit of Pentecost brought with him a strong impulse to take on the commitment of the mission in order to witness to the Gospel on the highways of the world.
Indeed, the Acts of the Apostles relates a whole series of missions the Apostles carried out, first in Samaria, then on the coastal strip of Palestine, then towards Syria. Above all, the three great missionary journeys of Paul are recounted, as I recalled at one of our previous Wednesday meetings.
In his Letters, however, St Paul also spoke to us of the Spirit from another angle. He did not end by describing solely the dynamic and active dimension of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, but also analyzed his presence in the lives of Christians, which marks their identity.
In other words, in Paul´s reflection on the Spirit he not only explained his influence on the action of Christians, but also on their being. Indeed, it is he who said that the Spirit of God dwells in us (cf. Rom 8: 9; I Cor 3: 16) and that "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (Gal 4: 6).
In Paul´s opinion, therefore, the Spirit stirs us to the very depths of our being. Here are some of his words on this subject which have an important meaning: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death... you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!´, it is the Spirit himself" (Rom 8: 2, 15) who speaks in us because, as children, we can call God "Father".
Thus, we can see clearly that even before he does anything, the Christian already possesses a rich and fruitful interiority, given to him in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, an interiority which establishes him in an objective and original relationship of sonship with God. This is our greatest dignity: to be not merely images but also children of God. And it is an invitation to live our sonship, to be increasingly aware that we are adoptive sons in God´s great family. It is an invitation to transform this objective gift into a subjective reality, decisive for our way of thinking, acting and being.
God considers us his children, having raised us to a similar if not equal dignity to that of Jesus himself, the one true Son in the full sense. Our filial condition and trusting freedom in our relationship with the Father is given or restored to us in him.
We thus discover that for Christians, the Spirit is no longer only the "Spirit of God", as he is usually described in the Old Testament and as people continue to repeat in Christian language (cf. Gn 41: 38; Ex 31: 3; I Cor 2: 11, 12; Phil 3: 3; etc.). Nor is he any longer simply a "Holy Spirit" generically understood, in the manner of the Old Testament (cf. Is 63: 10, 11; Ps 51[50]: 13), and of Judaism itself in its writings (Qumran, rabbinism).
Indeed, the confession of an original sharing in this Spirit by the Risen Lord, who himself became a "life-giving Spirit" (I Cor 15: 45), is part of the specificity of the Christian faith.
For this very reason, St Paul spoke directly of the "Spirit of Christ" (Rom 8: 9), of the "Spirit of his Son" (cf. Gal 4: 6) or of the "Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1: 19). It is as though he wanted to say that not only is God the Father visible in the Son (cf. Jn 14: 9), but that the Spirit of God also expresses himself in the life and action of the Crucified and Risen Lord!
Paul teaches us another important thing: he says that there is no true prayer without the presence of the Spirit within us. He wrote: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8: 26-27).
It is as if to say that the Holy Spirit, that is, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, is henceforth as it were the soul of our soul, the most secret part of our being, from which an impulse of prayer rises ceaselessly to God, whose words we cannot even begin to explain.
In fact, the Spirit, ever alert within us, completes what is lacking in us and offers to the Father our worship as well as our deepest aspirations.
This, of course, requires a degree of great and vital communion with the Spirit. It is an invitation to be increasingly sensitive, more attentive to this presence of the Spirit in us, to transform it into prayer, to feel this presence and thus to learn to pray, to speak to the Father as children in the Holy Spirit.
There is also another typical aspect of the Spirit which St Paul teaches us: his connection with love. Thus, the Apostle wrote: "Hope does not disappoint us, because God´s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5: 5).
In my Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, I cited a most eloquent sentence of St Augustine: "If you see charity, you see the Trinity" (n. 19), and I continued by explaining: "The Spirit, in fact, is that interior power which harmonizes [believers´] hearts with Christ´s Heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them" (ibid.). The Spirit immerses us in the very rhythm of divine life, which is a life of love, enabling us to share personally in relations between the Father and the Son.
It is not without significance that when Paul lists the various elements that constitute the fruit of the Spirit he puts love first: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace", etc.
(Gal 5: 22).
And since by definition, love unites, this means first of all that the Spirit is the creator of communion within the Christian community, as we say at the beginning of Mass, borrowing Paul´s words: "... may the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [that is, what he brings about] be with you all" (II Cor 13: 14).
Furthermore, however, it is also true that the Spirit stimulates us to weave charitable relations with all people. Therefore, when we love we make room for the Spirit and give him leeway to express himself fully within us.
We thus understand why Paul juxtaposes in the same passage of his Letter to the Romans the two exhortations: "Be aglow with the Spirit" and "Repay no one evil for evil" (Rom 12: 11, 17).
Finally, according to St Paul, the Spirit is a generous downpayment given to us by God himself as a deposit and at the same time, a guarantee of our future inheritance (cf. II Cor 1: 22; 5: 5; Eph 1: 13-14).
We therefore learn from Paul that the Spirit´s action directs our life towards the great values of love, joy, communion and hope. It is our task to experience this every day, complying with the inner promptings of the Spirit and helped in our discernment by the Apostle´s enlightened guidance.

