Full Text of Sheehan Response
FIRST COMING: HOW THE KINGDOM OF GOD BECAME CHRISTIANITY
Special Public Colloquium held at 7:30 p.m., January 29, 1987
Auditorium of Crown Center for the Humanities
6525 North Sheridan Road
I wish to thank my colleagues for their generous response to The First Coming. I want to take this occasion as well to thank Professor John Bannan. He did not get a seat, as many of you did not. He is the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy. It is he who thought up the idea of this colloquium and saw it through to its conclusion. I would like to thank as well Professor Jon Nilson, Chairman of the Department of Theology, and Dr. Francis J. Catania, Dean of the Graduate School, for sponsoring this event.
Well, you can see how much work I have to do [Professor Sheehan is speaking in reference to the three scholars who spoke before him]. How shall I start? Let me begin perhaps by telling you why I wrote The First Coming. I will do that by telling you a story.
Last June I was in El Salvador in a small town called Gotera, up by guerilla-contested territory. I was living at the church with the Franciscan pastor. One warm night we decided to show a film in the small public square for the Indian peasants who would come in from the surrounding villages.
The film we showed was called "The Life of Christ," La vida de Jesu Christo. It was a very realistic portrayal of Jesus preaching, of Jesus performing miracles, declaring that "before Abraham came to be, I am," Jesus being transfigured, and eventually crucified. In the last minutes of the film, Jesus was shown physically emerging from the tomb in a blaze of glory, later appearing to the disciples, and finally ascending into the clouds. The cameras were following him on that. "The end."
Afterwards, as I was standing in the square with the Pastor, one of the simple peasants whom we both knew, a catechist from the village of Cacaopera came up to the priest, very moved, and said to him in Spanish, "Hemos visto la pelicula de su resurreccion," [i.e.] "Padrecito, how can anyone have doubts any more? We have seen the film of his Resurrection." [Sustained laughter from audience] He went back to Cacaopera confirmed in the faith.
Most Catholics were taught that the Gospels provided something like that, something like a film, a literal historical record of what Jesus actually said and did from his birth in Bethlehem, to his preaching, crucifixion, Resurrection, and ascension into the clouds.
But not any more. Nowadays in an academic setting like this, no one is scandalized when Roman Catholic biblical scholars tell them that Jesus was probably not born in Bethlehem, was not visited by three wise men, did not get lost in the temple, that he did not say that he was God, that he did not physically come back to life on Easter Sunday morning three days after he died, and that his dramatic ascension into heaven, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, was not an historical event.
None of these assertions should scandalize the Catholic laity any more than it scandalizes the theologians. The laity too, like their exegetes and theologians before them, can learn to distinguish between--on the one hand, the binding content of their faith, and on the other hand--the "non-binding" legends and myths and symbolic ways that the New Testament uses to communicate that subject.
For example, I am quite sure that any student at Loyola, especially after finishing the core curriculum, is able to make the distinction between--on the one hand--the substance of Resurrection-belief (that somehow God rescued Jesus from annihilation) and--on the other hand--the imaginative biblical stories about angels appearing to women at the tomb, or Jesus walking to Emmaus with the disciples, or doubting Thomas touching his body in the Upper Room.
Of course, any Christian who wants to do so, is certainly free, like the peasant in El Salvador, to take the Easter narratives literally as records of supposedly historical events. But that is certainly not binding on Catholics. It is not binding on the Pope. It is not binding on your pastor, or on you in the pews. Of course, we do hope that our students, after a New Testament course or two, will not simply chuck the beautiful and inspiring stories in the New Testament about Christmas or Easter, and hold on merely to the bare substance of the faith. But neither do we expect them to take these stories literally as historical events and think that Jesus was reanimated on Easter Sunday morning and walked out of the tomb. Fr. von Beeck [one of the three other debaters] does not do that. Fr. Tobin [one of the three other debaters] does not do that. I certainly do not do that. We do not expect our students to do that. Rather, we expect them to interpret the Gospel narrative for their possible meaning.
