Wednesday, June 10, 2015

St. Paul in Europe

Reading N°19 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

St. Paul dreams of the Macedonian
About the year 51, while St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, was hesitating at Troas as to what direction he should take, in a dream he saw a Macedonian standing near him and saying to him: "Pass over into Macedonia and help us." The Apostle understood that God was commanding him to turn toward Europe. He decided to cross the sea, accompanied by one who appears for the first time in the narrative and who becomes the annalist of the new Apostolic campaign. It is Luke, a Gentile, a native of Antioch, a physician, a man of intellectual culture, as his writing shows. "With the advent of Luke, something of the Grecian genius found its way into Paul's mind and works. It had gifts to offer him which were unknown in the East, though they were to be found in abundance along these lovely coasts whither the Apostles were steering their course - gifts of harmony, the beauty of sweetness and light."[1]

The Apostolic group landed successively at Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. In all these cities, proud of their great historic memories, but inhabited by people thirsting for religious truth, the missioners' words were listened to eagerly. Wonderful conversions took place in all classes. At Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and Corinth, Christian communities were organized. Supernatural gifts - prophecy and the gift of tongues - were manifested in extraordinary abundance. The "Lord's Supper", or the Eucharist, as at Jerusalem and Antioch, there became the central act of worship. In the evening, after sunset, by the light of many lamps,[2] the Christians met together in a room which usually occupied the uppermost floor of the house. As in the Jewish environment, the liturgy began with a supper which was called the "meal of charity", or agape.

St. Paul's Second Journey

The Greeks, especially the Corinthians, unfortunately introduced a practice of Greek societies that each member should eat at the society's meal what he himself had brought. Hence there arose regrettable abuses against which St. Paul had to protest forcefully.[3] These abuses hastened the separation of the Eucharist from the agape, which then gradually disappeared from Christian public worship. At the close of the fraternal supper, those who had partaken of it greeted one another with a holy kiss of peace and charity.[4] The meeting place was no longer, as it had been before, the synagogue, but the home of one of the brethren. "Here they found the true Ark of God, with the indwelling Eucharistic presence; here, too, there was a High Tribunal where every difference was speedily adjusted;[5] in fine, God's house was a center of social life so beneficent and delightful that to be excommunicated from its pale seemed the most dreadful of all punishments."[6] Words of thanksgiving were on the lips of all. There was a charm of virtue, a serenity of unexcelled joy. Such brotherhood merited the praise of the pagans, who exclaimed: "See how they love one another."[7]

Athens alone almost completely resisted the Apostle's preaching and the grace of God. After it had lost its independence, and Greece, which became a Roman province in 146 under the name of Achaia, had Corinth for its capital, Athens was nothing more than a city of schools, as Cambridge and Oxford are today. The only people to be seen there were professors, philosophers, and orators, who spent their time instructing youth.

As in Demosthenes' time, the most frequented place in the city was the Agora. The two philosophies then most in vogue were Epicureanism and Stoicism; their spokesmen were accustomed to meet in the Agora for the discussion of moral questions. Paul makes his appearance there and, from the first words of his address, raises his hearers' thoughts to the idea of the Divinity and His greatness, of the worship that man owes to Him. The serious, touching, confident words of this stranger aroused curiosity, but stirred diverse impressions in his hearers' minds. The followers of Epicurus, observing that the speech was about religious questions, murmured: "What is it that this word sower would say?" The disciples of the Porch, less contemptuous, thought that a new god was being set forth. Finally, curiosity got the better of scoffing skepticism.

Paul Preaching to the Athenians on the Areopagus
Leonard Porter

That the stranger's doctrine might be heard the better, he was invited to go up to the Areopagus, far from the noise of the Agora. There, in the presence of Hellenism's greatest art and her finest memories of the past, Paul delivered that justly admired address which is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:
Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious. For, passing by and seeing your idols, I found an altar also, on which was written: "To the unknown God." What therefore you worship, without knowing it, that I preach to you: God, who made the world and all things therein; He being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is He served with men's hands, as though He needed anything, seeing it is He who giveth to all life and breath and all things; and hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times and the limits of their habitation. That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after Him or find Him, although He be not far from everyone of us; for in Him we live and move and are; as some also of your own poets said: "for we are also his offspring." Being therefore the offspring of God, we must not suppose the divinity to be like unto gold or silver or stone, the graving of art and device of man. And God indeed having winked at the times of this ignorance, now declaring unto men that all should everywhere do penance. Because He hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in equity, by the Man whom He hath appointed; giving faith to all, by raising Him up from the dead.[8]
This mention of Christ's Resurrection, of a miracle so foreign to Greek minds, put an end to the interest and surprise with which at first they listened to the Apostle's words. He was unceremoniously interrupted. The Epicureans and Stoics returned to their speculations about pure morality. Yet a few hearers were moved; such was Dionysius, a member of the celebrated Areopagus - the Church of Paris honors him as its founder - and also a lady of rank, named Damaris.

Nevertheless a step had been taken in the Greek world. The great Apostle, who could be a Jew with the Jews, now makes himself more and more a Greek with the Greeks, to win all to Christ.[9] This "Hebrew of the Hebrews [...] a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees,"[10] readily takes his comparisons from the military and civil life of the citizens of the Empire,[11] adorns his preaching with verses of Aratus, Menander, and Epimenides, and declares his sincere admiration for the Roman peace and the imperial order. Not that he now put his ideal in a new setting. His thought, passing beyond the confines of the Empire, as beyond those of the Jewish world, was limited only by the bounds of that humanity for which his Master had died on the cross. And as he said, in words that seem to have burst forth in flames from his glowing soul, his heart opened to "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame."[12]


[1] Fouard, St. Paul and his Missions, p. 106.
[2] Acts 20:8.
[3] Cf. 1 Cor. 11:17 f.
[4] Cf. 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Pet. 5:14.
[5] Cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-7.
[6] Fouard, op. cit., p. 210; cf. 1 Thess. 5:12-21.
[7] Tertullian, Apologeticus, XXXIX.
[8] Acts 17:22-31.
[9] Cf. 1 Cor. 9:21.
[10] Phil. 3:5; Acts 23:6.
[11] Prat, La Théologie de saint Paul, I, 20.
[12] Phil. 4:8.


Join the discussion at:


  1. Dear Radical Catholic,
    I have set up my own very unsophisticated blog at which is basically a defence of the faith pre Vatican II. Perhaps you would care to access it sometime?
    Regards, JMR

  2. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

  3. Again, thank you for a very interesting post...with reference to beloved St Luke, my confirmation name,


Comments are moderated according to both content and form. If you would like to keep your comments private, please indicate this, and include your email if you would like a personal response. Thank you for commenting.