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Reading Benedict on Jesus

I have just finished reading and it is with some trepidation that I post this message since the blogosphere is cluttered with reactions. It is not my intention to review the work but let me say that I did think it is a powerful book. Those who think it only a work of devotion are mistaken as are those who think his approach to the scriptures is retrograde or those who hail it as the greatest thing since the Summa. One should read this work from the perspective of Josef Ratzinger the theologian. The following points might prove helpful:(1) Ratzinger writes as a theologian in the honorable tradition of the Anselmian 'faith seeking understanding' which is to say, he writes as a believer seeking understanding; as a consequence, he writes from the angle of the hermeneutics of trust and not of suspicion.(2) He understands the competence of the exegete but he refuses to allow the exegete to have the final say and, further, he appreciates that biblical exegesis did not begin for Catholics in the twentieth century. What he has learned from the "Third Quest" (as my esteemed colleague John Meier has said) is that if we do not see Jesus against the backkground of Judaism we see him wrongly.(3) His work takes into account the of the text and, thus, does not find it out of court to call on Cyprian when discussing the Lord's Prayer or Origen on the same subject. (4) His real antagonists are those who would reduce Jesus down to a genteel liberal Protestant or a political revolutionary or a philosopher (pick your reductionist category).(5) In the background of this work is his own penchant for seeing things via the lens of the witness and proclamation of the church in its life; hence, his work is both catechesis (in the sense of "echoing" the faith) and theology (in the sense of trying to understand what he believes).(6) While it is true that he cites a number of contemporary exegetes this is not a pastiche of scholarly opinions cobbled together but a rather singular christological portrait arising from years of study. It is a work that cries out for expansion and, in that sense, is not a profound book; it is rather a prologomenon for such a work. May God give him strength and health to finish the promised second volume. (7) Finally, the book should be read not for its scholarship (although there is a fair amount of that in the book) but in the spirit of what Saint Bonaventure says at the end of his prologue to the : "Weigh the writer's intention rather than his work...you should not run rapidly over the development of these considerations but should mull them over slowly/ with the greatest care." That is exactly what I intend to do as I reread this fecund book with a pencil in hand.

About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.

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Thanks for a clear-headed assessment. I look forward to your reflections after your second reading.It appears that this book will be more popular with a general audience rather than insiders, with amateurs rather than professionals (though many professionals will find much to admire). The Pope's stated aim is to do for our age what Guardini, Adam and Daniel-Rops did for their time. I don't know of anyone who has a better claim to success in such an endeavor. His theological cultivation, apparent throughout the book, never obscures a simple and direct message. Perhaps translations of some of the works he relies upon would now be in order.

I want to second Patrick's gratitude to you, Professor Cunningham. I am just beginning the book and I appreciate the Pope's words. They are a consolation to me, and are helping me intellectualize my spirituality in a thoughtful way. I guess that it fits my way of "faith seeking understanding," as well.May we all benefit from this, as well as the other approaches of walking with the Lord.Blessings!

Larry, Trepidation is a good word. Would that more theologians and bishops had more of it. You wrote: "(4) His real antagonists are those who would reduce Jesus down to a genteel liberal Protestant or a political revolutionary or a philosopher (pick your reductionist category).""Reductionist" is another powerful word. How about the reductionism that has taken place in the hierarchy since Constantine? Seems that in that time Crucifixion was out and Lawn Parties were in. Have theologians adequately explained what happened in the 4th century when Christians, instead of dying for their faith started to make martyrs of each other. And what kind of a reductionist papacy is it to ignore Oscar Romero or Dorothy Day?Certainly there are reductionists. But how devastating is it that when those who have the keys are reductionists? Today the bishops and Rome are still stonewalling the victims of sex abuse while an earthquake of a financial scandal is looming.

Bill Mazzella operates with the hermeneutics of suspicion and I with the hermeneutics of trust. To be suspicious always is corrosive and to be trusting always is to become naive. I prefer naivete to corrosion. Better, however, to balance both - that is known as Christian realism.

I would disagree on one point. One who takes positions on matters on which scholars may reasonably disagree is always subject to scholarly rebuttal. I doubt Benedict himself would say otherwise.

I would also raise another point. While I agree on the virtue of a hermeneutic of trust, it is clear from Joseph Ratzinger's life and works--and even in his tone and occasional sallies in the Jesus book--that he himself operates from a hermeneutic of deep suspicion. He has a profound mistrust of the world and presumes the worst, particularly of people outside his frame of reference. What approach is one to take then?

