ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 83||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||September 1999|
by John F. McCarthy
a) a radical dualism between "non-world" and "world." Bultmann's concept of myth as signifying something that cannot have taken place in space and time postulates an "appropriate dissociation"6 of Christian belief from the world, a goal that Bultmann attempts to accomplish through the use of existentialist interpretation. But Bultmann's purely formal definition of myth will stand only to the extent that the fundamental dualism of world and ultraworld is accepted as a logical premise.75. Remarks. Vögtle is absolutely correct in observing that Bultmann's definition of myth will stand up only to the extent that his distinction between "non-world" and "world" is accepted as a logical premise. To carry this point further, Bultmann's "non-world" is just a euphemism for "imaginary world," as far as objectivity is concerned, and for "my awareness of my own subjectivity," as far as the believer is concerned. Bultmann's definition of historicity as "being in the state of decision, of deciding and of being able ever to decide anew," where the decision involved is merely the choosing of one's own "self-authenticity," amounts to a continual denial of the reality of the object of Christian faith and to a continual affirmation of one's own empty subjectivity. Bultmann's jump from "pre-understanding" to the "understanding" attributed to the "existentiell decision" is not a jump to any kind of real understanding; it is merely a turning away from reality to egoistic fantasy, it is a conversion away from the contemplation of the object of Christian faith to a preoccupation with one's own subjectivity as such; and thus, it does not seem to be conceptually distinct from the studious cultivation of the act of pride.
b) a double concept of history and of historical knowledge. Bultmann posits a fundamental difference between nature and history, and thus also between the knowledge of nature and the knowledge of history. Then he distinguishes two heterogeneous levels of historical knowledge, calling the lower level Historie and the higher level Geschichte. He locates the true essence of history in that "historicity" which is "the existential structure of the being which exists necessarily in history," namely, Dasein, following the theory of Martin Heidegger.8 Thus, Bultmann restricts the word "historicity" (Geschichtlichkeit) to what he calls "the essential character of historical being," which is the existentialist notion of existence, so that for him "true existence" means "being in the state of decision, in deciding and being able ever to decide anew." Thus, for Bultmann, "the encounter and the 'comprehending decision' (verstehende Entscheidung) derived from it form the essence of every historical being." But, in order to arrive at this conception of true existence, Bultmann has to divide objectivizing-cosmological thought and existential thought into two fields which he makes mutually exclusive on the ontological level. He thus reduces the thesis of the divinity of Christ to the following alternative: it can be interpreted either cosmologically in the objectivizing sense or soteriologically in the existential sense. The implication is: Tertium non datur! 9 Vögtle, following Ott, distinguishes between the vertical unity of history (that in which man is found in the individual historical moment) and the horizontal unity of history (the unity of the meaning of the historical development as such), and he concludes that Bultmann's theory destroys both. In the sphere of history (Geschichte) things have meaning only to the extent that they are real (wirklich).10
c) the hermeneutical principle of "pre-understanding." Bultmann's conception of understanding is divided between the correlative notions of "pre-understanding" and "self-understanding," both understood in terms of the existentialism of Heidegger. By force of this distinction the historical event of Christ is reduced to an abstract and groundless "that" - namely, that Jesus lived and was crucified. Vögtle thinks that the jump from pre-understanding to understanding in the theory of Bultmann is unexplainable.11
