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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 8. July 12, 1951

Sweet are the uses... — A Letter from Dr. Munz

Sweet are the uses...

A Letter from Dr. Munz


The author who signed himself "Historian" in your last issue apparently took too much upon himself. He not only gave proof of ignorance of the subject of early Christianity, but he also betrayed his inability to describe events of which he was an eye-witness. I would, therefore, like to tell your readers what happened when I addressed the SCM on the subject of the primitive church.

I gave a description of the beliefs and practicas of second and third generation Christians in this account I made use of a large number of authorities. On the whole there is remarkable agreement among scholars on many points, but as in all spheres of ancient and medieval history, there is also much controversy and, therefore, I made it plain in my talk that on controversial matters, I preferred the opinions of Loisy, Klausner and Schweitzer to those of other scholars. I also said that the wealth of secondary literature on the subject made the study of the period confusing, especially to the non-specialist like myself. The picture that emerged during my talk was in many points different from the one drawn by the orthodox Catholic historian.

Dr. Munz and the Critics

When I had finished a Catholic priest told the audience that he had found my "biased" account very interesting, but that he could not agree with me on two points. These two points were: (1) An epigram by Loisy, to the effect that Jesus had promised the Kingdom of God and that we got the church instead, and (2) that the rule of bishops over the churches was not ordained by Christ. I agreed with him that one's answer to these problems is very largely dependent upon whether one believes in the complete historicity of the canonical scriptures (our chief historical source) or whether one believes that the canonical scriptures originated over a long period of time and were in parts written in order to justify the beliefs and practices of i the churches in the first and second centuries.

My critic, however, was firmly convinced that there was good historical evidence for the first view. I personally incline towards the second view, but added that I could not argue this matter, (1) because I was not sufficiently expert, and (2) because I believed that he, as a Catholic, would never admit that I was right, no matter how much historical evidence I could quote in my favour.

My opponent at first maintained that I could not possibly quote any good evidence in support of my contention because after all his faith and reason, according to St. Thomas, cannot contradict each other. Against this view I urged that the belief that his faith and reason cannot contradict each other was unfounded.

Finally my opponent admitted that in the last resort he would rather mistrust his reason than his faith. His church has, in fact, always acted upon this principle. Those historians that had good historical reasons for disagreeing with the Popes have been excommunicated. I would mention Dollinger and Loisy; and I know of another noteworthy contemporary example.

Dr. Munz and "historian"

This is what happened. Your contributor found it instead necessary to confuse the issue by misrepresentation and by maintaining that I stopped the argument by asserting that I was a "Protestant at heart." I did assert this; but in an entirely different context. Frankly I do not like these propagandistic ruses. They remind me too much of the maxim that the end justifies the means. No doubt your contributor considered himself well justified, in his misrepresentations, because they were a means, in his eyes, towards supporting Catholicism. Catholicism has more in its favour than such irresponsible journalism. Your contributor may be free from the confusion under which every student of the period must labour; but I fear that his frivolous ease is merely due to thoughtlessness and ignorance. Such ignorance can produce little that is good, and may, at times, lead to the audacity shown by another member of the audience, who informed me proudly, that the services of the Catholic church corresponded in every detail to the order I had outlined for the primitive church. This young man was either a very bad Catholic—for as a Catholic he ought to believe in transubstantiation, and in communion of one kind for the laity, and therefore know that the practice and belief of the Catholic church differ from those of the primitive church; or he was guilty of deliberate misrepresentation for propagandistic purposes.

I would finally like to disagree with your contributor's judgment that the story of a kind man is little for Christendom to base any belief on. It may seem little to him, but if one reflects how rare a miracle, and how infinite an act of divine grace is necessary to produce a really kind man, that story may be worth more than your contributor realises.

I am, sir,

Yours faithfully,

Peter Munz.

P.S.—I was not present at Professor Marsh's lecture, but it is reasonable to infer that a report which proved so very untrustworthy in one respect, is likely to be worthless in another.