Larry, I understand how you may be inclined to take that approach. However, if trust is not informed by reason we may have the blind leading the blind. For example I do trust that anyone who teaches theology in Notre Dame deserves the utmost consideration with reference to their theological opinions.The reason is that I am acutely aware of Ted Hesburgh's unimpeachable demand for excellence. While there has been faculty there lately to cause wonder, I still follow that basic hermenutic .Not so with Rome and the popes. I am beyond suspicion. I have evidence. Ex fructibus eorum cognescetis ejus. By their fruits you will know them. I applauded Benedict when he censured Maciel. Finally. After almost fifty (50) years. Ratzinger's administration had the most evidence. Did Boff, Kung, Curran and so many outstanding people of unimpeachable integrity get a tenth of that time? And these are people of integrity. And tell me what the continuing conduct of the American bishops towards victims means to you.? And the study from Villanova that 85% of our parishes have had cases of embezzlement?Bishops and pastors still reign over individual fiefdoms with little accountability. With exceptions.Everyone should be innocent until proven guilty. Love of enemies is our mantra. And trust should always be our first act.But should not trust always be earned?

I do not think that those (like Hermann Hring) who think Benedict's approach to the scriptures is "retrograde" are mistaken. Of course his book has many spiritually edifying things, but that does not disqualify the judgment of the exegetes.'One should read this work from the perspective of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian. The following points might prove helpful: (1) Ratzinger writes as a theologian in the honorable tradition of the Anselmian "faith seeking understanding" which is to say, he writes as a believer seeking understanding; as a consequence, he writes from the angle of the hermeneutics of trust and not of suspicion.' Unfortunately, exegesis for the last 250 years has advanced by overcoming an initial trust in direct historicity to view the texts as complex theological and literary constructs; Benedict certainly marks a regression on this front. Exegetes also have a deep trust in the historical integrity of Scripture, but they understand this in a subtler, and more historical, way than Benedict.'(2) He understands the competence of the exegete but he refuses to allow the exegete to have the final say and, further, he appreciates that biblical exegesis did not begin for Catholics in the twentieth century.... [He] does not find it out of court to call on Cyprian when discussing the Lord's Prayer or Origen on the same subject.' Actually, many Catholic and non-Catholic exegetes draw on patristic contributions to exegesis; but when these are invoked to interpret 'thy Kingdom come' in a purely spiritualizing way, it is not helpful. 'His real antagonists are those who would reduce Jesus down to a genteel liberal Protestant or a political revolutionary or a philosopher (pick your reductionist category).' A lot of his argumentation on that score is of the 'straw man' kind. And it leads him to downplay the justice-and-peace component of Jesus' Kingdom-preaching and to impose the Johannine image of Jesus as historical, at the expense of any rediscovery of the pre-Paschal Jesus as eschatological prophet and even at the expense of the Synoptics' vision. This is very ineffective and counter-productive argument against the liberal distortions of the Jesus Seminar or against Marxist distortions. As someone remarked, it represents the very illness it claims to cure, that is, a failure to connect integrally the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

David,"He has a profound mistrust of the world and presumes the worst, particularly of people outside his frame of reference. "I haven't read the Jesus book, but my reading of the Ratzinger - Habermas exchange did not reveal a presumption of the worst, especially for a philosopher who, in many ways, is outside his frame of reference. But I have yet to read many other of his works.

To Joseph S O Leary:You state that many Catholic and non-Catholic exegetes draw on patristic contributions to exegesis. Can you recommend a work presenting Jesus of Nazareth by an exegete who, in your view, draws on patristic contributions in a way superior to the Popes approach?

"Can you recommend a work presenting Jesus of Nazareth by an exegete who, in your view, draws on patristic contributions in a way superior to the Popes approach?"First, exegetes draw on patristic contributions only when the patristic remarks are exegetically valid; this limits greatly the quantity of patristic scriptural commentary that will be found useful. See, for instance, Marvin Pope's Anchor Bible commentary on the Song of Songs -- he finds almost nothing of use in the patristic and medieval commentaries.Second, the question of the historical Jesus is one on which the Fathers have nothing to say, for they did not distinguish at all between the Gospel Jesus and the Jesus of History (except, as in the case of Origen, to suggest that some Gospel scenes are not meant historically but have a spiritual sense; but this is a different issue). Third, the Fathers are most useful in discussing Paul, because of their temporal and linguistic closeness to the text and the absence of the complex formative processes underlying the Gospels..Fourth, the more empirical exegetes, such as Jerome and the Antiocheans, are the most likely to be found useful today by exegetes.Fifth, for the text of the NT patristic evidence is regularly consulted, of course..John Meier's "A Marginal Jew", volume 2, has 5 references to Origen, 1 to Chrysostom, 2 to Jerome, 4 to Eusebius of Caesarea, 1 to Epiphanius etc..Benedict's use of the Fathers is spiritual, pastoral and theological but does not contibute much to exegesis: in fact if the patristic interpretations are taken as more authoritative than current exegesis they could have regressive implications for Catholic exegesis. For instance, it is OK, pastorally, theologically and spiritually, to take "our daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer as referring to the Eucharist; but whether it has any exegetical value is not something than can be decided a priori on grounds of theological fittingness.

