Volume 33 - Issue 1

Blondel Remembered: His Philosophical Analysis of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus”

By Paul Hartog


Readers of the Expository Times were recently encouraged to pull up a chair and eavesdrop as James Dunn and Robert Morgan dialogued concerning faith and history and the "quest for the historical Jesus." Although the discussion centered upon James Dunn's Jesus Remembered, both contributors acknowledged those who had plowed the same field before them.

Readers of the Expository Times were recently encouraged to pull up a chair and eavesdrop as James Dunn and Robert Morgan dialogued concerning faith and history and the “quest for the historical Jesus.” 1 Although the discussion centered upon James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, both contributors acknowledged those who had plowed the same field before them.2 This backward glance caused Morgan to comment on “how confused this nineteenth-century debate about faith and history has become.” 3The Morgan-Dunn debate often seemed to highlight the ideas and influence of Martin Kähler (1835-1912) in particular.4 While Dunn appreciates much of Kähler’s basic line of reasoning, he rather chooses to accentuate the impression of Jesus upon the “first faith” of the disciples, as witnessed by their willingness to forsake all and follow him prior to his crucifixion.5 This modification of Kähler’s emphasis allows Dunn to examine not only the “kerygmatic Christ” who was preached “post-Easter” but also the impact of the “pre-Easter Jesus” : “the Jesus we want to find is the Jesus who was significant, the Jesus who made the impact he did, the Jesus who was the fountainhead from which Christianity flowed, the Jesus who transformed fishermen and toll collectors into disciples and apostles.” 6 “Thus reformulated, Kähler’s argument is even more effective,” contends Dunn.7 By contrast, “To discount the influence that Jesus actually had, to strip away the impact that Jesus actually made, is to strip away everything and to leave an empty stage waiting to be filled by some creative amalgam of the historian’s own imagination and values.” 8

Overview of Maurice Blondel

Although Kähler’s younger contemporary Maurice Blondel (1861-1949) never appears in Dunn’s one-thousand-page tome Jesus Remembered, his critical insights may be especially relevant to the discussion. Blondel was a French philosopher who flourished at the turn of the last century and whose dissertation, L’Action (1893), already set the foundation for his scholarly career. He wished to shift philosophical attention from abstract thought to personal commitment and action, and he desired to demonstrate the ultimate and inevitable transcendence of human action. He forcefully denied any rigid distinction between the intellect and the will, and he insisted upon the philosopher’s role as a participant in the acquisition of knowledge rather than as a mere spectator. For Blondel, action was the link between thought and being. “Action is that synthesis of willing, knowing and being, that binding force of the human compositum which cannot be broken up without destroying what one has disunited; it is the precise point at which the world of thought, the moral world and the world of science converge; and if they are not united there, all is lost.” 9

Blondel applied his “philosophy of action” to the academic field of biblical studies in Histoire et dogme in 1903.10 Blondel’s impact upon subsequent “historical Jesus” research, however, was hampered by his credentials set against the backdrop of contemporaneous New Testament scholarship. He was neither a German by birth nor a liberal Protestant by adherence nor a historical-critical scholar by profession. Furthermore, the title of Blondel’s work (with its mention of “dogma” ) was an immediate affront to many modern academic sensibilities. As Morgan quips, historical “questers” do not like the word “dogmatic,” and they do not consider “Christology” their business.11

Finally, much of the scholarly neglect is Blondel’s own fault, since he remained “a somewhat remote and inaccessible figure” until his death.12 More to the point, he wrote in an extremely demanding style. Paul Janet, one of Blondel’s Sorbonne thesis examiners, notified him, “Your thought is obscure; your way of writing obscures it still more. It takes me an hour to read one of your pages and then I fail to understand it; I calculated that it would take me forty-five days to read your thesis.” 13 When T & T Clark published a new imprint of an English translation of Blondel’s History and Dogma in 1995, readers of the Expository Times were subjected to a rather unhelpful review.14The reviewer never evaluated or even summarized Blondel’s actual insights, but only lamented Blondel’s “tortuous” reasoning and his “opaque” style.15 The piece ended with a mere whimper, as the critic threw up his hands in full surrender, simply concluding that Blondel’s work “is not easily grasped at a first reading.” The author did manage to sound one clarion note concerning Blondel: “As a thinker he stood quite outside the Anglo-Saxon tradition.” 16 I suggest that Maurice Blondel’s feet have yet to move, and I propose that we invite him into our humble Anglo-Saxon abode and welcome him to our conversation table, to be seated next to Dunn and Morgan. Blondel’s analysis of the relationship between “history and dogma” and his philosophical critique of the limitations of “historicism” may be relevant to contemporary discussions of “faith and history,” including the scholarly “quest for the historical Jesus.” 17

