Context: although it is not the topic of this particular page, these remarks are all mindful of the logic of language, for if no objective distinction is made between language-with-meaning (sense) and language-without-meaning (nonsense) in our discussions, then our discussions are "mere sound without sense".
Albert Schweitzer and the offense of the historical Jesus to religion and man's moral sense. The social class distinction between artisans and peasants, between art in and muck on the hands.
Outline of this page ...
(The historical Jesus)
- Did the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels exist?
- Historical Precedent - William Wrede
- "Scientific theology" (Hypothesis-formation in historiography)
- Is there a part of speech 'religious proposition'?
- Did Jesus believe himself to be the Messiah?
- Schweitzer's view of Historiography: Jesus, historicity and religion
"Those we learn from"
A good teacher is not someone with whom you agree -- I never agreed with mine -- but someone who teaches you a few distinctions you might find useful for your own philosophical thinking, and who is able to share with you by his own example his humanity and love of learning.
Peasants and Artisans (The historical Jesus)
In my old teacher's book A Good Word for Jesus (2007), although after the first page it does not seem like a good word, with which I wholly disagree -- but then I never did agree with him about too much even when I knew him (circa 1976), but that was not important either then or now (What is a good teacher) -- my teacher (the first and last living one), calls Jesus a peasant. But according to the Synoptic Gospels -- and we have no other source for his life -- that is not correct, for Jesus, like Joseph, was a tekton (Matthew 13.55, and Mark 6:3). That Greek word is by the Christian tradition rendered "carpenter".
But whichever trade tekton refers to, according to the Gospels, that is what Jesus was, but a tekton is an artisan (craftsman), not a peasant. The difference is that an artisan is "someone with art in his hands" (as my grandmother from Italy used to say), whereas a peasant has only manure on his. I know this from the study of my family's history; my mother's parents were Italian peasants, and the distance between an artisan (and the children of an artisan) and a peasant is as great as the distance between an aristocrat and an artisan. The author of the parables, of the Beatitudes, of Jesus' picture of the ethical kingdom of God for which he was willing to die crucified, was not a peasant, nor could he have been: no one would address a "cafone" as rabbi ("teacher").
... a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth. (Theogony, c. lines 713-735, tr. Evelyn-White)
That is the same distance from aristocrat to artisan to peasant: the heavens, earth, and hell.
My old teacher does not say whom he holds responsible for the ideas of the Synoptic Gospels. He says that he is not saying that it was the tent-maker Paul (another artisan, not a peasant) who "invented Christianity", although he also does not deny that it was. But Jesus is in effect written out of history; even the date-markers 'A.D.' and 'B.C.' are to be used no more. Jesus was a common rabbi whose own gospel (also a "good word") was the same as any other rabbi's; he certainly did not believe himself to be the Messiah who would usher in the supernatural kingdom of God the Synoptic Gospels speak of with such longing. As the author, despite calling himself a "heretic" rather than an "apostate", titles Chapter 2, "Who needs Jesus?" If that is "a good word for Jesus", what is a bad. I have written often enough before that I am not a disciple of Jesus but of Socrates; nonetheless, given what Jesus was to such men as Wittgenstein and Schweitzer -- I would never talk about him the way that book does. But enough of this.
Did the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels exist?
The following are the questions that Schweitzer says must be confronted by "the philosophy of religion", "for the point and purpose of the whole debate depends on its solution, and it reveals the partiality or impartiality of those who are participating."
What position, seen purely theoretically, does the personality of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels hold in the Christian religion, or in a religion which is to a greater or lesser extent Christian? To what degree is it the foundation of this religion, or an element in it? What consequence would the loss of this historical figure involve, should modern religious thought feel him to be unsatisfactory or alien, or if his existence should generally be doubted? ("The Debate about the Historicity of Jesus" in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (English language edition of 2001), tr. Montgomery, Coates, Cupitt, Bowden, p. 396; but, Schweitzer writes, the converse must also be confronted: the philosophy of religion "must reckon just as much with the existence as with the non-existence of Jesus" (ibid. p. 398): what consequences would it have if the historical figure of Jesus did exist?)
In the discussion Schweitzer uses the expression "the interrelation between immediate religious awareness and historical religions" (ibid. p. 397). I am not aware of any "immediate religious awareness", only of reflective religious awareness: the "eternal questions" are for me philosophical questions (And how am I distinguishing philosophical from religious questions? Philosophical questions demand philosophical answers -- i.e. answers that can stand up to dialectic's test of thoroughgoing reason -- whereas religious questions demand religious answers; if we wanted to contrast "reason" with "faith" in a thoughtful way, here we really might do that). And were it not for the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels as I read those (and take from them what is serviceable and, as I see it, consistent with what I take to be the deepest spirit of Jesus), I would have no use for religion or for the concept 'God'. Without Jesus the concept 'God' floats into nebulosity and looks like rather silly metaphysics. 'God' has to be a concept of faith, not a concept of a dubious philosophy, if it is to be useful to me. (What you could say is that Jesus gives orientation, that for me Jesus gives orientation to religion.)
When I wrote before that my faith in God is this, that existence has a sense, and its sense is good. (Although I myself have no idea what that sense is, or in what way it is good.) You could say that Jesus states that idea when he calls God the father. (The waxing and wanning of the importance of particular pictures in one's life.)
Of course, I would not say that about Socrates, that if he if he had not existed as an historical personality, then I would have no interest or I would have no use for philosophy. But, I think, religion is of a very different kind from philosophy, a very different kind of thing, because there we are not talking about thoroughgoing reason alone but about faith.
Although the ideas of Socrates, or, if he did not exist, the ideas attributed to Socrates, the ethical personality, are the foundation of philosophy, Socrates himself is not the foundation of philosophy. The philosophy of Socrates would still exist even if Socrates had never existed (e.g. were a legend or literary character). Is the same the case with Jesus, however? It's true that the kingdom of God as a kingdom ruled by love rather than by force, that this picture could exist without Jesus having actually existed -- but I think it would lose its forcefulness without him. (A colorless philosophy -- i.e. one without Socrates ... But a colorless religion? In Goats, Man, and God I contrasted two propositions of Augustine's, one philosophical, one religious. Well, but why shouldn't religion be austere? But can love be cold (Yes, that is a grammatical question; what is our concept 'love')?) But without Jesus, what life would the picture of God as the father have? Without the force of Jesus' personality, it would be dismissed as a falsehood, for our life very often does hand man a stone when he asks for bread (which is why I said above that "the God of the philosophers" looks like "rather silly metaphysics").
If God is a loving father and if a loving father does not give his child a stone when the child asks for bread, then the evil that comes to man does not come to him from God -- but instead from the devil. That is Jesus' world-picture, and that picture must be taken as a whole; to take only part of it (God the father minus the devil) is, in the context of Christianity, to set up a straw-man, and that is what Graham Greene's character does when he characterizes God the father as "a bit of a swine" because in Greene's picture all things come from God, both good and evil things (although Greene's thinking is focused on the evil things, good things in his view being an accident rather than the rule).
[The (picture of the) devil does not belong Jesus' theodicy but merely to reality (world-picture).]
