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 76 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program July 1998


by Msgr. John F. McCarthy


        22.   In the course of the `demythologizing debate' following the publication of Bultmann's famous essay in 1941, responses more or less incomplete were eventually given by Catholic theologians to the presuppositions involved. Some Catholic theologians published replies that appear to be completely inadequate, as though the writers did not understand the true dimensions of the problem.34 Others presented many good elements of a response together with some statements that caused them to fall partly into Bultmann's hands, because they did not have a sufficiently precise terminology to address the problems adequately. Thus, for example, Leopold Malevez, in an impressive book on the subject of demythologizing published in 1954,35 eloquently points out why Bultmann's idea of the kerygma cannot replace the mystery of the God-Man, that Bultmann, in his denial of the possibility of divine miracles or of any divine intervention, including, of course, the Incarnation, does not really speak in the name of modern science, and that Bultmann/Heidegger have not validly disproved the self-standing objectivity which traditional Christianity has always attributed to the object of faith. Again, René Marlé, in two books and two articles published between 1953 and 1967,36 pointed out, among other things, that the Word of God is not merely an act or an event but is a divine Person, that the Christian message is a real witness to a real Resurrection of Jesus, that Bultmann does not correctly describe the world-view of the ancients or the fallen nature of man, and that a world of extra-conceptual realities is contained in the Christian religion.

        23.   A third group of Catholic theologians put the problems of Bultmannian interpretation into proper context on the level of principles, so as to make at least a beginning of an adequate response to the `demythologizing' of the New Testament, without, however, undertaking a systematic refutation of Bultmann's exegesis. Thus, in a lengthy article published in 1957, Anton Vögtle37 noted that Bultmann, in his demythologizing, uses presuppositions of differing kinds and varying provenance, taking them, not only from historical criticism and the history of religions school, but also from rationalist liberalism with its view of man, of the modern world, and or reality itself, as also from the teachings of Martin Luther, from dialectical theology and existentialist philosophy, "bringing them finally together into a compact unity which is so imposing that to some critics it seems almost terrifying."38 From these presuppositions he singled out four systematic and three historical premises. The four systematic premises are said to be: his radical dualism between `non-world' and world; a double concept of history and of historical knowledge; the hermeneutical principle of `pre-understanding' (Vorverständnis); and a double concept of time. In addition, Vögtle identified in Bultmann's program three basic historical premises: an extremely negative picture of the origin of Christianity; the life of Jesus as being non-messianic; and Christian faith as being not based upon real objective facts. In 1963 Ugo Lattanzi39 followed the path laid out by Vögtle, but he distinguished at the basis of Bultmann's thought three postulates and two presuppositions which he described as follows. a)Bultmann's theological postulate of radical opposition between world and `non-world' excludes any reasonable doctrine about God and any doctrine revealed by God. b)Bultmann's exegetical postulate that the message of Jesus was only eschatological allows him to consider as authentic words of Jesus only those which depict the early Church as having no interest in history properly so called (Historie). c)Bultmann's sociological postulate that an anonymous Christian community created the kerygma allows him to exclude the input of eye-witnesses. Lattanzi lists two presuppositions of Bultmann's thought: the spontaneous generation of the Church, which seems to have been suggested to Bultmann by the Modernist teachings of Alfred Loisy; and the later transformation of the Church into an historical community.

        24.   Reviewing in summary fashion the earlier responses by Catholic theologians to the demythologizing of Rudolf Bultmann in terms of the neo-Patristic approach, we find that they are implicit elements of a framework that neo-Patristic thinking makes explicit. The "radical dualism of world and `non-world'" shows up on opposite sides of the concept of reality in the subject-object relationship, and the mystery of `non-world,' that is, the `total otherness' which Bultmann attributes to any idea of God or of divine action becomes plainly and simply an unjustified recourse to the genre of religious fiction, so that it devolves upon neo-Patristic exegesis to defend consistently the reality of the object of Christian faith and its validity as an object. To accomplish this, neo-Patristic exegesis distinguishes the proximate objectivity of its scientific medium from the remote objectivity of the real things to which faith refers. These considerations may seem obvious, but they do not have an established place in historical-critical exegesis. In the light of the neo-Patristic framework, Bultmann's existentialist reasonings fall to the ground, because he does not recognize the role of the scientific medium which must exist between the knowing subject as such and the remote object of his knowledge. In order properly to defend a reasonable doctrine about God and the existence of divine revelation and inspiration, the spiritual character of Christian faith and the spiritual sense of the inspired Scriptures, both of which are elements of the neo-Patristic framework, have to be kept in view. The neo-Patristic approach assumes at all times that, over and above the literal sense, there is impressed upon the Scriptures a portrait of Christ which belongs to their overall literary genre. Thus, to explain what is meant when one says that "the kerygma cannot replace the mystery of the God-Man," we need to distinguish systematically between the literal sense and the spiritual sense of the object of our faith. Bultmann and his predecessors in the `history of religions' school have wreaked havoc with their distinction between the `historical Jesus' and the `Christ of faith,' by placing out of focus a distinction that really exists, not in the Person of Jesus Christ, but in the two levels of meaning in the Scriptures. The mystery that surrounds the spiritual sense could indeed be described as a "world of extra-conceptual realities," but always keeping in mind that they are realities and that they are to a degree extra-conceptual, not because they are preconceptual as Bultmann maintains, but because the essence of God exceeds any conceptual ability of the human mind.

