Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
St. Paul's Biography
"He Dedicated Himself to the Proclamation of the Gospel"
H.H. Benedict XVI
August 27, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last catechesis before the holidays -- two months ago, at the
beginning of July -- I began a new series of topics on the occasion of
the Pauline Year, reflecting on the way St. Paul lived. Today I would
like to take up again and continue the reflection on the Apostle of the
Gentiles, proposing a brief biography of him.
Because we will dedicate next Wednesday to the extraordinary event that
occurred on the road to Damascus, Paul's conversion, an essential change
in his life that followed from his meeting with Christ, today we will
pause briefly on the whole of his life.
We have the biographical extreme points of Paul's life respectively in
the Letter to Philemon, in which he declares himself "old" (Philemon 9:
"presbytes"), and in the Acts of the Apostles, which at the moment of
Stephen's stoning describe him as "young" (7:58: "neanias"). The two
designations are evidently generic, but, according to ancient
computations, a man around 30 years old was described as "young," while
"old" was said when a man reached around 60.
In absolute terms, the date of Paul's birth depends to a great extent on
the dating of the Letter to Philemon. Traditionally, its writing is
dated during his Roman imprisonment, in the mid 60s. Hence, Paul would
have been born in the year 8; he would have been more or less 60 years
old, while at the moment of Stephen's stoning he was 30. This must be
the correct chronology. In fact, the celebration of the Pauline Year we
are observing follows this chronology. 2008 was chosen thinking of his
birth more or less in the year 8.
In any case, he was born in Tarsus in Cilicia (cf Acts 22:3). The city
was the administrative headquarters of the region and in 51 B.C. It had
as proconsul none other than Marcus Tullius Cicero, while 10 years
later, in 41, Tarsus was the site of the first meeting between Mark
Anthony and Cleopatra.
A Jew of the Diaspora, he spoke Greek although having a name of Latin
origin, derived by assonance from the Hebrew original Saul/Saulos, and
he held Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 22:25-28). Paul seems to be
situated, therefore, on the border of the various cultures -- Roman,
Greek, Hebrew -- and perhaps also because of this was disposed to
fruitful universal openness, to a mediation between cultures, to a true
He also learned manual work, perhaps from his father, consisting of the
work of "tent maker" (cf. Acts 18:3: skenopoios), to be understood
probably as laborer of coarse goat's wool or linen fibers to make mats
or tents (cf. Acts 20:33-35). Toward the year 12-13, the age in which a
Jewish boy becomes "bar mitzvah" (son of the precept), Paul left Tarsus
and went to Jerusalem to be educated at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel the
Elder, nephew of the great Rabbi Hillel, according to the most rigid
norms of Pharisaism and acquiring a great zeal for the Mosaic Torah (cf
Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5-6; Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:5).
On the basis of this profound orthodoxy that he learned in the school of
Hillel in Jerusalem, he saw in the new movement of Jesus of Nazareth a
risk, a menace for Jewish identity, for the fathers' true orthodoxy.
This explains the fact that he had fiercely "persecuted the Church of
God," as he admitted three times in his Letters (1 Corinthians 15:9;
Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6). Even if it is not easy to imagine
specifically in what this persecution consisted of, his had, in any
case, an attitude of intolerance.
It is here that the event of Damascus is situated, to which we will
return in the next catechesis. It is certain that, from that moment on,
his life changed and he became a tireless Apostle of the Gospel. In
fact, Paul passed into history more as a Christian, what is more, as an
Apostle, than as a Pharisee. His apostolic activity is subdivided
traditionally on the basis of three missionary journeys, to which is
added a fourth -- his journey to Rome as a prisoner. All are narrated by
Luke in the Acts. In regard to the three missionary journeys, however,
it is necessary to distinguish the first from the other two.
For the first, in fact (cf. Acts 13-14), Paul did not have direct
responsibility, as it was entrusted instead to the Cypriot Barnabas.
Together they departed from Antioch on the Oronte, sent by that Church
(cf. Acts 13:1-3), and later, having set sail from the port of Seleucia
on the Syrian coast, they traversed the island of Cyprus from Salamis to
Paphos; from here they reached the southern coasts of Anatolia, today's
Turkey, and stopped at the city of Attalia, Perga of Pamphilia, Antioch
of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, from which they returned to the
point of departure.
