On Writing a History of the Catholic Church | James Hitchcock | Catholic World Report
The Introduction to History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium
The Catholic Church is the longest-enduring institution in
the world, and her historical character is integral to her identity. The
earliest Christians claimed to be witnesses to the life, death, and
Resurrection of Jesus, thereby making Christianity a historical religion,
emanating from a Judaism that was itself a historical religion.
Christianity staked its claim to truth on certain events, notably that at a precise moment in history the Son of God came to earth. The Gospels have a ring of historical authenticity partly because of the numerous concrete details they contain, the care with which they record the times and places of Jesus’ life.
While there is no purely historical argument that could convince skeptics that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, His Resurrection can scarcely be excluded from any historical account. Marc Bloch, the great medievalist who was a secular-minded Jew (he perished in a German prison camp), observed that the real question concerning the history of Christianity is why so many people fervently believed that Jesus rose from the dead, a belief of such power and duration as to be hardly explicable in purely human terms. 
But an awareness of the historical character of the Church carries with it the danger that she will be seen as only a product of history, without a transcendent divine character. While Christians can never be indifferent to the reliability of historical claims, since to discredit the historical basis of the Gospel would be to discredit the entire faith, they must be aware of their limits.
The modern “historical-critical method” has provided valuable help in understanding Scripture—explicating the precise meaning of words, recovering the social and cultural milieu in which Jesus lived, situating particular passages in the context of the entire Bible. But it understands the Bible primarily in terms of the times in which it was written and can affirm no transcendent meaning.
Also, modern scholarship itself is bound by its own times, and the historical-critical method has a history of its own that can also be relativized. Some scholars cultivate a spirit of skepticism about almost everything in Scripture, including its antiquity and the accuracy of its accounts. A major fallacy of this skepticism is the assumption that, while religious believers are fatally biased, skeptics are objective and disinterested. Some practitioners of the historical-critical method take a far more suspicious view of Christian origins than most historians take toward other aspects of ancient history. (Far more is known about Jesus than about many of the Roman emperors.)
Then there are the attempts of some historians to make Jesus a modern man—the claim that He “liberated” women in the feminist sense or that He was the leader of a political movement. Such claims necessarily assume that from the very beginning the leaders of the Church systematically falsified the record, concealing the fact that women were among the Twelve, for example.
The distinction between “the Jesus of history” and “the Christ of faith” was formulated by certain modern theologians as part of the effort to “demythologize” Jesus as the Son of God and Redeemer of the universe, dismissing that belief as a theological construct only loosely connected, if at all, to the actual, historical Jesus.
A fundamental flaw of the historical-critical method is that, while at various times it has called virtually all traditional beliefs into question, it offers no sure replacement, merely many competing theories.
If the babel of scholarly voices is taken at face value, it forces the conclusion that there is no reliable knowledge of Jesus. But Christians can scarcely think that God gave the Bible to man as a revelation of Himself but did so in such a way as to render it endlessly problematical, or that for many centuries its true meaning was obscured and only came to light in modern times.
Thus, while making use of scholarship, Christians must ultimately read Scripture with the eyes of faith. Its central message—salvation through Jesus Christ—is incomprehensible to those who treat it as a merely human document.