September 1, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

St. Paul: His death and lasting influence

Paul was in chains in a Roman prison as the year 65 ended.

He felt quite alone because the Roman Christians hadn’t warmed up to him and didn’t visit. He was permitted to write letters, but the only one that has survived is what we know as the Second Letter to Timothy.

From that letter, we learn that two men remembered Paul. Onesiphorus traveled all the way from Ephesus, somehow learned where Paul was, and visited him frequently. Then, though, apparently Onesiphorus was murdered on one of Rome’s back streets. After that, Paul told Timothy, only Luke remained with him.

In his letter, Paul asked Timothy to come to Rome, stopping in Troas on the way to pick up a cloak, scrolls and notebooks that Paul had left there. This indicates that Paul expected to be alive when Timothy arrived in Rome—four or five months after Paul wrote the letter. On the other hand, just in case Paul didn’t survive, he wrote about the changes he wanted to see in Timothy’s behavior if he was to be a leader of the Church.

Paul, who was now over 70, knew that the end of his life was near. He wrote to Timothy, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:6-7).

We know that Paul was eventually released, and he continued to try to be one of the leaders of the Christian community in Rome. But toward the end of the year 67, he was again called before the magistrate. Emperor Nero had decided that just being a Christian made a person subject to death.

Paul was found guilty. As a Roman citizen, the punishment was death by beheading. He finally achieved his “desire to depart and to be with Christ,” as he wrote to the Philippians years before (Phil 1:23).

After Paul’s death, an attempt was made by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to vilify him by contrasting his teachings with those of Peter. However, after the expulsion of Jews with the destruction of Jerusalem in 135, the Judaeo-Christian faction disappeared.

Within a generation after Paul’s death, the communities he founded began to have a real appreciation for his importance. His letters were collected. One person who did so was Onesimus, the former slave mentioned in the Letter to Philemon, who became bishop of Ephesus.

Other admirers of Paul wrote letters in his name in an attempt to present their ideas with his authority. The Letter to the Ephesians is such a letter, basically expanding on the ideas in Colossians. The First Letter to Timothy and the Letter to Titus were modeled on the letter that Paul wrote to Timothy, now known as the Second Letter to Timothy.

Paul influenced the Church’s early leaders, especially Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Marcion, Irenaeus and Augustine.

It was Paul’s theology that eventually became the Catholic Church’s theology. †



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