“Extrinsicism” and “Historicism”

Blondel wished “to achieve the synthesis of history and dogma while respecting their independence and solidarity, which are both equally necessary.” 18 He desired to discover “the authority proper to each” by examining how “history and dogma still continue and will continue to verify and vivify one another.” 19 He therefore sought for common ground and fertile contact between them. On the one hand, he dismissed “extrinsicism” or interest in the “historical facts” merely for an apologetic use. He referred to “the disillusioned obstinacy of men who imagined that they knew everything without having examined anything” and who sought to buttress a previously accepted theological structure which is already superimposed upon the data. On the other hand, he dismissed “historicism” or the call to postpone faith until one has reconstructed a historical foundation through critical methods.20 Instead, he proposed a progressive and synthetic movement between history and dogma.

Blondel tried to demonstrate the philosophical lacunae of “historicism” through critical means. He conceded that at first glance it may seem legitimate to consider “the facts for their own sake” by placing theology aside. It would seem that the apologist should “take up his position . . . face to face with the facts, as though he neither believed nor knew anything of Christianity.” 21 Yet Blondel countered that the critical spirit does not consist solely in criticizing our knowledge (through a rigorous examination of texts and testimonies); it also consists in the foundational critique of critical knowledge itself.22

The scholar is only master in his or her own domain by virtue of a clear consciousness of its limitations. The manifold sciences view reality from various angles, and none can make a totalitarian claim to provide a complete picture of reality. Blondel emphasized that certain important and relevant tasks fall beyond history’s field of competence, and these limitations lead to precautionary reminders. History is neither self-sufficient nor a total metaphysic. History, like all the sciences, does not produce a universal vision nor answer ultimate questions.23 “The moment a science concludes from its independence within its own field of research to a sort of self-sufficiency, it becomes guilty of fraudulently converting a simple method of work into a negative and tyrannical doctrine. Willy-nilly it is led into the subtly crude illusion that because it is legitimate and necessary to divide the work of the mind, the divisions subsist in the reality.” 24

Real History and Reconstructed History

Within the Expository Times debate highlighted above, Robert Morgan muses, “There may be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our empiricist philosophies.” 25 Blondel actually insists that every self-critical historian must recognize that “real history” includes things beyond the scope of empirical investigation, even if he or she denies the possibility of “supernatural elements” out-of hand. Real history is mediated through human beings in all their sundry complexities that lie beneath the external manifestation available as historical “facts.” “What the historian does not see, and what he must recognize as escaping him is the spiritual reality, the activity of which is not wholly represented or exhausted by the historical phenomena.” 26 Even spectators contemporaneously watching events unfold cannot entirely reconstruct matters as they actually are, because much that pertains to “whole persons” lies beyond the empirical examination of others.

On the other hand, “technical and critical history” is “scientific history,” which examines and links the empirical evidences of past events as one empirically investigates objects in a scientific laboratory. But one must diligently remember that critical-historical reconstructions differ from the “real history,” that is, events as they actually occurred.27 A simple example is any important decision that markedly affected the course of history. The modern historian may try to reconstruct the motivations and discursive thought processes behind the decision, but in truth one cannot reach full epistemological certainty on such crucially relevant “internal” matters. Nevertheless, they really did happen and therefore are “real history.” Obviously, “internal” or “spiritual” matters such as motivations, purposes, emotions, decisions, and thoughts greatly influenced the historical chain of events at almost every link. But history by itself cannot know a fact that would be more than a fact. That is, the historian cannot go beyond and behind the external manifestations of such internal workings.28

