Sunday, 5 August 2007

Remembering Jesus: Benedict XVI and James D. G. Dunn

In his masterful work, Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003), James D. G. Dunn observes that the Gospels give us access not directly to Jesus himself, but to memories of Jesus. And he suggests that “it is precisely the process of ‘remembering’ which fuses the horizons of past and present, by making the past present again” (p. 130).

Similarly, Benedict XVI’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007), emphasises the disciples’ remembrance of Jesus. And Benedict rightly notes that this memory is shaped and structured – or, to be more precise, “inspired” – by faith in the resurrection: “the Evangelist tells us that after the Resurrection the disciples’ eyes were opened and they were able to understand what had happened. Now [for the first time!] they ‘remember’…. The Resurrection teaches us a new way of seeing; it uncovers the connection between the words of the Prophets and the destiny of Jesus. It evokes ‘remembrance’, that is, it makes it possible to enter into the interiority of the events” (p. 232).

Benedict continues: “By means of these texts the [Fourth] Evangelist himself gives us the decisive indications as to how his Gospel is composed and what sort of vision lies behind it. It rests upon the remembering of the disciple, which, however, is a co-remembering in the ‘we’ of the Church. This remembering is an understanding under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; by remembering, the believer enters into the depth of the event” (p. 233).

26 Comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think the similarities between Dunn's perspective and Ratzinger's are quite superficial.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Michael -- yes, they're certainly very different books. But I think the methodological parallel is still interesting: both Dunn and Ratzinger think that the task of "historical Jesus" studies isn't simply to offer an historical reconstruction, but to reconstruct the community's (always already interpreted) "remembrance" of Jesus.

Of course, Benedict takes this much further: he develops it into a revised doctrine of "inspiration", where the Spirit is envisaged as guiding and directing the church's communal acts of remembering.

dan said...

Hello Ben,

Well, as usual, Michael and I appear to be united in our thoughts on Ratzinger. To press his point further, I would continue to question the extent of the "methodological parallel" between Ratzinger and Dunn. Although both may be interested in the community's "remembrance" of Jesus, Ratzinger seems to begin by assuming that the contemporary Catholic community remembers Jesus accurately, and he therefore constructs a picture of Jesus that is in keeping with this remembrance. Dunn, on the other hand, is more interested in how the first-century community remembers Jesus, and he therefore constructs a picture of Jesus that is much less certain. Stated more succinctly, it seems as though Ratinger asserts: "We remember Jesus accurately, therefore the early Christians remember Jesus in the same way that we do," whereas Dunn seems to argue that "The early Christians remembered Jesus differently than we do, therefore we may not remember Jesus accurately."

Timothy Goering said...

I have not been able to take a look at Ratzinger's book yet, but hopefully will find time soon. The passages you chose I find very interesting.
I remember reading and commenting on Dunn's "New Perspective On Jesus" where he unfolds some of the implications of 'remembering' for critical studies. I find this paradigm of 'remembrance' instead of approaching the texts as a direct account of Jesus helpful.

kim fabricius said...

Michael and Dan's points are good ones. Another indication of the distance between Dunn and Benedict may be found in the latter's privileging of the Fourth Gospel, whereas for Dunn, "If we are unsatisfied with the Jesus of the Synoptic tradition, then we will simply have to lump it; there is no other truly historical or historic Jesus" (A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed, p. 34)

Timothy Goering said...

Oops, that was the wrong link to my post. Here is the right one to "What the Quest for the historical Jesus missed".

Louis said...

I think Ben is right in pointing out the parallels in the "remembrance of Jesus" : "by making the past present again" in Dunn and "by remembering, the believer enters into the depth of the event" in Benedict XVI. Even Schweitzer appears to have admitted this at the end of his book on the historical Jesus.There is also no need to restrict this to those who were brought up as "believers". Look at the enormous influence Jesus had on Mahatma Gandhi.

Jackson said...

Hi Ben-

Have you read Hay's review (First Things, August/September) of Benedict's book? I would be interested to know whether you agree or disagree with Hays' perspective. As I recall, Hays did not say much about the remembering aspect, but he believed Benedict was going for a historical reconstruction, of which he falls short because of (as Kim said) his privileging of the fourth gospel. I have not myself yet read Benedict's book.

Ben Myers said...

Jackson -- no, I haven't read Richard Hays' essay yet. (I don't subscribe to First Things, so I always have to wait a couple of months for the free articles.) I'll certainly look forward to reading this when I can. And I'll probably agree with Hays: I think Benedict's use of the Fourth Gospel as a historical source is a major problem. Gerd Lüdemann rightly criticises this as well in his new book, Das Jesusbild des Papstes (which I'll be reviewing shortly).