There are many interpretations of the meaning of Jesus. There are official Roman Catholic interpretation, based not simply on historical data in the New Testament, but on two thousand years of official teaching, official statements, and development of doctrine. There are also Protestant and Jewish and Islamic interpretations, and yet even Marxist ones. Jesus is now a public text disseminated into a plurality of interpretations. But here is the point. In all of these cases, one can and must make a distinction, at least at the reflective level, between--on the one hand--the historical data, the information that is available to anyone, believer or nonbeliever, about Jesus, about his tomb, about the development of Christology, and--on the other hand--the possible interpretations of the meaning of that historical data. It is a distinction, if you will, between history and hermeneutics.
Now all of this is common knowledge at a school like Loyola. In this university, we believe that Catholic exegesis cannot destroy Catholic faith, even when it demythologizes it a little bit here or there. Catholics can maintain the substance and meaning of their faith in a non-mythological but no-less-powerful way. So none of this is scandalous.
Nonetheless, there is a scandal about Catholic exegesis, a threefold
scandal, I think. First of all, it is a scandal that so little of this exegetical
information has reached down to the laity in the pews. Just the other day,
believe it or not, one of my colleagues, one of the brightest members of the
faculty, I think, told me and allowed me to tell you that up until very recently,
he actually thought that for Christians the Resurrection of Jesus meant that
he came back to life in the sense of being reanimated and resuscitated on
Easter Sunday morning.
A second and greater scandal is that the news apparently has not reached even some Catholic theologians, so that at some universities--not at Loyola--they still teach pre-Copernican Theology courses that insist on the historicity of the events described in the Easter narratives, or otherwise fudge the matter a bit.
The third and I think greatest scandal is that we sometimes hear it said that, "Yes, the theologians are allowed to know all this information, but Catholic University students are not yet mature enough to handle that." I am not talking about wild theological speculation. I am talking about basic exegetical information and debates.
Personally I believe that any student who can handle the finer points of postmodern literary criticism or molecular biology, or who can talk about the Philosophy of the later Heidegger, is certainly able to handle the current debate about what actually happened on Easter Sunday morning, and whether or not Mary's virginity is an essential affirmation of Catholic faith.
The scandal of this information-gap between what Catholic exegetes teach and what the Catholics in the pew believe is one of the reasons why I wrote The First Coming. I wanted to help close the gap, as it were. Do not get me wrong. The book, as has been pointed out, does not end up supporting the traditional interpretation of the meaning of Jesus or his tomb. In the final analysis, it is a heretical book. If it had been published seventy-five years ago, or perhaps even less, it would have been put on the Index, and its author would have been fired from Loyola.
But even though it is fully a heretical work, most of it--not all of it but most of it, ninety-three percent I have calculated to the page--is simply a popularized report of what mainstream Catholic exegetes are saying about the historical Jesus, about the first Easter Sunday, and about early Christianity. I do not claim--I am sorry to have to contradict The Sun-Times [a Chicago daily newspaper], but I do not claim--that Catholic theologians agree with my heretical conclusions. Of course not. I do not think that they agree with my report of their exsgesis.
Now let me say this. I do not mind taking the heat in controversial matters. But if I am to take the heat for The First Coming, let it be for my own heresies in the book, and not for those parts of The First Coming that report things that Catholic exegetes have been saying for years.
So let us test this out. To begin with, the book is not written for theologians or biblical scholars. They certainly do not need it. It is written for a popular audience, and I will stress that. For those who have not fathomed the revolution in exegesis or even followed it, I think this choice of audience explains two things.
First of all, it explains my use of "imaginative reconstruction" as a rhetorical device only, not as an effort to get at the substance, but as a rhetorical device, in order to expound how Jesus related to John the Baptist, for example, or how Peter arrived at Easter faith. I know that we cannot read the mind of Jesus or Peter. The book says so explicitly many times. No reader is fooled by this. In fact, my rhetorical device of imaginative reconstruction goes back to--This is where I got the idea--Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who suggests in the Spiritual Exercises, second week, fifth contemplation, the applicatio sensuum, the use of the five senses of the imagination, (ver, oir, tocar, and so on (even abrazar and besar) in order to enhance our appropriation of spiritual matters.
