Archive for the ‘The Resurrection’ Category

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The Earth’s Most Serious Wound 3 – Fulton J. Sheen

January 13, 2014
Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.

Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.

The third installment of a wonderful chapter from the Life of Christ. Widely proclaimed a classic work of Christian faith, Life of Christ has been hailed as the most eloquent of Fulton J. Sheen’s many books. The fruit of many years of reflection, prayer, and research, it is a dramatic and moving recounting of the birth, life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, and a passionate portrait of the God-Man, the teacher, the healer, and, most of all, the Savior, whose promise has sustained humanity for two millenia.

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Guards And Bribery
After the women had gone to notify the Apostles, the guards, who had been standing about the tomb, and who were witnesses to the Resurrection, came into the city of Jerusalem and told the chief priests all that had been done. The chief priests immediately assembled a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the express purpose of which was to bribe the guards.

These offered a rich bribe to the soldiers;
Let this, they said, be your tale,
His disciples came by night and stole Him away,
While we were asleep.
If this should come to the ears of the governor,
We will satisfy him,
And see that no harm comes to you.
The soldiers took the bribe,
And did as they were instructed; and this
Is the tale which has gone
Abroad among the Jews, to this day.
Matthew 28:12-15

The “rich bribe” contrasted rather strongly with the meager thirty pieces of silver which Judas received. The Sanhedrin did not deny the Resurrection; in fact, they bore their own unbiased testimony to its truth. And that same testimony they carried to the Gentiles through Pilate. They even gave the money of the temple to the Roman soldiers whom they despised; for they had found a greater hate. The money Judas had returned they would not touch because it was “blood money.” But now they would buy a lie to escape the purifying Blood of the Lamb.

The bribery of the guard was really a stupid way to escape the fact of the Resurrection. First of all, there was the problem what would be done with His Body after the disciples had possession of it. All that the enemies of Our Lord would have have to do to disprove the Resurrection would be to produce the Body.

Quite apart from the fact that it was very unlikely that whole guard of Roman soldiers slept while they were on duty, it was absurd for them to say that what had happened, happens when they were asleep. The soldiers were advised to say they we asleep; and yet they were so awake as to have seen thieves and know that they were disciples. If all of the soldiers were asleep, they could never have discovered the thieves; if a few of them were awake, they should have prevented the theft.

It is equally improbable that a few timid disciples should attempt to steal their Master’s Body from a grave closed by stone, officially sealed, and guarded by soldiers without awakening the sleeping guards. The orderly arrangement of the burial cloths afforded further proof that the Body was not removed by His disciples.

The secret removal of the Body would have been to no purpose so far as the disciples were concerned, nor had any of them even thought of it; for the moment, the life of their Master was a failure and a defeat. The crime was certainly greater in the bribers than in the bribed; for, the council was educated and religious; the soldiers were untutored and simple. The Resurrection of Christ was officially proclaimed to the civil authorities; the Sanhedrin believed in the Resurrection before the Apostles. It had bought the kiss of Judas; now it hoped it could buy the silence of the guards.

Broken Hearts And Broken Bread
On that same Easter Sunday, Our Blessed Lord made another appearance to two of His disciples who were on their way to a village named Emmaus, which was a short distance from Jerusalem. It was not so long ago that their hopes had been burning brightly, but the darkness of Good Friday and the burial in the tomb caused them to lose their gladness. No subject was more in men’s minds that particular day than the Person of Christ.

As they were discoursing with sad and anxious hearts on the awful incidents of the last two days, a Stranger drew near to them. Their eyes, however, were held fast so that they did not recognize that it was the Risen Savior; they thought Him to be an ordinary traveler. As the story unfolded, it became clear that what blinded their eyes was their unbelief, had they been expecting to see Him, they might have recognized Him.

Because they were interested in Him, He vouchsafed His Presence; because they doubted His Resurrection, He concealed the joy and knowledge of His Presence. Now that His Body was glorified, what men saw of Him depended on His willingness to reveal Himself and also on the disposition of their own hearts. Though they did not know Our Lord, they nevertheless were ready to enter into, discussion with the Stranger concerning Him. After listening to their long discussion, the Stranger asked:

What talk is this you exchange between you
As you go along, sad faced?
Luke 24:17

Obviously, the reason these disciples were sad was because of their bereavement. They had been with Jesus; they had seen Him arrested, insulted, crucified, dead, and buried. Sorrow afflicts woman’s heart when she loses the beloved; but men generally become perplexed in mind rather than heart at a similar loss; theirs was the sorrow of a shattered career.

The Savior with His infinite wisdom did not begin by saying “I know why you are sad.” His technique was rather to draw them out; a sorrowful heart is best consoled when it relieves itself. Their sorrow would have a tongue and speak, He would have ear and reveal. If they would but show their wounds, He would pour in the oil of His healing.

One of the two, whose name was Cleophas, was the first to speak. He expressed amazement at the ignorance of the Stranger Who was apparently so unfamiliar with the events of the last few days.

What, art thou the only pilgrim in Jerusalem
Who has not heard of what has happened
There in the last few days?
Luke 24:18

The risen Lord asked:

What happenings?
Luke 24:19

He called their attention to facts. They apparently had not gone deeply enough into the facts for proper conclusions. The cure for their sorrow was in the very things that disturbed them, to see them in their right relations. As with the woman at the well, He asked a question, not to get information, but to deepen knowledge of Himself. Then not Cleophas alone but also his companion told Him what had happened. They spoke:

About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet
Whose words and acts had power with God,
And with all the people; how the chief priests,
And our rulers, handed Him over
To be sentenced to death, and
so crucified Him.
For ourselves, we had hoped that it
Was He who
was to deliver Israel; but now,
To crown it all, to-day is the third Day since it befell.
Some women, indeed, who belonged to our company,
Alarmed
us; they had been at the tomb early in the morning
And could not find His Body; whereupon
They came back and told us that they had seen
A
vision of angels, who said that He was alive.
Some of those who were with us went to the tomb,
And found that all was
as the women had said,
But of Him they saw nothing.
Luke 24:19-24

These men had hoped great things, but God, they said, had disappointed them. Man draws a blueprint and hopes that God in some way will rubber-stamp it; disappointment is often due to the triviality of human hopes. Original drawings now had to be torn up — not because they were too great, but because in the eyes of God they were too little. The hand that broke the cup of their petty desires offered a richer chalice. They thought that they had found the Redeemer before He was crucified, but actually they had discovered a Redeemer crucified.

They had hoped for a Savior of Israel, but were not expecting a Savior of the Gentiles as well. They must have heard Him say on many occasions that He would be crucified and rise again, but they could not fit catastrophe into their idea of a Master. They could believe in Him as a Teacher, as a political Messias, as an ethical reformer, as a savior of the country, a deliverer from the Romans, but they could not believe in the foolishness of the Cross; nor did they have the faith of the thief hanging on the cross.

Hence they refused to regard the evidence of which the women had told them. They were not sure even that the women had seen angels. Possibly it was only an apparition. Furthermore, it was the third day which had come and gone, and He had not been seen. But all the while they were walking and talking with Him.

There seemed to be a double purpose in the appearance of Our Savior after His Resurrection, one to show that He Who died had risen, the other, that though He had the same Body, it was now glorified and not subject to physical restrictions. Later on, He would eat with His disciples to prove the first; now, as with the Magdalen whom He forbade to touch Him, He stressed His risen state.

With these disciples as with all of the Apostles, there was no predisposition to accept the Resurrection. The evidence for it had to make its way against doubt and the most obstinate refusals of human nature. They were among the last people in the world to credit such a tale. One might almost say that they were resolved to be miserable, refusing to enquire into the possibility of the truth of the story. Resisting both the evidence of the women and the confirmation of those who had gone to verify their story, the final word was that they had not seen the risen Lord.

Then the risen Savior said to them:

Too slow of wit, too dull of heart,
To believe all those sayings of the prophets!
Was it not to be expected that the Christ
Should undergo these sufferings,
And enter so into his glory?
Luke 24:25, 26

They are accused of being foolish and slow of heart, because if they had ever sat down and examined what the prophets had said about the Messias — that He would be led like a lamb to slaughter — they would have been confirmed in their belief. Credulity toward men and incredulity toward God is the mark of dull hearts; readiness to believe speculatively and slowness to believe practically is the sign of sluggish hearts.

Then came the key words of the journey. Previously, Our Blessed Lord had said that He was the Good Shepherd, that He came to lay down His life for the Redemption of many; now in His glory, He proclaimed a moral law that in consequence of His sufferings men would be raised from a state of sin to fellowship with God.

The Cross was the condition of glory. The Risen Savior spoke of a moral necessity grounded on the truth that everything that happened to Him had been foretold. What seemed to them an offense, a scandal, a defeat, a succumbing to the inevitable was actually a dark moment foreseen, planned, and preannounced. Though the Cross seemed to them incompatible with His glory, to Him it was the appointed path thereto. And if they had known what the Scriptures had said of the Messias, they would have believed in the Cross.

Then going back to Moses and the whole line of prophets,
He began to interpret the words
Used of Himself by all the Scriptures.
Luke 24:27

He showed to them all the types and all the rituals and all the ceremonials that were fulfilled in Him. Quoting from Isaias He showed the manner of His death and Crucifixion and His Last Words from the Cross; from Daniel, how He was to to become the mountain that filled the earth; from Genesis, how the seed of a woman would crush the serpent of evil in human hearts; from Moses, how He would be the brazen serpent that would be lifted up to heal men of evil, and how His side would be the smitten rock from which would come the water of regeneration; from Isaias, how He would be Emmanuel, “God with us”; from Micheas, how He would be born in Bethlehem; and from many other writings He gave them the key the mystery of God’s life among men and the purpose of His coming.

