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Jesus of Nazareth and the quest for God

Autor:Vass George
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Publiziert in:# Originalbeitrag für den Leseraum
Datum:2008-07-12

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This essay has a two-fold origin: the first, the study of Pope Benedict's book on Jesus and the reviews thereof; the second, my constant preoccupation with Prof. Geza Vermes' image of the historical Jesus, something learnt both through personal contact with him, and his books and lectures. Any severe criticism of Ratzinger's book stems from the research into the person of Jesus by this eminent Jewish scholar, whose views have prompted the re-study of the most important Christologies of recent times. One constant question is: whether, by relying on our small acquaintance with the historical Jesus, we can accept the faith of the church in the Incarnation: the unity of a divine and human nature in the one person.

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The question is not new. It was asked by the Aufklärung, by form-critical exegesis, and re-posed recently by the research behind Jesus the Jew. They all, not only find an irreconcilable difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of the faith, but question, too, the reality of the Incarnation[1] and, indeed, the divinity of Christ. Whilst Ratzinger's book affirms the truth of Christian faith, and tries to show an identity between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith, Vermes sees in the former the dubious construction of Hellenistic thought, and finds an unbridgeable divide between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith.

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1. Vermes and the approach through historical criticism.

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The Jesus studies of Geza Vermes restrict themselves to the life, teaching and destiny of Jesus. They presuppose the scholarship of the Enlightenment, according to which the three first gospels (the synoptics) are not straightforward historical accounts, but present the life of Jesus in terms of the different traditions within the first Christian communities. Consequently, their accounts of the story of Jesus are divergent (the synoptic problem). Historical criticism, none the less, tries to tease out from them the original sequence of the events of Jesus' life, and his authentic words. Vermes, using his own criteria of comparing Jesus words with the traditions of contemporary Judaism, alongside the evaluation the work of earlier scholarship, in fact considerably extends the number of Jesus' statements that can be regarded as genuine.[2]

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The resulting historical kernel of the three first gospels is as follows:

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>° Jesus himself is one of the holy wonder-workers well known to the Judaism of his day.

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>° His message and teaching are meant exclusively for Jews.

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>° Jesus' presentiment of and explicit reference to a tragic death are not historical, even in the account of the so-called 'last supper'. Later tradition falsely regards this as a paschal-meal.

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>° His death was not due to his opposition to basic Jewish religious convictions, but to the whim of the Roman occupying forces; he was crucified as a potential troublemaker, or even as a revolutionary.

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>° The accounts of his infancy (Mt and Lk) and of his resurrection are legendary additions, and express the faith of his followers.

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To be fair, Vermes does not intend to deduce any theological conclusions from this historical analysis. Indeed, as he verbally admitted to me, he is ready to accept alternative, mainly theological, methods of investigation, which interpret the synoptics in a different way. The initial Christology of the first five centuries did in fact come to a Christology different from that of Vermes.

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2. The church's official image of Jesus

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The common ground is, of course, the Holy Writ of the New Testament and especially that of the four Gospels.

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>> Remember: a gospel is composed with the intention of creating a fixed written version of the life and teaching of Jesus, hitherto the subject of oral tradition. It takes the church some three and a half centuries to select the apparently most authentic, and to declare them normative, canonical, documents. These are then venerated as the inspired word of God, that is as revelation. Furthermore, it is generally accepted that the 'oldest' of these originated some two decades after the death of Jesus, and the 'youngest' not later than the first decades of the 2nd century AD. Other similar writings, though they may represent the mentality of early Christians, are excluded as apocrypha.

