"Paul [cannot be] both claimant and witness [for himself]." Tertullian, Against Marcion 207 A.D.


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What Did Jesus Say? (2012) - 7 topics 

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Renan on Paul


Ernest Renan (1823-1892) studied at seminary to enter Catholic orders. Then he studied at St. Sulpice to learn philology, including Hebrew. As he studied Hebrew, he began to go deeper into the subject matter. In the end, as his studies progressed, he chose a life not dependent on the church so he could write freely. He became an instructor at Crouzet's school for boys. (See "Renan," Wikipedia.)

In 1863, Renan wrote the immensely popular Vie de Jésus, soon translated into The Life of Jesus. He wrote many other books on the history of Christianity, and is regarded as a "literary genius."  By 1891, his works affirm "the necessity of piety independent of dogma." (Id.) Late in life, Renan received numerous honours, including being made an administrator of the Collège de France and a grand officer of the Legion of Honour.

Renan Is Utterly Pro-Paul in relation to James/Jude/Revelation

Renan's work St. Paul depicts Paul in a sympathetic light. He nevertheless agrees that the early church attacked Paul in the Epistles of James and Jude as well as Revelation. But Renan describes these anti-Paul writings, veiled though they were, by the early church as the "cries of hatred" "insult," "calumny," and "envy." He calls James the Just and the apostles who were concerned about Paul's possible "apostasy" against Moses the reflection of "shallow minds." (Renan at 301.) James supposedly obliged Paul to "hypocrisy" to observe the Nazarite vow in Acts 21 to prove Paul was obeying Moses still, forcing Paul to give pledges to the "littleness of mind." Id.. 

Hence, Renan is underscoring the opposition of the Apostles and James in a negative light, making Paul look good in all these episodes.

Yet Jesus Must Be Elevated Above Paul

Despite Renan's sympathy with Paul in his battle with the early church, Renan believes Jesus still must be regarded as the light for the church at this time. Finally, Jesus's message is beginning to surface above that of Paul. However, Paul is the hidden rock that causes many to splinter from the true faith into unprofitable divisions. Renan does not blame Paul. It is our error in losing emphasis on Jesus.

It is most interesting how Renan can hold both positions at once. He is extremely pro-Paul but also Jesus centric. He vigorously attacks the anti-Paulinism of the apostles John and bishops James and Jude.  He exemplifies that you can be pro-Jesus of the 12 and a lover and respector of Paul at the same time.

Renan's Work Saint Paul

In Saint Paul (G.W. Carleton, 1869) or (1875), Renan states in chapter 22:

[326] One man has contributed more than any other to this rapid extension of Christianity. This man has torn off that sort of tight and fearfully dangerous swaddling-clothes in which the child was wrapped from its birth. He has proclaimed that Christianity was not a simple reformed Judaism, but that it was a complete religion, existing by itself. To say that this man deserves to occupy a very high rank in history, is to say a very evident thing; but he must not be called a founder. It is vain for Paul to talk ; He is inferior to the other apostles. He has not seen Jesus; He has not heard his word. The divine logia and the parables are scarcely known to him. The Christ who gives him personal revelations, is his own phantom, — it is himself he hears, while thinking he hears Jesus.

Even as regards the question of outward role, Paul was far from having the importance, during his life, that we attribute

[327] to him. His churches were either slightly substantial, or denied him. The churches of Macedonia and Galatia, which are his own work, possessed little importance in the second and third centuries. The churches of Corinth and Ephesus, which did not belong to him with so exclusive a title, pass over to his enemies, or are not deemed canonically enough established, when only owing their existence to him. After his disappearance from the scene of apostolic struggles we shall find him soon forgotten. His death was probably regarded by his enemies as the death of an agitator. The second century scarcely speaks of him, and apparently endeavors to systematically blot out his memory. His epistles are then slightly read, and only regarded as authority by rather a slim group.* His partisans themselves greatly weaken his pretensions." He leaves no celebrated disciples. Titus, Timothy, and so many others, who, as it were, constituted his court, disappear without renown. The truth is, Paul was personally too energetic to form an original school. He always crushed his disciples. With him they only fill the characters of secretaries, servants, and couriers. Their respect for their master was such that they never dared to teach freely. When Paul was with his band, he alone existed ; all the others were annihilated, or only lived through him. In the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, Paul will increase wonderfully. He will become the teacher par excellence, — the founder of Christian theology. The true president of those " great Greek Councils, which make Jesus the keystone of a system of metaphysics, is the apostle Paul. But in the middle ages, especially in the Occident, his fortune will undergo a strange eclipse. Paul will say scarcely nothing to the heart of the barbarians. Outside of Rome, he will possess no legend. Latin Christendom will hardly pronounce his name, except after that of his rival. St. Paul, in the middle ages, is, in some degree, lost in the glory of St. Peter. While St. Peter moves the world, and makes every one tremble and obey, — the obscure St. Paul plays a secondary part in the great Christian poem which

