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Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience.
BY The Editors
his general audience on Sept. 24, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about St. Paul’s
relationship with the Twelve Apostles. After his conversion on the road to
Damascus, Paul sought out the apostles, whom he considered to be the “pillars”
of the Church, asking them to confirm his mission to the Gentiles.
Subsequently, Paul passed on the living tradition that he received from them in
his letters: Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, his death and resurrection, and
his apparitions to Peter and the other apostles. Now that Jesus has risen from
the dead, the Holy Father emphasized, he is living in his Church and in the
Eucharist, where we continue to encounter him. Our faith is not grounded in
myths or legends, but in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and in our
encounter with the risen Lord, present in the life of his Church.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak about
St. Paul’s relationship with the Apostles who preceded him in following Jesus.
These relationships were always characterized by a deep respect, yet with the
same forthrightness that marked Paul’s defense of the truth of the Gospel.
Even though he was, for all
practical purposes, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, he never had the
opportunity to meet him during his public life. Thus, after the episode of the
dazzling light on the road to Damascus, he felt the need to confer with the
first disciples of the Master, who had chosen them to carry the Gospel to the
ends of the earth.
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul
wrote an important account of his contacts with some of the Twelve Apostles,
especially with Peter, who had been chosen to be Kephas,
the Aramaic word that means “rock,” on whom the Church was being built (see
Galatians 1:18); with James, “the brother of the Lord” (see Galatians 1:19);
and with John (see Galatians 2:9).
Paul does not hesitate to
acknowledge them as “pillars” of the Church. His meeting with Kephas,
which took place in Jerusalem, was particularly significant. Paul spent 15 days
with him in order to “confer” with him (see Galatians 1:19) — that is, to learn
about the earthly life of the risen Lord who had taken hold of him on the road
to Damascus and was now changing his life in a radical way.
He had been transformed from a
persecutor of the Church of God into an evangelizer of the faith in the
crucified Messiah and Son of God that he had previously sought to destroy (see
The Living Tradition
What kind of information did Paul
obtain about Jesus Christ during the three years that followed his Damascus
In the First Letter to the
Corinthians, we should take note of two texts that Paul learned in Jerusalem
and that were already formulated as central elements of our Christian Tradition
and essential to that Tradition. He passes them on word for word, just as he
had received them, with this solemn formula: “I hand on to you … what I also
Therefore, he is insisting on
faithfulness to everything that he himself had received, and that he is now
faithfully handing down to new Christians. They are essential elements, and
they regard the Eucharist and the Resurrection — both of which had already been
formulated in the 30s — thus taking us back to Jesus’ death, his burial in the
heart of the earth, and his resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Let us consider them one at a time.
For Paul, the words of Jesus at the
Last Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-25) are truly at the center of the
Church’s life. It is from this center that the Church is built and so becomes
Besides this Eucharistic focus in
which the Church is reborn again and again — in all of St. Paul’s theology and
in all his thought — these words had a remarkable impact on Paul’s personal
relationship with Jesus.
On the one hand, they attest to the
fact that the Eucharist sheds light upon the curse of the cross, transforming
it into a blessing (see Galatians 3:13-14). On the other, they explain the
importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In his letters, the expression “for
you,” in reference to the institution of the Eucharist, becomes “for me” (see
Galatians 2:20) — thereby personalizing it, knowing that in the expression
“you,” he himself was being acknowledged and loved by Jesus — and on the other
hand, “for all” (see 2 Corinthians 5:14): The expression “for you” becomes “for
me” and “for the Church” (see Ephesians 5:25), that is, “for all,” in reference
to the expiatory sacrifice of the cross (see Romans 3:25). It is by the
Eucharist and in it that the Church builds herself and recognizes herself as
the “body of Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 12:27), nourished day by day by the
power of the Spirit of the risen Christ.
other text, regarding the Resurrection, is, once again, handed down with the
same formula of faithfulness. St. Paul writes: “For I have handed on to you as
of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in
accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried; that he was raised on the
third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then
to the Twelve” (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
In this tradition, which was
transmitted to Paul, the words “for our sins” come up once again, thereby
emphasizing the gift that Jesus made of himself to the Father in order to free
us from sin and death.
