Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
Please address all correspondence    e-mail:
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA

No. 81 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program May 1999


by John F. McCarthy

Part II   -   René Marlé and Joseph Cahill
        1. The call for demythologizing.   In his celebrated essay of 1941, "New Testament and Mythology," calling for the "demythologizing" of the New Testament proclamation, Rudolf Bultmann began with the claim that "the New Testament is essentially mythical in character," seeing that it projects a mythical viewpoint of the world as a three-leveled structure composed of Heaven, Earth, and Hell, and a belief in "the supernatural activity of God and his angels on the one hand, and of Satan and his demons on the other," an outlook in which "miracles are by no means rare" and "man is not in control of his own life" (KaM, 1). Bultmann then declared that Christian preachers cannot expect modern man to accept as true this mythical view of the world (KaM, 3). Even the eschatology of the New Testament is untenable, he said, "for the simple reason that the parousia of Christ never took place as the New Testament expected" (KaM, 5). And "the biblical doctrine that death is the punishment of sin is equally abhorrent to naturalism and idealism, since both regard death as a simple and necessary process of nature." Regarding the death of Christ on the Cross, Bultmann asked, "How can the guilt of one man be expiated by the death of another who is sinless - if indeed one may speak of a sinless man at all?" To Bultmann this very thought implied very primitive notions of guilt and righteousness and "a primitive idea of God." And he was led to exclaim, "(W)hat a primitive mythology it is, that a divine being should become incarnate and atone for the sins of men through his own blood!" Bultmann went on to say, "(T)he resurrection of Jesus is just as difficult for modern man, if it means an event whereby a living supernatural power is released which can henceforth be appropriated through the sacraments." It was, he averred, "Gnostic influence" that introduced the idea that "this Christ, who died and rose again, was not a mere human being but a God-man" (KaM, 7-8). What should be done about this problem? Well, Bultmann explained, we cannot save the kerygma (proclamation) for modern man by rejecting some features of the New Testament mythology and keeping others, and it is the duty in all honesty of the theologian and of the priest not to keep their hearers in the dark about what they themselves have quietly eliminated. It is rather a matter of reinterpreting the mythology. "The real purpose of myth is not to present an objective picture of the world as it is, but to express man's understanding of himself in the world in which he lives" (KaM, 9-10). The event and the person of Jesus, he continued, can and must be interpreted apart from this mythology; they must be interpreted existentially. The New Testament offers man an understanding of himself which will challenge him to a genuine existential decision ((KaM, 15-16). The New Testament "regards the fall as total" and sees that man has lost the actual possibility to grasp his authentic nature by a decision, because "in his present plight every impulse of man is the impulse of a fallen being" (KaM, 29). For Bultmann, "to talk of sin ceases to be mere mythology when the love of God meets man as a power which embraces and sustains him even in his fallen, self-assertive state." The event of Jesus Christ is "the revelation of the love of God," and it is "faith in the love of God revealed in Christ" (KaM, 31-32). The event of Christ presents "a unique combination of history and myth." The New Testament is mythological to the extent that it presents Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as a pre-existent divine being, but it presents him also as a concrete figure of history - Jesus of Nazareth. Is not the mythological language "simply an attempt to express the meaning of the historical figure of Jesus and the events of his life"? If it is, then "we can dispense with the objective form in which they are cast" (KaM, 34-35). To believe in the cross of Christ means "to undergo crucifixion with him." The redemptive cross of Christ is not the mythical event but "the judgment and deliverance of man" (KaM, 36-37). And the resurrection is not a past event of history or a miraculous proof, since cross and resurrection "form a single, indivisible cosmic event which brings judgment to the world and opens up for men the possibility of authentic life." The resuscitation of the dead Jesus is impossible to believe, except as an "article of faith," and, as an article of faith, it is "the eschatological event" (KaM, 39-40). Hence, "faith in the resurrection is really the same thing as faith in the saving efficacy of the cross, and so, "to believe in Christ means to believe in the cross as the cross of Christ." And the real Easter faith is "the rise of faith in the risen Lord," with the result that "all that historical criticism can establish is the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection" (KaM, 41-42). In conclusion, the redemption "is not a miraculous supernatural event, but an historical event wrought out in time and space, while the word of God "is not some mysterious oracle, but a sober, factual account of a human life, of Jesus of Nazareth, possessing saving efficacy for man," and the transcendence of God "is not as in myth reduced to immanence" but is "present and active in history: 'the Word became flesh'" (KaM, 43-44). This is the "decisive act of God in Christ proclaimed as the event of redemption" (KaM, 15).