[328] fills the cathedrals and inspires the popular chants. Scarcely any one before the sixteenth century is called by his name. He hardly appears in the emblematical monuments. He has no devotees; they build him but few churches; they burn no tapers to him. His surroundings — Titus, Timothy, Phebe, and Lydia, — occupy but little place in the public worship, above all of the Latins. No legend to will it. In order to possess a legend, it is necessary to have spoken to the people, to have excited the imagination. Now, what does salvation through faith, justification through the blood of Christ, say to the people? There was too little sympathy between Paul and the popular conscience, and probably he was also too well known to history, in order that an aureola of fables should have formed itself around his head. Talk to me of Peter, who bends the heads of kings, shatters empires, walks upon the asp and the basilisk, treads under foot the lion and the dragon, and holds the keys of heaven!

The Reformation opens for St. Paul a new era of glory and authority. Catholicism itself, through more extended studies than those of the middle ages, is led back to quite just views concerning the apostle of the Gentiles. Dating from the sixteenth century, the name of Paul is omnipresent. But the Reformation, which rendered so much service to science and reason, was not able to create a legend. Rome, throwing a pleasing veil over the rudeness of the Epistle to the Galatians, elevates Paul upon a pedestal almost equal to that of Peter. Paul does not therefore become to any great extent the saint of the people. What place shall criticism assign him? To what rank shall it elevate him in the hierarchy of those who served the ideal?

We serve the ideal by doing good, discovering the truth, and realizing the beautiful. At the head of the holy procession of humanity, walks the good man, the virtuous man; the second rank belongs to the searcher after truth, the scientific man, the philosopher: then comes the man of the beautiful, the artist,

[329] the poet. Jesus appears to us under his celestial aureola, like an ideal of goodness and beauty. Peter loved Jesus, understood him ; and was, it appears, in spite of a few weaknesses, an excellent man. What was Paul? He was not a saint. The dominant feature of his character is not goodness. He was haughty, pertinacious, aggressive ; he defended himself, maintained his point (as is said in our days); his expressions were harsh; he deemed himself absolutely in the right; he clung to his opinions; he quarrelled with different persons. He was not learned. It may even be said that he greatly injured science by his paradoxical contempt for reason, by his eulogy upon apparent folly, by his apotheosis of transcendental absurdity. Nor was he a poet either. His writings, works of the greatest originality, are without charm. Their form is harsh, and almost always devoid of grace. What was he then? He was an eminent man of action; of powerful soul, progressive, enthusiastic; a conqueror, a missionary, a propagator; the more ardent, from having at first displayed his fanaticism in an opposite direction. Now the man of action, noble as he is when he has a noble design in view, is less near God than he who has lived upon the pure love of the actual, the good, or the beautiful. By nature the apostle is a little narrow-minded. He wishes to succeed, — for this he makes sacrifices. Contact with reality always sullies a little. The first places in the kingdom of heaven are reserved for those whom a ray of grace has reached ; those who have only worshipped the ideal. The man of action is always a poor artist, for his sole design is not to reflect the splendor of the universe. He could not become a man of learning, for he regulates his opinions according to political utility. He is not even a very virtuous man, for he is never irreproachable, — the foolishness and wickedness of men forcing him to covenant with them. Above all, he is never agreeable. Reserve, the most charming of virtues, is forbidden him. The world favors the bold, — those who help themselves. Paul, so great, so upright, is obliged to decree to himself the title of

[330] apostle. Our faults render us strong in action, — our good qualities weaken us. All in all, that historical character which bears most analogy to St. Paul, is Luther. In both there is the same violence in language, the same passion, the same energy, the same noble independence, the same frantic attachment to a thesis embraced as the absolute truth.