        25.   At this point, we must note the importance of the continuum of extramental reality, by which we mean that the supernatural realities that constitute the object of Christian faith must be recognized to be in the same continuum of reality as are the realities known from natural experience. Certainly supernatural realities are in a higher order of reality, and the reality of God is infinitely above any created reality, but they are in the same continuum of reality in the sense that they come within a univocal concept of reality and within a single universe of discourse. The neo-Patristic exegete knows that, in his scientific awareness, he stands face to face with the reality of God and of the entire supernatural order, and this awareness of God and of the supernatural as real objects in a univocal sense has its role in the scientific historical medium of thought with which he studies the biblical text. Just as Catholic faith is a belief in the reality of its object, so does neo-Patristic exegesis presuppose in faith that the "Gospel genre" is a reality-genre, not a genre of religious fiction. Consequently, whatever is recounted in the Gospels is assumed to be historically true unless in particular cases it can seriously be demonstrated that a passage does not report historical fact. Moreover, neo-Patristic exegesis does not uncritically accept such methodological presuppositions of Bultmann and others as: that none of our four Gospels reports eye-witness accounts of the deeds and teaching of Jesus; that our four Gospels arose directly out of Greek Christianity; that the `essential historicity' of the four Gospels cannot be assumed by the exegete. Neo-Patristic exegesis goes back to study how these assumptions are thought to have been demonstrated, and it looks for mistakes and unwarranted assumptions in the reasoning process that brought them into vogue. Another unfounded assumption of Bultmann that is sometimes used unwittingly even by Catholic form-critics is that the kind of literary form found in the Gospels "is a sociological concept and not an aesthetic one," inasmuch as, he says in agreement with Dibelius, the literature of primitive Christianity is "essentially `popular,'" since it had not reached the intellectual level of an aesthetic medium. Looking at this assumption in the neo-Patristic framework, we find that Bultmann is basically attributing what he has identified as units or forms in the Gospel narratives to the action of a religious instinct that is preconceptual in its nature and therefore predictable according to some psychological law that the form-critic utilizes. As Bultmann puts it, "every literary category has its Sitz im Leben (Gunkel), whether it be worship in its different forms, or work, or hunting, or war. The Sitz im Leben is not, however, an individual historical event, but a typical situation or occupation in the life of the community" (HST, 4). This outrageous assumption, which traces back to the philosophy of Émile Durkheim, is refuted on a theoretical level in the neo-Patristic hermeneutical framework and on a practical level in the neo-Patristic exegesis of the Gospels. Rudolf Bultmann was a total Modernist in his idea of "modern man," and Ugo Lattanzi claimed that Bultmann's notion of the creative Christian community was owing in part to Alfred Loisy's Modernist attribution of the Gospels ultimately to the unfolding of a blind religious instinct.

        26.   It is also to be noted that Bultmann openly uses circular reasoning in his form-critical analyses. He declares: "It is essential to realize that form-criticism is fundamentally indistinguishable from all historical work in this, that it has to move in a circle. The forms of the literary tradition must be used to establish the influences operating in the life of the community, and the life of the community must be used to render the forms themselves intelligible. There is no method of regulating or even prescribing the necessary and mutual relationships of both these processes, no rule to say where the start must be made." But, for neo-Patristic research, this assumption of Bultmann is contrary to correct historical methodology, since Bultmann thus ends up time and again in seeming to prove what he has merely assumed, and falsely assumed. Thus, having merely assumed, on the basis of an a priori exclusion of everything supernatural, that Jesus could not have had any real divine power, he reasons that the `miracle stories' are all imaginary inventions attributable to the felt needs of the religious instinct. Having merely assumed that there cannot be any real prophecy of future events, he concludes that the prophecies of Jesus were formulated after the event by the Christian community and placed on the lips of Jesus. Having merely assumed that no man can ever rise from the dead, he concludes that the Resurrection of Jesus was invented by his followers after his death. The root of Bultmann's error lies in an illicit transfer of statistical laws of natural science to the realm of history, where they do not apply, at least by way of exclusion of the unusual or of the supernatural. The neo-Patristic approach seeks to formulate and use the rules of valid historical method, in the realization, however, that no adequate theory of history has ever been published, and that, consequently, Catholic exegetes are operating without a fully formulated set of principles of historical method.40 Neo-Patristic interpreters are aware of this need and are ready to join with others In developing a full-blown science of history which will serve as a basis for a more correct understanding of the historical sense of the Sacred Scriptures.