d) a double concept of time. According to Vögtle the detailed research of Heinrich Ott has shown that Bultmann's double concept of time is the key idea of all of his systematic premises.12 Bultmann makes a fundamental distinction between time as flux (Verlaufzeit) and time as now (Jetztzeit). He means that the flux of worldly time comes to an end every time that there is a "now" of decision in faith, for this "now" is a point without dimensions, not pertaining to linear time and not to be conceived as an infinitesimal portion of the line of time. In similar fashion, the future in its eschatological sense as proposed by Bultmann does not pertain to what will take place in the course of time. For Bultmann, to open oneself to the future means simply to live "authentically" in the Heideggerian sense. Nor does the past mean simply that which once was; in Bultmann's eminently historical (geschichtlich) and existential sense it signifies "that which is subjected to the law of the past." Therefore, in Bultmannian terminology, things which will take place in worldly time are already past, for anything is "past" that is disposable, objective,, and ascertainable. In this way the unexplainable jump from pre-understanding to understanding actually becomes part of the theory: since the eschatological "now" stands just at the dividing line between past and future in the existentialist sense, the decision to open oneself to the future is so properly an existentiell experience that it in no way can be explained on the level of existentialist (existential) analysis.13 In this way Bultmann limits the history of salvation to his notion of the kerygmatic situation, namely, to the encounter of the individual believer with the eschatological summons of the message of Christ.14
a) The story of Jesus. As an historian Bultmann carries forward the work of the liberal historical-critical school and of the history-of-religions school, ending up with an extremely negative picture of the origin of Christianity.157. Remarks. Bultmann's "extremely negative picture" of the origin of Christianity results from a fallacious interpretation of the inspired text of the Gospels, and, therefore, merits full refutation. And Bultmann's notion of faith is immune to historical-criticism, as Vögtle points out, inasmuch as it is merely a state of mind not based upon real objective facts. To all appearances, Bultmann's "faith" is nothing but his creation of a modern egoistic fantasy to substitute for genuine Christian faith, with the result that Bultmann's own theological writings present themselves in the category of poetic fantasy.18
b) The origin of Christology. Through the use of form-criticism, Bultmann came to the conclusion that the life of Jesus as it actually took place was not messianic: in the most ancient layer of the Gospel tradition (Rom 1:4; Acts 2:36; Phil 2:6-11) the life of Jesus is not presented as messianic, and the suspicion which this fact raises is confirmed by Mark's introduction of the literary device of the "messianic secret" to explain the absence of this messianic feature. Therefore, according to Bultmann, Jesus became the Messiah, the Son of Man, only in the interpretation of the primitive Christian community, and the interpretation of Jesus as a divine being was added even later in the Hellenistic milieu.16
c) The reciprocal relationship between historical-criticism and Bultmann's total systematic outlook. In Bultmann's theology true faith cannot be damaged by even the most radical historical-criticism, because faith is not based upon real and objective facts.17
a) The absence of conceptual exactness. There is a lack of sufficient distinction between the hermeneutic, homiletic, and apologetic problems presented by Bultmann. He does not distinguish the exegetical-historical problem of the thought of primitive Christianity from the philosophical-theological problem, and he is constrained to accord to the latter an unquestioned priority in the act of understanding the true intention of the texts.199. Remarks. Bultmann's theology thrives on sophistic arguments. What has enabled its impact upon Catholic theologians and exegetes is their lack of conceptual organization and exactness in analyzing his system. Vögtle is certainly on the right track in attempting to organize the question in terms of the premises of Bultmann's thought. The next step should be to organize a full response in terms of a mental framework that expresses and organizes the premises of Catholic thought. These premises are contained in large part in the Catholic exegetical and theological tradition, but they need to be expressed in terms of the new questions that have been raised especially during the last two centuries. The truly historical character of the Four Gospels is brought out in great splendor when they are interpreted according to a truly scientific method of exegesis.
