Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
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No. 83 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program September 1999


by John F. McCarthy

Part IV   -  Anton Vögtle and Ugo Lattanzi

        1. The element of mental frameworks.  As we reviewed in the first three parts of this study the responses of six Catholic writers to the call of Rudolf Bultmann for the demythologizing of the New Testament proclamation, the reader may have noted the recurring inability of these writers to produce a well-rounded reply or even to visualize the problem with adequate clarity. This may seem surprising, considering that Bultmann's challenge to Catholic belief is total: he calls "mythical" the entire supernatural object of Catholic faith. Among the causes of this weakness of response on the level of reason I would suggest a lack of sufficiently differentiated ideas in such areas as logic and theory of knowledge and the perennial absence of an adequate conception of historical science. Under the aspect of the relationship of faith to reason, the lack of full ability to respond can be traced in part to the modern separation between exegetes and theologians, according to which exegetes tend to lose sight of the full theological picture and theologians do not feel competent to examine the results of exegesis. And Catholic exegetes have never responded adequately to the outrageous results of the form-criticism of Bultmann and his many co-workers. As a result, both exegetes and theologians tend to address the notion of demythologizing with much more sympathy than it could ever deserve, and we have seen this sympathy spelled out in imperfectly formulated responses. The two writers who follow in the present part, Anton Vögtle and Ugo Lattanzi, were aware of this problem, and they attempted to fill in the gaps by better organized replies. As we review their analyses, we should especially keep in mind the need of an adequate mental framework, not only the assumed framework of this or that sacred writer, as historical-critics do, but also the consciously formed and self-appropriated mental framework of the interpreter himself, which historical-critics tend to overlook. It is Bultmann's mental framework that these two writers have especially in view, but the basic underlying problem kept in the background is how Bultmann's mental framework, the Evangelists' mental frameworks, the mental frameworks of Bultmann's critics, and, in general, every mental framework can be fitted into a general theory of biblical interpretation. We are searching for a clear idea of historical science and of how it functions in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.


        2. Exposition.  Anton Vögtle1  is of the opinion that the program of demythologizing announced by Bultmann in 1941 is but the concentrated synthesis of an overall theological labor that had been oriented in this determinate direction from its very beginning. Vögtle agrees with the Lutheran theologian, Heinrich Ott, and the Catholic theologian, Heinrich Fries, that it is necessary to deduce the basic premises of Bultmann's demythologizing from the entire corpus of his theological production.2  Following indications given by Heinrich Ott in his book on demythologizing,3  Vögtle too sees the program to be based upon a series of purely philosophical postulates regarding time, history, reality, and the very notion of meaning itself. But he keeps in mind that Bultmann develops here and there in his writings premises of different kinds and of varying provenance, taking them from the schools of the "history of religions" and of "historical-criticism," from rationalist liberalism with its view of reality, of man, and of the modern world, from existentialist philosophy, from dialectical theology and from Luther himself, bringing them together finally into a compact interior unity which is so imposing that to some critics it seems almost terrifying.4

        3. Remarks.  The answer to the imposing and almost terrifying unity into which Bultmann has molded the premises of his thought can be adequately answered only on the basis of a more imposing unity, namely, the unity of a new Catholic synthesis of theology, loyal to the existing syntheses of the great Fathers of the Church, of Thomas Aquinas and other great theologians of the past, and the employment in this new synthesis of the results of the neo-Patristic exegesis of Sacred Scripture. The raw material for the expansion of the new synthesis is precisely the refutation of the kind of presuppositions, heretofore not fully dealt with by Catholic thinkers, that Bultmann and other rationalist critics use in their writings.

        4. Exposition.  Vögtle sees Bultmann's program to be based upon four systematic and three historical premises.5  The systematic premises include the following:

        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.7

        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

        5. 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.

        6. Exposition.  Vögtle lists also three fountainheads of Bultmann's historical premises:

        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.15

        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

        7. 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

        8. Exposition.  Vögtle lists as follows the principal arguments used against Bultmann's program of demythologizing.

        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.19

        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

        9. 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.

