Patron Saint

A Man of the Sword and the Book

PAUL (I) (d. c65) apostle of the Gentiles. A Jew, born at Tarsus and brought up by Gamaliel as a pharisee, Saul was first a persecutor of Christianity, who took part in the stoning of Stephen, sought out Christians and had them imprisoned, but on his way to Damascus experienced a vision of Christ which was to be decisive in determining the future course of his life.

The substance of the experience caused a conviction that Jesus was in some way identified with the Christian Church and that Paul was to bring the Christian faith to the Gentiles.

He was then baptized, retired to Arabia for about three years of prayer and solitude,and returned to Damascus. There his Jewish enemies were so hostile that he escaped by night, lowered in a basket over the city wall, and went to Jerusalem where he was received with some hesitation until Barnabas quelled the doubts of the community.

Some years later he worked at Antioch and its vicinity, where he reproved Peter for appearing to compromise with the Jews.

The three missionary journeys followed, first to Cyprus, then to Asia Minor and eastern Greece, lastly to Ephesus where he made a prolonged stay and wrote I Corinthians, then to Macedonia and Achaia, where he wrote Romans, before returning to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem he was attacked and beaten by a mob for preaching against the enactments of the Jewish Law, but Paul invoked his privileges as a Roman citizen and eventually appealed to Caesar for a trial at Rome, as his life was in danger from religious extremists.

On the voyage to Rome he suffered shipwreck at Malta; when he reached it, he was under house-arrest for two years, during which he wrote the four captivity epistles. Presumably he was acquitted at this trial, for he probably revisited Ephesus and may even have gone to Spain.

According to tradition he was martyred at Rome during the persecution of nearing, being beheaded (as a Roman citizen) at Tre Fontane and buried where the basilica of St. Paul “outside the walls” now stands.

The belief that Peter and Paul died on the same day was caused by their sharing the same feast of 29 June.

Paul was not only a tireless missionary; he was also a powerful thinker, saturated in the Mystery of Christ; his epistles, most of which were written for particular practical needs, led to the development of Christian theology with them as one of its principal foundations.

His key ideas included that of Redemption through faith in Christ who abrogated the Old Law and began the era of the Spirit; Christ is not only Messiah, but the eternal Son of God, pre-existing before the Incarnation and exalted after the Resurrection to God’s right hand; the Church is the (mystical) Body of Christ and will eventually be transformed by the final resurrection.

It is difficult to overemphasize the influence of Paul on Christian thought and history, through Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and other writers as well in conciliar documents.

The apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla say that he was small in stature, bald and bandy-legged, with a long nose and eyebrows meeting. Many representations of Paul depict a fairly constant image of a long face and long beard with a bald head and deep-set eyes. (See the painting by El Greco of St. Paul above.)

His usual emblems are a sword and a book. Never quite as popular as Peter, he nevertheless appears in art frequently with him or among he twelve apostles (where Paul often displaces Matthias).

Ancient English churches dedicated to Paul alone number only 43, but there were 283 which were dedicated to Peter and Paul.

Like Peter, his name has attracted numerous apocryphal writings, such as the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Martyrdom of Paul, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla, which date from the 2nd to the 4th centuries. As with the apocryphal gospels, the best way to judge their worth is to compare them with the canonical writings. They did, however, enjoy a certain uncritical popularity.

The colourful and adventurous preaching career of Paul described in the Acts of the Apostles provided artists with material for his representation. Famous English examples include the fresco in St. Anselm’s Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral (late 12th century) and enamel in the Victorian and Albert Museum, and innumerable initial miniatures in the famous Bibles of the 12th century. Statues and stained glass representations must be even more numerous.

Besides the joint feast on June 29, there is the feast of Paul on January 25 (Conversion).

From pages 339-340 of The Oxford Dictionary of Saints by David Farmer. Published by the Oxford University Press. Copyright 1987. Second edition.

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