St. Paul’s Gospel

Editorial, November 2009

On June 29 we concluded the year in honor of St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles and author of half of the books in the New Testament. Earlier this year, having noticed that Pope Benedict XVI was preaching regularly on St. Paul, I decided to do that same thing. So for seventeen weeks I preached on the letters of St. Paul.

I spent many hours preparing each sermon, in imitation of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who said that he spent one hour of preparation for every minute of preaching. That study was most rewarding and gave me a few valuable insights into the thinking and theology of St. Paul.

It is clear that St. Paul is the most important theologian in the history of the Church, since he first gave expression to many truths that are the basis of the Creed and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The key to the theology of St. Paul is his personal encounter with the glorified Christ on his way to Damascus. That revelation, in which he was blinded for three days, changed Paul into a new man. The persecutor of Christ was changed into a zealous apostle to proclaim that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ, that he is Lord (Kyrios), and the Son of God. Because he saw the glorified Christ and listened to him he was transformed from a Jewish rabbi to a Christian rabbi. Paul saw Christ, he heard him, he was called by him and he was sent by him to convert the world. In carrying out his calling he was destined to suffer much for the sake of Christ—rejection, hatred, scourging, shipwreck, imprisonment and finally beheading by the Romans.

Christ is the key to St. Paul. His theology is Christocentric. The Gospel according to St. Paul is that the Son of God became man in Jesus Christ in order to reconcile all mankind to God the Father by his life, passion, death and resurrection. For Paul, Christ is the glorified Christ, now reigning gloriously in heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father.

Here are some of the main points in the theology of St. Paul: 1) Because of the sin of Adam and each one’s personal sins, all men are sinners and in need of redemption (Rom. 3:23; 5:12-21). 2) In order to save mankind, God sent his Son into the world, born of a woman (Rom. 4:4), to make a fitting satisfaction for sin. 3) That Son is Jesus Christ, who communicates his grace and justifies all who believe in him and are baptized. 4) The grace of Christ includes the sending of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the believer as an adopted child of God, a member of the body of Christ, and an heir of eternal life. 5) Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and has established a New Covenant to replace that of Moses; therefore Christians are not bound by the ceremonial and dietary laws and circumcision of the Law of Moses. This means that one does not have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian. This insight of Paul made Christianity into a religion open to all peoples (see 1 Tim. 2:4).

A recent author said that ideas have consequences. That certainly applies to the Christian faith. St. Paul argues in most of his letters, towards the end, that faith in Christ demands a moral way of life based on the Ten Commandments, the law of nature, and the commandment of love of God and neighbor (Rom. 13:9-10). Here he mentions regulations for bishops, elders, old men, old women, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. Christians are to avoid sexual immorality, idolatry and other vices of the pagans. They are to give good example in word and deed to all. He often insists on purity of doctrine, preaching and defending the deposit of faith from the Apostles, and refuting the errors of false teachers (1 & 2 Tim.; Titus).

St. Paul is a giant among Christians. In most of his letters he is thinking of the Second Coming of Christ; he urges all to be prepared for it and to hope for it because it means that all those who share in the life of Christ will enter into the heavenly Jerusalem and be happy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever when Christ comes again in glory.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.