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Saturday, December 16, 2006

St. Paul's New Morality

I've long been uncomfortable with the saying, "That's not very Christian ... ." It strikes me as insulting to all the good people who hold other theological beliefs. But when I overheard it said again recently, I began to wonder what it really means.

I'm currently reading Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language, and I've just come across the answer to the question. Shelley attributes the following words to the apostle Paul:
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians. 5:22-23)

According to Shelley, "Spiritual regeneration and the moral life were not merely one side of Christianity to Paul but its very fruit and goal on earth."

Little wonder, then, that the new Christian message was so appealing to so many in the Roman world -- where slavery, cruel punishments like crucifixion, and beastly entertainments like gladiatorial combat were accepted. Paul himself, initially a persecutor of those Jews who believed in Christ as the Messiah, "saw the light" and became an apostolic messenger. Caravaggio represented Paul's conversion in this image in the Cerasi Chapel in Sta. Maria del Popolo in Rome.

So, "That's not very Christian ... " refers to the moral origins of Christian belief. Others can of course be good, moral people. But to be a true Christian requires living to a high standard of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

Does the most moving Christian art reflect this spirit?