The danger of “historicism” lies in confusion between “technical and critical history” and “real history.” There is always an insurmountable abyss between these two histories, one resulting from a phenomenological method and the other representing genuine reality. When one substitutes the one for the other, “an ontology, purely phenomenological in character, will be extracted from a methodology and a phenomenology.” 29 When this happens, several confusions result. “Historicism” tends to mistake the external act for the entirety of the event itself. It substitutes “the fact for the actor, the testimony for the witness, the portrait for the person.” 30 “Historicism” tends to register not so much the initial operations of real persons as the subsequent influences of its own reconstructions of those initial operations. Blondel maintains that these historical “phenomena” are only partial images of the life of humanity. As Dunn comments, “A past event is not a thing, an object, a datum. The historian can never witness it in his or her own experience, can never experience it at first hand. All that the historian can have to hand is the data resulting from the past events, as you might say, the residue, the detritus of the past.” 31

“Historicism” also tends to look for the whole subject matter of history in the evolution of the unfolding of the series of events. But this “logical development” is really a mechanistic view that cannot take into account the personal nature of all the specific moments. If each link of the “critical historical” chain is made up of the available empirical evidence tied to a specific event, then the entire “critical historical” chain of such events still concerns only a total conglomeration of such empirical evidence. But in “real history” each link involves psychological, mental, and volitional actions implied by even the least personal action, because “real history” is mediated through human lives in their full complexity. Since personal events include more beneath the external level, then the entire “critical historical” chain only partially recreates the “real history” of successive events as they actually unfolded.

“Whole Persons” As Agents in History and Its Investigation

The historian studies the empirical residues of the observable manifestations of humanity’s inward, invisible work that modify one another into a coherent whole, “though without supplying a total and satisfying explanation of the smallest detail.” 32 The natural continuity of history does not prove that history itself can provide a full explanation of itself. The historical chain comes to the “critical historian” as a “given,” and therefore is routinely analyzed as a logical necessity. Certainly the historian has to make his or her determinist explanation “as intelligible and complete as possible.” 33 Nonetheless, it remains equally true that the historian’s duty is “to leave the issue open or even to open it as widely as possible to the ‘realist’ explanation which lies always beneath.” 34 The various “moments” actually involved “whole persons” reacting to previous events (mediated through other “whole persons” ) and in turn affecting subsequent events (mediated through other “whole persons” ). Thus the historian as historian cannot completely attain or explain the antecedent cause, the accompanying cause, and the final cause.

Blondel’s analysis of “whole persons” goes beyond the original actors to the first spectators/recorders/interpreters.35 Since “critical and scientific history” cannot capture the “whole person,” it also tends to confuse the “testimony” of a “witness” (which is available to empirical scrutiny) with the “witness” himself or herself (who is a “whole person” affected in numerous ways beneath the observable surface). Even the most faithful witness cannot verbally explain the full impact of an influential person in its complete equivalence. Every disciple is transformed by his or her master in ways that cannot be entirely transmitted in writings. Verbal explanations (which are the material evidence available to others) rarely capture the full influence. Moreover, not only are individuals normally affected in ways they cannot fully explain to others, they are often affected in ways they do not fully understand themselves. Children, for example, are shaped by their parents in a manner that they themselves do not entirely comprehend.

Blondel examines the role of the historian as a “whole person” as well. The historian makes rational judgments about the historicity of individual pieces of evidence, often based upon an appeal to analogous experience. The scholar sifting historical evidences is not a lifeless sieve similar to an ordinary kitchen utensil. The historian “with his beliefs, his metaphysical ideas, and his religious solutions conditions all the subordinate researches of science as much as he is conditioned by them.” 36 The observer or narrator is always imposing interpretations, relations, analyses, and syntheses. To claim to constitute the science of history without any wider human preoccupations or interpretive schemas, or even to suppose that the humblest details of history could be a simple matter of observation is to be influenced by prejudices on the pretext of attaining an impossible neutrality. Blondel concludes, “In default of an explicit philosophy, a man ordinarily has an unconscious one.” 37

