The Life and Mission of Saint Paul, by Father Richard Brennan, LL.D.

Article

The Conversion of Saint Paul

“He who persecuted us in times past doth now preach the faith which once he impugned.” – Galatians 1:23

Intimately associated and closely identified with the glorious name of Peter is the honored name of Paul. This great Apostle of the Gentiles, who is also sometimes called Saul, is the one of whom Christ himself bore testimony when he said: “He is a vessel of election to carry my name before kings, to the Gentiles, and to the children of Israel.”

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?Trained in the schools of the Pharisees, he was at first a violent enemy of the Christian religion, and had obtained letters from the high-priest in Jerusalem authorizing him to search for the Christians living in Damascus, and to bring them before the Jewish courts. He was on his way to put these designs into execution, when a ray of God’s grace struck him. “And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecute thou me? Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus, whom thou persecute; it is hard for thee to kick against the goad. And he, trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said to him: Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw nothing” (Acts 9).

Paul remained three days in Damascus, blind and without food, and crying to the Lord from the inmost depths of his soul for mercy and pardon. On the third day God sent Ananias, whom many suppose to be one of the seventy-two disciples, to Paul, to say to him: ” Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus hath sent me, he that appeared to thee in the way, that thou may receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 9:17). And immediately Saul recovered his sight, stood up, and received baptism.

With what astonishment and chagrin the Jews in Damascus looked upon this once bigoted Pharisee and bitter foe of Christianity, as he went into their synagogue, and with superhuman eloquence preached that the crucified Nazarite “was the veritable Messias! He very soon left their city, however, and retired into the solitudes of the Arabian deserts, in order more freely to prepare himself for his high duties of an Apostle to the Gentiles.

The Missionary Labors of Saint Paul

“I am appointed a preacher and an apostle, a doctor of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” – 1st Timothy 2:7

Saint Paul set out on his first great mission in the year 45, starting from Antioch, and accompanied by Saint Mark and Saint Barnabas. This expedition consumed more than four years, and covered a vast extent of territory by sea and land. During this mission he established Christian churches in the island of Cyprus and in many cities and villages of Asia Minor; and with prayer and laying on of hands ordained priests and bishops to instruct and govern the new congregations.

Saint Luke the Evangelist gives us, in the Acts of the Apostles, a remarkable example of the struggles and varied experiences of this indefatigable Apostle:

“And the multitude of the city was divided; and some of them indeed held with the Jews, but some with the Apostles. And when there was an assault made by the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to use them contumeliously, and to stone them, they, understanding it, fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the whole country round about, and were there preaching the Gospel. And there sat a certain man at Lystra impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. This same heard Paul speaking; who looking upon him, and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice: Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped up and walked. And when the multitudes had seen what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice in the Lycaonian tongue, saying: The gods are come down to us, in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; but Paul, Mercury; because he was chief speaker.

“The priest also of Jupiter, that was before the city, bringing oxen and garlands before the gate, would have offered sacrifice with the people; which when the Apostles Barnabas and Paul had heard, rending their clothes, they leaped out among the people, crying and saying: Yo men, why do ye these things? We also are mortals, men like unto you, preaching to you to be converted from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them. And speaking these things, they scarce restrained the people from sacrificing to them. Now there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, and persuading the multitude, and stoning Paul, drew him out of the city, thinking him to be dead. But as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up and entered into the city, and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”

About the year 51 we meet Saint Paul at the council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, whence he set out soon after on his second great missionary voyage to Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. His visit to Athens was specially important, where he thus addressed the highly educated and learned members of the highest court, called the Areopagus:

“But Paul, standing in the midst of Areopagus, said: Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things yon are too superstitious. For passing by and seeing your idols, I found an altar 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, dwells not in temples made with hands; neither is he served with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing it is he who gives 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 is not far from every one 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 declare to 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.”

On hearing mention made of the Resurrection, most of the Athenians began to sneer and to laugh. Some, however, agreed with Paul and believed; among others, Dionysius, a celebrated and respected member of the Areopagus.

