Philosophy of Religion
Paul the Apostle, Saint Augustine, and Martin Luther have been three very important figures in the Christian church. Each went through a unique personal experience that changed the course of their lives. Those experiences were important to them and they should be important to anyone of the Christian faith. In this research paper I will explore these experiences and how they do and do not relate to each other.
Paul the Apostle
Paul was born with the name of Saul, in Tarsus of Cilicia, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He was born both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He grew up in Tarsus and became a tentmaker like his father and grandfather before him. He was taught to be an orthodox Jew. He later journeyed to Jerusalem and attended the Pharisaic school. He did not become a rabbi, but became a member of the temple police. He then set about persecuting the followers of Jesus with unequaled religious zeal. “His orthodoxy, and it alone, was the reason for his hostility to Christ and his zeal as a persecutor” (Bornkamm 15). He attempted to do what he could to destroy the church of God.
It was on a journey to Damascus to arrest followers of Christ that Paul’s life was changed forever. He experienced an intense light that blinded him, and he heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4,5) When Paul opened his eyes he was blind. His companions, who had also heard the voice but had not seen the light, led him into Damascus. There a man named Ananius, a follower of Jesus, placed his hands upon Paul and took away the blindness. He was baptized into the faith immediately. The beginning of Paul’s new life was at hand. He would become, arguably, the most important disciple of Jesus in the early church.
Although this revelation happened immediately, it took three years for it to fully manifest itself. During this period, Paul was hiding in Arabia, reflecting on everything that had happened. When he returned, he went straight to the Apostles in order to become one of them. He never met Jesus and was not part of the group that crucified him, but he believed that because of his experience on the road to Damascus, he had been reborn under Christ. In some ways Paul was considered a mystic because he had shared a religious union with Christ and that experience changed his life forever. “Paul saw his conversion as the working out of a plan devised much earlier by God. The goal of that plan was the extension of God’s grace to the Gentiles” (Murphy-O’Connor 80).
The conversion was not really a conversion it was merely a revelation, a transformation. “If Paul was ‘converted’ ‘from’ something ‘to’ something else, it certainly was not ‘from’ Judaism ‘to’ ‘Christianity’. Paul continued to be a Jew to his dying day, a fact which most Christians nowadays choose to neglect and which many Jewish scholars find exasperating” (Wilson 61). Paul didn’t really completely give up Judaism, he just realized that many of the practices were wrong. “Perhaps the acrimonious sectarianism of Judaism struck Paul as foolish and nauseating” (Wilson 71). He became what some scholars call a Christian Jew. “His beliefs about Jesus were simply added to his Judaism” (Freed 9). He believed that Jesus was the Messiah not by birth, but because of “his suffering, death, and resurrection” (Freed 8). This bears similarity to the myth that he grew up with about Herakles (Hercules). In that legend of his predecessors, Herakles, a half-god, descended in to Hades to fight for them. In sacrificing himself, he became their savior.
Paul would spend his remaining years attempting to teach the new Way in the synagogues of the region. He would be rebuffed, sometimes violently, and was frequently jailed. His final arrest brought him to Rome to answer charges where, after two years of imprisonment, he died about 64 AD.
Augustine spent most of his life searching for something to believe in. Various teachings were imparted on him. His mother, Monica, had been a Catholic, and her teachings had been deeply instilled at a young age. But his father directed his education as a pagan where he learned the love of possessions and sensual exuberance. He studied various belief systems including Cicero, the Manichee, and Platonism. He eventually came back to Christianity. He studied the works of Paul and Anthony. He studied philosophy as well. But still, he couldn’t find peace.
He became so frustrated that he began to question any reason for existing. He withdrew into himself, searching for an answer, looking for some direction. He wondered why he had not been baptized and rid of his sins. He began to sob uncontrollably and his heart filled with sorrow. ” ‘I was asking myself these questions, weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain “Take it and read, take it and read”.’” (Brown 108) Augustine could not remember these words being part of a game and took them as a command to open his Scripture and read the first thing he saw, just as Anthony had. Paul’s Epistles was the first thing he saw. “Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” was the first passage he read. In that moment, his conversion had hit its high point. “The consequence of the conversion was baptism. But with baptism the authority became unshakable for Augustine and his celibacy final” (Jaspers 67).
Augustine retired to Cassiciacum because of health problems that came on in this part of his life. He began to put together the teachings of Plato with the teachings of Paul. He began to define a new way of life, similar to that of the Egyptian monks. He began to work on several personal projects. He spent the next several years in personal contemplation about his life and moving about the region. He wanted to do something more with his life. He would eventually become a Catholic bishop at Hippo. The monastery of his church would be filled with Augustine’s past friends and was made permanent. “Augustine’s monasterium in Hippo became a ’seminary’ in the true sense of the word: a ’seed-bed’ from which Augustine’s proteges were ‘planted out’ as bishops in the leading towns of Numidia” (Brown 143). This group was the beginning of an order of monks that would span several centuries. Because of his work, he became a true citizen in the City of God.