b) The abiding value of myth in the language of religion. In the teaching of Bultmann, mythology is taken to be a definite form of thought and expression which is always valid in the midst of evolving conceptions of the world and which is absolutely necessary and legitimate for religion as the means of expressing a certain non-mythical and actually existing transcendent reality (realtà).20
c) The explanation of the rise of the New Testament kerygma. Bultmann's account of the rise of the kerygma is untenable, because in order to sustain it he has to deny documented events. The faith-testimony of tradition has as its object history (Historie) itself, when it affirms that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of Israel.21
d) The groundlessness of the alleged need for demythologizing the New Testament. Bultmann bases this need upon the presupposition that a divine intervention into nature and history is impossible from the viewpoint of present-day natural science, upon a radically dualistic separation of God from the world, based probably upon the Lutheran principle that sin has produced a total break between the world and the activity of God, upon the validity of the existentialist interpretation of myth and of man, and upon the conviction that various accounts in the New Testament contradict one another.22 The fact is, remarks Vögtle, that the kerygma and faith make intimate reference to the objective and historisch factor in the New Testament accounts. The value attributed to the first testimonies presupposes a personally lived history; the vigor attributed to the proof based upon the fulfillment in the coming of Christ of the expectation contained in the prophecies of the Old Testament illustrates the supremely historical character of the history of salvation. Within the horizon of Bultmann's theory, this promise-fulfillment proportion cannot be included.23
a) For his presupposition of the spontaneous generation of the Church, Bultmann is completely indebted to Alfred Loisy, who had earlier declared that the great mystical society of the Church sprang from the Gospel unexpectedly, emerging from the labors of the first missionaries "in a spontaneous manner as from an irresistible pressure of faith that produced something entirely different from what the believers had hoped to achieve." The other presupposition assumes that the Church recovered from its initial shock at the failure of the expected parousia and allowed its transformation into an historical community.40 Bultmann does not spend much time trying to explain why the Church, the "creative Christian community," was itself in its turn "created," or by whom or when, an omission which is all the more telling when Jesus, according to the same theory, is supposed to have appealed only to individual persons and never with the idea of gathering a community around him. What Lattanzi means is that an eschatological community, having no interest in the history of this world, would have had no motivation to unite itself into a society.4122. Summary. Ugo Lattanzi's article is aimed directly at Bultmann's overall interpretation of the Gospels and at his understanding of the origin of the Church rather than at demythologizing in itself. He presents five principal arguments against Bultmann's approach:
b) Bultmann's difficulty regarding a presupposed spontaneous generation of the Church is increased by the decided implausibility of his second presupposition, that of the will of the Church to endure as an historical phenomenon, because the primitive community, once it saw that its hopes for an imminent return of Jesus were unfulfilled, would simply have had no reason to want to endure as an established Church. Bultmann says that the eschatological community "could not fail to recognize that it had become an historical phenomenon and that the Christian faith had taken on the shape of a new religion."42 Since hope for the imminent return of Jesus is presumed to have been the only bond of union among the disciples, there was no reason why they would not have disbanded immediately upon the rise of their disappointment and withdrawn their act of faith in the Resurrection. The fact that the Church did not dissolve implies two basic facts: that hope for an immediate parousia was not shared by the entire membership (cf. 2 Thess 2:2-3) and that the chief basis of the Christian hope was the factuality of the words and deeds of Jesus, particularly of his Resurrection from the dead. Bultmann speaks of the primitive community as though the Apostles had vanished completely from the scene.43 Perhaps Bultmann's reason for isolating Jesus from the Apostles and the Apostles from the primitive Church is to preserve Jesus and the Apostles from the accusation of fraud. But this reason is refuted by St. Paul himself in 1 Cor 15:15. Consequently, Bultmann's demythologizing bolsters Hermann Reimarus' theory of fraud, but it is also torn apart from within by its contradictory efforts to present faith to man and to subtract from faith all rational validity and credibility.44
a) Bultmann's theological postulate of the radical opposition between God and the world does not lead to the paradoxical identity which Bultmann claims, but only to pure subjectivity.
b) Bultmann's exegetical postulate that the original message of Jesus was eschatological and in no way historical (historisch) in the interest it had for Him and for the first disciples is completely annihilated by the testimony of I Cor 15:3-8; Bultmann's exclusion of a faith-interest of the first disciples in Historie assumes a colossal stupidity on the part of the Gospel writers which is not borne out.
c) Bultmann's sociological postulate that an anonymous primitive Christian community "created" the kerygma ignores the fact that there is not a single clear and uncontestable instance in the whole New Testament of a poetic or religious myth created and inserted by the early Church; nor can it account for the transforming power of the Gospels.
d) Bultmann's first presupposition that the Church sprang spontaneously from the faith of the first believers does not explain why the Church was created, by whom, or when; a purely eschatological community would have no motivation for uniting itself into a society.
e) Bultmann's second presupposition that the eschatological community chose to endure as an historical phenomenon and as an established Church is implausible, since hope for the imminent return of Jesus would have been their only bond of unity. Rather, says Lattanzi, their Christian hope was based on the factuality of the words and deeds of Jesus, and particularly of his having arisen from the dead.