And Schweitzer -- does he also do what Greene does? You might say that he does, because his theology has no place for the devil (For a medical doctor, demons are treated by psychiatry). But while Greene draws the obvious conclusion about his straw-man, Schweitzer instead says that the ways of God are incomprehensible to man: Christianity does not try to explain them. But is that the religion of Jesus? Does Jesus even think of God as allowing the devil to do evil (and therefore being complicit)? Is that question even asked in his world-picture?
Offensive to the moral and religious sense
... in the philosophy of religion the possibility of a too historical Jesus must always in any case be borne in mind. (p. 408) [By the expression "too historical" Schweitzer means that] In fact, everyone who is not prejudiced in his favor is bound to detect certain strange characteristics in Jesus, the effect of which could well be disturbing and even offensive in the moral and religious sense. (p. 404)
Offense given by the "too historical Jesus" (p. 404): the notion that good is done for the sake of reward, the notion of the elect or predestination, Jewish exclusivity, and as well "the difficulty that to Jesus God is not the Father of all men but only of the predestined" (p. 407). If all that be true, then there is profound moral offense given to our Stoic inheritance, which is of "common humanity" (i.e. the brotherhood of all mankind) and of the universal fatherhood of God (rather than of exclusivity, or, "particularism"), and freedom of choice (not only with respect to one's own attitude toward the facts, which is Stoic, but also with respect to how one lives one's life, which is Socratic). (Moral offense may also be given by Socrates' willing participation in Athens' imperial wars (spoken of in Plato's Apology 28e) and by his apparent tolerance of slavery in Attica, although there is no record that he himself owned slaves (According to Diog. L. ii, 31, Socrates refused a gift of slaves offered to him). Socratic definition, likewise, is limited in its application -- and certainly is an "offense" to logic of language if its application is treated as if it were universal.)
But then is the Jesus I believe in no more than a picture (myth) of my own creation, a selection among the ideas and stories I find serviceable to what is good in the Gospels, as I likewise make a picture (or, image) of Socrates? No, because it is not as if I imagined that my picture of Jesus were anything more than just such a selection. What I do maybe believe, however, is that there are facts to select from -- i.e. that Jesus, as likewise Socrates, was an historical figure, to some extent maybe knowable "as he actually was" (Thucydides). Do some of what may be the historical facts diminish him in my eyes? Why? for no human being is without limits both as man per se and as an individual man -- as is clearly shown to us by the two parts of the precept "Know thyself". And, further, every man is limited by his thought-world or world-picture (which seems largely -- although not in what is most important to us about the individual man -- that of the age he lives in), elements of which may well give moral offense to us. Thus unless we can sometimes set those limitations aside (and there may always be a hard-hearted part of man which does not want to do that, a part which prefers spite, judgment and condemnation of others) to grasp instead what is good about that man, then we will deprecate not only Jesus, and Socrates as well, but every member of humanity (including Ludwig Wittgenstein and Albert Schweitzer). Man is what he is: man, not God.
Offense given by "a too historical Jesus" with respect to ethics (Jesus' apocalyptic-messianic eschatology, if it be an offense, is not a moral offense). As to the specific examples named above, I have doubts. (1) Does Jesus say that God is the father of only the elect, for does he not say of God that "He sends his rain to the just and the unjust alike" -- i.e. that God is the father to all men, for he treats all men as his sons? (2) As to "the elect" -- does it make sense to tell man to amend his life, to ask forgiveness for his wrong-doing and to forgive those who have wronged him, if his doing this does not allow him to belong to the kingdom of God, as if to say: Amend your life! although it will be to no avail if you are predestined to be among the damned? (It is a tautology and not a proposition about the facts to say that amending your life shows that you are among the elect, and vice versa.) Jesus quite openly teaches the Lord's Prayer to all who hear him; it is not an obscuring parable. (3) As to Jewish exclusivity: although "salvation comes through the Jews" to the Gentiles, does it not in any case come to them (cf. Matthew 8.11-12)? And note that all that is found in Matthew, the Jewish-Christian Gospel, rather than only in Luke, the Hellenistic-Christian ("in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek") one. As to whatever moral offense remains, as Schweitzer has said: the too historical Jesus' world-picture is not our world-picture and we cannot make it ours; only some elements of Jesus' ethical world-picture can be absorbed into ours. But it does not follow from this that therefore nothing of the historical Jesus can be of use to our religious thinking. Schweitzer himself called Jesus "the supreme spiritual and religious authority". That was the way Schweitzer himself saw him.
The self-contradictions in the Gospels are an offense (or perhaps puzzle) to reason, unless reason is allowed to make sense of them (and not be silenced). For example, the notion of "the elect" (or, "predestined") makes no sense beyond this: that not only Jews but also some non-Jews will enter the kingdom of God -- and that not all Jews will be admitted. That last is the point of the preaching in parables to obscure -- namely, that not all Jews will enter the kingdom. Beyond that, I can make no sense of these "doctrines". Why do the Jewish but not the non-Jewish elect need the gospel to be preached to them? And why preach to the Jewish elect in parables, which those among the elect do not need, and if they are not among the elect they will not benefit from? It can only be because who is to be among "the elect" is fluid: some who would be eligible ("invited to the messianic feast") will decline (will refuse the invitation), but others who are not may, if they have ears to hear, be acceptable to the kingdom (if they repent of their sins, amend their lives). This special invitation to the kingdom is specifically for the Jews, as a gift because they are God's chosen people, and this is why the gospel is not preached to non-Jews (the elect of whom, then, require no special invitation: God has already found them acceptable to his kingdom ... but then is the trial (the tribulations of the last days) for Jews only?)
It seems simply that, given the Jesus called God "the Father", then he would have accepted John's "... for God is love". Now, is love consistent with predestination, with the whole business of preaching in parables, not in order to provoke thought, but in order to hide thought -- in order to deny salvation, that is, entrance to the kingdom of God, to the non-elect. None of that "makes sense"; it is illogical: inconsistent with itself. Very, very strange.
An answer to a community's question
[I may have made this note before, maybe elsewhere. I don't remember.] The Gospels were written in communities, and they were written to serve the community and answer its questions. And a question that naturally would be asked is how it could have been that people saw the wonders (Jesus making the blind see, the lame walk, casting our demons), the miracles that the Lord worked and yet they did not believe in Him.
And to answer that question the doctrine or notion of predestination was invented, even though it makes nonsense of the Lord's words; it makes no sense for Jesus to say, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you" -- why do you not obey the one you call your master? Why shouldn't people answer, "Because God hasn't elected us to salvation, and that is why we don't amend our lives to do the will of your father in heaven; that is why we have not eyes to see nor ears to hear."
How can it be that the light shone in the darkness and the darkness knew it not? And the answer is: because God blinded those who were not elected to salvation. This does not answer why God would blind people -- and a monstrous God like that belongs more to the Old Testament than to the New: that is not the act of the loving father Jesus speaks of. So by introducing the notion of predestination to answer one question, the authors of the Gospels created other and deeper questions. It would have been far better to say, "Because some men love this world more than Jesus' kingdom of God (although why that should be, why men should be more attached to their vices than to the desire for moral virtue, more wanting to exalt themselves above their neighbor rather than love their neighbor as brother and sister, wanting power (the temptations in the desert) more than love, we don't know).