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It is evident that the authors of the synoptic gospels are under the influence of the faith of different Christian communities in narrating the events of Jesus' history, an influence that obviously dominates John's gospel. Behind all these narratives, there is always the question: who is Jesus for me/for us? The answer of faith, a couple of decades after the crucifixion, manifests a common conviction about the person of Jesus and about the universal significance of his life. This common conviction is expressed by the simple sentence, attributed to St. Paul, 'God was in Christ' and its universal significance is found in the changed existence of his followers. 'Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor 5,17).' These two convictions will be the common ground of the Christologies of subsequent centuries, expressing the relationship between God and Jesus, and too, the relationship of Jesus to his followers. This common faith believes in the 'divinity' of Jesus ('Jesus is the Son of God') and in the salvation of his followers ('Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ' for humankind's salvation).

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>> This image of Jesus, founded on the faith of their teachers, presupposed a general approach to the Jesus story accessed with two apparently opposing convictions. The story itself was accessed thus: on the one hand, the gospels had to emphasise the new identity of Christian communities and, on the other, recognise that Jesus' teaching was in continuity with, or even a fulfilment of, Old Testament revelation. Furthermore, the story had to be couched in language influenced by the culture of their environment. This influence manifests itself in the use of notions current in contemporary religious movements (e.g. the use of logos). No wonder then, that the more Greek the language of the first Christian communities became, the more Greek their cast of thought. They will express their recently acquired faith in Jesus the Christ, using the concepts of a Greek world, a development that inevitably leads to a great variety of, and even, contradictory formulations. Creeds appear very soon as acceptable and obligatory summaries of faith. (Creeds are also protectors of the community's identity and unity). Whereas the creeds exclude false opinions implicitly, they quickly become an explicit dogmatisation of true faith in order to reject and anathematise contrary views. This is the origin of the church's dogmatic version of faith in Christ.[3]

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The faith received basic definition in the councils of Nicea (AD 325), of Ephesus (AD 431), and Chalcedon (AD 451). According to these:

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>° God has become man in Jesus, that is: the essential reality (-ousia) of God is one and the same (one in substance) with the essential reality of Jesus (homousios). The expression of this fact is the Incarnation, (ensarkôsis) (Nicea).

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>° God and the human become one in Jesus so inseparably that Mary who gave birth to him should be venerated as the mother of God (theotokos) (Ephesus).

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>° This mysterious unity between the divine and human natures ((physei) is present in Jesus Christ, the subject of divine and human attributes, distinct from one another without, however, any separation of the two 'natures' (Chalcedon).

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Using the terminology of the then mainly Greek communities, these three councils have arrived at some precise formulation of the faith, a refinement of statement arrived at by trial and error, and out of the conflict of contradictory interpretations. That dogmatic precision has become basic for subsequent Christian centuries, and it is still the language of Christian piety.

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3. Ecclesial Christology versus the historical Jesus

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Confront the Nicene-Chalcedonian image of Jesus with G. Vermes' Jesus of history, and a yawning gap becomes obvious. Can we, nonetheless, maintain that the Jesus of post-Chalcedonian Christianity is the same person as that Jesus who, for a short time, upset the history of Judaism? As Christians, we can comprehend the position of Vermes and that of historical criticism, while, at the same time, acknowledge that their divergent interpretations remain a challenge. How can we construct a bridge that connects the earthly Jesus with the Christ of Nicea and Chalcedon?

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I propose three possible ways of dealing with, or answering this question.

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(a) The first is a straightforward denial of the validity of historical criticism. Such critics' research builds on wrong foundations, since after the elapse of more than 2000 years, it is impossible to establish much more than Jesus' existence. His personality and the true story of his life and his teaching are beyond verification[4]. (Is the same true of Abraham and Moses? of Homer?) Apart from the witness of his followers, we have no clear data beyond a minimal reference to Jesus in secular authors. Is there, furthermore, any historiography without pre-conception, a question even more valid when applied to the gospels. No wonder that some apologetes of traditional Christology impute prejudice to historical researchers, prejudice that explains their image of Jesus. In one sentence: we cannot know the Jesus of history.