        2. Exposition.  In pursuance of a shorter article on Bultmann, published in 1953, René Marlé presented a lengthier study of the same in 1956.1 The principle upon which especially he bases his critique of demythologizing is clearly enunciated towards the end of this latter work. He says that, for the Catholic theologian, the Word of God is a manifold of signs having their focus, not merely in an act or in an event, but also and essentially in a Person: the Person of the Word Incarnate in the act of the gift of Himself that He has given to us on the Cross. Our encounter in faith is, therefore, an encounter with a Person. The paradox, which becomes in effect a skandalon for fleshly eyes, is that this Person is at one and the same time truly God and truly man.2 Marlé observes that the theology of Bultmann, even though it has often been assessed as being basically destructive, aims to be constructive. and its guiding viewpoint is that of a resolute believer. The negative phase of Bultmann's demythologizing is intended only to clear the way for his very pure and very demanding "theology of paradox." Nevertheless, the idols of New Testament mythology that he has marked out for destruction do seem artificial and contrived.3

        3. Remarks.  While Bultmann claims that his theology is based upon paradox, a careful reading of his theological production reveals no positive content that could be called Christian theology.

        4. Exposition.  Another criticism is that for Bultmann the "eschatological" intervention of God in the ever-recurring "now" ends up having no more than a purely accidental connection with history, in the absence of any privileged moment. The consensus of Christian tradition has never hesitated regarding the essentials of the apostolic witness to the corporal Resurrection of Jesus. In order to be faithful to this witness in all its realism, we must not begin to accuse it of myths and thus reject all of the objective reality and all of the intrinsic meaning in the narratives by which the first disciples attempted to communicate to us their extraordinary experience of the Risen One. The Ascension and the gift of the Spirit have also an essential significance for our faith.4 Marlé doubts whether the vague and obscure notion presented by Bultmann as the world-view underlying the New Testament narratives actually coincides with what the ancients thought. One reason for this doubt is that attempts at constructing world-views are a phenomenon of modern times.5 Another reason is that the contrast between the ancient and the modern views of the world does not seem to be as clear-cut or as complete as Bultmann supposes.6

        5. Remarks.  Marlé is absolutely right in observing that the realism of Christian faith does not allow of its being accused of fabricating myths. Nor does Bultmann's notion of the biblical world-view coincide with what a careful study of the wording of Sacred Scripture can ascertain. Bultmann is blind to the way in which figures and symbols are used in the Scriptures, and he has no awareness of the way in which allegory is fitted into the real historical sense of the biblical accounts.

        6. Exposition.  Elements rejected by Bultmann as depending upon the mythical world-view may fit the viewpoint of modern man, for it is not to be excluded that there may be a world of realities not accessible to conceptual thought, and it is such a world of extra-conceptual realities that is expressed in religion. Thus, the imaged and symbolic language of myth could be the proper language of religion, in which case Bultmann, in eliminating the mythical form of the New Testament description, could be eliminating its content as well.7 Marlé says that what Bultmann calls "myth" we call "mystery," for this is what Tradition has handed down to us, and we are convinced that outside of Tradition the fullness of revelation contained in the New Testament cannot be adequately safeguarded, that, in fact, the entire Christian faith would be gravely menaced. Whatever may be the theories that can be constructed to account for the singular reality of the glorified body of Christ, whatever may be the obscurity in which the Resurrection is enwrapped in the New Testament narratives, we do not fear to reiterate that it is the very same Jesus whom the disciples followed during his earthly life and whom they saw living after his death. The "humanity" of Our Lord and Savior is not for us merely the expression of a speculation concerning the metaphysical nature of Christ.8

        7. Remarks.  Bultmann maintains that the New Testament presents extra-conceptual ideas in the sense of preconceptual fantasies produced by primitive religious dreamers. Hence, his attack on the truth and reality of the New Testament accounts must be refuted.

