Is the Incarnation an historical fact?
Posted 01 September 2012 - 08:46 AM
Posted 01 September 2012 - 11:48 AM
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
Posted 01 September 2012 - 12:59 PM
If it were so, then His Christness would be an historical fact on a par with the statement: Napolean was the Emperor of France. If that were the case, it would never be a matter of faith and belief, but merely a matter of accepting obvious facts and everyone on earth would be a Christian, just as every reasonably educated person can assent to the statement: Napolean was the Emperor of France. What say ye?
There are many "obvious facts" that are nevertheless not believed. It's an obvious fact that Muslim terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers on 9-11, but there are people who don't believe it. There are many more obvious facts disbelieved by many more people -- whole nations in some cases -- but if I were to name one, someone would say, "That's not a fact" or "That fact is not obvious" even though it's perfectly obvious to me. We don't agree on the obvious facts as much as we might think, and so the term itself tends to amply only to those things many people believe are true.
In Christ's case, would it have made much difference if He had remained on earth longer than He did? If He had marched back into the temple and confronted the chief priests and scribes, or into the praetorium to confront Pilate? Would they then have said, "Oh, well, I guess you really are the Son of God. Forgive us for murdering you"? No, of course not. They would have invented reasons not to say this -- reasons not to admit the obvious. He could have shown Himself in His glory to prove to them He is God, but even then some would not believe and some who believed would nevertheless still not like it, and so by manifesting Himself as God He would have jumped ahead to Judgment Day and left them no chance to repent.
Posted 01 September 2012 - 01:00 PM
Posted 01 September 2012 - 04:38 PM
Sorry, but that's absolutely not the plain meaning of St. Paul's words. Yes, He is resurrected from the dead, and St. Paul knows that to be true, and is testifying to that truth, but it is not an historical fact. If it were an historical fact, then it would never require preaching and teaching and witnessing. It is a truth that has been revealed to St. Paul's heart -- via his eyes and ears on the road to Damascus -- and he is conscious that some people are wondering about this whole resurrection thing and he is adamantly saying that without the Resurrection "your faith is in vain." He is definitely NOT saying it is an historical fact. He is saying that if you are trying to believe but don't believe in the Resurrection, then there is something deficient in your faith. So he is exhorting people to have the same faith in the Resurrection that he has.
In a sense, Owen, I agree. I have myself often lectured journalism interns that a "fact" is a matter of agreement; until we agree something is true, until we establish its truth between ourselves, it is not a fact because it will not be accepted as fact. But when we go to convince others of the facts as we know them -- the things we know are true -- we don't present them as mere opinions, feelings, or wishes that they should also wish to be true: We present them as facts; we say, "This actually happened." St. Paul didn't tell people, "I know in my heart that Christ is risen, and you should take the leap of faith and willingly choose to believe that too"; he plainly told people he saw Christ on the road to Damascus, and that actual experience was the reason he believed.
Not that the experience was enough, because others might have had the same experience and yet not believed, on account of their lack of faith. Here I think we need to distinguish here between belief and faith. This is difficult because in Scripture and the Fathers the same words are used for both, but there is scriptural support for distinguishing the two. Our Lord tells Thomas: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29) And yet the Apostle James writes: "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2:19)
It helps to understand these verses if we define "belief" as thinking something is true and "faith" as admitting the truth even when it's inconvenient. The difference between the two is vast. Many people think something is true but refuse to admit it and act accordingly because they will suffer on account of it. To be willing to admit the truth and suffer as needed on account of it, you have to be humble enough to admit that you yourself are not the definition of what is good, that there is something else outside yourself that is the source of good, to which you must submit for goodness's sake.
That's what St. Paul was. He wanted what was good and true enough to accept it and act upon it when he finally met it on the road. That meant admitting he was wrong and changing his whole course of life -- not an easy thing to do.
Posted 01 September 2012 - 05:05 PM
"Blessed are those that believe yet do not see". Even in today's world everyday events occur which seem too incredible to believe yet people still will not beleive them so others are constantly trying to convince them of it's truth. This works both ways. For truth and for lies. One side is always trying to convince the other of it's "truth'.
Not to get into a political discussion, but look at today's liberal media. How much is the Right trying to convince everyone the harm the Left is causing and how much energy does the Left use to convince the masses the Right is the cause? I see the facts of Obama's failed presidency in everything he does. Yet to try to convince my FIL of these facts produces ANGRY arguments that it is those on the Right causing him to not achieve his goals. I think he is achieving his goals just fine, but it is still the truth he is a failure to the lifestyle of this country.
