St Paul stands out as one of the most remarkable and influential characters in world history. He is traditionally known as the “apostle to the Gentiles” for his focus on sharing the gospel with people of all nations (Romans 11:13). After his conversion to Christianity, St Paul went on to become a great missionary, before eventually suffering martyrdom for his faith.
Pope Benedict XVI asked: “Who was St Paul? In the temple of Jerusalem, faced with the frenzied crowd that wanted to kill him, he presented himself with these words: “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God…” (Acts 22:3). At the end of his journey he was to say of himself: “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle… a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:7; cf. 2 Timothy 1: 11).”
He went on: “A teacher of the Gentiles, an apostle and a herald of Jesus Christ, this is how he described himself, looking back over the path of his life. But this glance does not look only to the past. “A teacher of the Gentiles” – these words open to the future, to all peoples and all generations. For us Paul is not a figure of the past whom we remember with veneration. He is also our teacher, an Apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us too.”
The Acts of the Apostles was written by St Luke the Evangelist, who accompanied St Paul on some of his missionary travels. It tells us how St Paul completed three great missions around the Roman Empire, covering thousands of miles and preaching in many towns and cities. The book also explains how he took part in the great Council of Jerusalem and collected money for the poor.
Over the years, St Paul wrote most of the letters included in the New Testament. Some of them were to specific churches he had helped to found, in cities such as Rome, Corinth and Thessalonica. Others were more personal, to dear friends such as St Philemon, St Titus and St Timothy. In his writings, he stresses the importance of faith and of identifying closely with Christ.
St Paul’s letters also give us some glimpses into his life and personality. This includes the fact that he was single, humble as well as hard-working, and that he experienced heavenly visions (1 Corinthians 7:7; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:9). He was also probably quite shortsighted, as he hinted at having problems with his eyes (Galatians 4:14-15; 6:11).
This stained glass window of St Paul contains various subtle references to his life and mission. Produced by Joseph Edward Nuttgens around 1946-1948, it’s found within St Marie’s, Rugby. Around the border, there are numerous symbols that point to different aspects of his life. This includes a tent (he worked as a tentmaker), a shipwreck (he experienced this three times) and a whip (he was flogged) (Acts 18:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:24-25).
St Paul is pictured holding a book, to symbolise his role as one of the biblical writers. The Latin quotation is originally from the Psalms (22:22). It means “in the midst of the Church, I will praise you.” This saying was later quoted in the Letter to Hebrews (2:12), which people used to think was written by St Paul.
The saint also holds a sword, which has a double meaning. It symbolises “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) – the preaching of the Word of God – and his later martyrdom, since he was executed with a sword. As is customary, St Paul is pictured alongside his fellow apostle and martyr, St Peter.
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Detail of St Paul:
Where to find this work of art
St Marie’s, Rugby
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On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: Describing his mission to the Gentiles, St Paul referred to one of the servant songs from the Prophet Isaiah as inspiration for his calling (Acts 13:46-47).
- From the New Testament: On some of his missionary journeys, St Paul was accompanied by St Luke the Evangelist.