My first words must be an apology for the character of my opening paragraph: but the circumstances make an autobiographical introduction the most suitable in this place and in this University, as furnishing an explanation and a justification of the choice of subject in these lectures.
It has always appeared to me the most fortunate factor in the whole course of my education that in the last part of my undergraduate life immediately after spending a year in reading with unusual care the most developed stage of Aristotle's philosophy, I was compelled by the Law of the University—much against my own will—to study the letter of Paul to the Galatians, and to learn in practical experience that the Law is a schoolmaster to prepare one for freedom, "rough, but a good nurse of youths," to use the words of Homer, whereas on the contrary a premature entrance into the life of apparent freedom can only be the beginning of a life-long slavery. Freedom, as Paul taught, must be the culmination of a long preparation under servitude to the Law; otherwise it can only be injurious, and cannot even be freedom, but only a worse form of servitude. Degeneration is the inevitable result of servitude, whether it be servitude to an external master or to one's own insufficiently educated nature. My subject in the first part of these lectures is mainly to pass under review the form which Paul gave to the ancient theory of the universal degeneration in history, and the cure which alone he judged sufficient to turn degeneration into progressive development.
Reading the most remarkable and the most intensely individual of the Pauline Epistles as the completion of a study of Greek philosophy, I felt that in Paul, for the first time since Aristotle, Greek philosophy made a real step forward. Such was the impression made during my reading for the schools. Now after thirty-one years I have to state to you the issue of that idea, which seized hold of my mind in undergraduate days and has gripped me ever since. I shall not attempt to treat it with philosophic delicacy and subtlety, for that is beyond my power. I state only the broad rough views of one who looks at what men did and how States rose and fell.
While it is impossible to discuss Paul's views on philosophy or on history without touching on his religious opinions, our subject is primarily historical, and our aim is for the moment to set aside, as far as may be, the religious aspect of Paul's ideas, and to regard him as a force and a leader in history.
The main point and issue is this: Ancient civilisation perished almost utterly; comparatively few specimens of its literature survived; far the larger part of its institutions and methods in the organisation of society disappeared entirely from practical life, and can barely be guessed at now, as some saner ideas of the ancient world are being recovered. When one looks at the terrible suffering that accompanied the inroads of the worst tribes of destroying barbarians, from the Huns to the Mongols, when one remembers the wanton and reckless destruction of almost everything that the ancient civilisation had constructed, the utter loss of so much that was useful and beautiful, so much in social life that had to be slowly recovered, and has as yet been by no means all recovered, in order to make life good and healthy and sound, it seems as if history were the game of a wanton child playing with its toys and wasting or throwing them away as it tired of them. What can explain, and what can repair the week-long sack of the greatest city of the Middle Ages by the Mongols, the annihilation by ignorant savages of the biggest collection of the remains of the ancient world, and all that this total wreck means to the civilised world? Is there reason in this, or mere blind chance and foolish caprice?
To Paul it seemed that there was reason in it. He, like the great Hebrew prophets, foresaw it, denounced its causes, recognised its purpose, and announced the remedy. The sack of Bagdad was but part of the last act in a long course of degeneration. The degeneration had been in process before the time of Paul. It was not the attacks of savages from without that destroyed the ancient civilisation and almost all the many great benefits it had wrought out for mankind; it was the inherent and innate faults of that civilisation. A new foundation was needed on which to build up civilised life. Paul showed what the foundation must be. He taught how the transformation of the old system and the improvement of the foundation could be gradually effected. For some centuries it seemed possible that the transformation and regeneration might be effected peacefully. But, as he declared, and as the result showed, there was no alternative except either regeneration or death. He appreciated well, and declared emphatically that the old system had an element of good (§ 2); but without fundamental reform it could not be preserved. It was rotten to the heart. So said Paul; and so must every one feel who studies the innermost character of ancient society; so most emphatically said the ancients themselves. The Hellenistic kingdoms of the East struck out many admirable devices in society and in administration, or else borrowed them from the older Oriental States and improved them as they took them; the Roman Empire appropriated many of these devices and wrought them into its own vast system of government; but neither in Hellenistic nor in Roman times did these admirable devices rest on a broad enough and safe enough basis.
In the philosophy of Paul, the Eastern mind and the Hellenic have been intermingled in the closest union, like two elements which have undergone a chemical mixture. In every sentence, in every thought, you can feel the Oriental element, if you are sensitive to it, and you are also aware of the Western, if you are perceptive of Hellenism; but you become aware only of that which you are qualified by nature, by training, and above all by inclination, to perceive. Hence the extraordinarily opposite opinions held by modern scholars about the writings of Paul. The great majority of scholars are sentient only of the Judaic element. They feel the Jew in him. They feel that every paragraph and every idea in his writings is such as only a Jew could have conceived and composed. And so far they are perfectly right. From first to last throughout the whole fabric of his being Paul was Hebrew. But they err in thinking that this is the whole matter, and that they have understood Paul completely when they have been aware of the Hebrew.