        27.   Looking more closely at the scientific medium of the neo-Patristic method, we find a two-tiered structure, made up of objects of faith and objects of reason. On the level of faith there are the revealed truths of Christianity which enable the perception of the spiritual sense of the Scriptures, visible, at least inchoatively, from the first moment of observation, and not merely after the Scriptures have already been processed and interpreted by source-criticism and form-criticism. Historically, source-criticism and form-criticism came out of the minds of liberal exegetes who had inherited the tradition of an absolute separation of faith from reason and of a subsequent usurpation of the realm of faith by falsely based reason. In neo-Patristic exegesis, the reality of the objects of faith in univocal continuity with the reality of the objects of reason is a prime feature of the hermeneutic framework of thought, and it is of supreme importance to the neo-Patristic interpreter to refute any assumption that the genuine objects of faith are not real in a univocal sense. Just as reality is the all-embracing concept of the neo-Patristic approach as a scientific method, so the real past and the real present are its universal objects as a method of historical science. As an historical approach, the real present through which and in terms of which the neo-Patristic interpreter views the past is generically his entire apparatus of understanding and specifically is his knowledge of how the real past has become the real present. Thus, the scientific medium in which the neo-Patristic interpreter views the historical narratives of the Scriptures is the historical present, which is an objective framework, and not the mere experience of a knowing subject. And so, with respect to Bultmann's synthesis of presuppositions, in the neo-Patristic hermeneutic framework, `time as flux' vs. `time as now' become the historical past vs. the historical present; the assumed pre-conceptual mentality of the New Testament writers becomes the un-self-criticized mentality of the Bultmannian form-critic, which in turn is critically reformulated in the consciously self-appropriated scientific medium of the neo-Patristic approach; the Historie of Bultmann becomes the remote historical objects under study, while the Geschichte of Bultmann becomes the historical medium of thought as historical; the Realität of Bultmann becomes the reality presented in the historical accounts of Sacred Scripture, while his Wirklichkeit becomes the understanding of that reality in its relation to the notion of reality in the mind of the interpreter, including his knowledge of present and of supra-temporal realities and his Patristic and neo-Patristic frame of reference. The neo-Patristic interpreter is aware that he is face-to-face with the effects of God's presence, and he knows that this presence is real; the neo-Patristic interpreter knows that God has acted in human history, that He continues to act, and that He will act even more dramatically in the future. The neo-Patristic interpreter does not and will not prescind from this awareness in some prior phase of examining the text of Sacred Scripture.

        28.   Neo-Patristic exegesis allows for all of the refinements of valid textual criticism. It also allows for study into the diachronic formation of the biblical accounts, and it can gain insights from this study, but it opposes the stripping method of form-criticism whereby the form-critic seems to go back into earlier stages of the Gospel tradition by simply stripping away elements that do not meet the criteria of unproved a priori presuppositions, such as: to start out from the assumption that the accounts in the Scriptures are not historical; or to strip away miracles and prophecies as being not original in the life of Jesus on the ground that they could not really have happened; to end up with certain verses or phrases that are called an "earlier stage" of the accounts, whereas they are actually present in the "final stage." In brief, any source-critic who disregards the serious historical intent of the Gospel writers, the divine activity in the life of Jesus, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the inspired text is not working with a full bag of tools.

        29. The spiritual sense.   The PBC's document of 1993 defines the spiritual sense as "the meaning expressed by the biblical texts when read, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in the context of the paschal mystery of Christ and of the new life which flows from it," and, the document avers, "this context truly exists" (IBC, IIB.2). And, with reference to the spiritual sense, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture, but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs" (CCC, 117). Neo-Patristic exegesis sees both historical and metahistorical aspects in the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. On the historical level, the New Testament can be viewed as a kind of relative historical present through which the events of the Old Testament can be viewed. But the Bible contains also moral and prophetic aspects that transcend the historical arena. The Fathers of the Church, along with other early ecclesiastical writers and medieval theologians, saw meanings and patterns of meaning in the text of the Bible that illustrate in various ways what is called the Allegory of Christ and of his Church. This pattern of meaning is taken to be intended by the Holy Spirit and to be really and objectively in the text, even though it does not add any essential element that is not expressed somewhere in the literal sense of the Scriptures. It is an allegory inasmuch as it a communication of meaning that results from an extended metaphorical use of words, but it is not fictional. Neo-Patristic exegesis seeks to clarify the kinds of meaning that are represented in the inspired text and their precise relationship to one another, in continuance of the work begun especially by Thomas Aquinas. The false distinction between the `Jesus of history' vs. the `Christ of faith' which is fundamental to liberal form-critical analysis of the Gospels, appears in another way in the neo-Patristic framework as the distinction between the history of Jesus and the Allegory of Christ. The literal sense of the biblical text is written partly in the historical genre and partly in other genres, all of which are considered capable of having both a literal meaning and an additional spiritual meaning by way of prefigurement or metaphor. The central figure of the spiritual sense is the Allegory of Christ and of his Church, which is known essentially from its expression in the literal sense of the sacred text and is discovered by relating this to what is said in other passages. Thus, there is found to be impressed upon the bare literal expression of the text a portrait of Christ and of his Church, in which the divinity of Christ stands out in a way that is not visible to mere natural perception.

        30.   The neo-Patristic exegete can start almost anywhere in his search for meanings on the level of the four senses of the sacred text. Examples are abundant in the writings of the Fathers and of the medieval theologians, but they often need to be rediscovered to the extent that either they have been buried by the neglect of exegetes over recent centuries or they have been undermined by incorrect expositions of the literal sense. A good place to begin is in the text of the Gospels, upon which commentaries of the Fathers exist, whose spiritual exegesis is collected in works such as the Catena aurea of Thomas Aquinas along with his commentaries on Sacred Scripture. But the neo-Patristic study of medieval commentaries does not take place apart from a prior or simultaneous analysis of the commentaries of modern biblical scholars. Having presented elsewhere some examples of neo-Patristic exegesis,41 as a new example I shall make here a comparison of the statements of Jesus in John 14:6 and 10:7. The three main steps in the process will be: on the level of the literal sense, to examine two celebrated historical-critical interpretations; then on the level of the spiritual sense to examine the interpretations of the Fathers of the Church, and, finally, to locate these interpretations in the framework of the neo-Patristic approach.

