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  • Ego Credo
  • Michel Serres (bio)

Saint Paul combines in one singular person the three ancient formats, Jewish, Greek, and Latin, from which the Western World sprang. A devout Pharisee, he was born in Tarsus into a family of the Diaspora, and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel; he observed Mosaic Law and constantly cited the Torah, both Psalms and Prophets, with erudition. It also seems likely that he knew Greek philosophy, at least by way of Philo the Jew, since he wrote and spoke the Greek language and cited some of its authors, saying that he admired its wisdom, practiced its elegance, and dreaded its reason. As a Roman citizen, like his father, he took pride in this status; he must have known Roman Law, since after being sentenced by the imperial courts, he addressed an appeal to them.

Saint Paul not only symbolizes the cultural melting pot among Mediterranean sailors, port-merchants, and occasional scholars during the Pax romana; he above all embodies the integral man built by the Law, the Logos, and the Administration, three formats forged in the fires of Hebraic monotheism, Hellenistic rational Wisdom, and Roman Law, themselves respectively shaped by ritual in the Temple, harmony in the Cosmos, and the City-State in the Empire. This triple belonging to an organized society, a systematic world, and an all-powerful god promotes excellent modes of conduct.

Triply formatted in this way, Saint Paul, newly named, rose up out of the trinity of his belonging; he traveled the world over, and he invented the coming era. In so doing, he braved three disasters: the persecution of his fellows, the mockery of Greek philosophers on the Areopagus, and his trial and probable execution by Rome. In and through Paul, all the superior and lasting achievements of the Indo-European and Semitic traditions stem from this original bifurcation; the good news he proclaims is incarnated and grafted on him and through him; from him, the branch of a new creature springs forth.

Although his ancient formats imply a belonging to three different communities, the new man identifies with none of them in order to create something entirely new. But what? [End Page 1]

Belonging and Identity

In a previous book, I wrote that my identity cannot be reduced to my belonging to certain groups. So do not call me "old man," a male, or a writer, but put me, if you must, in whichever subcategory designates the corresponding age, sex, or profession. Apart from these characteristics, who am I? Me. All the rest, including what the government bureaucracy obliges me to write on my so-called "identity" card, merely indicates some of the subcategories to which I belong.

If you confuse belonging and identity, you make a logical error that is certainly serious, but, in the end, relatively benign. Moreover, you set yourself up to make a deadly mistake, that of racism, which consists precisely in reducing a person to one of his groups. We owe this distinction (which is so important that I like to repeat it) to Saint Paul. We owe it to him both in theory, because he elaborates it, and in terms of his life, because the Good News that he brings breaks with the three ancient formats, all three of which were associated with groups.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek," says Paul, "there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28). All he mentions here are classes, sexes, languages, or nations—in short, all categories or groups. What he means is that there is no longer any belonging in the earlier sense, leaving only the identity I = I: "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

For Paul, the only thing left is this "new creature": I, the adoptive Son of God, through faith in Jesus Christ; I, full of faith and without works, without pride; I, empty, poor, and nothing: universal.

Who am I? I am I, and that is all. If we put aside the subcategorical definition of belonging (x å A), the principle of identity becomes evident, not in a formal way, as in the Aristotelian sense of a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 1-11
Launched on MUSE
2008-05-11
Open Access
No
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