Tuesday, January 25, 2011

St Paul

Today is the feast day where Catholic celebrate the conversion of St Paul. I have been thinking a bit about Paul lately. A man at the prison was talking about the New Testament. He said it was written by those who knew Jesus best. I correct him. There were many people who knew Jesus better than Paul or Luke. But they wrote a large percentage of the New Testament. It surprised people.

The simplest way to produce the New Testament would be to have Jesus just write it. The next simplest would be for his disciples to write it. They wrote some important books for sure. But so much of it was written by St Paul. A man who came to the faith several years after Pentecost. Why would God do things that way? One of the things it does is it makes the genuineness of the conversion of St Paul central to the faith. If you believe in Jesus and His miracles and His death and His resurrection you could still deny that Paul's story about Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus was authentic. If you think about it Paul's word is all we have about this incident. People don't like to believe stories like that.

Paul is the apostle that is not one of the twelve. Some questioned that early on but the church accepted it. At some point the questions stopped being asked. But if you ignore the consensus of the early church the whole thing seems quite open to question still. That is the point. You can't ignore the consensus of the church. It is the only thing that makes St Paul and St Luke legit. Otherwise they are just people who experienced some things and wrote some things but they are not really in a different category from other people's amazing stories and other people's spiritual insights.

But this consensus building is not a well documented process. We can imagine church leaders played an important role. But it was a time of persecution for the church and the records are sparse. So we don't know what the discernment process was. I think that is providential. It tells us the how is not as important as the who.

Right around the same time as the church was discerning that the writings of Paul were from God they also discerned that the chair of Peter was legit as well. We don't know the process there either so we can't find some difference we can hang our hat on. The same people also discerned some things about the Eucharist. The list goes on.

By using as an instrument a person that was not connected with Jesus God forces us to trust the church one one very important question. It means Ecclessial Deism can't really get off the ground.

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