Compare this to the Sanhedrin of Christ's day. They wanted to keep their power (the Left) and when the disciples and Christ Himself (the Right) started preaching how bad they were behaving and causing the people harm, look how far they went to silence them. Even "killing" their leader. Now 2000 years later we are still arguing the Christness of Jesus becuase the argument has warred for so long over the entire planet.
How can anything be believed when so many are so convinced of its falseness based on the liberal media of each century and culture? Even the Muslims of old believed in the OT which said if 2 or more witnesses agree then it must be so. But as the Sanhedrin attempted to do in Jesus' trial they brought all these witnesses and still could not refute him. Do we not have nonscrpitural stories of Jesus visiting Sanhedrin members after His resurrection and how they in a closed house all agreed to His Christness? I think this story is even posted on this forum somewhere.
For us in 2012, we only have what our forefathers left us. 1) being the Bible and 2) Holy Tradition. I understand living in the Blue Ridge Mountains for a decade how myth becomes fact over time as Hillbillies will tell their yarns to their kids who then embelish them all the more each time they are told. You should have seen the size of that fish I caught last year. it was "this" big. OK; so we tell our stories and even write them down ie; the story of St. Mary of Egypt. but at some point we have to either KNOW or have FAITH in either 1 or 2 above or else what St. Paul wrote above is true.
At some point we get into a Darwin discussion about "beginnings". Do we believe or don't we? Some will, many won't. Is there a God or not? Did He visit earth and heal people or not? Did he rise from the dead miraculously or not? If not, who and when was His body moved? It doesn't matter where they moved Him since some are already saying they found his tomb and that of Mary Magdalene and their son. So again, do we believe "the Left" or "the Right"?
Anyway; all this from a simpleton who probably is not reading the OP correctly.
Posted 02 September 2012 - 01:07 PM
Let me go further and say something that will likely have you tearing your hair out. The Incarnation is not something that happens in history. It happens in an intermediate realm, in between time and eternity, which every man is a part of but does not necessarily notice or actively participate in or is moved toward, or is revealed to. This concept/experience/reality is not dogmatized by the Church for the same reason that a number of mystical realities are not dogmatized by the Church. But it is referenced. But this begs the question, what is history? History is a symbolic form of existence. There is a plurality of histories, based on cultural consciousness and inner consciousness, and some cultures and societies have no historical consciousness at all. So, history is not a series of factual events placed on a time line. In a very real sense, there is no such thing as a Christian history. Eusebius tried to develop one around the concept of Christian empire. Augustine, with the fall of empire, tried to develop a new idea of Christian history is a senescent realm and the Church is the realm of growth and newness of life. Since the enlightenment this has been thrown out and virtually everyone, including almost all Christians, have adopted a different historical consciousness. Not of this has anything to do with historical facts.
But let me get back to Heb 11:1. I don't want to use this a proof text, but if we really delve into the meaning we should admit that the truth of the Incarnation is revealed to us by faith, not by historical facts.
If you had had a camera at Mt. Tabor, on the road to Damascus, at Christ's ascension, when St. Stephen was before the Sanhedrin, Christ would not show up on the photo. These are things that were seen through transformed eyes, to people who were chosen by God to see them. Can we trust their witness that they saw the glorified Christ? Yes, but only in and through faith. Faith is the operative, transformative aspect of belief.
Posted 02 September 2012 - 05:49 PM
Posted 02 September 2012 - 05:53 PM
One way of understanding the development of Christological doctrine is the Church thinking thinking through what it means for God to be God and therefore what it must mean if Jesus of Nazareth is God. Hence the constant oscillation from one extreme to the other: if Jesus is God, then his humanity is just a disguise, only apparent (docetism; Eutychianism); if Jesus is fully human, then he is divine only by the indwelling of grace (adoptionism, Nestorianism); etc. The remarkable insight of St Gregory Nazianzen, St Cyril of Alexandria, and the Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon is that the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, i.e., the assumption of human nature by the second Person of the Holy Trinity, does not require that Jesus be less than human in any way whatsoever--and indeed our salvation requires that he possess a complete human nature. Jesus is not a demi-god or supernatural being. He is not like Zeus pretending to be human. The Incarnation is not mythology. The color of his blood was the same as ours. He ate and drank and slept and walked and talked--and died--just like every other human being. He lived, endured, and suffered the limitations of finite human existence. Yes, Jesus did miracles, but the gospels are clear that miracles alone do not prove that Jesus is true prophet or Messiah, much less God incarnate. No science, including the historical, can positively confirm the Church's confession of the divinity of Christ, precisely because God is God and not a god. Divinity, as understood by the Christian faith, cannot be empirically detected. We can know Jesus Christ as God only by personal communion with him in the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, the Church's confession of the divinity of Christ could be disproven. If Jesus' bones were to be some day found, that would disprove the claim of resurrection. If Jesus were proven never to have existed, that would disprove the claim of Incarnation. If Jesus were proven to have been a scoundrel and charlatan, that would disprove the claim of the homoousion.