4. Paul – the life of the Church

(General Audience, Wednesday November 22nd, 2006)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, we are ending our encounters with the Apostle Paul by dedicating one last reflection to him. Indeed, we cannot take our leave of him without considering one of the decisive elements of his activity and one of the most important subjects of his thought: the reality of the Church.

We must first of all note that his initial contact with the Person of Jesus happened through the witness of the Christian community of Jerusalem. It was a turbulent contact. Having met the new group of believers, he immediately became a fierce persecutor of it. He acknowledged this himself at least three times in as many of his Letters: "I persecuted the Church of God" (I Cor 15: 9; Gal 1: 13; Phil 3: 6), as if to describe his behaviour as the worst possible crime.

History shows us that one usually reaches Jesus by passing through the Church! In a certain sense, this proved true, we were saying, also for Paul, who encountered the Church before he encountered Jesus. In his case, however, this contact was counterproductive; it did not result in attachment but violent rejection.

For Paul, adherence to the Church was brought about by a direct intervention of Christ, who in revealing himself on the road to Damascus identified himself with the Church and made Paul realize that persecution of the Church was persecution of himself, the Lord.

In fact, the Risen One said to Paul, persecutor of the Church: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9: 4). In persecuting the Church, he was persecuting Christ.

Paul, therefore, was at the same time converted to Christ and to the Church. This leads one to understand why the Church later became so present in Paul´s thoughts, heart and activity.

In the first place, she was so present that he literally founded many Churches in the various cities where he went as an evangelizer. When he spoke of his "anxiety for all the Churches" (II Cor 11: 28), he was thinking of the various Christian communities brought into being from time to time in Galatia, Ionia, Macedonia and in Achaea.

Some of those Churches also caused him worry and chagrin, as happened, for example, in the Churches of Galatia, which he saw "turning to a different gospel" (Gal 1: 6), something he opposed with grim determination.

Yet, he felt bound to the Communities he founded in a way that was far from cold and bureaucratic but rather intense and passionate. Thus, for example, he described the Philippians as "my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown" (Phil 4: 1).

On other occasions he compared the various Communities to a letter of recommendation, unique in its kind: "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men" (II Cor 3: 2).

At yet other times, he showed a real feeling for them that was not only paternal but also maternal, such as when he turned to those he was addressing, calling them: "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4: 19; cf. also I Cor 4: 14-15; I Thes 2: 7-8).

Paul also illustrates for us in his Letters his teaching on the Church as such. Thus, his original definition of the Church as the "Body of Christ", which we do not find in other Christian authors of the first century, is well known (cf. I Cor 12: 27; Eph 4: 12; 5: 30; Col 1: 24).