Historians may attempt to limit the discussion to what is visible on the surface and not probe below to a composite philosophy. But while concentrating on the external aspects of the facts, one cannot abstract an ideology from them. Blondel opposed the prevalent “historicist” thesis that “the determinism of successive facts is really self-explanatory, and historical phenomena provide a real and sufficient history,” 38 “as though to understand what has happened were to know what produced it.” 39 In order to pass from “historical facts” to a full explanation, even the most exact analysis of the texts and the effort of individual thought are not sufficient. Metaphysical and ontological questions are never entirely excluded from the historian’s mind, because they are antecedent, concomitant, and subsequent to any positive research concerning humanity. On the pretext of “relying on facts alone,” “the most dubious hypotheses” can result, “so as to avoid a priori the only hypothesis that accounts for the facts themselves.” 40

“Tradition” As a Living Synthesis
Blondel acknowledged that “One cannot hope to remedy the lacunae of extrinsicism by showing up the inadequacies of historicism.” 41 In his perspective, the positive synthetic force and link between history and dogma (without compromising their relative independence) is the living synthesis of “Tradition.” 42 People normally imagine “tradition” as an oral transmission of received facts, accepted teachings, or ancient customs. In this view, “tradition,” as it reports things explicitly said or deliberately performed, is simply a substitute for written teaching. Such a notion of “tradition” possesses “little authority” and “little usefulness,” argued Blondel, when one considers the passage of time and the inadequacies of popular recollection.43

Authentic “tradition,” however, is not a fixed deposit of “mere facts” or an accumulation of superimposed novelties. “It preserves not so much the intellectual aspect of the past as its living reality.” 44 “It presents the conscious mind with elements previously held back in the depths of faith and practised, rather than expressed, systematized or reflected upon.” 45 Blondel’s emphasis does not fall upon what was handed down, but rather on how it was handed down.46 In the passing from historical facts to developed dogma, more than texts were involved.47 For example, “the mediation of collective life” and “the slow progressive labour of the Christian Tradition” were also essentially at work.48

“Historicists” fail to realize that developed dogmas are not only “the result of dialectical exercise upon the texts” but also “the expression of a perpetuated and experienced reality.” 49 There is an enlightenment gained through piety, prayer, commitment, and obedient action. Active performance of religious practices is essential in attaining the fullness and profundity of religious ideas.50 Action penetrates into the very depths of a “whole person,” so that practiced truths are grasped more immanently, completely, and accurately than those examined at arm’s length.51 “The thought that follows the act is infinitely richer than that which precedes it.” 52 By putting Christ’s teachings and spirit into practice, claims Blondel, the church has been continuously enriched. Moreover, the Christological development of the earliest church was not a foreign accretion to the religion of Jesus himself, but the outworking of his original historical impression.

For his part, Dunn also tips his hat to “tradition” : “Through the impact Jesus made we discern Jesus, not Jesus who might be something different from what the Jesus tradition recalls, but the Jesus-whomade-the-impact still visible in the Jesus tradition.” 53 Dunn concludes, “All this is a reminder that the earliest tradition, whether oral or written, had a living quality.” 54 In the context of Dunn’s comments, however, the “living quality” of the earliest tradition seems to refer to its variability and malleability, and his division of “tradition” into either oral transmission or literary transmission still concerns the passing on of information (“mere facts” ). Blondel’s point concerns an impact beyond the mental comprehension, retention, and transmission of facts. The earliest generations of Christians, those who witnessed Jesus’ life and ministry and those who first preached the kerygma and initially implemented his teachings, were privileged recipients of the historical impact of Jesus of Nazareth. The “whole person” of these witnesses and transmitters (including affective and volitional tendencies) was transformed within the sphere of the “living reality” of the earliest movement rooted in Jesus, and they in turn impacted other “whole persons” united in those original communities which embodied Jesus’ teachings.