Why is this important for the question of the historical nature of the Incarnation? It means that the confession of the Incarnation cannot be proven or established by any form of scientific or historical inquiry. Hence I do not think that the Incarnation can be properly described as a historical fact, if facts are limited to things that can be empirically tested, measured, documented, and critically confirmed. And yet it is a fact, so we believe, that God has become Man in Jesus Christ, just as we confess every Sunday in the Nicene Creed. The author of history entered into history and became a human participant in history and therefore has a history. The history of Jesus can be, at least partially but truly, apprehended through historical research and re-told by historians. Secular history can take us a little way and can help separate fact from fiction. I'm thinking here, for example, of the work of Raymond Brown and John Meier. But faithful history, historical research accomplished from the presupposition of faith, can take us further still. N. T. Wright is an example of a historian who allows his Christian belief to inform and shape his critical study--also, Pope Benedict's two recent books on Jesus and Fr Patrick Reardon's The Jesus We Missed. Ultimately only faith can penetrate the mystery that is the God-Man.
Nor did the history of Jesus die when he died. God did not jettison the human nature he assumed in the womb of Mary. Jesus has risen from the dead, still bearing the wounds of his history in his flesh. By resurrection and ascension the story of Jesus eternally remains the story of the Son and his Father and the Holy Spirit.
Posted 02 September 2012 - 06:29 PM
I almost think that relying on the truth of Christianity as lying in historical facts is the most nihilistic position one can take, in part because of what has already been said about the tenuous nature of factual evidence for anything. But certainly the realm of facts, at the very least, is a much lower order of truth than the revelation of God to the human heart. This is recognized by the Fathers who teach us the various levels of Biblical truth: the literal/historical, which is the lowest level, the moral/ethical, and the highest which is the spiritual/mystical. So we might say that the literal/historical is the foundation of the house, but without the rest, there is no house.
So we must not confuse the truth with facts. Facts really tell us nothing about the truth. Facts in and of themselves are meaningless. Yet we live in an intellectual climate, at least since the influence of DeCarte, in which reality is divided between facts which are objectively true, and opinions which are relative, and between objects of cognition and knowing observers. As you have noted Father, this works at a certain level of empirical science, but not beyond that. It does not tell us who we are or why we are here or how we should live, who or what we should love or why, etc. And to relegate all of the latter to subjective opinion is to live a lie. Yet unfortunately many Christians have glombed on to the Cartesian principle in defense of Christianity. The argument goes something like this: because there are many different religions and world views, and because we believe our religion is true, then what differentiates us from them is that theirs is mythical, i.e. made up, fiction, whereas ours is fact-based. But this would also be a lie. It takes the revelation of God in and through His actual life in the world out of the equation, rather than keeping it in. It reduces our faith to having access to the right information, data, and documentation.
Posted 02 September 2012 - 11:15 PM
Posted 03 September 2012 - 01:46 AM
Posted 03 September 2012 - 05:57 PM
Is the Incarnation an historical fact? It is asserted by some that our faith rests on the historicity of Christ. CS Lewis, for example, is famous for having said that in the Incarnation of Christ myth becomes fact. (Being well educated he was aware of other god-man beliefs in other religious traditions). This troubled me when I first heard it but I could not really understand why. I struggled with this myself until this passage really hit home to me: Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen. While many passages testify to the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus, his work, his crucifixion, the Resurrection, His appearances afterwards, none of these prove His Christness. If it were so, then His Christness would be an historical fact on a par with the statement: Napolean was the Emperor of France. If that were the case, it would never be a matter of faith and belief, but merely a matter of accepting obvious facts and everyone on earth would be a Christian, just as every reasonably educated person can assent to the statement: Napolean was the Emperor of France. What say ye?
Knowledge is lost over the centuries. We constantly find that our ancestors had knowledge of things much more advanced than what we assumed. That said, there may have been many accounts of Christ's ascension and his "Christness" that were lost over the centuries. But in this time of revisionist history, any such newly discovered accounts would most likely be disregarded and disbelieved by even the members of this online community of Orthodox Christians. I am the least among you in my knowledge of the Bible and of Orthodoxy, but my faith and belief in Christ and his resurrection never wavers. Faith is believing regardless of evidence or lack thereof. Proof is subjective these days. What was once indisputable is now open season.
