It’s June, and the official end of the 2008-2009 Year of St. Paul is close at hand. It’s been a great year- I’ve seen and heard of lots of Pauline Bible studies, prayer cards, workshops, and such. All of them are great. We had a terrific Pauline series at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality, my favorite of which was Sr. Diane’s lecture on “Paul and Women.” If you think about it, St. Paul is probably the most important figure of Christianity aside from Jesus himself. Thanks to his many letters, we know more about Paul and his life than anyone else in the Bible, including Jesus. Along with St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Paul’s writings have been the foundation for most of Christian theology. Augustine and Aquinas were standing on his shoulders, though, so it really comes down to St. Paul. Most of his letters were written before the Gospels, and were widely circulated long before the canon was established at a little seaside town called Laodicea in 360 AD.
And yet, the poor guy gets kind of a bad rap.
Some of Prog Cath’s favorite verses are of Pauline origin. Many people love quoting Paul, especially when they say things like, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Another favorite is “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) These sort of [out-of-context] snapshots, along with Paul’s occupation as a traveling tentmaker/evangelist who fought The Man might leave us with the idea that Paul was all about love and flower power, granola and co-ops, Woodstock and women’s ordination.
Paul was a hardass. Paul had no problem telling it like it is and getting in trouble for it. He was frequently stoned, expelled from towns, put in prison, rioted against, and generally made lots of people angry for speaking the truth and writing things like, “If anyone does not obey our word as expressed in this letter, take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame. Do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) or “Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them.” (Acts 20:28-30)
I don’t even know if I would have been friends with St. Paul, had we been contemporaries. I would have admired him, supported him, and welcomed him into my house (like Lydia, Phoebe, or Prisca), but I’m not sure I could have a nice cup of coffee with the guy and catch up on the news of the day and the goings-on of all our friends. He just doesn’t strike me as a bubbly coffee-klatcher.
But he *definitely* wasn’t a hippie.