Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Kohne Sunday, Conversion of Paul
Volume 6 No. 327 January 22, 2016
 
II. Articles About St. Paul and His Conversion to Christianity

On January 25, the Holy Church remembers the conversion of Saul (Paul) to Christianity and St. Ananias' baptism of Saul to Paul, paving the way for Paul to become the Apostle to Gentiles.
Conversion of Saul to Paul
The Most Important Event After the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

On January 25, the church remembers the conversion of Saul to St. Paul, a momentous day for Christianity. Bible Gateway commentary described this event as follows:

"The most important event in human history apart from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the conversion to Christianity of Saul of Tarsus. If Saul had remained a Jewish rabbi, we would be missing thirteen of twenty-seven books of the New Testament and Christianity's early major expansion to the Gentiles. Humanly speaking, without Paul, Christianity would probably be of only antiquarian or arcane interest, like the Dead Sea Scrolls community or the Samaritans."

God has a purpose for everything. The purpose for Saul was to become the apostle to the Gentiles. But before he did that, Saul did some major damages to the early Christian Church. He was one of the most feared zealots in the early church. Luke builds up the picture of Saul as a rampaging wild beast in his hateful opposition to the disciples of the Lord (compare Acts 8:3; Gal 1:13, 23).

When I read about Saul, the imagery I have is the young people fighting for ISIS today, beheading the Christians and everyone who come on their way. The sad part is that they actually believe that God will be pleased by their actions. The same was true for Saul. He studied all the ancient scriptures and torah of Jews. He listened to what the high priests, Pharisees and Sadducees had to say. For them obeying Moses' law to the letter was the most important thing an Orthodox Jew should do. No exceptions. When Jesus came and preached that the law should be tempered with Mercy, they wanted to have nothing to with that. You break the law, you have to pay for it. Period.

It is quite conceivable that Saul followed Jesus of Nazareth in his last days. He perhaps saw the crucifixion as well as the mock trial meted out by the high priest prior to that. He was convinced that Jesus was a phony telling people that he is the son of God.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, Saul was surprised that the Christianity momentum was gathering strength as opposed to fading in the background. The disciples seem to have been emboldened and more people were joining the movement. Saul felt threatened. He consulted the High Priest and devised schemes to nip it in the bud. That means the offenders have to be killed; so be it.

One of the early victims and the most important martyr was a godly man named Stephen. Saul followed him and observed what he did. He listened to the big speech given by Stephen about the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the Jews caught him, he didn't resist; his eyes focused on heaven. Before his death, Like Jesus Christ on the cross, Stephen prayed that all the people who did him wrong be forgiven. Saul could not understand his behavior - mercy, kindness and forgiveness to the enemies. It made him think. But he was in agreement that Stephen should be stoned to death just like Caiaphas ruled that Jesus should die for the good of everyone else. Luke punctuates Saul's involvement in this murder with the chilling comment:

"Now Saul was consenting to his death." (Acts 8:1)

Craig von Buseck in his article, 'How Saul Became the Apostle Paul' gave a livid explanation of the actions of Saul from the martyrdom of St. Stephen to his conversion:

After the death of Stephen, Saul was fanatical about destroying this new sect. Saul launched a holy war against the Church, scattering the believers. He made havoc, entering homes, sending many to prison - even putting some to death. He was beginning to attain the notoriety that he had always craved. If he was going to rise to the level of prestige and power that he believed was his destiny, he would have to prove himself worthy.

When word came that these followers of Jesus had spread into Syria, Saul requested permission to go to Damascus. With great delight the High Priest granted him letters to take to the synagogues of Syria.

As Saul and his colleagues came near Damascus, suddenly they were flooded with glorious light. It was like looking into the sun from only a yard away. Saul fell to the ground and suddenly a voice emanated from within the light. The voice was both terrifying and soothing at the same time. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"

Was this an angel? Or worse, could it be a messenger from Satan, trying to distract him from his holy quest? No, if it were the devil he wouldn't feel this mix of peace and awe. Humbly Saul inquired, "Who are you, Lord?"

