"We are gathered at the tomb of the apostle, whose sarcophagus, kept under the papal altar, was recently made the object of a careful scientific analysis. A tiny perforation was made in the sarcophagus, which had not been opened for many centuries, for a special probe that picked up traces of a valuable linen cloth dyed purple, laminated with pure gold and a blue-colored cloth with linen thread. It also detected grains of red incense and of substances containing protein and calcium. Moreover, very tiny fragments of bone, subjected to Carbon-14 dating by experts who were unaware of their origin, were determined to belong to a person who lived between the first and second centuries. This seems to confirm the unanimous and unopposed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the apostle Paul."
So for Paul, too – as also for the apostle Peter, whose tomb has already been identified with certainty beneath the main altar of the basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican – there is important confirmation that he is buried precisely where he has always been venerated: under the main altar of the Roman basilica dedicated to him. [Time and again, we see how modern science confirms what the ancients said.]
The archaeologists Fabrizio Bisconti and Barbara Mazzei provided all of the details of the discovery [of the fresco of St. Paul] in two extensive accounts in the newspaper of the Holy See. But one element is more striking than all the rest. And it concerns the reasons that led to depicting the apostle Paul as we see him in this fresco, and then in so many others that followed: with the appearance of a pensive philosopher, with the penetrating expression, the high forehead, the incipient baldness, the pointed beard.
Here is the evocative explanation given by Professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums and a great art historian, in presenting the exhibition on St. Paul:
"The problem was posed between the third and fourth centuries, when a Church that had become widespread and well structured made the great and brilliant wager that is at the basis of our entire artistic history. [very cool] It accepted and made its own the world of images, and accepted it in the forms in which the Greco-Roman stylistic and iconographic traditions had developed it. It was in this way is that Christ the Good Shepherd took on the appearance of Pheobus Apollo or Orpheus, and that Daniel in the lion’s den had the appearance of Hercules, the victorious nude athlete.
"But how could one represent Peter and Paul, the princes of the apostles, the pillars of the Church, the foundations of the hierarchy and doctrine? Someone got a good idea. He gave the first apostles the appearance of the first philosophers. So Paul, bald, bearded, with the serious and focused air of the intellectual, had the appearance of Plato or perhaps of Plotinus, while that of Aristotle was given to the pragmatic and worldly Peter, who has the task of guiding the professing and militant Church through the snares of the world."
If this is what happened, then the Church in the early centuries had no reservations about attributing to the apostles, and to Paul in particular, the title of philosopher, nor of handing down, studying, and proclaiming in its entirety his thought, which is certainly not easy to understand and accept.
The depiction of Paul the philosopher is an eloquent warning to those who today deny relevance to a pope theologian like Benedict XVI, a modern Father of the Church.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
More interesting news about St. Paul
This time by way of Father Z's excellent blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say?