Thus was born the Church of the people, the Church of the pagans. In the
meantime, above all in Jerusalem, a harsh discussion arose as to what
point these Christians from paganism were obliged to participate in the
life and laws of Israel -- all the observances and prescriptions that
separated Israel from the rest of the world -- to be truly participants
of the promises of the prophets and to enter effectively into Israel's
To resolve this fundamental problem for the birth of the future Church,
Paul met in Jerusalem with the so-called Council of the Apostles, to
resolve this problem on which the effective birth of the universal
Church depended. It was decided not to impose on converted pagans the
observance of the Mosaic Law (cf. Acts 15:6-30); that is, they were not
obliged to observe the norms of Judaism. The only need was to belong to
Christ, to live with Christ and according to his words. Thus, being of
Christ, they were also of Abraham, of God and participants of all the
After this decisive event, Paul left Barnabas, chose Silas and began his
second missionary journey (cf Acts 15:36-18, 22). Going beyond Syria and
Cilicia, he again saw the city of Lystra, where he took with him Timothy
-- a very important figure of the nascent Church, son of a Jewess and a
pagan -- and had him circumcised, he went across central Anatolia and
reached the city of Troas on the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. And
here another important event took place: In a dream he saw a Macedonian
from the other side of the sea, namely in Europe, who said, "Come and
It was the future Europe that requested the help and light of the
Gospel. Spurred on by this vision, he entered Europe, sailing from
Macedonia and thus entering Europe. Disembarking in Neapolis, he arrived
in Philippi, where he founded an admirable Christian community. Then he
went to Thessalonica, and left the latter because of difficulties caused
by the Jews, traveled to Beroea, and then continued to Athens.
In this capital of ancient Greek culture he preached to pagans and
Greeks, first in the Agora and then in the Areopagus. And the speech in
the Areopagus, referred to in the Acts of the Apostles, was a model of
how to translate the Gospel into Greek culture, and of how to make the
Greeks understand that this God of Christians and Jews, was not a God
who was foreign to their culture, but the unknown God awaited by them,
the true answer to the most profound questions of their culture.
After Athens he arrived in Corinth, where he stayed for a year and a
half. And here we have a very certain chronological event, the most
certain of his whole biography, because during this first stay in
Corinth he had to appear before the governor of the senatorial province
of Achaia, Proconsul Gallione, on accusations of illegal worship.
Regarding Gallione, there is an ancient inscription found in Delphi
where it is said that he was proconsul of Corinth between the years 51
and 53. Hence, here we have an absolute certain fact. Paul's stay in
Corinth took place in those years. Hence we may suppose that he arrived
more or less in the year 50 and stayed until the year 52. Then, from
Corinth, passing through Cencre, the city's eastern port, he went to
Palestine reaching Caesarea Maritima, and from there he left for
Jerusalem to return later to Antioch on the Oronte.
The third missionary journey (cf. Acts 18:23-21:16) began as usual in
Antioch, which had become the point of origin of the Church of the
pagans, of the mission to the pagans, and was also the place where the
term "Christians" was born. Here for the first time, St. Luke tells us,
Jesus' followers were called "Christians."
From there Paul went directly to Ephesus, capital of the province of
Asia, where he stayed for two years, carrying out a ministry that had
fruitful returns for the region. From Ephesus, Paul wrote the Letters to
the Thessalonians and Corinthians. The population of the city, however,
was incited against him by the local silversmiths, who saw their income
diminish given the decline of the worship of Artemis -- the temple
dedicated to her in Ephesus, the Artemysion, was one of the seven
wonders of the ancient world. Because of this he had to flee to the
north. Having crossed Macedonia once more, he went down again to Greece,
probably to Corinth, staying there for three months and writing the
famous Letter to the Romans.
From here he retraced his steps: Passing back through Macedonia, he
sailed to Troy, and then, briefly visiting the islands of Miletus,
Chios, Samos, he reached Miletus where he gave an important address to
the elders of the Church of Ephesus, sketching a portrait of the true
pastor of the Church (cf. Acts 20).
From here he set sail for Tyre, from where he reached Caesarea Maritima
to go once again to Jerusalem. Here he was arrested because of a
misunderstanding: Some Jews had mistaken other Jews of Greek origin for
pagans, introduced by Paul in the Temple area reserved only for the
Israelites. The planned sentence to death was avoided by the
intervention of the Roman tribune guarding the area of the Temple (cf.
Acts 21:27-36). This occurred while the imperial Procurator Anthony
Felicius was in Judea. After spending a period in prison -- whose
duration is debatable -- Paul, being a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar
-- who at the time was Nero -- and the subsequent Procurator Porcio
Festo sent him to Rome under military custody.
