- Paul the Martyr: The Cult of the Apostle in the Latin West by David L. Eastman
The legacy and reception of Paul in late-antique Christianity has received a wealth of attention in recent decades. Most of this interest has focused on patristic appropriations of Paul’s Epistles. Nevertheless, as influential as Paul was as a canonical theologian in late antiquity, David Eastman’s book reminds us that Paul’s reputation and influence as an apostolic “martyr” loomed equally as large. Eastman’s engaging study offers a “thick description” of this phenomenon, bringing to life the places, stories, images, objects, rituals, and patronage practices that embodied and shaped the cult of Paul the Martyr in the Latin West, from its origins through the death of Pope Gregory the Great. He integrates literary, archaeological, epigraphic, and liturgical evidence into the first systematic narrative of the late-antique cult of Saint Paul.
Rome takes center stage in Eastman’s study and the abundance of textual and archaeological testimony here for Pauline veneration lends itself well to the thick description of the cult he wishes to offer. He focuses his attention on the two primary sacred spaces that emerged as the loci for the city’s cult of Paul: the site along the Ostian Road associated with the apostle’s martyrdom and burial and the catacombs adjacent to the Appian Road where Christians venerated Paul and Peter together. In his first chapter, Eastman carefully traces the development of the Ostian site from small memorial shrine to imperially-funded basilica under Constantine and, finally, to its flourishing as a grand and spacious five-aisle basilica. This latter expansion was sponsored by the Theodosian dynasty to accommodate growing numbers of pilgrims and to solidify Paul’s status as a patron of the eternal city and imperial court. With each phase of construction (and later renovations under Leo I and Gregory I) special care was taken to maintain proximity between worshippers and the sanctifying presence of Paul’s body. With a keen attentiveness to architectural, liturgical, and cultural contexts, Eastman details various practices through which devotees sought to participate in the spiritual riches associated with the physical presence of the martyr: from celebrating the Eucharist over Paul’s tomb to the libations of pilgrims and burials [End Page 465] ad sanctos. Of particular interest is the growing mobility of Paul’s holiness as the production of contact relics (brandea) permitted pilgrims to carry home the sanctifying power of Paul’s body.
Turning next to the archaeological riches of the catacombs, Eastman crafts a vivid picture of Roman Christians venerating Paul and Peter through commemorative banqueting and votive petitioning in dining space (triclia) from the middle of the third century. Constantine later constructed a Basilica Apostolorum with its altar erected above the triclia to foster continuity with the earlier practices of veneration. Accordingly, Eastman refutes the tradition of scholarship that assumes the apostles’ bodies must have been placed in the catacombs at some point early in the site’s history for it to have emerged as such important sacred space for Christians. He infers instead that its long history of apostolic veneration was sufficient to sanctify the site and elevate its stature in the topography of Christian Rome.
Among the greatest merits of Eastman’s chapters on the cult in Rome is the compelling account he gives of the developing persona of “Paul the martyr” under Christian emperors and the role his cult played in propagating Christian Romanitas. As he moves in the second part of his study to examine Pauline veneration beyond Rome (in Milan, Gaul, Spain, and North Africa), he does so then with a keen eye towards how such cultic practices served to connect these regions to “Christian Rome.” For Milan, this resonance is most palpable because of the city’s status as imperial capital. Eastman elucidates the efforts of Ambrose to cultivate veneration of Paul and Peter in Milan, including...