What Was Magister Thinking? The Modernist Myth of the “Historical Jesus”

Fatima Perspectives #1288

Sandro Magister has taken a leading role in exposing the acute phase of the neo-Modernist fever that has gripped the Church during the current pontificate.  How disappointing, then, to see this renowned commentator on matters Catholic bestow glowing praise for a book by one Giorgio Jossa which, to quote Magister, “tries to give an historically-based answer to the question that John the Baptist issued to Jesus: ‘Are you he who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ and that Jesus himself posed to the disciples: ‘But you, who do you say that I am?’”

What does Magister mean, and what does Jossa mean, by a “historically-based” answer to the question of who Christ is?  There is only one answer to the question: He is God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and that answer is not to be found in, but rather beyond, outside and prior to all history: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn. 1:1)

The so-called “search” for the “historical Jesus” — a pet project of the Modernists — is part of the “historico-critical method” whose inevitable tendency is to demystify divine revelation by reducing the divinely inspired sacred text to a mere historical document to be placed alongside other historical documents, and thus to reduce the Gospel of Christ to a mere chronicle of the “historical” comings and going of a controversial man for analysis on that level.

And that is exactly what Jossa does.  One does not have to read the book to know his method, which he confesses:  The “historical Jesus,” says Jossa (quoted by Magister), “is situated before and beside the Christ of faith, as a different interpretation of him…”

The usual Modernist rubbish. There is no “interpretation” of Jesus apart from the divine Jesus, true God as well as true man, whose own divinity He proclaims in the Gospel: “Before Abraham was born, I am (Jn. 8:58)”… He that seeth me seeth the Father also (Jn. 14:9).”

But not according to Jossa: “Jesus does not affirm that he is the Messiah. Nor does he deny it…. It is up to John to decide if he is the Messiah, and we do not know if John did this.” 

Nonsense. Jossa is here referring to the standard Modernist trope that John did not know Christ was the Messiah because, as recounted in 11 Matthew, Christ tells two of John’s disciples to “relate to John what you have heard and seen.  The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

To quote the Haydock Commentary: “John the Baptist had already, on several occasions, declared that Jesus was the Messias. (John 1) He could not then doubt of it himself, but sent his disciples to take away their doubt.”

Nor does one have to read the book to know that Jossa has deconstructed the divine Jesus into a mere human, who himself was expecting the Messiah! Into the bargain, Jossa offers his amateur psychoanalysis of the God he reduces to a conflicted man, even daring to read the mind of his concocted “historical Jesus.”  It is all contained in the key passage Magister quotes with admiration because the whole book is “summarized here as in an index”:

“Jesus began his public mission as a disciple and colleague of John the Baptist in Judea. He therefore initially shared his eschatological and apocalyptic positions on the judgment of God and on the need for penance and baptism, and probably also on the expectation of a messianic figure charged with the judgment. [Jesus the human disciple and theologian, whose theology is still a work in progress!]

“At the arrest of John, but perhaps even earlier, he however brought forth an autonomous ministry very different from that of the Baptist, centered on the proclamation of the imminent coming of the (earthly) kingdom of God and accompanied by an intense thaumaturgic activity. [Jesus, a mere human apprentice of John and preacher of an earthly kingdom, who then strikes out on his own.]

“The initial success of this activity convinced him [!] that the coming of the kingdom was really near and that his action constituted its mysterious beginning. [That is, Christ did not know He was divine.]

“This drove him [!] to take on very personal and radical positions toward the law of Moses and to present himself as the last and decisive emissary of God before the coming of his kingdom.  [Assigning a merely human motive, based on a mere human conviction, to the preaching of God Incarnate.]

“After about a year of preaching in Galilee that concluded with substantial failure, he therefore decided to go to Jerusalem to confront the Jewish authorities directly. [Another base motive: failure drove Him to confront the Pharisees.]

“In Jerusalem, however, events escalated. To the religious criticisms of the pharisees were added those, now political too, of the high priests, and Jesus understood that the coming of the kingdom of God was not as near as he had hoped, and that God wanted him to go through death first. [God is portrayed as a confused and disappointed human visionary who had to figure out what God wanted of him.]

“He therefore again took up the preaching of the Baptist on judgment and conversion, with reference to the apocalyptic figure of the Son of man.  [Jesus the theological mimic, junking his own tentative theology and returning to preaching about a Messiah he did not know was He himself.]

“At the last supper held with the disciples on the eve of the Passover he reaffirmed his faith [!]  [Christ, being God, has neither faith nor hope even though He has a human nature, as Saint Thomas explains] in the coming of the (heavenly) kingdom of God and indicated in the new alliance of God with his people in his blood the theological value of his imminent death. [Reducing the Atonement to a vague “theological value” detached from the divine self-sacrifice.]

“And in the trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin he spoke of his glorious coming as Son of man, the decisive witness in the judgment of God. [Reducing Christ to an exalted human figure who is merely a witness of God’s judgment, not its very dispenser.]”

There is nothing in Jossa’s summary that a Jehovah’s witness would find objectionable.  Jossa does precisely what Saint Pius X condemns:

“In things where a double element, the divine and the human, mingles, in Christ, for example, or the Church, or the sacraments, or the many other objects of the same kind, a division must be made and the human element assigned to history while the divine will go to faith.

“Hence we have that distinction, so current among the Modernists, between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith… thus, when treating of Christ, the historian must set aside all that surpasses man in his natural condition, either according to the psychological conception of him, or according to the place and period of his existence.”

Christ reduced to a man in history, His Divinity put aside to indulge a vain exercise of “creative” scholarship involving speculative psychoanalysis of an imaginary man who never existed: the “historical Jesus.”

Quite simply: What was Magister thinking?


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