That would have been the better answer than that God stopped men from hearing the gospel. Some love this world and therefore refuse to do the will of the father of the kingdom of God. And further, as in Bruce Marshall's Father Malachy's Miracle (1931), it is not miracles that convert the hearts of men.
The end of nationalism
The Jewish-Christian community that produced The Gospel according to Matthew may have been older than the Hellenistic-Christian community that produced The Gospel according to Luke, but at the same time the deprecation of Gentiles and Samaritans found in Matthew may be accountable for by Jewish chauvinism (exclusivity) of the kind that predates Jesus but is retained in the Jewish-Christian community that produced Matthew, the same long-standing chauvinism that made the gods of other peoples into demons. The deprecation of non-Jews and Samaritans is found e.g. in Matthew 10.5-6 ("Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans"; cf. 15.24) as well as in the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.21-26 (cf. Mark 7.27). In both Matthew and Mark non-Jews are referred to as "dogs" (which is reminiscent of the Jewish man in Voltaire who calls Candide a "dog of a Galilean"); where Matthew has Jesus say, "Do not give to dogs what is holy" (7.6), it means: don't give what is holy to non-Jews (and Samaritans), and the gospel of the Lord is of course holy. Contrast Matthew 5.47 ("Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" as if Gentiles were the lowest of human exemplars) with Luke 6.33 ("For even sinners do the same." which deprecates no one) with regard to loving one's enemies.
In my view, any deprecation of human beings is contrary to the spirit of Jesus' preaching, although Schweitzer attributes Matthew's words to the historical Jesus, which raises for me the question: why is Matthew authoritative whereas Luke is not? I would not accept the answer to the question of which Gospel is older as a sufficient criterion of authority. Is The Gospel according to Luke's account, then, a dishonest account? And if its content is attributable to the community that produced it, then why is that not sauce for Matthew as well. (A bigoted Jesus -- a world-picture limited in that particular way -- would indeed give offense ... but only if it was real.)
For me the wonder of Jesus as a religious thinker lies in his overcoming the limitations of Jewish tribalism, as for example when he quotes Isaiah (Luke 4.18-19) he takes only what is serviceable to the ethics of love of those who belong to the kingdom of God (and "smiting the enemies of Israel" is not; for that idea belongs to the Messiah who is to exalt the Jewish nation above all other nations, to a kingdom of God ruled by power -- not to Jesus' kingdom of God that is ruled by love). As to good being done only for the sake of reward, is it not the case that a life that shows itself to belong to the kingdom of God is like Epictetus' reply to the question "Is there no reward, then?" -- "Seems it to you so small a thing, and worthless, to be a good human being"? Reward and punishment is spoken of in quite a different context in the Gospels, for the good that God commands in the Gospels is very different from the "good" that God commanded earlier which was, for example, the commandment to "ethnic cleansing" and tribe-based genocide of e.g. Deuteronomy 7.1-6. No, instead in the Gospels the good is to love all human beings, even or especially one's enemies.
Of course even in Luke there is much to give offense, e.g. when Jesus explains to his disciples why he teaches in parables (Luke 8.9-10); the notion of an elect or of predestination is of course an offense, one in which it is hard to find Jesus' "gospel of love" (rather like Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel). And it must be said of the notion that God would create creatures simply in order to condemn them -- If that's what God does, then what does the devil do! (So we have Plato's tautological method (or, "method of tautologies": Plato's method of using tautologies in argument, or as arguments) e.g. of contrasting 'the good' with 'the evil (or, bad)'. That is thoroughly Greek and, as I judge, thoroughly wise.) -- The "all too-historical" Jesus is not serviceable to religion. A monstrous concept 'God' is of no use to a rational human being, and it is also of no use to Christian faith, for how can God be both the father and a monster, unless He is unworthy of the title 'father'.
"Do you truly believe that God has a spirit as wicked as yours, that God wants men to kill and to do evil, that God wants war, that God wants the weak to be mistreated by those who are strong and rich?"
This is what the Jewish prophets who came before the Baptist and Jesus were asking the people. (Schweitzer, African Sermons, tr. Melamed, Sunday, 5 November 1933, on the topic of "The Message of the Prophets" (p. 168))
"And if anyone takes your coat, let him have your cloak as well"
"And if anyone takes your coat ..." (cf. Matthew 5.40). What will the good man do? And what will the bad man do? "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise" (John the Baptizer, Luke 3.11). But if a man has only one coat? And what if the thief has no coat of his own and that is why he has stolen? (Martin of Tours cut his cloak in half to share it with a man who had none. But we no longer wear cloaks, and half an overcoat cannot take one's place.) Is there a contrast of opposites in this case where you can say: "If the good man does this, then what does the evil man do!"? It is a cold winter and a man must have a coat, or perish. (It happens that Epictetus can replace his stolen lamp, or even to do without one, for a man may survive despite not being able to read in the evenings ... But a coat, and yet Jesus' tells us that the worldly man ("the one who would save his life in this world" (Mark 8.35-36), the one who loves the pleasanter more than the good (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 8, 11)) does not belong to the kingdom of God. But on the other hand, the commandment is to love thy neighbor as thyself, not more than thyself ... But is it clear what 'as thyself' is to mean in this case?) Now will both the good man and the bad man try to get their coats back from the thief, but if so, then where is the difference between what they will do? Will one, but not the other, demand revenge, "justice" -- i.e. be unforgiving of the thief? And will the good man possibly decide that the thief has more need of the coat than he and not demand it back, although it cost him his life in this world? (As I read this verse, its meaning is this: that man cannot enter (or, belong to) the kingdom of God by halves, just as man cannot serve two masters, both God and this world (Matthew 6.24). For both Jesus and Socrates this stands: a man must follow without first setting conditions.)
"... and if any man offends you, pardon him as God has bidden us do." (Tolstoy, Quench the Spark ("Neglect the fire and you cannot put it out"), tr. unnamed)
Which could be taken to be the point of "and if someone takes your coat", to be reconciled rather than take your neighbor to court, for the severity of your judgment of your neighbor will be God's severity in judging you.
But that seems to concern only fear of God's punishment, something which has nothing to do with ethics (which has to do with right/good and wrong/bad/evil, not reward or fear), whereas "if someone takes your coat" as the lesson that you cannot keep a foot in both worlds, one in this world and one in the kingdom of God, that the good man must choose wholly for one rather than the other, does have to do with ethics. It belongs to the lesson that, in order to belong to the kingdom of God, as in the Lord's Prayer, demands that you forgive others their wrong-doing against you -- how many times? "Seven times seven" times.
On one reading, then: the good man is merciful (It is the bad man who is not), and that reading is useful to ethics (i.e. for the question of how to be/become a good human being). (Note that any philosophical method may be universally applied, but may not in all cases be helpful to the understanding (e.g. comparing religious language to game-playing maybe is not). The method of tautologies in ethics serves to make disguised folly obvious (evident, patent) folly by asking: "If the good man does that, then what does the bad man do?!", but it may not be so helpful in subtle cases, if 'subtle' is the word for the example above of the man whose only winter coat is stolen.)
