THE JESUS CHRIST OF FAITH
THE JESUS CHRIST OF HISTORY
Doesn’t it depend on which Jesus you follow? (See pictures below)
“Doesn’t everything depend on which Jesus you follow?” Or said another way, “Doesn’t everything depend on which Jesus you are told about by your Church?” Or said a third way, “Doesn’t everything depend on which Jesus you are allowed to follow without serious negative repercussions?”
“Yes.” It all depends on the Christian’s perception and interpretation of the Jesus of whom he or she is aware. I am a member of the Catholic Church since two weeks after my birth, and yet it was more than two decades after my birth before I ever heard a word about Jesus being nonviolent.
When I write as I did in my article, King of King, Lord or Lords, “The Jesus of the Gospels is 1000% nonviolent. His Cross may symbolize many things to many people but as a historical fact it is the crucifixion of a man who rejects violence and who loves His enemies. Jesus’ nonviolence and His love of His enemies are permanently and forever inseparable from His Cross on Golgotha two thousand years ago. That is fact, not opinion,” I am not making a theological or faith statement. I am making a factual historical statemen, which any person regardless of his or her faith can verify as true by reading the Four Gospels.
But note, I am not speaking here of Gospel in the singular. The word Gospel in the singular has been utilized to justify anything and everything from abortion to atomic war. It has become on the popular level an amorphous word that is used, misused and abused by bishops, priests, ministers, pastors, etc. in order to give gravitas to all institutional Church teachings by Church leaders whether they be infallibly dogmatic, doctrinal, pastoral, custom and practice or tolerated opinion—or sometime even intolerable opinion.
Gospel in the singular has become the Christian literary equivalent of the Rorschach Inkblot Test. This psychological test is a test that relies on the individual’s subjective perception and interpretation of an inkblot to get its desired results. The person is asked to describe what he or she sees in an inkblot. In the same inkblot one person may see a kangaroo, another may see the pope and still another may see a building. Everyone is right, no one is wrong.
For most Christians today, and for many yesterdays, Jesus is a Rorschach inkblot. You may read into the Jesus of the Gospel what you wish! If you want to engage in homicidal violence and kill people in war, in revolution or in the electric chair, if you want to hurt or destroy people through emotional, political, psychological or economic violence, Rorschach Jesus is there as your transcendental justifier. If you want to kill people in order to recapture Golgotha from Muslims, or to free the world of Jews who won’t convert to Christianity, or to start a war between nations, Rorschach Jesus is available to support your endeavors. If you want to be merciful and love your enemies, Rorschach is available to also morally validate that choice Indeed, there is no situation where Rorschach Jesus cannot be called upon to justify actions by Christians. Even if His disciples are tearing each other to pieces, Rorschach Jesus will be there, giving His moral support and divine assistance to all the Christian killers on all sides.
Gospels in the plural, however, means exclusively Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Biblical scholarship, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or Jewish, is emphatically clear that the Jesus of the Gospels is nonviolent and teaches love of enemies in His model. This conclusion is based on His history as far as we can know it as recorded consistently on the pages of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John—Jesus’ sole biographers. The following is from Catholic Biblical Scholar par excellence, Rev. John L. McKenzie:
If Jesus did not reject any type of violence for any purpose, then we know nothing of him. No reader of the New Testament, simple or sophisticated, can retain any doubt of Jesus’ position toward violence directed to persons, individual or collective, organized or free enterprise, he rejected it totally. He presents in His words and life not only a good way of doing things, not only an ideal to be executed whenever it is convenient, but the only way of doing what He did. Jesus in no way accepts violence as a means of controlling violence.
The above statement by McKenzie is not theology, faith seeking understanding. It is Biblical scholarship, employing verified and accepted secular methods of textual and linguistic investigatory scholarship to determine what the text on a page of a document meant at the time it was written. Academic theologians have to rely on the work by scholars trained in the methodologies needed for this type of scholarly pursuit in relation to the Bible in general and the Gospels in particular in order to know what a word on a page meant at the time it was written. If they do not then they are deriving their various theologies via the same level of knowledge as an astronomer who devises his or her astronomical theories on the basis of the sun revolving the earth. The earth revolving around the sun and Jesus on the pages of the Gospels being nonviolent and teaching love of enemies are at about the same level of physical and moral certainty today. They are rationally incontestably true.
Those who wish to write Biblical, moral or dogmatic theologies that claim that the Jesus of the Gospels would have justified this or that violence by His disciples, have to be asked by all Christians and non-Christian seekers of truth where on the pages of the Gospels do they find Him justifying what they are claiming He justifies. Name the violence against human beings that claims to be justified in Jesus name and you will not find a sentence in the Gospels where He engages in it or in anything akin to it.
However, the Christian, who has his or her heart set upon justifying violence in Jesus’ name, may argue that some particular sentence or event in the Gospels implies that Jesus would have used violence or justified its use. Reading the original language in which the Four Gospels are written, koine Greek, which was the common living language of the Roman Empire at the time, no Christian writer in the three hundred years following Jesus ever found anything in Jesus’ teachings that implies a justification of violence under any circumstance—including when the Roman soldiers came to the Christian’s home to take him or her and their family to the Circus Maximus to be torn to pieces by starving beasts. That is pretty sound evidence from the Christian practice of three hundred years— when the language of the Gospels was the common language of the people—that in the text of the Gospels there is no implied use or justification of violence by Jesus or in His teachings.
