|Caravaggio: Conversion on the Way to Damascus|
January 25th is an important day, marking the conversion of St. Paul. Everybody knows that Saul of Tarsus mercilessly persecuted the fledgling Christian religion. He watched the cloaks of the Jews who stoned Stephen. And, everyone knows that he was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus.
What fewer read is that St. Paul was never instructed by a human being in the Christian faith!
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.(Galatians 1:15-24 RSV)
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.(Galatians 2:1-2 RSV)
In other words, it was at least 14 years (17 if the three in Arabia are added, rather than included) before St. Paul got his divinely revealed gospel checked out by Peter, James and John! St. Paul's gospel is therefore an independent second witness to the original apostolic tradition.
St. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, although he often found himself embroiled in disputes between Jewish and Gentile Christians. He wrote most of the New Testament, but his style was not always the clearest. [Clarification: Paul wrote most of the books of the New Testament, if you go with the traditional attribution of Hebrews to Paul, which has fallen into disfavor among scholars.] St. Peter felt compelled to write prophetically: "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." (2 Peter 3:16-17 RSV) Indeed, Martin Luther would base many of his errors on fundamental misunderstandings of the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Romans.
St. Paul had planned to go to on a missionary trip to Spain. However, was executed in Rome under Nero, tradition has it, by beheading. [Thanks to comments for clarifications.]