Application to the “Jesus Quest”

Blondel’s History and Dogma applies his philosophical analyses to the origins of Christianity.55 The difference between “critical history” and “real history” should be “carefully noted and remembered when we come to the relationship between the historical Christ and the real Christ.” 56 Christianity claims to be founded upon a person (a “real history” ) rather than merely upon a historical portrait (a “critical history” ). One cannot confuse the original life in all its fullness and the later reconstructions of historians. Moreover, Christianity claims that Jesus of Nazareth, who was a real, historical figure, impacted those earliest disciples who both followed the “pre-Easter” Jesus and also proclaimed the “post-Easter” kerygma.

In addition, Christianity recognizes that this amazing person influenced the first followers in ways that were not completely captured by their literary texts.57 One cannot confuse Jesus’ full “afterlife” or “impact” (in the terms of Morgan and Dunn) and our extant texts alone. Blondel’s insights nuance Dunn’s explanation of the transformative effect of Jesus. Dunn claims, “From the impression in the wax we can discern the shape of the seal. From the impression left on the disciples we can discern the ‘shape’ of the one who made that impression.” 58 But Dunn’s analogy, of course, should not be accepted as a complete equivalence. Soft wax can fully receive and clearly manifest the impression of a signet. But human persons cannot so simply and lucidly reveal the transformative, personal impact of other individuals. “The personal and unexpressed influence of the Saviour inaugurated a tradition of devotion and adoration which Christian literature neither exhausts nor fully represents, even when closest to its source.” 59 The modern critical attempt to get to the “objective facts” behind the earliest extant testimonies of Jesus deprives him “of the influence which every master communicates to his immediate disciples, although they themselves are incapable of [fully] transmitting it in their writings.” 60

Furthermore, “orthodox” Christianity claims that the Christian historian can, in some sense, still experience this living person as risen Lord. This is especially done within the context of Christian worship, prayer, community, and practice. The moment one concedes that Jesus was the revelation of God and sole mediator of salvation, and that the contemporary believer can relate to him, and that in having to do with him we have to do with God himself who is saving us, one’s understanding of the sea of reality (within which the bare facts of historicism’s reconstructions float) has also changed.61 In Blondel’s terms, the ontology behind the phenomenology is different. Whether in the context of mediated tradition in community or immediate relationship in personal devotion, one has moved beyond “what Christ contributed to the determinism of history” and “the repercussions of his actions on the machinery of facts.” 62

Through a logical abstraction, the Christian historian can relate to the risen Christ by faith one moment and not allow this experience to affect his or her historical reconstruction the next. Morgan labels this the “outsider” perspective, which Dunn calls “a spectator perspective, as though we were watching through the eyes of a passing bystander.” 63 However, the Christian historian as an integrated “whole person” with a unified life cannot so simplistically separate such matters. As a “whole person,” the believer is definitely not “disinterested” in the topic and person of Jesus, even while engaging in scholarly, historical studies. The Christian does not affectively and volitionally approach the death of Jesus as she or he does the death of Socrates. The believer sees the “mere facts” of Jesus’ death within the context of a redemptive interpretation. Believers may even intuitively sense that they possess means (beyond critical reconstruction) of “knowing” the reality of the risen Christ, of participating in his life, and of linking historical facts to Christological dogma.64

The Appeal to “Whole Persons”

Blondel insists that there can be no final divorce between history and theology, and no antithetical polarization between the historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ. “What I am criticizing is the thesis of the water-tight compartment between history and dogma, and of the incommensurability of assertions of faith and of truths of fact; and still more, of course, the thesis of an opposition between them which results in double-thinking.” 65 Critical history, constructive theology, and Christian practice do not develop and cannot be analyzed in isolation. Because of the “living unity in Christianity” (since it addresses the whole field of experience and life as a whole), the various sciences (or fields of inquiry) “can only be split up by a provisional abstraction.” 66 Early Christological dogmas were not only the result of a dialectical exercise upon texts but also the expression of a perpetuated and experienced reality, a unity of life and worship.67 Moreover, “the synthesis of dogma and facts is scientifically effected because there is a synthesis of thought and grace in the life of the believer.” 68