At last they arrived at Emmaus. He made it appear as if I were about to continue His journey along the same road, just once before when a storm was sweeping the lake, He made appear as though He would pass by the boat of the Apostles. The two disciples begged Him, however, to stay with the Those who have good thoughts of God in the day will not readily surrender them at nightfall. They had learned much, but they knew that they had not learned all. They still did not recognize Him, but there was a light about Him which promised to lead to a fuller revelation and dissipate their gloom. Their invitation to be a guest He accepted, but immediately He acted as the Host for:

When He sat down at table with them,
He took bread, and blessed, and broke it,
And offered it to them; whereupon their eyes
Were opened, and they recognized Him;
And with that, He disappeared from their sight.
Luke 24:30, 31

This taking of the bread and breaking it and giving it to them was not an ordinary act of courtesy, for it resembled too closely the Last Supper at which He bade His Apostles to repeat the Memorial of His death as He broke the bread which was His Body and gave it to them.

Immediately on the reception of the Sacramental Bread that was broken, the eyes of their souls were opened. As the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened to see their shame after they had eaten the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, so now the eyes of the disciples were opened to discern the Body of Christ.

The scene parallels the Last Supper: in both there was a giving of thanks; in both, a looking up to heaven; in both, the breaking of the bread; and in both, the giving of the bread to the disciples. With the conferring of the bread came a knowledge which gave greater clarity than all the instructions. The breaking of the bread had introduced them into an experience of the glorified Christ. Then He disappeared from their sight. Turning to one another, they reflected:

Were not our hearts burning within us
When He spoke to us on the road,
And when He made the Scriptures plain to us?
Luke 24:32

His influence upon them was both affective and intellectual: affective, in the sense that it made their hearts burn with love; and intellectual, inasmuch as it gave them an understanding of the hundreds of preannouncements of His coming. Mankind is naturally disposed to believe that anything religious must be striking and powerful enough to overwhelm the imagination.

Yet this incident on the road to Emmaus revealed that the most powerful truths often appear in the commonplace and trivial incidents of life, such as meeting a fellow traveler on a road. Christ veiled His Presence in the most ordinary roadway of life. Knowledge of Him came as they walked with Him; and the knowledge was that of glory that came through defeat. In His Glorified Life as in His public life, the Cross and glory went together. It was not just His teachings that were recalled; it was His sufferings and how expedient they were for His exaltation.

The disciples immediately returned and went back to Jerusalem. As the woman at the well in her excitement left her water pitcher at the well, so these disciples forgot the purpose of their journey to Emmaus and went back to the Holy City. There they found the eleven Apostles gathered together, and with them other followers and disciples. They recounted all that had happened on the way and how they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.

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The Earth’s Most Serious Wound 2 – Fulton J. Sheen

January 10, 2014
“Mary.” John 20:15 That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She had once heard Jesus say that He called His sheep by name. And now to that One, Who individualized all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world and marked each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turned, seeing the red livid marks on His hands and feet, she uttered but one word: Rabboni!

“Mary.” John 20:15 That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She had once heard Jesus say that He called His sheep by name. And now to that One, Who individualized all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world and marked each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turned, seeing the red livid marks on His hands and feet, she uttered but one word: Rabboni!

The second installment of a wonderful chapter from The Life of Christ.

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The Lord now began the first of His eleven recorded appearances between His Resurrection and Ascension: sometimes to His Apostles, at other times to five hundred brethren at once, at some other times to the women. The first appearance was to Mary Magdalen, who returned to the sepulcher after James and John had left it. The idea of the Resurrection did not seem to enter her mind either though she herself had risen from a tomb sealed by the seven devils of sin.

Finding the tomb empty, she broke again into a fountain of tears. With her eyes cast down as the brightness of the early sunrise swept over the dew-covered grass, she vaguely perceived someone near her who asked:

Woman, why art thou weeping?
John 20:13

She was weeping for what was lost, but His question took away the curse of tears by bidding her to stop her tears. She said:

Because they have carried away my Lord;
And I cannot tell where they have taken Him.

John 20:14

There was no terror at seeing the angels, for the world on fire could not have moved her, so much had grief mastered her soul. When she had said this, she turned and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was He. She thought He was the gardener — the gardener of Joseph of Arimathea. Believing this man know where the Lost One could be found, Mary Magdalen went down on her knees and asked:

If it is thou, Sir, that hast carried Him off,
Tell me where thou hast put Him,
And I will take Him away.
John 20:15

Poor Magdalen! Worn from Good Friday, wearied by Holy Saturday, with life dwindled to a shadow and strength weakened to a thread, she would “take Him away.” Three times did she speak of “Him” without defining His name. The force of love was such as to suppose no one else could possibly be meant.

Jesus said to her:

Mary.
John 20:15

That voice was more startling than a clap of thunder. She had once heard Jesus say that He called His sheep by name. And now to that One, Who individualized all the sin, sorrow, and tears in the world and marked each soul with a personal, particular, and discriminating love, she turned, seeing the red livid marks on His hands and feet, she uttered but one word:

Rabboni!
John 20:16

(which is the Hebrew for “master”). Christ had uttered “Mary” and all heaven was in it. It was only one word she uttered, and all earth was in it.

After the mental midnight, there was this dazzle; after hours of hopelessness, this hope; after the search, this discovery; after the loss, this find. Magdalen was prepared only to shed reverential tears over the grave; what she was not prepared for was to see Him walking on the wings of the morning.

Only purity and sinlessness could welcome the all holy Son of God into the world; hence, Mary Immaculate met Him at the door of earth in the city of Bethlehem. But only a repentant sinner, who had herself risen from the grave of sin to the newness of life in God, could fittingly understand the triumph over sin. To the honor of womanhood it must forever be said: A woman was closest to the Cross on Good Friday, and first at the tomb on Easter Morn.

Mary was always at His feet. She was there as she anointed Him for burial; she was there as she stood at the Cross; now in joy at seeing the Master, she threw herself at His feet to embrace them. But He said to her with a restraining gesture:

Do not cling to Me thus;
I have not yet gone up to My Father’s side.
John 20:17

Her tender tokens of affection were directed to Him more as the Son of Man than as the Son of God. Hence He bade her not to touch Him. St. Paul would have to give the Corinthians and Colossians the same lesson:

Even if we used to think of Christ in a human fashion,
We do so no longer.

2 Corinthians 5:16

You must be heavenly-minded, not earthly-minded;
You have undergone death, and
Your life is hidden away now with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:2

Her tears, He suggested, were to be dried not because she had seen Him again, but because He was the Lord of heaven. When He had ascended to the right hand of the Father, which signified the Father’s power; when He would send the Spirit of Truth, Who would be their new Comforter and His inner Presence, then indeed would she truly have Him for Whom she yearned — the risen glorified Christ.

It was His first hint, after His Resurrection, at the new relationship He would have with men, of which He spoke so fluently the night of the Last Supper. He would have to give the same lesson to His disciples who were too preoccupied with His human form, by telling them that it was expedient for Him to leave. Magdalen wished to be with Him as she was before the Crucifixion, forgetting that the Crucifixion was endured for glory and for the sending of His Spirit.

Though the Magdalen was humbled by this prohibition of Our Savior, she nevertheless was destined to feel the exaltation of bearing tidings of His Resurrection. The men had grasped the significance of the empty tomb, but not its relation to Redemption and victory over sin and evil. She was to break the precious alabaster box of His Resurrection so that its perfume might fill the world. He said to her:

Return to My brethren and tell them this;
I am going up to Him Who is My Father and your Father
Who is My God and your God.
John 20:17

This was the first time He ever called His Apostles “My Brethren.” Before man could be an adopted son of God, he had to be redeemed from enmity with God.

Believe Me when I tell you this;
A grain of wheat must fall into the ground
And die, or else it remains nothing more
Than a grain of wheat;
But if it dies, then it yields rich fruit.

John 12:24

He took the Crucifixion to multiply His Sonship into other sons of God. But there would be a vast difference between Himself as the natural Son and human beings, who through His Spirit would become the adopted sons. Hence, as always, He made a rigid distinction between “My Father” and “Your Father.” Never once in His life did He say “Our Father” as if the relationship were the same between Himself and men; His relation to the Father was unique and incommunicable; Sonship was by nature His; only by grace and adoption were men sons of God:

The Son Who sanctifies and the sons who are sanctified
Have a common origin, all of them;
He is not ashamed then, to own
Them as His brethren.
Hebrews 2:11

Nor did He tell Mary to inform the Apostles that He was risen but rather that He would ascend. The Resurrection was implied in the Ascension, which was as yet forty days off. His purpose was not just to stress that He Who had died was now alive but that this was the beginning of a spiritual Kingdom which would become visible and unified when He sent His Spirit.

Obediently, Mary Magdalen hastened to the disciples who were “mourning and weeping.” She told them she had seen the Lord and the words He had spoken to her. What reception did her tidings receive? Once again, skepticism, doubt, and unbelief. The Apostles had heard Him speak in figure, symbol, parable and straightforward speech of the Resurrection which would follow His death, but:

When they were told that He was alive
And that she had seen Him,
Could not believe it.
Mark 16:11

Eve believed the serpent; but the disciples did not believe the Son of God. As for Mary Magdalen and any other woman who might tell of His Resurrection:

To their minds the story seemed madness,
And they could not believe it.
Luke 24:11

It was a forecast of the way the world would receive the news of Redemption. Mary Magdalen and the other women did not at first believe in the Resurrection; they had to be convinced. Neither did the Apostles believe. Their answer was “You know women! Always imagining things.”