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(b) There is, however, another approach: acceptance of the discrepancy and the admission that the historically acceptable facts (events, sayings etc.) are far fewer than the statements of later Christology. The immediate starting point, therefore, should not be the historical Jesus, but the 'Christ event' as a whole. This approach tries to establish both the Jesus of history, and the beliefs of later generations[5]. The faith of Jesus' followers then will belong to the 'Christ-event' that interprets his death and the resurrection.

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(c) By means of a 'canonical' interpretation of the Bible, Pope Benedict's book on Jesus employs a similar approach, based on God's plans made manifest in the whole history of salvation. The promises of the Old Testament are irrevocably fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. By reading the whole bible tradition in this way, the deeds and words of Jesus acquire a deeper meaning, one that points in the direction of later, even dogmatic, developments. Thus, for example, the often-emphasised authority of Jesus in the New Testament (the remission of sins, his lordship over, and above, the Law etc.) raises him to a plane equal with that of JHWH in the Old Testament. John's gospel and Paul's references to Christ build on similar assumptions which, Ratzinger holds, point to (or even prove) the divinity of Christ, as later expressed with the help of Greek terminology, that is, by the homoousios of Nicea. Hence, an identity between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of our creeds.

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4. Jesus the Christ in the mirror of faith

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The three attempts (a)-(c) to bridge the gap under discussion are partly true and partly unacceptable. It is true that we cannot deduce the statements of early and later Christologies from the extant genuine historical sources alone. (Vermes, as a historian, refuses to draw any theological conclusions). At the same time, historical criticism offers us, even in its reduced form, a veritable and even attractive image of Jesus. It is, however, inevitable that his followers will pass on this image as reflected in their faith. (For example: Jesus repeatedly forbids his apostles to address him as Messiah and the Son of God, yet never denies those titles. No wonder that emergent faith will announce him as such). Nonetheless, to ignore the results of historical research would despoil faith of its very foundation; if not the criterion, it is the necessary presupposition of Christology. (Though Pope Benedict acknowledges this position, he makes little use of it in his book.)

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It is correct to see the story of Jesus as one embedded in the whole message of the gospels (including the response of faith), that is, in the 'Christ-event'. To use a prosaic likeness: it is like a Christmas cake baked with dough and figs. Neither of these alone can give taste to the pudding. From the 'Christ-event' we can perhaps discover the historical face of Jesus, and perceive the response of faith in his followers, but not the statements of later Christology. In any case, it would be wrong to read the whole of the 'Christ-event', either from the angle of historical criticism, or from that of the dogmatic statements of a later church. Neither can be the criterion of faith in Jesus.

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The 'canonical' exegesis of Pope Benedict is correct to the extent that every (especially historical) statement conveys within its context more meaning than its mere subject and predicate express. The snag is that one cannot establish this extra meaning with reasonable certitude. The synoptics (especially Mathew) embellish their statements with citations from the Old Testament, rendering Ratzinger's repeated references to them nothing more than questionable associations: pious probabilities, without proof.

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Any one of these attempts (a)-(c) is insufficient on its own to fill the divide between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. We found, however, in each of them this correct element: all three, though in different ways, must address the response of faith shown by Jesus' followers, something true even of the historical-critical method. Take, then, these three different responses as phases in the process of 'coming-to-faith', and the difference between the two images of Jesus will open up a dynamic unity. This unity is not a total identity, but a stance in which the Jesus of history does not exclude, indeed, even makes probable, traditional faith in Christ.

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How should we understand the process that is our 'coming-to-faith?' The act of faith presupposes some knowledge. Its starting point is the recognition of some facts, statements, or even of persons. In the process of such recognition, the potential believer becomes aware of his or her subjectivity, that is, of the self, of his or her interests, and the needs and desires with which the person approaches the object recognised. These two factors can now enable a conviction (often founded in a community experience) that includes both the objective recognition of facts and their subjective meaning. This conviction can be expressed in a confession of faith. This is, in my opinion, the process underlying the response to the event of Jesus, the structure of 'coming-to-faith'. It can be a gradual development, but one that takes place simultaneously in both individuals and their community[6].

