13 Apr 2017

Do our modernist theologians really believe in Lent and Easter?

by Jonathan Ekene Ifeanyi

Christ being buried

Adultery-supporting-Jesuit Superior General, Father Arturo Sosa, said recently that when it comes to Jesus’ words on the indissolubility of marriage, “There would have to be a lot of reflection on what Jesus really said. At that time, no one had a recorder to take down his words.”

Precisely, what Sosa is unambiguously saying here is that it’s quite stupid to believe anything we read in the gospels as being the word of God. So how can such a one believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the gospels? How, for instance, do we reconcile his statement above with Augustine’s position that “Every single word in every single sentence (in the Bible) was put there by the Holy Spirit for a reason, to reveal on at least one level—and possibly many others—the Creator’s will for his people”? (See: Francis and his gang of heretics pushing for women ordination).

Some nominal Catholics have expressed surprise at Sosa’s poison. But of course, Sosa is never alone in making this kind of statement. It simply became normal at least since Vatican II. In the prevailing climate of subjectivism and relativism the affirmation of the gospel as public truth is greeted with scepticism: “What do you mean by ‘gospel’? A great variety of religious ideas have been—at sundry times and places—offered under this title. Has not this been so from the beginning? The abstruse metaphysics of the early Church Fathers was something very different from the apocalyptic teaching of the New Testament. All religion, including Christianity, is an ever changing affair, and it is futile to appeal to something which lies behind the Christian religion as we now have it—‘the gospel.’”

What we call “the gospel”, they go on, is simply a confused record of a variety of human religious experiences. What is accessible to us is not what really happened but the faith of the disciples cast into the form of narrative. The inaccessible to us of what really happened is made more certain by two factors: one, the culture of first century Palestine is so remote from ours that we cannot expect to understand what they were trying to say; and two, it was customary in those days to tell stories to authorise or validate current projects or practices, and everyone understood that these stories were not “history” in the sense that we now understand it.

In addressing these “arguments”, where do we just start? The first objection—the “culture objection”—reminds me of an argument with those who see classical studies, my discipline, as outdated and irrelevant (really because they are angry that they can’t understand Greek and Latin languages or the arguments of Greek philosophers!). I wrote in response in an article on the question of Classics relevance: 

“People may question the relevance of Classics to the modern world, after all, everything did happen a very long time ago, and a lot of significant events have happened since, but as Lord Greene so eloquently puts it, ‘the traditions of Greece and Rome have been woven during succeeding ages into the pattern of new and glittering fabrics. It is for us to carry on the pattern that has been handed to us.’ The influence of Greece and Rome stretches far beyond the fall of the Roman Empire; the great artists, architects, authors and philosophers of the ancient world have influenced our ancestors throughout the centuries, and continue to influence us today. In the words of Frank Fletcher, ‘the sound of the living voice is lost for us: but everything else remains: it is no dead language in which these writers speak. The words and thoughts are alive.’ The ability of the ancient writers to speak to us across the ages is part of what makes Classics such a well-loved subject; these authors may have lived in a time very different from our own, but they are not so very different from ourselves.”

The Bible, of course, apart from being the word of God, is also classical. In fact, the argument about cultural remoteness is really a sharp denial of the fundamental unity of the human race. Pre-colonial African village farmers with whom the European missionaries shared the gospel are at least as culturally remote from the Europeans as are New Testament writers. Yet they were—and are still—perfectly able to understand and rejoice in the gospel, although many of them are bastardising it now because of the influence of modernism and Vatican II apostasy.

As for the other allegation—that of ancient historical (or anti-historical) codes of practice—it is, as late Lesslie Newbigin rightly puts it, “surely rather absurd.” “Ancient writers show themselves capable of distinguishing between fact and fiction,” he writes. “In any case, fiction is useful only in a truth-telling society. If it is understood that the alleged facts are normally fictions, fiction loses its usefulness. And finally, the acceptance of this myth would wipe out our claim to know anything reliable about ancient history. Many famous university departments would have to close”. (Truth To Tell, p.8).

The assertion that what is accessible to us is not what really happened but the faith of the disciples cast into the form of narrative is really a serious one. The historian E. H. Carr defined history as a continuous conversation between the present and the past. It is only in this way that history becomes part of an intelligible and purposeful life.  Citing Carr, Newbigin—a Protestant theologian and an opponent of modernism and radical ecumenism—writes:

“This view carries weight because it corresponds to a key element in contemporary western culture, namely a false concept of objectivity—of a kind of knowledge from which the human subject has been removed. When it is proposed that a sharp distinction be made between the faith of the first disciples and “what really happened,” it is implied that E. H. Carr’s continuing conversation should now stop. Of course what we have in the New Testament represents the faith of the disciples, namely their faith about “what really happened.”  It would be a remarkable example of cultural chauvinism if we supposed that our faith about what really happened, shaped as it is by our own cultural perspectives, must necessarily displace that of the immediate witnesses. The conversation between the present and the past must go on, and will go on, until the end of the world, and the perception of the first witnesses must have the premier role in the conversation. ...This line of thinking is obviously applicable to the telling of all history and not only to the telling of the history with which the New Testament deals. Why, then, does it become such a vexing problem when we are dealing with the happenings which form the content of the gospel?”