I persist, therefore, in thinking that the part taken by Paul in the creation of Christianity, should be ranked far below that of Jesus. According to my opinion, Paul should even occupy a position beneath Francis d' Assisi and the author of the " Imitation," both of whom saw Jesus in close proximity. The Son of God stands alone. To appear for a moment, to reflect a soft and profound refulgence, to die very young, is the life of a God. To struggle, dispute, and conquer, is the life of a man. After having been for three centuries, thanks to orthodox Protestantism, the Christian teacher par excellence, Paul sees in our day his reign drawing to a close. Jesus, on the contrary, lives more than ever. It is no longer the Epistle to the Romans, which is the resume of Christianity, — it is the Sermon on the Mount. True Christianity, which will last forever, comes from the gospels, — not from the epistles of Paul. The writings of Paul have been a danger and a hidden rock, — the causes of the principal defects of Christian theology. Paul is the father of the subtle Augustine, of the unfruitful Thomas Aquinas, of the gloomy Calvinist, of the peevish Jansenist, of the fierce theology which damns and predestinates to damnation. Jesus is the father of all those who seek repose for their souls in dreams of the ideal. What makes Christianity live, is the little that we know of the word and person of Jesus. The ideal man, the divine poet, the great artist, alone defy time and revolutions.

They alone are seated at the right hand of God the Father for ever more.

O Humanity! thou art just, at times, and certain of thy judgments are good.

Renan's Other Critical References

Renan elsewhere reviews the history of the early church's veiled attacks on Paul -- through the epistles of Jude, James and Revelation (Apocalypse). He starts off as follows in ch. 10:

Historical Evidence of A Rupture At Antioch

[186] It is very apparent, nevertheless, that the rupture of Antioch left profound traces. The great church on the borders of the Orontes was divided, if I may be allowed to express myself so, into two parishes, — that of the circumcised on one hand, that of the uncircumcised on the other. The separation of these two halves of the church lasted for a long while. Antioch, as is stated at a later period, had two bishops, — one instituted by Peter, the other by Paul. Euodias and Ignatius are designated as having, after the apostles, become these dignitaries.

Jude's Epistle Is Aimed At Paul

[187] It appears that upon this occasion, new letters were sent from Jerusalem in the name of the apostles. It is even possible that one of these hateful letters has been preserved to us, in the epistle of Jude, — brother of James, and like him, brother of the Lord, — which constitutes a part of the canon. It is one of the most violent facta against anonymous adversaries, who are represented as disobedient and ungodly persons. The style of the writing, which much more resembles the classic Greek than that of the greater portion of the New Testament, bears much analogy to that style of the epistle of James. James and Jude probably did not understand Greek. The church of Jerusalem perhaps had Hellenic secretaries for such communications.****

"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints....Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and greedily after the error of Balaam for reward,83 and perished in the gainsaying of Core." ****

[188] From this moment, Paul becomes, in the eyes of an entire fragment of the church, a most dangerous heretic, a false Jew,85 a false apostle,86 a false prophet,87 a second Balaam,"88 a Jezebel,89 a wretch who was harping upon the destruction of the Temple.73 To tell all in two words, a Simon the Magician.71 Peter was reputed to be everywhere and always occupied in opposing him.73 They accustomed themselves to designate the apostle of the Gentiles by the sobriquet of Nicholas (Conqueror of the people), approximative translation ofBaUiam.'^ The sobriquet took well. A heathen seducer who had visions, although unfaithful,74 a man who prevailed upon the people to sin with heathen maidens,75 appeared the true type of Paul, — this false visionary, this partisan of mixed marriages.73 In the same manner his disciples were called Nicolaitcuies?"1 Far from forgetting his role as persecutor, they dwelt upon it in the most odious manner.73 His gospel was a false gospel.79 It is to Paul that reference is made when the fanatics of the party conversed among themselves in ambiguous language of a per [189] sonage whom they called "the Apostate,"89 or "the Hostile Man," 81 or " the Impostor," precursor of the Anti-Christ, upon whose trail the chief of the apostles follows in order to repair the evil which he does.81 Paul was the "frivolous man" from whom the Gentiles, in their ignorance, received the doctrine inimical to the law.83 His visions, which he called " the deep, things of God," they termed " the deep things of Satan."M His churches they called "the synagogues of Satan. "** Through ' hatred to Paul, it was loudly proclaimed that the twelve alone constituted the foundation of the edifice of Christ.88