        8. Exposition.  Marlé notes that Bultmann's reduction of the relevant history in the New Testament to my history, that is, to the historical "moments" constituting my individual existential "decisions," does not seem to be adequate, not only on the level of faith, but even on the level of philosophy, for it tends towards a radical individualism in which society and community, development and tradition lose all of their genuine value.9 While Bultmann wishes to leave a place for the interpersonal and social dimension of man, he speaks of this communal aspect only occasionally, and then only with reference to limited topics. Bultmann places the ultimate value of history in the uncovering of the possibilities of my own existence, but he does not provide sufficiently for the possibility that my discovery of my own potentiality may be connected with an eschatological purpose which concerns more than just myself.10

        9. Exposition.  Marlé asks whether Bultmann's rejection of all positive value in philosophical undertakings as such apart from purely formal inquiries is justified. Bultmann bases this rejection upon his affirmation that the fall of man is total. Marlé is not convinced that it is impossible to believe in the intelligibility of being. He suspects that to negate our being's fundamental aspiration to complete light and fullness of life is to give vent to a violent decision. Has man no longer any trace of the image of God in him? Bultmann does not deny the presence in man of this basic aspiration, but he says that it is immediately and totally perverted.11

        10. Exposition.  In an article published in 1961 for the English-speaking world,12 Marlé points out the strongly subjective character of Bultmann's notion of faith. In his work of 1956, Marlé had restated Barth's criticism of Bultmann's exposition of faith that the salvific meaning of the Cross is no longer to be sought within the process of time, but only beyond time, and that the Resurrection, as being the salvific meaning of the Cross, is not seen as an event in time, with the result that the object of the faith of the believer is not considered to have any reality outside of the reality of the believer himself.13 In his article of 1961, Marlé affirms that it is certain that Bultmann's "leap of faith" is purely subjective in character and hence does not support the thesis that Christianity is the only true religion. Referring to John Macquarrie's conjecture that Catholic theologians would have gone much further in agreeing with Bultmann, if the Magisterium of the Church had not clamped down on any such tendency, Marlé observes that Macquarrie is without doubt not entirely wrong on this point, but "there has never in fact been a need to await the intervention of the Magisterium to denounce the fatal outcome to which Bultmann's premisses would normally lead." It is to Bultmann's premises that Catholic theologians object first and foremost, and when they refer to the weakness or hollowness of his conclusions, it is only to bring more into the foreground the fundamental weaknesses contained in these premises.14

        11. Exposition.  Marlé avers that the historical character of Christian revelation must be preserved in order that faith may retain, not only its content, but also all of its reality. Bultmann's method is to reduce the content of faith to a "minimal core of factuality" (Macquarrie), whose emptiness will make it invulnerable to critical attacks, but it is useless to uphold any claims to the historical aspect of Christianity unless one is ready to admit that it prolongs itself in an Institution, in a Tradition, by establishing itself in a Dogma.15

        12. Exposition.  In a work on Bultmann published in 1966,16 Marlé expresses himself more favorably with regard to Bultmann's basic purpose. He still maintains that Bultmann's conceptual instruments are much too rigid to support a true theology or to appreciate the value of all of the New Testament revelation. Moreover, the "kerygmatic concentration" of Bultmann's preaching and the "narrowly practical" character of his spirituality provoke a feeling of stiffness and monotony. Bultmann, it is true, does not equate myth with fable, he recognizes that myth has a positive meaning, but the very general meaning which he ascribes to it keeps him from exploring all of the power to reveal which contemporary philosophy and anthropology have discovered in myth.17

        13. Remarks.  For Bultmann, the difference between myths and fables is that myths are imaginary stories about gods, while fables are imaginary stories about animals. One cannot defend the reality of the object of faith by talking about the revelatory power of myths.

        14. Exposition.  Marlé is of the opinion that Bultmann's use of the philosophy of Heidegger consists mainly in the borrowing of certain distinctions, with total neglect of what Heidegger has to say about the "poetic sense of mystery", for Heidegger, while not exceeding the bounds of philosophy, tended more and more towards the use of symbolic language. The intense fear of objectifying thought which guides Bultmann's theologizing indicates that he is still very much bound by objectifying thought, so that he has not gone beyond it but has rather accepted its laws and remains trapped in the artificial dilemmas which it engenders. He is a prisoner of an idealism that is powerless to contact the substance of things.18

        15. Remarks.  Recourse to the "poetic sense of mystery" does not defend the realities of the object of faith from the onslaught of Bultmann's demythologizing.