Question: why did Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the merciful one in the story, the one who knew who his neighbor is? Was it to show that all mankind is the neighbor? But the Samaritans were Jews, even if they were despised by other Jews. Well, but being despised made the Samaritans outsiders, and if an outsider could know better than a member of the community who his neighbor is, then might not a non-Jew know as well. (This sort of thing is the trouble you get into if you want to base your religion on historical texts. Read one way, the text points to what is good, for the good is undivided: there is not one good by Socratic ethics (thoroughgoing reason) and another good by Christian faith -- no, it is the same good; but read another way, the texts are offensive. Jewish "particularism" (i.e. exclusivity) is why I am conflicted with respect to many texts of the Gospels, and if I cannot set that aside then I have no use for them. What you can say is that I have to make the best, not the worst of the texts. And as I wrote,
I would not want to defend dogmatic Christianity (nor any other life-view founded on dogma), that is, the story of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the profession of faith of Catholic Christianity (-- although I understand and can respect my heritage, and solemnly observe Good Friday, and at Christmas set up a presepio to commemorate the birth of "the king of hearts"; here again Matthew's stories about Jesus' birth little interest me (The story about the wise men seems to me simply another instance of Jewish chauvinism), but Luke's stories about Jesus' birth do interest me, not because either account is more likely to be historical than the other, for both accounts are myths intended to teach lessons, but because Luke's account shows Jesus' spirit of love as I have always understood that spirit to be --). But it does not follow that simply because Jesus has been wrapped in the cloak of dogmatic Christianity that Jesus is not uniquely important to religious thinking. I don't understand why my old teacher would say that Jesus was no more than a simple Jewish rabbi; for me he seems the culmination of Judaism, for that is how I see the answer he gives to the question "Who is my neighbor?" (In Schweitzer's view the texts of Luke, which would include 10.25-37 and 4.16-30, are not to be given the same weight of those as Matthew and Mark, "the two earliest Gospels". Although it now seems that Luke was composed a few years earlier than the other two I don't think that would be justification for giving more weight to Luke in our portrait of the Synoptic Jesus than to the others.)
It may make sense (meaning of 'it makes sense' here?) that Luke, or one of the Gospels written by the "many [who] have undertaken to compile a narrative" (Luke 1.1) for the Hellenistic-Christian community outside Jerusalem, should be the earliest Gospel written, because the Apostles and many who had seen and heard Jesus were in Jerusalem -- and so there was no need for there to be an early "narrative" for the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem.
(Forms of expression: 'it makes sense' = 'it stands to reason'? 'From these propositions can be concluded the following proposition.' "Yes, that stands to reason" -- i.e. it stands up against refutation in Socratic dialectic, and so is agreed -- or "No, that doesn't make sense" -- i.e. it is refuted by dialectic.)
"The Uniqueness of Jesus"
With respect to the originality of Jesus, Schweitzer quotes the "French history-of-religions scholar Salomon Reinach".
"I do not see," [Reinach] explains, "why we should give up our belief in the existence of a rabbi Jesus as the founder, not of dogma, but of the main ethical doctrines. Radicalism of this sort only raises the question which other wise man whose name we do not know, is the creator of this wisdom; that a "spirit of the people" [I think, but I don't know, this means: legends and myths as the "voice of the people" (or maybe the spirit of the age)] could have created the distinctive ethical core of Christian doctrine as well must be ruled out, for the level of individuation in the Judaism of that time and the importance of doctrine in the development of Judaism ruled it out." (Quest, p. 543n61)
That was what I would have wanted to ask my old teacher about his book: -- Which "wise man" was the creator of the ethics, the parables, the pictures of the ethical kingdom of God and of God as the father that the Synoptic Gospels' writers say were preached by Jesus? Because for me those, and not e.g. the theologies of Paul or of the Fourth Gospel, are the heart's core of Christianity. (Note that from the historian's point of view, Schweitzer writes: "the ethical passages are indissolubly connected to the eschatological-doctrinal preaching", as is the self-understanding -- i.e. the "apocalyptic-messianic consciousness" (p. 405) -- of the one who spoke them (p. 434).)
One writer whose work Schweitzer reviews wants to assume that the part of the Gospel teaching which he can't account for "is derived from utterances made by the numerous political messiahs who were about at the time". To which Schweitzer replies:
But he quite overlooks the fact that he must explain yet again how these Messiahs came to teach along lines which are quite apolitical, ethical, and in part anti-national. Is it not more natural to attribute these to the apolitical prophet to whom the Gospels refer, Jesus of Nazareth? (p. 433-434)
Another writer whose work Schweitzer reviews wants to distinguish "the elements of [Jesus'] teaching [which] are [Jesus'] own and which are adopted from others". To which Schweitzer replies:
However, any investigation along these lines will inevitably reveal that the mixture of rabbinic, apocalyptic and ethical thinking evident in [Jesus'] message is not to be found elsewhere in late Judaism.
Schweitzer's view of the evidence is that "the maxim that Jesus is either completely historical or completely unhistorical proves to be true" (p. 434), and "that a historical figure is responsible for the ethical preaching in the Gospels" (ibid.).
Why is it important to me that both Socrates and Jesus be historical figures? Is it because I would feel defrauded otherwise? No. My faith is not in either man, but in their ideas and lives. Yes, their ideas can (Socrates) or sometimes can (Jesus) stand without them ... but there's still something missing: for there is something in ethical personalities which in itself is worthwhile, because the man whose life creates a unity of thought and deed is an actual inspiration and encouragement (Phaedo 114d), whereas a myth may be seen to be no more than a bright but unattainable ideal.
The many different ways the Gospels are viewed
Denying that Jesus was as the Gospels depict him, that is, as one who believed that he would be the Messiah (the "Christ" of Christianity), but that he was instead only an ordinary Jewish teacher on whose name the Gospel stories were hung, did away with the Christian religion as anything vital in Professor Trudinger's life, e.g. he stopped celebrating Christmas and indeed has no particular use for Jesus at all. But for me the religion of Catholic Christianity (its account of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, because in Catholic Christianity the crucifixion can never be separated from the Resurrection, and the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the Incarnation, has no other end than that the resurrection of the faithful is made possible through Jesus' own resurrection on Easter Sunday) is not what is important about Jesus, and it would only be if the ethics of love and the picture of the kingdom of God of the Gospels were not his -- and I haven't seen any compelling reason to believe that they are not -- would I have no use for Jesus as an historical personality. And so maybe what Wittgenstein said about Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus applies to both of us as well:
... it shows how many, many different ways people can interpret the Gospel story. (Recollections p. 106)
Cf. "Philosophy is really more a working on oneself, on one's own interpretation, on one's way of seeing things" (CV p. 16 [MS 112 46: 14.10.1931]). An interpretation in philosophy cannot be arbitrary (or it isn't what we call philosophy), but neither is a way of looking at things or a frame of reference in itself true or false. But are all reading of "the Gospel story" of one kind; are all no more than "interpretations" -- i.e. are all historiographical hypotheses equally valid? Not if the word 'hypothesis' is to have any application to the study of history. ("Is an hypothesis consistent with all the data, and does it answer more questions than it raises?" That is how we judge the validity of an historiographical hypothesis.)
