"Between History and … History"
ROME, 14 JULY 2007 (ZENIT)
Here is a translation of a talk given in
Rome by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero
Cantalamessa, on historical research concerning Jesus.
* * *
JESUS OF NAZARETH
BETWEEN HISTORY AND THEOLOGY
Talk given at a public debate held in Rome
12 May 2007
1. Jesus, between history and … history
It seems to me that, more basic than the alternative expressed in the
title, "Jesus, between history and theology," is the alternative,
"Jesus, between history and history." The notion of a rectilinear,
univocal form of historical research concerning Jesus, leading
progressively to a clear and complete picture of him is a myth which no
serious historian of our day would claim to validate.
Leaving aside the diachronic variations
that is to say, the historical reconstructions of Jesus that have come,
one after the other, during the last two centuries
let me look for a moment at the synchronic views, that is, those that
have arisen simultaneously in one epoch, our own.
In the new introduction to her work: "From Jesus to Christ. The origins
of the images of Jesus in the New Testament," Paula Fredriksen,
Professor at Boston University, writes: "Paperbacks proliferate as the
range of portraits of Jesus broadens. In recent scholarship, Jesus has
been imagined and presented as a type of first-century shaman figure; as
a Cynic-sort of wandering wise man; as a visionary radical and social
reformer preaching egalitarian ethics to the destitute; as a Galilean
regionalist alienated from the elitism of Judean religious conventions
(like Temple and Torah); as a champion of national liberation and, on
the contrary, as its opponent and critic
on and on. All these figures are presented with rigorous academic
argument and methodology; all are defended with appeals to the ancient
data. Debate continues at a roiling pitch, and consensus
even on issues so basic as what constitutes evidence and how to construe
seems a distant hope."
Appeal is often made to recent discoveries that are supposed at last to
have given historical research an advantage over the past, to wit the
scrolls of Qumran, the library of Nag Hammadi, archaeological
excavations, sociological research. Yet how variable the conclusions can
be that are drawn from these new historical sources is clear from the
fact that they have given rise to two images of Christ, one
irreconcilably opposed to the other. On the one hand we have a Jesus
"wholly and in all things Hebrew," and on the other, Jesus son of the
hellenised Galilee of his time, imbued with a cynical philosophy.
Researches in sociology too tend to lead to diametrically opposed
results, as E. P. Sanders, the great specialist on Jesus and Judaism has
noted: For some, "Jesus' world faced a severe social and economic
crisis, one that grew worse day by day. Palestine's small landholders
were in a tightening noose of institutionalized injustices such as
double taxation, heavy indebtedness, and loss of land. Peasant families
fell ever more heavily into debt under the steady economic pressures of
double taxation. The wealthy lent them money that they could not repay,
charged very high rates of interest, and then foreclosed on the
property… There was rising indebtedness and a declining peasantry, the
social-economic infrastructure was in decline and poverty worsening."
For others, on the contrary, "Galilee was urbanized, cosmopolitan and
prosperous… in fact an epitome of Hellenistic culture… Jesus and his
hearers spoke Greek."
It is not surprising, then, that in the post-modern thinking a radical
scepticism has developed. Here the alternative is no longer between
history and theology, nor between one history and another, but between
history and interpretation or literary criticism. The text is read
without any regard for foregoing objective data; all turns upon the
reader's direct confrontation with the text and the outcome is all
subjective and relative.
The most recent, monumental (and in my view genuinely innovative)
monograph on the historical Jesus, written by James Dunn of Durham
University, England, ends off a review of the opinions with this
assessment: "The loss of confidence in historical method in post-modern
circles is thus complete. And so far as the quest of the historical
Jesus is concerned, its results, particularly when the various Jesuses
of the neo-Liberal quest are included, simply confirm the failure of
traditional historical methodology. The simple and rather devastating
fact has been that Gospels researchers and questers of the historical
Jesus have failed to produce agreed results".