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

No. It couldn't be Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, the backwoods preacher, the so-called messiah who was put to death by Pontius Pilate? If this was Jesus, that would mean that nearly every great leader in Israel was wrong so very wrong. How could they have misjudged him? Unless those confusing passages of Scripture concerning a suffering savior could somehow speak of the Messiah?

I want to take another look at the conversation between Saul and Jesus. Luke described in Acts 9:4-5 the actual conversation:

4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.
Acts 9:4-5

Jesus asked Saul, "why are you persecuting ME?"
and then
"I am Jesus, WHOM you are persecuting," Jesus replied.

The lord didn't ask Saul why he is persecuting the Christians. He asked why YOU ARE PERSECUTING ME? Jesus took it personally. When you help or do good to any one of the little people who are made in the image of God, Jesus will consider that as doing good to him. Similarly when you persecute or do harm to any one of the little people who is made in the image of God and who believe in God, Jesus will consider it as a persecution against HIM. Yes, it is personal. No deed will be left unpunished or rewarded as the case may be. You will be accountable for all such actions.

We will now continue with the excellent commentary by Craig von Buseck:

Saul began to tremble.

How could he have been so wrong? But then he remembered watching the life ebbing from Stephen, and hearing those haunting words, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

This was the same Jesus that Stephen saw as he peered into heaven. This is the same Jesus that gave strength to so many of Saul's victims. Saul began shaking uncontrollably. No longer able to bear the intensity of the light, he closed his eyes as tightly as he could.

"This must be the One - the glorious Messiah, promised from ages past." Saul slowly lifted his head and asked, "Lord, what do you want me to do?"

Jesus replied, "Arise and go into the city..."

Saul obeyed, and in the blindness that resulted from the intense light, he was led into the city. There he was met by a disciple named Ananias, who was sent by Jesus to prophesy, "he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles...." (Acts 9:15, NKJV)

Jesus did not give Saul a big sermon. He only had to ask him one simple question. Saul realized his errors and repented and then accepted baptism from St. Ananias in Damascus. He changed his name to Paul and became the greatest apostle of Jesus, specifically apostle of the Gentiles.

On January 25, the church recalls the conversion of Saul and the baptism of Saul to Paul. This was a great moment for the new church. Not only that it didn't have to worry about a big persecutor of the Christians, they also gained an important apostle, who worked day in and day out for the church.

In today's Malankara World Journal, we have few articles to cover this important event.

Now we know why Jesus preached, "Love your enemies."

Biography of St Paul

St. Paul

St. Paul At A Glance:

Nationality: Turkish, Roman
Religion: Roman Catholic
Born in: Tarsus, Mersin
Place of Death: Rome

Introduction:

A Hellenistic Jew, St Paul is known worldwide as one of the earliest Christian missionaries, along with Saint Peter and James the Just. He was also known as Paul the Apostle, the Apostle Paul and the Paul of Tarsus. However, he preferred to call himself 'Apostle to the Gentiles'. Paul had a broad outlook and was perhaps endowed as the most brilliant person to carry Christianity to varied lands, such as Cyprus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), mainland Greece, Crete and Rome. St Paul's efforts to accept gentile converts and make Torah unnecessary for salvation was a successful task.

Childhood

Paul was born in Tarsus, in 10 AD, and was originally named Saul. Raised as a pharisaical Jew, he, in his initial years, even persecuted Christians, taking part in the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Being momentarily blinded by the vision of the image of resurrected Jesus, on the road to Damascus, led Saul to convert. He was baptized as Paul and went to Arabia for three years, indulging in prayers and reflection.

Coming back to Damascus, Paul again resumed his journey, but this time, the destination was Jerusalem. After 14 years, he again went to Jerusalem. Though the apostles were suspicious of him, St. Barnabas perceived his sincerity and brought him back to Antioch. During a famine, which struck Judea, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem, to deliver financial support from the Antioch community. With this, they made Antioch an alternative centre for Christians and a major Christian center for Paul's evangelizing.