        31.   In John 14:6, Jesus says: "I am the way and the truth and the life." Rudolf Bultmann42 interprets these words in keeping with his own Heideggerian understanding of existence and faith, and of the mythology which he thinks is at the root of John's Gospel, and this interpretation can be dealt with on the level of Bultmann's presuppositions. But let us look briefly at what Bultmann says. He sees this statement about the way, the truth, and the life as having been placed on the lips of Jesus by the Hellenistic Christian community in order to demythologize to an extent the question of Thomas in the preceding verse: "Lord, we do not know where you are going: how can we know the way?" To Bultmann this question is typical of the mythological outlook, "which can only conceive of the goal and the way as things within the world."43 We have shown above that by "the world" he means things that are in the continuum of reality that is first recognized through the senses and is distinguished from dream worlds. Bultmann sees this statement in verse 6 as declaring that "the way and the goal are not to be separated as they are in mythological thinking, and he adds: "In the myth the redemption has become embodied in a cosmic event, and therefore - contrary to the intention of the myth - it is conceived as an intra-mundane event, as a divine history, which takes place apart from the existence of man, who is referred to it as the guarantee of his future."44 Hence, for Bultmann, "just as Jesus is the way, in that he is the goal, so he is also the goal, in that he is the way." And again, "The discovery of this truth is not something established once and for all, at men's disposal, such as could be communicated in `condensed form' like a truth of science," since "this truth does not exist as a doctrine ...."45 From a neo-Patristic standpoint, here as elsewhere Bultmann artfully eliminates all self-standing objectivity from the words of Jesus and he even eliminates the historical truth of the words themselves.

        32.   As a Catholic historical-critic, Father Raymond Brown, regarding John 14:6, traces "the background from which this concept of Jesus as `the way' was drawn" to a chain of usage, and as his studied answer he says: "We suggest that John xiv 6 reflects this whole chain of usage of imagery of `the way' originating in the Old Testament, modified by sectarian Jewish thought illustrated at Qumran, and finally adopted by the Christian community as a self-designation. It is not unusual for the Johannine Jesus to take terminology once applied to Israel (and subsequently adopted by the Christian community) and to apply it to himself. ... The imagery of the sheepfold and vineyard, applied in the Old Testament to Israel and in the Synoptic Gospels to the kingdom of God, is applied in John to Jesus, the shepherd and the vine. The same process seems to be at work in calling Jesus rather than the Christian community `the way.'"46 In his exegesis, Brown finds that the Christian community here has Jesus presenting Himself, not as "a moral guide," but as "the only avenue of salvation," inasmuch as Jesus is "the truth, the only revelation of the Father who is the goal of the journey, and He is also the way "in the sense that he is the life," and "life comes through the truth," because "those who believe in Jesus as the incarnate revelation of the Father (and that is what `truth' means) receive the gift of life." Brown thus concludes: "Bultmann is correct in insisting that when a person comes to Jesus for the truth, it is not simply a matter of learning and going away. One must belong to the truth. Thus, not only at the moment of first belief but always Jesus remains the way."47

        33.   The neo-Patristic source-seeker, in looking for the sources, not only of the New Testament preaching, but also of historical-critical teaching, will find the thinking of Bultmann to be one source of Brown's thinking in his exposition of John 14:6, and Catholic faith to be another. Assuredly, Brown does not accept Bultmann's conclusions indiscriminately, but neither does he counteract effectively the deleterious implications of Bultmann's methodological presuppositions. For Bultmann, Jesus could not have said that He is "the way, the truth, and the life," because Jesus was only a man, and a very naive and uneducated man at that, whose sociological environment would not have enabled Him to say such a thing. But since, for Brown, Jesus is both God and man, why does he have to search for a source of these words apart from Jesus Himself? There seems to be an unresolved conflict of methodology here that prevents Brown from arriving at a clear exposition of the text. For Bultmann, as we have just seen, to imagine, as Brown does, that the Father is "the goal of the journey" is purely mythological thinking, as is the belief that "Jesus is the incarnate revelation of the Father." Hence, Brown, in not defending the full historical truth of the words of Jesus and in agreeing that "Bultmann is correct" in how to come to Jesus for the truth, is not facing the devastating import of Bultmann's reasoning. From the neo-Patristic viewpoint, Jesus is the Word of God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and "the truth" means to recognize this. For Bultmann, a person "comes to Jesus for the truth," to use Brown's phraseology, when a person has his own purely subjective experience of existential self-authenticity, so that to "belong to the truth" means to have gained possession of oneself in an existential moment that must be "repeated and ever repeated again." Brown is assuredly not agreeing with this, but neither does he seem to be able to handle in a sufficiently independent manner Bultmann's teaching on the subject.

