Written By: Albert Schweitzer Translated By: William Montgomery Reviewed Edition: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998 Paperback, 411 Pages ISBN 0-8018-6098-9 Quotes Table of Contents
The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle is in a sense a companion volume to Schweitzer's The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. Just as Kingdom of God argues that Jesus' worldview was based upon and conditioned by eschatology (the expectation of the imminent end of time), Schweitzer in Paul the Apostle dissects Paul's theology and concludes that it too was eschatological, with none of the Hellenistic influence which many other interpreters have attributed to it. He convincingly argues that Paul's eschatology was based upon Jewish beliefs which were interpreted by Jesus and then re-interpreted by Paul. Paul's re-interpretation was necessary because, contrary to initial expectations, Jesus did not after his crucifixion immediately reappear as the Messiah and initiate the Kingdom of God. Paul modified this expectation slightly, anticipating that Jesus would indeed appear very soon, and in any case not later than the lifetime of the current generation, but that in the meantime believers could literally become a member of the body of Christ by the mystical death and resurrection inherent in baptism. His doctrine of being-in-Christ was meant to be taken literally, and to work regardless of whether the baptized believer understood the process or even the intention.
As must be the case in any account of Paul's theology, there is a lot of material covered in Paul the Apostle. Schweitzer's primary intention is to show that Paul's ideas were based on a Jewish/Christian eschatology rather than the Hellenized pseudo-Christian approach often attributed to it. He does this convincingly, but does much more as well. He covers the entire range of First Century Christian beliefs, giving clear meaning to Paul's views on being-in-Christ, baptism, communion, resurrection (rather than rebirth, a later concept), suffering, righteousness by faith, the Holy Spirit, and other topics. As might be expected of Schweitzer, he is most eloquent discussing Paul's ethics and the importance he placed on love as the highest expression of the Spirit. Schweitzer then goes on to describe how Paul's theology was modified by later first- and second-century Christians--notably Ignatius and the author of John's Gospel--to adapt it to the changed circumstances faced by these theologians, namely that the world had not ended with the first generation after Christ appeared, and the necessity of countering Gnosticism. This is when Hellenism first appeared in serious Christian thought.
I've included rather more and longer quotations from The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle than I typically do. This is partially because Schweitzer's interpretation of Paul's message is not often well represented in compendiums of his work. But it is also because there is much of value in the work, and Schweitzer presents it better than I ever could. As with most theology, Paul the Apostle is dense with profound concepts and thus not easy reading. Also I would have liked more discussion of predestination, which Schweitzer treats only briefly. However--unlike most theology--it is richly rewarding both intellectually and spiritually.
"In Paul there is no God-mysticism; only a Christ-mysticism by means of which man comes into relation to God. The fundamental thought of Pauline mysticism runs thus: I am in Christ; in Him I know myself as a being who is raised above this sensuous, sinful, and transient world and already belongs to the transcendent; in Him I am assured of resurrection; in Him I am a Child of God.
Another distinctive characteristic of this mysticism is that being in Christ is conceived as a having died and risen again with Him, in consequence of which the participant has been freed from sin and from the Law, possesses the Spirit of Christ, and is assured of resurrection."
"The most obvious and natural thing, from our point of view, would have been that Paul should have developed on mystical lines that conception of sonship to God which Christ proclaimed and which was current in early Christianity. He, however, leaves that as he found it, and works out in addition to it the mystical conception of being-in-Christ, as though sonship to God needed for its foundation the being-in-Christ. Paul is the only Christian thinker who knows only Christ-mysticism, unaccompanied by God-mysticism."
"Our review of the characteristics of Pauline mysticism has shown that it is closely connected with the eschatological world-view; that it finds no place for the conceptions of rebirth or deification; that it is dominated by the eschatological idea of predestination; that it has a kind of realism which is foreign to the Hellenistic mysticism; and that the symbolism which plays so essential a part in the sacramental side of Hellenistic mysticism here plays no part at all."
