In a time when there is a proliferation of Biblical films coming out of Hollywood, it seems appropriate that the next film be about the greatest Apostle and evangelizer the Church has ever known. St. John Chrysostom, a great admirer of Paul writes, “When God created the stars, the angels rejoiced. When God raised up St. Paul, they rejoiced even more.”
Sony Affirm Films partnered with ODB Films (the company who brought us Full of Grace), to produce Paul, Apostle of Christ, which presents a depth to Paul like no other film in the past. Brilliantly played by James Faulkner, Paul’s soul is bared as he awaits his fate in a Roman prison during Nero’s persecution of Christians. His companion and friend, Luke the physician (Jim Caviezel), seeks him out to learn from Paul’s spirituality and wisdom, while being the bridge between him and the small Christian community of Rome. Writer and director, Andrew Hyatt, seeks to bring out a side of Paul that is not present in the common consciousness. He shows an older Paul haunted by his past deeds, struggling to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ who has become his life, love, and passion, while teaching his followers that in the midst of persecution, “Love is patient and kind….”
The small group of Christians, led by Aquila (John Lynch) and Pricilla (Joanne Whalley), debate whether they should stay in Rome or leave since daily followers of Christ are being set aflame as living torches around the city and sent into the circus to be devoured by wild animals. One among them, Cassius, believes that fighting back is the answer. Luke steps in to remind them of Paul’s words, “Love is the only way.” The film spends much time on dialogue between Paul and Luke, Luke and the Christian community, Paul and Luke with Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), the prefect of the Mamertine Prison where Paul is kept. Through these conversations, we see inside the mind and heart of Paul who offers bits of wisdom that come from his Letters and encourages Luke to write down what he witnesses. Thus begins the writing of the Acts of the Apostles.
Being a Pauline Sister, I can be pretty picky about how Paul is presented in film. And having seen all other films about him, I feel this one is the only one that succeeds in truly understanding the powerful character of Paul while touching his tenderness and love for the community and his unshakable faith in Christ. He is a firebrand of an evangelist, even writing to one community who was losing their way, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1). But, this film also portrays a mellowed Paul who encourages in his writings, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14). It is a meditative cinematic experience like no other. I was especially moved by the beauty of forgiveness and mercy expressed at Paul’s death, in particular, through those, such as Stephen, who died for Christ and whom Paul persecuted before his conversion.
This larger than life personality of all Christian history comes alive for us on the big screen in his own humanness and brokenness while saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Who else but St. Paul can truly say that to look at him is to see Christ? It is something we all strive for and struggle to live out. Yet, this film shows Paul as that great lover of God and of people. Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family, took Paul as his patron for his religious family who teach and preach Jesus through and within the media culture. He writes, “If St. Paul were alive today, he would still burn with that double flame of the same fire: zeal for God and His Christ, and zeal for people of every land. And in order to be heard, he would mount the most commanding pulpits and multiply his words with the current means of progress: press, film, radio, television….” He is still alive today in Christians who seek to bring Christ to the world of our technologically advanced culture. Thank God for artists who can bring this message in such an inspiring and profound way that will be sure to last in the annuals of film history, at least to this Pauline.
To join in a novena based on the Letters of St. Paul, reflections, and clips from the movie, "Paul, Apostle of Christ," click here
Click here for a further reflection from Sr. Nancy on St. Paul, the communicator, and his spiritual itinerary.
About the Author
Sr. Nancy is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary. She has extensive experience in the creative aspects of social media, print media, radio and video production as well as in marketing, advertising, retail management and administration.
Sr. Nancy has given numerous media mindfulness workshops, presentations and film retreats around the country to youth, young adults, catechists, seminarians, teachers and media professionals helping to create that dialogue between faith and media. She is a member of NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Educators), SIGNIS (World Catholic Association for Communicators) and THEOCOM (Theology and Communications in Dialogue) and board member of CIMA (Catholics in Media Associates). She is the author of a theology of popular culture called, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics from Wipf & Stock Publishing. Sr. Nancy is a theologian, national speaker, blogger and film reviewer.