They have not approached the problem with a wide enough nature. They have come to Paul with their mind dipped in Hebraism and Orientalism, thinking only of this, sensitive only to this side of his character. They seem never to have sufficiently familiarised themselves with the Græco-Roman world as it was in the first century of our era. They have been educated in the old Hellenism of free Greece, and in the civilisation of Rome. But I rarely find in them any sympathy with, or understanding of, hardly any thought about, the Hellenism that overran the world of Western Asia, adapted itself to Asia, widened itself to the wider sphere, and changed its character profoundly in the adaptation. Nor do they convey the impression that they have thought much about the subtle tinge or flavour that Rome had imparted to the Græco-Oriental civilisation. Rome had not Romanised or sought to Romanise the Eastern Provinces. Rome was content to organise and to govern them, to preserve peace in an orderly population and make it contribute to the strength of the Empire as a whole. But in doing this it had perceptibly influenced the tone of the Eastern Provinces. Romans were the aristocracy of the Eastern world.
For example, glance at two pictures, which Luke passes before us in the Acts, of events which occurred within his own knowledge and in part before his own eyes. Here you have photographs, as it were, taken from real life as it was lived in the Roman Provinces of the first century after Christ. Nothing more vivid and more informing has been preserved to us in the records of the period. Not to recognise this lifelike character is to write oneself down as unfit to appreciate and to understand the living world of that age. When two wanderers, unknown and assumed to be of the poorest class, were imprisoned in a Roman colonial city, the chains fell off them at the words "we are Romans ". A Roman Tribune heard that an Egyptian brigand was being torn in pieces by in order to exercise Roman justice on him, and as a first step was proceeding to have him flogged, when the prisoner mentioned that he was a Roman by birth; the officer at once became his apologetic protector and friend. No further questions were put in either case; no proofs were required; the mere claim was enough, and constraint and ill-treatment were ended. Incidentally the question suggests itself: Was there not something in the very manner and tone of the claim which carried conviction in spite of unfavourable external appearances? Was there not something Roman about the Roman? At any rate, this privilege and authority made the rank not merely honourable, but also practically advantageous, and hence rose the keen desire to obtain it which is shown in the Acts 22:28. Now in any society the aristocratic class exercises a certain vague, yet very real, influence on the tone of every other class; and especially must this be the case in a society like that of the Roman provinces, where every person of good position might look forward to the attainment of the coveted rank as a possibility in his career. The Romans at this period gave the tone of society; it was different two centuries later, when the national and the Oriental spirit had revived and grown powerful.
All these varied influences were at work in the Græco-Asiatic cities of the Empire; and they produced a type of man and of thought which hardly seems to be dreamed of by those interpreters of Paul, who appreciate the Hebrew element in him and discern nothing else. But, if we first familiarise ourselves with the society in which Paul grew up, in which he spent most of his life, and for which he in his mature years felt that he was specially suited, and if we approach him from that side, we shall feel everywhere in his work the spirit of the Tarsian Hellene. So Canon Hicks, who knows the Hellenic cities of Asia as few scholars do, feels the Hellenic training and experience apparent throughout the Pauline letters. So the late Ernst Curtius, the historian of Greece, felt in the letters the Hellenic tone. E. Curtius, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, ii., p. 531 ff.; E. L. Hicks, Studia Biblica, iv., p. 1 ff., and Classical Review, i., pp. 4 if., 42 ff.
The testimony which struck me most of all was the opinion expressed by two of the most learned Jews of modern time, with whom I happened to be talking more than ten years ago in the house of one of them. The conversation chanced to turn on Paul and on the letters attributed to him. They were both perfectly certain that none of the Pauline letters could be genuine, because there is much in them which no Jew could write. These were scholars whose opinion on any matter connected with Judaism in the early Christian centuries stands very high in the estimation of the whole world. They know old Jewish feeling from the inside with an intimacy which no Western scholar can ever attain to. They appreciated the non-Jewish element intermingled in the writings of Paul. They rightly recognised that no mere Jew could write like that; but instead of inferring that Paul was more than a mere Jew in education and mind, they argued that he, being (as is commonly assumed and maintained by modern scholars) a pure and narrow Jew, could not have written those letters.
The plan of the first part of these lectures is, first to state the fundamental principles of Paul's historical survey; next to contrast his view with the modern method; thirdly, to point out that his view in some degree may be regarded as a development of Hellenic thought; fourthly, to show the relation in which his thought and the cure which he proposed for the degeneration of society stood to the Roman world of his own and of succeeding time.