30 June 2023

The Commemoration of Saint Paul, Apostle

From Dom Prosper Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Whereas the Greeks on this day are uniting in one Solemnity, the Memory, as they express it, of the illustrious Saints, the Twelve Apostles, worthy of all praise, (Menæa, June 30)—let us follow in spirit the Roman populace, who are gathered around the successor of Peter, and are making the splendid basilica on the Ostian Way re-echo with songs of victory, while he is offering to the Doctor of the Gentiles, the grateful homage of the city and of the world.

On the Twenty-fifth of January, we beheld Stephen leading to Christ’s mystic crib, the once ravenous wolf of Benjamin(Genesis 49:27) tamed at last, but who in the morning of his impetuous youth, had filled the Church of God with tears and bloodshed. His evening did indeed come when as Jacob had foreseen, Saul, the persecutor, would outstrip all his predecessors among Christ’s disciples, in giving increase to the Fold, and in feeding the Flock, with the choicest food of his heavenly doctrine. (The following is mainly borrowed from Dom Guéranger in his work: Sainte Cécile et la société romaine aux deux premiers siécles, as was likewise the passage concerning St Peter below)

By an unexampled privilege, Our Lord though already seated at the Right Hand of his Father, vouchsafed not only to call, but personally to instruct this new disciple, so that he might one day be numbered amongst his Apostles. The ways of God can never be contradictory one to another; hence, this creation of a new apostle may not be accomplished in a manner derogatory to the divine constitution already delivered to the Christian Church by the Son of God. Therefore, as soon as the illustrious convert emerges from those sublime contemplations, during which the Christian dogma has been poured into his soul, he must needs go to Jerusalem to see Peter, as he himself relates to his disciples in Galatia. “It behooved him,” says Bossuet, “to collate his own Gospel with that of the prince of the apostles.” (Sermon sur l’unitéFrom that moment, aggregated as a cooperator in the preaching of the Gospel, we see him at Antioch (in the “Acts of the Apostles”), accompanied by Barnabas, presenting himself to the work of opening the Church unto the Gentiles, the conversion of Cornelius having been already effected by Peter himself. He passes a whole year in this city, reaping an abundant harvest. After Peter’s imprisonment in Jerusalem, at his subsequent departure for Rome, a warning from on high makes known to those who preside over the Church at Antioch that the moment is come for them to impose hands on the two missionaries, and confer on them the sacred character of Ordination.

From that hour Paul attains the full stature of an apostle, and it is clear that the mission unto which he had been preparing is now opened. At the same time, in St. Luke’s narrative, Barnabas almost disappears, retaining but a very secondary position. The new Apostle has his own disciples, and he henceforth takes the lead in a long series of peregrinations marked by as many conquests. His first is to Cyprus, where he seals an alliance with ancient Rome, analogous to that which Peter contracted at Cesarea.

In the year 43, when Paul landed in Cyprus, its proconsul was Sergius Paulus, illustrious for his ancestry, but still more so for the wisdom of his government. He wished to hear Paul and Barnabas: a miracle worked by Paul, under his very eyes, convinced him of the truth of his teaching; and the Christian Church counted, that day, among her sons one who was heir to the proudest name among the noble families of Rome. Touching was the mutual exchange that took place on this occasion. The Roman Patrician had just been freed by the Jew from the yoke of the Gentiles; in return, the Jew hitherto called Saul received and henceforth adopted the name of Paul, as a trophy worthy of the Apostle of the Gentiles.

From Cyprus Paul traveled successively to Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia, everywhere preaching the Gospel and founding Churches. He then returned to Antioch in the year 47, and found the Church there in a state of violent agitation. A party of Jews, who had come over to Christianity from the ranks of the Pharisees, while consenting indeed to the admission of gentiles into the Church, were maintaining that this could only be on condition of their being likewise subjected to Mosaic practices, such as circumcision, distinction of meats, etc. The Christians, who had been received from among the gentiles, were disgusted at this servitude to which Peter had not subjected them; and thus the controversy became so hot that Paul deemed it necessary to undertake a journey to Jerusalem where Peter had lately arrived, a fugitive from Rome, and where the Apostolic College was at that moment furthermore represented by John, as well as by James the bishop of the city. These being assembled to deliberate on the question, it was decreed, in the name and under the influence of the Holy Ghost, that the exacting of anything relative to Jewish rites should be utterly forbidden in the case of gentile converts. It was on this occasion, too, that Paul received from these Pillars, as he styles them, the confirmation of this his apostolate superaded to that of the Twelve, and to be specially exercised in favor of the gentiles. By this extraordinary ministry deputed to the nations, the Christian Church definitively asserted her independence of Judaism; and the gentiles could now freely come flocking into her bosom.