This is, I maintain, a legitimate technique, in a work of popularization, so long as one observes two rules. First, and here I cite a noted exegete on Saint Luke: Posit no psychology of Jesus other than what is harmonious with his role as a continuing character in the Gospel narrative, and so long as in and through this rhetorical device, one gets the data right, as in fact I do. (John J. Kilgallen, S.J., Luke 2:41-50: Forshadowing of Jesus, Teacher, Biblica, LXVI, (1985), 553-559, p. 558, n. 15-used in reference to Mary.)
The choice of audience explains my use of footnotes. It is true that I had to read a lot for this book, mostly in Rome at the Biblicum and at the Gregorian University. Yes, as has been suggested, I really do enjoy knowing as much about this as I do, as any of you would, using this material. The footnotes, which are an important part of the book, are simply a record of the relevant material I studied. They are not there to impress you or "snow" you, and they do not contain half-truths. They are there simply to let you check out where I walked. Exegesis is at least for me a rocky road to tread, and I feel that I walked it barefoot. The footnotes, to quote my teacher Fr. Richardson, "are simply a few friendly spots of blood to show how someone else made his way over the rocks."
My goals in the book were three. First, history. I wanted to find out the basic historical data about first, Jesus the man, and second, about Easter Sunday, empirical data available to anyone, believer and nonbeliever alike.
Second, I wanted to understand the basic Christian interpretation of that historical data before theological development had gone about it. The basic Christian interpretation in the double sense of the earliest interpretation and the one that served as a foundation for later thought.
Third, I wanted to propose a different interpretation, an alternative, non-Christian interpretation of that same historical data. In other words, I wanted to deconstruct the orthodox Christian interpretation, in order to retrieve from it something that I at least think it covers over. Here let me say clearly that I do not expect any Catholic theologian or Christian theologian to agree with me, for they would have to cease being Christian or Catholic. Thus, those were the three: historical data; Christian interpretation; and an alternative interpretation.
All of this, I believe, is a very valid, and worthwhile as a philosophical project. The first and second goals are in the tradition of Shillebeck and Rahner. The third goal is in the tradition of Heidegger and Derrida. The project remains professional throughout. It is utterly respectful of Christianity, and yet it is not a Christian project in the usual sense of the term.
First of all, the historical data about Jesus of Nazareth. As you know, even though the Gospels are not written as historical records, they do contain some historical remembrances of what Jesus of Nazareth said and did. New Testament scholars have managed to come to a rough consensus of two things: the how and the what. The how: how to extract some historical information about Jesus from the New Testament--the sources, the methods, the criteria, and son on. Secondly, the what: a rough consensus on what some of that historical information is.
I agree with Tom Tobin, of course, that the writing out of the authentic sayings of Jesus is very complex. Indeed, it may be impossible. Certainly there are still differing opinions on the authentic sayings of Jesus. But since WWII there has emerged a surprising agreement on his life. I am quoting, by the way, fro a Catholic scripture scholar, John P. Meier. In fact, it is the article by Fr. Meier, that many of you saw in The New York Times around Christmas time, that I would like to refer to here, just in order to check out whether at a popular level, the stuff that is in Part I of the book in any way accords with what John Meier calls "the loving consensus on Jesus of Nazareth." We will use that article which appeared on December 26 as a short cut to run through some of the matters my colleagues have discussed with me.
Fr. Meier is, I think it far to say, a moderate--not a radical--Catholic exegete. He is a Professor of New Testament Studies at the Catholic University of America, and he is the General Editor of one of the most prestigious journals of American Catholic Exsgesis, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. It is an exceptional article. It too is a popular presentation, but very well informed, and based on that distinction I mentioned earlier, between historical data and the faith-interpretation of it. Meter refuses to read Catholic Dogma anachronistically back to the life of Jesus. Rather, he lays out clearly and honestly what we can say with fair probability about the historical Jesus.
Let me highlight then the major points of his article. But then we could find it in the others as well. First, all we know for certain about Jesus' youth is that he was born around 5 B.C. His mother was Miriam, or Mary. His putative father was Joseph. Mark's Gospel mentions his four brothers and alludes to his sisters without naming his sisters.
