Tuesday, February 22, 2005

PAUL'S BONES. Giorgio Filippi, a archeology specialist with the Vatican Museums, reports that a Vatican team has found a sarcophagus containing the remains of the apostle Paul. They found it in the basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls).

The odd thing about this pronouncement is that the Catholic Church has claimed for years that Paul was buried there. Did they claim that without really knowing until now?

This exact site was presented by Emperor Theodosius as the site of Paul’s burial in the late 4th Century. There is some suspicion that the Emperor and others just picked sites and named them, but it is not impossible that the memory of important sites could be preserved. The Emperor and the Roman church build a basilica on the site in the 4th century. There is an altar over what is supposed to be the exact burial spot. Under the altar is a marble plaque that dates back to the 4th century. The plaque bears an inscription: PAULO APOST MART or Apostle Paul, martyr.

Filippi said "Nobody ever thought to look behind that plaque." That sort of makes the church look bad, doesn’t it?

As a reminder, note that The New Testament does not say when Paul died, or how, or where he was buried or if he was buried. The Book of Acts ends with Paul imprisoned under house arrest in Rome.

Early Christian writers tell us that Paul was killed in Rome. Clement, the Bishop of Rome at the time, wrote a letter to the Corinthians in 96 A.D. (you can read it on the Web) mentioning Paul's execution in Rome. Later, a fellow named Gaius, who lived and went to church in Rome in the second century, wrote that he knew the grave sites of Paul and Peter. Of course, that could mean he could point them out due to stories he had heard which may not have been true. Tourists to Israel find out, for example, that there are tour guides who know the sites of many things archeologists do not.

Where was Paul supposedly buried? On the Via Ostiensis, or Ostian Way, about two miles from the center or Rome. Pope Gregory XVI, 1765-1846, rediscovered the sarcophagus of St. Paul. He did not open it.

My real concern is what the Roman church will do with Paul's bones when they find them. They call the bones of the saints "relics" and keep them and even parade them around. You might remember the Orthodox Church fighting to retrieve the bones of two of their favorite saints from the Roman Church. I am afraid they will parade them around and claim they confer special benefits or have special powers.
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