The journey to Rome touched the Mediterranean islands of Crete and
Malta, and then the cities of Syracuse, Rhegium and Puteoli. The
Christians of Rome went to meet him on the Via Appia at the Appia Forum
(70 kilometers south of the capital) and others at the Three Taverns (40
In Rome he met with delegates of the Jewish community, to whom he
confided that it was for "the hope of Israel" that he endured his chains
(cf. Acts 28:20). However, Luke's account ends with the mention of two
years in Rome under house arrest, without reference either to a sentence
of Caesar (Nero), or even less so to the death of the accused.
Subsequent traditions speak of a liberation, which would have favored a
missionary journey to Spain or an eventual short trip to the East,
specifically to Crete, Ephesus and Nicopolis in Epirus. Always on a
hypothetical basis, a new arrest is conjectured and a second
imprisonment in Rome -- from where he would have written the three
so-called pastoral letters, namely the two to Timothy and the one to
Titus, with a second trial, that turned out to be unfavorable to him.
However, a series of reasons induce many scholars of St. Paul to end the
Apostle's biography with Luke's account in the Acts.
We will turn to his martyrdom later on in the cycle of these catecheses.
For now, in this brief account of Paul's journeys, suffice it to take
into account how he dedicated himself to the proclamation of the Gospel
without sparing his energy, facing a series of grave trials, of which he
has left us an account in the second Letter to the Corinthians (cf
Of the rest, he writes: "I do it all for the sake of the Gospel"
(1Corinthians 9:23), exercising with absolute generosity what he calls
his "anxiety for all the Churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28). We see a
determination that is explained only by a soul truly fascinated by the
light of the Gospel, enamored of Christ, a soul sustained by a profound
conviction, that it is necessary to take the light of Christ to the
world, to proclaim the Gospel to all.
This I think is what stays with us of this brief account of St. Paul's
journeys: to see his passion for the Gospel, and thus intuit the
grandeur, beauty more than that, the profound need of us al for the
Gospel. Let us pray so that the Lord, who made Paul see his light, hear
his word and touched his heart profoundly, make us also see his light,
so that our hearts will also be touched by his word and so that we too
will be able to give today's world, which thirsts for it, the light of
the Gospel and the truth of Christ.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's catechesis presents the life of Saint Paul, the great missionary
whom the Church honors in a special way this year. Born a Jew in Tarsus,
he received the Hebrew name "Saul" and was trained as a "tent maker"
(cf. Acts 18:3). Around the age of twelve he departed for Jerusalem to
begin instruction in the strict Pharisaic tradition which instilled in
him a great zeal for the Mosaic Law. On the basis of this training, Paul
viewed the Christian movement as a threat to orthodox Judaism. He thus
fiercely "persecuted the Church of God" (1 Corinthians 19:6; Galatians
1:13; Philippians 3:6) until a dramatic encounter on the road to
Damascus radically changed his life. He subsequently undertook three
missionary journeys, preaching Christ in Anatolia, Syria, Cilicia,
Macedonia, Achaia, and throughout the Mediterranean. After his arrest
and imprisonment in Jerusalem, Paul exercised his right as a Roman
citizen to appeal his case to the Emperor. Though Luke makes no
reference to Nero's decision, he tells us that Paul spent two years
under house arrest in Rome (cf. Acts 28:30), after which -- according to
tradition -- he suffered a martyr's death. Paul spared no energy and
endured many trials in his "anxiety for all the Churches" (2 Corinthians
11:28). Indeed, he wrote: "I do everything for the sake of the Gospel"
(1 Corinthians 9:23). May we strive to emulate him by doing the same.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
present at today's Audience, including the Augustinian Spinellian Lay
Associates from Malta, and also the groups from Scotland, Ireland,
Denmark, Dominica and the United States of America. May your pilgrimage
renew your love for the Lord and his Church, after the example of the
Apostle Saint Paul. May God bless you all!
[The Pope then made the following appeal for the situation in India]
I have learned with deep sadness the news about the violence against the
Christian communities in the Indian State of Orissa, which erupted
following the deplorable murder of the Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda
Saraswati. Some persons have been killed and others injured. Worship
centers, church property and private houses have also been destroyed.
While I firmly condemn all attacks against human life, the sacredness of
which demands the respect of all, I express my spiritual closeness and
solidarity to the brothers and sisters in the faith so tried. I implore
the Lord to accompany and support them in this time of suffering and
give them the strength to continue in the service of love in favor of
I ask the religious leaders and civil authorities to work together to
restore among the members of the various communities the peaceful
coexistence and harmony which have always been the distinguishing mark
of the Indian society
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