St Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Introduction
Posted on February 26th 2012 in St. Paul's Letters
For most weeks of the Church’s year a small section from one of his St Paul’s letters constitutes the second reading at Mass. Read in small pieces does not make his rich theology very easily understood. Most of the letters were either written in response to questions from the nascent community, or to introduce himself (Letter to the Romans), or general exhortations in the face of persecution. Whatever the circumstances under which the letters were written, the believer is left with only half a conversation from which to deduce the original context and full meaning. Often the sections read out in Church give the impression of St Paul being some family relative who arrives, gives some home truths, and leaves without providing the full explanation.
Over the next few months I will use this back page to provide a commentary on St Paul’s letters in order to discover a deeper insight into their meaning. The fist letter to be examined is the Letter to the Romans. This was most likely written in the year AD58 prior to his visit to the city, where he would be later martyred. Paul was a devout Jew and an assiduous follower of the Jewish Law, though he was also educated in classical Greek thinking. This made him particularly sensitive to the universal mission of proclaiming the uniqueness of the Israelite God. The historical understanding of God’s revelation would both be confirmed and transformed with his vision of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. The revealed God would remain one, but the relations within God would emerge as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
To many Christians the works of St Paul were the first distortion of the pure message of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us love, St Paul Christianity. This is a grossly unfair analysis and fails to grasp that the word ‘faith’ expresses a particular dynamic relationship between God and believer. St Paul brings out the richness of meaning to be found in the Gospel, and draws the different strands of the Gospel into a coherent whole, while remaining attentive to the needs of the continued life of the Christian communities.