        16. Exposition.  Marlé sees himself as being neither an enthusiastic follower nor a bitter adversary of Bultmann's program of demythologizing, but rather as being one of Bultmann's moderate followers, who recognize in his program a justified concern, but reject the radicalism with which he has defined it and brought it into operation.19 Marlé admits, however, that Bultmann has shown courage in presenting the program and that the radical character of the proposals contained therein is an incentive to theologians of every persuasion to renew their contact with the very foundations of the faith they profess.20 Marlé admits also that Bultmann has himself pointed out the superficiality of those who criticize only the practical application of his principles or who simply reproach him for having gone too far, ignoring his claim that all of the elements of the program depend upon one another.21 Marlé feels that the current revival of interest in tradition, in the Church, and in sacramental symbolism stems from anxiety to recover realities lost sight of in the last few centuries because of excessive zeal for evangelical purity on the one side and of a dogmatic lack of flexibility on the other, or to the immoderate development of critical reason. The rediscovery of the value of images, symbols, and "myths" is an important aspect of this modern movement. The re-evaluation of the imagination will enable us to rediscover the value of the "images" through which divine revelation is given to us. If there is an historical revelation, and if salvation has actually been realized in the world, this revelation and this salvation will always be communicated to us in the world of images. These images are reality itself, because they have been formed by the Spirit of God.22

        17. Remarks.  "Demythologizing" needs to be totally rejected. Bultmann's promotion of a rationalist interpretation of the New Testament is not an example of Christian courage. The re-evaluation of the imagination is no argument in face of someone who claims to have reduced the Gospel accounts to sheer religious fantasy.

        18. Exposition.  Marlé attributes the great interest shown by people in Bultmann's work to the fact that modern criticism has made us more demanding, so that the man of today has difficulty in understanding ancient religious language and can no longer be content with literal repetition of the biblical formulas. If the world of today is in continuity with the world of the first Christians, contrary to Bultmann's view, and if the fundamental biblical images do contain in themselves all reality (realité), so that our faith should let itself be formed and nourished by them, then the only way in which we can establish contact with the world of the Apostles is in terms of the exigencies that we have as twentieth-century men. In other words, it would be an empty illusion to try to recover an ingenuousness forever lost. But the instrument of research should not be the questionable criteria borrowed by Bultmann from a narrow concept of existence, but rather theological work based on history.23 Bultmann, it is true, is in accord with the "intrinsic logic" of Protestantism, when he detaches faith from the historical and psychological elements in which it is rooted and transmitted. But those on the Catholic side who unilaterally develop a certain "Catholic logic" marked especially by its anti-Protestantism, also arrive at deficient and disputable positions. It is an error to try to reduce the faith of the various Churches to "logics" (logiques) of this kind.24

        19. Remarks.  Modern criticism is not sufficiently demanding of its own thought processes. The "Catholic logic" which is most needed here is not so much anti-Protestantism as anti-rationalism.

        20. Conclusion.  René Marlé bases his criticism of demythologizing on the following points:

        a) For the Catholic theologian the Word of God is focused essentially in the Person of the Word Incarnate, who is at one and the same time truly God and truly man.

        b) In addition to the corporal Resurrection of Jesus, the Ascension and the gift of the Spirit have also an essential significance for our faith.

        c) In order to be faithful to the apostolic witness in all its realism, we must not begin to accuse it of myths.

        d) It is the very same Jesus whom the disciples saw living after his death.

        e) It is a world of extra-conceptual realities that is expressed in religion.

        21. But Marlé includes another series of statements which weaken or contradict these points:

        a) Bultmann has a very pure and very demanding theology of paradox; the ideal Catholic theologian is the moderate follower of Bultmann who recognizes in Bultmann's program a justified concern, but rejects the radicalism with which he has defined it and brought it into operation.

        b) The guiding viewpoint of Bultmann's theology is that of a resolute believer, although the idols of New Testament mythology that he has marked out for destruction do seem artificial and contrived.

        c) The imaged and symbolic language of myth could be the proper language of religion.

        d) What Bultmann calls "myth" we call "mystery"; whatever may be the obscurity in which the Resurrection is enwrapped in the New Testament narratives, the humanity of Our Lord and Savior is not for us merely the expression of a speculation concerning the metaphysical nature of Christ; the dogmatic lack of flexibility in the Church has given way to the rediscovery of the value of images, symbols and myths; this re-evaluation of the imagination will enable us to rediscover the value of the images through which the divine revelation is given to us; revelation and salvation will always be communicated to us in the world of images; these images are reality itself, because they have been formed by the Spirit of God.

        e) The man of today can no longer be content with literal repetition of the biblical formulas; if the fundamental biblical images contain in themselves all reality, then the only way to establish contact with the world of the Apostles is to recognize our needs as twentieth-century men and abandon the attempt to recover an ingenuousness forever lost.

