Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A year to understand “what St Paul has to say to Christians today” and “learn the faith, learn Christ and finally learn the right way.” In the first audience after the solemn opening of the Year dedicated to the bimillenary of the birth of the Apostle to the Gentiles, the last before the start of the summer break (Wednesday meetings will resume on 13 August), Benedict XVI inaugurated a series of reflections that he wants to dedicate to the “exalted and almost inimitable figure” of Saint Paul, “example of total dedication to the lord and His Church as well as of great openness to humanity and its cultures,” a person who, like Christianity, “cannot be understood without placing him against the Jewish and pagan background of his time.” Against this backdrop Benedict XVI explained to the 8,000 people present in the audience hall the cultural context in which Paul lived and worked.
“We must place ourselves,” said the Holy Father, “in the world of 2,000 years age. Under many aspects today’s socio-cultural context is not that much different from that of that time.”
First of all, Paul “comes from a culture that was certainly in the minority, that of the People of Israel.” In the ancient world in Rome, Jews were at best 3 per cent of the population.
“Like today their beliefs and lifestyle clearly set them apart from their environment. This can lead to mockery or admiration, something which Paul experienced as well.” For instance, the Pope noted that “Cicero despised their religion and even the city of Jerusalem,” whereas Nero’s wife Poppaea was considered as a “sympathiser. Even Julius Caesar had recognised their particularism.
Paul also lived immersed in the Hellenistic culture “which at the time was a shared heritage at least in the Eastern Mediterranean,” in a political situation in which the Roman Empire “guaranteed stability and peace from Britain to Egypt, and provided (a common fabric for super partes unification.”
And if the “universalistic vision that was typical of the Christian Paul owes its basic impulse to Jesus,” the cultural preparation provided by his environment must be remembered so much so that he was seen as man of three cultures: Jewish, Greek and Roman.”
Similarly, the Pope noted that the prevailing stoic philosophy influenced Paul as well. Among Stoic philosophers like Seneca one can find “the highest values of humanity and wisdom which are naturally received in Christianity;” for instance the doctrine of the universe as a uniquely harmonious body, equality for all, and self-control.
Today Benedict XVI moves into the Pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. He will remain there until 11 July when he will leave to celebrate World Youth Day in Sydney (Australia). He will then be back in Castel Gandolfo on 22 July and on the 28th he will travel to Brixen-Bressanone (South Tyrol) for a period of rest until 11 August.