I can ask you to prove your parents love you. You may have anecdotal evidence and plenty of examples, but no matter what you present, there will be many who dispute your "facts". It may lead you to question whether your facts and evidence are valid, and doubt what you believe. That's where faith comes in.
Posted 05 September 2012 - 02:23 PM
This view is not untrue, but neither is it true.
— he should rather have written, "This view is not untrue, but neither is it the whole truth." Likewise, when he says of history —
It is no longer the record of things that have been done, but also the arena of Him Who Is.
— he should rather have said, "It is still the record of things that have been done, but also the arena of Him Who Is." After all, Fr. Stephen does deny the reality of time; rather, he affirms time as a created reality. Thus he writes:
The liturgy does not stand outside of time but stands at the End of time as well as in its historical moment.
His closing words —
All time is present.
— therefore ought not be taken too literally as a denial of the reality of time or of history, or as an assertion that Christ "does not exist in history," for he seems rather to be saying that Christ exists in history and history exists in Christ.
Posted 09 September 2012 - 12:34 PM
If you were to ask most Christians the question, what is history, they would struggle with the question but end up espousing the modernist, progressivist bias. You would get a few who would recognize that it is nothing more than a time of waiting in between Christ's coming and His coming again. It's not that nothing happens in between, but, frankly, not much is happening or has happened. But what happens in between is not like reading tea leaves. Nor is it like examining the behavior of rats in a laboratory. And even saints who have tried to prophecy have gotten it wrong.
The only theory of history that can be called Christian is eschatological. That is to say there is no history apart from its beginning and end in Christ. So apart from Christ, history has no meaning, no existence. The world's calendar, after all, begins with Christ's birth, or an approximation of it, and continues on into an unknown future. But for the believer, the future is "known" insofar as we know in and through faith that history will come to an end in Christ. So the beginning of history is in Christ, and history ends in Christ. Yet when most people today use the term history, we think of it in terms of facts and data points in history books.
But what facts and data points are relevant to the historian? Why has he chosen those facts rather than all of the other available facts is being significant? Marx said that, scientifically, all history is the history of class struggle. It is an alternative consciousness based on Hegel's theory of alienation. The liberal consciousness of history is that things progress and inevitably get better and better for all of mankind. And the reason that some people are not better off, or that things are not getting better fast enough is ignorance, stupidity, and superstition that is holding people back. Or, there is a conspiracy by reactionary elements to hold people back.
So, you see, you can pick and choose which and whose history you want. And that has always been so, since at least the Sumerian King List. That's because history is a symbolism, and as Orthodox, we ought to understand and appreciate the power of symbolism. We do not negate a symbolism as being factually incorrect and therefore wrong, but only wrong insofar as it represents a false aesthetic. That the believers in a false symbolism are living falsely. They do not see things as they really are. They are not capable of seeing reality in its whole, in its fullness. Through faith in Christ we are given the gift of sight, of being able to see God in the world and in things and in events, etc. One obvious difference is that a false symbolism focuses on the evils in the world and a true symbolism focuses on the good in the world as a representation of the Good that is God. So historical consciousness is not a given by any means.
So what is truth? And what can it mean to say that something is an historical truth? Or historically true? In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Why does anyone bother mentioning this is the history books? Only because of what comes after! What gets into the history books is only there because somebody decided that it has more meaning and significance than the infinite number of other facts that could be there. (btw, for the ancient Greeks and Romans, there was no separate academic discipline known as "history." It didn't exist).
Take a look at the present U.S. presidential campaigns. They look at the same facts and come up with opposite meanings. For the Democrats, American history is all about achieving economic and social justice -- i.e. collective action that brings about a better future for all. For the Republicans, American history is the history of individual effort and success that has the effect of bringing about a better life for everyone. They are two contradictory conclusions drawn from the exact same facts. Yet they both stem from the same modern, secular, progressivist historical consciousness and are aChristian at the very least, but really anti-Christian. At some level, you cannot be a Christian and believe in either histories.
Today, secularists have the following view of Christian history: a patriarchal system of domination led to a condition of constant warfare and fratricide over useless theological differences. Once we do away with superstition, mankind will live in peace. No amount of facts will dislodge people from this point of view. What is the chic view of the Bible? That the contents of the Bible were invented by a group of patriarchal individuals who suppressed alternative writings and points of view. What is the historical/critical view of the Bible? That it is a mythos designed for propaganda purposes and only when you strip away the mythos do you get anything like an historical accounting of things. So the Epistle to the Hebrews, one of the monumental spiritual texts in the history of mankind, is stripped of its spiritual power because everything can be explained in terms of historical context as a vehicle to convince Jews to convert. That's the only meaning that is left.
Edited by Owen Jones, 09 September 2012 - 12:53 PM.
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