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from issue no. 05 - 2004

An event that preceded their thinking and willing

The introduction by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the new edition of Heinrich Schlier’s small book on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which will be published in Italy, edited by 30Days, in collaboration with the Morcelliana publishing house

by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

<I>The resurrected Jesus and Mary Magdalen</I>, Giotto, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padova

The resurrected Jesus and Mary Magdalen, Giotto, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padova

I am gladdened that 30Days is making accessible to the Italian public in a new translation the little book on the resurrection of Jesus that Heinrich Schlier published in 1968 with Johannes Verlag, the publishing house founded and directed by Hans Urs von Balthasar , at a moment when theories that for various periods of time and in different versions were circulating in Protestant circles, were appearing in Catholic theology as something new and as sure scholarly acquisition just achieved. Theories whereby Jesus was said to have risen “within the kerygma” (according to Bultmann’s formula) or in other words that the resurrection meant no more than the recognition by the disciples that “the cause of Jesus continues” (according to Willi Marxsen). Schlier was an outstanding follower of Rudolf Bultmann. In 1953, to the bewilderment of his teacher, he converted to the Catholic Church and said that his conversion had come about in an altogether Protestant way and that is through his relationship with Scripture. All his life Schlier was grateful to Bultmann for everything he had learned from him on the way to approach the biblical texts, and all his life he also remained closely bound to the philosophical thinking of Martin Heidegger. Thus we are not listening to a master of exegesis that had known the problems of modernity only from the outside, but one who grew up in them and found his path in continual challenge to them.
It might turn out useful to the reader nowadays to begin from the last two pages of the book in which the methodical awareness of the author emerges in a very concise way but precisely for that reason in a very precise way also. Schlier was perfectly well aware that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead represented a limit problem for exegesis; but it becomes particularly clear in it that the interpretation of the New Testament, if it means to arrive to the heart of the question, always has to do with limit problems. Faith in the resurrection of the New Testament Scriptures sets the exegete before an alternative that demands a decision from him. The exegete can certainly share the opinion (become vision of the world in historiography) of the homogeneity of all history, according to which nothing can really have happened except what could always happen. But then he is forced to deny the resurrection as event and must seek to clarify what lies behind, how ideas of the kind can arise. Or he can let himself be overwhelmed by the evidence of a phenomenon that breaks the concatenated series of events to then seek to understand what it means. At bottom Schlier’s little book shows simply this: that the disciples let themselves be overwhelmed by a phenomenon that made itself manifest to them, by an unexpected reality, initially even incomprehensible, and that faith in the resurrection sprang from that overwhelming and, that is, from an event that preceded their thinking and willing, that indeed overturned it.
Those who read Schlier’s book will see that the author went through the same experience as the disciples: he himself is a person “overwhelmed by evidence of a phenomenon that made itself manifest with naturalness”, and that is a believer, but a believer who believes reasonably. All his life was a letting himself be overwhelmed by the Lord who led him. Schlier does not trivially reduce the phenomenon of the resurrection to the ordinariness of any fact whatever. The originality of this event, that is mirrored in the singular relations thus set up by the Risen One, emerges clearly in his book. It is not an event like all the others, but a going outside what ordinarily happens as history. Out of this arises the difficulty for an objective interpretation; out of this one understands the temptation to annul the event as event so as to reinterpret it as mental fact, existential or psychological. Though Schlier - as we have already said – leaves intact in its particularity what is singular to the resurrection, and that is what in the last analysis is incomprehensible to us, he nevertheless kept intact - faithful to the testimony of the texts and to the evidence of that beginning – “the irreversibility and the irreducibility of the sequence: ‘apparition of the Risen One’ – ‘kerygma’ – ‘faith’”; that by resurrection one understands “an event, that is a concrete historical event”; or, put another way, that “the word of those who see the Risen One is word of an event that goes beyond the witnesses”.
Since the temptations of 1968 are today no less present than they were then, today also this is a very useful book, that I hope will win many readers.

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