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June 29, 2008
Origins of St. Paul the Apostle
Saul of Tarsus
St. Paul, well known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and a major contributor to the young Christian church founded by Jesus of Nazareth, is being commemorated in a Jubilee Year beginning this weekend, June 29, 2008. Since St. Paul is the patron of our parish it is appropriate that we take some time to further our knowledge and deepen our fervor for this man. As we begin this jubilee year we will take a look at Paul’s origins. Besides giving us some historical background it may also give us some insight into his philosophical notions.
Paul, first known as Saul, was born in the city of Tarsus which was a city in Asia minor in the present country of Turkey. Because Tarsus had made significant sacrifices during the civil wars of Rome, the city had been granted its freedom. Free cities were permitted to use their own laws, customs, and magistrates, and they were free from being a subject to the Roman guards. In short its citizens became entitled to the privileges of Roman citizens. Paul used this privilege more than once in his missionary journeys.
Saul was a contemporary of Jesus but the two never met. Unlike Paul, Jesus was born and raised in a small town in Nazareth that was very much under Roman authority. Both men were Jewish with pure Jewish ancestry. It is believed that Saul was a member of the Pharisees. To the best of our knowledge Jesus although he was very intelligent, had parents of limited resources thus was schooled by his father and local rabbis. Saul, was raised amidst Greek culture and was fluent in Greek. As a young man of remarkable intelligence and the child of well to do parents, he was sent to Jerusalem to be trained as a Rabbi at the age of 14. His teacher was a prominent man named Gamaliel. Rabbis, at the time, were also taught another trade. Jesus took on the trade of his father which was carpentry. Saul was trained to be a tent-maker.
Saul grew to be a man of firm convictions and fiery temperament. He always acted on his beliefs. No doubt this why Paul was so forceful in rooting out the perceived “heresy” that broke out against Judaism, the heresy that would later be known as Christianity. Saul was so strong in his faith that he worked with all his might to quell the supposed heresy. He became known as one of the main persecutors of Chrisitianity. He went from house to house dragging out the Christians and throwing them into jail.
One day, as Saul was traveling to the city of Damascus, intending to continue attacking Christians, Saul had a vision. In this vision Saul saw Jesus who asked him why he was persecuting Him. Contrary to popular belief, Saul, who now became known as Paul, did not immediately convert to Christianity. Before he was able to give his entire being over to Christianity he spent some time in Arabia and then Demascus. There he searched his soul and then took on the mission he believed had been given to him directly by Jesus.
It is not difficult to understand why Paul was chosen by Jesus to be his Apostle to the Gentiles. An intelligent, well educated man of fiery temperament with firm conviction who was ready to put his life on the line for his beliefs. Once converted, Paul was totally committed to his faith in the risen Jesus. Paul is definitly someone we want to emulate.
Lorette P. Nault