        34.   The neo-Patristic interpreter looks for light in the Patristic exegetical tradition. Thomas Aquinas, at John 14:6 in his Catena aurea, quotes Augustine as saying: "The Word of God, who with the Father is truth and life, in assuming (the nature of) man, became the way. Walk through the man and you will arrive at God." And he quotes John Chrysostom to the effect that, in saying that `no one can come to the Father except through me,' Jesus "makes Himself equal to the One who begot Him." St. Thomas, in his commentary at John 14:6, goes to the heart of our discussion where he says that truth is the adaequatio rei ad intellectum (the conformity of what is conceived in the mind with what actually exists outside the mind), and the divine Word of God is truth itself, to whom everything created, in order to be true, must conform. Thus, says St. Thomas, Christ is the way according to his humanity and both the truth and the life according to his divinity, and he quotes several verses of Sacred Scripture to confirm this. The central issue for us in this discussion on the level of the literal sense is whether one realizes that the idea of Jesus being both God and man conforms to external reality univocally understood. Bultmann's opinion completely fails this test, because he does not see the reality of what is being said about Jesus in the Gospel of John; for Bultmann the divinity of Jesus is a pure figment of the imagination. Hence, Bultmann's approach does not enable any real understanding of the verse. The teaching implied in this verse about the way, the truth, and the life is that the followers of Jesus are called by God to move along a real path toward a real destination in the next life, a real future life that will be a continuation of this life in the same continuum of reality, even though the circumstances will be different. Christian faith requires us to believe in this reality.

        35.   Neo-Patristic exegesis is interested also in examining this verse in the framework of the four senses. It appears that, beyond the question of reality that is resolved on the level of the literal sense, the three spiritual senses can also be discerned. The "truth" relates to the Allegory of Christ and his Church; the "way" relates to the tropology of the soul and its virtues; and the "life" pertains to the anagogy of the Most Holy Trinity and the future life. St. Thomas in the same place quotes Theophylact in this regard: "And so, when you are being active, Christ becomes your way; when you persist in contemplation, Christ is made your truth. Life is attached to action and to contemplation, for it is fitting to be on the move and to preach about the world to come." For the neo-Patristic exegete, once the role and mission of Jesus Christ have been established in the literal sense, Jesus the truth reflects the allegorical sense, Jesus the way reflects the tropological sense, and Jesus the life reflects the anagogical sense. These are three patterns that appear over and over again in the Scriptures and which, in being related to themselves and to one another, produce understanding in the believer. To learn the metaphors by which the divinity of Christ is presented in the Scriptures is to come to know Jesus better. To perceive the way in which these metaphors impact upon the soul of the believer by an extension of the allegory to the powers of the soul, is to know better how to walk toward Jesus. To perceive how eternal life and the vision of the Blessed Trinity are presented in the Scriptures by an extension of the Allegory of Christ and his Church is to make use of the beginning of infused contemplation that is instilled in the soul at Baptism.

        36.   One procedure of the neo-Patristic method is to compare words, verses, and passages of Sacred Scripture with one another. In John 10:7-10 Jesus presents himself as "the door of the sheep. "Jesus, therefore, said to them again, `Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep (v. 7). All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not heed them (v. 8). I am the door: if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and he will go in and go out and will find pasture (v. 9). The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy; I have come that they may have life and may have it abundantly (v. 10).'" Rudolf Bultmann sees no logical homogeneity in this passage or in the entire narrative of the Good Shepherd (verses 1-39), which he reorganizes in accordance with his studied conclusion that verses 1-5, 8 and 10, 11-15a, and 27-30 comprised "the source on which the complex is based," while the remaining verses were composed by the unknown person whom he calls the "evangelist" or by the "editor" who finished the passage.48 He sees a certain inconsistency in the presentation of Jesus as being "the door of the sheep," since, in the parable in verses 1-5, Jesus is the shepherd who goes in and out of the door together with his sheep. In his view, verses 7-10 "give the impression of being an explanatory gloss" placed on the lips of the Johannine Jesus by the (unidentified) evangelist, who was using a Gnostic source for his discourse about the Good Shepherd).49 Characteristic of his style, Bultmann gives no credence to the possibility of allegory in the passage, even though he is aware that others have explained the order of the passage in terms of allegory.50

        37.   Raymond Brown finds that the metaphorical use of the word `gate' can be interpreted either as the gate through which the shepherd approaches the sheep (verse 8) or as Jesus being the gate through which the sheep pass to salvation.51 According to his opinion, the material in John 10:7-30 "consists of allegorical explanations," some of which "may represent a later expansion of Jesus' remarks." As with the explanations of certain parables in the Synoptic Gospels, he says, "So too in John x, while not all the explanations of 7 ff. need come from the one time or the one situation, there is no reason to rule out the possibility that we may find among them the traces of Jesus' own simple allegorical explanation of the parables in X 1-5."52 And he agrees with Johannes Schneider that the explanations of three terms, gate, shepherd, and sheep accounts for the structure of this entire passage.53 With reference to verses 7-10, Brown does not refute Bultmann's reasoning that "I am the door of the sheep" is a gloss on an original (Gnostic) parable," but instead he adds a doubt of his own as to whether the "thieves" in verse 8 are to be placed in the same category as the "thief" in verse 10, since the latter thief "is an instance of the tendency of the historical enemies of Jesus' ministry to become more general figures of evil as the gospel message is preached in a later period on a worldwide scale."54 Finally, Brown contrasts the simple allegory of these Gospel explanations with "the elaborate patristic allegories built around John x," regarding which he notes that "Cornelius a Lapide, that 17th century mirror of patristic exegesis, tells us that the flock is the Church, the owner of the flock is the Father, the gatekeeper is the Holy Spirit, etc." And Brown concludes: "It is this type of developed allegory that is an anachronism on Jesus' lips."55

