Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On Paul and the Other Apostles
"He Insists on Fidelity to What He Himself Has Received"
H.H. Benedict XVI
September 24, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to speak about the relationship between St. Paul and
the apostles who preceded him in the following of Jesus. These
relationships were always marked by profound respect and by the
frankness that in Paul stemmed from the defense of the truth of the
Gospel. Although he was practically a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth,
he never had the opportunity to meet him during his public life. Because
of this, after the dazzling light on the road to Damascus, he saw the
need to consult the first disciples of the Master, who had been chosen
by [Christ] to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul elaborates an important report on
the contacts maintained with some of the Twelve: above all with Peter,
who had been chosen as Cephas, Aramaic word that means rock, on which
the Church was built (cf. Galatians 1:18), with James, the "Lord's
brother" (cf. Galatians 1:19), and with John (cf. Galatians 2:9). Paul
does not hesitate to acknowledge them as the "pillars" of the Church.
Particularly significant is the meeting with Cephas (Peter), which took
place in Jerusalem. Paul stayed with him for 15 days to "consult him"
(cf. Galatians 1:19), that is, to be informed on the earthly life of the
Risen One, who had "seized" him on the road to Damascus and was changing
his life radically: from persecutor of the Church of God he became
evangelizer of faith in the crucified Messiah and Son of God, which in
the past he had tried to destroy (cf. Galatians 1:23).
What type of information did Paul obtain on Jesus in the three years
after the encounter of Damascus? In the First Letter to the Corinthians
we find two passages, which Paul had learned in Jerusalem and which had
been formulated as central elements of the Christian tradition, the
constitutive tradition. He transmits them verbally, exactly as he has
received them, with a very solemn formula: "I delivered to you ... what
I also received."
He insists, therefore, on fidelity to what he himself has received and
transmits faithfully to the new Christians. They are constitutive
elements and concern the Eucharist and the Resurrection. They are texts
already formulated in the [decade of] the 30s. Thus we come to the
death, burial in the heart of the earth and resurrection of Jesus (cf. 1
Let's take one at a time: the words of Jesus in the Last Supper (cf. 1
Corinthians 11:23-25) really are for Paul the center of the life of the
Church. The Church is built from this center, being in this way herself.
In addition to this Eucharistic center, from which the Church is always
reborn -- also for all Paul's theology, for all his thought -- these
words have a notable impact on Paul's personal relationship with Jesus.
On one hand, they attest that the Eucharist illumines the curse of the
cross, changing it into a blessing (Galatians 3:13-14), and on the
other, they explain the breadth of the very death and resurrection of
Jesus. In his letters, the "for you" of the institution becomes the "for
me" (Galatians 2:20), personalized, knowing that in that "you" he
himself was known and loved by Jesus and, on the other hand, "for all"
(2 Corinthians 5:L14): this "for you" becomes "for me" and "for the
Church" (Ephesians 5:25), that is, also "for all" of the expiatory
sacrifice of the cross (cf. Romans 3:25). By and in the Eucharist, the
Church is built and recognizes herself as "Body of Christ" (1
Corinthians 12:27), nourished every day by the strength of the Spirit of
the Risen One.
The other text, on the Resurrection, transmits to us again the same
formula of fidelity. St. Paul wrote: "For I delivered to you as of first
importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in
accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised
on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared
to Cephas, then to the Twelve" (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Also in this
tradition transmitted to Paul he again mentions the expression "for our
sins," which underlines the gift that Jesus has made of himself to the
Father, to deliver us from sin and death. From this gift of himself,
Paul draws the most moving and fascinating expressions of our
relationship with Christ: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew
no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2
Corinthians 5:21). "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by
his poverty you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). It is worthwhile
to recall the commentary with which the then Augustinian monk Martin
Luther accompanied these paradoxical expressions of Paul: "This is the
grandiose mystery of divine grace toward sinners: by an admirable
exchange our sins no longer are ours, but Christ's, and the
righteousness of Christ is no longer Christ's but ours" (Commentary on
the Psalms from 1513-1515). And so we have been saved.
