Essay On The Catholic Church

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The historical character of the Church is embodied above all in her affirmation of Tradition—the handing on of the faith from generation to generation, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The attempt to appeal to the Scripture against Tradition is a denial of that historicity.

[1] But an awareness of the historical character of the Church carries with it the danger that she will be seen as only a product of history, without a transcendent divine character.

While Christians can never be indifferent to the reliability of historical claims, since to discredit the historical basis of the Gospel would be to discredit the entire faith, they must be aware of their limits.

By excluding in principle the very possibility of divine revelation, they imprison Christianity entirely within the movement of history, essentially reducing questions of faith to factional struggles within the Church.

If orthodox Christianity does not represent revealed truth, it must be seen as merely the triumph of one party over another, making it possible to cancel seventeen centuries of history in order to redefine the very foundations of the Church.(Far more is known about Jesus than about many of the Roman emperors.) Then there are the attempts of some historians to make Jesus a modern man—the claim that He “liberated” women in the feminist sense or that He was the leader of a political movement.Such claims necessarily assume that from the very beginning the leaders of the Church systematically falsified the record, concealing the fact that women were among the Twelve, for example.While there is no purely historical argument that could convince skeptics that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, His Resurrection can scarcely be excluded from any historical account.Marc Bloch, the great medievalist who was a secular-minded Jew (he perished in a German prison camp), observed that the real question concerning the history of Christianity is why so many people fervently believed that Jesus rose from the dead, a belief of such power and duration as to be hardly explicable in purely human terms.The question of the historical character of the Church does not cease with her biblical roots but has relevance to her entire history.A great deal turns on one of the most basic (and most disputed) questions of the Church’s history—the development of doctrine.The Catholic Church is the longest-enduring institution in the world, and her historical character is integral to her identity.The earliest Christians claimed to be witnesses to the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, thereby making Christianity a historical religion, emanating from a Judaism that was itself a historical religion.If the babel of scholarly voices is taken at face value, it forces the conclusion that there is no reliable knowledge of Jesus.But Christians can scarcely think that God gave the Bible to man as a revelation of Himself but did so in such a way as to render it endlessly problematical, or that for many centuries its true meaning was obscured and only came to light in modern times.

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