        38.   For the neo-Patristic interpreter, putting words on the lips of Jesus is a serious matter. In his exegesis of the parable of the Good Shepherd, Bultmann allows not even a trace of origin in the teaching of Jesus, because he believes that Jesus was too simple and too uneducated a man to have thought up such an idea, especially as regards the divinity which is contained in it, and he sees nothing in the sociological environment (Sitz im Leben) of the life of Jesus which might have drawn it forth. Therefore, he ascribes the origin of the parable to a Gnostic milieu in the later Hellenistic world, and he conjectures the source of this parable, as of much of St. John's Gospel, to have been a Gnostic document expounding the myth of a divine redeemer. Bultmann assigns the `I-saying' in John 10:7-10 to an evangelist who was "demythologizing" the Gnostic myth. Brown, as a Roman Catholic, knows that Jesus was and is the God-Man, but he does not use this knowledge effectively in his exegesis of this passage, nor does he undertake an explicit refutation of Bultmann's exegesis. Instead, Brown leaves the question open by vaguely attributing the Gospel explanations of the parable to the "time" and the "situation" (Sitz im Leben), and by merely allowing for the "possibility that we may find among (the explanations in John 10:7 ff.) the traces of Jesus' own simple allegorical explanation of the parables in x 1-5." Bultmann, on the basis of his unbelief in the divinity of Jesus, has a logical reason for excluding the factual historicity of the words of Jesus in this passage, but Brown shows no logical reason for his doubting that Jesus spoke all of these words as they read. Brown, of course, does not accept Bultmann's theory of a supposed "Gnostic Revelatory Discourse" portraying a Gnostic "redeemer myth" as being the original source of many of the discourses of Jesus in St. John's Gospel; he looks rather for the source in "Old Testament speculation about personified Wisdom" or in the thinking of sectarian Judaism; but why should there be any other ultimate source than the lips of Jesus Himself? Brown does not find that the dependence of St. John's Gospel on a "postulated early Oriental Gnosticism" has been disproved,56 and he defends Bultmann's conclusions about a dependence of St. John's Gospel upon an alleged "redeemer myth" against the charge of circular reasoning.57 Thus,in speaking of "Jesus' own simple allegorical explanation," Brown does not establish a sufficiently clear difference of his view from Bultmann's methodological presupposition that Jesus was too `simple' a man to have been able to give such an elaborate explanation. And Bultmann's circular reasoning needs to be refuted, not defended. To the neo-Patristic interpreter, it is absolutely essential not to leave Bultmann's "redeemer myth" theory hanging around as a possibility in the background of St. John's Gospel or of any of the Gospels, because it is a false accusation against the reality of the object of faith and against the historical truth of Christianity. I think that Bultmann's Gnostic myth theory is disproved by the fact that there was no such myth before the time of Jesus. This kind of Gnosticism is a heresy corrupting the teaching of Jesus.

        39.   The neo-Patristic exegete, like the Patristic exegete, has in his hermeneutical framework an active awareness that Jesus is the God-Man who speaks in his own name and who is described and quoted in the Gospels by evangelists writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thomas Aquinas, in the Catena aurea and in his commentary on the Gospel according to St. John, relying on the preceding commentaries of the Fathers of the Church, provides the basis of a neo-Patristic explanation of the teaching of Jesus about the Good Shepherd and about the "door of the sheep." As to why Jesus used metaphors and spoke in parables, he gives two reasons: so that the mysteries of the Kingdom of God would remain unknown to the unworthy and so that the worthy would be drawn to seek an understanding of them. Aquinas points out that the passage about the Good Shepherd is logically constructed in this way: it explains the three elements that are presented in the opening two verses of the parable: the door of the sheepfold, the thieves who do not enter through the door, and the good shepherd. Thus, on the level of sources, Raymond Brown credits Johannes Schneider, writing in 1947, with an explanation that was clearly given by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century and even earlier than that by the Fathers of the Church. Aquinas quotes several interpretations of the "door of the sheepfold" given by the Fathers. John Chrysostom says that the door represents Sacred Scripture (Col 4:3), because through the Sacred Scriptures the faithful have access to the knowledge of God (Rom 1:2), because Sacred Scripture protects the spiritual life of the faithful (Jn 5:39), and because the truth of Scripture keeps heresies away from the faithful (2 Tim 3:16). On the other hand, Augustine says that the door is Jesus Christ (Apoc 4:1; Rom 5:1; Acts 4:12), which can be entered only by putting away pride and imitating the humility of Jesus (Matt 11:29). Hence, Jesus is both the Shepherd and the Door, and He enters through Himself in the sense that He is truth itself, so that as man he enters through Himself as God. Gregory the Great distinguishes, in the metaphor of the door, between those going into the Church on earth and those exiting the Church on earth to enter the Church triumphant in Heaven. .

