Benedict XVI heralded St. Paul as a figure who has been fundamental for the Church by virtue of the “extraordinary” spiritual heritage he left with his letters.

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The Pope said this today during his weekly catechesis, held in Paul VI Hall. With his address today, he concluded his cycle of catechesis dedicated to the figure of St. Paul that began last summer with the opening of the Jubilee Year marking 2,000 years since the apostle’s birth.

Speaking of the Apostle’s death, the Pontiff noted the date “varies according to the ancient sources, which place it between the persecution unleashed by Nero himself after the burning of Rome in July of 64 and the last year of his ! reign, in 68.”

“The first explicit testimony about the end of St. Paul comes to us from the middle of the 90s of the first century, and therefore, something more than 30 years after his death took place,” he said. “It comes precisely from the letter that the Church of Rome, with its bishop, Clement I, wrote to the Church of Corinth.”

Quoting the text, the Holy Father said, “Owing to envy and discord, Paul was obligated to show us how to obtain the prize of patience. Arrested seven times, exiled, stoned, he was the herald of Christ in the East and in the West, and for his faith, obtained a pure glory.”

Despite the lack of details regarding Paul’s death, Benedict XVI noted how the thought of St. Paul has influenced theology throughout the history of the Church, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The figure of St. Paul is magnified beyond his earthly life and his death, he has left in fact! an extraordinary spiritual heritage,” he said. “He as well, as a true disciple of Jesus, became a sign of contradiction.”

Continued presence

The Pope continued: “It is important to confirm that very soon the Letters of St. Paul enter into the liturgy, where the prophet-apostle-Gospel structure is determinant for the form of the liturgy of the Word. Thus, thanks to this ‘presence’ in the liturgy of the Church, the thought of the Apostle at once becomes spiritual nourishment for the faithful of all times.”

He explained how the first Fathers of the Church, beginning with Origin, and through St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, drew from the writings and the spirituality of St. Paul.

“A true point of inflection was verified in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation,” the Pontiff added. “The decisive moment in Luther’s life was the so-called Turmerlebnis (1517) in which in one moment he encountered a new interpretation of the Pauline doctrine on justification. An interpretation that liberated him from the scruples and anxieties of his preceding life and that gave him a new, radical confidence in the goodness of God, who pardons everything without condition.

“From that moment, Luther identified the Judeo-Christian legalism condemned by the Apostle with the order of life of the Catholic Church. And the Church appeared to him as an expression of the slavery to the law to which he opposed the liberty of the Gospel.”

“The Council of Trent, between 1545 and 1563, deeply interpreted the question of justification and encountered in the line of all Catholic tradition the synthesis between law and Gospel, conforming to the message of sacred Scripture read in its totality and unity,” the Holy Father explained.

Benedict XVI highlighted, however, that in the 19th century, “gathering th! e best heritage of the Enlightenment, witnessed a new renovation of Paulinism, now above all in the plane of scientific work developed for the historical-critical interpretation of sacred Scripture.”

“Here is emphasized as central above all the Pauline thought of the concept of liberty: In this is seen the heart of the thought of Paul, as on the other hand, Luther had already intuited,” he said. “Now, nevertheless, the concept of liberty was reinterpreted in the context of modern liberalism.”

“Later, the differentiation between the proclamation of St. Paul and the proclamation of Jesus was strongly emphasized. And St. Paul appears almost as a new founder of Christianity,” the Pope noted. “But I would say, without entering here into details, that precisely in the new centrality of Christology and the Paschal mystery, the Kingdom of God is fulfilled, the authentic proclamation of Jesus is made concrete, present, operative.”

“We have seen in the preceding catechesis that precisely this Pauline novelty is the deepest fidelity to the proclamation of Jesus,” the Holy Father clarified.

“In the progress of exegesis, above all in the last 200 years, the convergences between Catholic and Protestant exegesis also grow, thus bringing about a notable consensus precisely in the point that was at the origin of the greatest historical dissent,” Benedict XVI said. “Therefore a great hope for the cause of ecumenism, so central for the Second Vatican Council.”

“Substantially, there remains luminous before us the figure of an extremely fruitful and deep apostle and Christian thinker, from whose closeness, every one of us can benefit,” the Pontiff concluded. “To tend toward him, as much to his apostolic example as to his doctrine, would be therefore a stimulus, if not a guarantee, to consolidate the Christian iden! tity of each one of us and for the renewal of the whole Church.”

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2009 (Zenit.org)