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|No. 80||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||March 1999|
by John F. McCarthy
a) On the level of simple belief, Bultmann has taken away the Christian's Lord, for the kerygma cannot replace the mystery of the God-Man.12. But Malevez makes another series of statements which weaken these points:
b) On the level of science, Bultmann does not really speak in the name of modern science, for science is now aware that it cannot draw a picture of the world, and the profound mystery of being eludes it entirely; science has no authority to set up the principle of determinism as a necessary principle of physical reality; the order of nature has been integrated by God into the encompassing order of those free supernatural relations which form the link between God and the universe of spirits.
c) On the level of philosophy, Bultmann rules out the self-standing exterior objectivity which traditional Christology has always attributed to the union of God and man; Bultmann and Heidegger have not disproved the essentialist ontology which they oppose.
d) On the level of theology, Bultmann misunderstands what the traditional theology of the Spirit actually holds.
a) Christians have always regarded the mystery of the God-Man as essential to their faith; this is a new religion, breaking with the past and having the purely human authority of its author.13. In making these second assertions Malevez plays into Bultmann's hands.
b) We do not know with complete certitude what the laws of nature are; certain surprising events which appear to be veritable breaches in the laws of nature cannot logically be assumed to be miracles on those grounds alone, but in the eyes of the Christian they will be attributed the value of authentic miracles, because from their religious context it would be seen that latent forces in nature are acting instrumentally through the action of God in response to prayers.
c) Bultmann's theology correctly emphasizes the principle of the existential interpretation of the Christian message, in the sense that the Christian message has to show its affinity with certain basic human hopes and longings brought to light by existential analysis; Bultmann succeeds in retaining the elements in the theology of Karl Barth which emphasize the objective act of God in Jesus Christ and in bringing faith into relation with reason, although his insistence upon a complete existential interpretation overreaches itself so as to become a menace to the very truth that he sets out to defend.
d) Traditional theology affirms that the effects of the Spirit are seen in our lives, but his actual power is hidden from our eyes, so that only in faith can we recognize his work; God enters only those in whom He dwells.
a) Bultmann holds that the faithful have not always believed in the mystery of the God-Man. He has concluded from his form-critical research that this idea was introduced into Christian belief in the post-Palestinian era. It is Bultmann's contention that those believers who are modern men have advanced sufficiently beyond the stage of naive simplicity that they can no longer believe this dogma. But simple believers do not regard this mystery as essential to their faith, because their existientiell (I-thou) belief is concerned with something much more concrete and genuine; considering something as "essential to one's faith" is not an act of simple belief, but a theological reflection based on the philosophical concept of "essence." Bultmann retains the mystery of the God-Man in its demythologized form; this means that he accepts it as an existientiell point of departure for theological reflection, but this reflection consists in eliminating the mythological fabrication in terms of which the existential meaning of the myth is presented. Malevez does not exclude either dogmatic development or theological reflection. Therefore, an appeal to what Christians have always believed is not sufficient. Bultmann has reflected long on what is essential and what is dispensable. Malevez himself presents a notion of miracle which breaks with what the simple faithful have always believed in the past, derives from his own modern reflection, and has the purely human authority of its author. Yet, he does not accuse himself of proposing a new religion. As long as Malevez accepts in principle the validity of theological reflection that modifies what the naive believer takes for granted, he cannot on sheer principle reprove Bultmann for carrying out such a reflection.
b) It is Bultmann's contention that what cannot be distinguished as a miracle on the level of nature is regarded in the context of belief as the act of God. What Bultmann excludes is nature-miracles. Malevez concedes the basic point by his definition of miracles. From then on the burden of proof is on Malevez to show that his idea of miracle is significantly different from that of Bultmann. Malevez, under the heading of "the verdict of tradition" ("Le jugement de la Tradition") says that Bultmann does not speak in the name of modern science. But tradition and modernity are the opposite poles of a distinction. How, then, can tradition decide what modern science is or is not? Malevez claims to be speaking in the name of tradition, but is actually speaking in the name of his own modern reflection. The fact is that Malevez has taken almost without modification the argument of Karl Jaspers, who could hardly be considered a spokesman of tradition.