What conclusion are we to draw from all this? That we might as well
abandon research into the historical Jesus? Certainly not that. The
author just quoted gives an example, devoting his monumental work to
this very research. I believe that we can apply to historical research
what the proverb says about God, that "he writes straight on crooked
lines." It does in fact advance our knowledge of history, opening new
horizons and formulating new hypotheses, some of which prove to be
productive and enlightening. The very failure to find a commonly
accepted alternative to the Gospel narrative is in itself an important
The requisite in approaching research into the historical Jesus is above
all a greater humility and an awareness of our own intrinsic
limitations. Historical criticism has caused orthodox theology to be
more humble and aware of the problematics, but historical criticism
itself needs perhaps to accept its own limits, whether arising from the
sources, or from the object of its investigations which
hypothetically at least
extends beyond the limits of history. The approach to the problematics,
the pro and the con and the awareness of limits, is what in fact
distinguishes the great scientific monographs on the Jesus of history
from the works of writers in search of sensationalism whose works are
triumphal processions marching to conclusions already obvious from the
outset. Among the serious monographs, the most recent has been that of
Gerd Theissen and Annette Metz, although it is questionable on many
A mistaken methodology, against which the serious researchers are always
on guard, is that of taking something "historically not demonstrable"
simply "as historically false." Concerning many of the events related in
the Gospels, history can only conclude that they cannot be supported on
the basis of historical argument, yet this does not justify the
conclusion that the narrative is therefore false.
It is particularly necessary to abandon the illusion that believers
start with a preconceived idea when writing about Jesus, but
unbelievers, unprejudiced, do not. John Meier, author of a major study
on the historical Jesus, writes: "Whether we call it a bias, a tendenz,
a worldview, or a faith stance, everyone who writes on the historical
Jesus writes from some ideological vantage point; no critic is exempt.
The solution to this dilemma is neither to pretend to an absolute
objectivity that is not to be had nor to wallow in total relativism. The
solution is to admit honestly one's own standpoint, to try to exclude
its influence in making scholarly judgments by adhering to certain
commonly held criteria, and to invite the correction of other scholars
when one's vigilance inevitably slips."
2. Jesus, Hebrew believer or cynic philosopher?
Speaking of the limits of historical research, I would like to highlight
one that seems to me to be decisive. It concerns the possibility of an
historical research on Jesus that not only prescinds from, but from the
outset excludes any faith in God; in other words, the plausibility of
what has at times been called "the Jesus of the atheists." I'm not now
speaking of faith in Christ, in his divinity, but of faith in God, faith
in the most commonly accepted sense of the term.
Far be from me the idea that non-believers have no right to concern
themselves with Jesus. I am convinced that Jesus is "the patrimony of
humankind" and that no one, and of course neither the Church, holds a
monopoly on him. What I want to make clear are the consequences of
keeping to that point of departure, and that the "preconceptions" of a
researcher who does not believe have no less influence on research than
those of one who does.
I am convinced that, if one prescinds from faith in God, one eliminates
not only the divinity, that is the so-called Christ of faith, but also
the historical Jesus "tout court"; nothing is left, not even Jesus the
man. It is simply not possible to contest on historical grounds that the
Jesus of the Gospels lived and worked relating to and aware of the
heavenly Father, that he prayed and taught others to pray, that he based
everything on faith in God. If this dimension is eliminated from the
Jesus of the Gospels, his whole personality disintegrates and becomes
But if we assume that God does not exist, Jesus is simply another one of
the deluded many who prayed, adored, spoke with his own shadow or the
projection of his own essence, to use Feuerbach's terms. And how would
it be possible to explain the fact that this man's life, as they readily
admit, "changed the world"? It would be tantamount to saying that truth
or reason had nothing to do with the change in the world, but only
illusion and irrationality. How then explain that this man continues, at
a remove of two thousand years, to appeal to humankind as no other?
There is only one way out of this dilemma, and we need to recognise the
consistency shown by those who in recent years have made it their own.
