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No. 114Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study ProgramNovember 2004


by John F. McCarthy

18. 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).1

The Response of Xavier Léon-Dufour (as translated and edited by John McHugh)2

19. In 1963 Xavier Léon-Dufour published his work on the historical truth of the Gospels, Les évangiles et l'histoire de Jésus, the purpose of which, he says, is "to give a fair hearing to the new set of questions [raised by Bultmann and others] without at the same time adopting presuppositions which have prejudiced the results of an inquiry that was intended to be scientific (sans pour autant adopter les préjugés qui ont compromis les résultats d'une enquête qui se voulait scientifique)"3 Again, the aim of his book is "to find out, by using the critical methods of historical scholarship, the full and objective truth (as far as it can be known) about the life of Jesus of Nazareth."4 Léon-Dufour maintains throughout his book that the Four Gospels do not present the full and objective truth. He points out that "Towards the end of the eighteenth century many writers began to attack the historical value of the four gospels.... These books were all written with one purpose: to get back with real certainty to the unadorned facts, and to reconstruct what actually happened in the past. What other authors did in their day, we have to do again for our own generation."5 Léon-Dufour notes that some historians, such as Rudolf Bultmann, having been deeply influenced by existentialism, claim that we can know practically nothing about the historical Jesus. On the contrary, Léon-Dufour feels that conclusions of this kind seem to be unjustified and in contradiction, not only to traditional faith, but also to the historical evidence.6 However, we find as his book goes along that Léon-Dufour, as an historian, doesn’t find much more certified about the facts of Jesus’ life than did Bultmann, for he ends up with the conclusion that "only the broadest chronological pattern of Jesus’ life can be known," and what is that pattern? "These, then, are the broad lines of Jesus' life. He began his ministry alongside the Baptist, beside the Jordan, and then preached in Galilee about the coming of the kingdom. His preaching provoked hostility among the Jews and from Herod, and the ordinary folk failed to grasp his spiritual message. He therefore ceased to preach in public, and after a period on the borders of Galilee (during which he concentrated on the formation of his closest disciples) went to Jerusalem, where he stayed three months. Finally, after spending some time in Transjordan, he returned to Jerusalem a few days before the Passover. ... With this framework of the Lord's life before us, we may now turn to the central question in our inquiry: what should men think of Jesus Christ? [ . . . ] But even though (the historian) cannot descend into details, and even though many questions remain unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable), it is certainly possible to make a valid synthesis of the teaching of Jesus, and to give a true account of his earthly life. We shall thereby see the originality of the Christian faith in all its splendour."7

20. These meager results of Léon-Dufour’s historical investigations might seem impressive until one comes to realize that they are virtually the same as the results of Bultmann’s investigations, published in 1921 in The History of the Synoptic Tradition.8 Everything in the resulting pattern is merely human. Following this basic conclusion, Léon-Dufour will discuss many things about the life and ministry of Jesus, but he will not conclude that any of the supernatural events reported in the Gospels are verified historical happenings, even though they are meaningful for his faith and for the faith of believers. Bultmann made the same distinction, although, in his program of demythologizing, he eliminated all of the supernatural objects even from faith. In my analysis of 1999 I tried to show that the arguments of Léon-Dufour played repeatedly into Bultmann’s hands. Bultmann was ready to admit most of the human results of Léon-Dufour’s research; he had concluded this himself. It was the supernatural elements that Bultmann denied. And Bultmann retained the "event of Christ" as an existential stimulus for Christian faith, while denying the historical truth of practically all of the words and deeds of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. Similarly, Léon-Dufour plays down the importance of the words and deeds of Jesus, reducing faith essentially to the existential act of a trusting acceptance of the Person of Jesus. But who is Jesus, apart from the extraordinary words and deeds ascribed to Him in the Gospels, such as his Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Resurrection from the dead, and his Ascension into Heaven?9

