History of Dogma or of the ChurchOctober 7, 2018
The ideal of a history of the Church as a substitute for philosophical theology is plainly open to the same general objections.
It profits nothing to catalogue the heresies of early Christianity and get them off by heart, unless one enters with some degree of sympathy into the problems which men wished to solve, and tries to comprehend the motives which led them to offer their various answers. But this sympathy and understanding are purely religious, theological, philosophical ; to understand a heresy one must appreciate the difficulty which led to it; and that difficulty, however expressed, is always a philosophical difficulty.
The merely external history of dogma killeth ; it is the internal history—the entering into the development of thought—that maketh alive.
The same applies, again, to the origins of Christianity. The “ historical Jesus ” can never solve the problem of Christianity, because there never was a “ historical ” Jesus pure and simple ; the real Jesus held definite beliefs about God and himself and the world ; his interest was not historical but theological. By considering him as a mere fact in history, instead of also an idea in theology, we may be simplifying our task, but we are cutting ourselves off from any true understanding and sharing of his consciousness.
Historical theology is always tempted to lose itself in the merely external task of showing what formulæ he took over from current religion, and what he added to them, and what additions and alterations were superadded by the early Church ; whereas all this is but the outward aspect of the reality, and the true task of historical theology is to find out not only what was said, but what was meant; what current Judaism, to begin with, meant by its formulæ, and how far its meaning was a satisfactory theology.
Then we should be in a position to understand from within the new doctrines of Jesus, and really to place ourselves at the fountain-head of the faith. To speak of studying the mind of Jesus from within may seem presumptuous ; but no other method is of the slightest value.