27 August 2011


Some criticisms of historical-critical scholarship by Joseph Ratzinger, from his 1988 address on "Foundations and Approaches of Biblical Exegesis."  Quoted from Lienhard, S.J., "Pope Benedict XVI: Theologian of the Bible."
  1. The first problem is the priority of proclamation over event. These critics assume that the events narrated in the gospels (for example) had their origin in preaching, and that the narrative of the event developed later, out of the proclamation. The word creates the scenario, so that the event is secondary, a mythological development.
  2. The second problem is the axiom of discontinuity that these critics invoke. What follows from the axiom of discontinuity is the affirmation of pairs of concepts, one of which names something original and authentic, the other something later and unauthentic. Thus, critics stress the discontinuity between the pre-Resurrection tradition and the post-Resurrection tradition, between the earthly Jesus and the primitive Church, and between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, "word" is original, "cult" is later, then "Jewish" is pitted against "Hellenistic," prophetic versus legal, gospel versus law. Anything apocalyptic, sacramental or mystical had to be excluded from authentic Christianity. What is one left with? As far as Jesus is concerned, "a strictly eschatological prophet, who actually proclaimed nothing of substance at all. In terms of the Church, one is left with radical Protestantism, a human community without cult, without sacraments, without ethics.
  3. The third problem is the axiom that "only simple things are original, and what is complex is necessarily late."  Phrased in another way, historical critics have followed an evolutionary model.  In evolution, life begins with simple forms and gradually evolves into more complex ones; it is never the other way around.  Applied to the New Testament, the evolutionary model must mean, for example, that Jesus was initially perceived as an ordinary, if gifted, human being, and that perception of him as divine, and preexistent, must be a later development.  But history does not operate the way evolution does; one cannot say a priori that the Prologue to the Gospel according to St. John, or the breathtaking hymn in the epistel to the Philippians, must be later because of their so-called high Christology. History often works by the principle of epigones: after the towering genius and the world-changing insight come the second-rate imitators and the pedestrian ideas. The First Epistle of Clement is not more profound than the Epistle to the Romans, and pope Gregory the Great is nor more insightful than St. Augustine of Hippo.