Our Statue of St. Paul
On Sunday the second of July we blessed and rededicated the statue of St. Paul which was recently installed in the sanctuary. As most of you know, the statue was given to the old St. Paul’s Church on Leonard Street by Miss Sarah Yavruian, now Mrs. George Panzone, back in 1961 – back when the old St. Paul’s was still being called the new St. Paul’s! The statue used to stand outside, high up on the north wall of the church – and has survived forty five Michigan winters and forty five Michigan summers suprisingly well. The church on Leonard Street finally went out of business a couple of months ago, and their loss has proved our gain. I suppose many of us view the closure of the old St. Paul’s with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we are always sad to see any place of Christian worship abandoned and to see any Christian congregation dissolved; on the other hand, we may feel a very human temptation to smile and see this as a vindication of our own position. Whatever our opinions on the matter, we wish well to the former parishioners of old St. Paul’s, and we hope that they will find new spiritual homes in which to worship and pray and grow closer to God.

The statue is of Italian marble and shows St. Paul as an older man (*1), bearded and balding, holding a book, which presumably represents his epistles, and a sword, the traditional instrument of his martyrdom in Rome. The base beneath his feet bears the legend “Sancte Paule O P N” – “ora pro nobis” – Saint Paul, pray for us”. He appears here as a rather distinguished, even handsome, figure of a man – six-foot tall and straight-backed and well-featured, a picture of strength and serenity. The sculptor has been rather generous in his depiction – because, as far as we can gather from the New Testament and from the fragments of ancient tradition, St. Paul was not of very prepossessing appearance. He is said to have been only a little chap: the name ”Paulus” means “small” in Latin, and it was perhaps for that reason that he took the Latin name “Paulus” in addition to his own Hebrew name of “Saul” (*2). When Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man in Lystra, the locals thought that the gods had come down from heaven to earth – but they called Barnabas “Jupiter” and Paul “Mercury”, which suggests that Barnabas was the more imposing figure (*3). Paul himself, writing to the Corinthians, reminds them that his opponents taunt him with the fact that though his letters are strong and powerful, his physical presence is feeble and his speech unimpressive (*4). But Paul is not ashamed of his bodily weakness – on the contrary, he boasts of it, he glories in it, because his own weakness shows that what has been achieved has been achieved not by Paul but by God (*5).

I don’t know – I wonder if anyone knows – why back in 1869 St. Paul was chosen as the patron saint of the new church built on Turner Avenue, the old, old St. Paul’s, now demolished (*6). Curious to speculate on whether the history of this parish might have been any different if some other saint had been chosen as the dedication. There are at least some parts of our story that seem singularly appropriate to the patronage of St. Paul, and that seem to speak of his example and his inspiration. In 1980 a large part of the congregation of St. Paul’s decided to sever ties with the Episcopal Church which they saw as falling into heresy. It was an extraordinarily brave and painful decision, made at enormous personal cost and sacrifice; it meant losing not just a building and an organisation, but losing friends as well – and yet people felt that they had no choice but to remain faithful to the truths which God had revealed to them. St. Paul would have understood. St. Paul spent most of his life in opposition, swimming against the tide. St. Paul the prosperous, highly respected young Pharisee gave it all up to follow Christ, and even when he became a Christian, he was not ready to follow the crowd or to make any compromises: he would stand up against any opposition, even against the twelve apostles who had walked and talked with the historical Jesus (*7). And like anyone who stands up for what he believes in, St. Paul was mocked and insulted, misunderstood and misrepresented. It is still happening today: New Age liberal Christians are always quick to denounce St. Paul as the arch-conservative, the reactionary right-wing moralist who had politically incorrect views on women, gays, slaves, and just about everything else. In fact it would be truer to say that St. Paul was one of the most radical liberal thinkers the church has ever known. Back in St. Paul’s day, there was a faction of people in the Church who regarded Christianity as a sect of Judaism, and who argued that in order to become a Christian, you must first become a Jew – you must be circumcised, you must observe the sabbath, you must eat kosher food, you must obey all the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses. St. Paul did not agree with them; he saw that a new dispensation of grace had superseded the old dispensation of law, and that accordingly Christians were no longer bound by the Law of Moses: to his conservative Jewish-Christian opponents, the idea of abandoning circumcision was a blasphemous innovation, a contradiction of everything they had ever believed about God (*8). At the opposite extreme, there was another faction of people in the Church who regarded Christianity as a purely other-worldly mystery religion, and who argued that all laws were now abolished – laws only apply to the flesh, but Christians live in the spirit, and can therefore do whatever they choose. St. Paul did not agree with them either: he saw that even if the old ritual requirements of the Law of Moses were rejected, there were still certain moral standards which were God-given and absolute (*9). Poor old St. Paul, too liberal for the conservatives, too conservative for the liberals, too Jewish for the gentiles, too gentile for the Jews, everything he said or did upset someone or other…And yet he never swerved from his course: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” (I Corinthians 9:1) – St. Paul had experienced Christ crucified and risen, and nothing else would ever matter again…