In 1967 C.G.F. Brandon wrote a book titled Jesus the Zealot. The Zealots were a violent revolutionary group in Israel at the time of Jesus. The book sold very well because, if Jesus was a Zealot and therefore used violence, that opened the door wide to justify all Christian violence past, present and future. The book became so popular that the New York Times asked Rev. John L. McKenzie to review it. He did. After detailing the scholarly errors in the work, he concluded, “Despite the paraphernalia of scholarship, this book is fundamentally fiction.” It has since all but disappeared from the sphere of Biblical scholarship.
The point being that Jesus in the Gospels does not even impliedly use, approve, condone or justify violence. There is no way to move logically from the texts on the pages of the Gospels to justify the use of violence in Jesus’ name. Or, as McKenzie phrases it, “Any moral justification of violence must rest on grounds other than the teachings of Jesus.” Which, by the way, is exactly where the Catholic Church officially places its justification of violence and war, that is, outside the teaching of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, all justifications for violence and war are arrived at through natural law theology/philosophy. The 1983 U.S. Catholic Bishops Peace Pastoral, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise, Our Response, does not make a single reference to Jesus or His teachings in order to deduce or bolster its Christian just war presentation—only natural law employed. They don’t, because they can’t, without totally losing intellectual and scholarly credibility.
However, it must make abundantly clear that Jesus does not proclaim His teachings primarily to theologians. Overwhelmingly, His primary audience is ordinary people. Since there is no economic middle class in Jesus’ time, this means His normal listeners are the poor Jewish people of Palestine. This means if He is going to communicate with them, He had to use simple language with a clear meaning that the simplest person can understand. The language and phraseology of Plato and Aristotle, of Augustine and Aquinas are utterly outside Jesus’ thought and speech patterns—not to mention that they would be incomprehensible to His lower class audience.
So also would this have been the case with the authors of the Four Gospels, who as it has often been noted are quite ordinary literary minds writing to people who for the most part where quite ordinary people. I mention this not to demean the Four Evangelists, but rather to emphasize that the Gospels’ authors are ordinary people engaged in common ordinary communication with common ordinary people like themselves. So it makes sense that the Four Gospels are written in everyday Greek at a level that, scholars tell us, any twelve year old could understand. In such a vernacular, in such everyday language, what they, the Four Evangelists, say is what they mean—as would have to be the case if they were going to be heard or read by ordinary people, mostly on the lower economic plateau. Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels may seem, and did seem even to those who heard them from His own mouth, difficult to do—but they were not difficult to understand. Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, reinforced by His example in the Gospels of living them unto His murder on the Cross, are simple to understand. They also are impossible to execute if one does not see eternal and infinite value in accepting the suffering sometimes, often, is needed to love as Jesus loves on the pages of the Gospels.
Finally, there is the Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation of Vatican II. It is one of only two documents from the Second Vatican Council that is designated as a Dogmatic Constitution. All other documents are decrees or declarations. Sections 18 and 19 of the Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation read as follows:
“18. It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Savior.
The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ (Mt 28:20), afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
19. Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation.” (emphasis added)
To by-pass the historical reality and facts of the Jesus of history as definitely communicated in the Gospels, in order construct theologies and moralities more palatable to one’s personal or communal liking, is to guarantee that tragic errors will be committed in understanding and in proclaiming what kind of God God is and what God expects of us. Tragic errors will have tragic consequences. Self-serving human conjectures are not a salvific substitute for accepting and embracing the Word of God communicated and “made flesh” in history in the person, words and deeds of Jesus, the Christ.
The only Jesus to believe in and believe is the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels who taught by His words and deeds a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies. Since the Jesus Christ of faith is inseparable from the Jesus Christ of history as communicated in the Gospels, the Jesus Christ of faith is a Nonviolent Messiah, a Nonviolent Christ, a Nonviolent Savior of Israel and a Nonviolent Savior of the world, who is the Nonviolent God Incarnate, who is the Nonviolent Second Person of the Holy Trinity is Nonviolent. The only non-fictional Jesus Christ to pray to, to adore, to petition, to confess to, to give thanks to is the Nonviolent Jesus who is the Nonviolent Christ or the Nonviolent Christ who is the Nonviolent Jesus.
A Pastoral suggestion:
Since the Churches’ bishops, priests, deacons, ministers and pastors have done such a thorough and comprehensive job in hiding the Nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels and history and the Nonviolent Christ of faith from ordinary Christians and put in His place some fictive violence and enmity justifying Jesus and Christ isn’t it time for the Churches and their leaders to rectify this gross error and it evil consequences. My pastoral suggestion as a priest to my fellow Christian pastors as a way to begin to set things right again is to place on the own initiative, without fanfare either the adjective “nonviolent” before traditional and continually employed Christian words, e.g. Nonviolent Cross, Nonviolent Eucharist, Nonviolent Jesus, Nonviolent Christ, Nonviolent Trinity, Nonviolent Sacraments, etc., or to place the prepositional phrase “of Nonviolent Love” after traditional Christian words, e.g., the Cross of Nonviolent Love, the Eucharist of Nonviolent Love, the Sacraments of Nonviolent Love, the Jesus of Nonviolent Love, the Christ or Messiah of Nonviolent Love, etc.
It doe not seem proper or right for a Christian pastor in any Church to continue to present Jesus as a Rorschach inkblot untethered to the historical Jesus of the Gospels.
Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
September 14, AD 2022
Feast of the Exultation of the Cross of Nonviolent Love