Second, around 28 A.D., Jesus Journeyed south into Jordan "to receive a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4) from John the Baptist." In this way, Jesus indicated that he accepted John's message that final salvation was immanent.
Third, Jesus believed that the end had already begun, and that God was about to work his own kind of revolution. The poor would be exalted, and the powerful would be dispossessed. Jesus taught with parables and also worked healings and exorcisms.
Fourth, Jesus' goal was to gather Jews into a holy community in the last days. In this sense, Jesus could not have intended to found a church, because he found a church already in existence, i.e., the Jewish community that Yahweh was reassembling.
Fifth, who did Jesus claim to be? Negatively, we may say with certainty, that he made no claims to be God's son. Very few Gospel sayings in which Jesus calls himself the Son have much chance of being authentic. The only one which we may be sure of is the one where he says, "I do not know anything about the end of the world."
The same goes for any claims to be God or even Messiah although--as Tom asked me--some people obviously may have perceived him as a political Messiah including Pilate, who then put the titulus over the cross, "King of the Jews."
That is negatively. But positively, it is at least safe to say that Jesus saw himself as the final prophet, i.e., the one sent to Israel in its last days. He acted with extraordinary authority. He believed the kingdom was already present in his mystery, and that on the last day people would be judged by their reaction to his message.
Sixth, Jesus probably did not predict his death and Resurrection. Yet his Last Supper was a pledge that God would vindicate him beyond death, and bring him and his followers into the Kingdom. There is the continuity in part. He died by crucifixion on Passover eve, and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
These according to Fr. Meier, but check me on it in case I have left some important things out--these are the basic historical facts. I have cited Meier's article simply because it represents what he calls "a rough consensus" of Roman Catholic moderate exegetes.
Therefore I am happy to admit that of course like Meier's article my book simplifies a lot of complex material. But I disagree that I have oversimplified what we know about the life of Jesus. The criterion I used basically is to follow what the experts are saying, since I am not a firsthand exegete of this matter, but to report as clearly as possible what they are saying.
Let us move on for a moment beyond Jesus' burial where Fr. Meier ended, and beyond Fr. Meier's article. What historical data, since that is what we are looking for, do we have about Easter Sunday? What about the Resurrection? Negatively, we must say that the Gospel narratives of Easter are not records of historical events. Maybe there is some historical residue, but it is very minimal. It might be simply that Mary Magdalene discovered the tomb empty some days after Jesus died. That is all. That is the historical bottom line.
But notice examples of what did not happen. No angel or two angels showed up in a tomb to announce that Jesus had been raised. Jesus did not walk to Emmaus with two disciples on Easter afternoon and then join them for dinner, as we said before. Jesus did not cook a breakfast of broiled fish and bread for seven of his disciples by the shores of Lake Galilee, and so on.
Now here is the point. If these Gospel stories and others like them do not report historical events, does that mean that the Resurrection is not real, that there is nothing for Christians and Catholics to believe in? I am sure that fundamentalists, whether they are Catholics or not, would answer, "yes." For them, the Resurrection is a physical, spatio-temporal event of Jesus coming back to life. If that did not happen, then they would say with Saint Paul that their faith was in vain.
But no sophisticated Catholic believes that. Instead, the educated believer makes some distinctions. There are six important distinctions.
Distinction #1: The word "resurrection" is metaphoric. The Greek verb to resurrect someone means to wake them up from sleep. Transposed in the New Testament, resurrection means to awaken someone from the sleep of death, the ultimate night, and to bring them into the day of the Lord. Now that is not an event in space and time. It does not mean coming back to life like Lazarus. Rather, it means that who you are is definitely rescued by God and validated in his presence, with no commitment at all to the praeternatural physics of how that happened. Therefore,
Distinction #2: By the nature of the case, resurrection, an eschatological rescue and vindication of Jesus, could not have been physically observed by anyone, believer or not. It could only be believed in. Moreover, resurrection, as eschatological rescue of Jesus, cannot be chronologically and historically dated, for example, to Easter Sunday morning, Presumably, Christians believe that God rescued Jesus "when" Jesus die,d not three days later.
