Saint Bernadine of Siena, priest (opt. Memorial)
Those who were guiding Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after being asked to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities." (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus an said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, "To an unknown god." What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him?though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For "In him we live and move and have our being;' as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring." Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise him in the heights.
Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his host. (R./)
All earth's kings and peoples,
earth's princes and rulers;
young men and maidens,
old men together with children. (R./)
Let them praise the name of the Lord
for he alone is exalted.
The splendour of his name
reaches beyond heaven and earth. (R./)
He exalts the strength of his peoples.
He is the praise of all his saints,
of the sons of Israel,
of the people to whom he comes close. (R./)
[Jesus said to his apostles]
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
In the Areopagus, the main square of Athens, Paul recognized the exquisite beauty of its many artworks carved in marble. The Greeks admired perfect sculptures of the human form and carved graceful statues (male and female) of athletes and deities. Their temples to Athena and other gods remain wonders of the art world even today. By their statuary and architecture the Greeks left a legacy celebrating the beauty of the world and human nature.
Addressing a curious audience of Athenians, Paul tried to help them appreciate the divine influence on all human life. Pointing to the inscription on one of their altars, “To a God Unknown” he declared, “What you are thus worshipping in ignorance I intend to make known to you.” After a polished, well-worded speech he concluded with a statement that clashed with the Greek understanding of human nature. By saying that God has endorsed Jesus by raising him from the dead, Paul lost his audience. At that point some sneered, while others said, “We must hear from you on this some other time.” He must have felt completely deflated by the failure of his fine sermon.
However, a tiny minority of that audience did accept the message and became Christians — Dionysius and Damaris and a few others. They agreed with Paul that the unknown God, (agnostos theos) does not dwell in statues or sanctuaries, but in human hearts and in community. They totally accepted that it is God who gives to all life and breath and everything else. It is by the Spirit of God that we have within us the life-giving message of Jesus, the pledge of what we are to become by dying and rising with him.
Like Paul’s converts, we trust that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the complete truth about God, about our world and ourselves. This can be a life-long journey of discovery. Indeed, we will never attain the complete truth in this life. As pilgrims, we must always be open to where the Spirit leads, towards the God in whom we live and move and have our being.