ST. PAUL THE POET.

By E. E. Eellett. 1904

All men, and in a special degree great men, are manysided , and it is often the purest accident that decides which of their various aspects shall appear the most important in the eyes of the world. We know Hannibal mainly as a general ; but, for all we can guess, he may have been still greater as a linguist or as an epigrammatist than as a winner of victories. Did we know more about Shakspere, be might, like Dr. Johnson, owe his fame rather to his conversation than to his writings. o man is ever really known or fairly appreciated by a single one of his fellowbeings ; his various aspects strike various men differently, and the concurrent judgment of the world, itself but a rough and ready appraisement, is necessary to decide his proper place ; for, even when impartially viewed by an individual critic, he tends to be ranked by him, not according to the sam of his powers, but according to the critic's view of one particular fraction of his total equipment. Of all men that ever lived, St. Paul was perhaps the most bewilderingly manifold. It is possible to imagine an athlete admiring him for his prodigious feats of physical endurance ; it is not everybody who could have endured a night and a day in the deep, and soon after recovered sufficiently to stand forty stripes save one from his fellowcountrymen or still more severe scourgings from Boman lictors. In mere bodily elasticity, in spite of his weak *' presence/' he must have been an extraordinary man — his journeys, his days of preaching followed by evenings of tentmaking are enough to show it — yet few people think first of Paul as a sort of Weston or Shorland. His speech may have been contemptible to the Corinthians ; yet it moved the biases Athenians to renounce their pursuit of something new and to desire to hear him again. Yet he was far more

340 8T. PAUL THE POET.

than an orator. As a leader of men he rivalled apoleon ; as an organizer the very constitution of the Christian Church to-day is a testimony to his powers. Of his depth and force as a thinker, what need is there to speak ? ** The Epistle to the Bomans/' said Coleridge, no mean judge of profundity, "is the most profound work in the world *' ; yet this same Coleridge was equally struck hy the fact that to all this Paul added the courteous grace and refinemcDt of a Lancelot. Of the Knights of the Table Bound who founded the great order of Christian chivalry, Paul was '' the most nobly mannered man of all." As a perfect specimen of the genus homo, '' totus, teres, atque rotundas," in fact, if we put aside all moral and religious considerations, we shall find perhaps only the great Julius worthy to be put into comparison with Paul. But there was yet another aspect of this myriad- minded man to which too little attention has been directed ; and the ignoring of which has, we believe, issued in a fundamental misconception of his writings. Before and beyond everything else we regard Paul as a poet. His eloquence, his theology, his general view of the world, were all coloured by his poetical nature — nay, they were all made by it. His speeches, so far as they have descended to us, are poetical in their very texture ; his theology, as we hope to shoWi is that of a man who is poet first and theologian afterwards ; and bis very conception of the possibility of a gospel for the Gentiles proves a width and power of imagination which, among Jews, is paralleled in Isaiah, and in Isaiah alone. The other Apostles were Jews, and narrow : Paal» though a Hebrew of the Hebrews, was a poet, and therefore the broadest of men. He had all the sublime daring of his compatriot Heine, together with a reverence tbe very conception of which was lacking to Heine. In a word, he who alone of tbe Jews looked forward to the time when there should be neither Jew nor G reek, was himself