21. As a believer, Léon-Dufour professes all of these things. He says, for instance, "and just as the co-eternal Word of God took human flesh at a particular date and in a particular place, . . . ."10 Again he says: "The person of Jesus, the Son of God incarnate and our Saviour, ensures that our faith is firmly anchored to this earth . . . ."11 He goes on to say that "the earthly life of Jesus cannot be reduced to that of an ordinary man."12 But, as an historian, he sees problems in this. For instance, that God became man has been the constant teaching of the Church, but "assertions like these, which are of their nature incapable of empirical verification, present the historian with problems of a unique kind."13 The Church asserts that in the Church the risen Christ is present today, but "This belief . . . too raises a problem for the historian."14 Regarding the fulfillment of prophecies recorded in the Gospels, the critical historian can retort that "they made up episodes to illustrate the fulfillment."15 With regard to the fulfillment of prophecies recorded in the Passion story, "a host of problems arises."16 In St. John’s Gospel, "the historian who is looking for an unadorned account of the original event, or for the ipsissima verba Jesu, finds himself completely disconcerted." But he goes on to add that "this, however, should lead him to wonder whether he himself is asking the right questions,"17 and one does wonder whether Léon-Dufour has asked himself the right questions. For him, as a critical observer looking at St. John’s Gospel, "it becomes obvious that the problem of historicity is here very acute."18 He notes that "one must not uncritically accept an event or speech simply because it is related in the gospel," and, indeed, "once the literary genre of the fourth gospel is recognized, one can see why those who limit their aim to knowing the historical Jesus find it of little use for their purpose."19 Léon-Dufour finds it very reasonable to ask whether some episodes in John "have not been made up to illustrate a doctrine," and he finds it clearly legitimate to ask whether Mark’s Gospel "is an exact record of what really happened, or whether it is the result of theological reflection."20 Similarly, since the author of the third gospel admits that he did not witness the events that he has recorded, "his work must be examined very critically before it may be used as a source for the life of Jesus," also because "Luke was not just writing a straightforward biography of Jesus, but was expounding a theological theme."21 In fact, says Léon-Dufour, while all four Gospels claim that they are recording history, they do not conceal "the theological purpose which underlies the historical record."22

22. There are two rules of scientific historical method of which Léon-Dufour seems not to be fully aware. The first is the distinction between the purpose of the work (finis operis) and the purpose of the worker (finis operantis). The fact that a Gospel has been written for a "theological purpose," which is the purpose of the writer, in no way diminishes the historical truth of the account, as long as the immediate purpose of presenting the historical facts (the finis operis) is honestly served. And there is no reason to doubt that the four evangelists honestly presented what they knew to be the historical facts. The second rule of solid historical method is the distinction between chronology and historical explanation. An historical work, in order to remain perfectly objective, is not limited strictly to chronology, that is, to listing the facts in some kind of chronological order, without stating or even implying what the writer considers to be the underlying meaning of those facts. Historical explanation goes along with chronology, as long as facts are not suppressed or altered to fit the explanation that the writer has in mind. Now, the scientific historian of today has no good reason to assume that the four evangelists suppressed or altered facts in order to adjust them to the meanings that he saw in those facts, and, therefore, their supposed "theological themes" or "theological purposes" do not subtract from the historical truth of the events that they have recorded.