In the case of Dostoyevsky, it would be clear what we mean if we speak of an "interpretation"; for example, at the wedding at Cana-in-Galilee, he pictures the tenderness with which Jesus must have spoken to Mary, although there is nothing to suggest that in the text itself. But although there are many ways to be interested in a phenomenon -- it does not follow that historical research is arbitrary either in its methods or conclusions. For example, there are compelling reasons to believe that the Fourth Gospel, which was written long after Jesus' death, when faith in his imminent return was no longer sustainable, is fully a work of theology and not a source for the life of the historical Jesus.
Wittgenstein never practiced nor showed any regard for scholarly research, including for scholarship in historical-critical theology -- He always followed his own genius. I have often thought that Wittgenstein's rejection of thoroughgoing reason is anti-rational and that his uninterest in scholarship is anti-intellectual, but is there only one way of looking at this?
Historical Precedent - William Wrede
In the most recent phase of the study the discussion turns almost entirely upon the question of the degree to which such ideas of Jesus may be considered authentic. Indeed, a series of attempts have been made which essentially represent the Messianic claims of Jesus and the expectation of his second coming as unhistoric. According to this hypothesis the Nazarene was a simple Jewish teacher, whose followers after his death elevated him to the rank of Messiah and then proceeded to place in his mouth allusions and expressions relating to it.
[The most ingenious attempt of this sort was by William Wrede in well-known study, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels, 1901. (p. 36n4)]
Nevertheless, this kind of distinction between authentic and unauthentic words in the sources cannot be maintained. It must, therefore, be admitted that Jesus considered himself to be the Messiah and expected his majestic return on the clouds of heaven. (The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: exposition and criticism , tr. Charles R. Joy (1948), (1958) p. 36)
"Scientific theology" (Hypothesis-formation in historiography)
When Schweitzer wrote that "this kind of distinction ... cannot be maintained", this might be read, mistakenly (i.e. I think, but I don't know), to mean that the selection of a standard, such as Plato's Socrates seeks in the Euthyphro, for exclusion and inclusion will seem fantastically arbitrary to anyone who does not, for whatever reason, accept that particular standard. But Schweitzer did not say that about his own standard. For we do distinguish between scholarship and mere fancy, and an hypothesis that can account for all the data is to be preferred to an hypothesis that cannot account for all the data, and the simplest hypothesis that can account for all the data is to be preferred to the more complex hypothesis that can accomplish the same, and an hypothesis that resolves more difficulties than it creates is to be preferred to an hypothesis that creates more difficulties than it resolves. Either there is or there is not a place for historiography in one's own "interpretation of the Gospel story", but if there is a place for it, then it must pass the tests of hypothesis making, "must" if it is to be what we call scholarly.
Wittgenstein identified religion with mythology ("life-guiding pictures") -- that is, it does not matter whether there is or is not an historical basis for religion, because 'belief in the stories of the Gospel' is an utterly different concept from 'belief that an historical event occurred', and therefore Wittgenstein's only interest in "the Gospel story" is as mythology, not as history. Schweitzer's view about this, and about the place of reason in our life, was utterly different: his own religion was subject to the tests of reason and the evidence. (I don't think it is paradoxical to say that, with respect to my own religion, I am in agreement with both of them.)
But that won't do. Because, if you ask him, the believer will say that he believes that, as a matter of historical fact, Jesus existed and that the words and deeds that the Gospels record as being his are genuine, that the Jesus of the Gospels, or at least of the Synoptics, is historical truth. And if someone called himself a Christian but rejected that view, then that person would be rejecting Christianity as an "historical religion", that is, as a religion indissolubly grounded in "set-in-stone" historical events, if there are such events outside religious belief. (Any critical-historical theology, which is thoroughgoing in its rationalism, such a Schweitzer practiced, does not recognize any such a thing as an undoubtable historical fact. But to call that type of theology -- actually, historical study -- religion is not the way we normally use the word 'religion'.) Can a Christian base his religion on something other than what he takes to be historical fact? (That is of course a grammatical question.) If, in Schweitzer's formula, "a Christian is someone who has the Spirit of Christ", then yes. But that is not the only formula.
Question: Are the facts of our experience surrounding our perplexity at our existence -- not just as subject to being over-thrown as any other proposition, e.g. the propositions of history, is? So that if you tried to ground your religion in that experience, then your religion would be no more "beyond dispute" than a religion that based itself on purported historical facts that it allows to be subjected to critical-historical theology (historical investigation)?
This is how it seems: that faith can't have a foundation in anything; because any foundation you attempt to give it would be in a position to be undermined. Faith can't be built on a shaky foundation; it has to be firm; it has to be bedrock, indeed bedrock that "goes all the way down". (For Gilson, "faith is not found at the conclusion of any philosophical reasoning", and then he says, "I believe in God" -- 'believe in', meaning that this is a matter of faith; it does not have its foundation in philosophy or in the evidence of history; it is without foundation. It just is there for the individual: "This is what I do" or, rather, "This is what I believe". Cf. Wittgenstein: "I have reached bedrock" -- and remember: there is no bedrock beneath the bedrock. Faith consists of treating as certain something which is by no means certain. (Yes, of course, this is entirely a grammatical investigation.) Gilson said, "Everything in the Summa Theologiae is theology. I believe in God." -- Question: would he also have said, or does this follow logically from what he did say, that "Everything in the Bible is religion. I believe in the Jesus of the Gospels (and of the Catholic community of faith)"?
If I have exhausted the justifications I have reached bedrock, and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: "This is simply what I do." (PI § 217; cf. "But, if you are certain, isn't it that you are shutting your eyes in the face of doubt?" -- They are shut. (ibid. II, xi, p. 224c))
Can we define 'religious proposition' this way: 'a proposition that is treated both as if it were a fact and as if it were not a fact'? But is "as if it both were" a definition or a characterization? (Is there a difference here?)
Is there a part of speech 'religious proposition'?
Note: maybe the topic of this section is Proposition types as language-games, which is a third meaning Wittgenstein gave to his expression 'language game'.
And so we have this distinction: that a proposition is either a statement of fact or it is a tautology [or a self-contradiction, which is a negative tautology (maybe)], but it cannot be both. Because a statement of fact can [i.e. this belongs to the grammar of 'statement of fact'] be put to the tests of experience or of the historical evidence, whereas a tautology ['tautology' = 'a proposition that must be true'] cannot be put to those tests. Now here with religion we have a proposition that purports to be both a statement of fact and a tautology ["Look for the meaning of the sign in the use that is made of the sign" (or, "in how the sign is treated"?)]. However, it is not a logical tautology [i.e. its "necessity" is not logical -- in the sense of 'formal logic' -- necessity]. So perhaps it is only comparable to a tautology [In what way? In the way it is treated] in that it cannot be disproved by the test of experience or of the evidence of history; that is to say, that the texts on which the proposition's truth is based [are treated as being not refutable by any evidence that might be brought forward now or later] have a "privileged position" (i.e. of never being put to the test). They are treated as historical, but they are not treated as historical evidence -- i.e. they are not subject to refutation by other historical evidence [or by an alternative reading of that evidence], not the least of which is newer evidence, from the same period of history.
So then do we have a third type of proposition, a new part-of-speech, category of language use, namely: 'religious-proposition', which is distinct from both an experiential/empirical proposition and a tautology [or self-contradiction]?
