M. RENAN'S ST. PAUL.*
AFTER earnestly studying this book, we must affirm that it is much lees easy to make out to what it is in St. Paul that M. Renan ascribes the greatness of his career and the wonderful character of his influence over the future, than it was in the case of either our Lord or His immediate disciples. That St. Paul was a man of very strong purpose and intensely fiery nature, M. Renau, of course, contends,—but that alone is hardly enough to ensure for any man a great influence over the souls of men for century after century. That St. Paul shared any of the advantages of the Twelve Apostles in preserving in his own heart, and transmitting to others, the spiritual and moral image of Christ, M. Renan strenuously denies. He insists again and again on the very slight acquaintance which St. Paul had, even at second-hand, with the life and sayings of his master. For example, take this passage, which succeeds a criticism on the Epistle to the Galatians,—" in everything," says M. Renan (who, though he dis- likeshearty Roman Catholicism much, dislikes heartyProtestantism even more), "in everything a true ancestor of Protestantism, Paul has all the defects of a Protestant. It takes time and much experience to reach the insight that no dogma is worth the trouble of directly opposing it, and of the wounds so given to charity. Paul is not Jesus. How far we are from thee, dear Master ! Where is thy sweetness, thy poetry? Thou whom a flower enchanted and threw into extasy, dust thou really recognize for thy disciples these disputants, these men furious about their prerogative, who would like to have everything referred to themselves? They are men,—thou wast a God. Where should we be if thou wert only known to us by the harsh letters of him who calls himself thy apostle? Happily, the perfumes of Galilee live still in some faithful memories. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is already written on some secret leaf. The unknown disciple who bears this treasure truly bears with him the future." Whatever the secret of St. Paul's greatness, M. Remit denies frequently, and perhaps with some justice, that it was due to any intimate know- ledge of the human beauty of our Lord's earthly life.
But, besides denying St. Paul greatness as a direct conductor of our Lord's spiritual humanity to others, M. Renan also denies him absolutely any imaginative charm of nature on his own account that might explain his greatness. "He has no devotees, no one builds him churches, no one burns tapers to him," in the middle ages,—remarks Ronan. "it is not all who wish it who have a legend. In order to have a legend, it needs to have spoken to the heart of the people, it needs to have struck their imagination. But what are salvation by faith and justification by the blood of Christ, to the people ? Paul had too little sympathy with the popular conscience, and besides was, perhaps, too well known in history, to be able to encircle his head with an aureole of fable. Speak to me of Peter, who makes the heads of kings to bow, shatters empires, treads on the asp and the basilisk, tramples under his feet the lion and the dragon, and holds the keys of heaven." Thus it is neither the personal charm of his master's nor of his own character which, in M. Renan's estimation, has secured so great a place in history for St. Paul. He could not reflect the one. He did not possess the other.
Is it, then, to the great faculties of reason and thought which were employed by St. Paul on the fundamental ideas of Christianity that M. Renan ascribes his greatness ? That is even further from his mind than either of the previous hypotheses. He excuses his fanatical " illuminism" on the ground that it is bound up with so much practical good sense, remarking that "the English race in Europe and America offers us an illustration of precisely the same contrast ;—so full of good sense in the things of earth, so absurd in the things of heaven," and be appeals to the history of the Quakers in justification of the criticism. Again, after giving an account of the Epistle to the Romans, M. Renan describes it as a declaration of war on the part of theology against "philosophy, the leading treatise which has induced a whole class of rugged spirits to embrace Christianity as a mode of browbeating Reason, by proclaiming the sublimity and credibility of the absurd." And in summing up at the end of his book his conception of St. Paul, —M. Renan says he was not a servant of pure Truth,—" one may even say that he has greatly injured the cause of science by his paradoxical contempt for Reason, by his eulogy on seeming folly, by his apotheosis of the transcendental absurd."
Nor will M. Renan concede St. Paul even a superlatively high
* Saint Paul. (Avec nue Carte des Voyages de Saint Paul, par M. Kiepert.) Par Ernest Ileum Paris : Ldvy. 1865. morale. "He was not a saint," he says expressly, "the dominant trait in his (the apostle's) character was not goodness. He was haughty, stiff, aggressive [cassant] ; he defended himself, asserted himself (8 we say now) ; he used some hard language ; he held him- self to be absolutely in the right ; he stuck to his own opinion ; he quarrelled with various persons." And more than this, M. Renan speaks of " jealousy " as the basis of his character (p. 314), and even attributes to him at times something like deliberate misrepre- sentation. He says (p. 327), "We may fairly believe that more than once he [Paul] attributes to a private revelation that which he had learned from his seniors," quoting, as "a remarkable instance," St. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians xi. 23, as to the words in which our Lord instituted the Communion Service, where St. Paul says that he has "received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you." Thus, M. Renan's conception of St. Paul is that of a man who had not known Christ personally at all, except in his own dreams,—who was not filled, therefore, with personal love for his Master,—who was an enemy of Reason,—who had no sense of the beautiful,—who was weak in the highest moral graces, being with- out sweetness, without even severe sincerity,—whose chief in- spiring idea, that of an approaching day of judgment, was false and even superstitious,—and yet who exercised a supreme influence over the minds of all who came in contact with him during his life, and over the theology of centuries after he himself was no more.
