I know that St. Paul had to vouch for his apostolic authority when writing to his audience, but as he lists his numerous sufferings and so forth, couldn’t it strike an outsider as somewhat… proud, when compared with the profound self-abnegating words of other saints? I know he calls himself “the chief of sinners,” but still ;)… (And I ask this as an admirer of his, like any other Catholic.)
I have often wondered the same thing as I hear the readings on Sunday.
Was it part of the customary letter-writing style in Paul’s day? I am totally guessing here, but perhaps the writer was expected to establish a personal connection with the reader before addressing the main subject. In today’s culture, at least in the US, we tend to keep it strictly business, but even so I get a lot of email messages that begin with a brief personal remark like “I hope you have been well” or words to that effect.
In Mediterranean societies (which put high stock on the concepts of ‘honor’ and ‘shame’), it was perfectly acceptable (in fact, expected) to brag about whatever accomplishments you achieved in life. It was a virtue which added further honor to the one you already had. No one of course appreciated crass boasting or boasting that put others down (hubris), but in a society where people (more specifically, men - women are generally seen as weak and ‘honor-less’) compete for honor, and do all they can to avoid losing honor, bragging, self-promotion, and getting others to praise you was an acceptable and expected way to improve your public reputation. It was taken for granted that those with merit would seek the honor due to them. This was the so-called philotimia, ‘love of honor’.
What St. Paul is really doing is turning that concept on its head by bragging about things you normally wouldn’t consider honorable and boast-worthy at all: the cross of Jesus, his fragile physical condition, and the times he got worn and beaten in the proclamation of the gospe.
I’d recommend you to a thread I made a while back which might be marginally relevant to this topic.
To the people he was writing, Paul was admired as you admire him. And in any way possible, people wanted to emulate him. He knew that. So he described the content of his boasting, to give them the proper things to themselves take confidence in and to persevere in.
I avoided reading the epistles for YEARS because I thought Paul was arrogant.
I never thought this about St. Paul.
It makes me feel that he sins therefore he is the same as us when we sin, he is still human.
If he had written about how perfect he was it would make me feel a million miles from him and I would struggle.