Council of Jerusalem & Incident at Antioch

Around 49-50 AD, an important meeting took place between Paul and the Jerusalem church. The focus of this meeting was to decide whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised. It was at this meeting that Peter, James, and John accepted Paul's mission to the Gentiles. Though both Paul and Peter had made an agreement at the Council of Jerusalem, the latter's was reluctant to share a meal with Gentile Christians in Antioch and was publicly confronted by Paul. This is referred to as the 'Incident at Antioch'.

Resumed Mission

In 50-52 AD, Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, with Silas and Timothy. Thereafter, he headed towards Ephesus, an important center for early Christianity since the 50s (AD). The next 2 years of Paul's life were spent in Ephesus, working with the congregation and organizing missionary activity into hinterlands. However, he was forced to leave on account of several disturbances and imprisonment. Paul's next destination was Macedonia, where he went before going to Corinth. After residing in Corinth for three months, he made a final visit to Jerusalem.

Arrest & Death

In 57 AD, Paul arrived in Jerusalem with money for the congregation. Though reports state that the church welcomed Paul gladly, James had given a proposal that led to his arrest. Retained as a prisoner for two years, Paul had his case reopened when a new governor came into power. Since he appealed as a Roman citizen, Paul was sent to Rome for trial, by the Caesar. However, on the way, he was shipwrecked. It was during this time that he met St. Publius and the islanders, who showered kindness on him. When Paul reached Rome, in AD 60, he spent two years under house arrest, after which he died.

Writings

Thirteen epistles in the New Testament have been credited to Paul. Out of them, seven are considered to be absolutely genuine (Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon), three are doubtful and the rest three are believed not to have been written by him. It is believed that while Paul dictated his epistles, his secretary paraphrased the gist of his message.

Along with the other works, the epistles of Paul were circulated within the Christian community and read aloud in churches. Most of the critics are of the opinion that the epistles written by Paul are one of the earliest-written books of the New Testament. His letters, mostly addressed to the churches he had either founded or visited, contained explanation of what Christians should believe and how they should live. Paul's works contain the first written account of what it means to be a Christian and thus, the Christian spirituality.

Paul and Jesus

Instead of describing Christ, Paul's work concentrated on the nature of Christians' relationship with Christ and, in particular, on Christ's saving work (to give up His own life to safeguard others' life). Some of the life incidents of Jesus Christ, mentioned by Paul, are the Last Supper, His death by crucifixion and His resurrection. St Paul had written three doctrines - Justification, Redemption and Reconciliation. Paul said that Christ took the punishment on behalf of sinners, so that they are relieved off their divine retribution. In the doctrine of 'Justification', faith is regarded as the most vital constituent.

Paul argued that holding on Christ, at the time of His death and resurrection, a person would become one with the Lord. However, in terms of the release of soul, a person will achieve that on the grounds of His sacrifice. 'Redemption' is themed on freeing of slaves. Just as a specific price was paid to relieve a slave from the ownership of another, in the same way, Christ paid the price of His death, as a ransom, to relieve the common man from his sins. 'Reconciliation' deals with the fact that Christ brought down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, created by law. The doctrine basically deals with the making of peace.

Holy Spirit

Though it was permissible, Paul, in his writings, condemned eating the meats that had been offered to pagan idols. He had also written against frequenting pagan temples as well as orgiastic feasting. In the writing, the Christian community has been compared to a human body with its different limbs and organs, while the spirit is regarded as the Spirit of Christ. Paul believed that God is our Father and we are fellow heirs of Christ.

Relationship with Judaism

Though not intended, Paul hastened the separation of the messianic sect of Christians from Judaism. His writing stated that faith in Christ was important in salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike, thus deepening the gap between the followers of Christ and mainstream Jews. Paul was of the opinion that Gentile converts need not become Jews, get circumcised, follow Jewish dietary restrictions or, otherwise, observe Jewish Law. He insisted that faith in Christ was sufficient for salvation and that the Torah did not bind Gentile Christians. However, in Rome, he emphasized on the positive value of the Law, to show God's reliability.

