change in his life consisted
existentially and religiously. We will concentrate on his text that, by
analogy with the Augustinian work, we can describe as "the confessions
of St. Paul."
In every change there is a "terminus a quo" and a "terminus ad quem," a point of departure and a point of arrival. The Apostle describes first of all the point of departure, that which was first:
"If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the Church, as to righteousness under the law blameless" (Philippians 3:4-6).
We can easily make a mistake in reading this description: These were not negative titles, but the greatest titles of holiness of the time. With them Paul's process of canonization could have been opened immediately, if it had existed at that time. It is as if to say of one today: baptized the eighth day, belonging to the structure par excellence of salvation, the Catholic Church, member of the most austere order of the Church (the Pharisees were this!), most observant of the Rule, etc."
Instead, there is a point at the top of the text that divides in two the page and life of Paul. It is divided by an adverse "but" that creates a total contrast: "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8).
In this brief text the name of Christ appears three times. The encounter with him has divided his life in two, has created a before and an after. A very personal encounter (it is the only text where the Apostle uses the singular "my," not "our" Lord) and an existential encounter more than a mental one. No one will ever be able to know in-depth what happened in that brief dialogue: "Saul, Saul!" "Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus!" He describes it as a "revelation" (Galatians 1:15-16). It was a sort of fusion of fire, a beam of light that even today, at a distance of 2,000 years, illuminates the world.
2. A Change of Mind
We will attempt to analyze the content of the event. It was first of all a change of mind, of thought, literally a metanoia. Up to now Paul believed he could save himself and be righteous before God through the scrupulous observance of the law and the traditions of the fathers. Now he understood that salvation is obtained in another way. I want to be found, he says, "not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:8-9). Jesus made him experience in himself that which one day he would proclaim to the whole Church: justification by grace through faith (cf. Galatians 2:15-16; Romans 3:21 ff.).
An image comes to mind when reading the third chapter of the Letter to the Philippians: A man is walking at night in a thick wood in the faint light of a candle, being careful that it does not go out; walking, walking as dawn arrives, the sun comes out, the faint light of the candle turns pale, to the point that it is no longer useful and he throws it away. The smoking wick was his own righteousness. One day, in the life of Paul, the sun of righteousness arose, Christ the Lord, and from that moment he did not want any other light than his.
It is not a question of a point along with others, but of the heart of the Christian message. He would describe it as "his Gospel," to the point of declaring anathema whoever dared to preach a different Gospel, whether it be an angel or he himself (cf. Galatians 1:8-9). Why such insistence? Because the Christian novelty consists in this, which distinguishes it from every other religion or religious philosophy. Every religious proposal begins by telling men what they must do to save themselves or to obtain "illumination." Christianity does not begin by telling men what they must do, but what God has done for them in Christ Jesus. Christianity is the religion of grace.
There is a place -- and how great it is -- for the duties and observance of the Commandments, but then, as response to grace, not as its cause or price. We are not saved by good works, though we are not saved without good works. It is a revolution of which, at a distance of 2,000 years, we still try to be aware. The theological debates on justification through faith of the Reformation and onward have often hampered rather than favored it because they have kept the problem at the theoretical level, the texts of opposing schools, ...
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