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St. Paul’s Influence Strong on Early Fathers of Christianity


Both Eastern Orthodox and Western scholars of the Christian church were profoundly influenced by the teachings of the apostle Paul, a Jesuit scholar said on Oct. 21 at Fordham University.

Presenting the fall Loyola Chair lecture at the Lincoln Center campus, Brian E. Daley, S.J., (FCRH ’61), the visiting St. Ignatius Loyola Chair in Theology, dissected Paul’s influence on the fourth-century theologians St. John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople, and his contemporary, St. Augustine of Hippo, a father of the Latin church. Both men, he said, viewed Paul as the “quintessential Christian disciple—one who struggled,” and whose struggles with temptation and lust revealed his humanity, as did his constant need to forgive his enemies.

Brian E. Daley, S.J., (FCRH ’61) Photo by Bruce Gilbert

“Paul was a normal human being, beset with weakness, yet he was found by Christ and spent the rest of his life helping others to find him,” Father Daley said. “For both preachers, as for Paul, Christian virtue was a matter of love . . . love for both God and our neighbor in the incarnate person of the Word made flesh. To imitate Paul was to be formed anew in Christ, as Paul was.”

During the fourth century when both men were active, the shaping of Christian theology entered what Father Daley called a Pauline age, where the figure and writings of Paul took on enormous importance. John Chrysostom was a devotee who believed Paul to be the founder of Christianity, he said.

“Chrysostom really sees everything through a Pauline vision—Paul is his hero,” Father Daley said. “To Chrysostom, Paul was the first person to go out there to bring pagans as well as Jews into a Christian community that had its own identity.” Chrysostom believed the other apostles before Paul were less quick to see the distinctive Christian nature of the church, Father Daley said.

St. Augustine, however, who had been heavily influenced by philosophy, was a scholar who eventually overcame intellectual doubts, ambitions, and sexual compulsions to become a baptized member of the church. For him, Paul was the path to salvation, Father Daley said.

“The one thing philosophers didn’t give Augustine was to move beyond ideas into a union with God, to accept and transform his life,” said Father Daley. “He was finally able to find grace, the notion that God empowers us to be what we couldn’t be on our own, through reading Paul.”

Both theologians are considered to be early church fathers. Chrysostom, a Greek, was born in Antioch in 349 and is honored today as a saint by the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. Augustine of Hippo, one of the Latin fathers of the church, was born in Algeria in 354 and is honored as a saint in both Catholic and Anglican churches.

Father Daley is the Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His lecture was sponsored by the Office of the Deans, Arts and Sciences Faculty.


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