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we err in judging the Pope's book as if it is just another "historical Jesus" book. I suspect that it is more of a theological reflection and an opportunity to present the Gospel, than the former. If Ben is correct:

"Benedict takes this much further: he develops it into a revised doctrine of "inspiration", where the Spirit is envisaged as guiding and directing the church's communal acts of remembering."

then the use of John is not problematic, at least not to me. John is an inspired theological remembrance, who's writing was guided by the Holy Spirit. If you don't view it in that light, you're not going to see Benedict's vision. Those who spend their careers arguing about the historical Jesus probably aren't going to get it. Because, the reality is, the book wasn't written for them.

John

E.E. Lawson said...

Gerd Lüdemann?

Ah yes, Gerd Lüdemann. The [ahem] Lutheran fellow that denies the resurrection of Jesus.

I'm not sure if I can trust the epistemological or historical pronouncements of someone who reality.

E.E. Lawson said...

Ooops.

That last line should read" I'm not sure if I can trust the epistemological or historical pronouncements of someone who denies reality

Anonymous said...

For those interested in the historical aspects of the Gospel of John, may I suggest:

Aspects of Historicity in the Gospel of John: Implications for Investigations of Jesus and Archaeology.
Paul N. Anderson (in Jesus and Archaeology, James Charlesworth)

And:

Archaeology and John's Gospel
Urban C. von Wahlde (also in Jesus and Archaeology)

In fact, I recommend the whole book.

Regards,
John McBryde

DJW said...

I find the disparaging of the Gospel according to John somewhat troublesome.

As John mentioned before, to judge Pope Benedict's book on the supposition that there is a gap between the 'historical Jesus' and the 'Christ of Faith' is to misunderstand the whole point of the book. Benedict does not subscribe to such a view and in terms of the gospels the 'Christ of faith' may well be all we have. As both authors argue the gospels cannot be separated from the community of faith that gave them to us.

It's quite simply the Catholic Church's position that it has received the deposit of faith and subsequently passed it on correctly. I'm not sure where it leaves us if we reject this. Theology cannot be done if it is constantly waiting to be reconstructed along the lines of ever-changing historical research.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think the Gospel of John has more historical value than many critics believe--I think folks like C. K. Barrett showed that some time ago. I would still find the pope's heavy reliance on the 4th Gospel to the neglect of the Synoptics very problematic.

But what I find most problematic about Ratzinger's book is that his Jesus is safe and tame. He does not challenge, does not provoke, does not upset any current applecarts. Ratzinger's Jesus is too meek and mild to have ever been crucified.

Thus, his book may promote the remembrance of Jesus, but not the right kind of dangerous memory. If the pope remembered Jesus faithfully, he could never be persecuting liberation theologians like Boff and Sobrino.

Deep Furrows said...

If this phrase is not historical, then nothing is: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us...

Michael,
The Catholic Church examines all new theology carefully. The liberation theologians should count themselves honored to be in the company of Aquinas, de Lubac, and others who faced serious challenges within the Church.

In commenting on paragraph 559 in the Catechism, Ratzinger says that "the Catechism points to the deepest root of what today we call the 'preferential option for the poor.' It is evident that we Christians cannot choose or decline this option at our discretion. Rather, it is a requirement flowing from the essential core of the Gospel itself" (Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism, p 42)

Fred

kim fabricius said...

Again, Michael (as ever!) makes some palpable hits.

In my comment above, in citing Dunn, I did not mean to suggest that the Fourth Gospel has no historical value; there are indeed occasions when John is to be preferred to the synoptics.

Morover, count me out of any quests, new quests, newer quests, or newest quests for the historical Jesus (i.e. the historians' Jesus) if they suggest (with Protestant liberalism) that we must go behind the biblical Christ to get to the real McCoy, particularly if the agenda (as in the Jesus Seminar) is to rescue Jesus from the church.

On the other hand, also count me out of any pre- or post-modern rubbishing of historical criticism, including more recent work deploying social scientific methodologies.

Furthermore - and finally - I would insist that the church has no exclusive hermeneutical rights over the Jesus of the gospels, and when it makes such a claim - i.e. when scripture loses what John Webster calls its ecclesial "over-againstness", whether in a Roman or postliberal form - the eventual result is Michael's Jesus "safe and tame" rather than feral and extremely dangerous. As Rowan Williams says: "In the world as it is, the right to be heard speaking about God must be earned," and "the paradox of our situation often seems to be that the struggle for Christian integrity in preaching leads us close to those who least tolerate some aspects of that preaching."

"See" all you guys in a week or so: my wife and I are off on our annual pilgrimage to Kefalonia!

