Gerd Ludemann begins his book-length refutation of Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus with the following claim, which he regards as “undeniable, indeed axiomatic”:
In his insightful book The Historian and the Believer, Van Harvey drives home the point that history must be carefully distinguished from belief and identifies the crucial difference between the two: the historian must present objective evidence for his assertions. The rules of the game do not permit him to rely on uncorroborated testimony or claims of authority. Thus the validity of the historians conclusions derives from the very nature of historical knowledge. The chronicler who fails to challenge eyewitness testimony and to submit documentary sources to critical examination is not a historian. Rather he or she becomes, in Harvey’s trenchant but apt words, “no longer a seeker of knowledge but a mediator of past belief; not a thinker but a transmitter of tradition.”
This really is an axiom for Ludemann – he’s laid down a principle from which every other claim roles out with perfect logic. The axiom gets some dialectical defense – it’s not pure stipulation – but the genius and value of Ludemann’s work is its rigor, clarity, and consistency with his axiom. Once one has set down an absolute division between history/ knowledge and the transmission of tradition/ claims of authority, much of what he has to say about Christianity is pretty clearly sketched out.
Benedict, of course, does not see the Ludemann’s sharp, axiomatic lines. History has an intrinsic limitation when applied to the Christian faith, and must have its truth supplemented. Ludemann sees this as a search for an excluded middle:
[Quotations from Benedict- Ed.] In other words, this “Jesus of the Gospels” – who in the previous paragraphs was described as the product of a self-transcendent People of God, the Church that in turn received “its very self from the Incarnate Christ” – is now portrayed as “real”, “plausible” and “convincing” using the historical-critical method! The ontological disconnect leaves one breathless.