St. Paul the Apostle and the Gospel

As our parish community celebrates its heavenly Patron, St. Paul the Apostle, here are two quotes with some thoughts about St. Paul.   First biblical scholar Peter Ellis notes that St. Paul’s faith deepened with experience.  The original Twelve Apostles didn’t like Jesus discussing his own death, but wanted to sit at His right hand in His triumph.  They learned that Christ’s death and triumph were the same event, and they were called to share in it!  So too St. Paul had his own lesson about this to learn.

“Paul’s close brush with death at Ephesus, reflected in Phil. 1:12-26 and 2 Cor. 1:8-11, had a double effect on him: it made him realize that he might not be alive for the Parousia and that following Christ meant more than sharing in his victory – it also means sharing in his sufferings and death. This latter realization was the more significant. It led Paul to a more profound conception of Christian existence and its relationship to the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Growth in Christ meant sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” (Seven Pauline Letters, p 7)

As St. Paul himself wrote about this in Romans 6:3-11:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Scripture scholar N.T. Wright points out that St. Paul is consistent in all his thinking about the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“According to Paul’s view of creation, the one God was responsible for the whole world and would one day put it to rights. According to his covenant theology, this God would rescue his people from pagan oppression. His messianic theology hailed Jesus as King, Lord and Savior, the one at whose name every knee would bow. His apocalyptic theology saw God unveiling his own saving justice in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. At every point, therefore, we should expect what we in fact find: that, for Paul, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.” (Paul, p 69)

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5 thoughts on “St. Paul the Apostle and the Gospel

  1. guy

    Father Ted,

    i read quite a bit of N.T. Wright prior to converting to Orthodoxy, and that last little sentence of Wright’s quote is still a splinter for me as a newbie-Orthodox Christian. The tone of both the gospels and Paul when it comes to the relationship of the church to states always struck me as not actively rebellious, but, due to the very nature of Christ’s kingdom, subversive. Christ is in charge, and Christ doesn’t need Caesar’s ‘help’ or ‘approval’ to have real authority and Lordship. Yet Orthodoxy strikes me as having a very different “mood” toward the state–that the state ought to be Christianized in some sense. Am i wrong in my summaries? Am i wrong about this contrast? i’d love some enlightenment about this topic.

    Thanks,

    –guy

    1. Fr. Ted

      I think in Christianity’s 2000 year history, you can find church leaders and saints on all sides of the issue of church and state relations. Many Christian leaders seemed to have believed that Constantine’s embrace of Christianity was fulfilling God’s will. Some really thought that the empire would somehow realize “on earth as it is in heaven.” There was no separation of church and state in the Byzantine Empire – the ideal was some sort of symphony between the two, but how that worked is much debated. Monasticism, keep in mind, was not a movement aimed against paganism, but was a response to the state church – the monks were often fleeing the official state Christianity. In later Byzantium we see a decline in the real creative engagement which the church had with society, and at times church leaders just followed state policy. When the Byzantine Empire collapsed a new idea emerged as the Church became the governance of the Christian people now under Turkish control. Church leaders took on all of the symbolism of imperial life.

      I think the ideal in Orthodoxy is some form of church-state cooperation, but whether that could be balanced or always served the church well is debatable. Some church leaders think once the church began the process of getting in bed with the state, the church discovered the state was very controlling. The Church then adopted various canons trying to protect the independence of the church from the state (for example all of the canons forbidding secular interference in church affairs, church discipline or the selection of bishops. Or choosing bishops from monastic ranks rather than from among civil leaders).

      I would say many think the Orthodox ethos includes some type of mythology about church-state symphony.

      There may be two differing models of the church at work here. One model (some call it a catholic model) sees the church as such a normative part of life, that it works together with the state for the moral good of both individuals and the state. This is a church-state cooperative model and forms ideas like “a Christian empire” or “a Christian nation.” Many think this is an ideal world for the church to function in. The state support church goals/ideals/morality and the church in turn helps to make good citizens for the state.

      The other model (sometimes called a sectarian model) sees the church as always being outside the mainstream of political/national life. The church is the salt of the earth, but is never part of the main power system. The church has a prophetic function.

      We see these models in tension and at work in America today, especially when an issue like gay marriage comes to the forefront. Are we a Christian nation? Should we expect the nation to enforce Christian morality? Are we always at tension with the “world” and the church remains prophetic and critical of what the state approves?

      In early American history it was the dissenting churches (baptists, evangelicals) who favored a separation of church and state as they feared the more established religions would impose their ideas on the smaller, dissenting churches. Then over time these “dissenting” churches became the mainstream forms of American Christianity and they began to deny there was a separation of church and state. Now once again churches may decide the separation of church and state is a good thing. The nation can have its own laws, but they ought not be imposed on the church.

  2. Pingback: The Holy Apostles | Again and Again

  3. guy

    Father Ted,

    This was very clear and helpful.

    When you say there may be two models at work here–do you mean to say that both of these models, the catholic model and the sectarian model, can be found to have support in Orthodoxy? i take it from what you said that monasticism originated from (or was at least in part motivated by) something like the sectarian view. Were monastics (or any Orthodox) vocally critical of the changes that came about due to Constantine or the relationship between the church and Byzantium?

    Can you suggest any Orthodox authors (ancient or contemporary) who write on these two models?

    1. Fr. Ted

      I think both models have support and have been the operative thinking for different elements within the Orthodox Church. Monastics indeed withdrew from the world, and to some great extent were not at the beginning withdrawing from the secular world but from the imperial Church. They saw themselves more in the prophetic tradition, standing against the greater Christian society.

      Yes, there were voices criticizing the church/state relationship, but at the very beginning of the church/state symphony, many church leaders seem to have been so astounded by and so thankful for the end of the persecutions that they “uncritically” embraced the Constantitian “revolution”. After awhile, most church leaders assumed the symphony was God ordained and so were not critical of it. They no longer were able to imagine a Church without a symphonic church-state relationship. This gets shattered again as Islam conquers Byzantium.

      As to books – many church history books point out the tensions within the church caused by Constantine’s embrace of Christianity. For example two recent history books give somewhat opposite views of what was happening in the church: Paul Stephenson’s CONSTANTINE vs. Peter Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE. Books critical of what happened to the Church as a result of the Byzantine symphony: Afanasiev, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT or maybe Michael Plekon’s TRADITION ALIVE. Another might be Yannaras’ AGAINST RELIGION. The section on the Orthodox Church (pp 503-715) in THE TEACHINGS OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY.

      Obviously the Church overall believed it could “baptize” nations/cultures and create a Christian empire or nation. But alwyas within the church some saw this more catholic model as watering down the faith- finding the (least) common denominator to hold all Christians together. The tension continues to exist in America where many struggle to keep the Orthodox faith “catholic” while some converts are drawn to Orthodox precisely because they see it as counter-cultural and believe it must be practiced in a sectarian fashion: against the culture. HOw to do this sometimes becomes reduced to things like no pews, women’s head coverings, trying to recreate “ethnic” Orthodoxy in American parishes.

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