Rather than 'tautology', we might use the word 'axiom', and speak of an "axiom of faith". That might be clearer. But it is still a queer fish: for an "axiom of faith" is treated as if it were "necessarily true" -- but what kind of necessity would that be? Axiomatic necessity (i.e. logical necessity) is a logical relationship among propositions; the only truth or falsity here is whether or not that relationship exists.
"... and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
If your religion is that Jesus was God become man, and that the Gospels are the inerrant Word of God, then that's the end of it, for then all is beyond dispute. But if for you Jesus was only a man and the Gospels are only ancient historical texts, then the miracles and "in fulfillment of the scriptures" texts are something you have to live with, a stumbling block to those who face them seriously, for just as we do not believe that prophets can foresee the future or that dreams are revelations (Daniel 1.17: "... and to Daniel [was given by God] the understanding of all visions and dreams"), so too we do not believe that any man can make the lame walk or the blind see; we do not believe that a man can walk on water or make the sea calm. We do not believe that any man can rise from the dead nor return in any form to this world. -- What was there for John's disciples to report back to the Baptist, then?
Then there are the Christmas stories: can you continue to picture Jesus being born in a stable among the poorest of the poor (many shepherds were naked under the sheepskins they wore: they were that poor, only just not so poor as beggars) -- that is, not merely to read the story as a picture-lesson of some kind, but to continue to commemorate that picture in you heart at Christmas. If you believe that the Bible is the divine word, history ("what really happened") as retold by God's servants, then that's the end of it, for then all is beyond dispute. But if to you the Bible is simply an ancient book that must be put to the tests of critical reasoning ... What Schweitzer calls "Liberal Protestantism" -- far from being a light yoke (Matthew 11.30) -- seems a very, very heavy one.
In Catholic Christianity you are not baptized into a community of people, but instead into a community of faith -- doctrines (or, dogma) and the community and are indissoluble: you cannot reject one without leaving the other. But the Church's creed is a firm foundation, and remains so regardless of the many different possible interpretations that the texts of the Bible might be given (-- and indeed have been given by various philologists, critical historians, early non-Catholic Christians ("heretics") and later Protestant denominations, not forgetting non-scholarly individuals who are neither dogmatists nor scholars such as me, for example --). (In connection with his discussion of "Madness and Religion", Drury mentions the "brethren" of the Lord, but as well as 'brethren', the word alluded to in the Gospels may be translated as 'brothers', and that may present a puzzle, but to Catholicism there is no puzzle: the Church -- i.e. the community of faith and its bishops -- has always believed and taught that the Virgin Mary had but one son. And so this is an example of a firm foundation, firm for those who are able to accept Catholic Christianity's type of religion, which requires that one be capable of accepting religious faith at all.)
Once you call into question the historicity of one pericope, you open the door to doubting the historicity of them all. And then what becomes of your faith. If there is a certain wisdom to Catholicism, it is this. (Cf. Strachey's story of Thomas Arnold's meeting with W. G. Ward, although the topic there was orthodoxy versus every man his own doctor of divinity, rather maybe than free-thinking as such.)
Those investigations which claim that the story of the nativity and of Jesus' childhood are entirely or partly historical do not merit discussion. (The Quest of the Historical Jesus (2001), Chapter 24, "1907-1912", p. 466)
And so should I feel that what was given to me by Schweitzer has now been taken back, because now I have lost Christmas? Because of course the story of Jesus' birth -- all of it -- including the birth in Bethlehem, in the stable near where shepherds kept watch over their flocks at night, the manger among the oxen and donkeys -- is mythology. And yet, even if (i.e. although) it is a myth, what is the point of that myth? The humble circumstances of the birth of Jesus and the revelation of his birth, of its good news for the poor (cf. Luke 4.18) first made known to the poor (or, poorest laborers, for so were the shepherds), had the shepherds but known who the infant was who dwelt among them in its earliest days. For as the people later asked of Jesus, "Is this not the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13.55; cf. Luke 4.22: "Is this not Joseph's son?"; cf. Mark 6.3: "Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary ...?") And so it is a humble birth among the poorest of people, and that is what the author of Luke wishes to remark on, to point out, to stress with the stories of the birth in the stable in Bethlehem and the visit of the shepherds.... But without the birth in the stable in Bethlehem, what is left of the celebration of Christmas? Without that picture of the child in the manger, with Mary, Joseph, the bestiame and the shepherds -- for me, is there anything? (The birth of a child in an artisan's house in Galilee? There is nothing remarkable about such a birth.)
I wrote that we cannot know the historical Socrates; we make for ourselves a portrait, an image of him. And now I think: Neither Luke nor Matthew as well knows the historical Jesus: they make for themselves portraits of him.
But why should that myth trouble me. -- The whole book is a vast ocean of myths! (It is Bultmann's "the wonders world of the New Testament"). Human beings may be credulous -- but not that credulous! You cannot say that the myths in that sea float on credulity ... No, "for a blunder, that's too big"! Something else is happening in the Gospel stories (or, that is how it strikes me). This is what I want to say, although I don't know if it is wholly correct or not: that the men who wrote the Gospels used different tools for thinking than we do, that their way of thinking was different from ours (somewhat like the peasant women who made the Sign of the Cross over their bread dough before setting it aside to rise, believing that otherwise it would not rise), that there is an unbridgeable difference in world-pictures ruling over our thought-worlds.
But --. On the other hand, why shouldn't Jesus have been born in a stable in Bethlehem, excepting the supernatural events of course. Schweitzer says, dismissively, "do not merit discussion", and that would of course apply to the Annunciation and the Epiphany, but why also to Bethlehem, because Bethlehem is "in fulfillment of the scriptures" (Micah 5.1; there is at least one non-canonical citation as well)? But Luke 2.4 has that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem because "he was of the house and lineage of David", and Schweitzer believed that Jesus believed himself to be a descendent of David. But that would also be "in fulfillment of the scriptures" -- and so why shouldn't all texts connected to that be judged to be myth rather than history?
How could Jesus have been born in Nazareth, for why shouldn't Nazareth be judged to have been a mythical location, because, according to Schweitzer, there is no record of such a town having existed nor of any prophesy about one (Cf. Judges 13.5,7 says nothing about a town named 'Nazareth'), neither in the Old Testament nor in secular history for the time of Jesus. Matthew 2.22-23 has that after the return from the flight into Egypt, Joseph "withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelled in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."" (That is the RSV rendering.) Then although Galilee existed, why "Nazareth in Galilee" -- i.e. why in Galilee? The NAB states in a note that Galilee was a place where both Jews and non-Jews lived and may therefore indicate Jesus' mission to the Gentiles. (That may sound plausible in Luke, but not in Matthew with its contempt for non-Jews and Samaritans.)
And do I know how "To reason out the How and Why" here (as in Aristophanes' Frogs)? Of course not. Then? But it is not only that I don't know how, but that I don't believe that anyone else knows how either: there are plausibilities, "probabilities", and their contraries here, but there is no certainty. To adapt Gilson's expression: the inclusion and exclusion of texts often seems "fantastically arbitrary" to me. There are historical hypotheses ... and some may account for the data better than others, but none accounts for all the data, and even if an hypothesis did, remember Drury's words and why he said them: "an hypothesis remains an hypothesis to the end of time".