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>> Such a process may well fit the 'definition' of faith found in the Epistle to the Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (11,1). We recognize 'things hoped for' in 'things unseen', in our encounter with the mysterious reality of truths and persons. Whereas such a recognition betrays the subjectivity of the potential believer, the 'assurance of hope' is the conviction that leads to the firm reliance on what we believe in faith.

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For the apostles and first converts such recognition is founded in the events they witnessed in the company of Jesus: the active memory of his teaching; the experience of his tragic death, as well as that uncertainty that they must have felt after the death of Jesus (Consider, for example, the two on the way to Emmaus). The 'facts' themselves would have left no more than a memory in their future life; they would have faded and become negligible. This was definitely not true of the first followers of Jesus. What they experienced responded to the whole complex of their subjective expectations. As faithful Jewish believers, they were looking forward to a promised Kingdom of God to be begun by the Anointed, the Messiah of the Lord. Possibly, in their imagination, this Messiah-Redeemer would appear in the shape of the prophet Daniel's 'Son of Man' descending from heaven (Dn. 7, 13-14), or as the 'suffering servant' of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 42, 49; 52,13; 53). Peter's confession recorded by all three synoptics makes good sense (Mt. 16,13-16; Mk. 8,27-33; Lk. 9,18-22). Even Vermes accepts it as genuine.[7] Out of this encounter with Jesus there arises a groping, uncertain and subjective interpretation, one, apparently, not explicitly accepted by Jesus himself. Yet, for his followers, this meaning on the person of Jesus and his work is not yet a full conviction.

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Another experience is necessary to enable his followers to transcend this first and particular meaning in order to become convinced about who Jesus really is. However we interpret the accounts of the gospels and the earlier epistles of Paul, the resurrection was the experience that convinced them about their Master[8]. They become convinced that, despite his death, God has definitively accepted Jesus and his cause; they are convinced that Jesus and his message are identical. They begin to know who, in fact, Jesus was and that the message he announced puts them under an obligation, and makes them responsible to him, and to his cause. That firm conviction, though it arose out of a personal encounter is, an ethical act, and, therefore, to be freely accepted. (Did they all agree?) It is a challenge to which they must respond, a responsibility, one that can neither be deduced from their experience of life in the fellowship of Jesus, nor from the facts and their subjective meaning. That firm conviction owes nothing to interpretation they give it; it means nothing to their own imaginations, but has 'significance' for all. This conviction, though wordless, reveals something that then has to be expressed, put into words. Peter's sermon on Whitsunday (Acts 2,14f; 3,11f; 10,34f), and Paul's repeated preaching, even if embellished by the redaction of Luke, are nothing but their heart-felt conviction now proclaimed in a confession of faith, in witness to Jesus the Christ. We could state the paradox of coming-to-faith by this short sentence: a firm conviction without the evidence of rational proof.

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>> One could illustrate these three phases of 'coming-to-faith' by the example of interpersonal love. The basis of love is the encounter with another person as he or she really is. If we discover the traits that make another person attractive and respond to own expectations, that emergent recognition of the other also betrays our own subjectivity. Yet we are truly 'in love' by accepting another as a free person who puts us under an obligation, and makes us responsible for the mutual love awakened by the encounter. Within the conviction of love, the other may come to mean 'more' to the lovers than it did in the moment of first acquaintance. It is a conviction without rational proof.

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We are not yet at the stage of clarity needed to explain the Christ defined by Nicea and Chalcedon. We may have reached the conviction of an initial Christology: Jesus is the Christ (indeed, the primitive church accepts Jesus Christ as his proper name). We have reached faith in the 'only begotten of the Father' who was sent by God's love into this world, a faith, however, from which we can deduce neither the Nicene homousion, nor the Chalcedonian two physei in living unity.