Long before the advent of scientific psychology, people were afraid of their minds playing tricks on them. Modern incredulity in the face of the extraordinary is nothing compared to the skepticism which immediately greeted the first news of the Resurrection. What modern skeptics say about the Resurrection story, the disciples themselves were the first to say, namely, it was an idle tale.

As the original agnostics of Christianity, with one assent the Apostles dismissed the whole story as a delusion. Something very extraordinary must happen, and some very concrete evidence must be presented to all of these doubters, before they overcome their reluctance to believe.

Their skepticism was even more difficult than modern skepticism to overcome, because theirs started from a hope that was seemingly disappointed on Calvary; this was far more difficult to heal than a modern skepticism, which is without hope. Nothing could be further from the truth than to say that the followers of Our Blessed Lord were expecting the Resurrection and, therefore, were ready to believe it or to console themselves for a loss that seemed irreparable.

No agnostic has written about the Resurrection anything that Peter and the other Apostles had not already had in their own minds. When Mohammed died, Omar rushed from his tent, sword in hand, and declared that he would kill anyone who said that the Prophet had died. In the case of Christ, there was a readiness to believe that He had died, but a reluctance to believe that He was living. But perhaps they were permitted to doubt, so that the faithful in centuries to come might never be in doubt.

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The Earth’s Most Serious Wound – Fulton J. Sheen

January 9, 2014
Out of all the disciples and followers there were only five "watching": three women and two men, like the five in the parable who awaited the coming of the Bridegroom. All of them were without suspicion of the Resurrection.

Out of all the disciples and followers there were only five “watching”: three women and two men, like the five in the parable who awaited the coming of the Bridegroom. All of them were without suspicion of the Resurrection.

 

A wonderful chapter from the Life of Christ

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In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising: that was the tomb of Christ on the evening of the Friday called Good. What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse? But sentinels were set, lest the Dead walk, the Silent speak, and the Pierced Heart quicken to the throb of life.

They said He was dead; they knew He was dead; they would say He would not rise again; and yet they watched! They openly called Him a deceiver. But, would He still deceive? Would He, Who “deceived” them into believing they won the battle, Himself win the war for life and truth and love?

They remembered that He called His Body the Temple and that in three days after they destroyed It, He would rebuild It; they recalled, too, that He compared Himself to Jonas and said that as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days, so would He be in the belly of the earth for three days and then would rise again. After three days. Abraham received back his son Isaac, who was offered in sacrifice; for three days Egypt was in a darkness that was not of nature; on the third day God came down on Mount Sinai.

Now, once again, there was worry about the third day. Early Saturday morning, therefore, the chief priests and the Pharisees broke the Sabbath and presented themselves to Pilate, saying:

Sir, we have recalled it to memory that
This deceiver, while He yet lived, said,
I am to rise again after three days.
Give orders, then, that His tomb shall
Be securely guarded until the third day;
Or, perhaps, His disciples will come
And steal Him away.
If they should then say to the people,
He has risen from the dead, this last
Deceit will be more dangerous than the old.
Matthew 27:63, 64

Their request for a guard until the “third day” had more reference to Christ’s words about His Resurrection than it did to the fear of the Apostles stealing a corpse and propping it up like a living thing in simulation of a Resurrection. But Pilate was in no mood to see this group, for they were the reason why he had condemned Innocent Blood. He had made his own official investigation that Christ was dead; he would not submit to the absurdity of using Caesar’s armies to guard a dead Jew. Pilate said to them:

You have guards; away with you,
Make it secure as you best know how.
Matthew 27:65

The watch was to prevent violence; the seal was to prevent fraud. There must be a seal, and the enemies would seal it. There must be a watch, and the enemies must keep it. The certificates of the death and Resurrection must be signed by the enemies themselves. The Gentiles were satisfied through nature that Christ was dead; the Jews were satisfied through the Law that He was dead.

And they went and made the tomb secure,
Putting a seal on the stone
And setting a guard over it.

Matthew 27:66

The King lay in state with His guard about Him. The most astounding fact about this spectacle of vigilance over the dead was that the enemies of Christ expected the Resurrection, but His friends did not. It was the believers who were the skeptics; it was the unbelievers who were credulous.

His followers needed and demanded proofs before they would be convinced. In the three great scenes of the Resurrection drama, there was a note of sadness and unbelief. The first scene was that of a weeping Magdalen who came to the grave early in the morning with spices, not to greet the Risen Savior, but to anoint His dead Body.

Magdalen At The Grave
In the dim dawn of Sunday morning several women were seen approaching the tomb. The very fact that the women brought spices proved that they did not expect a Resurrection. It seemed strange that such should have been the case after the many references by Our Lord to His death and His Resurrection.

But evidently the disciples as well as the women, whenever He predicted His Passion, seemed to remember more His death than His Resurrection. It never occurred to them as a possible thing; it was foreign to their thoughts. When the stone was rolled to the door of the sepulcher, not only was Christ buried but also all of their hopes. The only thought the women had was to anoint the body of the dead Christ — an act that was born of despairing and as yet unbelieving love. Two of them, at least, had witnessed the burial; hence their great concern was the practical act:

Who is to roll the stone away for us
From the door of the tomb?
Mark 16:3

It was the cry of hearts of little faith. Strong men had closed the entrance to the tomb by placing this huge stone against it; their worry was how to remove the barrier in order that they might carry out their errand of mercy. The men would not come to the tomb until they were summoned — so little did they believe.

But the women came, only because in their grief they sought consolation in embalming the dead. Nothing is more anti-historical than to say that the pious women were expecting Christ to rise from the dead. The Resurrection was something they never expected. Their minds were not made up of the kind of material on which such expectations could grow.

But as they approached, they found the stone rolled back. Before their arrival, there had been a great earthquake, and an angel of the Lord, who descended from heaven, rolled back the stone and sat upon it:

His face shone like lightning,
And his garments were white as snow;
So that the guards trembled for fear of him
And were like dead men.
Matthew 28:4

When the women came near they saw that the stone, great as it was, had been rolled away already. But they did not immediately jump to the conclusion that His Body had risen. Their conclusion could be that someone had removed the body. Instead of the dead Body of their Master, they saw an angel, whose countenance was as lightning and his raiment as snow and who said to them:

No need to be dismayed;
You have come to look for Jesus of Nazareth,
Who was crucified; He has risen again;
He is not here.
Here is the place where they laid Him
Go and tell Peter and the rest of His disciples
That He is going before you into Galilee.
There you shall have sight of Him
As He promised you.
Mark 16:6-8

To an angel, the Resurrection would not be a mystery, but His death would be. For man, His death was not a mystery, but His Resurrection would be. What had been natural to the angel, therefore, was now made the subject of the announcement. The angel was one keeper more than the enemies had placed about the Savior’s grave, one soldier more than Pilate had appointed.

The angel’s words were the first Gospel preached after the Resurrection, and it is the one that went back to His Passion, for the angel spoke of Him, as “Jesus of Nazareth Who was crucified:” These words conveyed the name of His humanity, the humility of His dwelling place, and the ignominy of His death; in all three, lowliness, ignominy, and shame are brought in comparison with His rising from the dead. Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem are all made the identifying marks of His Resurrection.

The angel’s words: “Here is the place where they laid Him,” confirmed the reality of His death and the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. Tombstones bear the inscription: Hic jacet or “Here lies.” Then follows the name of the dead and perhaps some praise of the one departed. But here in contrast, the angel did not write, but expressed a different epitaph: “He is not here.”

The angel called on the women to behold the place where their Lord’s Body had been laid, as though the vacant tomb was’ evidence enough of the fact of the Resurrection. They were directed to hasten immediately and give intelligence of the Resurrection. It was to a virgin woman that the birth of the Son of God was announced. It was to a fallen woman that His Resurrection was announced.

Those who saw the empty grave were bidden to go to Peter who had tempted Our Blessed Lord once from the Cross and had three times denied Him. Sin and denial could not choke Divine love. Paradoxical though it was, the greater the sin, the less the belief, and yet the greater the repentance from sin, the greater the belief.

It was to the lost sheep panting in the wilderness that He came; it was the publicans and the harlots, the denying Peters and the persecuting Pauls to whom the most persuasive entreaties of love were sent. To the man who was named a Rock and who would have tempted Christ from a Cross, the angel now sent through the women the message, “Go tell Peter.”

The same individualizing prominence given to Peter in the public life was continued in the Resurrection. But though Peter was mentioned here with the Apostles of whom he was the head, the Lord appeared to Peter alone before He revealed Himself to the disciples at Emmaus. This was evident from the fact that later on the disciples would say that He appeared to Peter. The glad news of Redemption was thus given to a woman who had fallen and to an Apostle who had denied; but both of whom had repented.

Mary Magdalen, who had in the darkness moved ahead of her companions, noticed that the stone had already been rolled to one side, while the entrance stood wide open. A quick glance revealed that the grave was empty. Her first thought was of the Apostles, Peter and John, to whom she ran in excitement. According to Mosaic Law a woman was ineligible to bear witness.

But Mary did not bring them tidings of the Resurrection; she was not expecting it. She assumed that He was still under the power of death, as she told Peter and John:

They have carried the Lord away from the tomb
And we cannot tell where they have laid Him.