        10. Exposition.  Vögtle points out that even from the Catholic side it is expressly admitted by some of the more recent writers that the Easter message is something more than a simple assertion of historical fact. Rudolf Schnackenburg, for instance, sees a grain of truth in Bultmann's assertion that the Resurrection cannot be established as an objective fact, even in the presence of so many testimonies, for the reason that it is per se an object of faith and therefore only the faith of the witnesses can be directly demonstrated. Nevertheless, Catholic critics have reached the conclusion that the reality of the fact of the Resurrection can be rendered "obviously believable."24  Bultmann's existentialist interpretation does not take into account that salvation becomes actual for us in the sacraments as well as through preaching; his interpretation leaves no room for anything more than a purely formalistic ethic. Heinrich Ott sees as significant the fact that Bultmann was not ready to reply to Fritz Buri's proposal to carry demythologizing to its logical conclusion of dekerygmatization of the Christian viewpoint. Vögtle adds that Bultmann's exposition becomes particularly forced, obscure, and unconvincing precisely in those places where he tries to demonstrate the need of an act of divine love for the attainment of "authentic existence."25

        11. Remarks.  Schnackenburg's observation that the Resurrection of Jesus cannot be established as an objective fact for the reason that it is per se an object of faith confuses the issue. Scientific history is, for the most part, constructed on the testimony of reliable witnesses. The witnesses in this case are reliable. The supernatural significance of the Resurrection is a per se object of faith, but the historical fact of the Resurrection is a matter of history. The reliability of the witnesses to the Resurrected Jesus and of the Gospel writers themselves depends upon the consistent absence of error in the text of the Gospels, and this fact illustrates the extent of the disaster produced by the many Catholic historical-critics who have adopted Bultmann's method of exegesis with its devastating conclusions. In this connection, it is important to note that the per se objects of faith pertain to the one continuum of reality recognized by those who are using the concept of reality in its authentic sense, and not in the sophistic sense suggested by Bultmann with his false distinction between Wirklichkeit and Historität. The probable reason for which Bultmann readily admitted that his notion of faith could not be defended against the charge of illusion was his awareness that his faith was, in fact, just a well-elaborated fancy. For this reason he was not ready to reply to Buri's proposal to eliminate the kerygma as well from the faith of modern man. But this refusal illustrates the apologetic weakness of demythologizing and of the form-critical method in general, namely, that historical-critics, wherever they may be located on the spectrum of form-critical conclusions, glory in their denials of historical truth in the biblical text, but run for cover whenever they are challenged to defend any of the Gospel truths that they have not themselves eliminated. In other words, historical-critics are notoriously inept at defending against attack the "core" of historical truth in the Gospels that they presume not to have been eliminated.

        12. Conclusion.  Anton Vögtle presents a well-written summary of the method of demythologizing, organized around the formulation of four systematic and three historical premises of Bultmann's thought. These premises are taken from the undeveloped indications given by Heinrich Ott. Vögtle uses the idea of these premises to organize his exposition, and he thus makes a good start on an adequate reply to Bultmann's proposal, but he does not develop his article in such wise as to provide a complete response. The main thrust of Vögtle's long article remains the presentation of Bultmann's thought rather than the incorporation of an answer to Bultmann's challenge into an independent synthesis of his own. Of the four chief arguments against demythologizing that Vögtle lists, the first (absence of conceptual precision) could have provided the basis of an independent interpretation. If, according to Vögtle, Bultmann's seven premises are the result of conceptual inexactness, then what are the exact definitions which Bultmann's inexact definitions represent? Vögtle does not undertake to tell us.


