On How St. Paul Knew Christ
"Jesus Lives Now and Speaks With Us Now"
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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience in St. Peter's Square.
The Holy Father continued today the cycle of catecheses dedicated to the figure and thought of St. Paul.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the previous catecheses on St. Paul, I spoke of his encounter with the Risen Christ, which fundamentally changed his life, and then of his relationship with the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus, particularly with Sts. James, Peter and John, and of his relationship with the Church of Jerusalem.
The question that now remains is what St. Paul knew of the earthly Jesus: of his life, his teachings, his passion. Before entering into this question it could be useful to have in mind that Paul himself distinguished two ways of knowing Jesus and, in general, two ways of knowing a person.
He writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (5:16). To know "according to the flesh," in a corporeal way, means to know only from the outside, with external criteria: one can see a person many times, recognize the individual's facial characteristics and the many details of how he acts: how he talks, moves, etc. Yet, even knowing someone in this way, one does not really know the person, one doesn't know the nucleus of the person. Only with the heart is one able to truly know a person.
In fact the Pharisees, the Sadducees, knew Christ from the outside, they heard his teachings, and knew many details of him, but they did not know him in his truth. There is an analogous distinction in the words of Jesus. After the Transfiguration, he asked the apostles: "Who do people say I am?" And, "Who do you say that I am?" The people know him, but superficially; they know many things about him, but they do not really know him. On the other hand, thanks to their friendship, and the role of their hearts, the Twelve at least substantially understood and began to learn more of who Christ really was.
This distinctive manner of knowing also exists today: There are learned individuals who know many details of Christ, and simple people who don't know these details, but they know Christ in his truth: "The heart speaks to the heart." And Paul essentially says that he knows Jesus in this way, with the heart, and that he knows essentially the person in his truth; and then afterward, he knows the details.
Having said this, the question remains: What did Paul know about the life, words, passion and miracles of Jesus? It seems he never met Christ during his early life. Surely he learned the details of Christ's earthly life from the apostles and the nascent Church. In his letters we find three forms of reference to the pre-Easter Jesus. First, there are explicit and direct references. Paul spoke of the Davidic lineage of Jesus (cf. Romans 1:3), he knew of the existence of his "brothers" or blood relatives (1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19), he knew of the development of the Last Supper (cf 1 Corinthians 11:23). He know other phrases of Jesus, for example on the indissolubility of marriage (cf 1 Corinthians 7:10 with Mark 10:11-12), on the need that those who announce the Gospel be sustained by the community as the worker deserves his wage (cf 1 Corinthians 9:14 with Luke 10:7). Paul knew the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper (cf 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 with Luke 22:19-20), and he also knew the cross of Jesus. These are direct references to the words and facts of the life of Jesus.
Second, we can see in some phrases of the Pauline letters various allusions to the confirmed tradition in the synoptic Gospels. For example, the words we read in 1 Thessalonians, according to which "the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (5:2), cannot be explained by referring to the Old Testament prophecies, because the metaphor of the thief at night is only found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, hence taken from the synoptic tradition. And when one reads that God "chose the foolish of the world" (1 Corinthians 1:27-28), one notes the faithful echo of the teachings of Jesus on the simple and the poor (cf Matthew 5:3; 11:25; 19:30). There are also the words of Jesus in the messianic Jubilee: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” Paul knows -- from his missionary experience -- that these words are true, those who are childlike are the ones who have their hearts open to knowledge of Christ. Also, the mention of the obedience of Jesus "to death" that is found in Philippians 2:8 can't but point to the total willingness of the earthly Christ to fulfill the will of the Father (cf Mark 3:35; Jn 4:34).
Paul therefore knew the passion of Christ, his cross, and the way in which he lived the last moments of his life. The cross of Jesus and the tradition regarding the fact of the cross is at the center of the Pauline Kerygma. Another pillar of the life of Jesus that Paul knew was the Sermon on the Mount, some elements of which he cites almost literally when he writes to the Romans: "Love one another. ... Blessed are the persecuted. ... Live in peace with all. ... Overcome evil with good." In his letters there is a faithful expression of the Sermon on the Mount (cf Matthew 5-7).
Finally, it is possible to find a third way that the words of Jesus are in the letters of Paul: It is when he transposed the pre-Easter tradition to the post-Easter period. A typical example is the theme of the Kingdom of God. This is certainly at the center of the preaching of the historical Christ (cf Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43). In Paul the transposition of this theme is revealed, for after the resurrection it is evident that Jesus, the Resurrected One, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, then, is where Jesus is. And then necessarily the theme of the Kingdom of God, in which the mystery of Christ had been anticipated, is transformed into Christology.