ST. PAUL THE POET, 341

that most amazing of combinationSy Jew and Greek in one. The comparison between Paul and Shakspere may at first sight seem a bold one indeed. Yet it descends to minate particulars. Like Shakspere, Paul did not disdain a play upon words. In Richard the Second, the sick Gaunt plays nicely with his name ; in the Epistle to Philemon, Paul the aged plays upon the name Onesimus. The style of Paul, like that of Shakspere, is a style in which the sense constantly breaks the bonds of the language, and in which strict grammar is always subordinated to vigour. The speeches of Prospero, with their anacoluthons, their daring distortions, their strength of meaning combined with laxity of syntax, are marvellously similar to the Epistles of Paul. That method of '' linked suggestion," again, on which Shakspere's sentences are constructed, is pre-eminently characteristic of Paul, and in Paul, as in Shakspere, the latter end of a sentence, like that of Gonzalo's commonwealthy frequently forgets its beginning. In both, there is a sublime indifference to mere logical correctness, and in both the supreme aim of style is attained, the expression of thoughts that breathe so that they seem actually to bum into the brain of the reader. Allowing for a few differences, the remarks of Abbott on the general character of Shaksperian grammar apply almost without alteration to the Pauline. or is it hard to believe that in substance also, the two might have been found similar; that the Paul who wrote so discriminatingly to Timothy and to Titus had a conception of the niceties of human nature not much inferior to Shakspere's; and that he who wrote the first chapter of Bomans was not incapable of creating a Began, a Goneril, or an Edmund. ot every lover of poetry is a poet : a sad experience has shown us all that the capacity for appreciating the verse of others is no guarantee that one's own has the true ring ; yet it is instructive to observe that Paul, of all the writers in

342 ST, PAUL THE POET.

the ew Testament, is the one whose quotations are almost invariably from the poets. He has indeed a Tennysonian faculty for using the ideas of his predecessors. If he wishes to inculcate the necessity of choosing good companions, he quotes Menander ; if to assert the fatherhood of God, he quotes Aratus ; if to summarize in an epigram the Cretan character, he quotes Epimenides. Still more significant are his allusions to Old Testament writers. Of the seventy-eight references to these authors in the Epistle to the Bomans, forty-one are from Isaiah or the Psalms ; and even when dealing with the comparatively prosaic subject-matter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, he draws his illustrations in astonishingly large quantity from the poetical books. While Peter — to choose but one example — seems to have preferred to garnish his writings by allusions to history or selections from proverbs, Paul's mind, saturated with poetry, has recourse instinctively to the poets of the two nations from whose midst he sprang. Among the books, and especially the parchments, the want of which he felt in his imprisonment, may not some have been the works of Cleanthes or Menander ? Similarly, when he has recourse to history, he views it not like an antiquary but like a poet. The account of Hagar is to him an allegory, rich in lessons only to be deduced by a poetic imagination. The story of the birth of Jacob and Esau is indeed to him a fact, but a fact transfigured with an imaginative meaning. He seems to have cared little for facts as such. Even as to the incidents of Christ*s life he confers not with flesh and blood, but retires to Arabia to meditate upon them ; much as Shakspere troubled little about the historic accuracy of the details of Holinshed, but was deeply interested in their poetical and spiritual truth. But Paul is not only a lover of poetry; nor does he merely detect a poetical inwardness in historic incident;

ST. PAUL TEE POET 343 he 18 constantly falling into poetical phraseology and imagery. The doxologies, and fragments of Church hymns, with which his Epistles are studded, may or may not be his own ; though we incline to the view that, like Wesley, be contributed to the hymnology of his own services ; but we are not left to conjectures like these for indications of his " insuppressive poetic mettle." In the Epistle to the Romans, after a lengthened and profound disquisition on the nature of faith, and the doctrine of justification, he begins to exhort his readers : '' I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.'* What a daring flight of poetry is this ! It is a metaphor so deep that scores of sermons have not exhausted its meaning, and only our unfortunate familiarity with it prevents us from realizing how far removed from prose it is. It is followed by a series of practical maxims, in which we detect now the style of Theognis, and now that of the Proverbs of Solomon. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, again, having occasion to urge watchfulness and courage upon his readers, he gives them a number of metaphors of which the extreme boldness and beauty have long been lost through use, but which must have roused the minds of his Ephesian readers, to whom they came fresh, like the strokes of a whip. ** Put on,*' he says, in words for which his favourite Isaiah had given but the barest hint, '' the whole armour of God. Stand, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace ; withal taking the shield of faith ; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." If this is not poetry, then Spenser's Faerie Qtieene itself, that most poetical of poems, must be adjudged to be prose: for what is the Faerie Queene but an expansion of these few verses ? Once more, in the eighth chapter of Bomans, after an