Distinction #3: Resurrection as eschatological does not require empirical historical residue in the here and now, i.e., a tomb does not have to be vacated; a rotting corps does not have to disappear or be praeternaturally transfigured the way, for example, Luke or John described his resurrected presence to the disciples.
Distinction #4: Here we move to the question of the appearances of the risen Jesus. The Bible's kerygmatic formula, "Christ appeared to Peter and the other disciples," which goes back to the beginning of the Christian faith, does not commit us to believe that the risen Jesus showed up physically or praeternaturally, in some kind of spatial body that could have been seen by the eyes of Peter, or touched by the hand of doubting Thomas.
To be sure,k the brief kerygmatic formula, "Christ appeared,..." was eventually complemented in the later Gospels by more and more elaborate stories of appearances, not just a brief sentence but detailed narratives of Jesus speaking to people, walking with them, eating with them, letting them touch him. But again, like the peasant in El Salvador, anyone who wants to is free to think that the resurrected Jesus actually and physically and literally performed such acts after he died. But that is certainly not required. It is in no way normative for Christian and Catholic belief.
Distinction #5: How then did they originate these imaginative stories of Easter Sunday Resurrection, followed by hands-on appearances? For example, how did the story in Mark's Gospel originate, i.e., the one about the angel meeting the women inside the tomb and proclaiming, "He is risen. He is not here."? I go into this question in some detail in The First Coming. Here let me say briefly and negatively, given the kerygmatic and redactional nature of the angel's message, no reputable exegete would insist that the woman who came to the tomb physically experienced the apparition of an angel or heard him proclaim the Resurrection.
If that is negative, what can we say positively about the origin of the Easter narratives? Quite a bit, and I try to say it the book. But let me just put it in three points. Yes, quite possibly the tomb was found empty three days after Jesus died. No, that empty tomb did not convey the Resurrection originally at least. It merely had a negative effect of confusing the women. Third, thus only after the disciples began to believe in Jesus as resurrected did they give the empty tomb an Easter explanation. So the empty tomb is empty indeed when it comes to establishing anything like Resurrection.
Distinction #6: This concerns how it happened then that the disciples came to believe in the eschatological rescue of Jesus. It is the issue for which one of the speakers has said there is no evidence for what I say in the book. If the disciples could not have witnessed that resurrection or rescue, if they probably did not affirm the rescue because of the empty tomb, then how did they come to believe that Jesus had been rescued? How did they put it into the language, ":Jesus was raised?" Notice that we are not asking about how the eschatological rescue itself took place. Believers answer by saying, "God did it by his supernatural power."
No, we are asking, "How did the disciples arrive at their faith in that eschatological rescue?" The question is not about how the battle was won. The question is about how those who did not witness the victory in the battle nonetheless came to believe in it. Where did the belief come from?
Simon Peter, probably in Galilee, had an eschatological experience that God had rescued Jesus from annihilation and had validated him as the coming judge of the world. However he put it, there is no uninterpreted experience. The question is whether resurrection was the first interpretation.
The way the early Church put it was to say that Jesus had eschatological been shown to Peter. It could even be that God showed Jesus, revealed Jesus, to Peter. After this first official "appearance," whether it was physical, whether it was insight, or what all, God made the same revelation to the twelve disciples, and then to those such as Saint Paul.
On the basis of this experience, Peter and the others came to believe in eschatological rescue in the apocalyptic language of "awakening someone from the ultimate night." In terms of that, they then gave meaning to the empty tomb. So began that process that ended up with the appearance narratives.
This hypothesis about the origin of the disciples' Easter faith is a hypothesis, but there is excellent evidence in support of it, based on many New Testament texts. I will not read them all hear. It has been advanced by Catholic and Protestant exegetes, ever since the 1960s, e.g., Raymond Brown, Rudolph Pesch, Edward Schillebeeckx. It was presented in Rome at a Vatican-sponsored colloquium in 1970. It has been presented in popular book like Catholicism by Richard P. O'Brien. I do think that there is some evidence that the hypothesis is true. But as a hypothesis, it has become commonplace, even here at Loyola.
