The Spirituality of Saint Paul: a Call to Imitation


by Frank j. Matera

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


Did St. Paul call his followers to imitate Christ? Well yes and no. Paul began to write about 20-30 years after the death of Jesus so he called his followers to imitate him. This makes sense as the disciples had an opportunity and experience of knowing Jesus intimately, they went to His house, knew his friends and imitated what He did in their presence. Paul told his followers about the Risen Christ and lived the way he prayed and thought that Christ wanted Him to live. That’s why he called for his followers to imitate him.


In writing to the Thessalonians Paul does not tell why he wants them to imitate him but encourages them to receive the gospel amid hardship and affliction with the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit. He had opposition at Philippi but moved on to Thessalonica with endurance. These are difficult times. For just as the churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea suffered affliction from their contemporaries for their faith in the gospel, so the Thessalonians suffered affliction from their contemporaries. In 2 Thessalonians Paul addresses a serious problem. Some members of the church are living in idleness, no longer working to support themselves. Paul supported himself by working with his hands and encouraged others to do likewise. He worked to please God and not to seek the praise of others.


The author’s focus on imitation emphasizes the need for models to imitate, people to provide them with an example of how to live. Such models show the young how to grow into adulthood. A good model becomes a mentor to his converts. By imitating how he lived his life in Christ, they learned how to live their lives in Christ by imitating how he followed the lead of the Spirit, they learned how to let the Spirit guide their lives. By imitating his intimate life with Christ, they learned how to live intimately with Christ. In discussing the spirituality of St. Paul, we see in I Timothy an example of future believers for how Christ was merciful to Paul, the greatest of sinners, is a model of how Christ continues to extend mercy to sinners. Like the great Apostle Paul, we must reorient our zeal and devotion so that it centers on the One who was handed over for our transgressions and raised for our justification. (Rom 4:25)


Paul’s Christ-centered spirituality is the essence of the book. The author tells us of Paul’s. The letters of St. Paul provide us with weaknesses and anxieties, of his faith and his trust, how he lives the paschal mystery day by day. The letters of St. Paul provide us with a living portrait of the Apostle that we can imitate so that we can incorporate the paschal mystery into our lives. Professor Matera provides us with a wonderful book worthy of meditation and contemplation. It is a comfortable but challenging text.

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