Thursday, January 15, 2004

The historical Jesus

Oswald Sobrino talks about the abuse of the phrase "historical Jesus."  I would only add one nuance (if nuance is the right word for "fundamental correction."

Sobrino seems to approve of Meier's statement that he quotes:

Meier even goes so far as to state that "[w]e cannot know the 'real' Jesus through historical research, whether we mean his total reality or just a reasonably complete biographical portrait" (Meier, p. 24). Instead, Meier proclaims that what the Gospels show us is the "earthly Jesus" in the sense of "a picture--however partial and theologically colored--of Jesus during his life on earth" (Meier, p. 25).

I think the Church teaches very clearly that the Jesus we get in the Gospels in not simply a partial and theologically colored picture of Jesus, but the real Jesus. 

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). Indeed, after the Ascension of the Lord the Apostles handed on to their hearers what He had said and done. This they did with that clearer understanding which they enjoyed (3) after they had been instructed by the glorious events of Christ's life and taught by the light of the Spirit of truth. (Dei Verbum 19)

"Real" here, of course, does not mean "complete" in the sense of recording every single thought and action of Jesus while here on earth. 

The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation....


...always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.(4) For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who "themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word" we might know "the truth" concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4).

The phrase "partial and theologically colored" cannot somehow imply that the Gospel does not fully and accurately reflect the real and intended meaning of Jesus' life and ministry. 

Aeneas and Turnus
One of the things that I ask my kids when they read the Aeneid is if they think that Aeneas should have killed Turnus at the end. The point seems to be that since Turnus had no mercy on Pallas, then Aeneas should not have mercy on Turnus. This whole episode, of course, says something about the Roman character and the meaning of pietas for them. What would have happened had he not killed Turnus? Was it simply revenge, or was there a justice issue involved?

My kids usually just say, "Well, he wasn't Christian, so you can't expect him to be motivated by mercy." I don't know. Even within the context of pre-Christian social ethics, might there not be an argument for mercy in this case?