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That an initial conviction of faith developed into definitions depended on historical and cultural circumstances. It is within this context, and with the use of contemporary terminology, that a later church expressed and dogmatised its creeds as doctrines containing something more than the faith of the first Christians. The interior, wordless conviction of faith strives inevitably to find its own expression, one that is appropriate to the cultural situation of the believer. The conviction of faith is a matter of the heart that binds us, puts us under obligation; the creed that results enables us to be responsible for it within our own situation. In the situation contemporary to those three Councils, and only then, we can speak of a dynamic unity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

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>> This essay does not attempt to trace the development of the dynamic unity between the Jesus of History and the Christ of faith. That is the task of the historians of dogma who, from the 19th century onwards, have analysed its complex details, and discussed the pros and cons of supporting or rejecting this unity. I try to offer here only a rough sketch of the lines along which such a development might be traced.

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>> The attribute 'Son of Man' that Jesus constantly used may be no more than the general subject ('one') of affirmations; 'Son of God' may refer to any member of the chosen race, or any human being. In the light of the resurrection, however, these two attributes of Jesus come to mean the 'only begotten Son of God the Father'. This deeper meaning raises Jesus out of the human sphere, and into that of every significant hero in history qualifying for the attribute of (in some sense) 'divine'. (Cf. the Caesars of the Imperium). The imagination of the Greek world easily elevated the attribute, 'divine', into the concept of true godhead. The divinity of Christ was not, therefore, a surprising logical leap for Christians immersed in that ancient culture. Christianity, however, inherited, too, the strict monotheistic tradition of Judaism: Jesus Christ can only be divine in unity with the one God. The question arises: what is then the unity between the One God to whom the living Jesus prayed incessantly and Jesus himself? A similarity only or something more? A God-like being could be no more than a subordinate kind of divine being, like the demiourgos of Greek religion. To overcome this, Christians had to invent a new kind of unity; the term homousios , one in substance, offered itself. The definition of Nicea avoids a double Godhead, by using the parallel development of the Trinitarian doctrine: God is three in one substance.

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>> There is, however, another line of christological development: the firm belief in Jesus as the Messiah who, not only delivers humankind from sin, but is also creator of a new kind of existence. Jesus the Messiah-Saviour, who had overcome death by rising again, endows the redeemed with the gift of immortality. That aforementioned Greek mentality regards such immortals as being in a certain sense deified. Since, however, God alone can enable human beings to be sharers in the divine nature, Christ the Redeemer must be God. This divinity of Jesus Christ, of course, implies not only his pre-existence, (The prologue of John's gospel and the Christ-hymn of Phil. 2 was interpreted in this sense.) but the other divine attributes as well. The creeds and the dogma confessing his divinity were so striking that they tended to smother the actual starting point of any Christology: the Jesus of history (viz. the heresies of monophysitism & monothelitism). Chalcedon in the 5th,and a Roman synod in the 7th century will address the danger.

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>> The need for, and ecclesial advantage of, dogmatising can, too, have dire consequences. Once defined, an article of faith may itself become regarded as an eternal truth; what was literally valid in particular circumstances remains so in the creeds of subsequent centuries. The Nicene dogma that identifies Jesus with God is still the centre of our faith and liturgy. Not even Chalcedon with its balanced wording could stop the development by which the divinity of Christ, is paramount over and above his humanity. K. Rahner refers to this as the crypto-monophysitism of popular Christianity, something not seldom used as the criterion of orthodoxy. (At the corner of old houses, pubs and restaurants in Tyrol there is often a beautifully carved crucifix to which one refers as the Hergottswinkel, 'God-corner'. It is a nice custom, but it implies an identity that is false, even in the eyes of traditional theology)

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The identity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith seems to have been acceptable doctrine in the 4th and 5th centuries. Is that still the case in our own 21st century? One might even ask whether the main theme of this essay remains relevant. Though the topic might interest experts in their discussion of biblical and historical sources, it is, perhaps, anachronistic for our increasingly dechristianised world? Does modern man have any notion about the substance (ousia) of Jesus and about the 'substance' of God? Can we speak today of God's nature (physis)? Has contemporary anthropology, even, any common concept about human nature? The crisis of modern religion goes much deeper than a debate about the identity of Jesus with God, a concept, the reality of which is fading fast as a preoccupation. This crisis seems to be, not so much, Christological as theological in the original meaning or the word.