23. Let us take, for example, the Incarnation of the Divine Word in Jesus of Nazareth. It does not help for Léon-Dufour to say that in the Synoptic Gospels "there is scarcely a word about the pre-existence of Jesus or about his relation to the Father."23 Of course, both St. Matthew and St. Luke talk about it very graphically in the Infancy Narratives at the beginning of their Gospels, but Léon-Dufour, as an historian, avers that "a critical reader may well wonder whether they are to be taken as history in the same sense as the narratives of the public life," because "it must be clearly stated that neither Matthew nor Luke makes an attempt to conceal the doctrinal purpose of his writing," and also because in the Infancy Narratives "it is not miracles but ‘marvels’ (the ‘supernatural’) which continually come before our eyes." Léon-Dufour is referring especially to the appearance of angels to Zachary, Mary, Joseph, the Magi, and the shepherds, that is, the repeated intervention of the "invisible world" in a "most extraordinary manner." The employment of angels indicates to Léon-Dufour the use in Matthew of a fictitious literary device. Now, the appearances of angels are listed by Bultmann in his History of the Synoptic Tradition as one of the so-called biblical "literary forms," and he says that these appearances are always fictitious. Léon-Dufour has here accepted Bultmann’s listing, but with the following distinction: ""One is not justified in concluding, on the ground of the literary form, that no real event underlies the infancy narratives; and one is not justified in saying that the literary form had no influence on the way in which Matthew and Luke presented their story."24 Léon-Dufour is saying that the Infancy Narratives cannot simply be taken at face value, and so, once he has accepted Bultmann’s designation of the appearance of angels and the recounting of other "marvels" as being a "literary," that is, in Bultmann’s terminology, a fictional, form, the burden of proof is on Léon-Dufour to demonstrate that there is any real event underlying it. The main underlying event would be the Virginal Conception and the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus, and Catholic historical critics do tend to avoid denying the presence of a real underlying event when the event concerned is a dogma of the Church, but, as Bultmann rejoins, "once you have begun to use the form-critical method, where can you logically draw the line?" Léon-Dufour, having accepted the fictitious form of the "angelic appearance," gives only weak reasons to support a real underlying event. Bultmann had said that the idea of a virginal conception was most probably suggested from pagan mythology after the early Palestinian Church was transformed into the Hellenic Church,25 even though it could have been taken over from pre-Christian Judaism.26 Léon-Dufour counters that it could not have been introduced from pagan sources, because here there is depicted no carnal union of a god with a human, but only a "new creation by the Holy Spirit." But, in either case, the same theme of conception from on high is there. And Léon-Dufour finds it "very doubtful" that it was suggested by Isaiah 7:14, even though the prophecy was well known and Matthew 1:23 cites it in narrating the event. As far as historical investigation is concerned, where a fictional literary form is encountered, any underlying real event has to be verified from outside sources, and Léon-Dufour has no outside source to cite. The proof of the real event of the Incarnation lies in the fact that the appearance of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary is itself a real historical event which has no fictional element to it at all. It is the form-critical presupposition that angelic appearances are always fictitious that is itself a fictitious idea.

24. In his exegetical work, Bultmann claims that the Gospels are basically a fictitious creation of the Christian community.27 Léon-Dufour notes that the form-criticism of Bultmann has this presupposition, namely, that the early Christians were so dazzled by the idea of the Resurrection that they quickly began to idealize the figure of Jesus and to adorn it with stories. He rejoins that Bultmann’s principle represents a false conception of the attitude of the early Christians toward Jesus, and, "if this presupposition is false, then the whole theory falls."28 How, then, does Léon-Dufour present the attitude of the early Christians? He says, regarding the Gospel according to St. John: "The Church, though never once mentioned by name, is present on every page, and its presence can be detected by a number of literary clues."29 Again he says that "It would have been surprising if the regular worship of the Church had not had deep influence on the presentation of the gospel."30 Léon-Dufour does find that "a close literary analysis of the gospel tradition leads us to conclude that it records trustworthy historical fact, precisely because the early Christians were interested in the life of their Master,"31 but he also finds that, in those parables of Jesus which concern the kingdom of God, "It is quite certain that many of these texts have been cast into their present form by the catechetical practice of the early Church."32 Now, since this last point about the formative influence of the catechetical practice of the early Church is what Bultmann claims for the whole of the Gospels, Léon-Dufour’s prior acceptance of Bultmann’s novel list of fictitious "literary forms," puts him on weak grounds to defend their underlying historicity, especially as regards what Bultmann calls the "mythology" in the Gospels, such as the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension in Heaven, and the miracles of Jesus, and it is of these things that Léon-Dufour’s defense is weakest.33