"The historic Jesus does not die for humanity as a whole, and not for a universal forgiveness of sins, but for a definite number, namely, those who are elect to the Kingdom of God. ... Jesus thus believes that by sending forth the disciples He is unleashing the pre-Messianic tribulation, at the end of which the Kingdom of God shall come. But instead of the Son of Man's appearing before they had 'gone over the cities of Israel' (Mt. x. 23), they simply returned to Him again. Therefore He withdraws with them into solitude to seek the meaning of this incomprehensible thing. He finds it in the prophet Isiah (Isa. 1iii), namely, that God has appointed Him to die alone, and that this death is to be a ransom, freeing the Elect from the pre-Messianic tribulation. ... That Jesus, as a consequence of His death, expected His resurrection and, closely following thereon, His appearing in the clouds of heaven and the immediate coming of the Messianic Kingdom is clearly apparent from His saying to the disciples on the way to Gethsemane (Mk. xiv. 27-28) and his words to the High Priest at His trial (Mk. xiv. 62). The Kingdom cannot come until the pre-Messianic tribulation has taken place. If Jesus suffers a death which God can accept as the equivalent of that tribulation, He can thereby bring in the Kingdom at once."
"Paul's conception is, that believers in mysterious fashion share the dying and rising again of Christ, and in this way are swept away out of their ordinary mode of existence, and form a special category of humanity. When the Messianic Kingdom dawns, those of them who are still in life are not natural men like others, but men who have in some way passed through death and resurrection along with Christ, and are thus capable of becoming partakers of the resurrection mode of existence, while other men pass under the dominion of death. And similarly, those who have died in Christ are not dead as others are, but have become capable through their dying and rising again with Christ of rising before other men."
"The fundamental significance of the dying and rising again of Jesus consists therefore, according to Paul, in the fact that thereby death and resurrection have been set afoot throughout the whole corporeity of the Elect to the Messianic Kingdom. This is, so to speak, a mass of piled-up fuel, to which the fire there kindled immediately spreads. But whereas the dying and rising again has been openly manifested in Jesus, in the Elect it goes forward secretly but none the less really."
"Paul shares with Jesus the eschatological world-view and the eschatological expectation, with all that these imply. The only difference is the hour in the world-clock in the two cases."
"Paul of course holds that all human beings who have ever lived on earth are raised at the resurrection, with the exception of those who at the Return of Jesus are alive in Christ, and therefore enter into the resurrection state of existence by a transformation. The dead in Christ will rise at the Return of Jesus, all the remainder of the dead at the general resurrection after the Messianic Kingdom."
"In Paul's conception of an ethic inspired by the spirit of the resurrection the immediacy of this ethic combines with the supernatural character of the Messianic mode of existence in opposition to the Law. Paul is convinced in the same way as Jesus that the Law can only remain in force up to the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom. And since he holds that the Elect, so soon as they are 'in-Christ', no longer belong to the natural, but henceforth to the Messianic world, he is necessarily led to the conclusion that they are now no longer under the Law."
"Since our world conditions have changed, we can do no other than to think our own thoughts about the redemptive significance of the death of Jesus and all that is connected with it, basing our thoughts, so far as possible, on the original and Primitive-Christian doctrine. But if we undertake this task, as we needs must, we ought to make clear to ourselves what we are doing. We ought not to bemuse ourselves with the belief that we are simply taking over the whole of the dogmatic conceptions of Jesus and of Primitive Christianity, seeing that this is, in fact, impossible. And we ought not to regard the obscurities and contradictions, in which we find ourselves involved, as originally attaching to Christian doctrine; we ought to be clearly conscious that they arise from the transformation of the historical and Primitive-Christian concepts into concepts necessary to adapt them to a later situation. Instead of simply being able to take over traditional material as we find it, we must, exactly, as did Ignatius and Justin, recast it by a creative act of the Spirit.
From this point of view the recognition of the original eschatological orientation of the Christian faith has a truly liberating value. For it compels us to admit that we 'can do no other' than to build both upon the tradition and upon the spirit."
"Paul is the only man of Primitive-Christian times whom we really know, and he is a man of a profound and admirable humanity.