Paul then resumed his course of apostolic journeys over all the Provinces he had already evangelized, in order to confirm the Churches. Thence, passing through Phrygia, he came to Macedonia, stayed a while at Athens, and then on to Corinth, where he remained a year and a half. At his departure he left in this city a flourishing Church, whereby he excited against him the fury of the Jews. From Corinth, Paul went to Ephesus, where he stayed two years. So great was his success with the gentiles there, that the worship of Diana was materially weakened; whereupon a tumult ensuing, Paul thought the moment come for his departure from Ephesus. During his abode there he made known to his disciples a thought that had long haunted him: I must needs see Rome: the capital of the gentile world was indeed calling the Apostle of the Gentiles.

The rapid growth of Christianity in the capital of the empire had brought face to face and in a manner more striking than elsewhere, the two heterogeneous elements which formed the Church of that day: the unity of Faith held together in one fold those that had formerly been Jews, and those that had been pagans. Now it so happened, that some of both of these classes, too easily forgetting the gratuity of their common vocation to the faith, began to go so far as to despise their brethren of the opposite class, deeming them less worthy than themselves of that baptism which had made them all equal in Christ. On the one side, certain Jews disdained the gentiles, remembering the polytheism which had sullied their past life with all those vices which come in its train. On the other side, certain gentiles contemned the Jews, as coming from an ungrateful and blinded people, who had so abused the favors lavished upon them by God as to crucify the Messias.

In the year 53, Paul, already aware of these debates, profited of a second journey to Corinth, to write to the Faithful of the Church in Rome that famous Epistle in which he emphatically sets forth how gratuitous is the gift of faith; and maintains how Jew and gentile alike, being quite unworthy of the divine adoption, have been called solely by an act of pure mercy. He likewise shows how Jew and gentile, forgetting the past, have but to embrace one another in the fraternity of one same faith, thus testifying their gratitude to God through whom both of them have been alike prevented by grace. His apostolic dignity, so fully recognized, authorized Paul to interfere in this matter, though touching a Christian center not founded by him.

Whilst awaiting the day when he could behold with his own eyes the queen of all Churches, lately fixed by Peter on the Seven Hills, the Apostle was anxious once again to make a pilgrimage to the City of David. Jewish rage was just at that moment rampant in Jerusalem against him; national pride being more specially piqued, in that he, the former disciple of Gamaliel, the accomplice of Stephen’s murder, should now invite the gentiles to be coupled with the sons of Abraham, under the one same Law of Jesus of Nazareth. The Tribune Lysias was scarce able to snatch him from the hands of these bloodthirsty men, ready to tear him to pieces. The following night Christ appeared to Paul, saying to him: Be constant, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

It was not, however, till after two years of captivity, that Paul, having appealed to Cæsar, landed in Italy at the beginning of the year 56. Then at last the Apostle of the Gentiles made his entry into Rome: the trappings of a victor surrounded him not; he was but a humble Jewish prisoner led to the place where all appellants to Cæsar were mustered; yet was he that Jew whom Christ himself had conquered on the way to Damascus. No longer Saul, the Benjamite, he now presented himself under the Roman name of Paul; nor was this a robbery on his part, for after Peter, he was to be the second glory of Rome, the second pledge of her immortality. He brought not the primacy with him indeed, as Peter had done, for that had been committed by Christ to one alone; but he came to assert in the very center of the gentile world, the divine delegation which he had received in favor of the nations, just as an affluent flows into the main stream, which mingling its waters with its own, at last empties them unitedly into the ocean. Paul was to have no successor in his extraordinary mission; but the element which he had deposited in the Mistress, the Mother Church, was of such value, that in course of ages the Roman Pontiffs, heirs to Peter’s monarchical power have ever appealed to Paul’s memory as well; pronouncing their mandates in the united names of the “Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”