To Joseph S O Leary:If your answer to my question (recommend an exegete making better use of patristic contributions than Benedict) is John Meier, then you find yourself in good company. The Pope joins you in recommending Meier's work, A Marginal Jew, commenting that "this several-volume work by an American priest is in many respects a model of historical-critical exegesis, in which the significance and the limits of the method emerge clearly." (Jesus of Nazareth, p.365). I suppose one may suspect that these words conceal a retrograde obscurantism, though others (e.g., Luke Timothy Johnson) are certainly more critical of Meier than Benedict is. Im sure its obvious to most that the Pope is not a simple-minded opponent of careful historical research. Of course, he has elsewhere rightly raised significant questions about undue reliance upon Kantian and Heidegerrian assumptions behind some allegedly objective methods of scriptural interpretation. But that is only to ask exegetes to be more critical and sophisticated about their own approach and to accommodate other traditions, not to abandon careful research. It is true that Benedicts call for critical self-reflection violates one other assumption but that is one that seems inexcusably naive: that current exegesis due to recent progress deserves enthusiastic endorsement and should necessarily override other scriptural interpretations. Those rejecting such simplicities consider reluctance on the part of theologians, philosophers, and the magisterium to bow before the exegetes not as a return to pre-Enlightenment days but as an exercise of obvious good sense.

These are the comments of one who has NOT read Pope Benedicts new book (I have taken something of a vow to read only those books related to the book I am writing on ethics and economics for the purpose of actually finishing the book, however, if these very interesting conversations continue, I think I will have to buy the Popes book just to keep up!); rather, I have just been observing, and at times participating in these Christological conversations. A few thoughts:Regarding the hermeneutics of trust vs. suspicion, I think David Gibsons comment is well taken. That is, the terms are relative. From what I gather of Bill Mazellas posts, he has a hermeneutic of trust in Christological formulations that emphasize the Cross and a life of service as central elements of what it means to proclaim Gods Kingdom. He has a hermeneutic of suspicion regarding overly abstract theological formulations that emphasize right belief over right action.On the idea of faith seeking understanding, that too seems rather relative. What is the heart of faith? If the heart of faith is the affirmation of the full divinity of Christ, then ontology would seem to replace theology. If the heart of faith is the good news of salvation in Christ then soteriologically-minded folk might run farther with the historians than others. If the heart of faith is the full divinity of Christ, and if many who inquire into the historical Jesus find that most historical witness to Jesus does not make such a claim (I do not deny that some do), rather such a claim developed over time in a decidedly non-Jewish context, then those with faith have nothing to discuss with those who reach such conclusions about the historical Jesus. If the heart of faith is salvation in Christ, then the fact that most historical witnesses to Jesus do not speak of his full divinity is of little concern if salvation in Christ does not depend on his being fully divine.If we grant that we must see Jesus within the background of his Judaism, then we must at least take seriously that NO JEW at the time of Jesus was looking for a Messiah like the one Christianity delivered. If Son of God had a very clear, and very human, meaning within Judaism, Christian inquiry that takes the Jewishness of Jesus seriously must at least defend its change of meaning in relation to this term within Jewish terms of debate. If we are to take the Jewishness of Jesus seriously then perhaps we should not create theological problems for Jesus to resolve that are not, in fact, genuine theological problems for Jews, such as original sin, or the presence of God within creation.If the heart of faith presupposes the unity of scripture, then the possibility of any real conversation with the historians is largely ruled out. Historical inquiry into scripture provides countless reasons to believe that there is no a priori unity to the scriptural texts. In fact, there is every reason to believe that the texts are, at times, quite contrary to each other on both trivial (genealogy of Jesus) and quite significant matters (e.g. Christianity and the Jewish law, the purpose, or lack thereof, of the crucifixion). Historians provide good reason to believe that so-called Messianic fulfillment texts are rhetorical (and at times mistaken) biographical strategies rather than positive history. So long as the rhetorical strategies have theological goals, they are not pernicious. But when theology starts to defend itself based on the historicity of texts that were not historical in the first place, problems begin.

