St. Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh -- By: Edward M. Merrins

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 064:256 (Oct 1907)
Article: St. Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh
Author: Edward M. Merrins


St. Paul’s Thorn In The Flesh

Edward M. Merrins

Notwithstanding the Puritan aversion to the relics of saints, one cannot help wishing that some day there will be found a genuine image of the apostle Paul, perhaps among the ruins of ancient cities or in some secluded monastery; for, besides giving welcome information as to what manner of man he was outwardly, it might also give a positive clue to .the nature of the strange infirmity which he called a thorn in the flesh. It is certain that paintings and statues of him existed in the early centuries of Christianity. Augustine states that Marcellina, a lady who lived in the second century, preserved an image of the apostle among her household gods. Chrysostom alludes to a portrait of him which hung in his chamber, but unfortunately does not describe it. Writing to the Empress Constantia, deprecating the growing use of images for devotional purposes, Eusebius tells of a woman who came to him with two painted figures which she said represented the Saviour and the apostle Paul. In those specimens of early Christian art, of a more or less imaginary character, which have come down to us, Paul is depicted as a man of small stature, with the elegant, contemplative head of a Greek philosopher. There is no sign in them of any blemish or deformity that might have been his thorn in the flesh.

The traditional descriptions of his personal appearance are interesting, though not of the earliest possible date. In the “Acts of Paul and Thekla,” a romance of the third century,

the apostle is said to have been “short, bow-legged, bald, with meeting eyebrows, hook-nosed, full of grace.” In the writings of Lucian of the fourth century, he is alluded to as “the bald-headed, hook-nosed Galilean, who trod the air into the third heaven and learned the most beautiful things.” In the sixth century, Job of Antioch writes that Paul was round-shouldered, with a sprinkling of gray in his head and ample beard, an aquiline nose, grayish eyes, meeting eyebrows, and that he had a most genial expression of countenance, with a mixture of pale and red in his complexion. According to the historian Nicephorus, Paul was short and dwarfish in stature, and, as it were, crooked in person and slightly bent; his face was pale, and aspect winning; he was bald-headed, and his eyes were bright; his nose was prominent and aquiline; his beard was thick and tolerably long; both head and beard were sprinkled with white hairs.

While not wholly reliable, these traditionary pictures probably have some foundation in truth. Plainly they are not flattering, but only a man of morbidly sensitive mind would think the defects mentioned so distressing as to be almost intolerable, and none can...

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