Paul Envisioned Jesus In An Entirely Metaphysical Manner

[190]  It was natural for Paul, who had not seen Jesus, that the entirely human figure of the Galilean master should transform itself into a metaphysical type, much more easily than for Peter, and the others who had conversed with Jesus. Jesus, in Paul's mind, is not a man who has lived and taught: he is the Christ who died for our sins, who saves us, who justifies131 us. He is an entirely divine being ; we partake of him ;192 we communicate with him in a wonderful manner.103 He is the redemption, the justification, the wisdom, the righteousness194 of man. He is the King of Glory.105 All power in heaven and on the earth is soon to be delivered up to him.138 He is only inferior to God the Father.107 Had this school alone transmitted us writings, we would not come into contact with the person of Jesus, and we might doubt that he ever existed. But those who knew him, and who kept the recollection of him, wrote, perhaps, already towards this period, the first notes upon which were composed those divine writings (I refer to the Gospels) which made the fortune of Christianity, and transmitted to us the essential traits of the most important character that there ever was to learn.

Revelations (Apocalypse) Chapters Two & Three Are Anti-Paul

[219] Pontus, in Cappadocia, heard the name of Jesus about the same time.8' Christianity burst forth like a sudden conflagration throughout all Asia Minor. It is probable that the JewishChristians labored on their side to spread the Gospel there. John, who belonged to this party," was received in Asia as an apostle of superior authority to Paul. The Apocalypse, addressed in the year 68 to the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea on the Lycus, appears composed for the Jewish-Christians. Without doubt, between the death of Paul and the editing of the Apocalypse, there was at Ephesus and in Asia, as it were, a second Jewish-Christian preaching. Nevertheless, if Paul had been for ten years the sole chief of the churches of Asia, we cannot understand how he should have been forgotten there so soon. St. Philip" and Papias," glories of the church of Hierapolis, Melito,88 glory of that of Sardis, were Jewish-Christianfi. Neither Papias nor Polycrates of Ephesus quotes Paul. The authority of John has absorbed everything, and John is to these churches a Jewish chief priest. The churches of Asia in the second century, the church of Laodicea especially, are the scene of a controversy which attaches itself to the vital question of Christianity, and in which the traditional party shows itself not at all in harmony with the ideas of Paul.87 Montanism is a sort of return to Judaism, in the bosom of Phrygian Christianity. In other words, in Asia, as at Corinth,88 the memory of Paul after his death appears to have undergone a sort of eclipse during a whole century. Even the churches which he had established abandon him as too compromising a man; so much so, that Paul, in the second century, appears universally disowned.83

[220] This reaction must have taken place a short time after the death of the apostle, or perhaps even before. The second and third chapters of the Apocalypse are a cry of hatred against Paul and his friends. This church of Ephesus, which owes so much to Paul, is praised for " not being able to bear with them which are evil; for having tried them, which say they are apostles and are not  for having found them liars; for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitanes," 71 "which I also hate," adds the celestial voice." The church of Smyrna is congratulated for "being the blasphemy of them which say they arc Jews, and are not," but are the synagogue of Satan." " " But I have a few things against thee," says the divine voice to the church of Pergamos, " because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication." So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of Nicolaitanes."70 "I have a few things against thee," says the same voice to the church of Thyatira, "because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel," which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants, to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not. . . . As to the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan as they speak," I will put upon you none other burthen." 8 And to the church of Philadelphia, " I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie, to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." e9 Probably the vague reproaches addressed by the seer to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea81 also contain allusions to the great discussion which was dismembering the church of Jesus.