The Religious A priori

Historical Jesus

Prologomina To Any Future
Discussion of Historical Jesus

The Question:

The historicity of Jesus is important, but the question is, what is important about it? Is it really so important to know that on a certain day Jesus did and said this or that? Or is it important to know that we have a generally accurate perception of the kinds of things Jesus did and the basic core of his teaching available to us? I contend that some historical elements are more important than others. Of course you know I would do things backwards to the way most Christians do them.

I believe the Virgin birth, for example, but I believe more as a Christian ironist and out of respect for the Creeds then as a purely historical fact the absence of which would somehow cause the whole thing to crumble. The Topos of Historicity"Topos" is just a fancy Greek term used in A&H circles for "place," or "location." I bring this up because I think what is most important is the understanding of and acceptance of the Tradition itself. I think the tradition is the safe guard of the historicity. This means that rather than some sort of historically empirical proof (of which there is no such thing) that Jesus really gave the sermon on the mount, the important thing is that the tradition loaded those teachings into its understanding of Jesus from an early period and to be a member of the community means to accept that teaching. This is so because this is what works. To accept Jesus, to accept God's grace through the mediation of Christ's atonement is transformative and offers a power for living which resolves the basic human problematic. The proof of that is in actually doing it, actually receiving it, not in historical arguments.

The Magesterium:

This is a fancy word for the teaching authority of the church. Now the community always believed as part of itself understanding and its understanding Jesus, that Christ ordained the Apostles, the Apostles ordained the Bishops, the Bishops ordained the canon and the tradition preserved the deposit of truth in this way. That implies a certain historicity but what is more important than proving the historicity is understanding it. It is not an intellectual topic to be debated, but a living a reality to be experienced. It works, and the proof that it works is in the pudding. Because it works we can be fairly sure that the testimony given is accurate. But we need not be so certain as to prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

What matters is not history but history making aspects. That is, it is not an historical question, Was Jesus the son of God? Did he raise from the dead? These are not things that can be proven historically, they are not part of history because they involve transcendence of the naturalistic framework under which history is assumed. That does not mean that I don't believe them, but it does mean that proving them is less important than living them. Should anyone think this is not sufficiently intellectual to justify the brain power it takes to grasp it, consider the thinkers who have also believed it; Jurgen Moltmann is the theologian who evokes the history making criterion, he is totally brilliant and of interest to secular philosophers at Tubgingen.

The list also includes notables form T. S. Elliot to John Alston. The point is that there is no intellectual shame in an existential encounter with the object of ultimate concern. So that is what really matters, that the teachings bestow Grace, that the church understood itself as the recipient of Christ's teachings (and with no small amount of confirming evidence form history) and it doesn't matter that it isn't "proven" or that the resurrection isn't considered historical. It is history making, history was shaped around that concept and around the churches understanding of itself as the guardian of Jesus' teachings.

The Theological Lodown:

As I have said before, I believe that there is one universal experience of the Divine that stands behind all religions. The individual God figures in reach religion don't matter because they are preceded by this experience which is more basic, and they are created by cultural construct through which this experience must be flitted. But that is what happens when man tries to reach out to God unaided. What happens when God decides to make one clear unmistakable statement that demonstrates exactly who he is and what he wants? Perhaps the best way to do that would be to come and tell us himself. That's what I believe happened with Jesus.

Now that still leaves problems of the ambiguity of language. But what is unambiguous is the actions. Not only are the actions of Jesus reflective of the divine in such enstances as forgiving the woman caught in adultery or in healing the sick and so forth, but they are unmistakable in his atonement on the cross. This is a statement of God's solidarity with humanity. That God would be willing to die for the sins of humanity and to die as one of the lowest in the social order demonstrates that God is on our side and is willing to identify with our lot, which is what solidarity is all about. Now never mind the fact that "it didn't hurt cause he was God" and silly arguments like that. The point is that it is a clear expression of God's willingness to identify with us. The only problem is that we have to return the favor and identify with him. It's still a search that can only concluded in the heart. So we must still make a decision and place our solidarity with God through giving our lives to Christ (Romans 6). But it works both ways and all we need to is examine the case to see that. Once having done that we receive transformation and we resolve the problematic involved in being human and that's what really matters because that is a lived experience and can be seen by anyone, it is not a matter of empirical evidence or of demonstration in an "objective" way. I'm not saying the history doesn't matter, and I do believe the historical stuff form the Gospels.

But what matters more than proving it as history is what it means to accept it as history. It doesn't mean able to prove it (and in fact nothing in history is proven in the way that it is in science--all history is probability in a sense). What matters about accepting the history is understanding what it does for you to accept it. When one finds that this is the case and it does actually mediate transcendence one can find that the claims are at least true. They may or may not be true in a literal historical sense (and I think most of them are) but they are true in a transformative sense. If one is transformed than it would seem to be the point, the whole point involved in why would want to investigate religion in the first place. How to choose a tradition. Now as I have said, it is not a question of which religion is true but of which has the efficacy. That means, all religions mediate transformation to some degree, but some do so better than others. Human sacrifice for example is a less efficacious method, because it involves the necessity of cruelty and murder, and a grace oriented religion is more efficacious because it is more accessible to all. There are two such religions and two only: pure land Buddhism and Christianity. We can compare those two later. But in my view that is the reason to prefer a particular tradition, and to prefer the tradition with which I identify; because it mediates transcendence through Grace, which means one need not be good enough to merit God's favor. That makes it more accessible and in a sense it may make it more transformative. As Jesus said "he who has been foreign much loves much. We can open a new one to do the historical stuff (and don't worry, I will).

The Religious A priori