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The Life of St. Paul

by Salvatore J. Ciresi

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    Using Scripture, Sal Ciresi provides a brief synopsis of the life of St. Paul.
  • Larger Work:
    The Arlington Catholic Herald
  • Publisher & Date:
    Diocese of Arlington, March 7, 2002

The Catholic Church has always been marked by men and women of distinction. St. Augustine (d. 430) stands out for his great conversion. St. Teresa of Avila (d. 1582) left her legacy by her profound spirituality. St. Robert Bellarmine (d. 1621) established himself because of his towering intellect. St. Therese Lisieux (d. 1897) is renowned for her genuine piety. Countless others, known to God alone, can be grouped with these Church faithful. One eminent member, possessing the above characteristics, was St. Paul the Apostle. The New Testament serves as the primary source document for an examination of his life.

St. Paul (d. A.D. 67/8) was born in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia (cf. Acts 22:3), a provincial capital under Hellenistic (Greek) influence. Tarsus was a noteworthy locale; a place of culture and learning. As a Tarsusian, the Apostle could claim citizenship from Tarsus and from Rome. This dual citizenship was a useful tool, later employed by St. Paul when he defended himself before the authorities as a Christian "troublemaker" (cf. Acts 16:35-39).

It is not surprising that the Apostle’s upbringing fostered both learning and piety (cf. Acts 26:4). By age five, Paul would have started learning Hebrew and studying the Old Testament. It is probable that the future Apostle spoke the Aramaic dialect in his household. As well, because of the Hellenistic background of Tarsus, St. Paul may have picked up the Greek language. Sacred Scripture affirms the Apostle’s use of the Hebrew and Greek tongues (cf. Acts 21:37-40).

St. Paul was known by two names: his Jewish name "Saul" (cf. Acts 7:58), which can be translated "asked of Yahweh," and the Roman name "Paulus," rendered simply as "Paul" (cf. Tit. 1:1). Holding two names was a common practice among the Diaspora; those Jews who lived outside Palestine (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1). Even today, the affixing of a "first" and "middle" name appears to echo this ancient practice.

The Apostle was a descendent from the tribe of Benjamin (cf. Phil. 3:5), one of the famous "Twelve Tribes of Israel" (cf. Gen. 49:1-28). This particular tribe brought forth King Saul; the first king of that chosen nation (cf. 1 Sam. 10:17—11:15). The Benjaminite tribe held favor with Yahweh (cf. Dt. 33:12), a point of pride for St. Paul during his evangelization efforts (cf. Rom. 11:1).

Having lived a strict life as a Pharisee (cf. Acts 26:5), St. Paul stated that he had kept "the Law" to a great degree of perfection and enthusiasm (cf. Gal. 1:14). This Pharisaical life was nurtured by his teacher, Rabbi Gamaliel, considered the greatest master of his day. This teacher may have been the same Gamaliel who stood before the Sanhedrin and asked for tolerance on behalf of the Christians (cf. Acts 5:33-40).

During St. Paul’s life, the Apostle practiced the skill of tent-making (cf. Acts 18:3), a trade he utilized in his missionary efforts as a means of financial support (cf. 1 Cor. 4:12). Fittingly, St. Paul placed a strong emphasis on honest manual labor (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6-12), as well as the proper use of one’s time (Eph. 5:15-16).

St. Paul’s conversion to Christianity is one of the most decisive landmarks in history. Acts 9:1-9 records this monumental event during the Apostle’s travel to Damascus; a story recounted on two other occasions (cf. Acts 22:3-10; 26:12-18). St. Paul heard the actual voice of the Lord Jesus Christ; an encounter with a lasting influence. The Savior’s words concerning His relationship to the Church, recorded in Acts 9:4 ("why do you persecute Me?"), is a theme St. Paul would expound in the future: the doctrine of the "Mystical Body of Christ" (cf. Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-30).

St. Paul’s influence on Christianity is immeasurable. His tireless work as a missionary to spread the Gospel, and his writing of a sizeable portion of the New Testament, will be examined in the future. No doubt, the faithful can appreciate the greatness of this inspired Apostle, God’s chosen vessel in the nascent years of the Catholic Church.

Ciresi serves on the faculty at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College.

©2002 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

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