The way out is the one mapped out in the ambit of the "Jesus Seminar"
based in Berkeley, California. Jesus was not a Hebrew believer; he was
basically a philosopher in the mode of the cynics; he did not preach
a kingdom of God, nor an approaching end of the world; all he did was
pronounce words of profound wisdom in the style of a Zen master. His
purpose was to reawaken in people a self-awareness, to convince them
that they had no need of him or of any other god, because they
themselves carried within themselves a spark of the divine. Strange
rather not surprising at all
these are the things that New Age has been preaching for some decades!
How can this new image of Jesus be justified historically? Simply by
taking as absolute the "Q" source (the collection of the sayings of
Jesus based on the use Mark and Matthew made of them in their Gospels)
and regarding it as the only document having any tenable link with a
Jesus who really existed. But this is not good enough, because among the
sayings of Jesus listed in that collection, there are some that are
incompatible with that image of him. Thus the distinction is made
between three successive layers in that document (itself hypothetical!),
of which the oldest, called "Q3," alone authentic, could be taken as a
nucleus of esoteric sayings approximating in kind those we find in the
Coptic Gospel of Thomas. I studied classical philology and textual
criticism during my university years, and know that on such premises
there is no possibility whatsoever of hitting the mark. That approach
leaves the data open to endless manipulation.
Before any of them, Nietzsche saw the dilemma clearly and resolved it in
a way much more coherent than today's
making of Jesus not a philosopher in the cast of Greek rationality, but
its irreducible opposite.
3. Continuity or complete break? The "Jesus of Nazareth" of Benedict XVI
Let us move now to the alternative mentioned in the title of this paper,
"Jesus of Nazareth between history and 'theology.'" After all of the
immense effort that has been expended, from Reimarus to today, to free
the historical Jesus from the Christ of ecclesiastical dogma, it will
perhaps serve some purpose again to take into consideration the
viewpoint of tradition and church dogma now that they have become more
humble and more aware of their own limits, thanks precisely to
This, I believe, is what Pope Benedict XVI set out to do in his book
"Jesus of Nazareth." Someone has accused him of bypassing in that way
all the problems and doubts to which modern historical criticism has
given rise. But I ask myself: what was the pope supposed to have done
write yet another historical reconstruction in which to confront and
discuss all objections? We heard, above, how long the list is of
writers, believers and non-believers, who have done just that, and I
cannot see how yet another such work, even if written by a pope, would
have made any difference.
What the pope chose to do was to present in a positive light the figure
and the teaching of Jesus as understood by the Church, starting from the
conviction that the Christ of faith is also, rigorously, the Jesus of
history. Since the pope has left everyone the liberty to criticise his
book, I too permit myself a small reservation. I think that the
continuity between the Christ of the kerygma and of dogma, for all that
it is real, is not quite as rectilinear as is made to appear in the
summary introduction to the book.
On this point, I think we can share the opinion of Theissen and Merz:
"Christians, after Easter, spoke of Jesus more affirmatively (that is to
say, they said greater and more important things) than the historical
Jesus would have said about himself. This 'value plus' of post-Paschal
Christology in respect of Jesus' pre-Paschal self-awareness, whether on
the historical or on the objective level, is based on the actual event
Theissen and Merz saw that the two phases
before Easter, and after
relate to each other in the same way as implicit and explicit
Christology do. Among the elements of implicit Christology that they
find in the Gospels, not a few correspond with those on which Benedict
XVI bases his argument in his book: the expression "Amen" in the
particular way Jesus uses it; the self-confidence with which Jesus
counterposes the authority of the Torah and of Moses with his "But I say
to you …"; his particular way of relating to the Father and above all
the distinction between "My Father" and "your father"; his forgiving
sins; the superiority Jesus claims over the Baptist whom he defines as
"the greatest of the prophets."
It would be most ungenerous to fail to recognise the theological and
spiritual richness of Benedict XVI's book on Jesus, and gauge it only
against the measure of the historical Jesus. It is of course a book
written by a believer for believers and for those who take an interest
in knowing the Christ of tradition and of the Church. He himself
declares that he does not want to enter into the debates that are proper
to historico-critical research, but assuming them, to go beyond, seeking
in wonderment a genuinely theological interpretation."
