The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca
Fourteen letters, eight by Seneca (the first‐century Roman moralist) and six by Paul, are translated below. Their style shows that they cannot be the work either of Seneca or of Paul. They are probably the same letters known (a) to Jerome (de Vir. Ill. 12 (Richardson, p. 15)) where it is said they are ‘read by many’ and (b) to Augustine (ep. 153. 14 ed., A. Goldbacher, CSEL 44 (Vienna, Leipzig, 1904)), pp. 461–2. Pseudo‐Linus on the Passio Pauli i (Lipsius–Bonnet, i. 23 f.) knew of the letters in the seventh century.
Some scholars have suggested the present letters are late, written up on the basis of Jerome's testimony, and that the correspondence known to Jerome is lost. Such a view is not generally accepted. However, not all the letters may belong to the same period. The unity of the correspondence is open to question. Epistle 11 (Barlow's numeration) seems not to belong with the other letters, and is written in a different style of Latin. Epistle 14 has a more Christian and even Pauline ring to it. The language and style of 14 suggests a later composition than the other letters. Letter 13 is also likely to have been added later.
The motive for the writing was obviously to show the superiority of Christianity over pagan philosophy. Christian tradition believed that Seneca had been influenced by Paul and was indeed converted to Christianity. However, there is nothing in the authentic writings of Seneca that proves he had ever been influenced by Christian doctrines. There is likewise no evidence that these two contemporaries ever met. A fourth‐century date for most of the correspondence is quite appropriate, as Liénard has demonstrated.
The history of the tradition from the time of Jerome is unclear. The surviving manuscripts (of which there are many) are very corrupt. The oldest is ninth century.
The translation below, based on Barlow's Latin, follows the sequence of Barlow in which Erasmus' order of epistles 11 and 12 is reversed. 1 L. Bocciolini Palagi, Il carteggio apocrifo di Seneca e San Paolo (Florence, 1978) suggests that the sequence should be . . . 10, 1411, 13, 12 . . . ; Hennecke5 raises the possibility of the order . . . 10, 12, 14, 13, 11 . . . Barlow's monograph covers the Latinity of the correspondence, the extant manuscripts, and the history of modern editions.
(For titles written between 1883 and 1938 see J. Haussleiter, ‘Literatur zu der Frage “Seneca und das Christentum” ’, Jahresberichte über die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 281 (1943), 172–5.)
C. W. Barlow, Epistolae Senecae ad Paulum et Pauli ad Senecam ‘quae vocantur’ (Rome 1938) (= Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome 10) (with full bibliography and with English translation). [Latin text printed in PL, Supplementum i, cols. 673–8.]
Fabricius, ii. 892–904.
Hennecke3, ii. 133–41.
Hennecke5, ii. 46–53.
Migne, Dictionnaire, ii, cols. 922–30, 1318–19.
Vouaux, 332–69 (with Latin text of MS M and full introduction).
Éac, 1581–94 (with text of Bocciolini Palagi).
Hennecke3, ii. 84–9 (A. Kurfess).
Hennecke5, ii. 44–50 (C. Römer).
Erbetta, iii. 85–92.
Moraldi, ii. 1730–2, 1735–6, 1749–55.
E. Westerburg, Der Ursprung der Sage, daß Seneca Christ gewesen sei: Eine kritische Untersuchung nebst einer Rezension des apokryphen Briefwechsels des Apostels Paulus mit Seneca (Berlin, 1881). 2 Reviewed by A. von Harnack, TLZ 6 (1881), cols. 444–9.
K. Pink, ‘Die Pseudopaulinische Briefe, ii: (4) Der Briefwechsel zwischen Paulus und Seneca’, Biblica 6 (1925), 193–200.
E. Liénard, ‘Sur la correspondance apocryphe de Sénèque et de Saint‐Paul’, Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire 11 (1932), 5–23.
A. Kurfess, ‘Zum apokryphen Briefwechsel zwischen Seneca und Paulus’, Theologie und Glaube 29 (1937), 317–22.
——‘Zum apokryphen Briefwechsel zwischen Seneca und Paulus’, ThQ 119 (1938), 318–31.
Cf. also: Zahn, Kanon, ii. 612–21.
Harnack, i. 763–5; ii. 458–9.
Paul's Relationship With Seneca
J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (London, 41878), 270–333, esp. 329–31.