I found the discussion thus far to be often unnecessarily divisive, but I"ve got to agree with David Gibson that there's plenty of a hermeutic of mistrust in BXVI.I further find both Joseph O'Leary and Joe Petit more persuasive on the bottom line of Joe that theology defending itself (or otherwise_) on the basis of historical texts that aren't ar ea major problem,Despite much praiseworthy of BXVI in his effort, apologetics on his behalf on said points strike me as counterproductive.

Three comments on Joe Pettit's reflections:1. Joe writes: "NO JEW at the time of Jesus was looking for a Messiah like the one Christianity delivered."Paul would agree and, indeed, universalized the point: "Christ crucified, a stumbling blook to Jews and folly to Gentiles."The burden of Benedict's book is the sheer originality of Jesus and like the Gospels, is written "from faith for the sake of faith." Salvific faith.2. "if the heart of faith presupposes the unity of Scripture, then the possibility of any real conversation with the historians is largely ruled out."But if faith does not postulate the salvific unity of scripture, why even call it "scripture." Why not the study of ancient texts?On what basis does one rule out Marcion's radical excisions? or why not incorporate the "gospel" of Judas?Can one do so on the basis of "historical exegesis" alone? Whose exegesis?As Luke Johnson keeps insisting: canon, creed, and community form an organic unity.3. My question to Joe: why establish a dichotomy between soteriology and ontology?Lonergan maintains that the "quo ad nos" leads inevitably, by the sheer dynamism of the human intellect, to questions about the "in se."Such and such may be soteriologically meaningful to me, or to my group, but is it true? Is it merely a bright idea, or, worse, wishful thinking, or does it correspond with reality?Nietzsche, Heidegger, and their epigones may proclaim "the death of metaphysics;" but they seem to be making some astonishing ontological claims.So did the early Christians -- long before Nicaea.As David Gibson would say: "basta!"(at least for now).

Benedict writes from within the community of faith with the hope that those outside the community can hear what he says. I agree with everything Bob Imbelli says except his quoting David Gibson - I say, let the discussion roll on. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Lest I be misunderstood:my "basta" applied only to me and my early morning post --it was not intended to suggest curtailing the conversation.Fat chance of that happening in any case!

May I ask why ontology and theology should be seen as antithetical in such a way that to affirm the full divinity of Jesus Christ is to replace theology with ontology? Why may theology not ground an ontology? Why may its claims about Christ not raise ontological questions? May one not ask who it is that suffered on the Cross?

As usual, Robert Imbelli makes good points and asks good questions; and, as usual, their goodness does not lead me to agree with them. However, I will agree, in part, with much of what is said in the third point/question. I do not wish to affirm a dichotomy between theology and ontology. I think the anti-metaphysics philosophers listed in the reply are thoroughly confused.However, I think Lonergans logic of metaphysical motivation makes my point. I have been asking for reasons why it is theologically important to affirm the full divinity of Christ. The answers tend to be simply that this is the definitive Christian claim. Such a response begs the question, and so would seem to reduce theology to nothing but an ontological claim, take it or leave it. It also reverses Lonergans logic. It begins with the in se of Christs full divinity, and never gets to the quo ad nos that clarifies why the intellect is motivated to seek out such a metaphysical explanation in the first place.Regarding the second point, I confess to not knowing what the salvific unity of scripture means. If it means that all properly canonical texts share or are consistent with certain foundational beliefs about Jesus, I have no difficulty with this. If, however, it also means that the texts do not affirm significant and contrary theological claims about Jesus, then I think that such is position is very difficult to hold without essentially rejecting much of the insight from scriptural exegesis over the centuries. If the texts contain contrary theological claims, then they cannot be authoritative in all respects. From where then is their authority derived?Here I think the Catholic understanding of scripture decisively trumps the Protestant understanding. The authority of scripture is derived, not from the texts themselves, but from the churches that proclaim them. In this respect, the churches take upon themselves the task of explaining in what respect the different claims of scripture should be understood as authoritative. I take it to be a fundamental insight of Jewish scripture that theological ideas and the authority of those ideas, can change over time, and even that the community can, with integrity, preserve conflicts within scripture.What differentiates scripture from mere ancient texts is this association with a religious community. The community defines itself in relation to these texts, is challenged by these texts, and ultimately thinks beyond the texts without leaving the texts behind. However, I do not think the community is bound by everything that is in the texts. To say the texts are divinely inspired is to say that God can be found in significant ways within them. It does not mean that that they are in all respects from God.I think one must choose between a Synoptic lens and a Johanine lens and then read everything else through that lens. I do not think it is possible to avoid this choice. The choice does not mean that one lense is distortion free and other not. It just means that there will be a genuine theological perspective in ones reading of scripture. For many centuries, Christianity has had a decidedly Johanine lens. One of the legacies of this choice is Johanine anti-Semitism. Perhaps that is grounds enough to consider the synoptic lens.Regarding the first point, I think Robert is avoiding my argument. That the crucifixion is a stumbling block for the Jews and folly for the Gentiles does indeed make Christianity unique, but it says nothing about the divinity of Jesus, nor about how even the followers of Jesus understood him. If one does not wish to be held the Jewish background of Jesus, then it is not necessary to justify changes in meaning of central theological terms like Son of God. Nor is it necessary to justify having Jesus solve theological problems that are not theological problems for Jews. Nor need one address the rhetorical, and at times incorrect, use of Jewish texts to reach non-Jewish conclusions about Jesus. If, however, one insists on taking the Jewishness of Jesus seriously, then I think that these problems need to be addressed.