The pope bases himself explicitly on canonical exegesis, that is, on
that type of exegesis that presupposes the belief that God has not just
one way of revealing himself to the world, the way of history; he has
many other ways, among which the most important is biblical inspiration.
This conviction allows not only the reading of "the fragment in the
whole" (that is, a text within its context) as the moderns use to do,
but also "the whole within the fragment" (that is, the entire Bible
reflected within each of its parts) as the Fathers have done and on
which the Church's spiritual reading of Scripture down through the ages
is based. In a magisterial work, Henri de Lubac has demonstrated how
coherent and fruitful this way of reading the Scripture has been.
It is very significant that the decision of the pope to keep to the
Jesus of the Gospels is, on certain counts, confirmed in the monograph
of James Dunn to which we referred above. In that work, after a lengthy
and sharp analysis of the results of the research on the historical
Jesus over the last three centuries, the writer comes to the conclusion
that there has been no break between Jesus the preacher and the Jesus
preached, and hence between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith.
The Jesus of faith was not born after Easter, but was there in the first
encounters with the disciples, who became disciples precisely because
they believed in the Rabbi of Nazareth.
The difficulty in making the link between the Jesus of the synoptic
Gospels and the real Jesus arises for the most part from the failure to
take into account the laws that govern the transmission of the founding
traditions of a community still without a written culture, as happened
when accounts of Jesus were first formulated and circulated among groups
of people. The study of these laws (even now verifiable among peoples of
pre-literate cultures) shows that an event or a teaching held to be
important for the history and for the life of the community can be
transmitted with acute accuracy as to its essential elements, though in
the particulars showing variations in each narration, to meet the
requirements of the moment.
Historical criticism ("Formgeschichte," or history of form) has tacitly
projected on the epoch of the New Testament the process which leads
today to the final edition of a book: successive revisions, layers as it
were, based one upon the other, adding to or subtracting from it some
part. This has given rise to the illusion that one can work back from a
layer to the one before, eventually to arrive at a hypothetical,
which almost always turns out to be a close reflection of the point at
which the scholar concerned aimed at the outset.
What do we actually discover by taking this approach? Not
at least directly
the "hidden interiority" of Christ, what he thought of himself, but the
"Jesus as remembered"; "remembered" however
and this is where the difference lies
not at a distance in time, after Easter, by disciples and communities
that re-interpreted the events and the teachings as extraneous interests
moved them to do, but by those who straight away began to tell, in story
form, of what they themselves experienced and heard.
Read in this way, the scholar says, "the synoptic Gospels are examples
of a model and technique of oral transmission that have guaranteed a
stability and continuity in the tradition of Jesus greater than any of
those ever imagined in the past."
— a watershed
For many historians, Easter does not represent a qualitative leap in
Christology, but an absolute beginning. But the more historical research
stresses this new beginning, the greater the difficulties with it
become. Once we abandon the thesis of Reimarus, that the resurrection of
Christ was a conscious fraud of the disciples, how can we explain such
an absolute beginning? All the subsequent development of faith in Christ
it is said to be based on the Resurrection, but then, when closely
examined, it appears to have no basis at all, because the Resurrection
itself is a matter of faith, therefore something subjective, not real.
Christianity appears to be a massive upside-down pyramid, its point
resting on the void.
This is not the place to call for yet another in the unending series of
debates on the resurrection. I'll confine myself to citing an
affirmation made by the English scholar, Charles H. Dodd, with which I
wholly agree: "The assumption that the whole great course of Christian
history is a massive pyramid balanced upon the apex of some trivial
occurrence, is surely a less probable one than that the whole event, the
occurrence plus the meaning inherent in it, did actually occupy a place
in history at least comparable with that which the New Testament assigns
The resurrection, some say, is a metaphor; that is true, but the meaning
of the metaphor, as Paul Ricoeur has pointed out, is not to give
expression to something other than reality, but to say, of reality
itself, something that cannot be said in any other way. The resurrection
in itself is something positioned at the limits, or more properly,
outside the limits of time and space and hence too of history, yet there
is something that took place within time and space and that the
historian must therefore set out to explain.