Resurrection

Paul, through his writing, gave hope to everyone belonging to Christ, dead or alive, that they would be saved.

The World to Come

The letter written by Paul, to the Christians - at Thessalonica, explicitly expresses the end of the world. When asked, what would happen to those already dead and when the end would be, Paul replied the age as passing. He assured the men that the dead would rise first, followed by the living. Though unsure about the exact time or season, Paul stated that there would be a war between Jesus Christ and the man of lawlessness, followed by the victory of Jesus.

Influence on Christianity

St. Paul is said to have the greatest influence on Christianity. In fact, both Jesus and Paul seem to have equally contributed to Christianity. A significant author of the New Testament, Paul elevated the status of Christian church as the body of Christ and the world outside as under His judgment.

Last Supper

One of the earliest references to the Last Supper can be seen in Paul's writings. Scholars believe that the Lord's Supper had its origins in a pagan context. They say that the tradition of last supper probably originated in the Christian communities, founded in Asia Minor and Greece. During this time, dinners were organized to memorialize the dead.

Source: Famous People (thefamouspeople.com )

St. Paul's Conversion

by John Henry Newman

"I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." - 1 Cor. xv. 9, 10.

On January 25, we commemorate, not the whole history of St. Paul, nor his Martyrdom, but his wonderful Conversion. Every season of his life is full of wonders, and admits of a separate commemoration; which indeed we do make, whenever we read the Acts of the Apostles, or his Epistles. On this his day, however, that event is selected for remembrance, which was the beginning of his wonderful course; and we may profitably pursue (please God) the train of thought thus opened for us.

We cannot well forget the manner of his conversion. He was journeying to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to seize the Christians, and bring them to Jerusalem. He had sided with the persecuting party from their first act of violence, the martyrdom of St. Stephen; and he continued foremost in a bad cause, with blind rage endeavouring to defeat what really was the work of Divine power and wisdom. In the midst of his fury he was struck down by a miracle, and converted to the faith he persecuted.

Observe the circumstances of the case. When the blood of Stephen was shed, Saul, then a young man, was standing by, "consenting unto his death," and "kept the raiment of them that slew him." [Acts xxii. 20.] Two speeches are recorded of the Martyr in his last moments; one, in which he prayed that God would pardon his murderers, - the other his witness, that he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus on God's right hand. His prayer was wonderfully answered. Stephen saw his Saviour; the next vision of that Saviour to mortal man was vouchsafed to that very young man, even Saul, who shared in his murder and his intercession.

Strange indeed it was; and what would have been St. Stephen's thoughts could he have known it! The prayers of righteous men avail much. The first Martyr had power with God to raise up the greatest Apostle. Such was the honour put upon the first-fruits of those sufferings upon which the Church was entering. Thus from the beginning the blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the Church. Stephen, one man, was put to death for saying that the Jewish people were to have exclusive privileges no longer; but from his very grave rose the favoured instrument by whom the thousands and ten thousands of the Gentiles were brought to the knowledge of the Truth!

1. Herein then, first, is St. Paul's conversion memorable; that it was a triumph over the enemy. When Almighty God would convert the world, opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, who was the chosen preacher of His mercy? Not one of Christ's first followers. To show His power, He put forth His hand into the very midst of the persecutors of His Son, and seized upon the most strenuous among them. The prayer of a dying man is the token and occasion of that triumph which He had reserved for Himself. His strength is made perfect in weakness. As of old, He broke the yoke of His people's burden, the staff of their shoulder, the rod of their oppressor [Isa. ix. 4.]. Saul made furiously for Damascus, but the Lord Almighty "knew his abode, and his going out and coming in, and his rage against Him;" and "because his rage against Him, and his tumult, came up before Him," therefore, as in Sennacherib's case, though in a far different way, He "put His hook in his nose, and His bridle in his lips, and turned him back by the way by which he came." [Isa. xxxvii. 28, 29.] He "spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly," [Col. ii. 15.] triumphing over the serpent's head while his heel was wounded. Saul, the persecutor, was converted, and preached Christ in the synagogues.