Instead of having to await in prison the day whereon his cause was to be heard, Paul was at liberty to choose a lodging place in the city. He was obliged, however, to be accompanied day and night by a soldier to whom, according to the usual custom, he was chained, but only in such a way as to prevent his escape: all his movements being otherwise left perfectly free, he could easily continue to preach the Word of God. Towards the close of the year 57, in virtue of his appeal to Cæsar, the Apostle was at last summoned before the pretorium; and the successful pleading of his cause resulted in his acquittal.

Being now free, Paul revisited the East, confirming on his Evangelical course the Churches he had previously founded. Thus Ephesus and Crete once more enjoyed his presence; in the one he left his disciple Timothy as bishop, and in the other Titus. But Paul had not quitted Rome forever: marvelously illumined as she had been by his preaching, the Roman Church was yet to be gilded by his parting rays and empurpled by his blood. A heavenly warning, as in Peter’s case, bade him also return to Rome where martyrdom was awaiting him. This fact is attested by St. Athanasius: (De fuga sua, xviii) we learn the same also from St. Asterius of Ameseus, who hereupon remarks that the Apostle entered Rome once more, “in order to teach the very masters of the world; to turn them into his disciples; and by their means to wrestle with the whole human race. There, Paul finds Peter engaged in the same work; he at once yokes himself to the same divine chariot with him, and sets about instructing the children of the Law, within the Synagogues, and the Gentiles outside.” (Homil. viii)

At length Rome possesses her two Princes conjointly: the one seated on the eternal chair, holding in his hands the keys of the kingdom of heaven; the other surrounded by the sheaves he has garnered from the fields of the Gentile world. They shall now part no more; even in death, as the Church sings, they shall not be separated. The period of their being together was necessarily short, for they must needs render to their Master the testimony of blood before the roman world should be freed from the odious tyranny under which it was groaning. Their death was to be Nero’s last crime; after that he was to fade from sight, leaving the world horror-stricken at his end, as shameful as it was tragic.

It was in the year 65 that Paul returned to Rome; once more signalizing his presence there by the manifold works of his apostolate. From the time of his first labors there, he had made converts even in the very palace of the Cæsars: being now returned to this former theater of his zeal, he again finds entrance into the imperial abode. A woman who was living in criminal intercourse with Nero, as likewise a cup-bearer of his, were both caught in the apostolic net, for it were hard indeed to resist the power of that mighty word. Nero, enraged at “this foreigner’s” influence in his very household, was bent on Paul’s destruction. Being first of all cast into prison, his zeal cooled not, but he persisted the more in preaching Jesus Christ. The two converts of the imperial palace having abjured, together with paganism, the manner of life they had been leading, this twofold conversion of theirs did but hasten Paul’s martyrdom. He was well aware that it would be so, as can be seen in these lines addressed to Timothy: “I labor even unto bands, as an evil doer; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore, I endure all things for the sake of the elect. For I am even now ready to be sacrificed, like a victim already sprinkled with the lustral water, 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.” (2 Timothy)

On the Twenty-ninth of June, in the year 67, while Peter, having crossed the Tiber by the Triumphal bridge, was drawing nigh to the cross prepared for him on the Vatican plain, another martyrdom was being consummated on the left bank of the same river. Paul, as he was led along the Ostian Way, was also followed by a group of the Faithful who mingled with the escort of the condemned. His sentence was that he should be beheaded at the Salvian Waters. A two miles’ march brought the soldiers to a path leading eastwards, by which they led their prisoner to the place fixed upon for the martyrdom of this, the Doctor of the Gentiles. Paul fell on his knees, addressing his last prayer to God; then having bandaged his eyes, he awaited the death-stroke. A soldier brandished his sword, and the Apostle’s head, as it was severed from the trunk, made three bounds along the ground; three fountains immediately sprang up on these several spots. Such is the local tradition; and to this day, three fountains are to be seen on the site of his martyrdom, over each of which an altar is raised.