We find the deepest root of this surprising designation of the Church in the Sacrament of the Body of Christ. St Paul said: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body" (I Cor 10: 17). In the same Eucharist, Christ gives us his Body and makes us his Body. Concerning this, St Paul said to the Galatians: "You are all one in Christ" (Gal 3: 28). By saying all this, Paul makes us understand that not only does the belonging of the Church to Christ exist, but also a certain form of equality and identification of the Church with Christ himself.

From this, therefore, derive the greatness and nobility of the Church, that is, of all of us who are part of her: from our being members of Christ, an extension as it were of his personal presence in the world. And from this, of course, stems our duty to truly live in conformity with Christ.

Paul´s exhortations concerning the various charisms that give life and structure to the Christian community also derive from this. They can all be traced back to a single source, that is, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, knowing well that in the Church there is no one who goes without them, for, as the Apostle wrote, "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (I Cor 12: 7).

It is important, however, that all the charisms cooperate with one another for the edification of the community and do not instead become the cause of a rift.

In this regard, Paul asked himself rhetorically: "Is Christ divided?" (I Cor 1: 13). He knows well and teaches us that it is necessary to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph 4: 3-4).

Obviously, underlining the need for unity does not mean that ecclesial life should be standardized or levelled out in accordance with a single way of operating. Elsewhere, Paul taught: "Do not quench the Spirit" (I Thes 5: 19), that is, make room generously for the unforeseeable dynamism of the charismatic manifestations of the Spirit, who is an ever new source of energy and vitality.

But if there is one tenet to which Paul stuck firmly it was mutual edification: "Let all things be done for edification" (I Cor 14: 26). Everything contributes to weaving the ecclesial fabric evenly, not only without slack patches but also without holes or tears.

Then, there is also a Pauline Letter that presents the Church as Christ´s Bride (cf. Eph 5: 21-33).

With this, Paul borrowed an ancient prophetic metaphor which made the People of Israel the Bride of the God of the Covenant (cf. Hos 2: 4, 21; Is 54: 5-8). He did so to express the intimacy of the relationship between Christ and his Church, both in the sense that she is the object of the most tender love on the part of her Lord, and also in the sense that love must be mutual and that we too therefore, as members of the Church, must show him passionate faithfulness.

Thus, in short, a relationship of communion is at stake: the so to speak vertical communion between Jesus Christ and all of us, but also the horizontal communion between all who are distinguished in the world by the fact that they "call on the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor 1: 2).

This is our definition: we belong among those who call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we clearly understand how desirable it is that what Paul himself was hoping for when he wrote to the Corinthians should come to pass: "If an unbeliever or an uninitiated enters while all are uttering prophecy, he will be taken to task by all and called to account by all, and the secret of his heart will be laid bare. Falling prostrate, he will worship God, crying out, "God is truly among you´" (I Cor 14: 24-25).

Our liturgical encounters should be like this. A non-Christian who enters one of our assemblies ought finally to be able to say: "God is truly with you". Let us pray to the Lord to be like this, in communion with Christ and in communion among ourselves.




Conversión de San Pablo.
In order to discover the figure of St Paul, throughout the course of the Pauline Year we will be proposing a series of meetings and itineraries.

These meetings will be focused on the missions experienced and entrusted to various communities by the Apostle. They remind us of the need for conversion and inner revelation as experienced by St Paul on the road to Damascus.
‘It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.’
(Gal 2.20)






The Pauline Door

Under the portico of the Basilica, a door dedicated to the Apostle of the Gentiles will be opened.

All pilgrims will go through this door into the Basilica in order to reach the tomb of St Paul.

The decoration on the door recalls some of the most significant moments in the life of the Apostle Paul.

The Pauline Flame

Following the tradition of the Church, each pilgrim can share in this gesture of light alongside the resting place of St Paul.

In offering this candle we join ourselves to those communities which Paul visited and these same candelabra will be placed in Churches along the Pauline itinerary.

Your flame of prayer and communion will be lit and extinguished by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey


© 2007 Basilica Papale San Paolo fuori le Mura 


Presentation of the Bible by the CEI (Italian Bishops Conference)

S. Paolo

The Pauline letters are conceived and largely grow out of his need to complete the oral preaching which he had done in the various Christian communities or as a means of resolving questions and explaining new situations which arose there. The style is a forthright one. In our Bible the letters appear in the following order: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. From a historical perspective however they come in a different order.