2. In the next place, St. Paul's conversion may be considered as a suitable introduction to the office he was called to execute in God's providence. I have said it was a triumph over the enemies of Christ; but it was also an expressive emblem of the nature of God's general dealings with the race of man. What are we all but rebels against God, and enemies of the Truth? what were the Gentiles in particular at that time, but "alienated" from Him, "and enemies in their mind by wicked works?" [Col. i. 21.] Who then could so appropriately fulfil the purpose of Him who came to call sinners to repentance, as one who esteemed himself the least of the Apostles, that was not meet to be called an Apostle, because he had persecuted the Church of God?

When Almighty God in His infinite mercy purposed to form a people to Himself out of the heathen, as vessels for glory, first He chose the instrument of this His purpose as a brand from the burning, to be a type of the rest. There is a parallel to this order of Providence in the Old Testament. The Jews were bid to look unto the rock whence they were hewn [Isa. li. 1.]. Who was the especial Patriarch of their nation? - Jacob. Abraham himself, indeed, had been called and blessed by God's mere grace. Yet Abraham had remarkable faith. Jacob, however, the immediate and peculiar Patriarch of the Jewish race, is represented in the character of a sinner, pardoned and reclaimed by Divine mercy, a wanderer exalted to be the father of a great nation. Now I am not venturing to describe him as he really was, but as he is represented to us; not personally, but in that particular point of view in which the sacred history has placed him; not as an individual, but as he is typically, or in the way of doctrine. There is no mistaking the marks of his character and fortunes in the history, designedly (as it would seem) recorded to humble Jewish pride. He makes his own confession, as St. Paul afterwards: "I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies." [Gen. xxxii. 10.]

Every year, too, the Israelites were bid to bring their offering, and avow before God, that "a Syrian ready to perish was their father." [Deut. xxvi. 5.] Such as was the father, such (it was reasonable to suppose) would be the descendants. None would be "greater than their father Jacob," [John iv. 12.] for whose sake the nation was blest.

In like manner St. Paul is, in one way of viewing the Dispensation, the spiritual father of the Gentiles; and in the history of his sin and its most gracious forgiveness, he exemplifies far more than his brother Apostles his own Gospel; that we are all guilty before God, and can be saved only by His free bounty. In his own words, "for this cause obtained he mercy, that in him first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting." [1 Tim. i. 16.]

3. And, in the next place, St. Paul's previous course of life rendered him, perhaps, after his conversion, more fit an instrument of God's purposes towards the Gentiles, as well as a more striking specimen of it.

Here it is necessary to speak with caution. We know that, whatever were St. Paul's successes in the propagation of the Gospel, they were in their source and nature not his, but through "the grace of God which was with him." Still, God makes use of human means, and it is allowable to inquire reverently what these were, and why St. Paul was employed to convert the Heathen world rather than St. James the Less, or St. John. Doubtless his intellectual endowments and acquirements were among the circumstances which fitted him for his office. Yet, may it not be supposed that there was something in his previous religious history which especially disciplined him to be "all things to all men?" Nothing is so difficult as to enter into the characters and feelings of men who have been brought under a system of religion different from our own; and to discern how they may be most forcibly and profitably addressed, in order to win them over to the reception of Divine truths, of which they are at present ignorant.

Now St. Paul had had experience in his own case, of a state of mind very different from that which belonged to him as an Apostle. Though he had never been polluted with Heathen immorality and profaneness, he had entertained views and sentiments very far from Christian, and had experienced a conversion to which the other Apostles (as far as we know) were strangers. I am far indeed from meaning that there is aught favorable to a man's after religion in an actual unsettlement of principle, in his lapsing into infidelity, and then returning again to religious belief.