There is nothing miraculous about being born in a stable, if not in Bethlehem, then in some other city or village, regardless of whether there was a census to be inscribed in or not. "Scientific theology", i.e. hypothesis-making using the standard of the rationalist historian: "What was possible once is possible still, and what is impossible now is impossible always"! What an arbitrary dictum. (Why? Don't I use that standard myself? Of course I do.)
According to "Strong's Bible Concordance", there is no "in fulfillment of the scripture" reason for Jesus to have been born in a stable "because there was no room in the inn" (which if there was a census being taken, would not be at all strange), wrapped in cloths by Mary and laid in a manger (Where else would a manger be but in a stable, although no mention is made of a stable in the text?) -- and so why does Luke place Jesus' birth in a stable? So that the shepherds can easily find him? -- as if a field would not serve as well. There is just something about the manger that strikes me as historical, for there seems to be no need for that (What -- is it an allusion to the Last Supper or to John 21: 15-17: "Feed my sheep"). Was Jesus born in a stable and placed in a manger by his mother? Say what you like. It's not something that can be demonstrated one way or the other -- how could it be. Plausible, implausible -- whichever you like.
"The hour when it happened is so remote from ordinary supernatural use and wont, and the event so simple that its improbability acquires probability ..." (Hoffmann, Automata, tr. Ewing)
And indeed might not an open field have served better, for "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8.20), and it would also make the visit of the shepherds more sensible, for shepherds, of course, do not keep watch over their flock by night if the flock are stabled (which in some places on earth, in the cold winter months, sheep must be), and they also do not abandon their flock in the fields. On the one hand, the Gospel infancy narrative is improbably true (It is a myth, like the narratives in Matthew), but on the other hand, that there is no reason for the particulars (stable, manger) of that narrative, makes it probably true. (Whatever is only probable is also only improbable, and vice versa. (cf. PI § 258))
On the other hand, if someone said that the truth of the proposition 'There are fairies in the forest' cannot be demonstrated one way or the other, and that therefore he thought himself justified in believing that there are fairies in the forest, we would find that very fishy. But yet, on the other hand, children have been born in stables and a manger is a fine crib, with its straw for an infant. In any case, the impossibility of demonstration is in the first case grammatical, in the second historical. (Neither can you speak of "the argument from silence" here either, because the grammar of 'I believe p to be true' is different from 'P is true'; the difference is between the concepts 'belief' and 'knowledge': from that our experience is silent about P (e.g. the existence of spirits), it does not follow that 'P is true' is true; silence is not the basis for knowledge.)
Excluding or including texts according to the standard of whether they can be fitted into a particular historian's hypothesis or not ... Obviously just because a text does not fit a particular hypothesis, just because there is no place in that hypothesis for a particular text, does not make that text "inauthentic" (counterfeit, spurious) -- except in the context of that particular hypothesis. But of hypotheses, there are many, many, many, many. Some may be more scientific than others, but none is nor will ever be fact rather than hypothesis, one out of the many that may be possible to frame (The geocentric versus heliocentric models is a paradigm of this). To give up our Italian heritage, to stop having fish and spaghetti for Christmas Eve, to get rid of our presepi with their shepherds and sheep, as well as their zampognari, on account of some historian, regardless of how much respected, or other's hypothesis, would strike me as daft ('superstition': 'the irrational "conviction" that it "must" be').
What puzzles me is that I never found these thoughts troubling before, and so why now? Was I never before aware of just how important Christmas Eve, the garden in Gethsemane, the Last Supper in the upper room, and the crucifixion on Good Friday are to me, and that I yearn to believe that what I am commemorating is real (something that really happened) and not (some author's) religious myth? But isn't that yearning what faith (love and hope) is about (i.e. what we mean by the word 'faith')? There is no historical Jesus; there is only the Jesus of faith.
Because the entire Gospels might be regarded as a collection of myths, with the stories of Jesus' words and deeds accounted as much myths as any of Jesus' parables. For if someone's response to the story of the Prodigal Son had been to say, "I think I knew that boy -- What was the name of his family? What village did they live in?" we would think that person to be a bit thick. And why shouldn't the whole of the Gospels consist of myths: just as the nativity and childhood stories are mythical, why shouldn't everything else be? (Wasn't that the critical hypothesis of Bruno Bauer.)
And so, with respect to critical-historical theology's hypotheses, to adapt the words of St. Jerome, "It is not the judgments of men that open or shut the gates of heaven" -- except that placed in our context and given meaning here, it is the judgments of men! For as a man judges, so he lives: how we read/understand the Gospels makes our life what it is, open or closed to the gates of the kingdom of God.
It is only possible for there to be "reverence for truth" (Schweitzer's motto) in places where the truth is knowable. But hypotheses-making, however different scientific versus fanciful theories may be, is not one of those. "It is" cannot follow from "It may be". (Yes of course all this is grammar. But it is by grammar that we live as man: it is the source and foundation of our "discourse of reason". On the other hand, "Wittgenstein's logic of language" is not "the sum of the law and the prophets" either; it is simply one way of looking at things, not the only possible way: to the extent that in this it resembles the geo- versus helio-centric models, it is itself akin to an hypothesis.)
Faith is neither reasonable nor unreasonable (unless it is contrary to reason, of course). Then can you say of faith: "Here I do not use reason"? Not at all, unless one proceeds blindly. For it is reason that makes clear what is and what is not faith, where faith is and where faith is not appropriate or proper, what belongs and what does not belong to faith.
"There is no historical Jesus; there is only the Jesus of faith." And so then, must the one for whom religious faith is possible ["forms of life"] be able to say, "All religion is or may be myth. I believe in God"? That is, not only is the logical/grammatical status of belief in God that it is not belief that an hypothesis is true, but also there must be a recognition by the believer that it is not an hypothesis (of any kind). For without that recognition belief-in is more akin to superstition than faith.
And so I ask myself again and again, Am I a religious man, that is, a man of faith? Or am I simply a stoical disciple of Socrates? Faith, because it has an irrational root in man, means living with the shadows of doubt, a sometimes wavering heart and mind. But if that is how 'faith' is to be defined, then, in those terms, Albert Schweitzer was not a religious man? But Schweitzer said that he was a religious man: "I am simply a man trying to live his religion." And so it needs to be asked what Schweitzer meant by the word 'religion'. He did not mean belief in doctrine ("silenced reason"); he did not mean belief in history; but what did he mean? Perhaps mysticism.
[My own "last thoughts" may be found in the parenthetical remarks of a paragraph from years ago. But how easy it is to fall into old habits of thought, and then I can only say to myself: You really must wake up now.]
Did Jesus believe himself to be the Messiah?
"... the laws whereby the early Christian conception and estimate of the person of Jesus conditioned the representation of his life and work ..." Schweitzer speaks of an "antinomy" between whether Jesus took himself to be the Messiah or whether he did not. Schweitzer says that if Jesus did not, "this means the death blow to the Christian faith" (Schweitzer's Preface (dated 1901) to The Mystery of The Kingdom of God, tr. Lowrie, p. ix-x). Or only for some variations of it? Because: what exactly does Schweitzer mean here by 'the Christian faith'?