Two facts are offered for the historian's consideration, and it is these
that permit him to speak of the resurrection: the first is the
unanticipated and inexplicable faith of the disciples, a faith so
tenacious as to stand firm even against the test of martyrdom; and the
second is the explanation of such faith that the disciples left of it.
The observation made by Martin Dibelius will always remain pertinent:
"When the decisive moment arrived, and Jesus was taken, scourged and
sentenced, the disciples cherished no expectation of a resurrection.
They fled, and considered the cause of Jesus over and done with. What
was needed, therefore, was something that in a very short time would not
only bring about a radical change in their state of mind, but would move
them to an entirely new kind of activity and to founding the Church.
This 'something' is the historical kernel of faith in the
resurrection." There has been an endless number of attempts to find
alternative explanations for this "something," but so far none has
lasted much longer than its author.
5. The veneration of Jesus Christ
Where then, and when, did what we call 'Christianity' begin? If by
'Christianity' we correctly intend the veneration of Jesus of Nazareth
as Lord, and as Divine, it began at Easter and Pentecost. Larry W.
Hurtado, professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at
the university of Edinburgh, has taken up again the study of the origins
of the cult of Jesus undertaken by W. Bousset at the beginning of the
previous century, now on a new basis, in the light of what has come to
be recognised as the Judaic, non-Hellenistic matrix of primitive
Christianity. And the conclusion at which he arrives is that the
veneration of Jesus as a divine figure burst out suddenly and
unexpectedly, not little by little and later on, among circles of
followers in the first century. More precisely, its origins are found
among the circles of Jewish Christians of the very earliest years. It is
only an idealistic way of thinking that continues to attribute the
veneration of Jesus as a divine figure to the decisive influence of
pagan religions and to the influx of gentile converts, holding it to
have come about at a later stage and more gradually. The veneration of
Jesus as 'Lord', that found adequate expression in cultic worship and in
total obedience, was however widespread, not at all confined or
attributable to particular circles, as for example the 'hellenists', or
gentile Christians of a hypothetical 'Syriac Christ-cult'. Through all
the diversity of primitive Christianity, faith in the divine condition
of Jesus was incredibly widespread, common to all. Very nearly all of
the 'heresies' of primitive Christianity postulated the idea of the
divinity of Jesus. This was not in discussion. The problematical issue,
rather, was whether there was room to consider him authentically
Clearly, if we compare the Jesus of the Gospels with the Christ of Nicea
and Constantinople, the difference at first glance seems abyssal. So
too, if we compare the scanned image of a human embryo in the womb with
the child born and grown into adulthood, there seems to be an
unbridgeable gap between the two, even though all that the grown man is,
was seminally within the embryo. Didn't Jesus compare the kingdom he
preached with the smallest of seeds, destined to grow and to become a
great tree ? (Matthew 13:32).
According to the faith of the Church, this development, all the
undeniable facts of history aside, is driven by one, inner and hidden
force: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one factor notably absent
from all the historical research concerning Jesus. On hearing even
mention of the name, the historian does an about-turn, growling that
that belongs in another genre; it would be doing theology. But is it
possible for the researchers into the history of Jesus to ignore
something to which Jesus himself, in texts of inarguable authenticity,
attributes his own ability to drive out demons and perform miracles? It
has become the custom, today, to speak of Jesus and the first disciples
as "itinerant charismatics," but what remains of a charismatic if the
experience of the Holy Spirit is left out of consideration?
Paul and the Acts of the Apostles show that after Easter the community
again and again had the experience of being guided by the Holy Spirit.
John gives explicit expression to this awareness, linking it back to a
promise made by Jesus: "I still have many things to say to you but they
would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he
will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as
from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you
of things to come" (John 16:12-13). A 'prophecy' after the event, one
might say; true, but even in this case the event still remains to be
The Holy Spirit is outside of the field of history, but his effects are
historical and so deserve to be taken into consideration. This could be
one of the areas where history and theology ought to work together, each
one in its own way. This is what James Dunn, author of "Christianity in
the Making," has done in his work, "Jesus and the Spirit. A Study of the
Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians
as Reflected in the New Testament."