Of course, the reason is because many contemporary scripture scholars and theologians are—in reality—unbelievers. Unlike the early Christian writers and theologians, they are not Christian converts. Today even a freethinker can “study” Christian theology and become a Christian theologian, teach in a Catholic seminary even while still perfectly remaining a freethinker. I personally know so many of them, and also know many priest-theologians who are even worse than them. Hence as non-converts, as unbelievers, often what these men read in the Bible doesn’t make sense to them so they question it. They are like men who, through dubious means, have forced themselves to occupy positions which they are not qualified to occupy—Sosa is just a typical example.
Sosa & Francis. 

The early Christian scholars and theologians understood perfectly well that to be Jesus’ follower or a Christian theologian just one thing is required: REPENTANCE. Hence St. Augustine was originally a professor of rhetoric in the imperial university but only became a Christian theologian after his radical conversion—after his repentance. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we hear this very word: metanoete (repent). We are warned that to understand what follows will require nothing less than a radical conversion of the mind. Thus the problem of making sense of the gospel is that it calls for a change of mind which is as radical as is the action of God in becoming man and dying on a cross. Of course, it is always possible to take note of this without allowing it to change our minds in any radical way. Our theologians can give lengthy lectures on Jesus’ preaching of metanoia even though the idea of repentance doesn’t really make sense to them, just as Tacitus could record that someone called “Christus” had been crucified but had given rise to a pestilential sect without this information changing his mind. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus knew that Jesus had been crucified but that had not changed their belief that the Messiah, when he came, would be a successful practitioner of liberation theology. The crucifixion was just a disappointment. What changed their minds, what brought metanoia, was the fact that Jesus was alive. And that meant that the crucifixion was a fact of a different kind. As Einstein used to say—quoted by Newbigin in his Truth To Tell—“what you call a fact depends on the theory you bring to it.”   (Ibid. pp 9-10).

Of course, the question, “what really happened?” becomes most pressing at the point of the resurrection. Do the majority of today’s church leaders actually believe that Jesus died on the cross, was buried, but rose from the dead on the third day? Does someone like Sosa really believe that?

I sharply doubt that they do precisely because to believe that the crucified Jesus rose from the dead, left an empty tomb, and regrouped His scattered followers for their world mission can only be the result of a radical change of mind—which of course is lacking in our theologians and church leaders. Without that change of mind, the story is too implausible to be regarded as part of real history. The simple truth is that the resurrection cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world except one of which it is the starting point. I am talking about the resurrection of Jesus and not of fable, and I am contending that if it is true, it has to be the starting point of a wholly new way of understanding the cosmos and the human situation in the cosmos—just as it was the starting point in the time of St. Augustine, in the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, and in the whole of the medieval period when the resurrection was rightly understood as the beginning of a new creation and hence when the Catholic Church of Jesus Christ ruled the world.  

A lot of factors show that most current “Catholic leaders”, particularly those currently in Rome—while hypocritically pretending to be otherwise in order to have the money of the faithful—really don’t believe in Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection, chief among which is their radically different view of Jesus Christ Himself. Hence the reason why they champion radical ecumenism unanimously condemned by pre-Vatican II popes—a radical ecumenism in which Jesus is often being presented as a mere religious leader who, like Mohammed, was just human like us. If Jesus is a religious leader just like other religious leaders then what would be the point of a Christian trying to convert a non-Christian? As late Cardinal Martini once explained, in a homily, the meaning of Jesus’ injunction to His followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matt.28:18-20):

“...We all have a great need to learn how to live together amid our differences, respecting rather than destroying one another, not isolating one another, not despising one another and not simply tolerating each other, because tolerance would be too little. But I would say that this also means not attempting right away to bring about conversions, because this word raises insurmountable barriers in certain situations and among certain people. It means, instead, 'fermenting' each other in such a way that each person is brought to a deeper realization of his own authenticity, his own truth before the mystery of God.”

(The complete text of the "homily" on May 8, 2005, by Carlo Cardinal Maria Martini, on the website of the archdiocese of Milan:  “Desidero esprimere la mia piĆ¹ viva gratitudine...”)

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