St. Paul and Protestantism

With an Essay on Puritanism and the Church of England




Matthew Arnold

Formerly Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford and Fellow at Oriel




Smith, Elder, & Company







Most interesting statement:


“But our rendering of St. Paul’s thought we conceive rather as a product of nature, which has grown to be what it is and which will grow more.”


PAGE 17 is the real start.


People wonder about the future of St. Paul. MA says, “The reign of St. Paul is only now beginning; his fundamental ideas, disengaged from the elaborate misconception with which Protestantism has overlaid them.”


18 - The Church of England is older than the Puritan upstarts.  And its stuff it has added on is distilled in its Prayer Book.  But, the Prayer book additions and ceremonies are not the heart of Protestantism.


Puritanism is keen, pugnacious and sophisticated simple religion, dealing with election and justification.  We should compare Stl Paul’s ideals with those of Puritans.


“Over-Hebraising of Puritanism, and its want of a wide culture, do so narrow its range and impair its vision” that it doesn’t even understand the documents it most rivets itself to. 


“No man who knows nothing else, knows even his Bible.”


“St. Paul is a figure and belongs to the sphere of feeling.  Puritanism has transported into the sphere of intellect and made formula.”


They have made the primary secondary and reverse. 


“What essentially characterizes a religious teacher, and gives him his permanent worth and vitality , is, after all, just the scientific value of his teaching, its correspondence with important facts, and the light it throws upon them.

20 -  Never was the truth of this so evident as now.  The scientific sense in man never asserted its claim so strongly; the propensity of religion to neglect those claims, and the peril and loss to it from neglecting them, never were so manifest.”


“St. Paul, and not Calvinism,” is scientific, in that “”he verifies what he says.”


Scientists would be into God if religious folks, “would not pester one with your pretensions of knowing all about him.”


“That stream of tendency by which all things strive to fulfill the law of their being, and which, inasmuch as our idea of real welfare resolves itself into this fulfillment of the law of one’s being, man rightly deems the fountain of all goodness.”  And, as this is as solemn as it gets, we can call this God.


21 – This vision melds well with the idea of a magnified, non-natural man.


But, studying physics is more in vogue now. 


We must compare beliefs “with facts and for scientific validity, with the teaching of St. Paul.”


Calvinism begins with predestination, tied back to the idea of Adam and Eve’s first sin, which made them inclined only to evil continually. 


Calvinism also has redemption as a covenant.  This the trinity agreed upon before the world began. 


This bargain is guaranteed in the Bible.   As soon as you accept Christ, and repent, you’re redeemed.   Your lusts go away and you do good works as evidence of your having been saved.  But, if good works are done by other men, it is still worthless sin. 


23 -  And, after they die, they go to heaven, bodily.


The Protestants complain that the Church of England does not hold fast enough to this formula. 


24 – But in defending this they are rigid and contentious and lack delicacy.


The big one are Congregationalists and Methodists. It is not Calvinist, but Arminian.  With Arminian, God knows everything in advance.  


25 - But Arminian Methodism, puts aside the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination. 


26 – By Adam’s fall, God’s justice and mercy were placed in conflict.  He could not do justice without violating mercy and vice versa.  Predestination gives precedent to what God does, over and above what man does.


27 – Just like those who only know their bible don’t know it, Welsleyian folks only know their Wesley and so don’t know him.  His genius for Godliness is more interesting than his pre-destination angle.  Still, he too much “minutely describes proceedings on God’s part, independent of us, our experience and our will;”


28 – Both Calvinism and Methodism appeal to St. Paul above all.   And, Calvinism, most of all, imposes it on God’s fears.   They both establish their truths via internal evicence, “and establishes without external aid its own scientific validity.”


We will look at the validity of their positions by looking at St. Paul’s most mature and greatest work, the Epistle to the Romans.  


One thing to note is that Paul is very separate from us in time and culture. So, we can only get near what he thought. 


29 – Also, in doing so, we must realize that English is not his language.  Also, “like the Semitic race in general, [Paul], has a much juster sense of the true scope and limits of diction in religious deliverancs.”    His religious emotional expressions, “have an eloquence and a propriety, but” they are not to be taken out of this sphere and made into formal scientific propositions. 


We must also remember that Hebrew writing, is not, like the Greeks’, neatly dividing between science and poetry; in fact, the scientific side is almost absent.


30 – We use the term “Hebraise” to denote moralism. 


We’ll use “Orientalise” to denote the way Paul uses words to denote “religious emotion” and nothing outside of it.