This was not St. Paul's case; he underwent no radical change of religious principle. Much less would I give countenance to the notion, that a previous immoral life is other than a grievous permanent hindrance and a curse to a man, after he has turned to God. Such considerations, however, are out of place, in speaking of St. Paul.

What I mean is, that his awful rashness and blindness, his self-confident, headstrong, cruel rage against the worshippers of the true Messiah, then his strange conversion, then the length of time that elapsed before his solemn ordination, during which he was left to meditate in private on all that had happened, and to anticipate the future, - all this constituted a peculiar preparation for the office of preaching to a lost world, dead in sin. It gave him an extended insight, on the one hand, into the ways and designs of Providence, and, on the other hand, into the workings of sin in the human heart, and the various modes of thinking in which the mind is actually trained. It taught him not to despair of the worst sinners, to be sharp-sighted in detecting the sparks of faith amid corrupt habits of life, and to enter into the various temptations to which human nature is exposed. It wrought in him a profound humility, which disposed him (if we may say so) to bear meekly the abundance of the revelations given him; and it imparted to him a practical wisdom how to apply them to the conversion of others, so as to be weak with the weak, and strong with the strong, to bear their burdens, to instruct and encourage them, to "strengthen his brethren," to rejoice and weep with them; in a word, to be an earthy Paraclete, the comforter, help, and guide of his brethren. It gave him to know in some good measure the hearts of men; an attribute (in its fullness) belonging to God alone, and possessed by Him in union with perfect purity from all sin; but which in us can scarcely exist without our own melancholy experience, in some degree, of moral evil in ourselves, since the innocent (it is their privilege) have not eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

4. Lastly, to guard against misconception of these last remarks, I must speak distinctly on a part of the subject only touched upon hitherto, viz. on St. Paul's spiritual state before his conversion. For, in spite of what has been said by way of caution, perhaps I may still be supposed to warrant the maxim sometimes maintained, that the greater sinner makes the greater saint.

Now, observe, I do not allege that St. Paul's previous sins made him a more spiritual Christian afterwards, but rendered him more fitted for a particular purpose in God's providence, - more fitted, when converted, to reclaim others; just as a knowledge of languages (whether divinely or humanly acquired) fits a man for the office of missionary, without tending in any degree to make him a better man. I merely say, that if we take two men equally advanced in faith and holiness, that one of the two would preach to a variety of men with the greater success who had the greater experience in his own religious history of temptation, the war of flesh and spirit, sin, and victory over sin; though, at the same time, at first sight it is of course unlikely that he who had experienced all these changes of mind should be equal in faith and obedience to the other who had served God from a child.

But, in the next place, let us observe, how very far St. Paul's conversion is, in a matter of fact, from holding out any encouragement to those who live in sin, or any self-satisfaction to those who have lived in it; as if their present or former disobedience could be a gain to them.

Why was mercy shown to Saul the persecutor; he himself gives us the reason, which we may safely make use of. "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." [1 Tim. i. 12, 13.] And why was he "enabled" to preach the Gospel? "Because Christ counted him faithful." We have here the reason more clearly stated even than in Abraham's case, who was honored with special Divine revelations, and promised a name on the earth, because God "knew him, that he would command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment." [Gen. xviii. 19.] Saul was ever faithful, according to his notion of "the way of the Lord."

Doubtless he sinned deeply and grievously in persecuting the followers of Christ. Had he known the Holy Scriptures, he never would have done so; he would have recognized Jesus to be the promised Saviour, as Simeon and Anna had, from the first. But he was bred up in a human school, and paid more attention to the writings of men than to the Word of God.

Still, observe, he differed from other enemies of Christ in this, that he kept a clear conscience, and habitually obeyed God according to his knowledge. God speaks to us in two ways, in our hearts and in His Word. The latter and clearer of these informants St. Paul knew little of; the former he could not but know in his measure (for it was within him), and he obeyed it. That inward voice was but feeble, mixed up and obscured with human feelings and human traditions; so that what his conscience told him to do, was but partially true, and in part was wrong.