Anonymous said...

Michael,

I think you may be guilty of something that often happens in historical Jesus studies. Creating Jesus in your own political image. I'm also beginning to think that when it comes to Pope Benedict, you can't be objective.

John

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I can be objective about the current pope--I object to him strenuously. I do this not because I'm anti-Catholic, but because I watched him hurt too many Catholic colleagues.

I tend to be very cautious in method when it comes to Jesus research. But I think it fair to say that any Jesus with claims to be historical (i.e., any memories that can at all be historically accurate to any reasonable degree) must be thoroughly Jewish (fitting well into 1st C. Judaism), must have been shocking and challenging to the Jewish authorities of the day, and must have been threatening to the Roman Powers that Be (only a Jesus that shocked the Jewish authorities and threatened the Roman overlords could have been crucified--a punishment reserved for slaves and insurrectionists).

Dunn's Jesus, with some bobbles, fits, but Ratzinger's Jesus doesn't. It's that simple.

I hope Kim and Mrs. Fabricius enjoy their vacation, even though I have no idea where Kefalonia.

Anonymous said...

"I can be objective about the current pope--I object to him strenuously."

Thank you for the clarification, Michael. It's pretty much as I suspected. In the future, I will remember to ignore anything you have to say about him.

I couldn't help but notice that most of your criticisms concern things the Pope hasn't even written about yet.
Jesus of Nazareth is a two volume endeavor. So we won't know what Benedict has to say about the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus until he's completed his second volume. I also know from my past readings that the Pope has often emphasized the Jewish nature of Jesus. All of which leads me to ask, have you actually read his book?

Like many before him, Dunn has come up with a reasonable historical reconstruction of the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

But I don't worship historical reconstructions.

I worship the Son of the Living God. Who rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

The Holy One of God, who will come again with Glory to judge the living and the dead.

That's Benedict's Jesus.

And that's the only Jesus worth trusting in.

John

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Yes, after reading several people like Ben who were surprisingly (to me) positive about Benedict's book, I read it. I was not very impressed, although it was better than I expected in places. (Incidentally, I have such high regard for St. Benedict and the Benedictine order that I have great difficulty referring to Ratzinger by that name.)

You said:

I worship the Son of the Living God. Who rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

The Holy One of God, who will come again with Glory to judge the living and the dead.

That's Benedict's Jesus.

And that's the only Jesus worth trusting in.

I can agree with everything except the sentence "that's Benedict's Jesus." I am not sure that his Jesus is anything more than a docetic construct divorced from the Jesus who came to bring Good News to the poor. After all, he misunderstands the first of His temptations as a temptation to "the Marxist error," reverts to understanding the miracles in terms of "proofs of divinity," etc.

Dan of Prophet or Poser gives the pope some limited praise for emphasizing Jesus as the "prophet like Moses" who has a more intimate relationship with God even than Moses. But Benedict neuters much of the impact of this insight by failing to see the power of Moses as Liberator. Here is where he should have learned from the Liberation theologians and had his truncated view of Jesus corrected.

All this historical reconstruction is important because it matters WHICH Jew of Nazareth that we claim is the Son of the Living God--it matters for our view of God, for our view of salvation, of discipleship, of church--all of which those Benedict has persecuted in Latin America have gotten more right than he has. So, his Jesus comes across as docetic and triumphalist and supportive of the status quo--and therefore as false.

Anonymous said...

I love Pope Benedict! And I thank God that he was chosen to lead our Church.
He is following in the historic footsteps of his predecessor, John Paul the Great. And like John Paul before him, he is offending all the right people.

Regards,
John McBryde

Macrina said...

John,
However much I am trying to be open on Benedict as pope (and am grateful for some positive - if rather mixed - signs), there is no getting away from the fact that he was responsible for treating people in ways that can hardly be described as ethical, much less Christian, and for policies which have, certainly in some places, had a devastating effect on the Church. Now we can question how much this was actually his own doing, and how much he was simply being loyal to the previous pope (whose greatness I am by no means convinced of) but it does raise serious questions and it is not surprising that it colour people's judgement.

Macrina said...

Michael,
I must confess that the fact that Ratzinger chose the name Benedict was a ray of hope for me at the - otherwise rather devastating - news of his election. As Joan Chittister commented shortly afterwards, someone in a position of authority taking St Benedict seriously is good news. Of course the question remains of the extent to which he is doing this...

Anonymous said...

Hello Macrina,

Needless to say, we will have to agree, to disagree.

Regards,
John

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Michael, but in my opinion you're too emotionally invested in your distaste for Benedict, to be a credible or objective source of information.

With that in mind, maybe we should stop wasting each others time.

John

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