344 8T. PAUL THE POET.

extremely original and imaginative comparison of a man possessed with sin to a body that is dead, Paul rises to a height of exaltation for which only the hyperbolical style of his Hebrew models can find a fitting expression — and the style must have struck strangely npon those used to the placidity of ordinary Greek — " For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God." Had similar words, describing earthly aflfection, occurred in Borneo and Juliet, their poetical and intangible character would have been manifest, and much evil would have been saved ; but, occurring in a theological treatise, they have been subjected to the analysis of dry-as-dust exegetes until all the glow and passion have been annotated out of them. Yet, after all, the Paradiso of Dante is a theological treatise also. It is needless, surely, to accumulate other illustrations of a fact which would have been patent to all but for the extreme familiarity of the language. Just as it is hard to see the merits of " To be or not to be '' simply because its merits are so great that they have become hackneyed and all but obsolete, so it has been with Paul. Yet, once noticed, this feature in him strikes us everywhere. He was such a poet that even in his most philosophical dissertations, even in his personal apologies, even in his private letters — nay, in such a Gura Pastoralis as the Epistle to Titus — he often forgets himself and bursts into lyrical utterance. What a calamity has it been that this most passionate and poetical of men should have been treated like a compiler of a theological compendium 1 o man that ever lived could bear logical dissection worse; few men repay more the sort of study which Coleridge or Dowden has given to Shakspere. Like the faults of Cassius, his most ethereal and visionary imaginations have been observed, set in a note-book, conned and learned by

ST. PAUL THE POET. 345 rote : one passage has been compared with another ; his

ironies have been taken in earnest, his hyperboles gravely scratinized, his metaphors treated as literal. Yet, such chapters as the thirteenth and fifteenth of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, starting up in the midst of one of his prosiest works, should have taught these commentators better things. Of all Panl's poems none is more intensely lyrical than the Epistle to the Colossians : and few, as we might have expected, have been subjected to more unmerciful dissection. It is full, almost throughout, of a Shelleyan, impalpable, ethereal imagination, whose meaning is only to be grasped by those who approach it as poesy. The painful grammarian, the textual critic, the strict and logical theologian, have no place here. This is not the ground on which an oiv may be properly based, or a Socinian routed. As well try to draw out the meaning of Epipsyehidion in ninety-five philosophical theses as try to extort the thirtynine articles from these ''noble numbers." Hardly a word will bear the scrutiny of the learned Thebans of exegesis ; but he who has the true music in his soul, and is moved by the concord of these sounds, will find here a divine l]rric, '* a wonder and a wild desire," surpassing the utterances of all other mystic bards. ot staying to calculate or refine, heedless whether he may be found guilty of selfcontradiction or not, Paul here yields himself to a rushing tide of enthusiasm that bears him into regions of which it is hardly lawful for man to speak. Whether he is in the body or out of the body he knows not ; suffice it that he is under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, His words, indeed, do not fall into metrical lengths ; his lines do not always begin with capital letters ; but their imagery, their passion, their fine frenzy, glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, seem literally to body forth the forms of things unknown, and to give a local habitation and a

H46 ST. PAUL THE POET.

