Last Spring, New York City’s Yeshiva University invited a group of bishops to a dialogue with Jewish scholars. One of the bishops, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. of Philadelphia, made three observations about his visit there.
1. Passion for the Torah. The students “didn’t merely study it; they consumed it. Or maybe it would be better to say that God’s Word consumed them.” They were in love with the Word of God.
2. The power of Scripture to create new life. “God’s Word is a living dialogue between God and humanity. That divine dialogue mirrored itself in the learning dialogue among the students. They began as strangers, but their work in reflecting on Scripture and in sharing what they discovered with each other created a friendship between themselves, and beyond themselves, with God.”
3. God’s Word is alive and permanent. Finally, Archbishop Chaput noted: “I saw in the lives of those Jewish students the incredible durability of God’s promises and God’s Word. God’s Word is the foundation and glue of their relationship with one another.”
What Was the Quality of Faith of the First Jewish Christians?
The short answer to this question is similar to that of Yeshiva’s students: They were in love with the Word of God, but in this case, the Word was a divine person. The power of Jesus’ divinity continued to overwhelm them and transform them. Theirs was a faith which participated in the vision of the Risen Lord. Many had been taught by disciples of disciples of the Lord’s disciples. In a sense, they had touched the Lord himself through their catechists. Because Christianity was at odds with the pagan empire, its emperors, from Nero to Diocletian, used force and violence on the Christians; it was always persistent as well as ferocious. Paradoxically however, Christianity flourished in spite of Roman persecution. The Christians offered absolutely no opposition to it. Prospective martyrs were bound, imprisoned, scourged, racked, burnt, rent, butchered. And yet they multiplied. How could their annihilation add to their numbers? The answer lay in their heroic constancy, and with it, Christianity emerged victor.
Saul of Tarsus
Prior to A.D. 33, Saul of Tarsus was Christianity’s most virulent prosecutor. Paul was born a Pharisee-Jew, a Roman citizen; he thought and lived like a Jew, and he died a Jew. Though educated in Hellenistic thought, he was convinced of monotheism and belief in the revelation of God in the Jewish scriptures.
One day on his way to flog Christians, he was suddenly thrown to the ground as he heard, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?” Stunned, he replied, “Who are you, sir?” Saul spent time in Damascus to reflect and pray over his dramatic experience. His conversion was indelibly and irrevocably sealed in his heart. The former prosecutor and now renamed Paul, was transformed into the greatest itinerant missionary in the history of Christianity. He was ready and willing to become a fool for Christ’s sake. He spent the remainder of his life from about A.D.38 to A.D. 60 traveling to the major cities of the Mediterranean, preaching and establishing there local Christian communities. In each city, he proclaimed that Jesus was the Anointed One, the Messiah, the savior of the world. His teaching attracted Gentiles in particular, for his eloquence was filled with wisdom and truth. After leaving each community, he wrote letters to them – also known as epistles. Paul is the Church’s first theologian and uniquely “the apostle to the Gentiles.”
Paul believed that God reached out to him to preach the Risen Christ to the Gentiles.
His sense of vocation was profound, and he explained his mission when he urged, “I need you.” His approach was maternal and paternal, using his authority in both ways. His plea: “You must receive the gospel. You must live your faith. I expect you to do this.”
Due to frail health, Paul dragged himself from place to place, adapting to hardship with the words: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” He went into the synagogue when the mob was there to lynch him.
Paul’s Literary Style
Paul’s peculiar ability lay in his ability to be all things to all people. His style and language are highly individualistic because he had an intense personality, impetuous, single-minded, indefatigable, irrepressible, unflinching, decisive. He does not speak what is congenial to his audiences; he speaks about fornication and incest, for example, even if they didn’t like it. He writes in incomplete and broken sentences, adapts and adjusts his style, now rhetorical, now dogmatic, but also poetic. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is a masterpiece of the human condition. He uses koine Greek, the spoken language of the people, an intimate language for pastoral reasons. Paul tells us very little about himself except that he has been caught up in the third world (2 Cor 12:1). The Roman authorities executed Paul in Rome between A.D. 62 and 67. The Church celebrates two feast days for him: his conversion on January 25, and his martyrdom on June 29 with St. Peter.
Charism and Office
Paul represents that part of the charismatic Church. Charism is a spiritual gift, a special ability or talent given to an individual or to groups for the sake of the Church (1 Cor 12:6ff). Charisms function within the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit, and, beginning with Paul, every age has raised up men and women with graces given for the apostolic unity and holiness of the entire Body of Christ. In our own day, the Church is blessed with new life and vision in groups such as the Focolare and Sant’ Egidio Movements, the Sisters of Life, the Daughters of St. Paul, and to individuals like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, and Mother Angelica, founder of the EWTN network. Many secular institutes, and those institutes of consecrated women have rediscovered their original spirit or charism.
