As members of the religious community of the Daughters of St. Paul, we here at the Pauline Center for Media Studies get excited anytime Hollywood decides to treat St. Paul on the big screen. This excitement never goes without a bit of trepidation, though, as we wonder if the filmmakers will do justice to such an instrumental follower of Jesus Christ.
“Paul, Apostle of Christ,” starring Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) and James Faulkner (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones) is not really about the life of St. Paul. Rather, it’s St. Paul reflecting on his life. The film takes place just days before his martyrdom, after the great fire of Rome when Emperor Nero blames the Christians for the fire. Persecution is in full swing, with “human candles” lining the streets as St. Luke (Caviezel) sneaks into Rome to visit Paul (Faulkner), incarcerated in the Mamertine prison.
Luke is convinced that there needs to be a written account of Paul’s efforts for the spreading of the Good News. He’s willing to risk the wrath of Rome to talk to Paul and get all the details down on papyrus. He’s aided in his mission by Paul’s good friends and helpers, Priscilla (Joanne Whalley) and Aquila (John Lynch). As Luke questions Paul about his life, Priscilla and Aquila deal with protecting, as best they can, the vulnerable Christian community in Rome.
I was privileged to see a rough cut of the film a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed. Other films on St. Paul have had a hard time cinematically portraying Paul and his essential teaching about Christ Jesus. By placing Paul on the cusp of execution, writer-director Andrew Hyatt shows a reflective Paul, a human Paul haunted by his past as well as by good not done. The most famous quotes from Paul’s letters are woven into the narrative, not in a cheesy giving-a-speech way but as integral to the story being told.
The timing of the film is significant as it’s coming out the weekend leading the Church into Holy Week. We often associate Paul, rightly, with Easter and the development of the early Church, but Paul’s life and writings teach us to glory in the Cross of Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (6:14).
The Pauline Center for Media Studies in both Los Angeles and New York are sponsoring pre-screenings of the film. But if you can’t make it to a pre-screening, please go to the theater this weekend and see this amazing movie on St. Paul. Let it guide you into the living of Holy Week with a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple, an apostle of Christ.