25. Bultmann did not just deduce the fictional character of the Gospels from the general presupposition that the Christian community had made them up. He claimed to prove this from a detailed and thoroughgoing form-critical analysis of each and every passage of the Gospels, and it is the failure of Léon-Dufour and of all of his historical-critical colleagues to disprove the mountain of fallacies underlying Bultmann’s claim by providing a detailed and thoroughgoing refutation of Bultmann’s form-critical analysis that constitutes the main weakness of Léon-Dufour’s book. Once Léon-Dufour has accepted Bultmann’s exegetical method, he is assumed to accept Bultmann’s exegetical conclusions, except where he effectively establishes differing results, especially as regards the supernatural elements of the Gospel accounts, and this he does not do. Bultmann, already in 1921 as an historical critic, had denied the objective reality of every supernatural event recorded in the Gospels, even to the extent of denying the objective existence of God, and Léon-Dufour cannot effectively counter Bultmann’s conclusions by praising him as a "theological giant."34

26. Regarding the objective truth and reality of the miracles of Jesus recounted in the Gospels, Léon-Dufour observes that "miracle stories" in the Gospels "do not stress the extraordinary – i.e., the strictly miraculous – side of the occurrences, but the faith or astonishment of those who witnessed the event: the evangelists were concerned not primarily with the material fact," and "in certain groups of miracle stories, a theological intention can be perceived."35 Léon-Dufour feels that several of the miracle stories are probably authentic versions of happenings that took place before the Resurrection,36 but these happenings did not provide "irrefutable proof" that the claims of Jesus were true."37 As regards the words quoted in the Gospels, Léon-Dufour avers that the speeches of Jesus in the Gospel of St. John and similar speeches presented in the earlier Gospels were composed by the evangelists themselves from sayings uttered by Jesus in varying circumstances, but "in the fourth Gospel the style of the writer seems to be one with that of Jesus himself, though it is not always impossible to distinguish one from the other."38 And Matthew "has no scruples about placing on the lips of the disciples terms and phrases like ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God,’ even though these had not been applied to Jesus before the Resurrection."39 Of course, he adds, Jesus is called "Son of God" at his baptism and at his transfiguration, but these texts must be left aside, because "Christian belief may well have influenced the expression here."40 Léon-Dufour is confident that "certain short phrases" were actually spoken by Our Lord, but these "are not numerous and are rarely of importance." Hence, rational criticism of the Gospels is "indispensable" in order to comprehend "the religious teaching of Jesus."41 What kind of answer is this to the demythologizing of Bultmann?

27. While Léon-Dufour affirms that for St. Paul the Christian faith is epitomized in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that St. Paul appealed for evidence of the Resurrection to the witness of those who had seen Jesus risen from the dead,42 he hastens to point out that the "real triumph" of Jesus was not in his Resurrection from the dead, but rather in his being enthroned forever at the right hand of the Father.43 Léon-Dufour is of the opinion that, if there could be proof beyond all doubt that Jesus rose from the grave, there would be "no mystery left, nor any freedom of belief,"44 and he insists that there could not be the same kind of proof for the Resurrection as for the death of Jesus, because death is a natural and observable happening to a man, but the Resurrection is not natural and, "in the strict theological sense, is not physically observable," because one cannot observe with the senses "that this living man is sharing the glory of God the Father, and that is the principal assertion in the doctrine of the Resurrection."45 Léon-Dufour’s appeal to "the strict theological sense" as a reason for excluding historical proof of the Resurrection of Jesus may seem a bit mysterious, and I think that he is here making another mistake in historical method. From an historical point of view, the Resurrection is to be studied as an event in itself, and honest witnesses who saw the risen Jesus are a source of historical evidence. Léon-Dufour is looking at the Resurrection as a theologoumenon, that is, as an episode imagined to express a religious idea, namely, the idea that Christ has been seated at the right hand of God the Father, and this seems very much like a Bultmannian approach. In fact, Bultmann, who, as a complete Rationalist, denied even the possibility of a resurrection from the dead, denied the Resurrection of Jesus and said that the idea of the lifting up of Jesus on the Cross gave birth to the fictitious events of his Resurrection from the dead and his Ascension into Heaven. Léon-Dufour is certainly presenting no defense against this error of Bultmann by trying to identify in some theological way the event of the Resurrection with the event of the seating of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. Léon-Dufour notes that, in 1 Cor 15:1-11, St. Paul mentions the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, not out of concern to prove the truth of Christ’s Resurrection, but out of anxiety to convince his hearers that all men will rise from the dead, that is, he concentrates all of his attention "on the mystery rather than the history."46 Actually the whole passage in 1 Corinthians extends to verse 19, and it is in the latter part that St. Paul insists on the historical fact of the Resurrection: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised (1 Cor: 15:14-16). While this text is more directly opposing those like Rudolf Bultmann who say that there is no such thing as a resurrection from the dead, it is also opposing those like Xavier Léon-Dufour who say that St. Paul was not concerned to prove the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus. Faith in the Resurrection is an affirmation of the historical fact of the Resurrection and a conviction that this historical fact has been confirmed by reliable witnesses.