During his second missionary voyage around the year 50 AD Paul founded the Church in Thessalonica. He only stayed a short time in the city because of the hostility of the Jews, thus his formation of Christians remained unfinished. 1 Thessalonians, written from Corinth a short time later, recalls the experience of evangelisation and seeks to explain some points of doctrine – in particular concerning the condition of those who died at the moment of Christ’s ‘Parusia’ or coming in glory - and rules of behaviour.

2 Thessalonians is the most difficult to date and there are even those who doubt whether it can be attributed to St Paul. The letter sets out to reassure the Christians about Christ’s coming in glory which they considered to be imminent (2Thes 2) and exhorts them to work hard for a living. Faced with the laziness of certain brothers, Paul even says, ‘Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.’ (2Thes 3:10)

The two letters to the Corinthians were written in Ephesus in the years 55-56 AD. Paul stayed a year and a half in Corinth and founded a flourishing and lively community composed largely of ex-pagans. Informed of the problems which trouble the community, Paul replies with a first letter condemning the factions which had sprung up among the Christians linked to different preachers (cf. 1 Cor 1:10-4:21) He also rebukes vices, including a case of incest (cf. 1 Cor 5) and settles disputes, particularly regarding community behaviour (cf. 1 Cor 7-14) and clears up doubts regarding the resurrection of the body. (cf 1 Cor 15)

After he had sent the first letter, a crisis broke out in Corinth regarding Paul’s own authority. In the second letter which we have today – apparently a fusion of other texts sent at different times – we thus find a defence of his apostolic ministry, under attack by Jewish-Christian propaganda (cf. 2 Cor 10-13), preparations for his forthcoming visit (cf. 2 Cor 1-7) and directions regarding a collection to be taken for the poorer Christian communities in Palestine as a sign of communion among the sister Churches (cf. 2 Cor 8-9)

The letter to the Philippians was most probably also written in Ephesus, again in the years 55-56 AD during Paul’s imprisonment in the city. The Christians in Philippi had sent material help to the Apostle and he thanks them for it, taking the opportunity to inform them of his situation and his state of mind: ‘To me, life is Christ. Death then, will bring more.’ (Phil 1:21) He also exhorts them to unity in humility through the hymn to Christ’s humiliation and glorification (cf. Phil 2:5-11) and he warns them against Jewish-Christian agitators (cf. Phil 3:1-4, 2)

In this same period, Paul writes the letter to the Galatians which can be dated around 57 AD sent from either Ephesus or Macedonia. The attacks by the Jewish-Christians had shaken the community in Galatia and Paul intervenes in his passionate and vehement style. He staunchly defends his authority as an Apostle, recounting his vocation and mission (cf. Gal 3-4), he emphatically demonstrates his main point which is also ‘his’ Gospel: we are saved exclusively by our unconditional acceptance, that is our faith in Christ, and not by our observance of the Jewish law (cf. Gal 3-4). Christians are called to true freedom, through which faith is activated and carried out in charity (cf. Gal 5-6)

The longest of the Pauline letters is the one to the Romans which is also the most important for our understanding of Paul’s thoughts on God’s action of justification of sinners through the redemption of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is also the letter where he explores in depth the differences and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, while at the same time clarifying the way in which all religious, racial or gender differences are overcome through faith in Christ. Paul did not found the community in Rome, yet he wished to go there to complete his mission as the Apostle to the pagans. For this reason, he sendt ahead of him this systematic exposition of his doctrine of justification and of life in Christ and the Spirit which he had already laid out in a more synthetic and polemical way in the letter to the Galatians. The letter to the Romans appears to have been sent from Corinth, where Paul had gone to pick up the collection, around 58 AD. From there he went on to Jerusalem and then headed for Rome.