        13. Exposition.  Just as primitive peoples grouped the conspicuous stars of the sky into configurations named and visualized according to their cosmogonic or cosmographic religious conceptions, so also, observes Ugo Lattanzi,26  form-critics have cut up the living Gospels into constellations of texts in keeping with their own metaphysical conception of reality. This conception consists of a set of principles which Lattanzi calls postulates to the extent that they are expressly assumed as the basis of theoretical constructions and presuppositions to the extent that they are more or less consciously used as premises but kept implicit, perhaps for reasons of prudence. In terms of this distinction, it seems to Lattanzi that there are at the basis of Bultmann's thought three postulates and two presuppositions. Bultmann's thought has as its point of departure three postulates: a theological postulate, an exegetical postulate, and a sociological postulate.27

        14. Remarks.  Lattanzi follows the lead of Heinrich Ott and Anton Vögtle in undertaking to bring out the premises of Bultmann's thought, which he goes on to divide into postulates and presuppositions. Thus, the focus of attention is drawn, not simply to the supposed mentality of the writers of the Gospels, but also and more immediately to the mental framework of a critic of the Gospels, namely, Rudolf Bultmann.

        15. Exposition.  Bultmann's theological postulate.  For Bultmann the relation of the world to God is based, not upon the analogy of being, but rather upon an essential antinomy and radical opposition of the two. Lattanzi comments that this basic dualism postulated by Bultmann does not admit of any relationship of causality that could be recognized by reason, since the world is taken to be an absolutely closed and autonomous system.28  This postulate of Bultmann excludes any reasonable doctrine about God, and it excludes a fortiori any doctrine revealed by God. Consequently, the entire content of the Christian creed has to be considered a creation of the early Church, and the New Testament narratives which contain this creed have to be relegated to the status of myths, because they express in terms of the world what in itself does not pertain to the world. Similarly, Bultmann, by reason of this postulate, is constrained to speak of the act of God as completely hidden and undiscoverable by reason. Miracles are excluded by the same principle, for, as evident phenomena, they would contradict the essentially hidden nature of the act of God.29  The theological postulate requires that faith be conceived, not as adherence of any kind by the human intellect to truth revealed by God, but rather as "the decision, achieved in the overcoming of the offense, against the world for God."30  So faith is a leap into "non-world" and, hence, does not need to be rendered legitimate on an historical basis.31  Lattanzi asks how Bultmann can deem it possible to rise above his own absolute separation of world and "non-world" to affirm the existence of "non-world" (God) and of his "mysterious acting." Bultmann stands between Scylla and Charybdis: any talk of an "act of God" either is mythological in the Bultmannian sense or it is a mere linguistic means of describing experiences of one's own consciousness referring to nothing outside of it. This is not a paradoxical identity of the objective event with the action of God; it is pure subjectivity. The same dilemma arises from the Protestant notion underlying Bultmann's notion of faith: faith is considered to be either an act of salvation worked by God in man, in which case it must be categorized as mythical, or an act of the man who decides "for God," as Bultmann says, in which case it has no reasonable and historically justifiable motivation and must, therefore, be categorized as purely subjective.32

        16. Remarks.  As Lattanzi points out, Bultmann excludes any relationship of causality between the world and God and any reasonable doctrine about God. For Bultmann the "act of God" is not merely hidden, it is nonexistent. Lattanzi's basic charge against Bultmann's conception of the "act of God" is that it is unreasonable, and Bultmann has no answer to that charge except that for him faith does not depend upon reason. Bultmann calls "myth" any bringing over to "this side" of acts belonging to "the other side," but where is "the other side"? It seems that the "other side" is the world of fancy and religious imagination, and that is where, for Bultmann, any objective idea of God or of divine acts is located.