John 20:2

Out of all the disciples and followers there were only five “watching”: three women and two men, like the five in the parable who awaited the coming of the Bridegroom. All of them were without suspicion of the Resurrection.

In their excitement both Peter and John ran to the sepulcher, thus leaving Mary far behind. John was the better runner of the two, and arrived there first. When Peter arrived, they both went into the sepulcher, where they saw linen cloths lying about, as well as the veil they had put on the head of Jesus; but this was not with the linen cloths; but was wrapped up by itself.

What had taken place was done decently and in order, not by a thief nor even a friend. The Body was gone from the tomb; the original bindings around His Body were found in their convolutions. If the disciples had stolen the Body, they would not in their haste have unwrapped it and left the linen cloths. Christ had risen out of them by His Divine power. Peter and John

Had not yet mastered what was written of Him,
That He was to rise from the dead.
John 20:9

They had the facts and the evidence of the Resurrection; but they did not yet understand its full meaning.

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The “Intermediate State” Between Death and Resurrection – Benedict XVI

April 18, 2013
The disciple who is to become the type of all faithful discipleship rests on the bosom of Jesus. The Christian, in his faith and love, finds shelter on the breast of Jesus and so, in the end, on the breast of the Father. "I am the resurrection": what these words mean emerges here from a new angle.

The disciple who is to become the type of all faithful discipleship rests on the bosom of Jesus. The Christian, in his faith and love, finds shelter on the breast of Jesus and so, in the end, on the breast of the Father. “I am the resurrection”: what these words mean emerges here from a new angle.

Taken from his 1988 classic, Eschatology, which remains a leading text on the “last things” — heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul.

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If the “Last Day” is not to be identified with the moment of individual death but is accepted as what it really is, the shared ending of all history, then the question naturally arises as to what happens “in-between.” In Catholic theology, as that received its systematic form in the high Middle Ages, this question received its answer in terms of the immortality of the soul.

To Luther, such a solution was unacceptable. For him it was a result of the infiltration of faith by philosophy. Yet his own enquiry into the matter produced an ambiguous report. In great majority, the relevant texts of Luther take up the biblical term for death, “sleep,” seeing in it a description of the content of the intermediate state. The soul sleeps in the peace of Christ. It is awakened, along with the body, on the last day.

Elsewhere one finds Luther in a different state of mind, for instance in his comments on the story of Lazarus. There he remarks that the distinction between body and soul whereby hitherto people had tried to explain Lazarus’ life “in the bosom of Abraham” was ein Dreck, “a load of rubbish.” As he explains: “We must say, totus Abraham, the whole man, is to live….”

The impression one takes away from this is that Luther’s concern was not so much with the denial of the life of the dead, but with an attack on the body-soul distinction. Luther does not succeed in replacing that distinction by any clear or even recognizable new conception. In our survey of the status quaestionis, we discovered that recent theology rules out an “intermediate state.” By doing so, it gives systematic expression to a point of view first developed by Luther.

1.  Early Judaism
What does the Bible have to say? In the light of our investigation into the ideas of the New Testament about the resurrection we can already make one fairly general statement. To posit an interruption of life between death and the end of the world would not be in accord with Scripture. In fact, the texts permit a much more precise set of assertions than this, as the exemplary work of P. Hoffmann in particular has shown in careful detail.

The first point to notice is that both the primitive community and St. Paul belonged with the Jewish tradition of their time, just as had Jesus himself. Naturally, they situated themselves vis-a-vis the internal debate within that tradition by reference to the fundamental criterion found in Jesus’ own image of God. This produced in time a gradual transformation of the preexisting tradition, by way of its thorough-going assimilation to the demands of Christology. Our first task, therefore, is to get acquainted with the data of intertestamental Judaism — a complicated affair for which I must rely on Hoffmann’s study.

Let us look at some characteristic documents. The book of Enoch in its Ethiopian recension, datable to c. 150 B.C., offers in its twenty-second chapter an account of the abode of the spirits or souls of the departed. Here the ancient idea of Sheol, earlier taken as the realm of shadow-life, receives more articulated and differentiated description. Its “space” is characterized in greater detail. The world in which the dead are kept until the final judgment is no longer located simply in the earth’s interior, but, more specifically, in the West, the land of the setting sun, in a mountain where it occupies four different regions (pictured as caves). The just and the unjust are now separated.

The unjust await the judgment in darkness whereas the just, among whom the martyrs occupy a special position, dwell in light, being assembled around a life-giving spring of water. We already get a glimpse of how such “early Jewish” notions lived on in unbroken fashion in the early Church. The memento of the departed in the Roman Canon (now the “First Eucharistic Prayer”) prays that God may grant to those who have died marked with the sign of faith and now “sleep the sleep of peace” a place of light, “fresh water” (refrigerium) and repose.

The prayer thus identifies the three conditions which inhabitants of the Mediterranean world consider the proper expression of all good living. Patently, the idea coincides in all respects with the destiny of the just as described in Enoch.

A further stage of development can be observed in the Fourth Book of Ezra, written somewhere around the year 100 A.D. Here too the dead dwell in various “chambers,” their “souls” the bearers of a continuing life. As in Enoch, the just have already entered upon their reward. But whereas the author of Enoch defers the start of the punishment of sinners until the final judgment, in Ezra the pains of the Godless begin in the intermediate state, with the result that at a number of points their position seems to be that of a definitive Hell.

In Rabbinic Judaism, the dividing line between two kinds of human destiny is even more consistently observed. From the moment of judgment, which follows immediately upon death, two paths open up. One leads into the paradise garden of Eden, conceived either as lying in the East or as preserved in heaven. The other goes to the alley of Gehenna, the place of damnation.

But, besides the idea of paradise, the destiny of the just is represented by other images and motifs as well. Thus we hear of the “treasury of souls,” of waiting “beneath the throne of God,” and of the just — and especially martyrs — being received into Abraham’s bosom. Here again the continuity between Jewish and early Christian conceptions is striking. The idea of paradise, the image of the bosom of Abraham;’ the thought of the tarrying of souls beneath the throne of God: all these are present in the New Testament tradition.

But before we turn to the New Testament itself, something should be said about the writings bequeathed to us from Qumran. So long as the community represented under this name, the Essenes, were known only from Josephus, scholars were obliged to regard them as belonging to the Hellenizing strand within early Judaism, at any rate where our question in this present section was concerned. Josephus had summed up their views in the following words:

For their doctrine is this: that bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue forever, and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticements but that when they are set free from the bands of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward.

But with the discovery of the original Qumran manuscripts, our image of the Covenanters has necessarily undergone revision. As K. Schubert, in his study of the Dead Sea community, commented on the text just cited:

In all probability, this description is nothing more than a concession by Josephus to his Greek readership…. The Essenes were not a Hellenistic-syncretistic group, but a Jewish apocalyptic movement.

However, we are dealing here with ideas of the afterlife conceived in markedly material terms, so much so that this same writer can say that the Essenes of Qumran “believed in a continuation of bodiliness, even though they accepted the passing-away of their bodies in the first instance. To this extent, Josephus’ description is perhaps not too far removed from the truth. He too ascribes to the sect a materialist understanding of the soul of the kind common in Stoic philosophy.

This shows how complex in this period the reciprocal interpenetration of the Hellenistic and Jewish worlds could be. The much favored dichotomy between “Greek” and “Hebrew” simply does not stand up to historical examination. The discussion of the Qumran texts also indicates that the mere maintaining of strictly material notions about the life to come does not in itself guarantee fidelity to the spiritual inheritance of the Old Testament. The heart of that option which entered history in Abraham’s faith cannot be grasped without finer differentiation than this. In this perspective, a number of contemporary contributions seem to belong to a continuing “Essene” tradition, in that the issue of materiality has overshadowed every other consideration.

2.  The New Testament
It should be clear by now that the New Testament belongs to that Jewish world whose fundamental contours have been sketched in the preceding section. As a general methodological assumption, it is legitimate to suppose that Jesus and the earliest Church shared Israel’s faith in its (then) contemporary form. The acceptance of Jesus’ awareness of his own mission simply gave to this faith a new center, a nucleus by whose power the individual elements of the tradition were step by step transformed: first and foremost, the concept of God, but then following it, and in a graduated order of urgency, all the rest.

The Synoptic tradition preserved two sayings of Jesus the topic of the “intermediate state.” These are Luke 16:19-31 and Luke 23, 43, and they were briefly touched above. So far as the first, the story of Lazarus, is concerned, we may admit that the parable’s doctrinal content lies its moral, a warning against the dangers of wealth, rather than in the descriptions of Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and Dives in Hell.

And yet, manifestly, the teller of the parable does regard these evocations of the afterlife as appropriate images of the real future of man. In this, the text clearly testifies to the fact that the earliest Christianity shared in the faith of contemporary Judaism about the beyond. So much we can say without even entering into the (quite independent) question of whether in the parable we are overhearing the ipsissima vox of Jesus himself.

Something along the same lines must be said about the second text, the dialogue of the Crucified with the good thief. Here too the Jewish background is palpable. Paradise is the place where the Messiah, concealed, awaits his hour, and whither he will return. But it is in this selfsame text that we begin to see the Christian transformation of the inherited Jewish tradition at work. That destiny reserved by Jewish tradition to the martyrs and the privileged “righteous ones” is now promised by the Condemned Man on the Cross to a fellow condemnee.