c) Once Malevez has admitted that Bultmann correctly emphasizes the principle of the existential interpretation of the Christian message, he takes upon himself the burden of showing that Bultmann and Heidegger have not disproved the essentialist ontology which they oppose. Malevez does not bring forth clear evidence to show that Bultmann's existentialist interpretation overreaches itself. The mere fact that Bultmann goes beyond Malevez is no more a proof than is the fact of Malevez' going beyond someone else a proof that Malevez' interpretation has overreached itself. Furthermore, Bultmann's principle of the existential interpretation of the Christian message is the antithesis of the traditional interpretation. How, then, can Malevez make this judgment in the name of tradition? What is this tradition to which Malevez refers? How can he be said to speak in its name? If tradition is dogma, he does not cite it. If tradition is philosophy, he himself calls it into question. If tradition is simply his viewpoint as a Catholic, how can it be called tradition? If Bultmann's existentialist approach is basically correct, has not the essentialist ontology been disproved? Malevez' argument is that Bultmann misunderstands the principles of Bultmann's theology and Heidegger misunderstands the principles of Heidegger's philosophy, but the presumption is in their favor. Does Malevez understand the principles of his own philosophy?
d) The traditional theology of the Spirit is based on the dogma of the Blessed Trinity, which Bultmann denies. The traditional Christian affirms the existence of the Holy Spirit as a living divine Person, acting within our souls. To deny that faith sees the Holy Spirit in the sense of affirming his presence would be to concede to Bultmann. The statement "God enters only those in whom He dwells," is a vague poetic paradox which, in its ambiguity, favors the kind of reflection that Bultmann advocates.
1. For the essay which touched off the "demythologizing debate" see Rudolf Bultmann, "Neues Testament und Mythologie," in Offenbarung und Heilsgeschehen: Beiträge zur evangelischen Theologie, VII/2 (Munich, 1941); reprinted in H.W. Bartsch, ed., Kerygma und Mythos (Hamburg, 1948 [henceforth referred to as KuM]); Engl. trans., H.W. Bartsch, ed., Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, vol. I (London: SPCK, 1962 [henceforth referred to as KaM]). For a brief summary of the demythologizing debate, especially among Protestant theologians, with the relevant bibliography, see J.F. McCarthy, The Science of Historical Theology (2d printing, Rockford: TAN Books, 1991), pp. 1-5. For a brief presentation of the meaning and goal of the program of demythologizing, see McCarthy, ibid., pp. 5-14.
2. L. Malevez, Le message chrétien et le mythe. La théologie de Rudolf Bultmann (Brussels-Bruges-Paris, 1954 [henceforth referred to as MCM]); Engl. trans., The Christian Message and Myth: The Theology of Rudolf Bultmann (London: SCM Press, 1958 [henceforth referred to as CMM]).
3. Malevez, MCM, 115 (CMM, 118).
4. Malevez, MCM, 116 (CMM, 119).
5. Malevez, MCM, 118-119 (CMM, 120-121).
6. Malevez, MCM, 119-120 (CMM, 122-123).
7. Malevez, MCM, 121 (CMM, 123-124).
8. Malevez, MCM, 122 (CMM, 125).
9. Malevez, MCM, 122-129 (CMM, 127-131).
10. Malevez, MCM, 129-135 (CMM, 133-137).
11. Malevez, MCM, 139-145 (CMM, 142-147).
12. Malevez, MCM, 145-146 (CMM, 148).
13. Bultmann, in KuM II, 192 (for ref. see note 1 above).
14. Malevez, MCM, 149-152 (CMM, 151-153).
15. Malevez, MCM, 153-156 (CMM, 155-158).
16. H. Fries, Bultmann-Barth und die katholische Theologie (Stuttgart, 1955 [henceforth referred to as BBKT]); Engl. trans., Bultmann-Barth and Catholic Theology (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1967 [henceforth referred to as BBCT]).
17. Fries, BBKT, 137-138 (BBCT, 149-150).
18. Fries, BBKT, 129 (BBCT, 141-142).
19. Fries, BBKT, 136 (BBCT, 148).
20. Fries, BBKT, 139 (BBCT, 150).
21. Fries, BBKT, 140-141 (BBCT, 152).
22. Fries, BBKT, 157-158 (BBCT, 167-168).
23. Fries, BBKT, 142-143 (BBCT, 153-154).
24. Fries, BBKT, 144 (BBCT, 155).
25. Fries, BBKT, 149-150 (BBCT, 160-161).
26. Fries, BBKT, 158-160 (BBCT, 168-170).
27. Fries, BBKT, 163 (BBCT, 172-173).
28. Fries, BBKT, 141 (BBCT, 152-153).
29. Fries, BBKT, 150-152 (BBCT, 161-162).
30. Fries, BBKT, 164 (BBCT, 173-174).
31. Fries, BBKT, 142-143 (BBCT, 154).
32. Fries, BBKT, 133-135 (BBCT, 145-147).
33. Fries, BBKT, 167-170 (BBCT, 176-179).