'Messiah' and 'Christ'
Should a distinction be made between Christ and Messiah (a distinction between 'Jesus Christ' and 'Jesus Messiah') -- if by 'Christ' we mean the doctrine that Jesus was the Incarnation of God? (Did Paul believe in the Incarnation, the Trinity? His use of the form 'Christ Jesus' takes note that Paul's religion is the Risen Christ, not the man Jesus: Even if I had known him in life, now would I know him not). Because one might well believe that Jesus is (or will be) the Messiah -- without also believing that Jesus is the Incarnation of God. So that by 'Christ' and 'Messiah' we might mean two distinct religious doctrines, and in some cases (because the two doctrines may or may not exclude each other) two distinct religions.
But does it matter for us whether Jesus believed himself as the Messiah (Christ) or not? We are not Jews at the time of Jesus living in expectation of the Messiah and the kingdom of God (if that was the expectation of Late Judaism) -- because, regardless of Jesus belief, that is not our expectation. And so, isn't the question for us: In what way is Jesus important for us, for our own religious understanding of life? And the answer I think has to be his teaching of the ethics of love and of the kingdom of God (If it is not that, then I don't know what it would be), of which I have never found any teaching wiser.
It seems as Schweitzer said, that "a Christian is one who has the spirit of Christ", and to abandon that Christian inheritance would be prodigal folly. When I read the Gospels, what should I do if not look for the spirit of love of Jesus' thought (In Augustine's words: "Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done"), allowing what is offensive to that spirit to fall away? To adapt Paul's words to this context: "Test all things; keep what is good." For everything must be put to the test of reason: there is no place in our life where we should be willing to say that "Here we do not use reason". Schweitzer's words once more:
There was a real danger of [theologians] thrusting ourselves between men and the Gospels, and refusing to leave the individual man alone with the sayings of Jesus. (Quest, tr. Montgomery (1910), p. 400) Jesus as a concrete historical personality remains a stranger in our time, but his spirit, which lies hidden in his words, is known in simplicity ... The very strangeness and unconditionedness in which he stands before us makes it easier for individuals to find their own personal standpoint in regard to him. (ibid. p. 401)
Critical-historical theology may be helpful to our religious understanding, or it may be regarded as an end in itself. In the latter case, it is as idle as logic of language studies would be if they were divorced from philosophical problems.
I think you could say that for Catholic Christianity (the Catholic Church), the Bible exists for the Church, not the Church for the Bible; whereas for Reformation Protestantism, you could say just the opposite: that the Church exists for the Bible, not the Bible for the Church. In the Catholic Church the Bible is a tool of the community ("Church": the community of all believers under the guidance of the bishops, who are believed to have Apostolic authority), and the way it is read the community's reading of it, at least as that is found, somewhat selectively, in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Protestantism's sola scriptura ("the Bible alone") is either no more than divine theology (as is Catholicism) or, if it is historiography, then it builds faith on a foundation of sand, for historiography is as "variable as the shade by the light quivering aspen made". (If there is any way in which my own faith is Catholic, it is in this, that I certainly wouldn't give up either my Christian heritage or traditions on account of some historian or other's reading of the Gospels, although I also reject any dogmatic reading of them.)
Schweitzer's view of Historiography: Jesus, historicity and religion
... neither the positive nor the negative can be demonstrated conclusively if we are to meet the requirements of strict scholarship. Every historical assertion depending upon evidence from the past which is no longer directly verifiable must ultimately remain an hypothesis. To assert that the historicity or unhistoricity of Jesus has been proved is a way of speaking which, though common enough in everyday conversation, in the sphere of strict scientific thought means no more than that according to the available evidence the one is very probable whereas the other is not. (Quest (2001 English edition), Chapter 26, tr. Cupitt, p. 401-402)
In other words, it is to think that you know what you do not know (Plato, Apology 29b). And yet it would seem very strange if anyone were to say of the First World War's having occurred, that it is merely very probable, whereas as its not having occurred is very improbable. For it raises the question of if it always makes sense (i.e. grammatical sense) to speak of mere "probability" rather than of certainty. But here recall the distinction between saying that a proposition is certain and my saying that I am certain of the proposition; the first is objective, the second a mix of objectivity and subjectivity. (This is also related to the topic of On Certainty -- although it is very different from the topic of foundational propositions -- namely, that if I doubt this, then what in history stands fast for me (That is a rhetorical-grammatical question).)
Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there is no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability.... Seen from a purely logical viewpoint, whether Jesus existed or did not exist must always remain hypothetical. (p. 402)
Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus. Hence it must not artificially increase his importance by referring all theological knowledge to him and developing a "christocentric" religion: the Lord ... should never be considered its [i.e. religion's] foundation. (ibid.)
But yet as Wittgenstein pointed out to Drury (Recollections p. 101), unlike historiography, the religious believer does not treat Jesus as an hypothesis, does not treat His existence as a mere hypothesis. An hypothesis belongs to historiography, not to religious faith. (Obviously these are grammatical remarks about 'religious believer' and 'faith'; someone who treated the existence of Jesus as an hypothesis would not be what we classify as a 'religious believer'.) So that we are returned to Schweitzer's question: to what extent is Christianity founded on the existence or non-existence of Jesus?
[Christianity must] re-establish itself in such a way that it is intrinsically independent of history. (Quest, p. 402)
The "must" here is, I think, Schweitzer's own position. In other words, the existence of Jesus should not be the authorizer of one's religion, for then if Jesus' authority were lost so would one's religion be (Cf. the Catholic Christian Gilson's "faith is not found at the conclusion of any philosophical reasoning", nor, it can be added, in any text which is subject to critical-theology). And yet Schweitzer does refer to Jesus as being, for Schweitzer, "the supreme spiritual and religious authority" (in the Epilogue he wrote to Mozley, The Theology of Albert Schweitzer for Christian Inquirers (1950), p. 104). And so this is not a simple matter.
About Paulinism and the Fourth Gospel
The riddle of the lack of relation between the Synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles remains the same, whichever of the two is considered to have arisen first. (Quest, p. 427)
[Those whom Schweitzer was reviewing-criticizing, those who denied the historicity of Jesus, but yet accepted the historicity of Paul] assume that Pauline theology, too, sprang from reflection on the suffering servant of God.... The "lamb" of [Isa. 53.7] is not mentioned by Paul either, just as he never once refers to that description of the fate of the servant of God. Nor do we find in the teaching of the apostle any echo of the suffering described poetically in Psalm 22. (p. 424-425)
A further point: the "passion" of Jesus has no importance for [Paul]. Surprisingly he talks only of the fact of Jesus' death. (p. 425) ['Christianity' -- three distinct meanings]
As to Paulinism, as also to the Fourth Gospel, it does not form part of my religion; I treat both the Epistles and the Fourth Gospel as works of theology rather than as works of religion. It is as works of religion that I treat the Synoptic Gospels. (Neither Paul nor The Acts of the Apostles, because they are concerned with events after Jesus' lifetime, interest me. Because Paul came as a prophet after Jesus, Tolstoy asked why those who follow Paul don't call themselves Paulinians rather than Christians, as well as why those who call themselves Christians would give any texts other than the Gospels themselves equal weight with the Gospels. It's a nice question.)
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