Yet still, believing it to speak God's will, he deferred to it, acting as he did afterwards when he "was not disobedient to the heavenly vision," which informed him Jesus was the Christ [Acts xxvi. 19.]. Hear his own account of himself: - "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." "After the most straitest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee." "Touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless." [Acts xxiii. 1; xxvi. 5. Phil. iii. 6.]

Here is no ease, no self-indulgent habits, no willful sin against the light, - nay, I will say, no pride. That is though he was doubtless influenced by much sinful self-confidence in his violent and bigoted hatred of the Christians, and though (as well as even the best of us) he was doubtless liable to the occasional temptations and defilements of pride, yet, taking pride to mean, open rebellion against God, warring against God's authority, setting up reason against God, this he had not.

He "verily thought within himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Turn to the case of Jews and Gentiles who remained unconverted, and you will see the difference between them and him. Think of the hypocritical Pharisees, who professed to be saints, and were sinners; "full of extortion, excess, and uncleanness;" [Matt. xxiii. 25, 27.] believing Jesus to be the Christ, but not confessing Him, as "loving the praise of men more than the praise of God." [John xii. 43.]

St. Paul himself gives us an account of them in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Can it be made to apply to his own previous state? Was the name of God blasphemed among the Gentiles through him? - On the other hand, the Gentile reasoners sought a vain wisdom [1 Cor. i. 22.]. These were they who despised religion and practical morality as common matters, unworthy the occupation of a refined and cultivated intellect. "Some mocked, others said, We will hear thee again of this matter." [Acts xvii. 32.] They prided themselves on being above vulgar prejudices, on being indifferent to the traditions afloat in the world about another life, - on regarding all religions as equally true and equally false. Such a hard, vain-glorious temper our Lord solemnly condemns, when He says to the Church at Laodicea, "I would thou wert cold or hot."

The Pharisees, then, were breakers of the Law; the Gentile reasoners and statesmen were infidels. Both were proud, both despised the voice of conscience. We see, then, from this review, the kind of sin which God pities and pardons. All sin, indeed, when repented of, He will put away; but pride hardens the heart against repentance, and sensuality debases it to a brutal nature. The Holy Spirit is quenched by open transgressions of conscience and by contempt of His authority. But, when men err in ignorance, following closely their own notions of right and wrong, though these notions are mistaken, - great as is their sin, if they might have possessed themselves of truer notions (and very great as was St. Paul's sin, because he certainly might have learned from the Old Testament far clearer and diviner doctrine than the tradition of the Pharisees), - yet such men are not left by the God of all grace.

God leads them on to the light in spite of their errors in faith, if they continue strictly to obey what they believe to be His will. And, to declare this comfortable truth to us, St. Paul was thus carried on by the providence of God, and brought into the light by a miracle; that we may learn, by a memorable instance of His grace, what He ever does, though He does not in ordinary cases thus declare it openly to the world.

Who has not felt a fear lest he be wandering from the true doctrine of Christ? Let him cherish and obey the holy light of conscience within him, as Saul did; let him carefully study the Scriptures, as Saul did not; and the God who had mercy even on the persecutor of His saints, will assuredly shed His grace upon him, and bring him into the truth as it is in Jesus.

Source: The National Institute for Newman Studies.

Paul's 'Previous Way of Life': From Violent Aggression to Indiscriminate Love

by Daniel B. Clendenin

Before his conversion, Paul was a violent, religious fanatic. After his conversion, though, he summarized the entire Bible of his day in five words: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14). Don't ever weary in taking every opportunity to "do good to all people," he told the Galatians (6:910).

Which is to say that Paul's story is a paradigm of how authentic religious conversion, which has a beginning point but no end, validates itself by the repudiation of hatred in all its guises and the demonstration of indiscriminate love for all people.

