Villanova hosts Year of Paul Symposium

Jeffrey Eisenberg

Villanova hosted its Year of Paul Symposium this past Tuesday and Wednesday. The Symposium was the start of a year of events surrounding the Catholic Jubilee Year for the Apostle Paul.

Pope Benedict, in celebration of Paul’s birth 2,000 years ago, declared the Jubilee year from June 2008 through June 2009.

To coincide with the Jubilee, the University has created its own celebration with this week’s symposium, as well as a series of lectures to take place throughout the academic year. This week’s symposium included a Mass celebrated by University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A, and co-celebrated by Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., and Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., two eminent Biblical scholars.

“The University community [came] together to honor two men who have contributed to the faith and tradition, to foster the academic community and to sit and reflect on these issues,” Donohue said. “It all wove together to celebrate faith and scholarship in the academic community.”

Donohue also conferred honorary degrees upon both Murphy-O’Connor and Fitzmyer.

Both the symposium and the upcoming lectures throughout the year aim to promote meaningful thought not only on the Apostle Paul, but also the religious tradition to which he contributed, according to Donohue

“This is a great opportunity for people to have a time to explore major scholars in an area germane to our faith,” Donohue said.

St. Augustine’s ideas were largely shaped by his unique reading of the writings of Paul, and as an Augustinian University, Villanova thus has a strong tie to Paul.

“We hope to spark a conversation,” said Rev. Thomas Martin, O.S.A., director of the Augustinian Institute, during a lecture at the symposium. “We want to look at how we take an ancient faith and live it today.”

Villanova’s Augustinian heritage provides links many values back to St. Augustine’s understanding of Paul, offering the opportunity to make the connection between an ancient faith and its life in the modern world.

Celebration of the Jubilee also helps to establish Villanova in a unique way that combines religion and intellectual exploration.

It has been the effort of many professors and programs at Villanova in recent years to encorporate these two ideas, and the Symposium has helped with the endeavour.

Martin said that the year’s events will be important for Villanova’s identity as an academic community. He said that he hopes it will help recognize the University as a place where faith is incorporated into academic discussion.

“Faith can be public and a source of intellectual discussion,” he said. “Augustine’s interpretation [of Paul] has deep implications and becomes a bridge in conversation of faith.”

Visitors from around the country attended the symposium, both to witness the gathering of renowned scholars and to engage in the academic discussion of Paul and his place in Villanova’s Augustine tradition.

The effort to create the symposium and coordinate with the visiting scholars was largely led by Dr. Barbara Wall, special assistant to the president for mission effectiveness.

“The symposium idea came as a way to celebrate the presence and life work of the two giants [Fitzmyer and Murphy-O’Connor] in Catholic Biblical scholarship,” Wall said. “They made significant contributions to the world of Biblical scholarship and were responsible for teaching and mentoring so many other scholars throughout the world.”

Additionally, Villanova will publish a volume of works by Fitzmyer and Murphy-O’Connor dedicated as an honorary academic festschrift.

This volume will collect notable works by each scholar for future reference and learning.

“I hope the insights we share and the reflection on Paul’s writings might make a difference in our lives in terms of living more fully the gospel of love,” Wall said.