name to the most airy and impalpable of spiritoal things. The poetic strain begins early. ''The hope" of the Colossians is *' laid up for them in the heavens." ot only is the phrase absolutely original — parallels to it having been sought in vain — but the metaphor of hope as a treasure laid up for future use is one that could only have occurred to a poet. Similarly, in the hurried and broken sentence that follows, in which the most determined grammarian seeks in vain for some analytical correctness, we stnmble upon the illuminating word *' bearing fruit " applied to the Gospel. Here, it it is true, there is nothing original ; it is the simplest of applications of the Parable of the Sower ; but it reminds us once again of Paul's habitually imaginative and metaphorical way of writing, due to a poetic soul. A verse or two further on, and we find " Who rescued us from the tyranny of darkness, and removed us into the kingdom of the son of his love." Who else than a poet would have seen the likeness between the deliverance from sin and one of those colossal transportations of whole peoples from one region to another ? Such highly metaphorical language having already been used, we are prepared for some still more daring figures of speech. Christ is " the image of the invisible God." o one but a commentator would desire to deprive this glorious figure of all its splendour by a pedantic definition of its meaning. Paul is on fire ; we too have caught something of his glow ; and then a Lightfoot comes along, and, in a page of closely printed notes, informs us that the word '' image " involves the ideas of likeness, representation, and manifestation. It may, or it may not, involve all these meanings or more ; but we may be quite sure that Paul, in the full flow of his inspiration, dictating at top speed to the panting Tertius, wasted but little thought on the connotations or denotations of his words. The man who could find no time, so often, for even a verb, and left his reader to

ST. PAUL THE POET 347 sapply it as best he could, was not the man to pause and

think of all the associations of every metaphor or abstract term he chanced to use. Whether or not the word " image," like the word " first-begotten " immediately following, had a special meaning to the school of Philo, matters little to the argument. There are special philosophical terms in ** In Memoriam " ; but Tennyson refused to be bound down to any one metaphysical creed. When once this simple fact is realized, how vain do all the discussions on single Pauline words appear I Yet this very passage has been the battle-ground of sects innumerable : Calvinism, Antinomianism, Txinitarianism, Sabellianism, and almost every other ism that ever was. Paul is not here writing as a theologian, but as a bard; and his *' thrones, lordships, governments, authorities," are no more to be taken as an exhaustive summary of all possible grades of celestial precedence than Homer's ''Sae/xoj/, ^ 7aXoa)i/, fj eivarepmv eirrre'rrkwv,*^ is to be taken as a complete list of legal relationships. Those who imagine that here we have a tabulated and reasoned theology had better first show how it was that a man so precise and exact as to omit not a rank among the angels could have combined a vfid<; at the beginning of verse 21 with dTroKaTrjXKdyrjTe at the end. Half-a-dozen anacoluthons in a few lines are not, even in Greek, the mark of accurate and logical thinking. We may, if we like, apply the methods of verbal annotation to so careful and measured a production as the Epistle to the Hebrews : what is wanted in dealing with Paul is not minute criticism, but width of view, general sympathy, and a comprehension of what is meant by the white heat of inspiration. An instructive parallel may be*drawn between Sir Walter Scott and St. Paul. Sir Walter, his mind overflowing with fact, anecdote, patriotic feeling, sat down to his Waverley novels, and all the riches of his enormous store-

348 ST. PAUL THE POET. house came poaring forth upon the page. In St. Paul, an

overflowing love of Christ, an overwhelming sense of Christ's greatness, an abounding zeal to spread His kingdom, informed every action of his life and dictated every word he wrote. But, just as a minute dissection is the last thing required for the due appreciation of Scott, so, to appreciate Paul, we need no microscopic scrutiny, no nice weighing of words, no gerund-grinding. It is with him as with the rainbow ; we must stand off to see his splendour ; a too close inspection dissolves the radiance into mist. Let no one say that a commentary written on these lines would be loose and inexact, or deficient in scholarship. The precise reverse is the case. Such a commentary would demand in the first place a literary sense only to be acquired by wide and deep study of the great masterpieces of the world. The commentator must have steeped himself in poets like Milton, Dante, and Shakspere, until he has gained a sympathy with poetic minds and a power of following their celestial movements. Secondly, he needs to study the special idiosyncrasies of Paul's intellect, his early training, his root ideas, his practical statesmanship. Thirdly, and most important of all, the commentator must possess himself less a theological than a religious mind. He must understand what conversion is, and have something of the burning enthusiasm for Christ and humanity which Paul possessed. To him, as to Paul, to live must be Christ. Such a combination as this is not an easy thing to find or to make; and it is probable enough that many generations shall have passed before the world sees it. E. E. Eellett.

1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books

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