        40.   Contemporary neo-Patristic exegesis builds on the commentaries of Thomas Aquinas and others, utilizing a more differentiated hermeneutical framework and a more fully systematic approach. It asks what are the elements of the allegorical framework and how they relate to the literal sense and to each other. The neo-Patristic method does not look for subjectively based spiritual meanings, but rather for spiritual meanings that are rooted objectively in the inspired text and are discernible objectively in the neo-Patristic exegetical framework. Accordingly, in briefly surveying the exegesis of the Fathers cited in the preceding paragraph, I make the following observations. The bare meaning of the words of the parable is its literal sense, while the application of the words is the spiritual sense. Jesus Himself gives us the basic spiritual meaning of the parable in verses 1-5 by his explanation in verses 7 and 9 ("I am the door of the sheep") and in verse 11 ("I am the good shepherd"). Thus, as Aquinas points out, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the sheep are the faithful who live in the grace of God (Ps 94 [95] 7, and the sheepfold is the congregation of the faithful (Mich 2:12). The explanation of these elements in the literal sense of verses 7, 9, and 10 is a Scriptural basis of the Allegory of Christ and his Church which afterwards can be discovered as a pattern in other places in Sacred Scripture. It is only by seeing Jesus as the shepherd and his followers as the sheep that one can understand this parable at all. Only by knowing who Jesus really is, namely, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity having become incarnate in this man Jesus in order to lead his sheep through the present life and into the next life, can anyone really "understand" the parable. In the parable, Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, "goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, because they know his voice" (verse 4). Thus, the first and most essential response to Rudolf Bultmann is that, when Jesus says "I am the door of the sheep" (verse 7), his sheep recognize that this really is his voice and not a voice invented by some merely human member of a later Christian community and fictitiously placed on his lips, for whatever religious purpose such a member might have had. Bultmann's theory of `knee-jerk' responses to a religious instinct, responses that are characterized as too preconceptual to be accused of dishonesty, does not stand up under objective criticism.

        41.   In the neo-Patristic framework, one can discern a parallel between the explanation by Jesus of the elements in the parable of the Good Shepherd and the teaching of Jesus that He is "the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). When John Chrysostom sees the "door of the sheepfold" (verse 1) as representing Sacred Scripture, he is alluding to an extension of the Allegory of Christ in the form of the allegory of the word, a metaphorical pattern spread out on two levels: the lower allegory of the revealed word and of the two Testaments, and the higher allegory of the uncreated Word who is consubstantial with the Father. Jesus Christ, in his humanity as presented in Sacred Scripture, leads people into the fold of the Church on earth, and, in his divinity, he receives them into the happiness of the Beatific Vision. In the Allegory of Christ, as Augustine remarks, Jesus Himself is also the doorkeeper, because Jesus is the dispenser of his grace (Eph 2:5). But, according to the allegory of the word, as Chrysostom tells us, first Moses and then the other inspired writers can be considered doorkeepers in that they announce Christ and open the minds of their readers to Christ. Yet even more, says Augustine, is the Holy Spirit the doorkeeper, because it is by the infused virtue of faith and the gifts of knowledge and understanding of the Holy Spirit that minds are opened to Christ, and, we might add, because the Holy Spirit is also the principal Author of the whole of Sacred Scripture.

        42.   As Cornelius a Lapide brings out in his great commentary,58 the true shepherd is the one who is indicated by the authority of the Scriptures, namely Jesus, and Jesus presents Himself in the Scriptures by his own divine authority as well. That Jesus presents Himself also as "the door of the sheep" (verse 7) introduces a tropological aspect to the parable, inasmuch as the movements of the sheep in and out of the doorway are implied, because tropology regards the response of the believing subject to objective revealed truth. Augustine speculates that to go in through the doorway means to do well in one's spirit according to the inner man, while to go out through the doorway means to do well in one's exterior actions, and that is to enter the sheepfold through contemplation and to exit through good actions. John Chrysostom sees the door as providing safety and freedom for those who adhere to Christ, or preaching the good news of the Gospel to those inside the Church and those outside, or joy both in conversion of heart to Christ and in suffering persecution. The neo-Patristic exegete interests himself in finding how tropological interpretations like this fit into the framework of the four senses and in sifting out applications that are not objectively implied in the inspired text. This research requires a differentiated idea of what is meant, for instance in the present case, by the contrast between the inner man and the outer man, between contemplative prayer and good exterior actions, between communion with others in the Church and dialogue with those outside the Church. But the tropology of the individual soul is based upon the Allegory of Christ and his Church, since every true follower is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Cornelius a Lapide sees that Gregory the Great's explanation of the "door of the sheep" as the entering of people first into the Church on earth and then going out of the same into the bliss of Heaven is a transition to the anagogy of the Four Last Things (Jn 10:10b). Augustine also, on the level of anagogy, sees Jesus, the Good Shepherd, going ahead of his sheep by rising from the dead as the firstborn of the resurrected. The insight underlying these explanations of the Fathers is that to understand the parable means to see how the elements in it apply to the Kingdom of God. In the words of St. Augustine: "He enters the sheepfold through the door who enters through Christ. And he enters through Christ who thinks and preaches the truth about Him who is at one and the same time the Creator and the Redeemer of the human race, and who keeps what he preaches." In conclusion, if modern Scripture scholars will look more attentively at their own mental framework of interpretation and then at the framework used implicitly by the Fathers of the Church, they will understand better, not only the allegorical, tropological, and anagogical senses of the inspired text, but its literal sense as well. Finis.


34. Cf. H. Fries, Bultmann-Barth und die katholische Theologie (Stuttgart, 1955); Eng. trans., Bultmann-Barth and Catholic Theology (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1967); P.J. Cahill, "(Notes concerning John Macquarrie's) The Scope of Demythologizing, in Theological Studies 23 (1962), 79-92; and J.L. McKenzie, The Power and the Wisdom (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1965), 271-286.

35. L. Malevez, Le message chrétien et le myth. La théologie de Rudolf Bultmann (Brussels-Bruges-Paris, 1954); Eng. trans., The Christian Message and Myth. The Theology of Rudolf Bultmann (London: SCM Press, 1958).

