VATICAN CITY, 2 JUL 2008 (VIS) - At this morning's general audience, Benedict XVI began a new cycle of catecheses, turning his attention to St. Paul the Apostle to whom the current Pauline Year is dedicated. The Year began on 28 June 2008 and is due to conclude on 29 June 2009. The audience, celebrated in the Paul VI Hall, was attended by 8,000 people.
Paul, said the Pope, is "an example of complete dedication to the Lord and to His Church, as well as of great openness to humanity and its cultures". In order "to understand what he has to say to we Christians of today, ... let us pause to consider the environment in which he lived and worked ... which in many ways ... is not so very different" from our own.
The Apostle of the Gentiles "came from a specific and definable culture, clearly a minority culture, that of the people of Israel and their tradition". They were "plainly distinguished from the surrounding environment, and this could have two results: either derision, which could lead to intolerance, or admiration", said the Holy Father. He also identified two factors that helped Paul in his efforts: firstly, the spread of "Hellenistic culture which, after Alexander the Great, had become a shared heritage of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East"; secondly, "the political and administrative structure of the Roman empire" which "represented a shared and unifying fabric".
"The universalistic outlook typical of St. Paul's personality", Pope Benedict commented, "certainly owes its original impulse to faith in Jesus Christ. ... Nonetheless, the historical and cultural situation of his time and his environment also cannot but have influenced his decisions and his actions".
The Pope recalled how Paul has also been called "'the man of three cultures', bearing in mind his Jewish origins, his Greek language and his privilege of being 'civis romanus', as also evinced by his name of Latin origin. Another factor to bear in mid is the Stoic philosophy which was dominant in Paul's day" and which contains "exalted values of humanity and wisdom that were naturally taken up by Christianity. ... St. Paul's time was also marked by a crisis in traditional religion, at least in its mythological and civic aspects".
At the end of this "first rapid excursion into the cultural environment of the first century of the Christian era", Benedict XVI affirmed: "It is not possible to understand St. Paul adequately without seeing him against the background - both Judaic and pagan - of his time. In this way his figure acquires a historical ... profundity that reveals how he both shared in his environment and brought original elements to it.
"This also holds true for Christianity in general", the Holy Father added in conclusion, "of which the Apostle Paul is an important model from whom we still have much to learn. And this is the objective of the Pauline Year: to learn from St. Paul, to learn the faith, to learn Christ".
AG/ST. PAUL/... VIS 20080702 (510)