Saturday, January 28, 2012

C.S. Lewis and the Epistles of Paul

This past week we had St. Paul on overdrive in the Church's commemorations, back-to-back-to-back. St. Timothy, then the conversion of St. Paul and last (but not least) St. Titus. Much could (and should) be said individually about these three commemorations. One of the many themes, broadly speaking, that you can pull out of this sequence in the Church Year, is the influence of St. Paul on the Church. And what a significant impact his letters have had on the Church. After all, thirteen books of the New Testament are penned by Paul. There has been a heightened sense of frenzy in recent years about the theology of Paul vs. the theology of Jesus or the so-called "new perspective" on Paul. There is no wedge to be driven between Paul and Jesus, between the Gospels and the Epistles. You may not like what Paul says, but then again, neither did a lot of the people that heard him back in the 1st century either. You'll have to take that up with Jesus; he's the one that sent Paul out after all. In reading a few things this week on Timothy, Titus and Paul, I stumbled across this rather prophetic description of Paul and Jesus by C.S. Lewis. Call it an old perspective on the new perspective. Do not read too much into his "terrifying" comments on the Gospels. Lewis clearly understood that there is Good News to be found in them, merely that they are written in different genres. And perhaps Lewis pushes the purpose of the Gospel's writing a bit farther than necessary in order to make his point. That being said, Lewis makes many good points in the following passage for what it's worth, enjoy:

A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the Gospels) and that St. Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the Epistles). This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of Our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. If it could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St. Paul's. The Epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels come later. They are not 'the Gospel', the statement of the Christian belief. They were written for those who had already been converted, who had already accepted 'the Gospel'. They leave out many of the 'complications' (that is, the theology) because they are intended for readers who have been instructed in it. In that sense the Epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels - though not, of course, than the great events which the Gospels recount. God's act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the Epistles: then, when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord's sayings. (C.S. Lewis, Modern Translations of the Bible).

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