Tag Archives: Rome

Movie Review: Paul, Apostle of Christ

I was excited when I learned that the life of Saint Paul was going to be made into a movie. Among the saints, Saint Paul is one who has a movie-worthy life:  his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, a daring escape plan that involved being lowered down the window in a basket, preaching and provoking riots and getting arrested several times, shipwreck, remaining unharmed after being bitten by a viper.

Paul,  Apostle of Christ turned out different from what I expected.  It is meditative, a bit slow-paced in the beginning, and intellectual. It assumes that the viewer knows a bit about Saint Paul. Nevertheless, the movie is still accessible, and though the movie could have been improved by better storytelling and more action, it is not devoid of tension and drama.

In short, I loved the movie despite its flaws.

Paul, Apostle of Christ opened  at the time of the Roman emperor Nero’s crackdown against Christians after the burning of Rome. Christians were being persecuted, and Saint Paul was arrested, imprisoned in the Mamertine Prisons, and condemned to death by beheading.  (For parents concerned with the appropriateness of this movie for their children, the movie depicts scenes of Christians being burned as human torches, the bloody body of a dead child, and Christians, including children, in prison waiting to be thrown to the lions).

The movie follows Saint Luke’s frequent visits to Saint Paul in prison, seeking wisdom for a struggling Christian community in Rome and in order to document Saint Paul’s story in what was later to be the Acts of the Apostles. The movie also follows the subplots of the dilemma of the Christian community whether to stay in Rome or escape, the conflicts with a faction of Christians who want to raise arms against Nero, a Roman officer’s attempt to understand Christianity, and Saint Paul’s own internal conflict grappling with his past as a persecutor of Christians himself.

One of the movie’s strengths was making Saint Paul’s words come alive, putting them in the context in which they were written – a context not so different from our own times. I like how the scriptwriter chose appropriate Pauline quotes for the different situations that the movie depicted. The themes of love, forgiveness, and hope will be appreciated by many.

I also like how the movie made Saint Paul himself come alive, highlighting his mental sharpness and his zeal for souls which made seize every available opportunity to speak about Christ to everyone, even his executioners.

Another of the movie’s strengths is its depiction of the first Christians – how they lived fraternally among themselves, how their ideals clashed with those of pagan Rome, how they sustained hope and witnessed to Christ in their ordinary lives amidst persecution. The Christian characters other than Saint Paul are just as lovable, and one of my favorite parts is when a certain Christian character’s excellent practice of his profession became an occasion of grace for a non-believer.

However, the movie could have given more emphasis on the Eucharist as the sustaining and unifying force of the Christian community. There was a lot of focus on the teachings of Christ as transmitted by Saint Paul, but not enough on the Bread of Life which was the center of life and worship among the first Christians, and which was also a central theme of Pauline writings. More emphasis on the Eucharist would have been also been an apt counterpoint to the movie scenes showing sacrifices to the pagan Roman gods.

Despite its flaws, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a worthy effort to present the apostle’s life and teachings. Its depiction of Saint Paul as a man with a rich inner life and silent power beneath his aging, battered exterior complements my image of him as a passionate and energetic preacher and man of action. Watching the movie gave me a greater appreciation of Saint Paul’s role in the early Church, and how his teachings are as relevant today as they were during those times.

Le Chiese delle Cittá: A Look at Church Architecture

There is no better self-introduction for an architect to make than to exhibit an especially astounding piece of architecture and then to talk about it. Since this is my first “official” post day (I couldn’t help posting earlier), I thought I would start a series of posts on church architecture the first of which I would use to introduce myself.

My apologies for the Italian. I will be heading to Rome for the year in less than a month and I have to practice. For those of you who care, the Latin would be “Ecclesiae Urbum” (according to my rusty Latin) and “The Churches of the Cities” in English.

Why though, am I going to Rome? The University of Notre Dame Architecture Program sends all of its third year students for a year in Rome to study the great buildings of the Classical Period as well as the Renaissance. It is an amazing opportunity and one of the many reasons why I chose Notre Dame. Architecture has fascinated me since I was thirteen and as a Catholic what better place to go than to a Catholic school that sends its architects to Rome? We’ll be living two minutes from the Pantheon and fifteen minutes from the Vatican.

However, I feel it my duty to inform you all that I am a Gothicist at heart. Italy doesn’t have too much Gothic and Rome has next to none. For all of you that are enthralled by Baroque Churches and/or Roman vestments, I pity you.

Just Kidding.

Most of the Churches I will be looking at over the next year will be Baroque because I will be in Rome. Because of this, you will all have your Roman Church Fix and everyone will be happy. I will however start with the Gothic because my love for the Medieval forms and philosophy will most likely tell you all you need to know about me. For a more complete look at what I think about architecture, follow the link.

The church I will start with (I beg forgiveness in advance) is one that has recently been in the news. It was damaged in an earthquake and could possibly never be the same. A president’s funeral was held there. It is Gothic. It is, unfortunately, Anglican. But don’t worry, what with the Ordinariate and the , we may soon find ourselves in possession of this magnificent church, The National Cathedral.

Approaching from the North...just look at that aedicular stonework.

The National Cathedral is an astounding structure with a kind of skilled stonework that is sadly not practice much today. It is inspired by the Gothic Cathedrals (Catholic) of European cities, especially those in England. Unlike the French Gothic cathedrals, which tended to be built as urban cathedrals in the heart of the city, the English cathedrals were built on parks and large green spaces outside the urban center, usually as part of a monastery complex. The National Cathedral was built in a large wooded park on a hill overlooking the city of Washington, D.C. It has three main towers, all square: two which flank the main entrance on the western end of the church and one over the crossing. It has true transepts each with a porticoed entrance. The whole complex also includes a visitors center, a rectory and numerous chapels some of which are subterranean.

Pure beauty in glass and stone.

The National Cathedral is divided into three horizontal layers, as any good Gothic church is: The Arcade, the Triforium, and the Clerestory. It is actually oriented to the east (ad orientem) and has beautiful stained-glass windows.

Of course, it would take more than a couple visits (which is all I’ve had) to study the church in detail, but anyway, pictures and the experience itself will tell more than I can ever express in words. All of the pictures were taken by me (a trend I hope to continue in future posts), and were from when I was a mere freshman in college (that actually wasn’t that long ago, but sophomore year for arkies is intense).

Most of all, I wish to express how fortunate we are to have pieces of beauty like this in our nation and our world and we would be extremely remiss if we were not to understand why the builders built these cathedrals and churches the way they did and base our own church architecture on the theological truths that we hold to be true concerning creation, art, beauty and the human mind in its path to God.

Nathaniel Gotcher, B.Arch, cand. (ND ’14)