He possesses the authority to open wide the doors of paradise to the lost. His word is the key which unlocks them. And so the phrase “with me” takes on a transformative significance. It means that paradise is no longer seen as a place standing in permanent readiness for occupation and which happens to contain the Messiah along with a lot of other people. Instead, paradise opens in Jesus. It depends on his person. Joachim Jeremias was right, therefore, to find a connection between the prayer of the good thief and the petition of the dying Stephen: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

With impressive unanimity, the New Testament presents the communion with Christ after death as the specifically Christian view of the inter-mediate state.

Here is the dawning realization that Jesus himself is paradise, light, fresh water, the secure peace toward which human longing and hope are directed. Perhaps we may remind ourselves in this connection of the new use of the image of “bosom” which we find in John’s Gospel. Jesus does not come from the bosom of Abraham, but from that of the Father himself.” The disciple who is to become the type of all faithful discipleship rests on the bosom of Jesus. The Christian, in his faith and love, finds shelter on the breast of Jesus and so, in the end, on the breast of the Father. “I am the resurrection”: what these words mean emerges here from a new angle.

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The New Testament’s Teaching On Resurrection And Immortality – Benedict XVI

April 17, 2013
Faith in the resurrection is a central expression of the Christological confession of God. It follows, indeed, from the concept of God. Its emphasis is placed not on a particular anthropology, whether anti-Platonic or Platonic, but on a theology. This is why we may reasonably expect it to have the capacity to make a variety of anthropologies its own and find appropriate expression by means of them. Picture is the Basilica of San Francesco. The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor -- commonly known as the Franciscan Order -- in Assisi, Italy, the city where St. Francis was born and died. A view of its Bacci Chapel, with fresco cycle Legend of the True Cross by our favorite Piero della Francesca

Faith in the resurrection is a central expression of the Christological confession of God. It follows, indeed, from the concept of God. Its emphasis is placed not on a particular anthropology, whether anti-Platonic or Platonic, but on a theology. This is why we may reasonably expect it to have the capacity to make a variety of anthropologies its own and find appropriate expression by means of them. Picture is the Basilica of San Francesco. The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor — commonly known as the Franciscan Order — in Assisi, Italy, the city where St. Francis was born and died. A view of its Bacci Chapel, with fresco cycle Legend of the True Cross by our favorite Piero della Francesca

Taken from his 1988 book Eschatology, which remains a leading text on the “last things” — heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul.

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The Resurrection from the Dead
In our reflections on the theology of death we have already considered the approach of Old Testament faith to the idea of resurrection. So we can begin here with the witness of the New Testament. The doctrine of the resurrection had not been generally accepted in intertestamental Judaism.

If we are looking for an explanation of why it became the fundamental confession of Christians we shall find it easily enough in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection as experienced and communicated by the witnesses. The risen Lord became, so to speak, the canon within the canon: the criterion in whose light tradition must be read. In the illumination which he brought, the internal struggles of the Old Testament were read as a single movement towards the One who suffered, was crucified and rose again. The travail of Old Testament faith became itself a testimony to the resurrection.

This new fact, which brought about the passage from the Old Testament to the New, was prepared for by the words of Jesus which interpreted it before it took place. Only because its intelligibility was prepared beforehand would the resurrection of Jesus gain any historical significance at all. Mere facts without words, without meaning, fall into nothingness as fully as do mere words to which no reality corresponds.

To this extent we can say with complete certainty that the origin of the Easter proclamation is unthinkable without some corresponding announcement by Jesus himself. In this context, the crucial text is Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees about the resurrection as given in the gospel according to Mark.

In his debate with the Sadducees who argued in fundamentalistic fashion that only the Pentateuch might be acknowledged as Scripture, and took it as the exclusive rule of faith, Sola scriptura, Jesus is obliged to prove his thesis on the basis of the books of Moses. He does so in a way which is both exciting and wonderfully simple.

He points to the Mosaic concept of God, or more precisely to the divine self-presentation in the burning bush as reported by Moses: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” That means: those who have been called by God are themselves part of the concept of God. One would turn God into a God of the dead and thus stand the Old Testament concept of God on its head if one declared that those who belong to him who is Life are themselves dead.

This text shows that, in principle, Jesus adopted the Pharisaic over against the Sadduccean, variety of Jewish teaching which included, then, the confession of the resurrection. However, there is also something new in Jesus’ presentation. The resurrection moves into a central position in the expression of faith. It is no longer one tenet of faith among many others, but rather is identified with the concept of God itself.

Resurrection faith is contained in faith in God. The massive simplicity of Israel’s early faith is not obscured by the addition of other obligatory items but is deepened by a more acute seeing. Faith remains simple. It is simply faith in God. Yet it becomes both purer and richer by being thus deepened. All that business of demythologization is taken care of from the outset. Cosmological, anthropological, speculative, psychological and chronological aspects of religion: all these are set aside. What is affirmed is that God himself, and the communion he offers, are life. To belong to him, to be called him is to be rooted in life indestructible.

The nascent Church had the task of rethinking the earlier Pharisaic tradition, as applied to the words and actions of Jesus, in the light of the new fact of the Lord’s resurrection. On the basis of the original insights, this process would flow on in the stream of the Church’s faith through all succeeding generations. Within the limits of this book it would be impossible to catalogue every relevant text. We shall consider simply the two main witnesseses within the New Testament corpus, namely Paul and and John. In what follows we shall be looking at some characteristic texts in which the further development of the doctrine of the resurrection is already indicated.

Two Pauline texts especially important for our enquiry are Romans 6:1-14  and First Corinthians 15.  In the letter to the Romans, baptism is interpreted as being engrafted onto the death of Christ. By baptism we enter on a common destiny with that of Jesus and so with the death which was his fate. But that death is ordered intrinsically to the resurrection. Of necessity, then, suffering and dying with Christ means at the same time a participation in the hope of the resurrection. One permits oneself to be inserted into the passion of Christ since that is the place at which resurrection breaks forth.

The theological concept of resurrection which we discovered in Mark 12 suddenly becomes quite concrete. It becomes, in fact, Theo-Christological in a suitable correspondence with the Christological extension of the concept of God which had taken place in the period between the historical ministry and Paul’s calling to the apostolate. Communion with God, which is the native place of life indestructible, finds its concrete form in sharing in the body of Christ. Through the sacramental dimension of this idea, the Church’s Liturgy and the Church herself as the bearer of the Liturgy become part of the same doctrine.

Theo-Christology also possesses an ecclesiological aspect. In comparison with the simple grandeur of the words of Jesus things may seem to have become rather complicated. It is more correct to say that they have become, rather, more concrete. What is now described in more detail is how the belonging to God that Jesus spoke of actually takes place. The fundamental structure of the doctrine is not impaired but remains fully intact. Faith in the resurrection is not part of some speculation in cosmology or the theology of history but is bound up with a person, with God in Christ. Thus the theologizing of resurrection faith is also its personalization.

In the other Pauline text, First Corinthians 15, we find the apostle engaged in controversy with spiritualizing re-interpretations of faith in the resurrection. In such re-interpretation, resurrection as a future bodily event touching both the cosmos and our own destiny is called into serious question. What precisely was being put in its place the text hardly permits us to say. But some light is thrown thereon by Second Timothy 2:18 where the author mentions a view of the Gospel for which “the resurrection has already happened.” Here the sacramental foretaste of the resurrection hope has been misconceived. The resurrection event is robbed of its futurist character, and identified with the event of becoming or being a Christian.

Resurrection thus undergoes a “mystical” or “existential” reduction. It is probably ideas of this kind which lie behind the Corinthian denial of the resurrection as well. In opposing them, the apostle has to emphasize that the resurrection is not simply a mystical or existential assurance to the Christian in the present. In the last analysis, this would mean nothing: your faith would be vain. Rather is the resurrection a pledge to the future of man and the cosmos, and in this sense a pledge to space, time and matter. History and cosmos are not realities alongside spirit, running on into a meaningless eternity or sinking down into an equally meaningless nothingness.

In the resurrection, God proves himself to be the God also of the cosmos and of history. To this extent, the temporal and cosmic elements in the Jewish belief in the resurrection take their places within Christian confession. Yet they are strictly related to the new theological and Christological structure, and in this way the inner simplicity of that structure remains untouched. The point is still the same. If the dead do not rise, then Christ has not arisen. The resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead are not two discrete realities but one single reality which in the end is simply the verification of faith in God before the eyes of history.

We should look as well at two monuments to Johannine theology: John 6 and John 11. The story of Lazarus in John 11 leads up to the affirmation, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The Theo-Christological conception of the resurrection met with in Paul finds here its purest and most consistent form.

The evangelist has found his way back to the utter simplicity of that vision in Mark 12. He has translated its theology into Christology in a systematic fashion. “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” The bond with Jesus is, even now, resurrection. Where there is communion with him, the boundary of death is overshot here and now. It is in this perspective that we must understand the Discourse on the Eucharist

In John 6, feeding on Jesus’ word and on his flesh, that is, receiving him by both faith and sacrament, is described as bring nourished with the bread of immortality. The resurrection does not appear as a distant apocalyptic event but as an occurrence which takes place in the immediate present.

Whenever someone enters into the ‘I’ of Christ, he has entered straight away into the space of unconditional life. The evangelist does not raise the question of an intermediate state between death and resurrection, a rupture in life, precisely because Jesus is himself the resurrection.

Faith, which is the contact between Jesus and myself, vouchsafes here and now the crossing of death’s frontier. the entire Old Testament inheritance is thus presented in the new mode of Christological transformation. In the Old Testament, it had become clear that death is the absence of communication in the midst of life. Similarly, it had become evident that love is a promise of life. But now it becomes manifest that a love stronger than death actually exists. The borderline between Sheol and life runs through our very midst, and those who are in Christ are situated on the side of life, and that everlastingly.

Bultmann took this Johannine theology to be the perfect expression of authentic Christianity. As we know, this means for him that resurrection is to be interpreted exclusively and without remainder in an “existential” sense. He is obliged to treat St. John’s references to the Last Day” as the interpolations of a later ecclesiastical redactor, whose effect is to drag down the lofty insights of the evangelist to the crude level of the Church populace.

Yet in reality, when the work of the evangelist is thus snapped in two fragments, not even the aspect which Bultmann favors can survive. If the passage into the Christological sphere be not an entry into that unconditional life that abides even beyond earthly dying, then it is not a real passover at all. It is nothing more than a gyration in the inescapable futility of a private existence whose fundamental nothingness is not overcome but rather reconfirmed.

Just one more comment on the biblical data as a whole will be in order here. For the New Testament, the resurrection is a positive event, a message full of hope. By contras we know from the Old Testament, with its phenomenological analysis of “life” and “death,” that when human existence issues in opposition to God, in the nothingness of spiritual shipwreck, it cannot itself be called “life.”

On the contrary, such a fate is really the definitive presence of “death.” Even for resurrection faith this possibility-which of course must not be confused with the sheer annihilation of the human existent — still remains open. We will have to look at it in greater detail somewhat later.

Meanwhile, let us try to formulate a conclusion. Faith in the resurrection is a central expression of the Christological confession of God. It follows, indeed, from the concept of God. Its emphasis is placed not on a particular anthropology, whether anti-Platonic or Platonic, but on a theology. This is why we may reasonably expect it to have the capacity to make a variety of anthropologies its own and find appropriate expression by means of them.

But at the same , and equally, we must expect that this theology will confront all anthropologies with its own critical measuring rod. From its thought of God it draws forth a number of affirmations about man. On the one hand, the new life already begun and will nevermore be snuffed out. On the other hand, that vita nuova is ordered to the transformation of all life, to a future wholeness for man and for the world.

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The Immortality of the Soul and the Resurrection of the Dead – Benedict XVI

April 16, 2013
In the long run, theology and preaching cannot tolerate such a quirky theological patchwork, full of logical leaps and ruptures. As quickly as possible we should bid farewell to this way of thinking which deprives Christian proclamation of an appropriate discourse and thus cancels its own claim to be taken seriously as a form of Christian understanding. Victor-Louis Mottez (13 February 1809 – 7 June 1897) was a French fresco painter, painter and portraitist. His “Resurrection of the Dead” was painted in 1870.

In the long run, theology and preaching cannot tolerate such a quirky theological patchwork, full of logical leaps and ruptures. As quickly as possible we should bid farewell to this way of thinking which deprives Christian proclamation of an appropriate discourse and thus cancels its own claim to be taken seriously as a form of Christian understanding. Victor-Louis Mottez (13 February 1809 – 7 June 1897) was a French fresco painter, painter and portraitist. His “Resurrection of the Dead” was painted in 1870.

Benedict XVI begins his consideration of the issue with a survey of recent literature on the issue. This and the following posts are taken from his 1988 book Eschatology, which remains a leading text on the “last things” — heaven and hell, purgatory and judgment, death and the immortality of the soul.

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The State Of The Question
In the last few decades, a basic question has arisen about the immortality of the soul and resurrection. The ensuing discussion has increasingly transformed the panorama of theology and devotion. Oscar Cullmann put it cursorily, it dramatically:

If today one asks an average Christian, no matter whether Protestant or Catholic, whether intellectually inclined or not, what the New Testament teaches about the destiny of the individual human being after death, in almost every case one will receive the answer, ‘The immortality of the soul’. In this form, this opinion is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Christianity there can be.
Oscar Cullmann, Unsterblichkeit der Seele oder Auferstehung gische Literature Zeitung

Today, few would venture to offer the answer that was earlier a matter of course, since the idea that this answer was based upon a misunderstanding has spread with astonishing speed among the congregations of Christendom. How ever, no new answer of any concreteness has taken its place. The way to this change of attitudes was paved by two men: the Protestant theologians Carl Stange (1870­1959) and Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938), to some extent aided and abetted by Paul Althaus whose eschatology was first published in 1922.

Appealing to the Bible and to Luther, these men rejected as Platonic dualism the notion of a separation of body and soul in death such as the doctrine of the immortality of the soul presupposes. The only truly biblical doctrine is that which holds that when man dies “he perishes, body and soul.” Only in this fashion can one, preserve the idea of death as a judgment, of which Scripture speaks in such unmistakable accents.

The proper Christian thing, therefore, is to speak, not of the soul’s immortality, but of the resurrection of the complete human being and of that alone. The piety currently surrounding death, impregnated as it is with an eschatology of going to heaven must be eliminated in favor of the only true form of Christian hope: expectation of the Last Day. In 1950, which had meanwhile gained so much ground. He pointed out that the Bible was perfectly familiar with the “dualistic scheme.” It too knew not only the expectation of the Last Day, but a form of individual hope for heaven. Althaus also tried to show that the same was true for Luther. And so he reformulated his position in the following words:

Christian eschatology must not fight against immortality as such. The scandal which in recent times we have frequently given by this fight is not the skandalon that the Gospel speaks of.
P. Althaus, Retraktionen zur Eschatologie

Though the discussion which followed Althaus’ article produced a broad consensus in his favor, his retractions had no impact on the continuing debate as a whole. The idea that to speak of the soul is unbiblical was accepted to such an extent that even the new Roman Missal suppressed the term anima in its liturgy for the dead. It also disappeared from the ritual for burial.

How was it possible to overthrow so quickly a tradition firmly rooted since the age of the early Church and always considered central? In itself, the apparent evidence of the biblical data would surely not have sufficed. Essentially the potency of the new position stemmed from the parallel between, on the one hand, the allegedly biblical idea of the absolute indivisibility of man and, on the other, a modern anthropology, worked out on the basis of natural science, and identifying the human being with his or her body, without any remainder that might admit a soul distinct from that body. It may be conceded that the elimination of the immortality of the soul removes a possible source of conflict between faith and contemporary thought.

However, this scarcely saves the Bible, since the biblical view of things is even more remote by modern-day standards. Acceptance of the unity of the human being may be well and good but who, on the basis of the current tenets of the natural sciences, could imagine a resurrection of the body? That resurrection would presuppose a completely different kind of matter, a fundamentally transformed cosmos which lies completely outside of what we can conceive.

Again, the question of what, in this case, would happen to the dead person until the “end of time” cannot simply be pushed aside. Luther’s idea of the “sleep of the soul” certainly does not solve this problem. If there is no soul, and so no proper subject of such a “sleep,” who is this person that is going to be really raised? How can there be an identity between the human being who existed at some point in the past and the counterpart that has to be re-created from nothing? The irritated refusal of such questions as “philosophical” does not contribute to a more meaningful discussion.

In other words, it soon becomes obvious that pure Biblicism does not take us very far. One cannot get anywhere without “hermeneutics,” that is, without a rational rethinking of the biblical data which may itself go beyond these data in its language and its systematic linkage of ideas. If we leave aside those radical solutions which try to solve the problem by forbidding all “objectifying” statements and permitting only “existential” interpretations, we find ourselves confronted with a twofold attempt to take the matter further. This twofold attempt turns on a new concept of time, and a fresh understanding of the body.

The first set of ideas is related to the reflections we glanced at above in the context of the question of imminent expectation. There we saw that some writers tried to solve the problem of the imminently expected Kingdom by noting that the end of time is itself no longer time. It is not a date which happens to come extremely late in the calendar but rather non-time, something which, since it is outside of time, is equally close to every time.

This idea was easily combined with the notion that death itself leads out of time into the timeless. In Catholic circles, these suggestions received some support in the discussion about the dogma of Mary’s assumption into glory. The scandal attaching to the assertion that a human being, Mary, has already risen in the body was a challenge to rethink more generally the relation between death and time as well as to reflect on the nature of human corporeality.

If it is possible to regard the Marian dogma as offering a model of human destiny at large, then two problems at once evaporate. On the one hand, the ecumenical and speculative scandal of the dogma disappears, while on the other the dogma itself helps to correct the traditional view of immortality and resurrection in favor of a picture at once more biblical and more modern. Although this new approach received no very clear or consistent elaboration, it became generally accepted that time should be considered a form of bodily existence.

Death signifies leaving time for eternity with its single “today.” Here the problem of the “intermediate state” between death and resurrection turns out to be a problem only in seeming. The “between” exists only in our perspective. In reality, the “end of time” is timeless. The person who dies steps into the presence of the Last Day and of judgment, the Lord’s resurrection and parousia. As one author put it, “The resurrection can thus be situated in death and not the ‘Last Day’.” Meanwhile, the view that resurrection takes place at the moment of death has gained such widespread acceptance that it is even incorporated, with some qualifications, into the Dutch Catechism, where we read:

Existence after death is already something like the resurrection of the new body.

This means that what the dogma of the assumption tells us about Mary is true of every human being. Owing to the timelessness which reigns beyond death, every death is an entering into the new heaven and the new earth, the parousia and the resurrection.

And here two questions suggest themselves. First, is this not merely a camouflaged return to the doctrine of immortality on philosophically somewhat more adventurous  presuppositions? Resurrection is now being claimed for the person still lying on his deathbed or on the journey to his grave. The indivisibility of man and his boundness to the body, even when dead, suddenly to play no further role, even though it was the point of departure of this whole construction. Indeed, the Dutch Catechism asserts:

Our Lord means that there is something of man, that v most properly himself, which can be saved after death. This ‘something’ is not the body which is left behind.”