28. Léon-Dufour claims that Luke and Matthew tell conflicting stories about the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, inasmuch as in Luke 24:49 Jesus ordered the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until Pentecost, while in Matt 28:7 Jesus told them that he would see them in Galilee. Léon-Dufour maintains that this conflict cannot be resolved except by recourse to the literary form of the respective passage. He finds that, as a literary work, Luke 24 is an artificial composition in which several stories have been combined around the idea that the salvation of the world was to come from Jerusalem.47 In other words, his form-critical analysis concludes that Jesus may never have told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem; it was Luke who put these words on the lips of Jesus. But is this conflict really so otherwise irresolvable? I think that in Luke Jesus is saying that the Apostles were soon to be sent out individually as missionaries to all nations, but that they should keep their common headquarters and residence in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would descend upon them and give them their mission to move out. This command did not mean that none of them was permitted for any reason to go away on visit to Galilee.

29. According to John’s Gospel, the mystery of Jesus resides in his Incarnation, his Redemption of mankind, and his Ascension into Heaven.48 This mystery confronts Christians day by day with a choice.49 "The historical theme that one must make a choice for or against Jesus recurs on every page of (John’s) Gospel."50 During the preaching of Jesus, his hearers were bound to ask themselves, "Who, then, is this man?"51 In his historical studies, Léon-Dufour has found that Jesus, before his trial, "made no explicit claim to be the Son of God," but he did use words that implied that "he was conscious of a unique relation to the Father," and he "thought of himself as being in a quite unique sense the Son of God.52 But from the time that He was asked by the high priest, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One," Jesus made no secret of his claims."53 In his Gospel John constantly invites the reader to believe in Jesus as a man who "really is the incarnation of God," yet this recognition "is, of course, only possible to those who accept an interior enlightenment from the Father."54 For Léon-Dufour the primary meaning of faith is "a total entrusting of oneself to God," and "Jesus demanded that men should show this same unbounded trust towards himself."55 The final conclusion of Léon-Dufour’s search for the historical Jesus is this: "The objective truth about him is that he confronts all mankind with a question demanding an answer. And the answer cannot be given except by faith."56