J. N. Sevenster, Paul and Seneca (Leiden, 1961) (= NovT Supplements 4). [On the correspondence, see 11–14.]
1. Seneca to Paul Greeting
I believe that you have been informed, Paul, of the discussion which my friend Lucilius and I held yesterday concerning the apocrypha and other matters: for some of the followers of your teachings were with me. We had retired to the gardens of Sallust, and it was our good fortune that these disciples whom I have mentioned saw us there and joined us, although they were on their way elsewhere. You may be sure that we wished that you, too, had been present, and I also want you to know this: when we had read your book, that is to say one of the many letters of admirable exhortation to an upright life which you have sent to some city or to the capital of a province, we were completely refreshed. These thoughts, I believe, were expressed not by you, but through you; though sometimes they were expressed both by you and through you; for they are so lofty and so brilliant with noble sentiments that in my opinion generations of men could hardly be enough to become established and perfected in them. I wish you good health, brother.
2. To Annaeus Seneca Paul Greeting
I was extremely glad to receive your letter yesterday, and I could have answered it immediately if I had had with me the young man whom I intended to send to you. You know when and by whom and at what time and to whom a thing should be given or entrusted. Therefore I ask you not to think yourself neglected, while I pay attention to the qualities of the messenger. But you write somewhere that you are pleased with my letter, and I count myself fortunate in the approval of a man who is so great. For you, a critic, a philosopher, the teacher of so great a ruler, nay even of everyone, would not say this unless you speak the truth. I hope that you may long be in good health.
3. Seneca to Paul Greeting
I have arranged some of my works and set them in order according to their proper divisions. I also intend to read them to Caesar. If only fate is kind enough to cause him to show renewed interest, perhaps you will be there also; if not, I will at some other time set a day on which we may examine this work together. I could not show him this writing without first conferring with you, if only it were possible to do so without risk, so that you may know that you are not being forgotten. Farewell, dearest Paul.
4. To Annaeus Seneca Paul Greeting
Whenever I hear your letters, I think that you are present and I imagine nothing else than that you are continually with us. As soon, therefore, as you begin to come, we shall see each other face to face. I hope that you are in good health.
5. Seneca to Paul Greeting
We are distressed at your exceedingly long retirement. What is the matter? What makes you stay away? If it is the displeasure of our empress because you have withdrawn from your old rite and creed and are a convert, then you will be given an opportunity of asking her to believe that you acted reasonably, not lightly. A kind farewell.
6. To Seneca and Lucilius Paul Greeting
I may not speak with pen and ink concerning what you have written to me, for the one marks a thing down and defines it, while the other makes it all too clear—especially since I am certain that there are some among your number, with you and in your midst, who are able to understand me. We must show respect to everyone, the more so as they are apt to find cause for offence. If we are patient with them we shall overcome them in every way and on every side—that is, if only they are the kind of people who can be sorry for what they have done. A kind farewell.
7. Annaeus Seneca to Paul and Theophilus Greeting
I admit that I enjoyed reading your letters to the Galatians, to the Corinthians, and to the Achaeans, and may our relations be like that religious awe which you manifest in these letters. For the holy spirit that is in you and high above you expresses with lofty speech thoughts worthy of reverence. Therefore since you have such excellent matters to propose I wish that refinement of language might not be lacking to the majesty of your theme. And in order that I may not keep anything secret from you, brother, and burden my conscience, I confess that Augustus was affected by your sentiments. When your treatise on the power that is in you was read to him, this was his reply: he was amazed that one whose education had not been normal could have such ideas. I answered him that the gods are accustomed to speak through the mouths of the innocent and not through those who pride themselves on their learning. When I gave him the example of Vatienus, a farmer to whom appeared in the territory of Reate two men who later were found to be Castor and Pollux, he seemed thoroughly enlightened. Farewell.
8. To Seneca Paul Greeting
Even though I am not unaware that our Caesar is now fond of wonders, although he may sometimes lapse, still he allows himself not to be rebuked, but to be informed. I think that it was a very serious mistake on your part to wish to bring to his notice what is against his practice and training. Inasmuch as he worships the gods of the heathen, I do not see what you had in mind wishing him to know this, unless I am to think that you are doing this from your great love for me. I beg you not to do this in the future. You must also be careful not to offend our empress while showing affection for me. Her displeasure, to be sure, cannot harm us if it lasts, nor can we be helped if it never happens. As a queen she will not be insulted; as a woman she will be angry. A kind farewell.