Let us unite our voice of homage to that of preceding ages in honor of this Vessel of Election, whence salvation flows so abundantly over our earth. Let us first borrow the following Responsories from the Roman Office, the formulæ of which for today’s feast present such a fair collection of graceful beauty.

℟. Thou art a Vessel of Election, O holy Apostle, Paul, thou Preacher of Truth unto the whole world: * By whom all nations have known the grace of God.

℣ Intercede for us unto God who elected thee. * By whom.

℟. By the grace of God I am what I am: * And his grace in me hath not been void, but ever abideth in me.

℣. He who wrought in Peter among the Apostles hath wrought in me also among the Gentiles. * And his.

On the feast of the Conversion of the great Apostle, Adam of Saint Victor furnished a theme for our songs in an admirable Sequence. The Missal of Liège of the year 1527 offers us the following, the simplicity of which is wanting neither is gracefulness nor depth:


Unto the Doctor of the Gentiles, clap your applauding hands, O ye Gentiles: and with voice proclaim your soul’s wishes.

To the Shepherd appertaineth the care of the flock: unto the sheep it behooveth to revere the Shepherd.

O chosen vessel, vessel of honor without flaw, rightfully treasured by such as seek indeed pastures watered by the true Fountain:

The sacred Conversion of the Doctor of the Gentiles confers gladness in this our exile, subject of praise, and a worthy example.

At morn, ravenous; at eve, munificent: not vainly did the type of Benjamin give omen.

The Mother brought forth a son of pain: the Father called him the Son of the right hand, for he knew the mystery.

That which Saul had ravished, Paul distributed: he divided the spoils of the Law in grace.

Him whom Annas appointed to be the Leader of wickedness, Christ showed to be the Minister of grace.

Whilst intent on slaughter, he falls down blind: a voice from the clouds reproves him.

“Wherefore persecutest thou Me, O Saul, wherefore followest Me not? Wherefore kickest thou against the goad?

“The while thou persecutest Me, thou thinkest to do Me service brandishing the sword with bloody hands against My brethren.

“The letter is at an end, the old things are done away with: thee do I now constitute Preacher of grace: at once arise, I give place to pardon.”

O full grace from out whose copious stream the arid world is inundated.

O happy vocation, not on account of merits: O copious donation, beyond all measure due!

Through the midst of water, through the fire of the Spirit, he passes to divine refreshment.

His name being changed, changed are his manners: in order he is second, in labors he is first.

Of Apostles called in the first instance, he is peer: he excels in his epistles, he is called directly by Heaven.

Thrice is he beaten with rods, once stoned: thrice drowned in the sea, yet perished not in the waves.

In spirit rapt to the Third Heaven, he beheld with mental gaze the mystery of God, nor spoke it again, for speak it he could not.

O matchless Shepherd, glory of shepherds, by a safe pathway lead, conduct, establish thy sheep in the place of perennial pasture.


Saint Peter Damian has consecrated a hymn to the Doctor of the Gentiles in strains of energetic piety.


O Paul, incomparable Doctor, O resounding Trumpet of the Church, O fleeting Cloud swift carrying the thunder all round earth’s circuit,—

Do thou roar thy potent thunders into us, and irrigate the fields of our hearts: may our arid souls wax green, beneath the sweet showers of heavenly graces.

O mighty merit of Paul, he scales the third heaven, he hears words of mystery, which he dares not to repeat to anyone.

Whilst he casts the seed of the Word, a rich harvest springs up: thus are heaven’s granaries filled with the fruits of good works.

After the manner of a lamp, he sheds his rays over the world: the darkness of error he puts to flight, and Truth reigns alone.

Praise be to the Father, born of none, glory be to the Only-Begotten, Supreme Majesty be to the Spirit, equal of Both.