I am sad to see Heidegger getting such short shrift here. As Jean Beaufret insisted, Heidegger believed metaphysics to be true. His concern was with the phenomenality of being, which metaphysics as historically constituted had fallen short of. Similarly, one can believe in the true divinity of Christ, and precisely because of that belief find that the constitution of classical theology, in an intellectual milieu governed by Greek metaphysical categories and procedures, falls short of the full richness and subtlety of the incarnational vision Scripture is trying to convey. Overcoming metaphysics in theology, as I understand it, means liberating theology for a richer articulation of its basic truths.

Someone may wish to overcome metaphysics in theology if he wishes, but need it be considered necessary? I don't see any tension between a full ontological statement of the Christian claims and "the richness and subtlety of the incarnational vision of Scripture." In fact, I would argue that the latter requires the former. In fact, does not the very word "incarnation" require an ontology? But, probably, we have two different notions of ontology or metaphysics at work here.

It is not clear to me that one must opt for John as opposed to the synoptics. Has not the Tradition tried to hold these perspectives (to say nothing of the Pauline) in some sort of creative tension? Was that not precisely the issue magisterially discussed in the opening books of Augustine's ? and did not that discussion mirror christological debates in the centuries before Augustine? After all, the Nicene creed has elements both of low and high christology. In the Incarnation we have, to borrow a phrase, the supreme

Joseph: Heidegger thought it was "necessary" to overcome metaphysics in order to be able to think the phenomenality of being; that it, a step back from metaphysics to the events of thought that lie at the base of metaphysics but that metaphysics occludes, was an imperative for the renewal of thinking. Heidegger was inspired by Luther, whom he read and annotated as a young man (along with Harnack's Dogmengeschichte). Luther articulated a dynamic anthropology based on the Pauline kerygma (see W. Joest, Ontologie der Person bei Martin Luther). In this anthropology we live by the "foreign righteousness" of Christ, not our own, so our being is outside ourself, as we are taken up by Christ, resituated by Christ's word, "Your sins are forgiven"; exploring this dynamic and dialectical Passover space, Luther found that metaphysical categories hampered him greatly, unless he gave them a paradoxical twist (which I would see as a form of overcoming metaphysics). Lutheranism, at the hand of plodding metaphysicians such as Pannenberg and Moltmann, has lost the capacity to think and articulate the biblical horizons Luther opened up and to do so in contemporary terms.Lawrence: Augustine, De Trinitate 1-4, offers the characteristically Nicene harmonization of the "low" Christology of some Synoptic texts with the usually "high" Christology of John, differentiating the texts as referring to Christ in the form of a servant, or in the form of God, or as proceeding from the Father. But a more complete answer to the either/or statement that one has to choose between John and the Synoptics would be to say that John writes much more from within the spiritual apprehension of the glorified Christ present in the Spirit to the postpaschal community, so that any anamnesis of the historical Jesus is thoroughly sublated and transmuted into this element, whereas the Synoptics have a much stronger sense of recounting past events, albeit with constant touches that relate them to present questions and shed on them the light of the resurrection. Both perspectives are perfectly legitimate and nourish our faith daily; but it is true that an over-insistence on John at the expense of the Synoptics has impoverished our vision in the past.In addition to John and the Synoptics (each of whom has a distinctive literary and theological project) there is another perspective that has perfect scholarly validity and that also can contribute to the refreshing of our vision of Christ. This perspective is that of the Quest for the historical Jesus. Just as there are fruitful tensions between John and the Synoptics, there are fruitful tensions between the Synoptics and what scholarship discovers about the historical Jesus. None of this should be foreclosed.

