August 25, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

St. Paul: His failures in Rome and Spain

In late summer of the year 59, the Roman procurator in Caesarea, Porcius Festus, sent Paul to Rome, escorted by a centurion.

It was much too late in the year for a sea voyage, but somehow a ship was found to make the journey. A storm came up, and eventually the ship ran aground near Malta. They spent the winter there and finally reached Rome the following spring or early summer.

Paul was then in house arrest in Rome for two years. It was not what he had planned five years earlier when he sent Prisca and Aquila to Rome to prepare for his arrival. He then had sent his Letter to the Romans, but that was four years ago. By the year 60, Paul was unknown to the Christians in Rome.

Still, Paul wanted to go as a missionary to Spain. Would the Roman Christians send him? No. How, they asked, would Paul communicate with the Latin-speaking people of Spain? He spoke Greek.

Nevertheless, Paul was determined to go to Spain. When he was released from house arrest, he went on his own.

It wasn’t long before he realized that the Romans had been right. Unable to communicate with the Spanish, he gave up his ambition to convert them, and returned to the east. It’s believed that he revisited some of his earlier communities in Illyricum, Thessalonica and Philippi, and then returned to Ephesus.

He looked forward to being reunited with Timothy in Ephesus. Soon after he arrived, though, he discovered that Timothy had been ineffective as bishop of that community.

Timothy had been a magnificent “number two man” for Paul, but lacked the leadership qualities Paul thought were essential. Paul took over and sent Timothy to check on other Churches.

However, Paul did no better than Timothy. Indeed, he seems to have alienated most of the community. Finally realizing that, in a great gesture of humility, he turned the leadership over to others, left Ephesus and went to Miletus. He spent the winter of 64-65 there.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Emperor Nero had blamed the Christians there for the fire that destroyed much of the city on June 19, 64. He rounded them up and provided spectacles for the people as the Christians were torn to pieces by dogs or crucified.

News of this reached Paul at least by the summer of 65. Paul decided that he had to return to Rome. It’s not clear precisely what he hoped to accomplish, but a small group of his followers agreed to accompany him.

Arriving in Rome, Paul immediately tried to take a leadership position among the Christians. This was not fully appreciated by the Christians and, as he wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 4:16), when Paul was called to appear before the magistrate, no one turned up to support him.

He was called up because the magistrate wanted to find out who this man was. Was he dangerous? We know from his letter to Timothy that he was held in chains as a hardened criminal. †



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