In conclusion, conformably with liturgical tradition which never celebrates one of these two Apostles without making a commemoration of the other, we give below, despoiled of all later touches, the entire poem of Elpis, whence yesterday’s Vesper hymn culled but two strophes. The third strophe is used by the Church on the other Feasts of Saint Peter, the fourth on those of Saint Paul; the two unitedly formed the Lauds hymn of yesterday’s Feast.


O Light of Light (Jesus), Thou hast inundated every age with a golden light and with a ruddy beauty, adorning the heavens with a glorious martyrdom, on this sacred day, which gives pardon to the guilty.

The Door-keeper of heaven, as also the Teacher of the universe, the Judges of the world, the true Lights of the earth, the one conquering by the cross, the other by the sword, crowned with laurel, both take their seats in the senate of (true) Life.

Come! O Good Shepherd, Peter, do thou mercifully receive the prayers of suppliants, and loosen the fetters of sin, by the power given to thee, whence, by thy word, thou shuttest or openest heaven to all.

O Paul, thou excellent Teacher, instruct us, regulate our way of living, and do thou carefully bear us up in spirit to heaven: until that which we now have but in part being brought to an end, that which is perfect may be given to us in its plenitude.

O Twin Olive Trees, made one in tenderness of affection, grant that devoted in faith, strong in hope, and above all, filled from the Fount of two-fold charity, we may come to live forever after the death of this flesh.

To the Trinity in Unity, to which there is ever due Supreme dominion, both in time past, and now through everlasting ages, may there be eternal glory, honor, power, and jubilation!


To thee, O Paul, we turn this day! Happily fixed as we are on Peter, the Rock that supports the Church, could we possibly forget thee by whose labors our forefathers, the Gentiles, became part of the City of God? Sion, once the well-beloved, rejected the Stone and stumbled against it: tell us then the mystery of this other Jerusalem come down from heaven, the materials whereof were nevertheless drawn up from the abyss! Compacted together in admirable masonry, they proclaim the glory of the skillful Architect who laid them on the Corner-Stone; and precious stones of such surpassing brilliancy are they, as to outshine all the gems of the Daughter of Sion. To whom is this newcomer indebted for all her beauty, for all these her bridal honors? How have the sons of the forsaken one come out from the unclean dens where their mother dwelt, a companion of dragons and of leopards? (Song of Solomon 4:8) It is because the Voice of the Spouse was heard saying: Come, my Bride, come from Libanus; from the top of Amana, from the top of Sanir and Hermon! (Canticle 4:8) Nevertheless, the Spouse in his own Sacred person, while he lived here below, never quitted the ancient Land of Promise, and his mortal accents never once fell on the ear of her who dwelt beyond the confines of Jacob? But, O Paul, didst thou not exclaim: How shall they be called upon Him? how believe Him of whom they have not heard? (Romans 10:14) Yet whosoever knows thy love of the Spouse, has naught to fear, mindful that thou thyself, O holy Apostle, hast proposed the problem and canst solve it.

Lo! this is the answer,—we sang it on the day of Christ’s triumphant Ascension: “When the beauty of the Lord shall arise above the heavens, he shall be mounted on a cloud, and the wing of the wind shall be his swift steed; and, clad in light, he shall dart from pole to pole across the heavens, giving his gifts to the children of men.” (Resp. of Matins Ascen.) Thou thyself, O Paul, art this cloud, this wing of the wind bearing the Bridegroom’s message unto the nations; yea, thou wast expressly chosen from on high to teach the Gentiles, as those pillars of the Church, Peter, James, and John, have attested.(Galatians 2:7-9) How beauteous thy feet, when, having quitted Sion, thou didst appear on our mountains and didst cry out to the Gentiles: Thy God shall reign. (Isaiah 52:7) How sweet thy voice, when it murmured in the ear of the poor forsaken one, the heavenly call: Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline the ear of thy heart. (Psalm 44:11) How tender the pity thou didst evince to her who had long lived a stranger to the Covenant, without promise, without a God in this world! (Ephesians 2:12)

