2 Timothy 4:7 – 8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will aware to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
2 Corinthians 12:2 – 4
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of it I do not know — God knows. And I know that this man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — was caught up to Paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
We view the image in this fresco from below Paul and three angles who fly him upward. Paul and the angel on the left (in the lavender robe) are portrayed in a foreshortened pose, enhancing the sense of motion. Golden clouds, sky, and a halo around Paul’s head fill the background in two-thirds of the painting. Below their feet the sky is blue, a white cloud drifts, and we can see the blue sphere of the earth. Hmmmm. We did not need to wait for the grand views of earth from the moon in the late 1960’s to envision that the earth would appear as a blue sphere.
A challenge to an artist is to depict a symbolic event as a literal event. “A crown of righteousness” becomes a halo. “The third heaven” and “Paradise” lie between golden clouds and angels.
These ideas and artistic depictions pre-date Christianity. The Hebrew prophets are full of fabulous imagery, such as ladders and chariots to heaven. Hebrew tradition identified three levels of heaven, first earth, second the sky, stars and moon, and third the realm of God.
Roman tradition included the idea that deceased leaders become gods in an event called apotheosis. In a similar manner, the leader is shows ascending into heaven (which of course is considered to be up in the sky, while hell or the underworld is in a cave or other below-earth place) on angles, clouds, chariots. I’ll side-step the theological arguments in this fresco.
For those readers who would like more information the basilica, touring there, and other sites nearby which feature places of veneration of Paul, you can check out the chapter on visiting Paul’s sites in Rome by Paul Wygowsky. He too had visited the basilica, noticed the fresco series, then began to research it. As I did, he found limited information, until he came upon my blog series some months back. We have corresponded and exchanged information, impressions, and insights. He writes travel journals about his pilgrimages. Imagine if Jesus and the Apostles had the Internet 2000 yeas ago!