For example, when Paul says, “He has chosen us, not because we were, but that we might be holy and without blame before him,” this is not a scientific statement, it is emotional.


Jews used the Bible text as a given figure of speech, as true, without need for critical examination.   They use Biblical scaffolding, without an eye to truth.   Paul doesn’t just say, the Jews didn’t hear what was told them’, he adds Biblical references as poetry.


31 – Puritans then orientalize by reading into it.


To get what Paul meant, therefore, we have to translate him, linguistically and culturally.  Puritans fail to do this.


Calvisinists seek to avoid the wrath to come; the Methodists want eternal bliss.  What motivates Paul?  The Hebrew Aim of righteousness.


32 – Paul also had a mystical side; and mystics are prone to important single words, like ‘faith,’ ‘light,’ ‘love.’   And, he mixes these with good moral habits, listed.   “Self-Control” and “things not convenient” are notable.   As they show he knew what he meant by sin. He is also honest. 


His depth in honesty and righteousness explains his conversion. 


33 – Paul avoids being too loose or too harsh.  He is stern and yet forgiving; humble and charitable.  He is these things and a sarcastic, hard worker – what a rare blend!  Thus he could resonate with the message of Jesus.


34 – He too seriously Christ’s injunction to make clean the inside as well as the outside, to look out for hypocrisy and know that compared to the ideal of perfection, we’ve all fallen short.


And, he steps outside of law to re-establish it more victoriously.  “Am I seeking to make the course of my life and yours other than a service and an obedience” He asks.  He seeks the goal of grace, not grace. 


Puritans want to flee hell or find eternal bliss.  They work in gloom under contracts.


35 – They look less at what man has to do, righteousness, and more at what God has to do, the contract.


This is different than Paul “who starts with the thought of a conscience void of offense towards God and man, and builds upon that thought his whole system.”


“This difference constitutes from the very outset an immense scientific superiority for the scheme of Paul.”


“What science seeks after is a satisfying rational conception of things.  A scheme which fails to give this, which gives the contrary of this, may indeed be of nature to more our hopes and fears, but is to science none the more value on that account.”


Puritanism is rationally so little satisfying, that science doubts if it is in the Bible.


36 – Paul does not begin outside the sphere of science; he begins with an appeal to reality and experience.”  He appeals to “the very law and ground of human nature so far as this nature is moral.”  


The word ‘righteous’ means ‘going straight’.  And, ‘road’ is also the word for reason and duty in some languages. 


Paul does, “God as moral law.”  This being so in tune with other philosophers adds proof of this being a real and natural phenomenon.


37 – The evil that comes from vice is also verifiable and undeniable.


 And, Paul talks of men “sowing to his flesh”.  This is natural.  But, it can be resisted via reason and righteousness, by moving into the universal order.   And, this makes for peace and happiness.


But how?  Even trying to reign desires in causes rebellion. 


Mosaic law is authoritative, but just thereby increase the feeling of dismay and helplessness.  There is no sufficient power to keep the law in the law.   All is just words.


And, here we join Paul to religion.  “Here is the critical point for the scientific worth of his doctrine.”  

Herein he uses psychology and experience to ground his ethics.  He uses the joyful witness of a good conscience.  These are “facts of human nature and can be verified by science.” 


He underwent conversion, yes, but saying it was miraculous adds nothing to it.


40 - “Sin is not a monster to be mused on, but an impotence to e got rid of.”   All thinking about it, is a waste of time.


Paul knew that “the law of the moral order stretches beyond us and our private conscience.”  But, he also said, “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.


41 – Hebrews were primarily great for “apprehended God – the universal order by which all things fulfill the law of their being – chiefly as the moral order in human nature.”


They also saw god as the source of life and breath and ‘fullness of life’.  The Greeks had the same idea.  But the Hebrews saw it more as divine.   Paul also ties morality to the universe, beyond God.


There is a subtle difference here, in that we’re receptive and influenced not originative and influencing.  We receive far more than we originate.  “ Our pleasure from a spring day we do not make; our pleasure, even, from an approving conscience we do not make.” 


42 – Rather than the voluntary rational world.”  We herein are with influence, sympathy and emotion.  And, he could pass very naturally from one world to the other.    Into what he called, “the power that worketh in us.”


We all know this power from having been in love. It changes your spiritual atmosphere.  It increases our faculties of action.


A timid man in love will find courage.  a powerful attachment will give a man spirits and confidence which he could by no means call up or command himself; and that in this mood he can do wonders which would not be possible to him without it.”


