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justs 8é, others ñuels obv, others ápa or
References to his infirmity.
i. Abodily complaint (tradition).
St Paul's infirmity in the flesh.
In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (xii. 7) St Paul, after speaking of the abundant revelations vouchsafed to him, adds that “a thorn' or rather ‘a stake’ was ‘given him in his flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him, and thus to check the growth of spiritual pride. In the Epistle to the Galatians again (iv. 13, 14) he reminds his converts how he had “preached to them through infirmity of the flesh, commending them at the same time because they “did not despise nor loathe their temptation in his flesh, but received him as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.’ In the latter passage there is a variation of reading, which has some bearing on the interpretation. For ‘my temptation,’ which stands in the received text, the correct reading seems certainly to be ‘your temptation,” as I have quoted it". These passages so closely resemble each other that it is not unnatural to suppose the allusion to be the same in both. If so, the subject seems to have been especially present to St Paul's thoughts at the season when these two epistles were written; for they were written about the same time. What then was this ‘stake in the flesh, this “infirmity of the flesh,’ which made so deep an impression on his mind? Diverse answers have been given to this question”, shaped in many instances by the circumstances of the interpreters themselves, who saw in the Apostle's temptation a more or less perfect reflexion of the trials which beset their own lives. How far such subjective feelings have influenced the progress of interpretation, will appear from the following list of conjectures, which I have thrown into a rough chronological order. 1. It was some bodily ailment. This, which is the natural account of the incident, is also the first in point of time. A very early tradition defined the complaint; ‘per dolorem, ut aiunt, auriculae vel capitis,’ says Tertullian de Pudic. § 13. And this statement is copied or confirmed by Jerome (Gal. l.c.), “Tradunt eum gravissimum capitis dolorem saepe perpessum.' The headache is mentioned also by Pelagius and Primasius (both
on 2 Cor. l.c.). Others seem to have followed a different tradition as to the complaint in question"; but in some form or other illness was the solution which suggested itself to the earliest writers. This appears to be the idea of Irenaeus, the first writer who alludes to the subject, and of Victorinus, the first extant commentator on the Epistle to the Galatians”. 2. “Nay, not so, argued Chrysostom (2 Cor, Gal), as others probably ii. Persehad argued before him; “it cannot have been a headache, it cannot have i. fa been any physical malady. God would not have delivered over the body of !. His chosen servant to the power of the devil to be tortured in this way. The Apostle is surely speaking of opposition encountered, of suffering endured from his enemies.’ And so for a time, and with a certain class of expositors, the thorn in the flesh assumed the form of persecution, whether from the direct opponents of the Gospel or from the Judaizers within the pale of the Church. This interpretation again was perhaps not uninfluenced by the circumstances of the times. At all events it would find a ready welcome, when the memory of the Diocletian persecution was fresh and when the Church was torn asunder by internal feuds. It appears at least as early as the middle of the fourth century in Eusebius of Emesa (Cramer's Catena, Gal. l.c.) among the Greek, and the Ambrosian Hilary (2 Cor, Gal.) among the Latin fathers. It is adopted also by Augustine (Gal.), by Theodore of Mopsuestia (Gal.), by Theodoret (2 Cor., Gal.), by Photius (, ap. CEcum, 2 Cor, Gal), and by Theophylact (2 Cor., Gal.)*. Thus it is especially the interpretation of the Greek commentators, though not confined to them. But in spite of such strong advocacy, this account of St Paul's thorn in the flesh at all events cannot be correct. The passages, which allude to it, point clearly to something inseparable from the Apostle, to some affliction which he himself looked upon and which was looked upon by others as part of himself. Any calamity overtaking him from without fails to explain the intense personal feeling with which his language is charged. The state of opinion on this subject at the close of the fourth century Jerome.
by understanding of St Paul the mala-
* Iren. v. 3. 1, but his language is
* It was so taken apparently also by Greg. Naz. Orat. xx. (de laud. Basil.) ad fin. (see the note of Nicetas), and by Basil, Reg. Fus. Tract. ad fin. (II. p. 4oo, Garnier).