Alas, afar off indeed was she whom it behooved thee to lead to the Lord Jesus and to bring so nigh to him, that he and she should form but one body! Thou didst experience, in this immense labor, both the pains of childbirth, and the cares of a mother giving the breast to her newborn babe; thou hadst to bear the tedious delay of the growth of the Bride, to ward from her every defilement, to inure her gradually to the dazzling light of the Spouse; until, at last, rooted and founded in charity, and having reached unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ, she might indeed be his glory, and be filled by him to all the plenitude of God. But what a toil to bring up this new creation, from the original slime, to the throne of the heavenly Adam, at the Right Hand of the Father! Oftentimes repulsed, betrayed, put in chains, misunderstood in the most delicate sentiments of thine apostolic heart, thou hadst naught for thy salary, save untold anguish and suffering. Yet, fatigue, watchings, hunger, cold, nakedness, abandonment, open violence, perfidious attacks, perils of all kinds, far from abating, did but excite thy zeal; joy superabounded in thee; for these sufferings were the filling up of those which Jesus had endured to purchase that alliance so long ambitioned by Eternal Wisdom. After his example, thou too hadst but one end, whither tended all thy strength and all thy gentleness: along the dusty Roman roads, or tempest-tossed into the depth of the sea; in the city or the desert; borne aloft on ecstatic wing into the third heavens, or bowed beneath the whips of the Jews and the sword of a Nero; everywhere bearing the embassy of Christ, thou didst boldly defy alike life and death, powers of earth and powers of heaven, to stay the might of the Lord, or of his love, whereby thou was upheld in thy vast enterprise. Then, as if aware by anticipation of the amaze that would be excited by these enthusiastic outpourings of thy great soul, thou didst utter this sublime cry: Would to God that you could bear with some little of my folly: but do bear with me, for I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ! (2 Corinthians 11:1-2)

Yesterday, O Paul, thy work was ended. Having given all, thou at length gavest thyself. The sword, by striking off thy sacred head, accomplished Christ’s triumph, even as thou hadst predicted. Peter’s death fixes the throne of the Spouse in its predestined place. But to thee is the Bride, the Gentile world, indebted for that she is now able, as she sits at the right hand of the Spouse, to turn to the rival Synagogue exclaiming: I am black, but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem; therefore hath the King loved me and chosen me to be his queen! (Song of Solomon 1:4, 4:8)

Praise then be to thee, O Apostle, now and forever! Eternity itself will not suffice to exhaust the gratitude of us, the “Nations.” Accomplish thy work in each one of us during all aged; permit not that, by the falling off of any one amongst those called by Our Lord to complete his mystic Body, the Bride be deprived of one single increase on which she might have counted. Uphold and brace against despondency the preachers of the sacred Word, all those who by the pen or by any title whatsoever, are continuing thy work of light. Multiply those valiant apostles who are ever narrowing upon our globe the boundaries of darkness. Thou didst promise to remain with us, to be ever watchful of faith’s progress in souls, and to cause the pure delights of divine union to be ever developing there. Keep thy promise; because of thy going away to Jesus, thy word is none the less plighted to those who, like ourselves, could not know thee here below. For to those who have not seen thy face in the flesh, thou hast left, in one of thine immortal Epistles, the assurance that thou wilt take care that their hearts be comforted, being instructed in charity, and unto all riches of fullness of understanding, unto the knowledge of the mystery of God the Father and of Christ Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.(Colossians 2:1-3)

During this season of the sacred cycle, the reign of the Holy Spirit who formeth saints, (Romans 8) grant that Christians of good will may be brought to understand how, by their very baptism, they are put in possession of that sublime vocation which is too often imagined to be the happy lot of but a chosen few. Oh! would that they could seize this grand yet very simple idea, which thou hast given of the mystery wherein is contained the absolute and universal principle of Christian Life; (Romans 6) that, having been buried with Jesus under the waters, and thereby incorporated with him, they must necessarily be bound by every right and title to become saints, to aim at union with Jesus in his Life, since they have been granted union with him in his Death. Ye are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God! (Colossians 3:3) these were the words addressed by thee to our forefathers: oh! then, repeat them to us likewise, for thou didst give them as a truth intended for all without distinction! Suffer not, O Doctor of us, Gentiles, that the light grow dim among us, to the great detriment of the Lord and of his Bride.

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