Joe P.Always a pleasure to dialogue with you.I suspect there is more agreement between us than may at times appear.I concur with your reading of a "Catholic" interpretation of Scripture. It was the point I sought to make regarding the organic link between canon and community.I also agree that one begins with "soteriology." Indeed, the Gospel of John is replete with the saving encounters of Jesus with a variety of individuals. And its thrust is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, Messiah, and Son of God so that we "may have life in his name" (Jn 20:31). The Johannine life [zoe] as a quasi-technical term for true, salvific life.But, as I suggest above, this soteriological concern and commitment does not preclude, but rather provokes the further question: who is it that saves?What is remarkable about John's "Prologue" is that it begins to raise this question in an explicit way, and that it begins to offer terms and to differentiate relations to suggest a response.Hence my contention that the thrust to "ontology" is native to the reflecting subject. Lonergan used to say that the most basic meaning of "transcendence" is raising further questions.Finally, consonant with the Catholic discernment of the canon of Scripture, I refuse to be limited to the either/or of Synoptics/John. (Even here one must differentiate among Matthew, Mark, and Luke).The richness of the canon, of the quadriform Gospel, is that it not only allows, but demands the both/and.Thus, rather than a single lens, one is encouraged to wear bi-focals. They can be hard to get used to; but the gain is immeasurable.

Joe,You say "I have been asking for reasons why it is theologically important to affirm the full divinity of Christ. "I suspect this is the wrong question to ask. The prior question is "Was Christ fully divine". And the way to investigate that it to look at Scripture to see what picture emerges. I agree with Raymond Brown's reading, but you can read that for yourself. If Christ was fully divine, it is obviously important to affirm it. If he was not it is equally important to deniy it.

What a marvelous discussion! Just to clarify a few things. I certainly understand the tensions between the synoptics themselves, and with Paul. While I find Joseph O'Leary's explanation of what is going on in John to be thought-provoking, I find it less than satisfying. The resurrections narratives (is the postpaschal?) are indeed quite rich, and defy any simple historicizing. If John were an extended reflection on the resurrection experience, I could go a long way with it. But it is not. On its face at least, it is a lengthy reflection on the prepaschal life of Christ, and here it seems to create real tensions with reading the synoptics.On Luther, he has some interesting, but far from satisfying reflections on Christ and salvation that employ occular imagery. Christ is like a dove under whose wings we hide our sin and so get into heaven. Or the brightness/beauty of Christ is seen by God when those who claim Christ seek to enter heaven, and so God does not see their sin. These images so clearly imply a notion of fooling God that I cannot go very far with them.On metaphysics, I (no surprise here) tend to think Whitehead was the best the 20th century had to offer on this. If Heidegger's notion of metaphysics is willing to abide by rules of coherence and to articulate metaphysical "categories" then I am happy to try to understand him. However, my sense is that Heideggarians (perhaps distinct from Heidegger himself) tend to resist such things.Thanks for a marvelous discussion.

Oops, I meant resurrection narratives (is that what postpaschal means?).

Thanks also to everyone for a fine (and civil) discussion. At this point, much of it is way above my pay grade. But I do want to echo Bob Imbelli's explanatory note about the use of "Basta!" which I have employed at times as a sort of sign-off. That dismissal applies strictly to my own penchant for wandering off on various points, and is by no means related to anyone else or the discussion.

Re: Metaphysics. The question may be whether Heidegger was correct in thinking we have to do away with metaphysics in order to get at "the phenomenality of being; that is, a step back from metaphysics to the events of thought that lie at the base of metaphysics but that metaphysics occludes." Meanwhile, I don't think the Church can cease to profess Jesus as Lord and Son of God, incarnate for our salvation, and there will be at least some people who will ask metaphysical questions about him, and these ought to be taken as seriously as Heidegger's questions. I would not like Heidegger to be the one determining what can be a possible agenda for theology.

A few more thoughts on scripture. Despite Robert Imbelli's appeal to the bifocal perspective of synoptics plus John rather than John or the synoptics, I remain unconvinced that such a perspective is really possible. I think one either reads the synoptics through the lens of John or one reads John through the lens of the synoptics. Again, this does not mean that one discounts the content of what is not in the primary lens, rather one simply reads it differently as a result of the lens through which one reads. The idea of bifocals suggests that the texts can be read without influencing each other when looked at with different purposes in mind (comparable to the different purposes of the lenses in bifocals). I am inclined to think that such a divsion of purpose and isolation of lens when reading scripture is not possible.Regarding Joseph O'Leary's appeal to the quest for the historical Jesus, I have a question: Assuming the real possibility that scripture when read as historical can be said to contain errors, can it also be said to contain errors when read theologically? Does the former imply the latter? I fail to see why it does not. My mind always comes back to the speech Joseph Cardinal Bernardin gave at Hebrew University in Israel in which he said that insofar as there are anti-Semitic claims in scripture (he had in mind especially some verses in John) the Church must reject them. This strikes me as entirely consistent with what I noted in an earlier post about the source of scripture's authority coming from the church. However, I will also note that it seems rather rare for a church leader to admit both the possibility and the reality of theological (or at least normative) errors in scripture. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the quest for the historical Jesus raises new questions about the possibility of errors in scripture?

