Christian story, Christian self: A journey to the self through Paul's story of the cross

John L Meech, Marquette University


In this dissertation, I explore the role of community in the narrative articulation of the self. Recent studies of St. Paul's letters suggest that Paul's statements about justification refer first to Paul's community and only secondarily to the stance of the individual before God. Thus before Paul could speak of himself as a new "I" he had to reconfigure Israel's narrative so as to articulate the formerly inarticulable, namely, a Messiah who died on a cross. The dissertation seeks to retrieve Paul's communal sense of "I" in our context. I first address the objection that Paul's use of "I" may be an ancient understanding that should be, as Rudolf Bultmann says, "demythologized." I conclude that demythologizing the communal "I" in Paul's writings fails to articulate Paul and the risen Lord as genuine others. Moreover, this failure is connected to a misconstrual of Paul's kerygma as the story of "everyman" rather than as a story that identifies a community. In order to join Paul's understanding of the "I" with our present understanding of selfhood, I interpret modern selfhood in dialogue with Paul Ricoeur. While Ricoeur's reflections form the basis of my interpretation of selfhood, I argue that Ricoeur does not adequately thematize the role of community in the constitution of selfhood. Exploring unthematized hints about the community presupposed in Ricoeur's work, I reconfigure his ontology of the self as an ontology of the self in community. Finally, I correlate Paul's communal understanding of the "I" with this ontology. I reappropriate Paul's notion of the human spirit as a portion of the divine Spirit in order to articulate a self constituted in community that is not reduced to a mere locus of the community. I close with suggestions for further study. In conversation with Jürgen Moltmann, I suggest that the community presupposed in my study can be articulated as the community of the living and dead in Christ. In conversation with Robert Jenson, I suggest that the notion "Spirit" can articulate the self and its community as correlates, that is, the self and its community are mutually conditions of one another.

Recommended Citation

Meech, John L, "Christian story, Christian self: A journey to the self through Paul's story of the cross" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059381.