Daily Archives: March 5, 2012
This is the second part of Jesus and His Time and I will therefore not repeat the considerations therein contained.
The second argument was that if Jesus really existed, he was in part wise and in part deluded.
This is simply illogical. Let us see why.
What makes Jesus absolutely unique among all religious leaders is that Jesus: a) was announced, and announced in a way which made it possible for his followers – even if shocked at the subversive content of His teaching – to reach an intellectual certainly that he was, in fact, the One they were waiting for, and b) claimed to be God.
On a), I suggest the reading of some instructive books. Once again, Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ makes a wonderful work of it. What I would like to deal about today is point b), and its necessary implications.
As I have already written in another blog post, the Jews had to learn by heart, already during childhood, a long list of attributes of God. This was in order to avoid being accused of blasphemy once – after the bar/bat Mitzvah – they were considered old enough to willingly blaspheme. Among the many attributes of God was, say, the fact that God alone can create food (not in the sense of processing or cooking of course, but in the sense that God creates the Earth and the plants and animals that produce it). By miraculously creating bread out of sheer nothing, Jesus already sends the message that He is God. We modern Westerners may have lost, in a sense, this direct correlation between creating food and divinity: to us, Jesus is God, therefore He could perform miracles. But to a Jew reading Matthew’s Gospel in the first century AD, and who had the long list of God’s attributes learned by heart, the meaning of the feeding of the five thousands must have caused the contrary logical process: this man can create food, therefore he can only be God. Matthew’s Gospel is full of such references, that to a Jewish reader immediately say: this is God. God only can give life, therefore Lazarus’ resurrection directly points out to Jesus’ divinity; God only can take away (without violence, of course) life, therefore the “killing” of the fig tree directly points out to Jesus’ divinity; only God can forgive sins; only God can command the winds, & Co, & Co.
Jesus’ claims are, then, extraordinary and, to the Jewish orthodoxy blind to the Truth, even blasphemous. But even the high priests were fully aware of the huge potential of Jesus’ works, and claim. Someone who says he is God is not the person who can be partly right and partly wrong. He will be either completely wrong (because he is not God), or completely right (because He is). If he isn’t, nothing he says counts. If He is, what He says is all that counts.
The Latin saying you read in the title has been used for centuries to explain the attitude the intelligent person has in front of Jesus’ claim to divinity. Bar madness (but we know Jesus was not mad. The high priests did not consider him mad at all, they actually greatly feared him; nor did the masses; not did the Romans) there can be only two possibilities: either God, or an evil man. Only an evil man would want to push other people to the cult of a man he deceived into believing he is God, for the pleasure of knowing he will cause countless deaths after his own, just because of his grip on the multitudes. Only God would, on the contrary, claim to be God without being mad, or evil. Once again, it is not that sane people claiming to be God grow on trees, much less that they generally end up creating new religions. What defies every logic, and actually would be a great challenge to believing the human race as a thinking race in the first place, is that a person who could then only be either a madman (which no one ever says) or an evil man (which basically no one says, either) could manage to create the biggest, most powerful religion the planet has even seen. Visit as many madhouses as you like, you won’t find anyone who can rightfully boast of such a claim.
The only logical position is, actually, the one already taken by our ancestors: if Jesus wasn’t God, he was an evil false prophet leading countless – beside himself – to a horrible death for the sake of his morbid desire of self-aggrandisement. The idea, on the other hand, a person could claim to be God and be, in a way, a “right sort of chap” on many other occasions is totally bonkers. That’s just not how people who claim to be God come. One just can’t be a nice chap full of nice ideas, loving of neighbours and full of wisdom, with the only strange character trait of believing he is God. The place for such one would still be the madhouse, and very rightly so.
The implications of this are, of course, huge. Christ claims to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. If he isn’t a madman or an evil man (and I wonder how many would argue this) then He truly is it: the only Way, not an optional one. The entire Truth, not only the part we like. The entire Life, not a vague promise of it.
This idea of “Jesus, the nice chap with a lot of sense and some misconceptions” is not grounded in logic, but purely a reflection of the madness of our times; times in which everyone is taught that he can decide about right and wrong to an extent that not even God seems to be an obstacle to the exercise of this “freedom”.
We need to recover sound thinking, humility, and a prayerful attitude. When these get in from the door, absurdities like the one mentioned above go away from the window.
My post of yesterday about the “Dawkins’ delusion” has (alas) attracted some comments – most of them kind, a couple of them rather less kind – from agnostics and/or atheists.
Those of you who are acquainted with my moderation policy know that I do not allow my blog to be used as a platform for anti-Catholic activity of whatever kind. Still, if there are interesting comments which I think might help my Catholic reader to better understand the Catholic (or Christian) argument, I do not see why I should not go into the matter.
One of the arguments brought against the Christian argument – nay, Truth – for the existence of God is that:
1) Jesus probably never existed as a historical figure, and
2) If he did, his claims were in part founded on wisdom, and in part on delusion.
I will deal today with these claims. In time ( I want to write my blog, rather than being driven by others about what to write ), I will deal with other arguments I have read. Once again, this is a Catholic blog and not a place for debate, for which I ask those so inclined to look elsewhere. I am not the BBC, my time is limited, and my aim is to defend Catholicism, not to give a platform to its enemies or waste my life trying to explain Truth to those deaf to it (I’ll deal with that, one day, too).
