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Again from The Human Condition:

Goodness in an absolute sense, as distinguished from the “good-for” or the “excellent” in Greek and Roman antiquity, became known in our civilization only with the rise of Christianity. Since then, we know of good works as one important variety of possible human action. The well-known antagonism between early Christianity and the res publica, so admirably summed up in Tertullian’s formula: nec ulla magis res alena quam publica (“no matter is more alien to us than what matters publically”), is usually and rightly understood as a consequence of early eschatological expectations that lost their immediate significance only after experience had taught that even the downfall of the Roman Empire did not mean the end of the world. Yet the otherworldliness of Christianity has still another root, perhaps even more intimately related to the teaching sof Jesus of Nazareth, and at any rate so independent of the belief in the perishability of the world that one is tempted to see in it the true inner reason why Christian alienation from the world could so easily survive the obvious non-fulfillment of its eschatological hopes.

The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the activity of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency at least of early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be understood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works, independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, of being done for nothing but goodness’ sake. When goodness appears openly, it is no longer goodness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.” Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” (tHC, 73–4)

Arendt’s argument posits Jesus’ teachings as something that, to Rome, is completely antithetical to Roman political philosophy. There is something—goodness—located in privacy that not only affects but even is greater than the immortality one could gain by political action. With that St. Paul’s claim in Romans, “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die,” which I’ve always thought enigmatic, makes a little more sense: he turns the act “to die for,” which to Rome was an act that was meaningful only insofar as it was political, away from the political and toward the private—that is, goodness. (I’m unsure entirely how “righteousness” fits into a public/private dichotomy, but humor me.)



It would be very interesting to write an exegetical paper on that verse. Wish my Greek was still in shape. And I had a month to burn.

Anyway, I have no idea whether Paul is thinking of goodness in the same sense that Arendt is here. But if he is, then righteousness would simply entail being an upstanding citizen, which we all know can have its own selfish rewards.

I remember reading this section last summer. It was really good.

I’m not certain that’s the direction Paul’s coming from either—N.T. Wright, for example (I very lightly skimmed one of his exegeses of R this morning), claims Paul’s references are so Jewish that it would seem something like HA’s thesis is pretty far from his purview. I could be convinced of that pretty easily. Almost more interesting than what he or Jesus meant, however, is the difference between what they said and what others heard when and after they said it. That’s where I think HA’s arguments are located, but I find it intriguing too to read slightly backwards too, to wonder whether there’s not something to it in what they meant.

Oh I think it’s pretty near certain that HA is spot on when it comes to Jesus’ words. That is the way I have always interpreted Him anyway. I just wouldn’t necessarily apply it to Paul here, though Paul could certainly be using it the same way as well.

I’ve been itching to research it ever since I read this post.

Well hop to it, man!