        17. Exposition.  Bultmann's exegetical postulate.  Bultmann bases his thought on the principle that the message of Jesus was exclusively eschatological. From among all of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, he selects as authentic precisely those which would show that the early Church considered itself to be the eschatological community having no interest in history in the sense of Historie.33  Lattanzi maintains that it cannot be shown that the message of Jesus was exclusively eschatological and ethical in the Bultmannian sense. Nor can it be shown that the primitive Christian community had no faith-interest in Historie. On the contrary, it is easy to show that the Apostles and the "primitive Christian community" had the greatest interest in the historical truth of the words and deeds of Jesus, and above all in the fact of his Resurrection from the dead. The irrefutable proof of this interest is the early catechesis contained in 1 Cor 15:3-8, in which it is clearly stated that five hundred of the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus at the same time and could give impressive witness to the fact that the Apostles were not deceiving them on this score.34  "There is no need to say that this text of Paul annihilates the entire theory of Formgeschichte in general and the thought of Bultmann in particular." Hence, Bultmann35  has reason to describe as "fatal" this kind of Pauline argumentation - fatal in the sense that St. Paul adduces proof for the credibility of the kerygma. But Bultmann confuses the fact of the Resurrection with the mysterious reality (Phil 3:10) and sanctifying effects (Rom 4:25) of its power, and he confuses the visible and historical aspect of the fact of the Resurrection with its invisible and soteriological aspect. Bultmann admits that St. Luke set out to write his Gospel from the viewpoint of a "scrupulous historian."36  He should, therefore, have allowed the conclusion that Luke guarantees the historical truth of all of the verses in his Gospel, not just of the 541 verses that are proper to his Gospel. Bultmann, furthermore, has to assume a colossal stupidity on the part of the Church to have gone to such trouble to create sayings and stories to substantiate its claim historically and yet to have left lying around in its Gospels so many eschatological texts which belied the claim. Why also, if the Gospels were composed after the Epistles of St. Paul, are the more developed formulations of the kerygma in the Epistles of St. Paul not included in the Gospel accounts? The only answer that can be given to this question is that the Evangelists were concerned to narrate the historical past faithfully and objectively, without letting their accounts be influenced by subsequent developments of the apostolic kerygma.37

        18. Remarks.  Lattanzi here maintains that what St. Paul says in I Cor 15:3-8 in itself "annihilates the entire theory of Formgeschichte in general and the thought of Bultmann in particular." This is true for those who have an integrated understanding of the context of St. Paul's testimony, or even of the context of Lattanzi's observation. However, since the results of form-criticism have gained so much acceptance even among Catholic exegetes and theologians, it has become necessary to reinforce St. Paul's testimony by refuting point by point and line by line the false conclusions that the form-criticism of Bultmann has bestowed upon us.

        19. Exposition.  Bultmann's sociological postulate.  According to Bultmann, an anonymous primitive Christian community "created" the kerygma and handed it down; it did not receive the kerygma from some historical person of the past, for instance, from St. Peter or from St. Paul.38  Lattanzi declares that not a single definite and uncontestable instance can be pointed to in the whole New Testament of a poetic or religious myth created and inserted by the early Church. Nor can the transforming power of the Gospels and the ardor with which the Apostles and first disciples gave their lives for what the Gospels promise in the next life be reconciled with the theory of the "creative Christian community."39

        20. Remarks.  Here the urgency of the work remaining to be completed is highlighted. While there is not a single clear example in the whole of the New Testament of a myth, a miracle story, an event, or a prophecy after the event having been invented by Christian believers, form-critics maintain that the text of the Gospels is woven of such inventions. And sad to say, Catholic exegetes, most of whom belong to the historical-critical school, have not only sat back and let many of those false conclusions stand, but they have added to them many false form-critical conclusions of their own, instead of plunging into the urgent work of producing in detail a better and more correct method.

        21. Exposition.  Lattanzi discerns two principles which stand at the base of Bultmann's thought and which may be called presuppositions, because they are passed over more or less in silence:

        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.41

        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

        22. 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:

        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.