Never did it enter my simple mind that an innocent post of my reading of would veer off into a discussion of Heidegger et al but, truth be told, I am delighted that it has for the simple reason that it is always instructive to see what roils around in the minds of scholars. I have always taken as a mantra what Chaucer said of thwe shcolar: gladly would he learn and gladly teach. I must confess, however, that instead of (or: along with) Heidegger we might think seriously of claims made in the opening chapters of Ephesians and Colossians , long before Nicaea, to assess some metaphysical apecus made therein. Joe Komonchak is correct when he writes that we ask naturally what metaphysical claims may be made of Jesus Christ; not only questions but, in some places in the New Testament, claims. I trust those claims are not out of bounds unless we want to pare down the canonical scriptures to a more spare canon.

This is a very interesting discussion, but heady stuff for a guy in the pew like me.I'm thinking the only way to resolve this dispute in our post-modern age is via competition. Here's my proposal:"Survivor: Galilee"In the "Arian Tribe" we have Petitt, Mazzella, and maybe others who haven't come forward yet.In the "Trinitarian Tribe" we have Imbelli, Komonchak, O'Leary, Cunningham, Gannon, and undoubtedly others.Tonight's Challenge: "Viewing the Synoptic and Johannine Gospels through Lenses"One of these competitors will be going home tonight. Check your local listings for the viewing time in your area. See you at Tribal Council (of Nicaea).

William:Great idea, only could we please have a competition that involves reading texts through glasses filled with single malt (neat!)?

Those who wish might substitute tea for the scotch, only I fear this would put them at a real disadvantage insofar as the competition requires the presentation of thoughts that at least seem quite profound to oneself.

This is the way the thread ends,not with a bang, but ... a clink of lenses."Hurry up please it's time."Good night, William, and all the Joeswherever they may be.

Joe Komonchak, Heidegger never says we must "do away with" metaphysics. Joe Pettit, Heidegger's notion of metaphysics is very historical, including the trajectory from Plato to Heidegger. His own style of thinking tries not to be metaphysical but strictly phenomenological, though he is aware that his language itself as a Western language is thoroughly impregnated with metaphysical thought-patterns.Heidegger does not "determine" the agenda for theology, but he can be helpful to theologians trying to identify one of the important agendas of theology, that is, the inculturation of the Gospel in dialogue with contemporary thought.Asserting the divinity of Christ, as any student of Nicea and Chalcedon should know, is by no means a simple cut-and-dried matter. It involves, to begin with, the enigmatic balances of the hypostatic union.The objective truth of dogmatic statements, such as those of Nicea and Chalcedon, is something I strongly uphold; but I do so in awareness of the culture-bound historicity of the conciliar language, and also with some attempt to grasp the complexity of reference and objectivity as revealed in philosophy from Frege to Derrida (see my book, Religious Pluralism and Christian Truth, two extracts from which are on my weblog). "The resurrection narratives (is this what is meant by postpaschal?) are indeed quite rich, and defy any simple historicizing. If John were an extended reflection on the resurrection experience, I could go a long way with it. But it is not."Of course the first nineteen chapters are situated in pre-paschal time, but nonetheless the discourses of Jesus are best read as the voice of the risen Christ speaking to the community today."On Luther, he has some interesting, but far from satisfying reflections on Christ and salvation that employ ocular imagery." Oh, Luther is a mixed bag, but if you look for his best thought it is very strong and subtle. "Assuming the real possibility that scripture when read as historical can be said to contain errors, can it also be said to contain errors when read theologically?"I think that the answer here is inescapably yes: the sanctification of genocide in Numbers 31 and 1 Samuel 15 spring to mind. Origen allegorizes them, but that is not longer possible for us. So inerrancy has to be rethought, in depth."the speech Joseph Cardinal Bernardin gave at Hebrew University in Israel in which he said that insofar as there are anti-Semitic claims in scripture (he had in mind especially some verses in John) the Church must reject them."I agree; it is also possible that John's gospel presupposes a gnostic predeterminism according to which people's salvation depends on the "seed" within them."Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the quest for the historical Jesus raises new questions about the possibility of errors in scripture?"A good thing, because it brings us closer to the truth. A patent error of the early Church was the vivid expectation that the end of the world was coming in a few years. If we can handle this, we have nothing much to fear from further digs into history.