As a result, a truly Christian apologetic holistically appeals to the entire person.69 “Christian knowledge does not disdain the support of history (for the facts in this instance are both the redemptive reality and the revelatory message).” 70 Yet a purely “historical apologetic” does not conform to the concrete exercise of thought and the real history of faith, since it claims to restrict itself to elements which by themselves are not linked with an interpretive scheme. The Christian should recognize the “relative autonomy” of the diverse fields of inquiry (including history), but also recognize that their “legitimate independence” derives from their actual solidarity.71 “A conception which isolates the sciences without making them autonomous must be replaced by a view which grants them their autonomy all the more readily because it never allows them to be isolated.” 72 Thus a “Christian” historical inquiry cannot disregard full Christian knowledge and “the results methodically acquired by the collective experience of Christ verified and realized” in the first and subsequent believers.73


Certain limitations exist in Blondel’s presentation, and these require further critical reflection. For example, “tradition” (even if it is a thoroughly “living synthesis” of committed action in community) may not bear the full epistemological weight Blondel has foisted upon its shoulders. And Protestants attuned to their Reformation heritage will naturally contend that Blondel’s apologetic seems to ignore the self-attestation of Scripture, and to de-emphasize the centrality and normativity of the inspired, written text.74

Nevertheless, Blondel—as a philosopher of religion who stood outside the “guild” of biblical scholars—articulated some insights into the historical endeavor worthy of thoughtful consideration. For example, Blondel’s philosophical critique of the “historicism” of the “quest for the historical Jesus” is both vigorous and astute, and much of Blondel’s critical analysis applies as equally to more recent “quests.” His apologetic insistence upon a logical continuity between the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of Faith,” based upon a fuller understanding of the nature of personal influence and impact, is also compelling. Unfortunately, current discussions of the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” have forgotten Maurice Blondel, and they are certainly the poorer for this lack of remembrance.