        22. In making these second affirmations, Marlé plays into Bultmann's hands:

        a) Since Bultmann totally rejects the truth of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and categorically excludes the entire object of Catholic faith, a Catholic theologian cannot reasonably be a moderate follower of Bultmann.

        b) Bultmann flatly and totally denies the Incarnation, the corporal Resurrection, the Ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, all of which Marlé admits to be essential for faith. If Marlé seriously thinks this, it is conceding too much to say that the guiding viewpoint of Bultmann's theology is that of a resolute believer, with the soft qualification that it does seem artificial and contrived for Bultmann to have eliminated these elements from his faith. How can this "guiding viewpoint" of Bultmann's theology, which does not contain at all these essential elements of faith, be the viewpoint of a "resolute believer"?

        c) Marlé has more than begun to accuse the apostolic witness of myths; he makes myth the proper language of the apostolic witness.

        d) Bultmann opposes the creation by preachers and theologians of "improvised mysteries" like the Trinity and the bodily Resurrection. But Bultmann does not reduce the Resurrection to a speculation concerning "the metaphysical nature of Christ"; he gives it the status of an "eschatological event." And has Marlé reflected deeply on what he is saying when he affirms that the images are the reality? Is the Person of the Word Incarnate, whom according to Marlé we encounter in faith, an image which is the reality? The Fathers of the Church did indeed see various biblical images as reflecting deeper realities, but they did not maintain that the images were the realities. Marlé seems here to be attempting to enunciate an important truth, but he expresses it confusedly.

        e) In the conflict with Jaspers, Ellwein, Künneth, Kinder, and Barth over the question of symbols of revelation and supernatural reality, the theory of Bultmann attained a subtlety of which Marlé seems largely unaware. Marlé does not expound his notion of "extra-conceptual realities" or clarify what they could be, and he aggravates this lack by his attack on conceptual realities. Faith, he says, cannot be reduced to Bultmannian logic, Catholic logic, or any logic. But we must ask whether any theology can get along without logic. It may be that opposition to logic is the cause of Marlé's confusion. How can he logically say, for instance, that Catholic theologians object only to Bultmann's premises, and not to his conclusions except to the extent that they illustrate the weakness of the premises. Are not the conclusions just as offensive as the premises? But which are the premises and which are the conclusions? Marlé tells us himself that in Bultmann's writings it is futile to try to distinguish the premises from the conclusions, and that he has never succeeded in doing so at all. Without the use of logic, he never will. When Marlé calls for the processing of the text of the Bible in order to produce a formulation that is acceptable to "modern man," he has virtually conceded the debate to Bultmann.


        23. Exposition.  Joseph Cahill25 undertakes to "examine some radical problems and solutions that are present and operative, though oftentimes not explicitly considered, in an assessment of Bultmann's theological approach." His intention is to "make explicit the beginnings at least of a systematic dialectic from which there is hope of progress in the understanding, if not the resolution, of mutual problems."26 Cahill thinks that Bultmann's writings may have greater speculative value than those of exegetes like Oscar Cullmann, who, for example, "with commendable clarity and insight, restores the biblical teaching and categories," but is also constrained to affirm that all subsequent speculation in terms of explanatory categories and those of the absolute, such as the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, is useless and improper.27 Bultmann has the merit of attempting to make the revelation contained in the Bible relevant for modern man through theological speculation and pertinent interpretation that have modern significance; he preserves the biblical categories while interpreting them in existentialist terms and in the thought patterns of modern man. Cahill does not agree with the modality of this twofold interpretation, but he welcomes Bultmann's attempt to bridge the gaps between the rich, modern interpretation of Scripture, speculative theology, and concrete "existential" man. "Criticisms of his total system should not obscure his grasp of the problem; and his projected solution with its twofold interpretation could be carefully studied by all theologians who must be concerned with the problem of theological relevance...."28

        24. Remarks.  Bultmann's theological speculation is of no use whatsoever for achieving an understanding of the biblical categories. Bultmann's "modern man" is that segment of contemporary men who believe in secular humanism and have no openness to divine revelation. In trying to make the New Testament relevant to his idea of modern man, Bultmann has denatured the Christian proclamation. Bultmann's interpretation of the New Testament writings has no objective or subjective richness.

