Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Message For Exegetes

"How can we believe that an Evangelist, who evidently intends to recount real facts, would have intentionally inserted false episodes in his narrative? One or the other of these two must be true: he did not do this knowingly, and thus our confidence in him is seriously compromised, or he did this intentionally. But we must prove this latter convincingly. One must at the same time also show that so doing the Evangelist intended to trick or to deceive no one, even though he took no pains to note this expressly, or indicate how the narrative belongs to a literary genre so special that we are authorized to treat it in a manner apart. This is not all. Once on this path, how can we stop?...

In reality, once one admits as present in the Gospels even one purely fictitious account, the exegete finds himself in a hellish bind. Why admit one and not another? The same reasons for calling the historicity of a passage into question can continue to present themselves in relation to other passages, and so in fact has it happened. Initially it was the historicity of the accounts of the infancy to be attacked, then the resurrection, next the baptism of Jesus, the transfiguration and naturally the miracles. We supposedly do not know with certainty whether Jesus actually spoke the words of institution of the Eucharist....all is called into question. This slide into doubt becomes unstoppable and denial inevitable, as experience proves. Skepticism runs wild, a skepticism ruinous of faith, a ruin which little by little includes anything relative to the fundamental events of salvation history. In regard to the multiplication of bread, which some critics in the past sought to transform into a banal picnic rather than acknowledge a miracle, Fr. Lagrange once made this witty observation (as told to me): ‘if the miracle was invented, why not regard the whole event as a complete fiction? One can imagine anything’. Effectively the position of the extreme critics, excluding nothing from denial, at least has the merit of logic. As regards, for example, the accounts of the infancy in St. Matthew and St. Luke, a thoroughly logical negation would consist in refusing to believe everything en bloc, including the virginal conception of Jesus, on the grounds that it belongs to an autonomous literary genre. This genre consists in a clever exegetical, theological and symbolic montage, constructed with the purpose of illustrating the singular greatness of Jesus, by introducing into the Gospel bits and pieces of the Old Testament. But by what right do we refuse some parts of the account and accept the rest?....

Hence, how can I distinguish between the narrative historical and non-historical elements? I will be condemned by this method to everlasting doubt. It is prudent, then, to ponder the words of Fr. Lagrange: ‘one can imagine anything’, everything, including the apparitions of Christ Crucified. (If, as is often said, the details of the apparitions of the Risen Christ were invented, why not consider the fact of the Resurrection fictitious as well?) What certain datum in such a scenario could support a firm conviction to the contrary?"

-Andre Feuillet in Mary: Mother of the Messiah, Mother of the Church.

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