We are delighted to welcome this beautiful image of St. Paul back home to our church. Let us pray for grace to be guided by St. Paul’s example to value Christ above all things, and to serve him alone, whatever the cost.

Sancte Paule, ora pro nobis. Saint Paul, pray for us. * * *

(*1) I am not sure what age the sculptor had in mind, but St. Paul himself probably never reached advanced years: the martyrdom of St. Stephen must have taken place around 35 AD, at which time St. Paul was a “young man” (Acts 7:58), say in his twenties; St. Paul’s own martyrdom under Nero must have taken place around 65 AD, when he would only have been in his fifties. This is not old!

(*2) Despite common opinion, there is no evidence that the name was changed from Saul to Paul in token of a change of life, as happened to Abram – Abraham and Jacob – Israel in the Old Testament, and Simon – Peter in the New. Jews and other “barbarians” (from the Roman point of view!) probably adopted Latin and Greek names for convenience, just as many Chinese-Americans adopt English names. “Paulus” was a common Roman family name, and there is at least one other “Paulus” in the New Testament, the Sergius Paulus who was proconsul of Cyprus (Acts 13:7). In addition to the meaning of the name, there may have been other factors in the choice – the similarity in sound of “Paul” to “Saul”, or possibly some association with the Paulus family.


(*3) However, the identification of Paul as Mercury may simply reflect the fact that he was the chief speaker, Mercury being the herald or messenger of the gods (Acts 14: 12). The Lystrans’ choice of Jupiter and Mercury may have been influenced by the story of Jupiter and Mercury appearing to Philemon and Baucis in Phrygia (Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII).


(*4) II Corinthians 10:10


(*5) II Corinthians 11:30; 12:5; 13:4; 13:9; etc.


(*6) Interestingly, the church on Turner Avenue was originally known as “St. Paul’s Memorial Church” because of the twelve stained-glass windows given in memory of heroes and heroines of the Civil War (cf Mrs. Queen Goolian’s “History of St. Paul’s”).


(*7) Even against St. Peter (“Cephas”) himself – Galatians 2:11-14.


(*8) Arguments against the “Judaising” conservatives dominate the Epistle to the Galatians. It appears that after St. Paul has established a Christian congregation in Galatia, visiting Christians from Jerusalem told the Galations that they now had to be circumcised and accept the Law of Moses; St. Paul writes to the Galatians, telling them that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16) and that “in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6).


(*9) Arguments against the “spiritual” liberals dominate the two Epistles to the Corinthians. It appears that some of the Corinthians had taken their “freedom in Christ” so literally that someone was even living in incestuous adultery (I Corinthians 5:1). St. Paul tells the Corinthians that even for “spiritual” men the things of the flesh remain important, because “your bodies are members of Christ” (I Corinthians 6:15) and because “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19).

- Fr Richard Bowyer, August 2006