In the original kerygma -- proclamation -- transmitted from mouth to
mouth, it is worth pointing out the use of the verb "has risen," instead
of "rose" which would have been more logical, in continuity with "died"
and "was buried." The verbal form "has risen" has been chosen to
underline that Christ's resurrection affects up to the present the
existence of believers: We can translate it as "has risen and continues
to be alive" in the Eucharist and in the Church. Thus all the Scriptures
attest to the death and resurrection of Christ, because -- as Hugh of
Saint Victor wrote -- "the whole of divine Scripture constitutes only
one book, and this book is Christ, because the whole of Scripture speaks
of Christ and finds its fulfillment in Christ" (De Arca Noe, 2, 8). If
St. Ambrose of Milan can say that "in Scripture we read Christ," it is
because the Church of the origins has reread all Israel's Scriptures
starting from and returning to Christ.
The enumeration of the Risen One's apparitions to Cephas, to the Twelve,
to more than 500 brethren, and to James closes with the reference to the
personal apparition received by Paul on the road to Damascus: "Last of
all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (1 Corinthians
15:8). Because he had persecuted the Church of God, he expresses in this
confession his unworthiness to be considered an apostle, at the same
level as those who preceded him: but God's grace has not been in vain in
him (1 Corinthians 15:10). Hence, the boastful affirmation of divine
grace unites Paul with the first witnesses of Christ's resurrection.
"Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you have believed"
(1 Corinthians 15:11). The identity and unity of the proclamation of the
Gospel is important: both they and I preach the same faith, the same
Gospel of Jesus Christ dead and risen who gives himself in the most holy
The importance that he bestows on the living Tradition of the Church,
which she transmits to her communities, demonstrates how mistaken is the
view of those who attribute to Paul the invention of Christianity:
Before proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he encountered him on the
road to Damascus, and met him in the Church, observing his life in the
Twelve, and in those who had followed him on the roads of Galilee. In
the next catecheses we will have the opportunity to go more profoundly
into the contributions that Paul has made to the Church of the origins;
however, the mission received on the part of the Risen One in order to
evangelize the Gentiles must be confirmed and guaranteed by those who
gave him and Barnabas their right hand, in sign of approval of their
apostolate and evangelization, and of acceptance in the one communion of
the Church of Christ (cf. Galatians 2:9).
We understand, therefore, that the expression -- "[f]rom now on,
therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we
once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no
longer" (2 Corinthians 5:16) -- does not mean that his earthly life has
little relevance for our maturing in the faith, but that from the moment
of the Resurrection, our way of relating to him changes. He is, at the
same time, the Son of God, "who was descended from David according to
the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of
holiness by his resurrection from the dead," as St. Paul recalls at the
beginning of the Letter to the Romans (1:3-4).
The more we try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth on the
roads of Galilee, so much the more will we understand that he has taken
charge of our humanity, sharing in everything except sin. Our faith is
not born from a myth or an idea, but from an encounter with the Risen
One, in the life of the Church.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, Benedict XVI greeted pilgrims in several
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today's catechesis we turn again to the life of Saint Paul and
consider his relationship with the Twelve Apostles. In his letter to the
Galatians, Paul speaks of his visits to Jerusalem where he consulted
Peter, James and John, reputed to be the "pillars" of the Church. Paul's
mission to the Gentiles needed to be confirmed and guaranteed by those
who had been disciples of Jesus during his earthly life, and they
offered to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Paul passed
on the living tradition that he had received: the words of Jesus at the
Last Supper, his death and resurrection, and his appearances to Peter
and to the Twelve. Paul emphasizes that Jesus died "for our sins", he
offered himself to the Father in order to deliver us from sin and death.
And now that Jesus has risen from the dead, he is living in his Church
and in the Eucharist, where we continue to encounter him. Just as Paul's
teaching is rooted in his experience on the road to Damascus, and in his
knowledge of Christ acquired through the Church, so too our faith is
grounded, not on myths or pious legends, but on the words and deeds of
Jesus of Nazareth, and on our encounter with the risen Lord, present in
the life of his Church.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
here today, including the choir from New Zealand and the groups from
Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia, Africa, Australia and the Far East. I
greet in particular the new students from the Venerable English College
and the priests from Ireland who are taking part in a renewal course.
May your pilgrimage renew your faith in Christ present in his Church,
after the example of the Apostle Saint Paul. May God bless you all!
© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
at the One they Pierced!
This page is the work of
the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary