On Feb. 11, Trinity University’s Catholic Student Group (CSG) hosted Fr. Isaac Morales to give a lecture titled “What Has the Historical Jesus To Do With the Church’s Christ?”. Morales is a Catholic priest in the Dominican Order and a Biblical scholar who obtained his PhD in New Testament from Duke University.
The topic of Morales’ lecture was in response to historical studies of Jesus that sometimes lead Christians astray from their faith. In his lecture, Morales focused on explaining how learning about Jesus from a historical perspective can reveal and highlight the Christ of the Church.
Morales discussed the presuppositions in modern historical Jesus scholarship. The first presupposition arose during the Enlightenment when the idea of naturalism became popular and is the idea that miracles cannot exist and, therefore, Jesus’ miracles did not exist. Morales says this is the basis of how scholars approach Jesus today: if miracles do not happen, then the evangelists that wrote the Gospels made them up, and if the evangelists made up the miracles, they could have made up any parts of the Gospels. So, scholars take on the job of analyzing the Gospels and deciphering what actually happened and what did not.
Morales explained that people losing their faith after learning of minute discrepancies between the Gospels is a result of not taking a nuanced enough approach. For example, each of the Gospels gives an account of the Last Supper, however, each account varies just slightly from the other. Morales explained that the authors had no way to record their experiences directly, so they could only give the gist of the event. Furthermore, while recounting events, each of the four authors shapes the significance of the events. Morales suggests that we analyze and compare the specific themes, rather than the specific details.
Morales outlined the arguments we have for Jesus’ baptism by John, that Jesus has twelve disciples, that the miracles happened and Jesus’ preaching on the kingdom of God. Morales cited many Old Testament passages, the majority from the book of Isaiah, that prophesied what Jesus would do on Earth. “All of these different aspects of Jesus’s ministry – the baptism, choosing 12, the miracles, preaching about the kingdom – they all point to the fulfillment of these prophetic hopes,” said Morales.
Morales directly answered the titular question throughout his speech. “The bottom line for me is that historical Jesus studies has an important place in the intellectual life in coming to know Jesus, but it has a very limited role from the perspective of the Christian faith,” he said.
“If the Jesus of history is not something like what the Gospels say he was like, then Christianity is a sham,” Morales said. The historical Jesus serves an apologetic purpose; understanding that the Jesus of the Bible can be proven through historical scholarship is important, but for the purpose of backing up the faith that Christians already have.
Morales closed his lecture explaining that we do not encounter the Jesus of the Bible through historical reconstructions, but through “the authoritative texts written by his disciples and the sacrificial meal that he left us on the night before he was betrayed.”
Alex Jacobs, events coordinator for CSG, saw great value in the event. “Trinity can gain the understanding that an intellectual understanding of Jesus does not lead one to skepticism but rather leads them to faith,” said Jacobs.
CSG will be hosting another lecture through the Thomistic Institute with Dr. Alexander Pruss of Baylor University addressing the question “Does God exist?” The lecture is Monday, March 4 at 7 pm in Northrup Hall 040.
Photo by Maddie D’iorio.