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>> In a recently published sociological survey about the relationship between young people (17-18 years) and religion, there was no question regarding Jesus. In answers relating their actual beliefs, they wrote about the existence of God, about the church as an institution, her moral teaching, R.I. in school etc. The name of Jesus turned up only occasionally in their answers. It seems that faith in Jesus the Christ is only of secondary concern in the crisis of religion exhibited by these well-educated boys and girls of upper middle-class families[9].

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5. Jesus the Christ and the quest for God.

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The root of the contemporary crisis of religion is not the divinity of Christ, but rather the 'deity' of God himself. Nonetheless, I shall argue that a possible response, at least in societies with a Christian tradition, should be christological. The difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is one of its main aspects.

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Although the analysis of the reasons behind this crisis is beyond my full competence, I now detail some of its components. Unlike British philosophical tradition, Continental thinking is, to some extent, still under the influence of the subjective approach (the 'turning to the subject'): no longer a straightforward Kantianism, but a ready assumption that any objectivity of knowledge must pass through the sieve of subjectivity, something that is all the more true of the interpretation of ancient documents. Add, as well, another characteristic trait of a post-modern mentality: both knower and known, both the free agent and the object to be attained, are subject to continual revision. Our hypothetical truths are relative, our decisions are provisional and seek but temporary achievements. In such a flux, it would be preposterous to speak about the 'permanent and essential' as qualities, either of knowledge or aspiration, or of the human beings who have them. Nothing permanent lies beneath the surface of a changing world.

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What now follows is a somewhat free interpretation of the central insight and terminology of Emmanuel Lévinas[10]. According to Levinas there persists an awareness of something Constant ( abiding, permanent) not, however, as actually perceived or intended[11]. We may recognise it as a longing for something neither communicated by the experience of life, nor invented by our imagination. Following Levinas I call the object of this infra-conscious awareness, this unattainable longing, the OTHER (l'autre). This OTHER, of which we are somehow aware, not only makes its presence felt, but also puts us under a moral obligation. We cannot objectify it; we cannot make it our own. In one sentence: there is an awareness that is prior to conscious thought, and one, too, that precedes all free decisions. This awareness defies conceptualisation and is not a matter of ordinary discourse, but its hidden presence is undeniable. The OTHER is a transcendent factor yet the recognition of which is possible; life after death, the infinite within the finite, God within our world, are among them, fixed points even in the flux of post-modern thinking [12]. They communicate without words; they demand interpretation.

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>> When young people were asked, in the afore-mentioned sociological survey, what they really believed, they had to face the OTHER: the meaning of life, death and an afterlife, the infinite and God etc. These are all constant factors, and the answers were groping, subjective and uncertain. Most of those questioned were Christians, mainly Catholics, and their image of God (of which they were ab und zu, now and then, occasionally, conscious) found a variety of confused expressions. This was valid even for those who denied God's existence (55%), but 50% believed in an afterlife. It is remarkable that only 15% of those who believed in God referred to the Trinitarian God of Christian tradition.

