Saturday, July 6, 2013

Paul's Theological Vision According to Murphy-O'Connor

In between doing wedding preparations and being a generally good husband to be, I found the time to clip and paste this piece by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor from his book "Paul: His Story." Enjoy.
The stature of Paul was further enhanced by his endorsement by the first great Christian theologian of the post-apostolic age. Irenaeus (c.130-200) was the earliest and strongest bridge between east and west. Born in Smyrna in Asia Minor, where he sat at the feet of Polycarp, he studied in Rome, and ended his career as bishop of Lyons in France. In his great work, Against All Heresies, he argues both against those, such as Marcion, who claimed too much for Paul, alleging that 'Paul alone knew the truth' (3. 13. 1.), and against those 'who do not recognize Paul as an apostle' (3. 15. 1.). The respect that Irenaeus accorded to, and demanded for, Paul is formally articulated in the foundational principle of his work.

The test of doctrinal truth for all churches was their agreement with 'that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized in Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul' (3. 3. 2.). It is not surprising, in consequence, that Irenaeus cites or alludes to Paul over 400 times, and evokes every letter with the exception of Philemon. What Irenaeus did not do, however, was to take over Paul's theological vision. In the last analysis the letters were merely exploited as a quarry of proof-texts. This was to be Paul's fate throughout all subsequent centuries. An extremely selective approach has been characteristic of the use of his letters in all the great theological debates. If Augustine exaggerated an aspect of Paul's description of unredeemed humanity, the Reformers tore out of its love-filled social context his stress on the importance of faith.

Paul's analysis of the world in which he had to operate is still verified in our contemporary society. Such accuracy and insights should give us confidence in the solutions that he proposed in order to make Christianity an authentic instrument of change. It is not that the Pauline version of Christianity has failed, it has never been seriously tried.
--Nick

Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Paul: His Story pgs238-9.

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