Although he lives in the expectation of the imminent end of the world, an expectation in view of which all earthly things lose their significance and value, he does not in consequence become an ascetic zealot. For an external abandonment of the things of the world he substitutes an inner freedom from them. As though he had an intuition that it might be the fate of Christianity to have to make terms with the continuance of the natural world, he reaches by his spirituality that attitude towards earthly things by means of which Christianity must henceforth maintain its place in the world. Though living and thinking in his own day, he is at the same time preparing the future.
And since, in virtue of his spirituality, he moves within the narrow bounds eschatology as a free man, he does not suffer it to rob him of his humanity, which only becomes the more profound. With tremendous certainty and precision he goes in all things straight to the spiritually essential. In the most natural way the mystical dying with Christ and rising with Him is transmitted into a living ethic. The problem of the relation between redemption and ethics finds in his teaching a complete solution. Ethic is for him the necessary outward expression of the translation from the earthly world to the super-earthly, which has already taken place in the being-in-Christ. And, further, that the man who has undergone this translation has placed himself under the direction of the Spirit of Christ, and so has become Man in the highest sense of the word.
By his eschatological mysticism Paul gives his ethic a relation to the Person of Christ, and makes the conception of the Spirit an ethical conception. By his eschatological thought he grasps ethics as life in the Spirit of Christ, and thereby creates a Christian ethic valid for all time to come.
Side by side with Paul's achievement as a thinker must be set his achievement as a man. Having a personality at once simple and profound, he avoids an abstract and unnatural ideal of perfection, and makes perfection consist in the complete adjustment of spiritual with natural reality. So long as the earthly world with all its circumstances still subsists, what we have to do is so to live in it in the spirit of unworldliness that truth and peace already make their influence felt upon it. That is the ideal of Paul's ethic, to live with the eyes fixed upon eternity, while standing firmly upon the solid ground of reality. He gives to the enthusiastic conception of the Good a practical direction, without thereby robbing it of its originality and power.
He proves the truth of his ethic by his way of living it. Alike in suffering and in action he shows himself a human being, who by the Spirit of Christ has been purified and led up to a higher humanity. Though his work lies in the world, he ventures to live the unworldly life, and to rely only on the power which is at his disposal, because of that which he, in the Spirit of Christ, has inwardly become.
As one who truly thought, served, worked and ruled in the Spirit of Christ he has earned the right to say to the men of all periods: 'Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.'"
"The Christian faith has no need to take over conceptions from the Hellenistic religions of the surrounding world, in order to transform itself into a mystical doctrine of union with Christ. For this development had already been effected, in genuinely Primitive-Christian thought-forms, in the teaching of Paul. From Hellenism it took over only the apparatus of concepts necessary to make the bodily resurrection, and its attainment through union with Christ, intelligible on the lines of Greek metaphysic. Here the Logos-doctrine came to its aid. By means of this it converted the Jewish conception of the Messiah into the Greek conception of the Bringer of eternal life."
"Nevertheless [Paul's] original doctrine, for all its apparent complexity and strangeness which it owes to its eschatological root, conceals within it a greater value than the derivative one. In a quite general sense the Pauline mysticism is superior to the Ignatian-Johannine, in that it expresses the relation with Christ experienced by a great personality, whereas the Ignatian-Johnannine is the outcome of a theory. The Pauline Mysticism possesses an immediacy which the other lacks. Its conceptions grip, even if its logic remains foreign to us. In the more complex mysticism there pulsates a warmer life than in the simplified."
"The result of this first appearance of thought in Christianity is calculated to justify, for all periods, the confidence that faith has nothing to fear from thinking, even when the latter disturbs its peace and raises a debate which appears to promise no good results for the religious life. How strongly the faith of the Primitive-Christian community resisted the thinking of Paul! And yet it was the raising, by the Apostle of the Gentiles, of the belief in Jesus Christ to a reasoned faith which provided a solution of the problem set to the Christianity of the next generation by the non-fulfillment of the eschatological hope. The idea which looked so dangerous to the leaders of the Primitive Church enabled the Gospel of Jesus after its rejection by Judaism to find entrance and understanding in the Greek world. It is the thoughts of the Apostle of the Gentiles, who was opposed by the faith of his own time, which have again and again acted as a power of renewal in the faith of subsequent generations."
Foreword, 1998, by Jaroslav Pelikan
Preface, by F. C. Burkitt
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