Paul’s Epitaph

Paul was buried by the Ostian Way—he who met Christ on the Damascus road and then traveled the Roman roads for the Master was given a resting place by the road.

In A.D. 324, Constantine built the basilica of St. Paul-Without-the-Walls on the gravesite. In 1835, during the excavations preceding the erection of the present basilica on the site, two slabs were discovered under the high altar. One altar bears the inscription “PAVLO” and the other altar completes it with a second line of letters “APOSTOLO MART” (“to Paul, apostle and martyr”). The letters belong to the fourth century. Could this be the burial sight of the apostle?

Rival sites are the Calendar of Philocalus and basilica of St. Sebastian on the Appian Way. Both sides of the Appian Way are lined with the elaborate tombs of Roman noblemen. If Paul is buried by this road, it holds none nobler!

These, however, are relatively unimportant matters compared with the real memorial to the apostle Paul that spread from Rome—the Church of Jesus Christ. It was Paul, not Caesar, who captured the future. He was a man who changed the world! He became more than a conqueror through Christ. On the lips and hearts of thousands upon thousands is the Gospel of which he was never ashamed.

The walls of the catacombs have several mural portraits of Paul: a long face and nose, unruffled yet eager expression, the beard white and head nearly bald. They date from the next century, too late for the artists to have seen Paul themselves; but in childhood, they could easily have heard old men describe him from their own memories.

As we look back upon the Rome of the early sixties, the three men who stand out most prominently from our point of view are Paul, Nero and Seneca. The latter was the brilliant Stoic philosopher who turned out axioms and eloquent sayings for the benefit of the people, but like Nero, Seneca had little real moral fiber and force. Yet at that time, it would have seemed ridiculous to the world at large to put Paul in the same class with Nero and Seneca.

Paul in reality rose so far above them both in all the real elements of character and manhood that no one now feels like apologizing for mention of Nero and Seneca in connection with Paul. It is a striking instance of the superiority of the spiritual forces of God over the material pomp and power of man.

For Paul, the fact that he was “a man in Christ” was not just a theological theory. This was his experience from the moment when he met the risen Christ on the Damascus road. Paul knew that his life was to be ruled, guided and directed by the new Lord, whom he had previously despised. He lost his old life to gain Christ.

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

What Paul received from Christ was not a system of ethics or doctrine, but rather a new life that gave victory over sin and created a new fellowship in which all social and spiritual barriers were removed and overcome.

What Paul received from the Lord he also passed on to the Church. The sword flashed and the very first words to the apostle from his Master must have been “Well done, good and faithful servant—receive your crowns!”

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