Saint Paul as Spiritual Director: An Analysis of the Concept of the Imitation of Paul with Implications and Applications to the Practice of Spiritual Direction
Howard, James M., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
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Saint Paul as Spiritual Director: An Analysis of the Concept of the Imitation of Paul with Implications and Applications to the Practice of Spiritual Direction. By Victor Copan. Paternoster Biblical Monographs. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007, xxvi + 296 pp., £19.99 paper.
This book is an analysis of the "concept of the imitation of Paul as reflected in the uncontested Pauline epistles in order to determine its relevance to the practice of spiritual direction" (p. 1). It is an updated 2001 doctoral dissertation originally submitted to the University of Vienna, supervised by Dr. Suzanne Heine.
Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the topic and survey the field and terminology related to spiritual direction. Copan argues that effectiveness in spiritual direction is not primarily the product of technique but of the character and lifestyle of the one providing the direction. Therefore, it is interesting that his survey of the literature reveals little discussion regarding the one providing direction-technique is at the forefront of the literature-thus revealing a weakness in his opinion. It is this "total shape" of the director's life-ethos in classical rhetorical understanding-that Copan focuses on in this study and its impact on the effectiveness of imitation. His primary thesis is that "it was the ethos of the Apostle Paul that made such a strong and life-changing impact on his followers" (p. 2) and that this provides a model for the practice of spiritual direction today.
After reviewing the related terminology, he concludes that there is a "high degree of elasticity" regarding spiritual direction, which presents a challenge in coming to a common understanding of the core meaning. After positing a series of "generative" questions, Copan presents a working definition-"spiritual direction is the (variegated) means by which one person intentionally influences another person or persons in the development of his life as a Christian with the goal of developing his relationship to God and His purposes for that person in the world" (p. 39).
Chapter 3 places the concept of imitation within the context of the Greco-Roman world. As noted by Copan, imitation was common in the ancient world in both the Greek and Jewish literature. This is easily established within the Greek literature in that the practice of imitation was widespread through modeling one's life after living persons, persons of antiquity, groups, spiritual beings, non-human objects, and specific characteristics and virtues. While there is very little "terminological parallel" in the LXX or Jewish intertestamental literature demonstrating the concept of imitation in Judaism, Copan argues for verbal linkage through Philo's and Josephus's use of µ?µ?t?? and conceptual linkage through Paul's frequent analogical use of the OT and its personalities. This leads Copan to conclude that there are multiple sources for the concept of imitation, "primarily influenced by the Greek educational/moral tradition and shaped by the Judaic understanding of parenting and teaching" (p. 44). The primary relational settings where imitation occurred were the parent-child, teacher-student, and leader-group relationships. As Paul positions himself as parent, teacher, and leader, it would have been perceived as normal that he would function as a model to be imitated. Due to the high priority of community, the concepts of shame and honor, which were "vital realities in the daily lives of Greek and Jewish people" (p. 70), created an environment in which imitation was both pervasive and powerful in the Greco-Jewish world.
Chapters 4, 5, and 6 analyze Paul's imitation language in the Thessalonian, Corinthian, and Philippian correspondence, respectively. Copan's goal is twofold: (1) to determine how imitation is configured, including the scope, in these contexts; and (2) to discern what the texts reveal explicitly or implicitly about Paul, the person, and his relationship with the recipients. …