        25. Exposition.  Cahill observes that Bultmann eliminates from his theology the objective consideration of God. This omission is common to all theologians who operate exclusively in existentialist categories.29 "The result of the exclusively existentialist emphasis is possibly suitable for the revivalist but hardly adequate for the theologian, who feels he must think about the entire deposit of faith, not simply one or other aspect of the faith."30 It is Cahill's studied opinion that even to preserve the existentiell (I-thou) relationship with Scripture it is necessary to try, through reflective, essentialist theology, to understand the objective event in itself.31 Despite Bultmann's rejection of all natural revelation, Cahill sees a striking possibility of natural revelation in the Bultmannian notion of pre-understanding. "Here one senses very definite echoes of Thomas' natural desire as well as Augustine's knowledge of divine Truth in the existential judgment."32

        26. Remarks.  Whoever eliminates the objective consideration of God from his theology has no theology left. Bultmann's notion of "pre-understanding" is based upon the idealist philosophy of Robin Collingwood and bears no resemblance to the speculation either of Thomas Aquinas or of Augustine of Hippo.

        27. Exposition.  From Bultmann's use of the term "presence" it does not appear to Cahill that Christ is present in the preached Word as God is present in the Word. It is not clear that "Word" has the univocal meaning that Bultmann claims for it. Some writers33 have undertaken to develop the idea of Christ as a speech-event, but their presentations do not transcend the level of description, and they, therefore, do not even begin to explain the phenomena in question, since a description is not an explanation. Descriptive nomenclature simply tolerates the problem; it does not solve it.34 Cahill agrees with Paul Althaus's judgment that Bultmann virtually reincarnates Ritschl's practice of supplanting historical facts with value-judgments; for Bultmann the only Christ is the Christ for us. Faith, therefore, becomes centered on a religious value-judgment. Using Robin Collingwood's distinctions, Cahill says that, in terms of Bultmann's principle, it is no longer clear that the "outside" of the religious experience (for instance, of the Person of the Jesus of history) "is anything more than a secular and profane, though sanguine, incident, with no intrinsic and permanent relation to the experiential grasp of the divine revelation."35 Bultmann admits that his existential encounter cannot defend itself against the charge of illusion, and he attempts no rational justification for it. The subjective encounter, as a subjective experience, is essentially incommunicable and could therefore easily be a mere personality projection. But the categories of religious experience must be capable of objective as well as intersubjective presentation, because man is a psychosomatic unity.36 While the "inside" of strictly supernatural events may transcend direct historical investigation, "the validity and necessity of the strictly historical method for a reconstruction of certain past outer events which the believer apprehends with a new magnitude and dimension as revelation cannot be minimized or distinguished out of existence." The possibility of faith is offered because God has intervened in history. Since by "theology" is meant thinking about the faith, it follows that accurate historical investigation must always be a part of theology, so that "no amount of subjective a priori speculation or postulation can substitute for or replace critical investigation of the divine events as well as enlightened examination of the later understanding of the divine events manifested in the theological sources."37

        28. Remarks.  Bultmann glories in the fact that, as a "modern man," he has supplanted what naive Christians believe to be the Gospel facts with existentialist value-judgments. He admits that what, in Collingwood's terminology, constitutes the "outside" of the event of Christ is nothing more than a secular and profane incident. It is, therefore, incumbent upon those who would differ with Bultmann to refute his exegesis of the Gospels and to demonstrate that his conclusions about the purely imaginary character of the supernatural side of the life of Christ are false, or at least to refer to others who have already done so. Bultmann admits that his "existential encounter" cannot defend itself against illusion, because he believes that he is simply exchanging an ancient fantasy for a modern one. He is a modern sophist, and it is indeed surprising how far he has gotten with his sophistic argumentation.

