Friday, October 2, 2009

St. Paul and Aristotle: more influences

This post is continued from another.  I began considering with you how Paul often gets paired with Aristotle.

There are a few personal comparisons to make first.  For example, both followed their own ideals on marriage.  Aristotle wrote that the ideal age to get married for a man was 37, and for his wife, 18; -- and Aristotle was 37 when he took 18-year-old Pythias to be his wife.  Paul wrote that he was single; -- and Paul advised his students to be single also, saying that singleness was a gift from God.  Both men wrote that baldness in a man is natural and good or at least his hair should be realitively short; -- and both, we speculate, were bald or kept their hair short.

Then there are comparisons to make in their thinking.  Both men were suspicious of Greek philosophies that could not account for and encompass Nature, life-long systematic Learning, and God.  Both men appealed to themselves as examples of Natural men, as Learners (or disciples or apprentices with their own students), and as Experts on eternal and heavenly affairs.

Paul, like Aristotle, appeals to Nature when writing about Politics and Ethics and Economics (and by the latter I also mean something like Household Rule, or Oikos Nomos).  Naturally, the order is government over citizens, master over slaves, husband over wives, fathers over children.

For Aristotle, there was the study of Nature (φυσική or physike or "physics"), the apprehension of pure and precise systems (μαθηματική or mathematike or "math"), and the study of divine logic (θεολογική or theologike or "theology").  As far as I can tell, Aristotle coined those last two words:  mathemat-ike and theolog-ike or "lesson-ista" and "god-statement-ista."  In The Metaphysics Aristotle classes the three concepts together, naturally and systematically and logically, as the three sub-categories of φιλοσοφίαι θεωρητικαί or phosophiai theoretikai or "philosophy's theory."

The most interesting thing to note here is that Aristotle is not only concerned about being pure and precise but he is also concerned with sounding pure and precise.  To sound technical, Aristotle coins words using the suffix, -ική.  Curiously, it's a grammatically feminine ending that in some contexts disparages females.   I've played with translation into English so that φυσική or physike is rendered Nature-ista or Nature-istic.  And μαθηματική or mathematike is translated Lesson-ista or Lesson-istics.  And θεολογική or theologike sounds, in English, like God-Statement-istics or God-Statement-ista.

As we all know (or maybe you don't yet), Paul is the only writer of anything in the canonized New Testament who uses this suffix.  In fact, it seems that Jews translating the Holy Hebrew Torah and the other scriptures in Alexandria, Egypt avoided the suffix like another plague.  It was something of Aristotle that he'd learned from Plato; and, worse, it was something that Aristotle had taught Alexander the Great.  The translators (the Septuagint translators) only slipped a couple of times and used the -ICKY suffix when translating something about -ική women.

Before we get to which word Paul used exactly, which word with the suffix -ική, let me say a little something about the context in which he used the word.  He was writing to Jews and Greeks in Rome.  This is the letter we call "Romans."  What is fascinating is that Paul does not tell the women and wives in Rome to submit to their husbands; he does not tell them in this letter that they must not teach men or that they must learn quietly from their husbands at home; and he gives the women in Rome no instruction to stay silent in the Assembly.  Why not?  Well, why?  In Rome, such things were already strictly regulated by law and by custom.  Paul did not need to enforce the rule of men over women in home, in church, or in instruction.  The Roman government had outdone Aristotle (and Paul) in letting males rule naturally.  The other fascinating thing to note is that Paul does not address the Romans.  Rather, he appeals to the Jews and their scriptures.  And he appeals to the Greeks.  But he calls the Romans by Aristotle's term of disparagement:  he calls the Latin, Italian men of Rome "Barbarians."  (For some discussion of this, see my blogger friend Bob MacDonald's post Paul's Cantus Firmus
and my comment there).

Now, what's the -ική word Paul uses?  And don't you think the Greeks in Rome reading got it?  This is Aristotle's word, his very method.  The word is λογική or logike or Statement-ista or Statement-istics.  Paul is using it in the accusative case (which simply means it's in the grammatical form of a direct object).  But by it, he's modifying the word λατρείαν or latreian, which earlier Jews in Alexandria, Egypt had used to translate עֲבֹדָה (or `abodah) in "Exodus 12:25."  The Greek and Hebrew words mean something like religious "service."  The Greek word is not used much in the New Testament.  And Aristotle's word (i.e., "logic") is never used elsewhere nor is any other Greek Aristotle-like word with the special technical female-sounding suffix.  Paul is appealing to the Jews and Greeks in Rome about their "service" to God.  He's saying their service is as logical as Aristotle's formal logic.

Let give the whole sentence again (but this time with my translating it):   

Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἀδελφοί διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν. Καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθαι [OR συσχηματίζεσθε] τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθαι [OR μεταμορφοῦσθε] τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς [ὑμῶν] εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
I'm beside you, calling you, sisters, brothers - through the deep compassion of God - to present your bodies, a sacrifice, alive, holy, blessed pleasures on God, your service of logical statementistics as with Aristotle.  And that doesn't mean to go together with the schema of this age; rather it means to re-form yourselves by mental newness from above into your opinions which are the good wishes of God and are blessed pleasures and finished to maturity.
Now I've run out of time for today again.  So let me just say this again:
Paul's approaches to men (vs women), to logic (vs rhetoric and dialectic and such), and to elitist centricism (vs feminisms and pluralisms and multiculuralisms) seem suspiciously like Aristotle's phallogocentrism.  Where I'm going with all of this, if time allows some other day, is this:  Paul's encounters with a Jew named Joshua and his apprentices began to unravel much of the Aristotelian(-like) system.  That was quite a carnival (or two).

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