  1. Robert Morgan, “James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered,” ExpTim 116 (2004): 1-6; James D. G. Dunn, “On Faith and History, and Living Tradition: In Response to Robert Morgan and Andrew Gregory,” ExpTim 116 (2004): 13-19; Robert Morgan, “Christian Faith and Historical Jesus Research: A Reply to James Dunn,” ExpTim 116 (2005): 217-23; James D. G. Dunn, “A Letter to Robert Morgan,” ExpTim 116 (2005): 286-7.
  2. James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, vol. 1 of Christianity in the Making (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).
  3. Morgan, “Christian Faith and Historical Jesus Research,” 217.
  4. Morgan, “James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered,” 2, 5, 6; Dunn, “On Faith and History,” 13, 15; Morgan, “Christian Faith and Historical Jesus Research,” 217, 220. Cf. the appearances of Kähler in Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, 49-51, 65, 71-2, 77-8, 80, 84, 99, 101, 126-8, 130, 184-5. Martin Kähler’s most famous work, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, was first published as Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus (Leipzig: Deichert; 1892; 2d ed., 1896). “While there has been much debate about what precisely Kähler did or did not mean to accomplish, he contributed greatly to the dichotomy between the ‘Jesus of history’ and the ‘Christ of faith’ which since then has been a hallmark of so much New Testament study and systematic theology” (Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus [London: T & T Clark, 2004], 21-2). For his part, Bockmuehl notes how “ironic” it is that “historical scholarship has meticulously investigated and stripped down the texts” only to acknowledge that “even in the very earliest sources” there is no “Jesus without christology of some kind” (22). “In the mouths of even his earliest witnesses, Jesus is already the one who died and was raised” (22). Thus, “what we must equally recognize is that for those who first saw him and were called by him, Jesus of Nazareth and the ‘historic biblical Christ’ of their faith were one and the same person” (23).
  5. James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 33-4. Michael Bird agrees that “it is presumptuous to assert that the early church had an entirely kerygmatic faith focused exclusively on the death and resurrection of Jesus divorced from any concern for his earthly life” (Michael F. Bird, “The Purpose and Preservation of the Jesus Tradition: Moderate Evidence for a Conserving Force in its Transmission,” BBR 15 [2005]: 6).
  6. Ibid., 32.
  7. Ibid., 34.
  8. Ibid., 34. Dunn also differs from Kähler by his attentive examination of Jesus within the context of Second Temple Judaism. For an analysis and critique of Dunn’s program, see Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Of Professors and Madmen: Currents in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship,” 13-17. (accessed March 21, 2008).
  9. Blondel, L’Action, 28; English translation in Trethowan’s introduction to Maurice Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 86-7.
  10. See John Simons, “Maurice Blondel: Philosophy and Christianity,” CJT 13 (1967): 254-65; Jean Jacques D’Aoust, “The Significance of Maurice Blondel’s treatise ‘History and Dogma’ in the French Modernist Crisis,” Ph.D. dissertation (New Haven: Yale University, 1968).
  11. Morgan, “Christian Faith and Historical Jesus Research,” 218.
  12. Alexander Dru’s introduction to Maurice Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 13.
  13. Ibid., 40.
  14. Bernard M. G. Reardon, review of Maurice Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, in ExpTim107 (1995): 29. Reardon reviewed the 1995 reprint (Edinburgh: T & T Clark) of the 1964 English edition, translated by Alexander Dru and Illtyd Trethowan. Dru translated History and Dogma, and Trethowan translated The Letter on Apologetics. Both Dru and Trethowan composed introductory materials for the comprehensive volume. The English translations of History and Dogma throughout this present article come from this Dru and Trethowan edition.
  15. Cf. Kenneth L. Schmitz’s reference to Blondel’s “tortuous thought” in the foreword to The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, 8.
  16. Similarly, Dru’s introduction remarks that Blondel “is still completely ignored in English-speaking countries, and if mentioned is usually misrepresented” (9; cf. 15). See also Trethowan’s reference to “the present state of astonishing ignorance” concerning Blondel’s thought (82). For a recent French study on Blondel and Jesus, see René Virgoulay, Pierre de Cointet, et al, Le Christ de Maurice Blondel, Jésus et Jésus-Christ 86 (Paris: Desclée, 2003). The work is reviewed by James Le Grys in TS 65 (2004): 649-50.
  17. See Alexander Dru, “The Importance of Maurice Blondel,” DRev 80 (1962): 118-29.
  18. Blondel, History and Dogma, 224.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Regarding the terms “extrinsicism” and “historicism,” Blondel confessed, “I shall make use of certain barbarous neologisms with a view to fixing attention and throwing into relief the exclusive character of each thesis” (ibid., 225).
  21. Ibid., 232-3.
  22. As Marcellino D’Ambrosio explains, “Critical history which forgets it own limitations in this egregious fashion oversteps the boundaries of its competence and thus violates an important canon of truly scientific method” (Marcellino D’Ambrosio, “Henri de Lubac and the Critique of Scientific Exegesis,” Comm 19 [1992], 376). D’Ambrosio maintains that Henri de Lubac sought “to identify those hidden and arbitrary presuppositions which have been bound up with historical criticism from its inception” and which “prejudiced” the results of its “positivist pretensions” (ibid., 373). D’Ambrosio rightly notes that de Lubac leaned heavily upon the work of Maurice Blondel, his fellow French thinker (ibid., 367, 373-6).
