Who was St. Paul the Apostle?

A brief biography of Christianity's Great Communicator


As the Paulist Fathers—who sponsor Busted Halo—prepare to celebrate once again the feast of the Conversion of Paul the Apostle on January 25, it is worthwhile recalling who this man was and why there is a year dedicated in his honor? First, Paul is responsible for a large part of the New Testament. The letters ascribed to him are about a quarter of the whole, and if you add the 17 chapters of Acts that are given over to him, it is more like a third. After Jesus, one could argue, Paul is the central figure of the New Testament.

In addition, Paul is (as far as we know) the first Christian author. Then there is the fact that the letters have been preserved, even though they are clearly written for particular purposes and addressed to Christians in one city rather than another. That means that from the very beginning Christians must have thought that they had something of general importance.

What kind of a person is it that has bequeathed this legacy to us? One of the great advantages of letters is that, for the most part, they are personal. Paul is writing real letters, to real people, aiming to solve the difficulties that arise in real situations.

The Road to Damascus

Things changed for Paul when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. The effect on Paul was quite startling. From that, it followed that what these “irritating Jesus people” had been claiming was, after all, true: that the Crucified One had indeed been raised from the dead by God; therefore, he was indeed God’s Messiah (which Paul had thought impossible).

First, Paul understood himself to be charged with the task of telling “Gentiles” about this lordship of Jesus. Second, he had to proclaim to anyone who would listen that this new way of life is not a private matter — not a matter of individuals in solitary relationship with Jesus. Christianity (to give the new movement a name that it did not yet possess) is not something you do alone, but is a corporate affair done in solidarity with others. And what do we do with others? Love them, forgive them, help them — especially those less fortunate.

From the scriptorium in ancient monasteries to the invention of the printing press, from radio to television, modern means have been employed to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Consider the potential of harnessing today’s technology to spread the Gospel. Imagine how Saint Paul would have used the internet, Facebook and YouTube. It seems that in remembering his conversion, every Catholic is called to hold up a mirror to his or her life and ask: Am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as Saint Paul was?

Is spreading the faith both by example and by our conversations with our friends even a concern? Saint Paul the Apostle, pray for us!