In February, my husband and I were given the opportunity to watch an early screening of the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. Upon entering the theater, we were immediately delighted by the amount of clergy and religious in the seats. We were also slightly intimidated by the Sony security guards stationed at the exits! The hype surrounding this movie was understated, so I was curious about what kind of experience this movie provides.
With an all-star lineup of actors (James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Joanne Whalley, John Lynch, and Olivier Martinez), I was anxious to discover how Sacred Scripture (2 Timothy) is portrayed on the big screen at the hands of these individuals.
The Message of Paul, Apostle of Christ
From the beginning, it was clear that the movie had one goal: inviting the present day Church to see herself in the lives of the early Church.
When reading the New Testament, many of us tend to romanticize this particular part of Scripture. We see honor and glory, bravery and strength, all of which while are very present. But this one-dimensional view can sometimes hinder our ability to see the raw humanity of the early Church.
In today’s society, it is so easy to succumb to the fear-based culture that surrounds us. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of living boldly, fear of making our Faith known to those around us.
The early Church lived with all the same fears, possibly even more intensely since the footprints of our Savior were not yet brushed away and the scent of His divinity still lingered in the air. Paul, Apostle of Christ calls us to look within our own hearts and see that, even though much time has passed, the same doubts and fears as well as the same fire and conviction of the early Church still remains within us.
What Part of Paul’s Life is Portrayed?
The film starts with Luke making his way through Rome in the night. Nero’s wrath against the Christians is everywhere. Roman guards question anyone who looks suspicious and martyred Christians are displayed as a threat of what will happen if others are caught. Luke returns to Rome because Paul is imprisoned by Nero after being accused of starting the great fire that the emperor had actually set himself. Luke is trying to reach Paul so that he may procure one last letter from him.
Paul and Luke
The relationship depicted between Paul and Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ is very well done. Their priestly brotherhood is so evident and strong. Luke tells Paul how he struggling in his faith and what he is having a hard time understanding. Paul discusses these things with Luke with compassion and helps Luke often come to the answer on his own. In many parishes, you have an “older” priest and a “younger” priest. This is the relationship with Luke and Paul. Priests can joke around and disagree almost within the same breath, but always come back to the brotherhood that binds them.
Paul and His Past
While Luke makes visits to Paul, we see that Paul is facing his impending martyrdom. We see this great Apostle struggle with the sins of his past. Paul knows he has been forgiven by his Creator, but it appears he hasn’t completely forgiven himself.
How often are we like Paul, letting our past creep into haunt us and steal our joy? How often are we like Luke, sometimes doubting what it is we hold so dear?
Priscilla and Aquila
We also follow Priscilla and Aquila, a husband and wife team who set up a safe-haven for Christians. They hide behind a gate, providing food and safety for Christians who lost homes in the fire. They create a home for many of the city’s orphans who lost their parents to Nero’s persecution.
Within this little hideaway, tensions rise. A handful of Christians want to go out into the streets and fight. Blood for blood. Aquila reminds them of the way of Christ and tries to convince them that turning to violence will only result in more lives lost.
Though fearful themselves, Priscilla and Aquila acknowledge that their time in Rome is almost up. They must either find a way to escape or be martyred.
How often are we like the character of Aquila, faced with decisions that impact more than just ourselves and having to discern how God wants us to move forward? How often are we like Priscilla, watching so many of our brothers and sisters hurting and suffering while we are desperate to physically ease their pain and show them the love of God?
Paul is being kept in Rome’s worst prison. The prison is run by a man named Mauritius. He is intimidating and prides himself on how well he runs his prison.
Everyone in the audience holds their breath when Mauritius discovers that Luke has been visiting Paul in prison. Surprisingly, Mauritius allows it to continue, expressing his doubts that the old man (Paul) is as dangerous as Nero thinks.
Meanwhile, we learn that Mauritius has some problems of his own. His daughter has been sick for a long time and is approaching death. The Roman doctors have tried everything. Mauritius’ wife blames him for their daughter’s lack of improvement due to a lack of piety and sacrifices toward the gods.
While watching this unfold, I wanted to yell at Mauritius, “Luke is a physician!” But alas, that never works, and we know that the keeper of the prison must come to this realization on his own. Mauritius has several encounters with Paul and Luke, showing that a conversion might be on the horizon. Mauritius is so close to an “answered prayer.”
How many times are we like Mauritius, desperate for answers and healing when exactly what need is right in front of us?
My Final Take on Paul, Apostle of Christ
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. Adapting Scripture to film is never an simple task and it can easily fall short. However, this movie did a fair job of creatively expanding upon the verse, “Luke is the only one with me” (2 Timothy 4:11).
This film was a beautifully artistic look at the early Church and her struggles. Paul, Apostle of Christ captures the fragility of human hope and the strength of the Lord that burns within all of us.
Can I Take My Child to See Paul, Apostle of Christ?
This movie is rated PG-13 for “violent content and disturbing images.” If you have young children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, sisters or brothers, etc. be mindful of this rating. You know the young hearts of your loved ones best, but I would not recommend letting any children under age 10 view this film. If you are taking older kids, preteens, and even teenagers, use this time to discuss with them (both before and after), the weight and glory of martyrdom. This helps them be prepared when they see something intense in the movie, and will allow them to focus more deeply on the sacrifices made by the early Church.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all. – 2 Timothy 4:22
Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it? I highly recommend that you make time to go see this movie during the Easter season!
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Susana Starbuck is wife of a youth minister and mother to four littles five and under. She lives in Phoenix, AZ and enjoys reading a good book, posting her highlight reel on Instagram, and drinking wine. You can connect with her here.
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