St. Peter’s gift was one of apostolic office which lends itself more to stability and order. The maestro is to the orchestra what the Pope is to the Universal Church. The Pope is the successor of St. Peter and the perpetual visible source and foundation of unity in the Church. He is the visible head of the Body of Christ. The Pope, in the Office of Peter and in union with the bishops, leads and directs the Church. With his bishops, he governs. The papal governance is not a monarchical reign but one that presides over the Church in charity. The Pope proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine of faith or morals, and only at this time does he speak infallibly, ex cathedra, from the Chair of Peter. Having consulted with the bishops and laity before pronouncing on these matters, he exercises his papal authority. In exercising vigilance over the faith, the Pope hands down the living Tradition for the sake of the universal good. When the Church is confronted with heterodoxy or conflict that threatens to sever unity, the canonical and hierarchical Church must preserve or restore that unity.
Women Who Shared in Paul’s Ministry
In the first century, a number of women engaged themselves in missionary and evangelical ministries, and in so doing, supported Paul’s labors among the Gentiles. Lydia, a woman of wealth and position (Acts 16:14), the four virgin daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9), Eudocia and Syntyche (1 Cor. 11:5), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom. 16:6,12) are mentioned as well as one Cloe (1 Cor. 16:15). Time and again, Priscilla (or Prisca) is mentioned with her husband Aquila. As Paul’s friends, they risked their lives for the Apostle (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Rom. 16:3, 4; 1 Cor 5. 16:19, 2 Tim. 4:19).
It is Phoebe whom Paul describes as a minister, a diakonos, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae. As bearer of the letter to the Romans, she is worthy of a welcome given to the ‘saints.’ Paul asks the Romans to help her with anything she needs: “she has looked after a great many people, myself included.” Priscilla and Phoebe, strong in mind, body, and spirit, committed to Christ, exemplify the zeal of women for centuries to come.
Christ called Paul to discipleship, and Paul called others, who in turn called others. This is what the Church means: to call out (Gr: ek klesia). It calls out the men and women from brokenness and darkness to wholeness and the light. This universal call is first to commitment to the divine person of Jesus Christ and then to his mission using our gifts at the service of gospel.
Religious Situation in the Greco-Roman World at the Close of the First Century
The first century and beginning of the second saw a steady decline in Greek and Roman religion. The inability to explain away the gods contributed to the demise of these pagan religions. Many Roman and Greek deities were disconnected from human concerns; cults were empty and licentious. All things were permitted, and nothing was prohibited. Abandoned temples and ancient shrines alarmed Roman officials, and the emperors failed to create any successful revival. Rome was corrupting from within; nihilism led to a moral cliff. Nearby city-states followed the leader.
What did these circumstances do for Christianity? The youthful Christian communities, through word and example, proclaimed Christ as the way, the truth and the life to a wicked and perverse culture. (To be continued)
Memorable Pauline Phrases
2:20 You are our pride and joy.
4:4 What God wants is for you to be holy.
4:11 Live quietly attending to your own business and earning your living ....
5:2 The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
5:6 What matters is that faith makes its power felt through love.
5:14 If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community.
5:19 When self-indulgence is at work, the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility, idolatry and sorcery, feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, drunkenness, orgies and similar things.
5:22 What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.
6:2 You should carry one another’s burdens and troubles, and thus to fulfill the law of Christ.
1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
2: 3 I preach only Christ and Christ crucified.
3: 16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you? The temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple.
3: 23 You belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to you.
3:18-19 Keep away from fornication; ... to fornicate is to sin against the body.
8:1 It is love that makes the building grow.
5:1 It has been reported that your sexual immorality is not found even among the pagans.
5: 7 So get rid of all the old yeast and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread.
10:17 The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ.
12:27 Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it.
13 (the entire chapter)
15:10 ... By the grace of God, I am what I am, and the grace he gave me has not been fruitless.
3: 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord.
4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not destroyed; always carrying in the body death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
1:3 I thank my God whenever I think of you; every time I pray for you, I pray with joy.
1:8 My prayer for you is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best.
2:14 Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like the stars.
3:12, 14 I am still running, trying to capture the prize, and I strain ahead for what is still to come. ... I am racing for the finish, for the prize.
2:10 We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as he had meant us to live it from the beginning.
3:20-21 He whose power is at work in us is powerful enough and more than powerful enough to carry out his purpose beyond all our hopes and dreams.
5:21 Where sin did abound, grace did more abound.
6:8 We believe that having died with Christ, we shall also live with Christ.
7:15-16 I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.
8: 23 (a paraphrase) The battle is always within.
8:28 For those who love God, all things work together unto good.
8:31What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.