And we seek in vain to discover,—what it is easy enough to discover in our author's Vie de Jesus, and in his account even of the Apostles,—where he finds the secret of this new career of marvel. As M. Renan has told it, it reads (and this cannot be said of either of his previous works, though they are no less rationalistic than this) like the story of a great effect without a cause, of a mighty structure without a foundation, a work of extraordinary power based in pure illusion, though accidentally resulting in the emancipation of a great faith from fatal restric- tions, and in its successful launch into the ages as the one supreme theology of the West. That M. Reuau ascribes to St. Paul a wonderful fire of nature and a practical genius for rule over the minds of men such as has been rarely equalled, is nothing, if he cannot show us for what ideal ends eagerly craved by the world, and to which St. Paul _appealed, the apostle used these great qualities. Yet, with the rarest exceptions, one would gather from M. Renan that St. Paul's idealism was mainly false and fanatical. His con- version was, according to M. Renan, the first great illusion of his career,—one not even due, like St. Peter's or St. John's, to any human intercourse with the historic life of the Master whom he was to serve. The great animating belief which urged him through his missionary voyages,—the belief in an approaching return of Christ in the flesh to judge the earth,—was the second great illusion of his life. His favourite theology, —j ustificatiou by faith and redemp- tion by the death of Christ,—was founded, asserts M. Renan, not only in illusion, but in mischievous paradox, a paradox which led to the dangerous teaching that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men." It is true this theology had the fortunate result of striking at the very root of moral Pharisaism, and of all that complicated ramification of legalism and scruple which eats the life out of weak con- sciences and conventional piety. But this, in M. Renan's mind, seems to be rather a blessed accident of St. Paul's false theological system than its essence, and not to save it from the condemna- tion of complete spiritual sterility. In a word, excepting only the 13th chapter of the 1st Corinthians, —the inspired panegyric on what our translators have called Charity, as the highest of spiritual gifts, —a passage which M. Renan admits to have gained and deserved a rank on a par with the discourses of our Lord himself ,—there is hardly one fragment in all the writings of St. Paul, to which his new French biographer accords any high spiritual rank. He places St. Paul below St. Francis of Assisi and the author of the Imitatio Christi. He gives him only a great place among men of action, nothing more. This is his final judgment on the great Apostle of the Gentiles :—" The first places in the kingdom of heaven are reserved for those whom a ray of grace has touched, for those who have adored only the Ideal. The man of action is always a weak artist, for he does not make it his only aim to reflect the splendour of the universe ; he cannot be a savant, for he moulds his opinions by political utility ; he is not even a man of the highest virtue, for he is never irreproachable, the folly and wickedness of men forcing him to come to terms with them. Above all, he is never loveable ; the most charming of the virtues,—reserve,—is forbidden him. The world favours the audacious, those who help themselves. Paul, so great, so honour- able, is obliged to decree himself the title of Apostle. One is strong in action by one's defects ; one is weak by one's best quali-
ties. In a word, the historic personage who has most analogy with St. Paul is Luther. In both there is the same violence of language, the same passion, the same energy, the same noble independence, the same frenzied attachment to a thesis embraced as absolute truth." Yes, but Luther's ideas were first St. Paul's ideas. If the latter had no inherent truth, and achieved only by virtue of their comparative and accidental univer- sality a conquest over the slavish legalism of the Pharisee and the timid traditionalism of the pious Jew, there is surely something humiliating, something discreditable to the moral genius of humauity, in the complete resurrection of the Pauline faith, after more than thirteen centuries of comparative latency, in the Reformation. Construe M. Renan's life of St. Paul as you will, it is impossible not to be aware that he ascribes the greatness of the Apostle of the Gentiles chiefly to what he con- siders his moral faultiness and his spiritual eccentricities, to his dictatorialness and his credulity, his self-assertion as a teacher, and his visionary raptures in dwelling on the articles of a compara- tively universal indeed, but not the less mistaken, creed. " Illu- sion, chimera," he says (p. 348), "are the conditions of great things created by the people. It is the work of the wise alone which may be pure ; but the wise are ordinarily impotent." And St. Paul according to M. Renan has been potent by his credulities more than by any wisdom of creed. Had he not believed in a Master who was but his own spirit put, as it were, at arm's length, had he not believed in a coming day of judgment which did not come, had he not found a mistaken ground for a good doctrine when he superseded 'the works of the law' by his doctrine of justification and redemption,—he would not, according to M. Renan, have made for himself any name in Christian history.