I hope you can see that up to this point, there is a great deal of agreement, first on the minimum historical data about Jesus, and secondly on what Catholic exegetes are saying about Resurrection.
[Pause for difficulties with the sound system in the auditorium]
Here is where I think we left off. I am trying to point out that up to this point, we have not crossed that line into heresy yet. Up to this point, there is a great deal of agreement. There is of course all sorts of disagreement--I maintain on nonessential points, but maybe I am wrong--I maintain that the topics I have discussed up to now should not cause any Catholic theologian to be enraged or furious, for these are the very topics that professional Catholic scholars and students are discussing today.
The disagreements I will skip over, where for example, Tom stresses Mark 13:2, "Not a stone should be left upon a stone." I would agree that of course Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. But he tones down the apocalyptic details. Consider verse thirty-two of the same chapter of Mark where he says that he is cognizant of the day of the judgment to come, and so on.
Even though Tom and I disagree about how to interpret and evaluate the matter, we do agree that indeed there is a continuity between Jesus-before-the-crucifixion and Peter's interpretation-of-him-after-the-crucifixion. Also, Tom and I do agree with most exegetes today that Easter faith is rooted in the experiences of Simon and the disciples.
Finally, Tom and I agree, I think, on the most general lines of the historical development of early christologies, but we would directly disagree--and this is an important point--on the value and validity of that theological development.
But I will not go into those details. I will simply say dogmatically that there is a lot of disagreement, but it is within the area of acceptable debate on something like Catholic exegesis. But up to this point, before crossing that line, there is one thing that I strongly disagree on with, I believe, all of the panelists. I would like to correct what I think--with all due respect--is a misreading of what the book claims about Jesus. Not that we disagree on exegesis, but we disagree on how the book has been read.
If I say Tomb Tobin, it is because, Tom, you made the point, I think, most strongly, but the others have made the point as well. Tom says that I make Jesus out to be a non-theistic preacher. In support of his claim, he adduces my statement that "The Kingdom of God meant two things: first, that God had identified himself without remainder with his people; second, this implied the end of religion."
Such preaching, Tom says, would be non-theistic and therefore could not be attributed to Jesus the Jew who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What I strongly disagree with is that I make Jesus out to be a non-theistic, sort of first-century death-of-God theologian. This I believe is simply wrong.
Let me begin to make the case why I think I do not say that in the book. I will begin with systematic theology, since that was the order of our speaking this evening. Even apart from what I constantly reiterate in the book, no theologian, I think, who had read Karl Rahner could take me to be saying that God in communicating himself without remainder to his people ceases to be God.
In citing my text, Tom left out the most important phrase of all. On page sixty, it says that "God as God had identified himself without remainder to his people." As God, without losing himself or his transcendence, without ceasing to be incomprehensible mystery, God inscribes himself in history. He makes all of himself, all of his mystery, without remainder open and accessible to human beings as the open-ended questioners. That, I take it, is what Karl Rahner means in The Foundations of Christian Faith, (pp. 54-55), when he says over and over again that the radical distinction between a statement about God in himself and God for us is not even legitimate, "gar nicht zu Recht besteht." This is grounded in the best tradition of systematic theology, and the best of Thomistic philosophy. I think that even a cursory reading of Rahner on the relation of supernatural existential, and divine self-communication would show that.
But leaving systematic theology aside, and turning now to the Scriptures, it is quite clear, and I make this point time and time again in The First Coming, Jesus proclaimed at least two things. First of all, ontologically as it were, he proclaimed a new mode of God's presence to human beings. The newness of this offer consisted in the fact that it recapitulated and realized God's will from the beginning of creation. I stress in the book that Jesus taught that God was manifesting himself anew in human history, this time as the loving Father intimately present to his people. The definiteness of this offer of salvation consisted in the fact, as the Book of Revelation later on put it, that "God will dwell among human beings"--"pitch his tent" is actually the word in Greek, "skenosei meta ton anthropon,"--"and God will be with them as their God," i.e., God as God, "kai autos ho theos met auton estai." I cite this clearly on page sixty-two. Parenthetically I would say that these are the themes that Rahner exploits in his Grundkurs for his majestic treatment of the self-communication of God.