Scattered throughout the New Testament, Paul describes himself as a former religious zealot who tried to exterminate the early Christian movement. He supported the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7). "Breathing threats of murder," Paul collaborated with authorities to track down believers from house to house, drag them back to Jerusalem, and then imprison them in an effort to make them renounce their faith. He worked fervently to "destroy the church" (Acts 8:3, 9:1).

To the Galatians Paul wrote, "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (1:1314). Writing to the Philippians he bragged, "as to zeal, a persecutor of the church" (3:6). Even as an old man Paul seems to have been haunted by memories of his abusive past. Near the end of his life when he wrote his protege Timothy, he regretted that he was "formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor" (1 Timothy 1:13). To the Corinthians he admitted that he didn't deserve to be called an apostle, and was at best the "least of the apostles" because of his manic violence (1 Corinthians 15:9).

People instinctively discounted the stories about Paul's conversion that began to circulate. When he returned to Jerusalem after his conversion in Damascus, "he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple" (Acts 9:26). Barnabas, aptly nicknamed "son of encouragement," vouched for Paul and eventually reconciled him with the church in Jerusalem. Paul remained personally unknown to most believers, of course; as he wrote to the Galatians, "People only heard the report: 'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he one tried to destroy'" (1:23).

Many believers today try to prove the authenticity of their religious faith through overt bigotry, cruelty, and sheer stupidity, whether spewing hate at gays, peddling junk science, blowing themselves up, or coddling state power. In contrast, when Paul was "apprehended" (Philippians 3:12), as he put it, by Jesus on the Damascus road, his conversion proceeded in the diametrically opposite direction, from violent aggression to indiscriminate love.

Instead of building his own spiritual fiefdom, Paul couldn't even remember whom he had baptized. Rather than getting rich off the gospel, he publicly boasted that he preached free of charge and coveted no one's money. He actively opposed the slightest hint of any personality cult predicated upon his reputation. He sharply rebuked Christians who reveled in dogmatic certitude about theological minutiae. In stark contrast to people who rightly feared the pre-convert Paul because of his fanatical violence, he resorted to irony and "apologized" to those who complained that whereas his letters were "weighty," in person he came across as timid and unimpressive. His limited cooperation with state power resulted in beatings and jail time, not special pleading for unique privileges. To the fakers and posers who hustled themselves as super-apostles, Paul boasted about his many weaknesses and sufferings. Dubious displays of outward religiosity, said Paul, have no value.

A lawyer once asked Jesus an obvious question. Are some parts of the Bible more important than others? Which laws are peripheral and insignificant, and which ones are weighty and essential? Jesus responded that "the most important one is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength' [Deuteronomy 6:4]. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself' [Leviticus 19:18].

Jesus thus drew a necessary connection between claiming to love God and demonstrating that we love our fellow human beings. This connection became so embedded in the early Christian traditions that it's repeated almost verbatim by Paul (Romans 13:89, Galatians 5:14), by James (James 2:8), and most memorably by John: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:2021).

"The only thing that counts," wrote Paul, "is faith expressing itself through love," for without concrete deeds of love, we're "nothing" (Galatians 5:6; 1 Cor. 13).

Source: Excerpted from Journey with Jesus.
Copyright 20012016 by Daniel B. Clendenin.

St. Paul Novena/Prayer
Novena for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 25, from St. Paul Center in Steubenville, Ohio.

let us pray for our own deeper conversion. May we be tireless apostles for the Gospel and emulate St. Paul's profound love of Christ.

Our Father

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Hail Mary

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Glory Be

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

O St. Paul, the Apostle, preacher of truth and Doctor of the Gentiles, intercede for us to God, who chose you.

You are a vessel of election, O St. Paul, the Apostle, preacher of truth to the whole world.

Let us pray:

O God, you have instructed many nations through the preaching of the blessed apostle Paul. Let the power of his intercession with you help us who venerate his memory this day.

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