30. Was, then, Bultmann right after all in claiming that historical inquiry removes from reality the supernatural objects of Christian faith? On the level of theology, Léon-Dufour finds Bultmann’s error to lie in his having adopted the totally subjectivistic philosophy of Martin Heidegger as his way of making the Gospel message relevant to modern man, whereas, for Léon-Dufour, "it is only because the faith of the early Church was based on an objective fact that we can say Christianity is more than mythology." This is true, but Léon-Dufour’s defense of the historical facts is weak, inasmuch as he follows Bultmann’s so-called "historical method" to historical conclusions that seem to admit only natural historical facts about the life of Jesus, leaving faith to provide the rest. Léon-Dufour concludes: "History provides the facts and a question; faith provides the interpretation of these facts and the answer to the question."57 Bultmann claimed that none of the supernatural happenings reported in the Gospels are historical facts; Léon-Dufour, in his book, does not find any of the supernatural happenings to be verifiable historically. By using the historical method of Bultmann, he comes largely to the historical conclusions of Bultmann. He does stop before concluding with Bultmann that the supernatural events are entirely fictitious, but he can offer no historical evidence that any of the reported supernatural happenings ever took place. Bultmann, in his exegetical work and in his later program of demythologizing, asked historical critics to reject what he considered the fictitious catechetical adornments of the gospels as being the mythology that they are, and to turn to the real existence of their own subjectivity as the way to be honest Christians today. Léon-Dufour does not turn to his own subjectivity; rather he gives his readers the choice of embracing or not embracing Jesus in faith. But who is Jesus? If Jesus is the merely human figure resulting from the "unadorned facts" of Léon-Dufour’s inquiry, what is there in Him to attract the faith of a critical observer? And, if a person is disposed to believe the supernatural facts about Jesus, what need does he have of Léon-Dufour’s critical research, especially when this research only raises doubts with regard to what he is asked to believe? Bultmann claims that for a critically informed modern man to embrace the adorned Christ of faith would be to follow a primitive preconceptual instinct and to revert to an obsolete world-view. Léon-Dufour does not address this problem. Léon-Dufour certainly does not draw the devastating conclusions of the demythologizing epitomized in paragraph 18 above, but, while he raises many of the same historical questions that Bultmann has raised, he provides at best weak answers to these questions. Solid answers there are, but they are to be found largely in the traditional teaching of the Church and in the works of traditional Catholic theologians and exegetes, of whom not one is quoted or referred to in the whole of Léon-Dufour’s book. And the answers still lacking to the array of new questions created by historical-critical research are waiting to be found too by the use of a sounder historical method than that now in use by Léon-Dufour and other Catholic historical critics.

To be continued


1. The description of the "demythologizing" of Rudolf Bultmann in this paragraph has been reprinted from Living Tradition 81 (May 1999), p. 1. For the abbreviation KaM, see Part 1, note 1 of this article.

2. Xavier Léon-Dufour, The Gospels and the Jesus of History (translated and edited in abridged form by John McHugh, London: Collins 1968 [henceforth referred to as Léon-Dufour (McHugh)]).

3. X. Léon-Dufour, Les évangiles et l'histoire de Jésus (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1963), p.8. Cf. "At the same time there can be no question of accepting philosophical presuppositions which determine the outcome of any inquiry from the start" (Léon-Dufour [McHugh]), p. 14.

4. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 14.

5. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 7.

6. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 14.

7. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 222-224.

8. R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (8th ed., Göttingen, 1970); Eng. trans. by J. Marsh: The History of the Synoptic Tradition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963).

9. For a more detailed discussion of Léon-Dufour’s book, see my review in Living Tradition 82 (July 1999).

10. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 26.

11. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 65.

12. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 106.

13. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 18.

14. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 19.

15. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 24.

16. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 26.

17. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 105.

18. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p, 97.

19. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 105.

20. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 23.

21. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 147.

22. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 23.

23. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 72.

24. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 215-216.

25. R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, English trans. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963), pp. 291-292.

26. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 304.

27. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 4.

28. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 168.

29. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 83.

30. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 182.

31. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p 189.

32. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 234-235.

33. Léon-Dufour follows the form-critical method of breaking the Gospel accounts into the small "literary forms" listed by Bultmann in his History of the Synoptic Tradition, such as "pronouncement stories," "controversy stories," "stories about Jesus," and "miracle stories" (Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 164-165.

34. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 273. "By using those literary methods of Form Criticism which Bultmann has developed so splendidly, (many of his former pupils) seek to advance from a knowledge of the religion of the early Christians to a knowledge of Jesus himself, because he must surely have been a greater figure than anyone in the early Church" (Léon-Dufour [McHugh], p. 274]).

35. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 185.

36. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 201.

37. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 233.

38. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 103.

39. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 183.

40. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 244.

41. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 207, 209.

42. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 55-56.

43. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 60.

44. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 44.

45. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 255.

46. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 256.

47. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 257.

48. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 91.

49. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 93.

50. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 97.

51. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 234.

52. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 243, 245.

53. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 262.

54. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 270.

55. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 242.

56. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), pp. 274-275.

57. Léon-Dufour (McHugh), p. 275.

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