History & Mystery

Jesus of Nazareth
Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection
Pope Benedict XVI
Ignatius Press, $24.95, 400 pp.

“Avoiding Lessing’s Ditch”—the title of an excellent, still-unpublished dissertation by Kathryn Johnson on the biblical exegesis of nineteenth-century Anglican divines—could just as well describe Pope Benedict XVI’s most recent book, the second installment of Jesus of Nazareth. Lessing’s ditch takes its name from the German poet and philosopher Gotthold Lessing, who viewed historical and metaphysical truths as separated by a gap that could never be bridged, because (he insisted) one cannot argue from historical events to any necessary truths. How, then, to relate the Jesus of historical-critical research to the Christ of Christian faith? The attempt to separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith” only serves to deepen Lessing’s ditch, because the Jesus of history is as contingent as any other historical event. One therefore believes in the Christ of faith on other grounds, presumably—for example, the authoritative proclamation of the church—or on feelings or other subjective experience. This is not a promising way to relate historico-critical research to Christian faith.

Is there another way? Is it possible to avoid Lessing’s ditch by refusing to separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith” in the first place? A hint in this direction was thrown out years ago by the priest and biblical scholar Raymond Brown, who said that of the possible Jesuses one could imagine, the least likely to be the “real Jesus” was the “historical Jesus...

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About the Author

John C. Cavadini teaches in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also McGrath-Cavadini director of the Institute for Church Life.