In any case, the parousia or definitive coming of God among humankind, which Jesus proclaimed, had already begun, according to him. Now this does in fact mean the end of religious mediation, because it means the fulfillment and therefore surpassing of religion with the presence of God. "The bridegroom is with them," we read in Mark. The phrase, "the end of religion," affirms the perfecting of the human relation to God in an intimacy and an immediacy that always remains mystery. That is why Saint John can say, again in the Book of Revelation, "I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God and the Lamb are its temple." That I maintain was the passionate excitement of Jesus' message--not more religion, or a different religion, or a better religion, or the true and perfect religion, but NO religion. In the Kingdom of heaven, there are no sacraments, no priests, no Scriptures, no rituals, no hierarchy, no Codes of Canon Law.
In their place, there is the fulfillment of religion, the presence of the Father, so that we then will have to say, "Whatever we did to these, the least of his brethren, we did to him." Or again with Saint John, "No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God abides in us."
Let me pause at this point and respond if I may to the criticism of Ken Thompson. He provided four very telling criticisms against the book. If I compress them, it is only because of time. Four charges: The first charge is ignorance. He said that I should have realized that Amos had already called the end of religion, and Jesus followed in that tradition. The second charges is atheism, that I destroy God's transcendence and demolish eschatology. The third charge is despair, or worse, leading others to despair. Here is how Ken's despair argument goes.
Major premise: Jesus preached a perfectionism that no one can live up to. So without God or Jesus, we would all be led to despair. He proves his major premise with a quote from Freud, but he also could have picked Luther in one of his darker moments.
Minor premise: However, Sheehan has destroyed transcendence, demolished eschatology, and advised us to forget Jesus.
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus leaves us in despair, and in effect abandons us to going back to being fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes, or to merely living lives of justice and mercy, or worst of all, listening to somebody like Karl Marx.
Ken's fourth point is the solution to the problem I have created. It is the traditional one. Simon Peter was right in proclaiming the Resurrection. By the Resurrection, Ken seems to think we: a). preserve eschatological theism; and b). get some help with the demands for moral perfections. That is very brief words in his case.
My responses will be equally brief. But the brevity is no act of disrespect. First, did I miss the prophetic tradition of Amos? I thought I did have it in the book in the first chapter, on page thirty-eight, fifty-three, and sixty-five, although I agree, Ken, one can never stress enough the end of religion. But in any case, the end of religion in Jesus is much more than Amos' end of ritualism. It is about the mystical and eschatological fulfillment of religion in God. But, Ken, I think Jesus goes beyond Amos.
The second charge of atheism for no transcendence, Ken, what can I say? It is common for people to call someone an atheist, or to say that he destroys transcendence, when they do not recognize their own cherished ideas of God in what that person is saying.
Dio Cassius, the Roman historian, reports that the Romans called Jews and Christians "atheists." Was Socrates an atheist? Do we say that Whitehead is, or Heidegfer? Does Karl Rahner destroy God's transcendence? I believe that you read my manuscript on Rahner about the relation of the active and passive intellect to the questions of immanence and transcendence. Having read that monograph, and having read this book, do you think that what I say about the Kingdom of God could possibly deny divine transcendence? I think we have a lot to talk about.
Then the third charge about despair. Again, I am not sure what your point is. Are you proposing perhaps--and this would be interesting for philosophers--an axiological version of the ontological argument, i.e., ethical despair might be one good reason for holding to divine transcendence? That might have some subjective validity, a la Kierkegaard, even a la Husserl. It might even help, e.g., a preparatio evangelica, or it even might help us to understand Saint Paul's conversion. But when you insist, as you do so strongly, on good historical scholarship, on not just making up anything we went out of the New Testament for today, do you really think you can foist off on Jesus or the Gospels this very modern version of your teacher Reinhold Niebuhr?