G. Greshake formulates the claim even more incisively:

Matter as such (as atom, molecule, organ …) cannot be perfected … This being so, then if human freedom is finalized in death, the body, the world and the history of this freedom are permanently preserved in the definitive concrete form which that freedom has taken.

Such ideas may be meaningful. The only question is by what right one still speaks of “corporeality” if all connection with matter is explicitly denied and matter left with a share in the final perfection only insofar as it was “an ecstatic aspect of the human act of freedom.”

Be this as it may, in this model the body is in fact left to death, while at the same time an afterlife of the human being is asserted. Just why the concept of the soul is still disowned now ceases to be intelligible. What we have here is a covert assumption of the continuing authentic reality of the person in separation from his or her body. The idea of the soul meant to convey nothing other than this. In this amalgam of notions of corporeality and soulhood we have a strange mishmash of ideas which can hardly count as a definitive solution of our problem.

The second component in the characteristic modern approach to the idea of death and immortality is the philosophy of time and of history which constitutes its true lever. Are we really confronted with a choice between the stark, exclusive alternatives of physical time on the one hand, and, on the other, a timelessness to be identified with eternity itself? Is it even logically possible to conceive of man, whose existence is achieved decisively in the temporal, being transposed into sheer eternity?

And in any case, can an eternity which has a beginning be eternity at all? Is it not necessarily non-eternal, and so temporal, precisely because it had a beginning? Yet how can one deny that the resurrection of a human being has a beginning, namely, after death? If, coerced by the logic of the position, one chose to deny this, then surely one would have to suppose that man has always existed in the risen state, in an eternity without beginning.

But this view would abolish all serious anthropology. It would fall, in fact, into a caricature of that Platonism which is supposed to be its principal enemy. G. Lohfink, an advocate of the thesis that resurrection is already achieved in death, has noticed these difficulties. He tries to deal with them by invoking the mediaeval concept of the aevum, an attempt to describe a special mode of time proper to spiritual creatures on the basis of an analysis of angelic existence.

Lohfink sees that death leads not into pure timelessness but into a new kind of time proper to created spirits. The purpose of his argument is primarily to give a defensible sense to biblical imminent expectation which he takes to be the central theme of the message of Jesus. His concern is not with the body-soul problematic from which such speculation emerged but with the necessity, at least as he reads the Gospels, of a discourse that would throw light on the permanent temporal closeness of the Parousia.

Such imminence is feasible, according to Lohfink, if the human person may be said to enter through death into the peculiar time of spirits and so into the fulfillment of history. The idea of the aevum thus becomes the hermeneutically respectable way of saying that the parousia and resurrection take place for each person in the moment of death. Imminent expectation can now be identified with the expectation of death itself, and so warranted for everybody.

… we have now seen that a reflective concept of time, which eschews the naive assumption that time in the beyond is commensurable with earthly time, necessarily leads to our locating the last things — and not simply those concerning the individual, but the end of the world itself — in the moment of death. The last things have thereby become infinitely close to us. Every human being lives in the ‘last age’….”
Greshake & Lohfink, Naherwartung-Augerstehung-Unsterblichkeit

This proposal for a differentiated concept of time entails genuine progress. Yet the queries listed above are in no way rendered redundant by it. Looking more closely, one discovers that this concept of the aevum has simply been added on, in somewhat external fashion, to a predetermined conceptual construct. The point of this construct is the claim that on the other side of death history is already complete. The end of history is ever waiting for the one who dies.

But this is just what can hardly be reconciled with the continuation of history. History is viewed as simultaneously completed and still continuing. What remains unexplained is the relationship between, on the one hand, the ever new beginnings of human life in history, both present and future, and, on the other, the state of fulfillment not only of the individual but of the historical process itself, a state said to be already realized in the world beyond death.

The idea of the aevum is helpful when we are considering the condition of the individual person who enters into perfection while remaining a creature of time. In this domain the concept has a precise meaning. But it says nothing at all which could justify the statement that history as a whole, from whatever point of view, can be seen as already fulfilled.

It is odd that an exegete should appeal in support of this speculation to the “primitive Christian view” for which, in the case of Jesus, “resurrection from the dead follows immediately upon death,” a view which supposedly supplies the “real model of Christian eschatology” which the early Church somehow forgot to apply more widely.” For, to begin with, one can hardly ignore the fact that the message of resurrection “on the third day” posits a clear interim period between the death of the Lord and his rising again. And, more importantly, it is evident that early Christian proclamation never identified the destiny of those who die before the Parousia with the quite special event of the resurrection of Jesus.

That special event depended on Jesus’ unique and irreducible position in the history of salvation. Moreover, there are two respects in which one must bring the charge that all this is a case of aggravated Platonism. First, in such models the body is definitively excluded from the hope for salvation. Secondly the concept of the aevum as here employed hypostatises history in a way which only falls short of Plato’s doctrine of the Ideas by virtue of its logical inconsistencies

Perhaps we have lingered overlong on these theses. That seemed necessary because at the present time they have been almost universally received into the general theological consciousness. Such a consensus, it should now be clear, rests on an extremely fragile foundation.

In the long run, theology and preaching cannot tolerate such a quirky theological patchwork, full of logical leaps and ruptures. As quickly as possible we should bid farewell to this way of thinking which deprives Christian proclamation of an appropriate discourse and thus cancels its own claim to be taken seriously as a form of Christian understanding.

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The Easter Message of Religious Freedom — Joseph Loconte

April 15, 2013
The painter della Francesca captured himself in a self portrait, asleep on the job in front of the tomb. The risen Jesus looms behind.

The painter della Francesca captured himself in a self portrait, asleep on the job in front of the tomb. The risen Jesus looms behind.

The Bible’s resurrection tales show us faith based on peaceful persuasion. Contrast this approach with the culture wars that currently wage about our heads. I’ve been thinking I need to adopt this approach or find a way to realize it. It reminds me of the Caravaggio painting that adorns this page, that straight forward presentation of the Lord to the disciples at Emmaus. They may be jumping out of their chairs and gesticulating wildly but you can tell that the Lord is not being persuaded. This is the way it is, he seems to be saying, why would you choose any other?

Mr. Loconte, a professor of history at The Kings College, is writing a book on the history of religious toleration. This was in the WSJ shortly before Easter.

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As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, they reflect on God’s purposes amid suffering and death. They look forward to the hope of the resurrection. Yet there is another aspect to the Easter story that should be as important to the skeptic as it is to the believer: its message of religious toleration. Whether read as history or allegory, the resurrection stories in the gospels offer an approach to faith that challenges the militant religions of our own day.

Consider the account in Luke’s gospel about two disciples of Jesus, just days after his crucifixion, fleeing Jerusalem for their home in nearby Emmaus. They are fugitives: Jesus was executed on the charge of sedition, after all, and it is not safe for his followers to remain in the city. His horrific death has cast them into a storm of grief and doubt.

Somewhere along the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to the men as “a stranger” — they don’t immediately recognize him — and a conversation ensues. The stranger upbraids them for their politicized religion, that is, for thinking that Israel’s Messiah would be a military or political liberator. Rather, he explains, the Messiah was meant to suffer for the sake of his people in order to win them spiritual freedom: “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.” Finally, by the end of their journey — after talking and debating and sharing a meal together — the travelers recognize who the stranger is.

The disciples have been guided, not coerced, out of their skepticism. Their objections have been met with reason, not force. The stranger has described the world they were meant to live in, a world drenched in beauty, peace, justice and love. They are cut to the quick: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scripture to us?”

Realizing what has happened, emboldened by their new faith, the travelers rush back to Jerusalem to share the news about Jesus with their friends. Told with remarkable modesty and vulnerability, this account is one of the earliest conversion stories in Christianity. It helped to set the pattern for evangelism in the early church.

In all of the New Testament’s resurrection accounts, the method of Jesus for winning hearts and minds — his emphasis on peaceful persuasion — couldn’t be plainer. All depict the patience and kindness of God in the face of human doubt. Yet, in one of the tragic turning points in the history of the West, this biblical ideal was rejected. The church, imitating the Roman state under which it had suffered and ultimately thrived, soon endorsed the methods of Caesar: the use of imprisonment, torture or death to combat unbelief.

The church of the martyrs became the church of the Inquisition. Catholic thinkers as profound as Thomas Aquinas justified the use of violence to win converts and put down dissent. “Even if my own father were a heretic,” declared Pope Paul IV, “I would gather the wood to burn him.”

Protestants soon followed suit. Leaders such as John Calvin, with Bible in hand, used the power of the state to brutally enforce the new religious orthodoxy.

The advance of Christianity in the West brought with it many blessings: an ethos of compassion for children, the poor, the sick and the outcast. It established a basis for human dignity unknown in antiquity. Nevertheless, nearly everywhere the church went — whenever it encountered resistance or disbelief — a culture of suspicion and violence followed. Christian author C.S. Lewis once declared: “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.”

Eventually, after a series of religious wars, the Christian church confessed its negation of Christian charity. By the late 17th century, a steady stream of tracts, pamphlets, sermons and books — disseminated by the explosive growth of the printing press — delivered a singular message about the sacred rights of individual conscience. Christian thinkers such as William Penn, Roger Williams and John Locke would help the church recover its older tradition of toleration, as old as the New Testament itself.