43 – Paul sought a complete transformation that would put him in harmony with order, via acceptance with God.”


“Paul by studying Christ got to know himself clearly, and to transform his narrow conception of righteousness; while Calvinism studies both Christ and Paul after him to no  such good purpose.”


For Paul, who approached Christianity via his personal experience, it was Jesus Christ’s being without sin which establishes his divinity. 


It led Paul to see no impotency in himself. 


44 – The vicissitudes of victory and defeat which drove Paul to despair did not exist in Jesus. 


The 4th gospel starts with metaphysics, Paul with righteousness.  Speculations about ontology are in the 4th, they had “no overpowering attraction for Paul.” 


Not with the logos, but with Jesus is Paul concerned. 


45 – These ideas are increasingly spritualised as Paul runs his course. But they are secondary to the righteousness of God. 


46 – The law of the spirit makes men one.  It is only via the law of our members that we are many. 


Jesus “had an unfailing sense of what we have called, using an expressive modern term, the solidarity of men.” 


Faith is via identity with Jesus, Paul says, “Faith that worketh through love.” Fidelity, the power of holding to the unseen. 


47 – Jesus and Paul used the word ‘faith’ to indicated cleaving to the unseen God’s power of goodness. 


“Faith” is the central point of Paul’s system.  It means to be ‘attached’ to Christ, to embrace and identify with Christ.


48 – But how?


Faith can mean, “To rest in the finished work of the Savior” In the “scientific language of Protestant theology, to embrace Christ, to have saving faith, is “to give our consent heartily  to the covenant of grace.” 


Wesley had a complex view of it.  His idea of being able to “taste, see, hear, and feel God’ is not enough.  Because you may do so and be none the better for it tomorrow morning.” 

Paul spoke of “Faith that worketh through love.”  “Die with him.”


Paul uses the elemental power of sympathy and emotion in us.   A power which stretches beyond the limits of our own will and conscious activity.


49 – This is the doctrine of ‘necrosis.’  He repeatedly and minutely lists practices and feelings to be followed or suppressed, now take on a newer height.  You die to them each as Christ did. 

In ordinary life, out of ordinary love of a friend, a child, you can suppress quite easily, because by sympathy you enter into their feelings.  Al impulses of selfishness conflict with Christ’s feelings, he showed it by dying to them all.


50 – Folks always labor to separate Jesus and ordinary teachers like Socrates.  People use miracles, but a penetrating love, sympathy and adoration do not attach to the character of Socrates. 


We must also look at Paul’s conception of man to his fellow man. 

Who ever identifies with Christ identifies with his idea of the solidarity of man.


Hence the truth of what Bishop Wilson says, we love our neighbor out of our own interest.   The same sympathy  we’re to have to Christ we’re to have to each other. 


So he who does good to his neighbor does good to Christ.


51 – Paul said, Speak  every man truth to his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” 


Paul’s three main terms are not “calling, justification and sanctification; they are these:  dying with Christ; resurrection from the dead, growing into Christ.


His resurrection and dying have nothing to do with life after the grave.  If we look at Epistle to the Romans, we can see that life after death doesn’t fit with his line of argument.


Such theology was prominent in his earlier works: Thessalonians and Corinthians. 


52 – And he would have said it was about life after death, if asked after the Epistle to Romans. 


But  he is after death of the flesh, of obedience to sin.   Ressurection is Paul rising. 


53 – Jesus’ obedience to God resulted in his death on the cross. Jesus pleased not himself.  Dying to sin is a struggle and weakness.  And so we identify with Christ, like Paul, most strongly at this moment.    


If we are led by the psirit of God, we are the sons of God, servants of the natural eternal order.


54 – Jesus’ physical death itself is a crowning witness to his obedience to righteousness.


Of course, Paul accepted all of his society’s visions of the supernatural and apocalypse, etc.  But this does not give his teachings their essential characteristics.


In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul rejects dwelling on heaven and hell. He says to look only at faith and the results of it. 


55 – At any rate, “for science, the spiritual notion is the real one, the material notion is the figurative.”


What makes Paul special is not what he shared with his contemporaries, but what he developed on his own. 


57 – Adam’s sin is not Paul’s basis.  He went to experience to see sin.  He said, I see a law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.”  He mentions Adam later in his career, but it is an illustration, not a statement of science.   So, original sin is out.


58 – The passages that show ‘predestination’ are faults of Paul’s writing, his tendency to Judaise.  He does the same with Abraham too, it’s an illustration. 


His tendency to Judaise does not end here.  To establish righteousness by faith he had to eradicate the notion that his people were specially privileged.