Lastly, resurrection. Here I will be very brief. Yes, of course, Ken and I agree that there is continuity between Jesus and Peter. We disagree on what resurrection means. Ken sees the Resurrection as an historical event or quasi-historical event. "Between the preaching of the earliest Christians, fall the events of Jesus' crucifixion and Resurrection." In the full text which he did not read, he says, "This event--Resurrection--has a temporal and spatial connectedness."
In what sense an event? Ken says Resurrection means, "God had not abandoned his promise of the Kingdom or the prophet." I believe that Ken doe snot see that as a philosopher you have to perform an apophantic reduction on that sentence, i.e., you have to reduce it to its status as a claim made in history by certain people, a reasonable claim perhaps.
But then one could begin to ask the serious question: What would be the criteria and warrants for knowing whether that claim was fulfilled? What model of truth are you working with, when you move so easily from a religious claim to the affirmation of a supernatural event? So I think we disagree strongly even on how to approach the question of the Resurrection, apart from what it means.
One last and definitive point. I think that Ken Thompson's paper is one of the most intelligent and serious engagements with the book that I have yet seen. If I treat your remarks briefly and somewhat summarily, I hope that you realize it is just because I received the paper this afternoon and have not had the time I would like to work on it. I am very grateful to you for the fine job you have done.
So to draw mattes to a close, let us cross the line. What is the so-called heresy? If it is not in the material discussed up to this point, if it is not in the some kind of death-of-God, then where is the heresy? Of course, that is hard to answer, because for an interpretation to be formally heretical, it must be declared so by those who claim that their interpretation is not heretical. You will find that in John Chrysostom, Baptismal Catechesis #1, (section 24). I have calculated seriously that seven percent of the book, nineteen pages in all, is in fact heretical from a strict Roman Catholic point-of-view.
But I do not want to play this matter up, because I do not think that anyone will be scandalized by my little pecadillos. Nor do I want to play the heresy down by saying that there are so few pages of it. On the contrary, those pages really are the point of the book. The constitute the parting of the ways. They are the reason I wrote it. I will put the heretical points in the form of questions that anyone can answer, and I will answer briefly myself.
Question #1: Is Christianity what Jesus had in mind? By Christianity I do not mean the visible institution, but rather the messianic and divine affirmations made about Jesus after he died. When I say "have in mind," I do not mean any psychologizing. I mean to judge by his public words and deeds. If he were to return today, as he was alive once, would he recognize in Christianity the fulfillment of his message? I think the answer is, "No." Not as an institution--who wants to do away with the institution? Not I. But I am talking about the christological affirmations.
Question #2: Forgetting about the past, what about today? If one wants to appropriate the message of Jesus of Nazareth, is the exclusively best road to follow that of the cristological affirmations about Jesus, specifically in the form of christological predicates--Christ, Lord, God--as well as the theological doctrines that those lead to in valid theological development? In asking this question, I leave open the way in which you take those predicates. You can take them either as informative proposition, information about supernatural reality. You can take them perhaps as non-discursive symbols of your inner feelings or attitudes or existential orientation. Third, you can take them perhaps as regulative terms, communally authoritative rules that govern ecclesiastical discourse .
I think that the answer to all of these is, "No." but so what? What matters is not what I think of Jesus of Nazareth, but what you think of him. You have to answer the question put to you by the Gospel: Where does he dwell? You have to answer the question put to you by your own social existence: Where do you dwell?
But if we do listen to the parables of Jesus the way he taught and lived, perhaps one thing is sure. On the last day, at the final judgment, we will be judged--not by whether we got the allegedly correct predicates after the names "Jesus"--Jesus ad Lord and Christ, Jesus as the second person of the Blessed Trinity--but by something quite different. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God will not save you any more than believing that Jesus was only a man will condemn you.
No one will be let into the Kingdom because of good Theology, or for having said, "Lord, Lord," after the name "Jesus." No one will be kept out because of bad theology, or like the Salvadoran peasant, because of inadequate theology. The norm rather will be feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, i.e., by doing simply justice and even more charity to the least of the brethren. When it comes down to who enters the Kingdom, I for one will bet on the Salvadoran peasant.