Saint Paul Preaching at EphesusThis second voyage of Paul consumed about two years, and extended over a distance of more than a thousand leagues. On his third missionary voyage, lasting from the year 54 to the year 58, Saint Paul tarried a long time in Ephesus, a city of Asia Minor, where his new converts gave touching and instructive evidence of their strong Christian feeling. In that city fortune-telling and magic prevailed to a great extent, and the people had squandered large sums of money in the purchase of books which treated of these diabolical arts. But after Paul had preached with great eloquence and power on the one true God, the people, entering into themselves and discovering their errors, brought out all their books of magic, to the value of about 50,000 silver drachmas or about six thousand dollars, and burnt them to ashes in the public square. Would that Christians of our day might adopt a similar plan to rid society of many of the worthless, dangerous, and immoral books and newspapers with which we are deluged!

From Ephesus Saint Paul journeyed into Macedonia, Illyria, and Greece, and returned finally to Jerusalem, after having traversed a distance of more than twelve hundred leagues, and gathered in abundant harvests for Christ.

Imprisonment and Execution of Saint Paul

“To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” – Philippians 1:21,23

The public feeling of the Jews in Jerusalem against Saint Paul was again aroused to such a height that he was sent in chains to Caesarea, where ho passed two years in confinement. As he had but little hope of gaining his freedom, the more so as the Jews were continually clamoring to have him brought before their courts in Jerusalem, he appealed to the Roman emperor. Very soon after, King Agrippa came from Jerusalem on a visit to the Roman governor Festus at Caesarea, and, as he remained some days, Festus had Paul brought before the king. In the court-room, besides King Agrippa, were his sister Bernice and Festus, the governor, together with a large concourse of the military and of the chief persons of the city; all of whom listened with profound attention to the eloquent words of the apostolic prisoner. Paul related so touchingly and so ably the wonderful circumstances of his conversion, his subsequent labors, his sufferings, trials, and tribulations in his newly adopted cause, that King Agrippa cried out, “Thou art almost able to persuade me to become a Christian;” and Festus, the governor, observed, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; too much learning hath made thee mad.”

As Paul had appealed to the emperor, he was ordered to Rome in the autumn of the year 61; and, after many delays, he reached the imperial city about Easter-time the following year. Here he remained in prison for two years, but, being under very mild restraint, the Christians of Rome had access to him and were permitted to receive instructions in the new faith.

The Beheading of Saint PaulHaving once more regained his liberty, he traveled westward as far as Spain; returned again to the East, founding the churches of Crete, visiting Ephesus, and traversing Macedonia for the third time, and finally, about the year 67, he went with Saint Peter back to Rome. Here chains were again waiting for him; but this time they led to a crown of victory. This fate the Apostle had anticipated. “For I am even now ready,” he writes to his dearly beloved friend Timothy, “to be sacrificed, and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will render to me in that day of mercy.” (2nd Timothy 4) He was not wrong in his foreboding, for he and Saint Peter were soon after thrown into the Mamertine prison. Even here they turned their dungeons into pulpits, and continued to preach to their fellow-prisoners tho truths of religion, of salvation and redemption in Christ Jesus, till the final hour struck in which these heroes of Christ were to receive the crown of martyrdom. Whilst Saint Peter was hurried off to crucifixion on the Vatican hill, Saint Paul was being dragged along the Ostian road and beheaded. An inscription marks the spot where these two fellow-sufferers saw each other for the last time on earth, and bade each other farewell in the following touching words. Saint Paul said to his companion: “Peace be with thee, thou foundation-rock of the Church, shepherd of all the flocks of Christ.” The Prince of the Apostles replied: “Go in peace, thou teacher of all piety and virtue, counselor of the good and virtuous, guide to salvation.” The sumptuous Basilica of Saint Paul stands over the grave of Saint Paul, as Saint Peter’s on the Vatican hill shelters the tomb of Saint Peter. Something more than a mile to the south-east of Saint Paul’s Basilica stands the church of “Saint Paul with the Three Fountains,” on the spot where Saint Paul was put to death. Old tradition has it that the head of the Apostle, on being violently severed from his body, bounded and struck the earth three times, and that at each point of contact a spring of pure water babbled up which continues to flow till the present day.

MLA Citation

  • Father Richard Brennan, LL.D. “The Life and Mission of Saint Paul”. Christ in His Church: A Catholic Church History, 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 May 2018. Web. 18 September 2018. <>