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‘Strident Comments’ on St. Paul


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Dear Editor of TIA,

Apropos Prof. Plinio's remarks on the feast day of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, what is the evidence for his statement that St. Paul, mindful of the ignominy of crucifixion, made use of his Roman citizenship to avoid it, to suffer beheading instead?

A priori this sounds rather unlikely considering that the glorious Apostle of the Gentiles was preeminently a lover of the cross of Christ. We hear that St. Peter did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the way of his Master, and so he was crucified upside-down. And we know how his brother, the Apostle Andrew, welcomed death by means of the cross.

Chapters 11 and 12 of book 2 of Thomas a Kempis' De Imitatione Christi, are a far more appropriate way for faithful Christians to meditate on the Holy Cross than the Professor's somewhat strident comments.

     Yours in Christ,

     P.J.S. - Oxford, England


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The Editor responds:

Dear Mr. P.J.S.,

The Acts of the Apostles report that St. Paul appealed to Caesar (28:11; 19) in order to avoid the death the Jews were preparing to give him according to their law (24:6), that is to say, crucifixion. They had sworn to take the life of St. Paul (23:12-15). As it is known, Roman citizens were not crucified inside the Roman Empire. So, when St. Paul revealed to the tribune Claudio Lisias that he was a Roman citizen (22:25-30) and later appealed to Caesar, he did this to avoid the penalties of the Jews. I thought that this was also common knowledge, but your objection shows that I was wrong. So, here you have the required evidence.

Certainly St. Paul neither had fear, nor human respect to be crucified as is evident in the report of the Acts of the Apostles, but he was following a special plan of Our Lord to make him bear witness to Him in Rome (23:11). Independent of any of the more lofty rationale, what he did was to avoid that infamous crucifixion.

Regarding the infamy of crucifixion, in his comments on Paul’s appeal to Caesar, Dionysius Halicarnasius expressed the general feeling on the topic. He affirmed that by this action Paul “chose a free life and a glorious death” (Cornelius a Lapide, Commentaria in Scripturam Sanctam, vol. 17, p. 413). The “glorious death” is that of being beheaded by the sword, considered a suitable death for Romans. Also, when Dionysius says that Paul “chose,” he means that Paul avoided the other ill-famed death ” crucifixion ” that the Jews were preparing to give him.

Taking these data into consideration, it is not difficult to realize that when Prof. Plinio said that “St. Paul asked to not be crucified,” he was referring to the common interpretation of the appeal to Caesar. He neither tried to say that St. Paul was afraid of the crucifixion, as you wrongly deduced, nor to imply that he did not love the cross in the spiritual sense, which was not the question at hand in Prof. Plinio's commentary. Many times in his Epistles, St. Paul declared himself crucified with Christ, as is known.

I do not see any contradiction, as you do, between what Prof. Plinio said and the excellent work of Thomas of Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. I also praise and highly recommend it to TIA readers.

You judged the comments of Prof. Plinio to be “strident.” I don't know how this can be unless you did not like his final comments on how Catholics must be combative, and how a sentimental piety wrongly induces us to flee from the enemy. If per chance you are a partisan of this current, you might well qualify his comments as “strident” because they would have hurt your feelings.

I would be sorry for you, but could not apologize for the comments. Raising such anger among persons of this current is inevitable. However, I can assure you that his intention was to help them to be better Catholics. He and we at the TIA website are only following the teaching of the same St. Paul ordering us to tell the truth “opportunely or inopportunely” (2 Tim 4:2).

     Cordially,

     A.S. Guimarães, editor
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