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“The Vision of St. Paul” by Nicolas Poussin

In 79 CE, Paul was thrown off the Tarpeian Rock by a member of the Praetorian Guard. He was 83 years old, half-blind and deaf.

There was a sudden gust of wind as he fell. His robes billowed around him. For a half-second it seemed he would fly, that the Lord would reach down and pluck his servant from the air, that he would be taken into heaven like Elijah, without tasting death. But he continued downward. His body was broken on the rocks below, his skull dashed open.

A crowd gathered. No one mourned. Children poked at the old lecher’s body. A woman quoted from his letters. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption. This mortal must put on immortality.”

Paul had fallen asleep, and he had been changed. Corruptible and corrupt, he had put on incorruption. In the twinkling of an eye he had laid aside mortality, as a man sheds his garments when night falls.

Because he was Roman (by birth, by adoption, by five long decades of residence in the sinful city), his passing would not go unnoticed. A tribunal was called, witnesses summoned, testimonies weighed and measured. “Death by misadventure.” No charges were filed. The praetor noted that unsteady old men, drunk with wine and the holy spirit, frequently met their end at the Tarpeian Rock.

Age conquers all. Gravity conquers all. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

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