Meier’s Monumental Opus
The fourth volume of John Meier’s A Marginal Jew has appeared. It is subtitled, “Law and Love,” and weighs in at a hefty 735 pages. As reported on the America blog, this is not beach reading! Nonetheless, it exhibits Meier’s trademark clarity, carefulness, and verve — not least in his delineation of the scope and focus of his project.
His introduction repeats some needed reminders and distinctions:
The first important distinction scholars often fail to make is the distinction between Christology and the quest for the historical Jesus. Both are valid academic endeavors … Obviously, the two endeavors are related. Christology is a subdivision of the academic discipline called theology – in Anselm’s famous phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.” Christology is therefore faith seeking understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the object of Christian faith.
By contrast, the quest for the historical Jesus is by definition a strictly historical endeavor. Of its nature, it prescinds from or brackets Christian faith. This does not mean that it denies, rejects, or attacks such faith… All this is simply a matter of functional specialization, to use a phrase beloved of Bernard Lonergan.
Granted this distinction what then do I mean by “the historical Jesus”? The historical Jesus is that Jesus whom we can recover or reconstruct by using the tools of modern historical critical research as applied to ancient sources. Of its nature the historical Jesus is a modern abstraction and construct. He is not coterminous with the full reality of Jesus of Nazareth. (pp. 5&6)
And he admits, with the modesty we have come to expect from New York priests and Notre Dame professors,
In any rigorous and honest quest for the historical Jesus, we are always dealing with various degrees of probability. Of its very nature, the quest cannot and should not try to sell the product of its hypothetical reconstruction as the new and improved version of Christian faith in Jesus Christ. That would be absurd, though it is all too often done or at least implied. Rather … the historical critical method, when applied to Jesus of Nazareth, exemplifies “both its importance and its limitations,” as a very astute theologian has put it. (p. 17)
(For the identity of that “very astute theologian,” see p. 25, n. 36.)