Jesus' own instructions for entering the Kingdom of God are valid for Paul in regard to the justification by faith: Both require an attitude of great humility and availability, free of presumptions, to receive the grace of God. For example, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (cf Luke 18:9-14) teaches exactly what St. Paul discusses when he insists that nobody should glorify themselves in the presence of God. Also, the teaching of Jesus on the publicans and the prostitutes, who are more willing than the Pharisees to receive the Gospel (cf Matthew 21:31; Luke 7:36-50), and his decisions to share a table with them (cf Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 15:1-2), are found in the doctrine of Paul on the mysterious love of God toward sinners (cf Romans 5:8-10 and Ephesians 2:3-5). In this way the theme of the Kingdom of God is proposed in a new manner, but always faithful to the tradition of the historic Jesus.
Another example of the faithful transposition of the doctrinal nucleus of Jesus is found in the "titles" that refer to him. Before Easter, Christ called himself "Son of Man"; after Easter it is evident that the Son of Man is also the Son of God. Therefore, the preferred title of Paul for Jesus is "Kyrios" -- Lord (cf Phillipians 9:11) -- that indicates the divinity of Jesus. With this title the Lord Jesus appears in the full light of his resurrection.
On the Mount of Olives, in the moment of Jesus' extreme anguish (cf Mark 14:36), the disciples, before going to sleep, heard how Jesus spoke with the Father and called him "Abba -- Father.” This is a very informal word, equal to "daddy," used only by children for their father. Until that moment it was unthinkable that a Hebrew use a word such as that to address God; but Jesus, being truly a son, talked in this way during this hour of intimacy and said "Abba, Father."
In the letters of St. Paul to the Romans and Galatians, surprisingly, this word "Abba," which expresses the exclusivity of the sonship of Jesus, appears in the mouths of the baptized (cf Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). They have received the "Spirit of the Son" and now carry in themselves this Spirit, and they can talk as Jesus and with Jesus as true sons of the Father. They can say "Abba" because they have been converted into sons and daughters in the Son.
And finally, I would like to point out the salvific dimension of the death of Jesus, as we find in the Gospel in which "the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28). The faithful expression of this phrase of Jesus appears in the Pauline doctrine on the death of Jesus as a rescue (cf 1 Corinthians 6:20), as redemption (cf Romans 3:24), as liberation (cf Galatians 5:1) and as reconciliation (cf Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Here is the center of Pauline theology, which is based in this phrase of Jesus.
In conclusion, St. Paul did not think Jesus was something historical, as a person from the past. He certainly knew the great tradition regarding his life, his words, his death and his resurrection, but he did not treat them as something from the past; he proposed them as the reality of the living Jesus. The words and actions of Jesus for Paul do not pertain to a historic time, to the past. Jesus lives now and speaks with us now, and lives for us. This is the true manner to get to know Jesus, and to learn the tradition of him. We should also learn to know Jesus, not physically, as a person of the past, but as our Lord and brother, that today is with us and shows us how to live and how to die.
[Translation by Karna Swanson]
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider Paul’s relationship to the so-called "historical" Jesus. In a celebrated passage Paul states that "even though we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer know him in that way" (2 Cor 5:16). Here the Apostle does not claim that he knew Jesus during his earthly ministry, but rather that he once considered Jesus from a merely human standpoint. Significantly, Paul’s knowledge of Christ came from the preaching of the early Church. Both his initial rejection of Jesus and -- after his conversion on the road to Damascus -- his preaching of the glorified Christ were based on the Gospel as proclaimed by the first Christian community. In his Letters, Paul refers explicitly to the facts of Jesus’ earthly life, as well as to his teaching. His Letters also reflect many central themes and images drawn from the preaching of Jesus. Paul’s teaching on the Jesus’ identity as the Son of the Father, in whom we receive redemption and adoptive sonship, is clearly derived from the Lord’s own experience and teaching. In a word, Paul’s knowledge of Jesus and his proclamation of the risen Lord as God’s Son and our Saviour, was grounded in the life and preaching of Jesus himself.
I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, and in a special way, diaconal candidates from the Pontifical North American College with their families: may the grace of Holy Orders enliven you to preach the Gospel of Christ with conviction and love! I also welcome pilgrims from the Diocese of Hamilton, members of Christ Teens Malaysia, ecumenical pilgrims from Norway, as well as visitors from Indonesia, China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Netherlands. God bless you all!
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