6. One Christianity or many?
I still need to come to the issue raised by those who say that in the
beginning there was not one Christianity, but many, that is to say, many
different interpretations of Christ's message, gradually eliminated one
by one by the growing weight of the orthodoxy imposed by the church of
Rome. It is possible
why not? —
to speak of different Christianities, but then of course we need to say
the same of nearly every institution and of the great novelties of
history. In that sense there was not one Jewish religion but many Jewish
religions, nor one Renaissance but many Renaissances, nor one French
Revolution but many French Revolutions, and so on, because each of these
realities were the result of the processes of the interaction and
refining of various factors and tendencies. Sociologists teach us that
that is what usually comes about in a movement's development from its
nascent status to the establishment that is its final result.
The idea put forward in some quarters, to begin again from the
beginning, putting all of those possibilities into one bag
that is, bringing all the old no-longer-held modalities into play again
in order to bring to life a new, unedited form of Christianity, makes me
think of the project to develop a new Esperanto, and of its demise.
We should rather accord to the orthodoxy of the origins the merit of
having fought its battle with books and decrees, without having sent
anyone, neither Marcion nor Valentinus nor Montanus, to the bonfire.
Some will say orthodoxy didn't have the power to do that: true enough,
but the fact remains that it was not done, and that at least in the
early centuries of its history, orthodoxy did not impose its way by
force and conquest but by argument and example of life. Its beginnings
are clean; they are still worth examining, and they can still inspire
The notion of an orthodoxy that emerged victorious by eliminating its
competitors under the powerful guidance of Rome is a pure legend.
Orthodoxy was not established in its origins by way of a movement from
the centre to the periphery, but on the contrary, by movement from the
periphery towards the centre. The struggles against ebionite beliefs,
docetism, and encratism did not move outwards from Rome, but all arrived
in Rome from Antioch in Syria, from Asia Minor, from Alexandria in
Egypt, from Carthage and from Lyon in France. Rome in the first two
centuries and a half of Christian history was more the arbiter between
the parties than a leading force in the struggles against heresy. Even
in the Council of Nicea, the influence of Rome and of the West in
general was minimal. Attributing to Rome the triumph of orthodoxy is, to
a large extent, the consequence of a backward projection of later
situations, if not of the present state of affairs!
It would be interesting to review the various forms of so-called
alternative Christianities, in order to see which of them, if still in
existence, would be accepted by those who lament their passing.
Encratism surely not, because of its rejection of marriage and material
possessions; certainly not Marcionism because of its radical anti-Jewish
stance; nor I believe would the various forms of gnosticism or docetism
find acceptance, rejecting as they do the material world and the real
humanity of Jesus. As to the famous prophets and itinerant charismatics,
so dear to modern researchers into the Jesus of history, we note a
curious point: in our day a movement similar in many of its aspects has
reappeared in spectacular fashion in Christian churches, yet there are
students of the historical Jesus who look on this with irony and hold it
to be nothing more than the fruit of fundamentalism, irrationality and
religious enthusiasm. (I know something of this because, at times, I too
am placed in this category!).
There is, it is true, a stream that finds favour today among many
scholars, ebionism, that is, the form of Christianity that remains in
practice within the matrix of Judaism, holding Jesus to be a man and
keeping to the observances of the Torah. This is something of which we
know very little, apart from the fact that they were isolated
communities living in the east of the Jordan. There was no war against
them, no bonfire of books. Paradoxically, orthodoxy has not suppressed
their memory, as some say, but in fact preserved it. If it were not for
the fact that certain of their writings are quoted by authors of
orthodox Christianity, we would know nothing whatever about them.
Concerned as they were with countering the much more belligerent
Gnosticism, the orthodox writers gave them only passing attention.