  23. Blondel uses “sciences” in the broad sense of “fields of academic inquiry.”
  24. Blondel, History and Dogma, 238.
  25. Morgan, “Christian Faith and Historical Jesus Research,” 219.
  26. Blondel, History and Dogma, 237.
  27. This differentiation is, of course, now common fare. Dunn explains the contrast (“On Faith and History,” 14), and Morgan considers the distinction to be an “important point” (Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 5).
  28. Perhaps one could counter that diaries and autobiographies personally reveal the inner workings of historical figures, but this rejoinder is not relevant in “historical Jesus” studies.
  29. Blondel, History and Dogma, 240.
  30. Ibid., 241.
  31. Dunn, “On Faith and History,” 14.
  32. Blondel, History and Dogma, 237.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. The terminology of “whole persons” is not explicitly found in Blondel, but I have chosen to coin and employ this heuristic rubric in order to manifest Blondel’s philosophical insights into the historical endeavor.
  36. Ibid., 238.
  37. Ibid., 237. Dunn similarly asserts, “There is no objective historian pursuing the Quest, whether in faith or in non-faith or in anti-faith” (“On Faith and History,” 14).
  38. Blondel, History and Dogma, 262.
  39. Ibid., 249.
  40. Ibid., 242.
  41. Ibid., 263.
  42. This present article highlights how Blondel’s notion of “tradition” can illumine the debate at hand (the “quest for the historical Jesus” ). In order to do so, I have narrowed Blondel’s notion of “Tradition” to its role in the earliest Christian movement. For a discussion of Blondel’s broader concept of “Tradition,” see William A. Scott, “The Notion of Tradition in Maurice Blondel,” TS 27 (1966): 384-400.
  43. Ibid., 266.
  44. Ibid., 267.
  45. Ibid.
  46. See Dru’s prefatory note in Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, 214.
  47. See Maurice Nédoncelle, “Les rapports de l’histoire et du dogme d’après Blondel,” Journées d’études 9-10 (1974): 91-107.
  48. Blondel, History and Dogma, 269.
  49. Ibid., 278.
  50. Henri de Lubac argued that “if one hopes to understand, one must stop ‘playing the spectator’ before the Bible” (Marcellino D’Ambrosio, “Henri de Lubac and the Critique of Scientific Exegesis,” 378). D’Ambrosio, borrowing from de Lubac, agrees that “the text can only be fully understood by someone who has put it into practice” (ibid., 385). Thus “application or appropriation is an integral part of the traditional process of exegesis rather than some subsequent operation tacked on only after interpretation has been successfully completed” (ibid., 385). Cf. the role of volition within understanding as found in the maxim of John 7:17.
  51. By contrast, a “reductionist” exegesis “can only progressively dissect its object, thereby destroying it” (D’Ambrosio, “Henri de Lubac and the Critique of Scientific Exegesis,” 380-1). “Actually, when the critical function alone is active, it succeeds rather quickly in pulverizing everything” (Henri de Lubac, “The Church in Crisis,” TD 17 (1969): 317).
  52. L’Action, 403; the English translation is my own.
  53. Dunn, “On Faith and History,” 15.
  54. Ibid., 19.
  55. For an examination of Blondel’s work in its historical context, see “Exégèse, théologie et philosophie dans la réflexion christologique,” RSR 88 (2000): 561-78; Xavier Tilliette, “Maurice Blondel et la controverse christologique,” in Modernisme, ed. Pierre Colin, Jean Houssaye, and Stanislas Breton (Paris: éditions Beauchesne, 1980): 129-60.
  56. Blondel, History and Dogma, 240.
  57. The Gospels themselves acknowledge that written texts could not capture the fullness of Jesus’ life (Jn 20:30; 21:25).
  58. Dunn, “On Faith and History,” 15.
  59. Blondel, History and Dogma, 247.
  60. Ibid.
  61. See Morgan, “Christian Faith and Historical Jesus Research,” 220-1.
  62. Blondel, History and Dogma, 245.
  63. Dunn, “On Faith and History,” 19.
  64. Cf. Phil 3:8-10.
  65. Blondel, History and Dogma, 258 n.1
  66. Ibid., 286.
  67. Scholars often emphasize the role of the church’s worship in the developing articulation of early Christology. See, for example, the numerous works on this subject by Larry W. Hurtado: One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (2d ed.; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998); At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000); Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005); How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
  68. Ibid., 287.
  69. “A proof which results from the total movement of life, a proof which is the whole of action, this will have, on the contrary, that constraining force” (Blondel, L’Action, 341; English translation in Trethowan’s introduction to The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, 93).
  70. Blondel, History and Dogma, 287.
  71. Ibid., 283.
  72. Ibid., 286.
  73. Ibid., 287.
  74. Blondel himself emphatically insisted, “Need I observe, yet again, that I do not in any way throw doubt upon the absolute value and the total inspiration of the Bible, nor even upon the method which proceeds from that de fide thesis: I shall attempt to show how that global affirmation is in effect necessary and justifiable. May I beg the reader never to confuse the criticism of methods and justifications with the criticism of the truths themselves, the proofs of which it is my purpose to strengthen?” (ibid., 229 n.1).

Paul Hartog

Paul Hartog is an associate professor at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa. He is the author of Polycarp and the New Testament, WUNT 2.134 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002).

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