oops, I should have said, "including the trajectory from Plato to Hegel". Heidegger is a great exegete of metaphysical texts, such as Aristotle Physics II or Hegel's Einleitung to the Phenomenology of Mind, but he reads them against the grain, seeking reflections of the phenomenality of being. I think we need to read classical theological texts in a similar fashion (not of course in a pastiche of Heidegger, but drawing on the constant counter-metaphysical thrusts within Christian theology, beginning with John's hijacking of Philo's metaphysical Logos-theology, which reads in a non-metaphysical manner. "I and the Father are one" is a sort of contemplative non-dual utterance; read metaphysically, as so often in dogmatic controversy, its point is lost.)There are indeed metaphysical claims in the New Testament (Jewish Hellenistic metaphysics) as in I Cor 8.6, but passages like Philippians 2.5-12, for example, are not properly metaphysical but mythical. Of course the NT makes ontological claims, but one cannot open one's mouth without making ontological claims. If I say "the moon is made of green cheese" I am making an ontological claim, but I am not doing metaphysics. Our ontological claims about Christ have been secured in the culture of Greek metaphysics at Nicea and Chalcedon -- though in such a style as to resist that culture. Today these claims, or their dynamic equivalent, need to be articulated in dialogue with and resistance to other milieux of thought -- not only the contemporary western scientific and philosophical landsacpe, but also non-western cultures and religions.

At least one reading of the kenosis hymn in Philippians would see it as a reversal of the story of the First Adam. If that reading is plausible then Paul is doing what B16 is suggesting, namely, reading the mystery of Christ against the mystery of God's revelation in Israel without lurching into some kind of crude supersessionism.One other point: does one have to choose a lens to perform the Christian life? Is, to cite one example, Francis of Assisi a "synoptic" Christian? In his Latin writings Francis most frequently cites the synoptics (Matthew about 70x) but he also uses John over 40x and Paul 50x. Nobody reads the NT whole but every great "performer" of the Gospel tries to in one way or another. I see the same "spread" in the writings of John of the Cross (he might be called a "Song of Songs" Christian!). I do see, however, what Father O'Leary is driving at and I will concede that B16's book may be tough going for a fair minded Japanese Buddhist because B16 writes from within the household of the faith. My good Catholic students thought that Endo's book on Jesus was "heretical" when we read it together even when I pointed out that he had a very different audience in mind than most Catholic writers. So: in matters metaphysical I am minus sapiens but O'Leary has got me thinking and that is always a step forward for me.

Just to be clear, since I started this whole lens business. Reading through a lens does not prevent one from reading, using, citing, appreciating, other texts, it only means that HOW one reads the text is influenced by the lens. So the Francis example is not at all counterfactual to the theory.

Joe,"I think one either reads the synoptics through the lens of John or one reads John through the lens of the synoptics."I am not sure why this needs to be so. The portrait of Jesus in Mark is very different from that in John. Are you saying that one either has a Johannine mindset or a Marcan one, and so will either read Mark with a Johannine mindset (or lens) or read John with a Marcan mindset? I don't see the necessity of what seems to me, by implication, a distorting lense coming into play. I do not consider that I read that way and would guess that many others would not recognize the problem.

Interesting? Yes.Esoteric? Lordy, yes.Call me when you are finished.

Reading the Synoptics one finds many verses that lend themselves to an Adoptionist reading. It seems to me that we need to enlarge the Chalcedon horizon to allow as much free range as possible to the adoptionist vision."At least one reading of the kenosis hymn in Philippians would see it as a reversal of the story of the First Adam. If that reading is plausible then Paul is doing what B16 is suggesting, namely, reading the mystery of Christ against the mystery of God's revelation in Israel without lurching into some kind of crude supersessionism."But the Adam reading you propose, which is a very old and respectable one, is constantly invoked by advocates of "Christology from below", and it is one that Benedict sedulously ignores.

"Interesting? Yes."Esoteric? Lordy, yes."Call me when you are finished."What is so esoteric? This is just what is called Theology. The issues, as you can see, concern the basic interpretation of the Gospel.

With the infulence that Hegel has had it is notable that Hegel has not entered the discussion on this thread. In 1970 Kung wrote "The Incarnation of God" where he used Hegel to expound on the presence of God through Jesus. (English translation 1987) Likewise the absence of Kung here. But "damnatio memoriae" is somehting that liberals seem to passively practice also.Just amazing how a pivotal work like The Incarnation of God is not a real player in the Christological debate.At any rate Jimmy Mac. If you think Heidegger and co are difficult. Try reading Hegel.

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