Epistle to the Galatians
The letter starts with Saint Paul’s ceaselessly repeated affirmation: he is “an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ.” (1: 1) He is the slave of Jesus. (1:10) The content of the Gospel that he brings to the Galatians is Christ, risen from the dead. (1:7) There is no other gospel, for the Gospel is Jesus Christ himself. (1:6-9) Therefore, it is not a gospel “after man,” for Paul neither received nor learned it of man, but “by the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1:11, 12) who appeared to him on the road to Damascus (1:13-24) and who justified him by his faith in him. (2:16, 17)
Here Saint Paul proudly proclaims his vital, key formula: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (2:20)
Moreover, Paul wishes this very image to be depicted among the Galatians: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (3:1) Saint Paul himself, like a mother in labour, is suffering the pangs of child-birth “until Christ be formed,” in them. (4:19) Those who acknowledge Christ must be crucified with him, for “they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (5:24) Paul’s glory is in the cross of Christ: he too wishes to be crucified with Jesus and to be like him. He continues, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks (stigmata) of the Lord Jesus.” (6:14-17)
For Saint Paul, Jesus is everything. In him, he has gained all and in Jesus, every person can reach salvation, for the promise was given by faith in Jesus Christ (3:22) and there is one mediator, Jesus Christ. (3:20) The Law leads us to Christ, (3:24) for we “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of (us) as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus. And if (we) be Christ's, then are (we) Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (3:26-29)
Paul wishes everyone to be like him: a new creature in Christ. In Christ, we are “born again…of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8) That is what the Church Fathers famously termed theosis or divinisation, which affirms that “the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man …might become a son of God.” (cf. our Christmas Letters, Emmanuel 2004 and The Unifying Incarnation 2005) Thus, unity in Christ becomes the goal of human life. Furthermore, unity in Christ becomes the foundation of unity, solidarity, dignity and fellowship among mankind.
We know from history that Saint Paul was martyred, beheaded, in Rome, though even before his death he lived stigmatised by Christ’s sufferings. So Saint Paul is one of the first whom we know to have borne the marks of Christ’s passion, as did later Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Rita of Cascia, Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified and countless others.
It is Paul’s love for Christ that led him to the point of being really crucified with him.