Breton: Paul’s Subversive Message

This month, Columbia University Press issues a new English translation of Stanislas Breton’s A Radical Philosophy of Saint Paul (Joseph N. Ballan, trans.).   Breton (1912–2005), French philosopher and theologian, explored Paul’s work—among other contexts—within that of the Roman Empire, in whose territory Paul traveled, under whose threatening gaze he evangelized, and whose apparatus of state religion and oppression would eventually imprison and murder him.  The work explores the Pauline message from a variety of unconventional perspectives, including its subversion of the Roman State.  (For further reflection on Paul as a theologian of resistance in an atmosphere of political oppression and state-imperio deification, I recommend the work of Dr. Brigitte Kahl, Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary.)  Here is Columbia University Press’s description of this new translation:

Stanislas Breton’s A Radical Philosophy of Saint Paul, which focuses on the political implications of the apostle’s writings, was an instrumental text in Continental philosophy’s contemporary “turn to religion.” Reading Paul’s work against modern thought and history, Breton helped launch a reassessment of Marxism, introduce secular interpretations of biblical and theological traditions, develop “radical negativity” as a critical category, and rework modern political ideas through a theoretical lens.

Newly translated and critically situated, this edition takes a fresh approach to Breton’s classic work, reacquainting readers with the remarkable ways in which an ancient apostle can reset our understanding of the political. Breton begins with Paul’s biography and the texts of his conversion, which challenge common conceptions of identity. He broaches the question of allegory and divine predestination, introduces the idea of subjectivity as an effect of power, and confronts Paul’s critique of Law, which leads to an exploration of the logics and limits of agency and power. Breton develops these and other insights in relation to Paul’s subversive reflections on the crucified messiah, which challenge meaning and reason and upend our current world order. Neither a coherent theologian nor a stable humanist, Breton’s Paul becomes a fascinating figure of excess and madness, experiencing a kind of being that transcends philosophy, secularity, and religion.

— DRS, CLR Fellow