History, Church and History of the Church – (Part 1)


During this year we have been developing a research project on the history of the Diocese of Cartagena at the Catholic University of San Antonio de Murcia (UCAM). This has given us the opportunity to talk among ourselves and with other people; to observe, and, in short, to reflect on a series of points that we will try to show in the present work.

There are three main ideas in which we have stopped:

1- History is fundamental for Christianity, in general, and for Catholicism, in particular.

2- Christianity and Catholicism are fundamental for the history of the West and, by extension, for universal history.

3- The current situation of studies on the history of the Church, and on the history of religions, in general, is often not consistent with the first two statements.

The first two will serve as points of departure, and in the respective sections we try a synthesis of arguments already established, in no case an original contribution. It is in the section referred to the third of the ideas where we propose a personal reflection, based on the conclusions drawn from points 1. and 2.

1. History, fundamental for Christianity and for the Catholic Church.

Let us make it clear that the doctrinal aspect will be taken as a point of reference, but that it is not the object of reflection at this time. On the other hand, the heading can be broken down into two sections:

1.a) History is the substance of Christianity and of the Church.

The incarnation of God in the Son is the central fact of Christianity, and means overcoming the stage of natural religiosity to acquire the status of historical event. We can not dwell on the relationships that the incarnation establishes between eternity and time, for its own philosophical and theological scope (a summary of the doctrine regarding this point has recently been published in the Dominus Iesus statement)., in the introduction and in sections I. and II.). But it is important to show circumstances that support the transcendence of the fact. One of them is that, remember, all the great heresies that have been affected, to a greater or lesser extent, with more or less success, to the fact of the incarnation. On the other hand, if the historicity of Jesus Christ were contingent, the debate among historians would not have been as arduous as it has been, especially at times. From the beginning of the Christian faith, we have testimonies of the effort that many men made to affirm the immersion of the divinity in the temporal dimension of man. For example,

” Since many have tried to narrate in an orderly manner the things that have been verified among us, as they have been transmitted to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word, I have also decided, after diligently investigating everything from the origins , write it down by order, illustrious Theophilus … (Lc, 1, 1-2) ”

In this sense, it is not by chance that Luke himself places the birth of Jesus of Nazareth at a precise time, providing data whose certainty and knowledge are not indifferent:

“It happened that in those days an edict of Caesar Augustus came out ordering that the whole world be registered. This first census took place as governor of Syria Cirino … “(Lk 2, 1-2).

What difference does it make that the census was ordered by Caesar Augustus, or that the governor of Syria was Cirino or not? No, it is not indifferent. Regardless of the greater or lesser accuracy of Lucas in his data, we can say that it is a will, the will of someone “who has diligently investigated everything” with the desire to affirm without a doubt the historical reality of the coming of the messiah . This passion, this need to know the witnesses, and later meet those who knew the direct witnesses, etc … will be a constant in the early church, personified in authors such as Papías, Hegesipo or Eusebio de Cesarea, each time further away from the facts in time, but feeling the urgency of sticking to the story, in short (another issue is the results that each of them obtained). This same need, that of affirming the historicity of the Christ as a fact of faith, is expressed in the formula of the creed: he suffered under the power of Pontius Pilate.

If this were not enough, the Catholic Church affirms in its doctrine that there are two ways of transmission of Revelation: Sacred Scripture and Tradition. We read in the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council:

” 7. … He commanded the Apostles to preach to all men the Gospel as the source of all saving truth and every norm of conduct (…) The Apostles, with their preaching, their examples, their institutions, transmitted in word what they had learned from the works and words of Christ and what the Holy Spirit taught them; in addition, the same Apostles and others of their generation put in writing the message of salvation inspired by the Holy Spirit (…) The Apostles named the Bishops as successors ….

8. (…) This apostolic tradition grows in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit … ”

Recently, the Dominus Iesus statement states in its introduction:

“The universal mission of the Church is born of the mandate of Jesus Christ and is fulfilled over the centuries in the proclamation of the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and of the mystery of the Son’s incarnation, as an event of salvation for all of humanity. ”

And later, in the fourth section, on the unity and unity of the Church, we read:

“The faithful are obliged to profess that there is a historical continuity – rooted in apostolic succession – between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church …”