59 – The Puritan reading of Paul is bizarre.  It is as if Newton did his laws of gravitation and optics in off hand remarks in his books. 


Paul even says once, offhandedly, that not only believers are saved by God.


60 – And, Paul asked, “If I preach resting in the finished work of the Saviour, why am I yet persecuted?  Why do I die daily? “    Thus, as Paul calls the doctrine “impossible,” our whole course must be cruxifiction and resurrection. 


62 – You need, in a sense, violence, in sacrifice, to expiate sin.


63 – That is because some of us are so comfortable, we don’t see our sin.  “He was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin” Paul tells us.


It is not about appeasing an angry God.  And, Jesus’ suffering was not his fault, but ours .


64 – We are saved by dying to Christ from glory to glory.


65 – So this was a look at predestination; now he’ll look at justification.   Again, the Puritans are diseased about word-battlings.  They should be immediately saved every Sunday. 


66 – Augustine also confused metaphysics and religion, which Paul never did.  


With this scientific understanding, we can revise Paul for the secular age; “The doctrine of Paul will rise out of the tomb where for centuries it has lain buried.”   “It will pay half the debt which the church of God owes to this ‘least of apostles, who was not fit to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God.”




67 – “Many Puritans now profess also the doctrine that it is wicked to have a church connected to the State.”  And, they also aim to bring the Church back to theological purity. This won’t do for the Catholic church which has its own stock of tradition.


People are not necessarily monarchists or republicans because they are born and live under a monarchy or republic.  They avail themselves of the established government for those general purposes for which governments and politics exist, but they do not for the most part, trouble their heads much about particular theoretical principles of government.”  You might even thrive under a monarchy and disapprove of monarchy.  


But, if out of zeal, you go and establish an alternative government, you’ve got a problem. You are giving satisfaction to an unhealthy zeal. 


And, we may get predestination into the Church of England. 


68 – But when you create a separate organization out of zeal, the first organization will get more zeal and dogma. 


Now folks may say MA is too cruel to blame the Puritans for dogma that other churches hold as well.  That theirs is an honest reading of Paul.   But, they are “an obstacle to progress and to true civilization.”  


69 – The good of comprehension in a national Church is, that the larger and more various the body of members, the more elements of power and life the Church will contain, the more points will there be of contact, the more mutual support and stimulus, the more growth in perfection both of thought and practice.” 


“The waste of power from not comprehending the Puritans in the national Church is measured by the number and value of elements which Puritanism could supply toward the collective growth of the whole body.  The national Church would grow more vigorously towards a higher stage of insight into religious truth.”


Meanwhile the Puritans will not contribute because they believe certain theological doctrine is in the gospel. 


And, to this end, the historic Church should combine the admirable parts of Puritanism with their own forces. 


70 – Here well see that the Church of England has some of the same thoughts as the Puritans and try to be a tad nicer to our Puritan friends.


The Puritan separation is somewhat due to the Church’s long refusal to allow in any reform. 


71 – There were the Lambeth Articles of 1595.  And, this and other proclamations were tied in with politics, as the Puritans were seen to be in favor of civil liberty.    But what they asked of the Church of England was very little.


Then the Church of England tossed out the Puritan prayer book in public and in private. 


72 – And there were lots of minute doctrinal wranglings.   And, they had to separate themselves from the Catholics all the while.


In this context, the 39 articles were an offer of peace, but this makes them scientifically useless as it relies on purposely vague principles. 


73 – Also bad, the Church of England strove to violence for conformity  This will never do.


74 – And, to be fair, the Church was trying to make a more open theology, amenable to growth. 


75 – So the Church is more serviceable that Puritanism to religious progress.


76 – Puritanism’s stance is “opposed to that development and gradual exhibiting of the full sense of the Bible and Christianity, which is essential to religious progress.”


When you get doctrinal, you cut yourself off from further growth and illumination.


For we are not all at the same spot.  And, so we all need to grow. 


77 – The ideas the Bible makes are not in the sacred text, but in the mind of the reader; and the question is, whether that idea is communicated to him in its completeness and minute accuracy on its first apprehension, or expands in his heart and intellect and comes to perfection in the course of time.”


BISHOP BUTLER!  Has the same idea about ‘truths undiscovered.’  All is not yet understood.  Men are impatient to precipitate things.  But, nature is slow. 


As Dr. Newman says, “the whole bible is written on the principle of development.”   That is the idea that Bible reading develops over time.


