Theosophy – July 1896


Jesus and Paul are not dead; they are very well alive. — EMERSON, Nominalist and Realist.

Here is a pretty figure of ecclesiastical humor: An edition of the Sacred Books of Jew and Christian was once published in Hebrew and Greek and Latin. The latter, in the reading of the Vulgate, held the centre of the page. The original tongues were on the right hand and the left. "Behold Christ crucified between two thieves!" said the orthodox lovers of the Latin version.

We may fitly apply this figure of pure theology to the works of Paul the Messenger, they are crucified between two thieves. On the left hand the Acts of the Apostles, on the right, the Epistle to the Hebrews, have stolen away the true understanding of his life and teaching.

The Acts of the Apostles has substituted another order, and which is even more important, quite another complexion of events, for the vivid pieces of history and reminiscence that Paul gives in his letters; and this substitution covers the whole period of his life, from the days of his initiation onwards It is very likely that tradition speaks truth in saying that the anonymous author of the Acts and the "well-loved doctor, Loukas (or Loukanos)" [λούχαυος], of Paul's letters are the same person; it is quite probable that he tries to record what he heard in conversation with Paul himself. None the less is it quite impossible to reconcile the outward order of events, for example, the visits to Jerusalem, which this anonymous author gives, with the order Paul himself gives; and which is even more striking, the complete difference in color which the great Messenger and his nameless follower give to the same things.

Paul "energizes powers" in his pupils; his anonymous biographer makes him "work miracles among them." Paul is "enlightened" as to some deep problem in spiritual things; his follower, in the Acts, makes him "see a bright light" in the sky. Paul hears "words unspeakable"; his biographer immediately proceeds to tell us what they were. Paul is busy with the teaching of the Christos, the Master, the Spirit, "for the Master is the Spirit," to quote his own words; the author of the Acts is busy with the thaumaturgic apotheosis of a personal god, and many other things which no man can verify. And so it goes on all through, and through it all the author of the Acts sincerely believes that he and Paul are talking the same language, and most honestly seeks to do Paul service.

In just the same way, Paul's teaching is done much wrong by the equally nameless author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Who first suggested that this tract was Paul's, it is difficult to say. Who wrote it, whether Barnabas, or Apollos, the "eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures," it is impossible to tell. But it is now admitted on every hand, even by theologians whose views for the most part are quite mediaeval, that this letter is not Paul's. Now the author of this Epistle to the Hebrews is a born theologian; that is to say, he is a worthy man suffering from an enormous excess of discursive reason applied to a series of documents, almost everything important about which is "believed and taken for granted," not "weighed and considered." A great theologian, a man of covenants and testaments, of miracles and dispensations, of apt quotation and skillful arguments, an "eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures," whether Apollos or another: such is the nameless writer to the Hebrews. If Paul himself were no more than this, we should have little enough to say of him.

Well, this eloquent man's theology is, in reality, as different as can be from Paul's teaching; for Paul's teaching is not theology at all, but the science of real life. Yet the theologian with his texts and arguments, has almost completely succeeded in standing in front of Paul, and concealing Paul from sight, so that his doctrines pass for Paul's; and no place is left in our minds for Paul's real doctrines, for the reason that we think we have them already, whereas, in reality, we have only the doctrines of a nameless theologian, who once upon a time wrote a letter to the Hebrews.

Let us take two striking instances, to show that the pictures which our memories and imaginations hold about Paul are not Paul at all, but one or another of his two anonymous friends and quite involuntary misrepresenters: first, the narrative of Paul's "conversion," as it is called. Now, to begin with, the author of the Acts has given us no less than three different accounts of this remarkable event, all rich in thaumaturgic detail and dramatic coloring; but, unhappily, the thaumaturgy of one account is quite irreconcilable with the thaumaturgy of another, in spite of all the kindly efforts of well-meaning scribes to make them as uniform as possible, by transposing events from one account to the other. Then again, if we join all three versions of this event, as they occur in the Acts, into a single uniform story, we shall have a complete picture, it is true, but a picture utterly different from the narrative Paul himself has left in one of his letters. Yet everyone's imagination holds to the narrative of the Acts, and hardly anyone realizes the fact that we have Paul's own account of this event, in his letter to his pupils in Galatia, and that his version puts a totally different color over the whole matter. Thus Paul is robbed by the friend on his left.

If this is the most striking piece of history connected with Paul, most people will say that his most striking piece of teaching is the famous definition of faith, — "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Yet this definition is not Paul's at all; on the contrary, it was evolved by the "eloquent man, mighty in the scriptures," who wrote anonymously to the Hebrews. Paul used the same word, pistis [πίστις], which is here and elsewhere translated "faith," but he meant by it something entirely different, something not in the least like belief or credulity, something quite definitely recognized in the science of real life, from time immemorial. Thus Paul is misrepresented by the theologian on his right.

Just as is the case with these two striking examples, so is it with the whole popular idea of Paul; the popular mind has added the theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which Paul never wrote, to the history in the Acts, which Paul everywhere diverges from and contradicts, in spirit even more than in letter; and, having made up this composite picture, the popular mind has called the result Paul, and there the matter ends. Thus, as we say, is Paul robbed by his two friends.

Having pointed this out, we might be well contented to let the matter rest, were it not that theologian and thaumaturgist, having once caught the sage of Tarsus in their toils, have never let him go again, but hold him fast unto this day. We may easily demonstrate this. The pretty piece of theological humor we began by recording, is not yet four hundred years old, and it was only ninety years after its triumphant appearance on the scene that the "authorized version" of the writings, among which Paul's letters are preserved, received its authentication. And these ninety years were not such as to improve the excellent theological spirit which that figure of the "two thieves," applied to the Greek and Hebrew scriptures, so well illustrates.

Quite the contrary, they were ninety years of the fiercest polemic and controversy, of wild strife and hatred of that particular kind called theological; and, after ninety years spent in that way, people were not in quite the right spirit to translate the very difficult documents which they so boldly took in hand, including the letters of Paul the Initiate, with their teaching of real life, which these good people had no idea of at all. Hence they filled their translations with theology and thaumaturgy, with the result that all their vocabulary, of "testament," "atonement," "justification," "sin," and "righteousness," to say nothing of "predestination," "effectual calling," and "grace," is as misleading as possible, and, to get at Paul's real thought we must get rid of all this, and go back once more to his own words.

This is excellently worth doing, because, as we have said, Paul is an Initiate, an initiate in real life, — the only thing, after all, into which it is seriously worth being initiated. We recognize Paul's title, because he teaches exactly what all the masters of real life have taught; and because he quite evidently teaches it from his own knowledge, having gained that knowledge himself, by his own enlightenment.

For there is this quite peculiar mark of the masters in real life, which distinguishes them completely from the doctors of appearance, — they all teach the same thing, and they have all verified it for themselves, and speak from first-hand knowledge.

Now, this thing they teach is a matter quite simple in itself, but, by reason of the sophistry of our intellects and the futility of our wills, we find the utmost difficulty in learning it, and it is totally misunderstood ninety and nine times for once it is wholly, or even partially learned. Hence no people have been so misrepresented in this world as the masters of real life, who are in the world but not of the world; and it is our bounden duty, as well as to our profit, to clear away this misrepresentation in every case, as far as our knowledge goes.

We see, therefore, how Paul the Initiate comes to be so totally misunderstood; we shall see in the sequel, what he really taught; what the science of real life, according to his account of it, is; what he meant by those words and thoughts of his which are in general so utterly misrepresented. (To be concluded)