From his prison in Rome (61-63 AD) Paul sent a letter to Philemon, a rich landowner who had become a Christian, sending back to him a former slave, Onesimus, whom he had converted in prison. The Apostle invites the master to treat him ‘like a dear brother’ and ‘as you would welcome me’ (Phim 16-17). Without directly condemning slavery, Paul changes the heart of its meaning: a slave is no longer a possession but a brother.

Rather than being actually written by Paul, the letters which follow are considered by the most recent studies to be a witness to the fertile Pauline tradition. Inspired by the Apostle’s doctrine and ecclesial practice, they continue his teaching in new situations connected to the evolution of Church institutions, to the rise of doctrinal and practical deviations and to the need for a consolidation of the patrimony of faith.

In Colossae the community was shaken by a doctrine put forward by Jews and pagans. Against these theories which highlight the role of mysterious celestial powers, the letter to the Colossians proposes an in-depth reflection on the person and the role of Christ as ‘head’ of the Church and of all creation.

The letter to the Ephesians takes up and expands the contents of the letter to the Colossians, using themes which are present in those letters which were undoubtedly written by Paul. From this, a new synthesis of Paul’s thoughts emerges, centred on Christ and His Church and aimed at showing the commitment of Christians within the ecclesial community, within the family and within society.

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are known as ‘pastoral letters’ as they are centred on the administration of the ecclesial communities. These letters reflect more highly developed ecclesial circumstances which are thus further evidence of their work in the Pauline tradition. They are concerned with giving instructions about the organisation of the local communities and their struggles against false teachers who are undermining their faith. Hence the commitment to ‘guarding’ the deposit of faith, the true doctrine and the formation of worthy teachers. The aim of sending these letters to Titus and Timothy, Paul’s direct and esteemed disciples, was to give prestige to the teachings they contain. In 2 Tim 4, 6-8 we have a personal and poignant outline of the ‘spiritual testament’ of the Apostle.



S. Paolo

Bible Resources
At least thirteen of the letters (epistles) in the New Testament were written by St. Paul. A fourteenth, the Letter to the Hebrews, is probable but not certain. These letters are addressed either to the Christians of various local communities or to individuals; the Canon of Scripture does not place them in chronological order. All of Paul’s letters reveal his tireless efforts to teach the Faith and build up the Christian community, especially in those places where he was the first to bring the Christian message.
First Corinthians
Second Corinthians
First Thessalonians
Second Thessalonians
First Timothy
Second Timothy


"Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, whether by word of mouth or by our letter (2 Th 2:15)."



St Paul at his Writing-Desk, 1629-30, Oil on wood, 47 x 39 cm, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
Apostle Paul, 1635, Oil on canvas, 135 x 111 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1600, Oil on cypress wood, 237 x 189 cm, Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome
The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. 1600, Oil on canvas, 230 x 175 cm, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
St. Paul, 1606, Oil on canvas, 97 x 77 cm, Museo del Greco, Toledo
St Paul, 1290s, Fresco, Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi Giotto di Bondone
Philippian Jailer with Paul and Silas, 1900s religious illustration.
Valentin de Boulogne (ca 1594-1632) or Nicolas Tournier (1590-1638),  ................................................... Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (1620), oil. Blaffer Foundation Collection, Houston, TX.
St. Paul, Catacombs of Praetextatus, fresco, fourth century.
Catacomb picture of Peter and Paul with the Chi-Rho symbol between them. Gravestone for the boy Asellus. Marble catacomb inscription, Pio Cristiano: Vatican Museum
Saint Paul with his book (rotulus), Arian Baptistry, Ravenna.
Saint Paul, Archbishop Andrea's palace chapel, Ravenna.
Tondo with Saint Paul, Assisi, Upper Basilica.
St Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael, 1513-1514.
St Paul and St Peter, El Greco, 1587-1592.
St. Paul, Georges de La Tour, 1615-1620.



Why St. Paul is such an important ecumenical figure

As Pope Benedict and leaders of other Christian Churches inaugurate the Pauline Year, Cardinal Walter Kasper explains why St Paul is such an important ecumenical figure ... 



















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