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If the above analysis concerning the presence of the OTHER in human experience is true, we can assume that even modern men and women have an inexpressible search for the Constant and Infinite that I shall call 'God'. There is, therefore, a quest for God, which silently 'tells' us something, and strives to become outspoken and explicit. It is at this point that Christology may provide an insight

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We begin by observing that the image of God has been subject to change in the course of western civilisation. Although up to the age of enlightenment, His existence was in one way or another assumed, we could still identify a general concept appropriate to various stages of our history. Our earlier discussion noted the great difference between the Jewish and Greek image of God at the time of Christ, a difference also valid for those first Christian communities of Jewish origin and others embedded in Greek culture. There is, too, a difference between the God of Church Fathers and the image of God in the philosophy and theology of the Middle Ages. Nowadays, however, no such general concept of God exists; God, if thought of at all, is a whole variety of muddy insights, or something concealed beyond the unattainable horizon of human imagination. In any case, attempts at proving His existence, whether traditional or recent (whatever their value), fall at the fence of ultimate mystery; they are unable to grasp the ungraspable, to express the inexpressible: what or who is God?

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If, however, we accept that there is this pre-conscious search for the Constant, the Infinite, a search for God, one that strives to express the inexpressible, that is ready to live with mystery, then we have to find and identify the topic that enables us to give expression to our image of God. This topic is renewed faith in Jesus the Christ as the key to the quest for God.

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The apostles and first Christians could claim direct acquaintance with Jesus; later generations make that acquaintance through the church, or communities of believers. If the first step into faith is one of 'recognition', the church's task must be to consider how to present Jesus, how to announce the Christ of faith. I do not believe that we can present and spread the faith using the authority of traditional dogmatics. Any talk about Jesus, today, must concentrate (almost instinctively) on his human face, an aspect with which Chalcedon tried to qualify 'consubstantiality' (unsuccessfully, alas).

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A more sensitive way of evangelisation would start with the historical Jesus, whose life and attractive personality can be found in the documents to hand. The focal point of our quest for God becomes actual and concrete in the person of Jesus the Christ. In proclaiming the faith in Jesus Christ one should emphasise Jesus' unique relationship to God whom he calls his Father, together with his mission to Israel and humankind, his life's work, his cause. Such an 'encounter' with Jesus, however, only brings the OTHER nearer, and makes the objective towards which our quest for God is groping more acceptable. It is at this stage, however, that the attitude of those who come under his spell can change beyond that of a momentary reaction -- just as in those first called by Jesus. It was their experience of life together: a sharing in one another's destiny, a school of joy and anxiety, trust and doubt, admiration and friendship, hope and regret (Peter's betrayal) or, even, disappointment that the God of Jesus' should allow the tragedy of the cross. The struggle of each believer is part of the structure of faith in an inscrutable God, in whom Jesus' life was consummated on the cross. Such a faith, however, will only become a firm assurance, if we can also share the apostles' belief in the resurrection.

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At this point, our quest for God ceases to be active, and becomes silent and passive, face to face with the unfathomable OTHER. This inarticulate silence is 'communicating' something that demands expression, must find words. God is the One who has raised Jesus from the dead, the OTHER who made the cause of Jesus triumphant. He is the One who has given us a glimpse of His own hidden Self in and through the humanity of Jesus, his words and deeds, his passion and resurrection. God is the One who can guide our individual and collective history towards its fulfilment in the Spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. In one sentence: in Jesus alone can we believe in, and speak concretely about the divine OTHER whose hidden mystery always remains: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Anything more about the God of Jesus is the result of the philosophical speculation. '...and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Mt 11,27; Lk 10,22).'[13]

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The 'definition' of faith in the epistle to the Hebrews emphasises the words 'firm' and 'assurance'; faith is a firm conviction without the evidence of rational proof. What is the ground of this firm assurance? Our faith in God, in what and who He is, is rooted in the faith in Jesus through whom alone our quest has gained a glimpse of the Infinite OTHER. If such faith in the God of Jesus has been the authentic conviction of Christianity from the very beginning, then this question is inevitable: do we need another act of faith (in Jesus) in order to be assured about his God? Are not faith in Jesus and faith in his God the very same? Had Jesus been but one of the prophets, even the last, eschatological one, our belief in the God of Jesus, could not be a firm assurance. Then Paul's statements and the statements that the gospel attributed to John puts into Jesus' mouth would be incomprehensible and misleading. Reliance on them awakened belief in Jesus' divinity.