        29. Exposition.  Cahill draws attention to the fact that Bultmann, theologizing from systematic premises taken from the Kantian separation of faith and knowledge and the Lutheran dichotomy between corruptive works of the intellect and the absolute status of faith, to which he has added the refinements of Heideggerian existentialism, dismisses the dogmatic formulations of the early ecumenical councils (as products of an objectivizing Hellenistic ontology) and reverts to Scriptural categories as the only legitimate understanding of revelation. Bultmann fails to realize that dogma is the terminus of a transit from the descriptive to the explanatory.38

        30. Remarks.  Cahill's recognition that Bultmann reasons from Lutheran, Kantian, and Heideggerian systematic premises is a correct approach to the problem of demythologizing. In order to become effective, this manner of reply needs to be based upon a developed idea of the validity of "objectivizing Hellenistic ontology" and, in particular, upon the validity and importance of Thomist philosophy for contemporary believers.

        31. Conclusion.  Joseph Cahill's contribution to the demythologizing debate is in the form of a review of Macquarrie's book. Cahill's intention is to make explicit at least the beginnings of a systematic dialectic, and a scant beginning it is. Among the points briefly presented are the following:

        a) Bultmann eliminates from his theology the objective consideration of God.

        b) The categories of religious experience must be capable of objective presentation, because man is a psychosomatic unity.

        c) Bultmann fails to realize that dogma is the terminus of a transit from the descriptive to the explanatory.

        32.  But Cahill weakens these points with other affirmations:

        a) Bultmann preserves the biblical categories while interpreting them existentially in the thought-patterns of modern man.

        b) There is a striking possibility of natural revelation in Bultmann's notion of pre-understanding; while the inside of strictly supernatural events may transcend directly historical investigation, "the validity and necessity of the strictly historical method for a reconstruction of certain past outer events which the believer apprehends with a new magnitude and dimension as revelation cannot be minimized or distinguished out of existence."

        c) Since theology means thinking about the faith, accurate historical investigations must always be a part of theology: no amount of subjective a priori speculation or postulation can substitute for critical investigation of the divine events in the theological sources.

        33.  By not clarifying these affirmations Cahill plays into Bultmann's hands.

        a) Once Cahill admits that Bultmannian existentialism accords with the thought-patterns of modern man, the burden of proof is on him to show that the elimination of the objective consideration of God and of his revelation is an error. Bultmann has provided false arguments of considerable length for this elimination.

        b) Bultmann makes much of the fact that man is a unity. If it follows from man's psychosomatic unity that the categories of religious experience must be capable of objective presentation, it would be interesting to see how the convincing argument for this is constructed. Nevertheless, Bultmann admits that the categories of religious experience are capable of objective presentation. He calls this presentation "myth." Again, Cahill sees in Bultmann's notion of pre-understanding a "striking" possibility of natural revelation which Bultmann excludes. Cahill claims to see in Bultmann's notion what Bultmann denies is in it. It is incumbent upon Cahill to show clearly that this possibility is there. Furthermore, Cahill accepts Collingwood's thesis of the "inside" and the "outside" of events, a distinction which has served Bultmann's existentialism well. Cahill does not spell out how, on the basis of Collingwood's philosophy of history, he can legitimately speak of the "inside" of "strictly supernatural events" which may transcend direct historical investigation. Has Cahill meditated on the meaning of these terms in the philosophy of Collingwood? Finally, is Cahill admitting that revelation is not itself an historical event, but just a magnitude and dimension that is seen by the believer in certain past ("outer") events? This would seem to be a fatal concession to Bultmann.

        c) Bultmann makes the results of a certain kind of so-called "historical investigation" a presupposition of his theologizing. He is a master of this kind of work. What Bultmann rejects is, to use Cahill's own words, the "new magnitude and dimension" that is said to have been "projected," or "objectified" by the primitive Christian believer into supernatural events that "critical historical investigation" finds to be a product of purely subjective speculation. And Bultmann does not deny that dogma is a transit from the descriptive to the explanatory; he simply repudiates dogma as being a false and uncritical explanation derived from speculation upon fanciful ideas that modern man can no longer accept. Cahill, in the admittedly short space of his review, does not give a convincing reply to Bultmann's basic contentions.


1. R. Marlé, Bultmann et l'interprétation du Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1956 [henceforth referred to as MBI]).