may be inferred from the alternative explanations which Jerome offers in his commentary on the Galatians, derived in part from tradition, but partly without doubt conjectural. These are four in number : (1) St Paul's carnal preaching of the Gospel, as addressed to babes; (2) His mean personal appearance; (3) Some bodily malady, traditionally reported as headache; (4) Persecutions endured by him". 3. ‘No,' thought the monks and ascetics of a somewhat later date, ‘not persecution. It was surely something which we can realise, something which we have experienced in ourselves. Must he not have felt those same carnal longings, by which we have been dogged in our solitude, and which rise up hydra-like with seven-fold force as we smite them down? From these Paul thrice entreated the Lord to be delivered, as we have entreated Him; and was only answered, as we have been answered, by the indirect assurance, My grace is sufficient for thee.’ This interpretation does not appear in a very tangible form before the sixth century, but earlier writers had used language which prepared the way for it”. Throughout the middle ages it seems to have been very generally received; and Roman Catholic writers have for the most part adopted it. So it is taken by Aquinas, Bellarmine (de Monach. c. 30), Corn, a Lapide", and Estius. Luther is probably correct when he attributes the prevalence of this interpretation to the influence of the Latin version, which renders orkóAoy ri, gapki by “stimulus carnis.' This account again of St Paul's thorn in the flesh may confidently be set aside. In such a temptation he could not have “gloried”; nor would this struggle, hidden as it must have been in his own heart, have exposed him to the contempt of others. But indeed from painful trials of this kind we have his own assurance that he was free: ‘I would,” he says, “that all men were even as myself' (I Cor. vii.7). ‘Ah no,' said Luther, “he was too hard pressed by the devil to think of such things.” 4. And in turn Luther propounded his own view of the thorn in the flesh. He complained that the older churchmen were unable from their tual trials position to appreciate St Paul's meaning, and thus he consciously threw (Reforminto the interpretation of the passage his own personal experiences. It “” was certainly not carnal longing, he thought; it was not any bodily malady. It might mean external persecution, as others had maintained, but he inclined more and more to the view that spiritual trials were intended, faint-heartedness in his ministerial duties, temptations to despair or to doubt, blasphemous suggestions of the devil". This view naturally commends itself to the leaders of a new form of religious belief, owing to the difficulties of their position; and spiritual temptation was the account of St Paul's trial in which the reformers generally acquiesced. From them it found its way into Protestant writers of a later date, subject however to some modifications which adapted it to the more equable temper and the more settled opinions of their own day. Lastly, having thus travelled round the entire circle of possible inter- Recent pretation, criticism has returned to the point from which it started. Critics. Bodily ailment of some kind has been felt by most recent writers to be the only solution which meets all the conditions of the question. These conditions are as follows: (1) The Apostle speaks of physical pain Conditions of a very acute kind; for nothing less can be implied by his metaphor of of the proa stake driven through his flesh”. (2) The malady, whatever its nature, was very humiliating to himself, for he speaks of it as a set-off against his spiritual privileges and a check to his spiritual pride. (3) He seems to regard it, as he could not but regard such suffering, as a great trial to his constancy and resolution, a grievous hindrance to the Gospel in itself, a powerful testimony to the Gospel when overcome as he was enabled to overcome it. (4) His suffering was such that he could not conceal it from others. It seems to have attacked him in the course of his public ministrations, so that he feared it might expose him to the contempt and even loathing of his hearers. (5) In the meanhess of his personal presence, of which he was
* Ephraem Syrus (on Gal. iv. 18), a little earlier than Jerome, says “Either disease of his limbs or temptation from his enemies.’
* Jerome Epist. xxii (ad Eustoch.)
interpretation, “naturalem infirmita-
* In his shorter and earlier com- akóAoy: see the notes of Meyer and
mentaryon the Galatians (1519) Luther
Stanley on 2 Cor. xii. 7. Robertson,