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Have my questions sometimes suggested less than the dogmas of Nicea, Ephesus and Chalcedon assert? Have I fallen short in asserting Jesus' consubstantiality with God, and his divine nature? I believe not, because those who made these dogmatic statements will have gone through a similar struggle in their quest for God. They, too, found firm assurance for their hope in Jesus the Son of God. This hope, even without rational evidence, binds us. It is an obligation and responsibility[14].

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[1] See for instance J. Hick, The Metaphor of Incarnate SCM 1993

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[2] Cf., The authentic Gospel of Jesus, Penguin, London 2004 (exact reference to be supplied)

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[3] By dogma' and ,dogmatisation' I understand  an opinion (in its original Greek sense) as pronounced by the authority of the community. It does not only define a  truth of faith, but directs its interpretation in a certain direction. The church's official doctrine on Christ was shaped  during the first four centuries BY this process of dogmatisation. The answer to the question ,Who is Jesus the Christ for us? is now THROUGH dogma.

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[4] „ The Jesus of history is the Jesus as proclaimed by the apostles" in N. Kähler, Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus  (1892)

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[5] R. Bultmann's programme of ,demythologizing' and existential intrpretation of the gospels only extends the views of Kähler: there is absolutely no access to the historical Jesus.  Others , like J. Macquarrie and H. Conzelmann, refer to the church, or to the Holy Spirit who guides the community to full acknowledgement (Jn. 16,13) of the Christ-event.  E. Mascal, though he emphasises the importance of the historical Jesus, concentrates on the faith in the glorified Christ.

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[6] In these considerations I am indebted to Roger Bourggaev' interpretation of E. Lévinas central insight: human life is ,saved' by transcending  itself in three stages. From the superficial acquaintance of sorrounding reality  one proceeds to the insight of being itself. Behind everything we know there is the ,il y a' of Levinas. At the same time this ,there is' is a neutral and anonymous ,captivity' until we reflect on our own subjective dynamism which, however, is carried by the utter passivity (subjectivité) that relates us to the OTHER (l'autre), irreducible to one's self. Cf., „Un roi déposé" in „Lévinas de l' etre à l'autre" ed. Hansel, 2006

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[7] Cf., Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus  (exact reference to be supplied)

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[8] Even if we do not take the appearances of Jesus in their literal sense, we cannot doubt that the apostles in a very short time after the death of Jesus must have had a common experience, which altered not only their lives but also their view about Jesus

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[9] „An Gott?" Was jugendliche über ihren Glauben sagen. („About God?" What young people say about their faith

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[10] See footnote 5. From the beginning of his philosophical writings Lévinas argues for the pre-conscious obligation to the OTHER. It is not the ,I' who by knowing the other ,I' engages itself : it is simply given , as he then puts it, beyond being itself. Cf. one of his main works: Autrement del'êtreou au delà de l'essence (1978). It is in this context that he points out our obligation to the Infinite, to God.

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[11] (We may think of the 'intentionality' of Husserl)

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[12] We should add to this: the other person whom we can never know as he or she really is. Nonetheless, it is posible on the level of consciousness to engage ourselves with the OTHER in the communion of love.

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[13] This saying is, without doubt, not authentic, but a later insertion representing the faith of the author

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[14] In this last part of my study, I avoided answering a correct objection according to which my argument is only valid for societies of Christian tradition. My position can be misunderstood: either we exclude otherrs who do not acknowledge Jesus as the focus of our quest for God (Christian absolutism) or the contrary. E.g. Muhamed in Islam, Budha in Budhism can also be such a focus in which our quest can be concretised (relativism). The answer to this difficulty demands another study. See: G.Vass, Relativität der christlichen Wharheit? in Sandler-Wandlinger 'Der unbequeme Gott; & Understanding Karl Rahner vol 4  Pattern of Doctrines 2. pp 93ff

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