Professor Francesco Bianchini opened our reflections by making use of biblical rhetoric and focusing on the “autobiographical passages” of the Pauline letters, demonstrating how Paul’s ego generally disappears in the face of the priority of the Gospel. It is only possible to delineate the features of his identity indirectly: Hebrew, Hellenist, Roman citizen, believer in Christ. The principal biblical approaches to the Apostle are gathered around each of these aspects, reflecting the era in which they were immersed, but also with the risk that one aspect might be emphasized to the detriment of the others. Thus the importance of a serious and open confrontation.
The opportunity to do so was presented early on with the talk of John Pilch, a leading exponent of the Context Group, which is an approach that illustrates the Christian origins with a particular attention to cultural anthropology. The questions raised by the American expert brought into discussion some principles that have long been taken for granted: Was Paul really the apostle to the Gentiles? Who are the “gentiles” spoken of in the Pauline letters: pagans, or Judeans living in the communities of the dispersion? Was Jesus really at the center of Paul’s Gospel? With these and similar questions, our conference room was transformed into a true seminar hall, where the insistent rythm of debate and the ability of the presenter to examine the letters to the Romans, 1 Corinthians and Galatians allowed us to touch with our hands what cultural anthropology can offer by way of provocative and fresh insights into these passages, and even though not everyone agree with all of them, they remain a precious means of helping us get a better grasp of our Christian origins.
In this same interpretive vein, Professor Elisa Estevez , from the Comillas University, focused on the role of women in the Pauline letters. Dynamic personalities, with precise roles of formation and guidance in the communities, these women offered a precious opportunity for developing the Christian identity, confering on it an openness and reconfiguration of social categories that even today constitute a challenge that is difficult to fully embrace.
Professor Carlos Gil, who teaches at the University of Deusto (Bilbao) echoed Professor Estevez by presenting Paul as a crucial figure between Jesus and the birth of Christianity and describing the elements that characterized the Pauline domestic churches, showing what made them different from other social or religious associations.
Stimulated by the provocations of these two Spanish professors, the assembly did not hesite to react, creating a bridge between their reflections and the reality of the contemporay Church and bringing up sensitive and cutting-edge themes.
We are only at the third day of our study, but the impression so far is not only one of living a rich experience of reflection, but of being in relationship with a lively, dynamic and demanding apostle, who, even at this distance in time, continues to provoke anyone willing to listen, urging them to dare to do something more in the name of a Gospel that not only wants to involve our mind, but to fire up our life, transforming it into a proclamation with universal dimensions.
Greetings from Ariccia to each of you, dear brothers and sisters.