The historical Jesus, bishops & censorship


Luke Timothy Johnson’s analysis of the tensions within contemporary Christology (“Human & Divine,” January 31) is very well thought out, but I’m afraid that his four rules for keeping the conversation going are probably not going to lead to a resolution. Historical scholarship has explained the church’s turn toward ontology in the patristic era as a result of the influence of Greek philosophy, but it has also made accepting the logic of that era—and the contradictions to which it soon led—increasingly problematic. Indeed, the fact that the councils of Chalcedon in 451 and Constantinople III in 680 had to be held at all demonstrates the imbalance in Christian understanding created by the First Council of Nicea (325). And while the correctives provided by these later councils made it into our catechisms and theological manuals, the liturgical use of the Nicean formula continues to prolong the imbalance.

One possible remedy to this imbalance may be found in the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s 1964 instruction on the historicity of the Gospels. In that document, scholars spoke of the three stages of tradition that went into the composition of the Gospels: first, the memory of the words and deeds of Jesus; second, the apostolic kerygma, or proclamation, of the salvation won for us by his death and...

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