Daniel J. Harrington, SJ
Meeting St. Paul Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission and His Message (Loyola Press)
Citation: Harrington, Daniel J. Meeting St. Paul Today: Understanding the Man, His Mission and His Message. Chicago: Loyola Press.
Reading Level (choose all that apply): Young Adult Parent Adult
Comments: In his recently released Meeting St. Paul, author Daniel Harrington, S.J. steps away from his usual scholarly audience to tell the people in the pews about Paul and his letters. The timing of this book is particularly appropriate in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s proclamation of the “Pauline Year” (June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009) to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth.Fr. Herrington does a remarkably good job of distilling his years of study of the first apostle to the gentiles into an easily readable, well organized and compact overview of Paul’s life and letters. In sharp contrast with short passages of highlights of St. Paul’s epistles as presented in liturgy, the book helps to bring the well known passages into proper perspective within the overall contexts of St. Paul’s life and teaching. Herrington helps to answer the questions: What do we really know about Paul and his life? To what situations were his letters addressed? What are the root messages in Paul’s teachings? Meeting St. Paul is a valuable New Testament resource at the parish level on a stand-alone basis, and could serve well as a guide to a more meaningful rereading of all Pauline epistles.
Author Biography: Daniel Harrington is one of the preeminent New Testament scholars in the world today. He is currently professor of New Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has published over 20 books to date on a wide range of New Testament as well as Old Testament topics. He serves as editor of Liturgical Press’ Sacra Pagina series, and has contributed to the series in the role of author as well. Since 1972, Fr. Harrington has been the general editor of New Testament Abstracts. He is a past president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.
Plot Summary: Meeting St. Paul Today is organized in three principal parts: what is known about Paul and his life, overviews of each individual letter, and ways to understand the significance of Paul’s teachings today. In the first part, Herrington sifts through all of Paul’s letters as well as Luke’s Acts of the Apostles to draw all of the biographical hints about Paul together. The study includes both what is known about Paul as a person, and what is known about his travels and ministry borrowing from extra-biblical sources, where necessary, to fill in blanks. In the second and largest part of the book, Herrington presents the Pauline corpus letter-by-letter. Relative to each letter, he presents Paul’s relationship with the addressees, his view of the situation that was being addressed by the letter and the principal themes of the letter. Although the work is intended for a general audience, Herrington does not pull any punches from his scholarly studies. For example, he is careful to distinguish between the letters generally accepted as written by St. Paul, and the letters believed to be written by Paul’s successors in ministry after his death. He is careful to explain the roots of this practice, common in the first century in showing respect for the originator of a movement, but frowned upon today. By studying these later “Pauline” letters, Herrington helps us to understand issues of the communities and steps in growth of the fledgling Church late in the first century. The third and final part of the book presents an overview of Paul’s themes as seen from a contemporary perspective. In so doing, Herrington gives the reader an outline of how Bible studies can be done to shed light on the original meaning of the texts as well as their relevance to the reader and world today. Throughout the book Herrington portrays Paul as a real human being with weaknesses as well as strengths. It is perhaps through these weaknesses that Herrington invites the reader into communion with one of the most important human links in the growing chain of Christ’s Church. From a standpoint of using the book as a study resource, it lends itself well as a guide in a systematic rereading of each of the letters. Chapters which cover individual letters contain a summary of key texts and study questions. For an even more comprehensive study of Paul’s letters, the books of the Sacra Pagina New Testament series edited by Herrington would be excellent companion resources.
1. Based on the biographical sketch, reconstruct the chronology of Paul’s life. What factors were determinative in his life and ministry? How did his Jewish background affect his mission? How did his Roman citizenship impact his mission and story? If he walked into the room today, what would he be like?
2. Consider the context of Christianity emerging in the Roman Empire. Were there benefits of the times to Christianity? Were there challenges?
3. Contrasting the issues addressed in the uncontested Pauline letters and the later letters, what were the differences in the society?
4. Describe the process of how Paul’s letters might have come to their status of scripture.
5. Herrington proposes that some of the letters originally attributed to Paul now appear to have been written by others after Paul’s death. Although this may at first seem troubling, how does Herrington come to the conclusion that the disputed letters are also of immense value both spiritually and in understanding the development of the early Church?
6. What were some issues in the Pastoral Epistles that give us some clues about concerns of the late first century Church?
7. Describe Harrington’s suggestions of how to study books of the Bible to illuminate meanings past and present.
8.Harrington illuminates Paul in three dimensions. What are some of the unfavorable characteristics that Herrington presents which make Paul seem so real?
9. Contrasting Paul’s teaching with the Gospels, what aspects of the Gospels are not present in Paul’s letters. What portions are highlighted?
10. Paul’s teaching of the mystery of Christ in the Christian and the Christian in Christ is perhaps his most far-reaching theological theme. Consider how this is played out in the life of the Church. Consider how it is played out in your own life.
Prepared By: Craig George
Date: August 2008