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

Dr. Munz and the Early Church

Dr. Munz and the Early Church

Allow me to confess to a little sheer amazement. The amazement occurred when I read the article by "Historian" in your last issue (25/6/51).

Since I did not attend Prof. Marsh's talk, I shall confine my remarks to the part referring to Dr. Munz. I took fairly careful notes of Dr. Munz's talk, incidentally, and they are probably fairly reliable.


"Historian" asked why Dr. Munz accepted the invitation to speak. Let us look for an answer. The S.C.M. is to quote from its constitution, "a fellowship of students who desire to understand the Christian faith and live the Christian life." There seems nothing strange about such a group asking a person highly qualified in regard, at least, to general historical study and method if he would give his opinion upon some topic in history. Dr. Munz accepted, I have no doubt, in the helpful spirit of one who is prepared to offer a point of view and not lay down the law. He offered, to those who had cars to hear, his considered but open opinion on a controversial subject. Dr. Munz stated frankly that he had no specific qualifications for speaking on the early church. He stated quite plainly that the scant original source material and the mass of secondary source literature upon the subject made it a difficult and complex one. He then treated his audience as intelligent and open-minded, and asked them to consider his opinion. He pointed out that there are many more opinions upon this subject.

Wanted: Black and White History

Yet this could not have been what our so-called "Historian" wanted. He wanted, apparently, a neat black and white summary of the truth on this. But it just does not seem that it is given to us human beings to know the truth in quite that way. A more humble and also more accurate attitude surely, is for any one of us to admit that he may not have that allwise, all-knowing mind which "Historian" seems to think that he, or some authority of his, has. In short. Dr. Munz must have been lamentably mistaken in his hope that all his hearers would be intelligent humble adults.

There are also some misrepresentations in the article. Dr. Munz did not deny "the historicity of the Gospels." He simply said (in my view) that in his opinion they were not written in precisely the same period and manner as Father Durning and Mr. McIntyre suggested in discussion. Mr. McIntyre did make the point against Dr. Munz that a Roman Catholic could have some historical support for his views. Although Dr. Munz did not argue at that particular moment, his address, and his discussion with Father Durning, made it explicit that he conceded that Father Darning's (similar) view might be right: Dr. Munz merely thought that most historical scholarship supported his own view.

Dr. Munz did not "deny the Trinity"—he merely said it seemed that the doctrines of the Trinity which have been worked out had not been worked out at the time of the early church.

It is Dr. Munz's reliance upon the enquiring open mind, I think, which makes him, upon occasion, call himself a Protestant. "Historian" seems so blinded by an authoritarianism, that he cannot see that Dr. Munz. in saying "I'm a Protestant at heart," is not taking a stand in a different form of authoritarianism. Dr. Munz's commitments are not of an authoritarian kind. It is clear, then, that the speaker did not dismiss the basis of Protestantism.

Three Basic Differences

There seem to be three basic issues between Dr. Munz and "Historian." One is "Historian's" implicit desire that speakers should represent the facts of history as simple, neat and definitely known. Dr. Munz and others among us can see that this may not be accurate representation. Yet, if "Historian" has not this or some rather similar desire, how could he possibly have written of Dr. Munz that "on his own admission he could not do his subject justice" and make any pretence to sense in that statement? The second issue is that people of the same point of view as "Historian" apparently wish to be able to accept a view conclusively upon another's authority, whereas Dr. Munz asks us to make our own provisional but definite decisions. For the process of coming to these decisions it is, I think, of considerable value to us to have the assistance of lucid and entertaining points of view and considerations of argument. A third difference is that Dr. Munz is prepared to say that he may be mistaken. All these points of difference are, of course, related.

I have sought to show that "Historian" profoundly misunderstood both Dr. Munz's talk and his approach. This, I realise, is only my opinion. It is for your consideration.

Well, perhaps "Historian!' was just putting his chin out. If so, I hope I have hit it. Or, if the Editor wanted to provoke material for Salient, then it looks as though you have it.

E. B. Robinson.