We entirely reject this view of the great apostle. Thus far only we agree with M. Renan :—we cannot conceive how any critic, as yet uncommitted to an hypothesis, can dispute his assertion that not only St. Paul, but all his brother apostles, believed to the very bottom of their souls, and gained enormous evangelical power by the belief, that their Master would return in the body in their own life-time, to raise the dead, judge both them and the living, and wind up the age. So far as that illusion foreshortened enormously the long perspective of human develop- ment, threw the secular arts and sciences into the shade, and made the couffict between the pure and impure will in man the only question of the present and the future, it seems to us to have been indeed a great blunder, but a Providential blunder,—in precisely the same sense in which it is providential that the man to whom it is given to discover a new world can see nothing in the future but the results of discovering a new world, and that the man to whom it is given to weigh the moon, or to reform a penal code, can see nothing in the future but the opening vista of physical law, or the growing beneficence of an equitable jurisprudence. The great work of the Apostolic age wasreallyto preach 'righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come' in the light of Christ's divine personality ; to make that, and that alone, the law of righteousness, the limit of temperance, and the standard of the approaching judgment. That all the other elements of the great future of our race were lost out of sight, was the condition of their ever coming into sight again in wholesome relations with the moral and spiritual side of our nature, at that time so fearfully disfigured. Without an expectation much more eager and preoccupying than was, historically speaking, warrantable, the great spiritual transformation would not have been effected.
But though we admit and contend for this great and divinely ordered misinterpretation by the Apostles of the historical conditions of the descent of Christ which they expected, we do not in the least believe that the many supernatural impressions they used were themselves illusions. M. Renan seems to us to lose entirely the spiritual meaning of his biography when he paints almost all the force of St. Paul's character as due to jealousyfor his own authority on the one hand, and the fanaticism of a credulous dreamer on the other. It seems to us that the key to St. Paul's character and vast influence lies in this,—that with a typically Jewish mind, which had been trained to find the supernatural in the terrible and severe yoke of an Almighty law, he suddenly learned—on the way to Damascus—that there was more of the true supernatural, more of that divine power which conquers, and abases, and regenerates the human will, and shines through the semi-opaque routine of daily duties, in the perfect and penetrating love of a filial spirit like our Lord's, than in any thunders of Sinai, or any written command- ments, however difficult and however grand. M. Renan's rendering of St. Paul's epistles seems to us to miss entirely this keen sense of the true supernaturalness of love,—the same love or 'charity' of which St. Paul writes, not only in the one chapter which M. Renan so highly approves, but in almost every chapter of every epistle which is preserved to us. The strange interweaving of storm and sun in St. Paul, the fusion between the Judaic sense of the supernatural and the Christian sense of the supernatural, the conviction that "the Christ which worked in him" was an omnipotent flood of light and love, compared to which the imperfectly conceived Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures had wielded scarce any power at all over the perverse passions of man and the hard catastrophes of history, the conviction that this supernatural love verified its own divinity by its very power to elevate the smallest things into the greatest and to depress the greatest into the smallest, this conviction, —which was, in fact, the same intense sense of moral and spiritual paradox which made St. Paul exclaim that "the foolishness of God was wiser than men,"—seems to us the key to all that was great in his life, not only the key to the chapter on Charity, but to the very essence of his theology. Yet it is precisely this sense of the supernatural character of the demands of love upon the heart, that M. Renan,—who is a genuine Pantheist at heart, who has no real belief in the Supernatural, no real belief in anything which cannot be got to fall into gentle and easy harmony with the ways of the world, who finds fault with our Lord himself directly the fire kindles in Hint which leads Him to the cross, and speaks of it as a kind of insanity,—deems a sort of moral and spiritual folly, by which St. Paul has served not "the Ideal," but the cause of fanaticism and unreason. M. Renan cannot see that, without the terrible side of the Jewish faith,—which found so striking an expression both in our Lord and in His greatest apostle,—the sunny and gentle side would have no religious vitality stall. He insists on the "gaiety" of the first Christian Churches with what seems to us quite a foolish and unmeaning emphasis. Gay they were, but gay with the gaiety of men who pierced through the veil of the temporal and saw the imperiou4 Love which rules the world as a love so holy that it must consume away the half of life before it can regenerate the other half. The same 'charity' which suffereth long and is kind, which is not puffed up, which vaunteth not itself, seeketh not her own, and so forth, is identical in St. Paul's mind with that "wrath of God which is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness," and con- sumes evil more terribly in its new manifestation as love than in its old manifestation as law.
M. Renan's St. Paul seems to us a failure, because throughout he ignores this,—tries here and there in a kindly mood to make a sort of sentimental hero of his apostle, almost hints at a tender relation, if not a marriage, with Lydia of Philippi, and makes much of his softest language ; but really and in his heart all the while dislikes the "ugly little Jew," as he bitterly calls him on occasion of his attack on Athenian idolatry, and dislikes him pre- cisely for this,—that his sense of the love of God was not a mild, sunshiny, spring-like sense of dewy softness and genial warmth, but a profound supernatural fire which burns up evil, while it kindles anew the everlasting flame of good. Nowhere does M. Renan's deep-rooted Pantheism come out with more fatal effect than in this laborious but ill-digested life of the great personal Apostle of the Gentiles.