It is from Christ’s gift of himself
that Paul is able to draw the most moving and fascinating expressions of our
relationship with Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know
sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (see 2
Corinthians 5:21), and “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that for your sake, he became poor although he was rich, so that by his
poverty, you might become rich” (see 2 Corinthians 8:9).
It is worthwhile recalling Martin
Luther’s comment on these paradoxical statements by Paul, while Luther was
still an Augustinian monk: “This is the grandiose mystery of divine grace
towards sinners: By an admirable exchange, our sins are no longer ours, but
Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is no longer Christ’s, but ours” (Commentary
on the Psalms from 1513-1515). And so we have been saved.
A Present Reality
In the original kerygma
(proclamation) that was transmitted by word of mouth, it is worth noting the
use of the verb “is risen” instead of “has risen,” which would have been more
logical to use in continuity with “he died ... and was buried.”
The verbal form “is risen” was
chosen to emphasize the fact that Christ’s resurrection affects the lives of
believers down to the present day. We can translate it as “he is risen and
continues to live” in the Eucharist and in the Church.
Thus, all the Scriptures give
testimony to the death and resurrection of Christ, because — as Hugh of St. Victor wrote — “all of divine
Scripture constitutes a single book, and this single book is Christ, because
all of Scripture speaks of Christ and in Christ finds its fulfillment” (De
arca Noe, 2:8).
If St. Ambrose of Milan was able to
say that “in Scripture, we read Christ,” it is because the early Church
interpreted all the Scriptures of Israel starting from Christ and returning to
The list of apparitions of the risen
Christ to Peter, to the Twelve, to more than five hundred brothers, and to
James, closes with a reference to the personal apparition that Paul received on
the road to Damascus: “Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he
appeared to me” (see 1 Corinthians 15:8).
Because he had persecuted God’s
Church, he expresses in this confession his unworthiness to be considered an
apostle on the same level as those who had preceded him. But the grace of God
in him was not in vain (see 1 Corinthians 15:10).
Therefore, Paul’s boastful
affirmation of God’s grace unites him with the first witnesses of Christ’s
resurrection: “Whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (see
1 Corinthians 15:11).
This sameness and oneness in
proclaiming the Gospel is important: Whether it be they or I, preach the same
faith — the same Gospel of Jesus Christ who died and is risen, and who gives
himself to us in the most holy Eucharist.
The importance that Paul bestows on
the living Tradition of the Church, which he transmits to its communities,
shows how mistaken is the view of those who attribute to Paul the invention of
Before proclaiming the good news of
Jesus Christ, his Lord, he encountered him on the road to Damascus and got to
know him in the Church, observing his life in the Twelve and in those who had
followed him along the roads of Galilee.
forthcoming catecheses, we will have the opportunity to delve deeper into the
contributions that Paul made to the early Church. Yet, the mission he received
from the risen Lord regarding the evangelization of the Gentiles needed to be
confirmed and guaranteed by those who gave him and Barnabas their right hand as
a sign of approval for their apostolate and their work of evangelization, and
of their acceptance into the one communion of the Church of Christ (see
We are able to understand,
therefore, that the expression “even if we once knew Christ according to the
flesh” (see 2 Corinthians 5:16) does not mean that his life here on earth has
little relevance for our growth in maturity in the faith. Rather, from the
moment of his Resurrection, our way of relating to him changes.
He is, at the same time, the Son of
God, “descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of
God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the
dead,” as Paul recalls at the beginning of his Letter to the Romans (1:3-4).
The more we seek to retrace the
steps of Jesus of Nazareth along the roads of Galilee, the more we understand
that he assumed our humanity, sharing it in everything except sin. Our faith
was not born from a myth, nor from an idea, but from an encounter with the
risen Christ in the life of the Church.