This post, and the others to follow, are not meant for debate. They are only a starting point, an invitation to the sincere seeker to expand and deepen the Truth. Frankly, life’s too short for endless bickering. If anyone wants endless bickering, he is in the wrong place.
To the point.
The belief in Jesus did not spread in some region utterly separated – both in time and place – from the scene of His working on Earth. It may be easy to believe in extraterrestrials having landed in some strange mountain two thousand years ago; much more difficult it is to believe in extraterrestrials landing in Trafalgar Square yesterday afternoon. This new “cult” of the Christians began to spread immediately after Jesus’ death, among the very people who had seen him preaching, walking, eating, drinking, joking, healing. It stands to reason it is simply inconceivable the belief in one person who did not really exist could have spread among people – a rather small community, compared with today’s demographic situation – accustomed to know each other. To this, we must add the Jewish penchant – which we might call obsession – for genealogy, with a sort of “public record” (not written of course; but transmitted orally, like a vast part of the knowledge of the time, sacred as well as profane) of the ascendants of everyone. It would have been utterly impossible not only to deceive the local population into the belief about the existence of someone who did not, in reality, exist; but it would have been similarly impossible to deceive the locals among his descending from exactly those and those ancestors. A small community, obsessively attentive to these facts, would have taken away every credibility from whomever would have tried to “cheat” in this regard. It is a fallacy of modern societies to believe that such legends could be spread then, just because they could much more easily be spread now. In the society of the time, you just couldn’t create a legend of someone who was simply non-existent, and you couldn’t even create a false genealogy. Therefore, we can have no reasonable doubt Jesus was certainly born in Bethlehem, certainly from exactly those parents (one putative, as we know today); certainly moved to Egypt (as one couldn’t have created the “legend” of a year-long disappearance without losing face in front of all the locals, who would remember and say so); certainly grown up in Nazareth, & Co, & Co. The small discrepancies in the Gospels (normal in the oral transmission of wisdom) do not negate the validity of the general construct (which is why oral transmission worked so well for thousands of years).
In the same vein, in those relatively tightly knitted communities it would have been simply impossible to believe in Jesus just “by hearsay”. If there is a man going around and making extraordinary things – like, say, feeding the Five Thousand – these five thousand would allow to have first hand information about what had happened to a non indifferent part of the entire local population. It was not like London, were riots can put entire neighbourhood to war zones and I can only know it from the TV. A huge number of Jews had Jesus not further than a one or two days journey, knew people who knew him or knew him personally, could listen to him regularly in the synagogue, or preaching outside, or just see him strolling around, or eating or drinking, or at social ceremonies (marriages, for example, were big social gatherings). Reading the Gospels, it is plain to see how easy it was to get in contact with Jesus for those who wanted.
The XXI century man, thinking with the logic of the XXI century, asks “where the historical evidence is” (it is there, of course; it is even in Jewish sources, though you’ll have to make your own reasearch about that; but it is, certainly, sporadic). The wise man knows that without historical truth of the underlying facts (not only the physical existence of Jesus and His genealogy, but the facts and events linked to His work on this earth) Christianity would not have gone past the first house court and women’s gossip.
The contemporaries of Jesus knew this very well.The Jewish priests knew it very well, as they never tried to deny Jesus’ existence, not even in own writings or propaganda pamphlets which would then, no doubt, have come to us for self-evident reasons. The common populace knew it very well, as otherwise Christianity could never have spread in the very places where Jesus was told to have walked and talked and healed. And all the others knew it very well, as Christianity initially spread – even before the advent of the Gospels – outside of Judea and Galilee thank to the “authenticity check system” of the time: the transmission from trustworthy eye witnesses to others able to carry on the message with the same authority.
Obviously, legends can also spread very far (the poems of Homer are a wonderful example). But the difference is, that never did the Greek believe in the Truth of the legend they went around transmitting. They didn’t, because they knew there wasn’t any.
Nowadays, too many people make the mistake of believing that if someone wasn’t documented in writing it hasn’t existed, simply because written record is the way we transmit information. This thinking would have seemed most extraordinary, if not brainless, to the contemporaries of Jesus.
The next post will deal with the second part.
I will, of course, not write a book for the sceptical.
For those among the agnostics who may be interested, I suggest Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ, now available even for Kindle. A true masterpiece of Catholic apologetics in an easy to understand, easy to remember style.
Reblog of the day
Re-browsing the exceedingly beautiful “Life of Christ” from the great Fulton Sheen (a book that, if you ask me, should be obligatory reading in every RCIA, or confirmation class) I stumbled upon this very beautiful concept which, once again, made on me a profound impression (emphases always mine).
“The modern world, which denies personal guilt and admits only social crimes, which has no place for personal repentance but only public reforms, has divorced Christ from His Cross; the Bridegroom and Bride have been pulled apart. What God hath joined together, men have torn asunder. As a result, to the left is the Cross; to the right is the Christ”. […] Communism comes along and picks up the meaningless Cross; Western post-Christian civilization chooses the unscarred Christ.”
“Communism has chosen the Cross in the sense that it has brought back to an egotistic world a sense of discipline, self-abnegation, surrender, hard…
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