Martin Luther was the son of a German miner. As he was growing up, both of his parents were very strict with him. “Some biographers state without hesitation that Luther’s father beat into him that profound fear of authority and those pervading streaks of stubbornness and rebelliousness which allegedly caused Luther to be sickly and anxious as a boy, “sad” as a youth, scrupulous to a fault in the monastery, and beset with doubts and depressions in later life; and which finally made him pursue the question of God’s justice to the point of unleashing a religious revolution” (Erikson 63). His mother caned him for stealing a single nut. “The rule was that of the rod” (McGiffert 8). Both were very religious and he became so as well.
He was educated in the University at Erfurt and was destined for law school. On one journey back to the university, at the age of twenty-one, Martin was caught in a storm, filled with lightning and thunder. “In mortal dread of death, he threw himself on the ground, crying to the patron saint of the miners, to whom he had often turned in seasons of distress: “Help, dear Saint Anna! I will become a monk” (McGiffert 17). By the morning of July 17th, 1505, he was an Augustinian monk at the monastery in Erfurt. By the morning of July 17th, 1505, he was an Augustinian monk at the monastery in Erfurt.
Luther’s early years in the monastery were a time of deep spiritual trouble, filled with fears of his own worthlessness and sinfulness. Though he lived a Christian life and performed many good works, he did not feel saved. Then he discovered his own salvation, and the beginning of his Protestant vision, in a passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Salvation, he suddenly understood Paul to be saying, was “the free gift of God” and came “by faith,” not through the good works. Martin recorded following the experience that he felt that he had been born again. The whole Scripture now had new meaning for him.
He began to realize that the practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church regarding salvation, religious authority, and the priesthood were completely wrong. He discovered personally that salvation could be achieved through faith in Christ. Catholics believed that faith in Christ and leading a Christian life were necessary for salvation. Protestants believed that through faith in Christ the life of a true Christian would appear.
For many years, the people had been told that the Scripture, church councils, and pronouncements of the popes were all divinely influenced by the will of God. Luther stated that only the Scriptures were divinely inspired. The priests were also supposedly in possession of the ability of “laying on of hands”. This power came from the Apostles and was passed on to priests by the bishop. Luther argued that all Christians had access to God through prayer, and that the priests were to be nothing more than full-time spiritual caregivers.
His 95 Theses, nailed to the door of the Wittenburg church, spoke against indulgences. If a person contributed to the church monetarily, God would spare him from experiencing Purgatory. By selling indulgences, the church made a lot of money. Luther fought back, saying that the church was tricking the German people. He told them that salvation was possible through repentance alone. Indulgence sales dropped off almost instantly.
Luther had his share of trouble with authority figures. Pope Leo X was the first. He requested that Martin withdraw some of his theses as heretical. When Martin refused, the Pope issued a bull excommunicating him from the church. Luther burned it in a public bonfire. Emperor Charles V called Luther before an imperial diet at Worms to lay the ban of the Empire on him if he would not recant. To this Luther replied with his most ringing declaration of defiant faith: “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe” (Bainton 144). “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen” (Bainton 302).
Luther worked for a while in seclusion translating the Bible to German. Meanwhile, his Lutheran churches were being built all over Germany. All of his churches rejected papal authority and named the local prince as the head of the church. When German prince signed a “protest” against an imperial decree against church innovations, the reform movement acquired the name Protestantism. Luther himself lived to old age much to anyone’s surprise. He married a former nun, Katharina von Bora, and raised a family that would become the example of a Protestant minister’s family.
Comparison and Conclusion
These three men are important figures in the Christian religion. Each religious experience was unique and different. Paul was a Jew who came to know Christ and in doing so became a Christian Jew. Augustine was a man desperately seeking truth to his life. Because of the words of Paul, he found that truth and became a monk. He later founded a new order through his practices. Luther, a law student, became an Augustinian monk because of a odd spiritual occurrence. He too searched for salvation and truth, but could not find them in the Catholic Church. He made a realization about Christ that would again change his life, completing the process that started in a storm. He was also influenced by the writings of Paul. These men lived during separate lifetimes, hundreds of years apart. Yet, because of them, religion was reexamined, brought to new people, and changed. What if Paul had not converted? Would Augustine have converted as well? Would Luther have converted? Their stories indicate that maybe there is a Great Plan in which we are all a part of. Faith would seem to play a large part in this.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Paul, A Critical Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
Segal, Alan F. Paul the Convert. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
Wilson, A.N. Paul: The Mind of the Apostle. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.
Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo. New York: Dorset Press, 1986.
Jaspers, Karl. Plato and Augustine. New York: Harvest Books, 1957.
Erikson, Erik H. Young Man Luther. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1958.