78 – But Dr. Newman uses them to justify purgatory and the trinity.  But, it sits oddly with his ideal of personal development. 


Such growth cannot be hurried, it requires time.


79 – “The Bible contains many truths as yet undiscovered.” Says BISHOP BUTLER.


Ideas such as God, creation, will, evil propitiation, immortality, must be considered.


No one would go to the middle ages for illumination of historic criticism, criticism of style or of nature. 


When Christianity arose, philosophy was on the decline, and it has ebbed and flowed since.   But, for example, now we have not had, in this age of natural science, an application of this to creation, or the book of Daniel’s philosophy of history. 


And when the Renaissance movement for philosophy came, it was mostly outside of the church. It was in Descartes, not Luther.


81 – But MA agrees with the concept of development. In what Shakespeare calls, “The prophetic soul, of the wide world dreaming on things to come.”


And the ripeness comes  by great figures or by the Zeit-Geist.  But, people do get stuck and defend their beliefs.  St. Paul, for example, called for unity.  Still, philosophy, science, etc., must add to our developing understanding of the Bible, as revealed in time.


82 – So what was the “good news’?  It was that the kingdom of God has come unto you.  And, life after death.  But, this was not then speculative metaphysics, but that was to come.


We see this in that originally, this was speculative, but it was inevitable that as people felt commonality via Christ’s spirit, the more they’d coalesce into a society. Unless, hindered, people will pursue this growth together, in a church.


Non-conformists are fond of saying that unity may co-exist with separation.  4 Evangelists, one gospel. But the gospels were not designed as corrections of each other.  No.  Since people “coalesce naturally, they are clearly right in coalescing and find their advantage in it.”


83 – If Christianity did not develop, it could not grow.


84 - When the few scattered congregations coalesced, naturally, they needed rules and regulations, ritual practices.  They developed a hierarchy of bishops, rituals and ceremony.  “They coalesced with the State because they grew by doing so.”  They also developed dogma.


And, to this end, it also had to develop a dogma.


85 - This was the dogma that most seemed to exalt Jesus or the “doctrine most helpful to that moral life which was the true life of the Church.”


There were heretics to discipline.  They were wrong in separating, “and that the body which held together was right; because the Church exists, not for the sake of opinions, but for the sake of moral practice, and a united endeavor after this is stronger than a broken one.”


They separated on the idea that the Church had no way of adequately settling them.  They should have conceded them as the Church settled them, and found their bond of union, where it in truth really was, not in notions about co-eternity of the Son, but in the principle: Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

86 – Is there then not any separation which is justified?  Yes.  Separation on the basis of morals. Indulgences, for example.


And, church order started when all was united under Rome.  But, when nations solidified into independent states with a keen sense of their independent life, the church to was replaced by a national type.   But this was a political difficulty, not a religious one.   So, in fact, the Church of  England could have been unified with Rome, though politically different.


The corruption of Rome, morally, was, however, a legitimate grounds for separation. And, though they used this opportunity to clear out some old doctrines, they kept much that was Roman.  They stayed, Catholic.


 And, whatever purity was lost, “the Church of England - . . . kept enough of the past to preserve, as far as this nation was concerned, her continuity, to be still the historic Church of England.” Which was better than making separation on speculative doctrine opinions.


88 – And this adoption, without severe dogmatic scrutiny, left her open, and so open to development.


Non-conformists want bare-naked scripture. But the Bible is not black and white.   And, the Puritans need to be shown this.  Thankfully, the church of England is very open doctrinally and does not require all people to  agree with all details, as long as the basics are believed.


90 – The most speculative parts of the prayer book and the 39 articles should likely be gotten rid of.  But not the whole.  “If the Church of England were disestablished to-day it would be desirable to re-establish her to-morrow, if only because of the immense power for development which a national body possesses.”


And, it is a shame because many non-conformists are so smart and could contribute so much.


The non-conformists saying the national church is un-scriptural is a speculative accretion.


91 – “Paul, too, be it remembered, condemned disunion in the society of Christians as much as he declined politics.”  And, this doesn’t mean the Puritans are wrong.  But, “It does make against their allegation that it does not matter whether the society of Christians is united or not, and that there are great advantages in separatism.” 


Anglicans do not maintain that their establishment is ordered by scripture.   Their “church – order is an order of historical development and natural expediency.”


The Church should make excommunication more difficult and allow foreign-church ordination to count for its church. 


These actions “to be made by the Church of England for the union of Protestants” would help welcome non-conformists.    And this could set the stage for the “general union of Christendom” someday.  But for now, let’s try to unite England Protestantism.