36. R. Marlé, Bultmann et l'interprétation du Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1956); Bultmann et la foi Chrétienne (Paris: Aubier, 1967); Eng. trans., Bultmann and Christian Faith (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1968); "A propos du projet de R. Bultmann relatif à une `demythologisation' du Message neotestamentaire," in Recherches de Science Religieuse, 41 (1953), 612-632; "Bultmann devant les théologiens catholiques," in Recherches de Science Religieuse, 45 (1957), 262-272; "Demythologizing Assessed," in The Heythrop Journal 2 (1961), 42-47.

37. A. Vögtle, "Rivelazione e mito," in Problemi e orientamenti di teologia dogmatica (Milan, 1957), vol. 1, 827-960.

38. Vögtle, op. cit., 832.

39. U. Lattanzi, "I Sinnottici e la Chiesa secondo R. Bultmann," in Miscellanea Antonio Piolanti, vol. I (Rome, 1963) [= Lateranum, new series, 29th year], 141-169.

40. Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, founder of the Ecole Biblique of Jerusalem in 1890, was the first to make a notable attempt to bring the historical-critical method into use by Catholic exegetes. In his La méthode historique surtout à propos de l'Ancien Testament (Paris, 1903) he attempted to show "how the historical-critical method could be used in biblical interpretation without any detriment to Christian faith and Catholic life" (J.A. Fitzmyer, The Biblical Commission's Document "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church," (Pontifical Biblical Institute: Rome, 1995), 154. In this and other works, Father Lagrange used with a certain moderation and in avoidance of the violation of Catholic doctrine the method of Hermann Gunkel and other historical-critics. However, in this work of "historical method," he did not undertake the preliminary task of determining from a Catholic point of view what exactly is history and what is historical method, and so he used the method of Gunkel and others without the benefit of a clear idea of what he was doing, and this has been largely the case with Catholic historical-critical exegetes ever since. In this regard it is interesting to note that, in the title of the English translation of Father Lagrange's work on "historical method," Historical Criticism and the Old Testament (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1905), the translator dropped the words "historical method."

41. Cf. J.F. McCarthy, "New Light on the Genealogies of Jesus," in Living Tradition 11 (May 1987); "The Historical Meaning of the Forty-Two Generations in Matthew 1:17," in Living Tradition 13 (Sept. 1987); "New Insight into the Burning Bush," in Living Tradition 32 (Nov. 1990); "A Neo-Patristic Return to the Calling of Nathanael (John 1:29-51)," in Living Tradition 42 (July 1992); and "A Neo-Patristic Return to the First Four Days of Creation," in Living Tradition nos. 45-50 (March 1993 to January 1994).

42. Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), 604-607 (translated from the 1964 printing of Das Evangelium des Johannes with the Supplement of 1966).

43. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, 603.

44. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, 605.

45. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, 606.

46. R. Brown, The Gospel according to John (New York: Doubleday, 1970 [= The Anchor Bible, vols. 29 and 29A]), 628-629.

47. Brown, The Gospel according to John, 630-631.

48. Cf. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, 360.

49. "10.7-10 forms a new section with its own introduction. ... What seems probable is that the interpretation has made use of the original continuation of vv. 1-5 in vv. 8 and 10, whereas vv. 7 and 9 are the Evangelist's glosses. In any case the whole section is based on a source text, to which the Evangelist has added a descriptive framework, together with his own comments. There is no reason to doubt that the discourse on the Good Shepherd also comes from the book of revelation-discourses" (Bultmann, The Gospel of John, 359).

50. Cf. Bultmann, The Gospel of John, 360, note 2.

51. Brown, The Gospel according to John, 393-394. Brown translates the word thyra as "gate," even though almost all English versions of the New Testament have translated it as "door," which is the most frequent meaning of the Greek noun, even though it can denote any entranceway. Brown is probably considering that sheep are ordinarily kept in an enclosure surrounded by a fence, to which a gateway would normally give access. However, in Jn 10:1, the beginning of the parable as it reads, where Jesus says "he who does not enter the sheepfold through the door" (thyra), the word given for "sheepfold" is aul, which literally means "courtyard; whence it appears that the sheepfold is here visualized as being inside of a courtyard protected by a door.

52. Brown, The Gospel according to John, 391.

53. Brown, ibid. Cf. J. Schneider, "Zur Komposition von Joh. 10," in Coniectanea Neotestamentica 11 (1947 - Fridrichsen Festschrift), 220-225.

54. Brown, The Gospel according to John, 395.

55. Brown, The Gospel according to John, 390-391.

56. "In summation, one cannot claim that the dependence of John on a postulated early Oriental Gnosticism has been disproved, but the hypothesis remains very tenuous and in many ways unnecessary. We hope to show below that OT speculation about personified Wisdom and the vocabulary and thought patterns of sectarian Judaism, like the Qumran community, go a long way toward filling in the background of Johannine theological vocabulary and expression. Since these proposed sources of influence are known to have existed, and the existence of Bultmann's proto-Mandean Gnostic source remains dubious, we have every reason to give them preference" (Brown, The Gospel according to John, p. LVI).

57. Cf. Brown, The Gospel according to John, p. LIV.

58. Cornelius a Lapide, Commentarii in Scripturam sacram, vol. 8, Expositio in quatuor Evangelia (Lyons, 1864); Eng. trans., The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide (John Hodges: London, 1887), at John 10. The quotations and references given in paragraphs 39-42 of this essay are taken from the commentaries of Thomas Aquinas and Cornelius a Lapide, as indicated.

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