JMC : Witness of the Gospels / by A.S. Barnes

Result of these Theories

We are now in a position to sum up the net results of what has been said. The subject of the lecture, you will remember, is "The Witness of the Gospels," which I interpret to mean the question how far the general trustworthiness of the Gospels is affected, for better or worse, by recent discoveries and modern criticism. I have tried to answer that question by taking one particular Gospel and putting before you the conclusions to which I myself have been led in my study of the subject. These conclusions are, I believe, not incompatible with the received results of the best critics, and all that I claim for them is that they represent a view which can be held by an intelligent man without doing violence to any known fact or ignoring any pertinent evidence.

Net Results

Now, therefore, we come to ask ourselves directly the most important question of all that I have to put before you -- the question, in fact, to which all that I have been saying has been leading up, and to which I ask you to pay special attention. That question is as follows: -- How do these results of modern criticism -- these discoveries, for instance, that the Gospels as we have them now are in great part built up out of earlier documents -- affect their authority and trustworthy character?

To this question there will be two answers, according to the point of view from which we are regarding the subject. If we look at it as Catholics already convinced of the inspiration of the Gospels by reason of the Church's guarantee we shall answer, of course, that it makes no difference at all; that the truthfulness of the Gospels is assured not by the personal authority of the Evangelist, by his first-hand knowledge of the facts, or by the pains he took to obtain correct information, but by the action and inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, who is Himself the principal Author of the Gospels, as of all Holy Scripture, and who, of course, is not dependent on any human agency or human exertions to produce in fullest measure the result that He desires.

Greater Certainty

If, on the other hand, we put this side of the matter away for the moment, and confine our attention to the other and purely human element which is present in the production of all the Holy Scriptures -- and this, of course, is what we have been doing all through the lecture to-night -- then I think there can be no possible doubt in the mind of any one of you that the authenticity of the Gospels and the witness which they bear is actually increased in force and certainty by this discovery. There are always some conservative minds which tend to feel that all is lost whenever the advance of knowledge necessitates any change in the opinions in which they were brought up, and who find it very difficult to assimilate new ideas of any kind. These, no doubt, will still feel that the Faith itself is endangered by any such inquiries, and will wrap themselves up securely in their prejudices, unwilling even to examine into any new ideas or fresh, discoveries, from an unavowed terror lest, perchance, they might there discover something which would make it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to retain the opinions they have held so long, and which have come to be almost an integral part of themselves.

No Need for Discouragement

Such men will always exist, and when they are found, as is so often the case, in positions of influence and authority, constitute a real danger to the spread of truth; but there will also always be others of bolder spirit and a robuster faith, who will desire to look into things for themselves, and to judge, so far as their capacity allows, the real tendencies and results of modern research. These will continually find that the facts which are being brought to light, and which are so often used to point attacks upon the Church, are in no way dangerous when they are carefully studied in proper conjunction with the traditions of the Church, and by men whose desire is to be perfectly loyal to truth, but at the same time never needlessly to exaggerate difficulties or to unsettle faith.

Let me put the question directly with regard to the one little corner of the subject which has been all that we have been able to treat to-night. Which should we say, on purely human grounds, was likely to produce the more trustworthy account of the events -- St Luke writing in A.D. 80, fifty years after the events, a history composed there and then by means of a careful inquiry into the evidence which still, after that lapse of time, may have been available; or the same Evangelist at a much earlier time possessing himself of documentary evidence compiled at an even earlier time by the actual eye-witnesses of the facts, and then later on, in A. D. 80, sitting down to revise and amplify his original work? I have little doubt that there is not a single person here but would unhesitatingly give the preference to the second. And yet it is the first which is nearer to the traditional view, and it is the second to which, as I believe, the critics are gradually tending to agree. We should have come to much the same result had we chosen for discussion other portions of the wide field. Everywhere the same phenomenon is more or less clearly manifest. The latest results of critical science tend more and more "back towards tradition," and in not a few cases, where they differ from what has been traditionally received, they will be found to strengthen rather than to weaken the traditional and Catholic position. It is the old story: "A little knowledge leads a man away from God; a wider knowledge will bring him back to God." Truth cannot contradict truth, and, therefore, we have no reason to shrink from scientific criticism. It may seem hostile for the moment, but it can only end at length by providing us with another proof of the certainty of those things wherein we have believed.

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