9. Seneca to Paul Greeting
I know that it was not so much for your own sake that you were disturbed when I wrote to you that I had read your letters to Caesar as by the nature of things, which withholds the minds of men from all upright pursuits and practices,—so that I am not astonished today, particularly because I have learned this well from many clear proofs. Therefore let us begin anew, and if in the past I have been negligent in any way, you will grant pardon. I have sent you a book on elegance of expression. Farewell, dearest Paul.
10. To Seneca Paul Greeting
Whenever I write to you and place my name after yours, I commit a serious fault and one incompatible with my status. For I ought, as I have often claimed, to be all things to all men and to observe towards you what the Roman law has granted for the honour of the senate—namely, to choose the last place when I have finished my letter, lest I desire to perform in an inadequate and disgraceful manner what is my own will. Farewell, most devoted of teachers. Written 27 June in the consulship of Nero III and Messala [= AD 58].
11. Seneca to Paul Greeting
Greetings, my dearly beloved Paul. Do you think I am not saddened and grieved because you innocent people are repeatedly punished? Or because the whole populace believes you so implacable and so liable to guilt, thinking that every misfortune in the city is due to you? But let us endure it calmly and take advantage of whatever opportunity fortune allots to us, until invincible happiness gives us release from our troubles. Earlier ages endured the Macedonian, the son of Philip, the Cyruses, Darius, Dionysius; our own age endured Gaius Caesar; all of them were free to do whatever they pleased. The source of the frequent fires which the city of Rome suffers is plain. But if lowly people had been allowed to tell the reason, and if it were permitted to speak safely in these times of ill‐fortune, everyone would now understand everything. Christians and Jews, charged with responsibility for the fire—alas!—are being put to death, as is usually the case. That ruffian, whoever he is, whose pleasure is murdering and whose refuge is lying, is destined for his time of reckoning, and just as the best is sacrificed as one life for many, so he shall be sacrificed for all and burned by fire. One hundred and thirty‐two private houses and four thousand apartment‐houses burned in six days; the seventh day gave respite. I hope that you are in good health, brother. Written 28 March in the consulship of Frugi and Bassus [= AD 64].
12. Seneca to Paul Greeting
Greetings, my dearly beloved Paul. If such a great man as you and one who is beloved of God is to be, I do not say joined, but intimately associated in all respects with me and my name, then your Seneca will be wholly satisfied. Since, therefore, you are the peak and crest of all the most lofty mountains, do you not, then, wish me to rejoice if I am so close to you as to be considered a second self of yours? Therefore do not think that you are unworthy of having your name in first place in your letters, or else you may seem to be tempting me rather than praising me, especially since you know that you are a Roman citizen. For I wish that my position were yours, and that yours were as mine. Farewell, my dearly beloved Paul. Written 23 March in the consulship of Apronianus and Capito [= AD 59].
13. Seneca to Paul Greeting
Many writings composed by you are throughout allegorical and enigmatic, and for that reason you must adorn that powerful gift of truth and talent which has been bestowed upon you not so much with embellishment of words as with a certain amount of refinement. And do not fear, as I remember I have frequently said, that many who affect such things spoil the thoughts and emasculate the force of their subject‐matter. I do wish you would obey me and comply with the pure Latin style, giving a good appearance to your noble utterances, in order that the granting of this excellent gift may be worthily performed by you. A kind farewell. Written 6 July in the consulship of Lurco and Sabinus [= AD 58].
14. Paul to Seneca Greeting
Things have been revealed to you in your reflections which the Godhead has granted to few. Therefore I am certain that I am sowing a rich seed in a fertile field, not a corruptible matter, but the abiding word of God, derived from him who is ever‐increasing and ever‐abiding. The determination which your good sense has attained must never fail—namely, to avoid the outward manifestations of the heathens and the Israelites. You must make yourself a new herald of Jesus Christ by displaying with the praises of rhetoric that blameless wisdom which you have almost achieved and which you will present to the temporal king and to the members of his household and to his trusted friends, whom you will find it difficult or nearly impossible to persuade, since many of them are not at all influenced by your presentations. Once the word of God has inspired the blessing of life within them it will create a new man, without corruption, an abiding being, hastening thence to God. Farewell, Seneca, most dear to us. Written 1 August in the consulship of Lurco and Sabinus [= AD 58].
1 L. Bocciolini Palagi, Il carteggio apocrifo di Seneca e San Paolo (Florence, 1978) suggests that the sequence should be . . . 10, 1411, 13, 12 . . . ; Hennecke5 raises the possibility of the order . . . 10, 12, 14, 13, 11 . . .
2 Reviewed by A. von Harnack, TLZ 6 (1881), cols. 444–9.