Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Revising Revisionism

My memory is getting worse. It's a real bind. My wife says to me, "do you remember...?" and, in all honesty, I've forgotten. I do need to work at improving my memory; it is something that needs to be exercised.

It is my memory that tells me that something has actually happened. I remember the 11th September 2001 with great clarity. I remember the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember the year of the three popes. I know these events to have taken place. I know that they have happened. My students are not old enough for any of these events. To them, they are history and the reality of these happenings can only be conveyed by my eyewitness testimony. To their children, their children's children and so on, the memory will fade as my generation dies out. There will be the written record, but will that be enough to ensure that the 11th September 2001 is remembered accurately.

It's 2514 and 300 years after Al-Qaeda finally conquered the Western World. History books record the first act of the glorious liberation of the World from decadent apostate tyranny in the acts of the freedom-fighting martyrs who struck a blow against the Oppressive West and began the final war to expel the unfaithful from its global power.

I expect that this is how those events would be recorded. It's all about the interpretation and the ramifications of 11th September will colour how that event is viewed in posterity. Of course, in 3714, when the successors to the Western Milieu have conquered the Al-Qaedan empire, the history will be re-written again. Intepretation of events will change again. History seems rather subjective.

It shouldn't be, though, should it?

We know objective facts about 11th September. We have recordings of those awful, awful scenes, have text-messages from the victims, photographs, news reports, lots of primary sources. With the loss of the primary sources, we lose not just the subjective interpretation, but also the objective facts.

The trouble is, History is not a science in the way that Science is understood today. Science today relies on testability. In order to establish the truth of something, it has to be able to be experimented on, and this experiment has to be repeatable. We can't repeat History.

In the year of the three popes, it was taught that King Harold II died from an arrow to the eye, the evidence stemming from the Bayeux Tapestry. In the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was taught that King Harold was not the figure with the arrow in his eye. Now it is taught that Harold got an arrow in his eye but did not die from his wound but was killed later. All were interpretations from this above scene. Is Harold the figure with on the left with the arrow in his eye? Is he the falling figure on the right? Is he both?

The objective fact is not clear. Sources differ. The Bishop of Amiens at the time talks about Harold being savaged by four knights. Amatus of Montecassino talks of him getting the wound to his eye. So maybe it's both. We can't be sure, however.

History always seems to be revised. Vikings don't have horns on their helmets now. Tyrannosaurus Rex no longer attacks and kills stegosaurus while the brontosaurus never existed except as an apatosaurus. Did Pteranodon's wings flap, or did she glide?

History is extremely malleable as memories fade. This has repercussions.

Revisionism is essentially the idea that the Christian Faith can change in respect to the findings of modern thought. Biblically, the most obvious examples of revisionist are Rudolf Bultmann and Bart Ehrmann.

Bultmann begins with the reasonable idea of finding objectivity in the Gospels, but rejects what he regards as being mythological aspects of the life of Our Lord. Unique events can not be repeated, so cannot be verified scientifically and eyewitnesses, however reliable, can be mistaken. Thus the miracles of Christ, in Bultmann's eyes, must be rejected. The current biblical scholar Bart Ehrmann is arguing for revising the whole person of Our Lord in the light of his understanding of the Gospels. The "quest for the historical Jesus" is very much a modern historian's decision, in the light of modern materialist philosophy, to revise traditional views of the person of Jesus Christ.

The trouble is that the Church, however one feels about this organisation, has its own historical reasons for holding onto the truth that it always had. The Bible was compiled by the Church who used the idea of putting together all the texts about the faith that were written within a few years of the events of the Gospel. St Justin Martyr writing in the early second century mentions that the four gospels we have now are a fundamental part of the Christian corpus of testimony.  Many texts were jettisoned because they were late, even some good edifying materials such as the letters of St Ignatius. The Gospels, nonetheless provide eyewitness statements deliberately:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. (St Luke i.1-4)
Too often, I find that folk of today are trying to change history to fit a modern viewpoint and are reading that into history. This is certainly true of liberal Christianity which performs eisegesis as a matter of course. As I preached on Sunday, it doesn't matter whether we say "I believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" or "I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" the effect is much the same. If we believe the Church, then we believe that she teaches not just the truth, but an Eternal Truth. The Church keeps alive the memory of the first Century, bearing the same testimony, providing the same route back in time to the events that allowed humanity to realise the truth of his Salvation and his place with a loving God.

The doctrines of the Church are not for change. They may be discovered, certainly, and inferred as the Oecumenical Councils demonstrate. However, they cannot be inferred from silence, nor may they be inferred by one part of the Church claiming to speak for all the Church. Until the Church is united again and can form a truly Oecumenical Council, there can be no change in doctrine.

Revisionism is therefore a waste of time and resources and denies the Creed. You cannot say that you believe the Church and then set out to show that she is wrong.  A Catholic is properly bound to the Catholic Creed and thus to the commitment that the Undivided Church bears witness to the Truth.

However, genuine historical inquiry is not a waste of time - especially if it sets out to establish facts independent of modern readings. It is good that questions come up, challenge our thinking and put things in perspective. However, these questions should merely colour our understanding. They will not change God, nor will they "debunk" the Resurrection.

The challenge to the Church is, how does it make itself believable?

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