Orthodoxy, however, did not content itself with fighting these
alternative forms of Christianity, but made them its own after freeing
them of any "sectarian" and heretical element. The instance of encratism
survives in the Church in the life-states of virginity and monasticism;
the instances of gnosis are taken up by the Alexandrines, Clement and
Origen; the way of the itinerant prophets, after the initial crisis
arising from Montanist excesses, was to emerge again in the Church in
the mendicant movements of the Middle Ages.
I cannot end my analysis without drawing attention to a contradiction.
All of the spasmodic research into the historical Jesus, when those who
undertake it distance themselves from the Christ of the Church, becomes
by definition a radical refutation of history itself. The history to
which Jesus gave rise, that he created by his life, is not only not
taken into consideration, but some make every effort to obliterate it in
favour of a starting-point detached from it and in contrast to it.
In this there is no application of the hermeneutic principle of "the
history of effects" ("Wirkungsgeschichte"), which takes into account not
only the influences undergone but also the effects produced and the
influences exercised. The interpreter, says H.-G. Gadamer, can not
impose his own view on the tradition of the past that he is studying,
but can begin to understand it adequately only thanks to that very
tradition and to the extent that he shares in it. I don't believe this
means that only those with an inward adherence to Christianity can
understand anything about it, but it surely should put us on our guard
against believing that only those who stand outside of it can say
anything objective about it.
It is through the Church and by the Church that Jesus changed the world.
Without "that error called Christianity," as someone has defined it,
we would not be here to speak about him. Jesus would be, today, an
obscure Galilean rabbi whose name we would find only if we were to read
a note on the writings of Tacitus or Flavius Josephus. There would have
been no Augustine, no Francis of Assisi, no Thomas Aquinas, Luther,
Pascal; there would have been no Gothic cathedrals or Romanesque
churches, no Dante, no paintings of the Renaissance schools, no
Michelangelo or Sistine Chapel, Bach or his Passions, Mozart and his
Masses. There would, above all, have been none of the innumerable crowds
of men and women who, in the name of the Christ they knew through the
Church, dedicated themselves utterly to the care of suffering humanity.
Can we be sure that our world would be a better place without all that?
The history of Christianity has not been merely a matter of crusades,
inquisitions and religious wars, even though, sadly, it has been that
 P. Fredriksen, "From Jesus to Christ. The Origins of the New
Testament images of Jesus," 2nd edition, Yale University Press, 2000.
 Cf. E. P. Sanders, "Jesus in Historical Context" [http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/oct1993/v50-3-article8.htm]
 J. Dunn, "Christianity in the Making," I, Grand Rapids, Mich. 2003,
 G. Theissen and A. Merz, "Der historische Jesus: ein Lehrbuch,"
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1999.
 J. Meier, "A Marginal Jew. Rethinking the Historical Jesus,"
Doubleday, New York 1991, p. 5-6.
 On the theory of Jesus as cynic, cf. B. Griffin, "Was Jesus a
philosophical Cynic?" [http://www-oxford.op.org/allen/html/acts.htm].
 Cf. Harold Bloom, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these
sayings…”, published in an appendix to the Marvin Meyer edition of the
Coptic "The Gospel of Thomas. The Hidden Sayings of Jesus," Harper
Collins Publishers, San Francisco 1992.
 Op. cit. p. 624.
 Ib. pp. 636-646.
 Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict XVI, "Gesù di Nazaret," Rizzoli, Milano
2007, p. 409.
 Cf. H. de Lubac, "Exégèse médiévale. Les quatre sens de l’Ecriture,"
4 voll., Aubier, Paris 1959-1964.
 C. H. Dodd, "History and Gospel," London 1952, p. 109.
 M. Dibelius, Iesus, Berlin 1966, p. 117.
 Cfr. L. Hurtado, "Lord Jesus Christ. Devotion to Jesus in Earliest
Christianity," Grand Rapids, Mich. 2003.
 J. Dunn, "Jesus and the Spirit. A Study of the Religious and
Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in
the New Testament," SCM Press, London 1975.
 P. Hollenbach, "The Historical Jesus Question," in BTB 19 (1989),