        23. General conclusion of this series.  We have now reviewed the responses of eight Catholic theologians to Rudolf Bultmann's program of demythologizing. Some of these responses appear to be no more than random comments of varying value not based upon a clear synthesis of principles in the commentator himself and often weakened by an acceptance of some of Bultmann's false conclusions. Lattanzi's arguments are powerful, penetrating, and well organized, inasmuch as he speaks from an impressive theological synthesis and utilizes the incisive analyses begun by Heinrich Ott and Anton Vögtle in order to advance to a broader and deeper picture of Bultmann's postulates and presuppositions. The essays especially of Vögtle and Lattanzi deserve to be developed into a full response to Bultmann's program of demythologizing. How can Bultmann's false paradox of faith be expressed in a sound theological synthesis? How can Catholic exegesis bring out, in a way that refutes Bultmann's form-critical interpretations, the historical solidity of the Gospel texts and the deeper meaning that lies within it? The neo-Patristic method has the means to take up the challenge and provide these answers. A full critique of Bultmann's postulates and presuppositions does require a prior formulation of the critic's own principles of interpretation, a task which neo-Patristic exegesis undertakes in making explicit its own frame of reference. The neo-Patristic approach is challenged to take up the problems raised but not answered by the historical-critical school and, utilizing the treasury of wisdom left by the Fathers of the Church and the great Catholic commentators, to put straight the twisted conclusions of modern rationalist exegetes and their non-rationalist followers, so as to arrive at a renewed understanding of what the Scriptures have to tell us.


1. Antonio Vögtle, "Rivelazione e mito," in Problemi e orientamenti di teologia dogmatica, vol. I (Milan, 1957), 827-960 [henceforth referred to as AVRM].

2. Vögtle, AVRM, 830-831.

3. Heinrich Ott,Geschichte und Heilsgeschichte in der Theologie Rudolf Bultmanns (Tübingen, 1955). Ott proposed a systematic analysis of Bultmann's theology, but only in later works did he attempt to develop the general indications he had given in this book.

4. Vögtle, AVRM, 831-832.

5. Vögtle, AVRM, 833.

6. Ott, Geschichte und Heilsgeschichte ..., 26.

7. Vögtle, AVRM, 837.

8. Vögtle, AVRM, 838-839.

9. Vögtle, AVRM, 839-841.

10. Vögtle, AVRM, 842-843.

11. Vögtle, AVRM, 851-852.

12. Vögtle, AVRM, 852.

13. Vögtle, AVRM, 854-855.

14. Vögtle, AVRM, 858.

15. Vögtle, AVRM, 859.

16. Vögtle, AVRM, 861-863.

17. Vögtle, AVRM, 865.

18. Cf. my article, "A Tentative Characterization of the Genre of Bultmann's Theological Writing," in The Science of Historical Theology, pp. 155-164.

19. Vögtle, AVRM, 918.

20. Vögtle, AVRM, 921.

21. Vögtle, AVRM, 924-926.

22. Vögtle, AVRM, 928-935.

23. Vögtle, AVRM, 941-942.

24. Vögtle, AVRM, 945.

25. Vögtle, AVRM, 949-951.

26. Ugo Lattanzi, "I sinottici e la Chiesa secondo R. Bultmann" in Miscellanea Antonio Piolanti , vol.I (Rome, 1963 [Lateranum, n.s., 29th year], 141-169 - henceforth referred to as ULSC]).

27. Lattanzi, ULSC, 150.

28. Lattanzi, ULSC, 150.

29. Lattanzi, ULSC, 151. Cf. Bultmann, in KuM II, 198 (KaM I, 199).

30. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner's, 1955), 76.

31. Lattanzi, ULSC, 153.

32. Lattanzi, ULSC, 156-158.

33. Lattanzi, ULSC, 154-155.

34. Lattanzi, ULSC, 158-160.

35. R. Bultmann, Offenbarung und Heilsgeschehen (Munich, 1941), 64.

36. "... Luke, as a historian, undertakes to represent the life of Christ. He assures us in his preface that he endeavoured, as a scrupulous historian, to use trustworthy sources for his report" (R. Bultmann, History and Eschatology [New York: Harper and Row, 1957), 38.

37. Lattanzi, ULSC, 160-162.

38. Lattanzi, ULSC, 155.

39. Lattanzi, ULSC, 162.

40. Lattanzi, ULSC, 155-156.

41. Lattanzi, ULSC, 163-164.

42. Bultmann, History and Eschatology, 38.

43. Lattanzi, ULSC, 164-166. Cf. V. Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London, 1933), 41.

44. Lattanzi, ULSC, 166-168.

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