2. Marlé, MBI, 179.

3. Marlé, MBI, 174-175.

4. Marlé, MBI, 171-172.

5. Marlé, MBI, 62-63.

6. Marlé, MBI, 64.

7. Marlé, MBI, 66-69. Cf. MBI, 63.

8. Marlé, MBI, 180-181.

9. Marlé, MBI, 99.

10. Marlé, MBI, 101-103.

11. Marlé, MBI, 135.

12. R. Marlé, "Demythologizing Assessed," in The Heythrop Journal (1961), 42-47.

13. Marlé, MBI, 169-170.

14. Marlé, "Demythologizing Assessed," 45-46. "Catholic theologians object first and foremost to his premisses, and if they point out the weakness or - hollowness - of his conclusions, it is only to bring more into the foreground the fundamental weaknesses contained in these premisses. In this connection, some insist on his narrow philosophical anthropology others on the indefensible assumptions of his exegesis others on his Lutheran premisses whose full danger is eminently clear in his system. It is indeed possible to show how all these different factors are not unconnected" (ibid., 46). However, in MBI, 176, note 5 (to which he here refers the reader), Marlé seems to admit an inability to distinguish with any degree of success which are Bultmann's premises and which are his conclusions: "Il nous semble assez vain de nous demander si la position de Bultmann dépend de la manière dont il pose son problème initial, des catégories qu'il utilise, de la philosophie dont il se rèclame, ou de la foi qu'il confesse. Tout, peut-on dire, est a la fois chez lui cause, conséquence, symptôme ...."

15. Marlé, "Demythologizing Assessed," 47.

16. R. Marlé, Bultmann et la foi chrétienne (Paris, 1967 [henceforth referred to as MBFC]); Engl. trans., Bultmann and Christian Faith (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1968 [henceforth referred to as MBCF]).

17. Marlé, MBFC, 79-80 (MBCF, 52).

18. Marlé, MBFC, 81-82 (MBCF, 53-54).

19. Marlé, MBFC, 77 (MBCF, 51).

20. Marlé, MBFC, 154-155 (MBCF, 106). "Aussi bien ne pouvons-nous nous contenter de voir en Bultmann un péril dont il faudrait exorciser le monde chrétien. Ce théologien intrépide nous a alertés sur l'urgence de problèmes que nous ne pouvons pas éluder. Par le caractère radical des solutions qu'il propose, et qui présentent au moins le mérite d'être des solutions réfléchies, il provoque en outre chaque confession à rejoindre les fondements mêmes de la foi dont elle se réclame. C'est pourquoi la 'crise' de conscience chrétienne qu'il a très largement contribué à formuler, voire à précipiter, ne devrait pas seulement, selon nous, être stérilement déplorée. Elle doit plutôt convaincre toutes les Eglises de l'urgence renouvelée de la tâche théologique" (ibid.).

21. Marlé, MBFC, 77-78 (MBCF, 51).

22. Marlé, MBFC, 84-85 (MBCF, 55-56).

23. Marlé, MBFC, 85-87 (MBCF, 56-57).

24. Marlé, MBFC, 154 (MBCF, 106).

25. P. J. Cahill, "(Notes concerning John Macquarrie's) The Scope of Demythologizing," in Theological Studies, 23 (1962), 79-92 [henceforth referred to as JCSD]).

26. Cahill, JCSD, 79.

27. Cahill, JCSD, 86. "The Logos is the self-revealing, self-giving God - God in action. This action only is the subject of the New Testament. Therefore, all abstract speculation about the 'natures' of Christ is not only a useless undertaking, but actually an improper one" (O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, 266).

28. Cahill, JCSD, 86. Cf. Charles Davis, "The Danger of Irrelevance, " in The Downside Review 79 (1961), 100; K. Rahner, "The Prospects for Dogmatic Theology," in Theological Investigations (Engl. trans., Baltimore: 1961), 2-37.

29. Cahill, JCSD, 89.

30. Cahill, JCSD, 90.

31. Cahill, JCSD, 89.

32. Cahill, JCSD, 80, note 4.

33. See Carl Michalson, in Christian Century (1961), 553.

34. Cahill, JCSD, 85.

35. Cahill, JCSD, 84. Cf. Ian Henderson, Myth in the New Testament (London, 1952), 49.

36. Cahill, JCSD. 82, note 7.

37. Cahill, JCSD, 83-84.

38. Cahill, JCSD, 87-89.

Go to: Roman Theological Forum | Living Tradition Index | Previous Issue | Next Issue