Indeed, a firm basis for religious freedom would be found in the Bible, supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. “I did not come to judge the world,” Jesus told his followers, “but to save it.” Here is an Easter story — a message of the grace of God toward every human soul — for believers and doubters alike.

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A Cosmic Cross — Paul Tillich

April 19, 2012

“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two,  from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Matthew 27:50-54

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Stories of the crucifixion the agony and the death of Jesus are connected with a group of events in nature:  Darkness covers the land; the curtain of the temple is torn in two; the earth is shaken and the bodies of the saints rise out of their graves. Nature, with trembling, participates in the decisive event of history. The sun veils its head; the temple makes the gesture of mourning; the foundations of the earth are moved; the tombs are opened. Nature is in an uproar because something is happening which concerns the universe.

Since the time of the evangelists, wherever the story of Golgotha has been told as the turning event in the world-drama of salvation, the role nature played in this drama has also been told. Painters of the crucifixion have used all their artistic power to express the darkness over the land in almost unnatural colors. I remember my own earliest impression of Good Friday — the feeling of the mystery of the divine suffering, first of all, through the compassion of nature. And so did the centurion, the first pagan who witnessed for the Crucified. Filled with awe, with numinous dread, he understood in a naive-profound way that something more had happened than the death of a holy and innocent man.

The sun veiled its face because of the depth of evil and shame it saw under the Cross. But the sun also veiled its face because its power over the world had ceased once and forever in these hours of its darkness. The great shining and burning god of everything that lives on earth, the sun who was praised and feared and adored by innumerable human beings during thousands and thousands of years, had been deprived of its divine power when one human being, in ultimate agony, maintained His unity with that which is greater than the sun. Since those hours of darkness it is manifest that not the sun, but a suffering and struggling soul which cannot be broken by all the powers of the universe is the image of the Highest, and that the sun can only be praised in the way of St. Francis, who called it our brother, but not our god.

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two.” The temple tore its gown as the mourners did because He, to whom the temple belonged more than to anybody else, was thrown out and killed by the servants of the temple. But the temple — and with it, all temples on earth — also complained of its own destiny. The curtain which made the temple a holy place, separated from other places, lost its separating power. He who was expelled as blaspheming the temple, had cleft the curtain and opened the temple for everybody, for every moment. This curtain cannot be mended anymore, although there are priests and ministers and pious people who try to mend it. They will not succeed because He, for whom every place was a sacred place, a place where God is present, has been hung upon the cross in the name of the holy place.

When the curtain of the temple was torn in two, God judged religion and rejected temples. After this moment temples and churches can only mean places of concentration on the holy which is the ground and meaning of every place. And like the temple, the earth was judged at Golgotha. Trembling and shaking, the earth participated in the agony of the man on the cross and in the despair of all those who had seen in him the beginning of the new eon. Trembling and shaking, the earth proved that it is not the motherly ground on which we can safely build our houses and cities, our cultures and religious systems.

Trembling and shaking, the earth pointed to another ground on which the earth itself rests: the self-surrendering love on which all earthly powers and values concentrate their hostility and which they cannot conquer. Since the hour when Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last and the rocks were split, the earth ceased to be the foundation of what we build on her. Only insofar as it has a deeper ground can it stand; only insofar as it is rooted in the same foundation in which the cross is rooted can it last.

And the earth not only ceases to be the solid ground of life; she also ceases to be the lasting cave of death. Resurrection is not something added to the death of him who is the Christ; but it is implied in his death, as the story of the resurrection before the resurrection, indicates. No longer is the universe subjected to the law of death out of birth. It is subjected to a higher law, to the law of life out of death by the death of him who represented eternal life. The tombs were opened and bodies were raised when one man in whom God was present without limit committed his spirit into his Father’s hands. Since this moment the universe is no longer what it was; nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before.

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I Believe In The Resurrection Of The Body, And The Life Everlasting — Fr. Ronald Knox

January 19, 2012

Fr. Ronald Knox, the famous Catholic convert and apologist who was a major figure in the English Catholic Literary Revival during the first half of the twentieth century.

From his classic, The Creed in Slow Motion.

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I WAS TALKING TO YOU LAST SUNDAY, if you remember, about sitting in the confessional on Saturday evenings, and how it’s liable to give you pins and needles. And for fear you should think that that is a very heroic sacrifice on my part, let me recall to your memory the life of that very nice Saint, St. John Vianney, the Cur of Ars. I should have liked to give you a whole sermon about him, but I expect you know something about him already; if you want to know what he looked like, you’ve only got to go to the pigsties in the old stables, and you will find him there on a window-sill, because he is supposed to be rather good at looking after the health of farm animals. And if you think he would mind being in the pigsty, it shows you know very little about the Cure d’Ars.

He used to spend about fourteen hours every day in the confessional. He came out for his lunch, which consisted of one or two potatoes, and he knew all his people and loved all his people and spent a lot of time visiting them, but, as I say, for fourteen hours every day he sat in the confessional, because penitents used to come to him from all over the world and queue up for absolution. He went to bed for three or four hours at night, but it didn’t do him much good, because the devil, whom he used to call the grappin (which I think means the toasting-fork) used to come and pull him out of bed nearly every night, in the hope of persuading him to live differently.

However, he went on living like that very happily till he was over seventy. And one day, talking to a friend, he said, “I know one old man who would look rather a fool if there were no future life “. Then he checked himself, and said, “Although, as a matter of fact, it is such an honor to serve God, that we ought to be proud and glad to do it, even if he gave us no reward at all at the end of it “.

Well, now we’ve got to the end of the Credo and we’ve got to think of our lives, and the reward we are going to get perhaps. When God put man in an earthly paradise, and man made a mess of it, he could perfectly well have arranged, if you come to think of it, that Adam and Eve shouldn’t have any children. And if they hadn’t, one would be disposed to think, the situation would have been very neatly cleared up. Adam and Eve might have been allowed to spend a longish and fairly comfortable life, and then died, and been annihilated at death; or some kind of Limbo could have been invented, in which they could have lived on eternally as a pair of curiosities.

But God, for some reason, didn’t want to do that; he wanted mankind to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and, when they died, to fill heaven. He was determined to have a lot of human beings about in heaven, sharing his happiness. That’s curious, if you like. Of course, you may think it’s jolly to live in a crowd; and perhaps you rather pity the poor nuns when the holidays come and they are left all alone by themselves.. . . Well, you know, Aldenham isn’t too bad in the holidays. Anyhow, God wanted to have human beings about in heaven; and he left us with our free will, so that we could make use of the grace which he gives us and go to heaven if we did. If we didn’t, that is the most mysterious thing of all, and a thing I suppose we shall never understand in this life, that God has left human beings free to go to hell, if they want to. He lets us have our way, like an indulgent Father, and if we insist on sending ourselves to hell, he allows us to do it.

There are plenty of difficulties about this last article in the Credo. We are talking about hell as well as heaven, when we say we believe in the resurrection of the body. Why it is that the lost souls in hell have to have their bodies restored to them after the general judgment is not immediately obvious. It isn’t so that hell can hurt more; because the souls in hell do suffer, even before the general judgment, bodily pain.

You see, all the pain which we feel in our bodies has got to get through to us, if it’s to hurt. There’s no harm in your tooth aching, if that were all. The trouble is that You have got a toothache. And these sensations of pain which we derive, on earth, through the body, are felt, now, by the souls in hell, although they have at present no bodies to feel them with; the process, somehow, is short-circuited. And the pains of hell go on forever. The lost souls live in an eternal, changeless moment of despair.

All that, as I say, is a thing which I don’t suppose we shall ever understand in this life. There’s a story of an Irishman who had doubts about hell, and the priest said to him, “Well, look at it this way, Pat; if there’s no hell, where’s Cromwell?” And he said, “Ah, your Reverence, I hadn’t thought of that “. But somehow I don’t know that even that makes it clear. All you can say is that if you’re going to have a faith you have got to believe what it tells you, the uncomfortable parts as well as the comfortable ones.

However, it isn’t necessary to be thinking about the uncomfortable parts all the time; and as we are getting to the end of the Credo and the end of the term let’s try and finish up with a pleasant taste in our mouths. Let’s pretend, you and I, that we are going to heaven. Mind you, I don’t say that you are, still less that I am; but there’s no harm in pretending. Even so, what are we going to make of this odd clause, “the resurrection of the body”?

First, let’s notice that for some reason the Credo we say is a mistranslation of the Latin. The Credo which is said by the universal Church hasn’t got Corporis Resurrectionem, the resurrection of the body, as its last clause but one. Its last clause but one is CARNIS Resurrectionem, the Resurrection of the Flesh. And the flesh, in theological language (which comes from the Hebrew), means a great deal more than the body.

It means the whole of your human nature, gifts of mind as well as of body, so long as they are natural, not supernatural, gifts. However, that takes us into complicated questions of theology; so let’s just think about our bodies rising again, as they certainly will when the general judgment comes. Two common-sense questions naturally suggest themselves. One is, “How will it be possible for my body to rejoin my soul? Nothing will be left of my body by then, except a skeleton, if that “.

Do you know a book of poems called The Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers? Rather good, I think. In one of them Montrose, the Cavalier general who was killed by those very unpleasant people, the Covenanters, is made to say, “Go, nail my head to yonder tower, Give every town a limb; The God who made will gather them, I go from you to him “. That, in itself, seems rather a lot to hope for. But what about people who have been burnt in a fire; how are all their ashes going to be seccotined [vocab: A trade-name of a cement used to unite surfaces of paper, cloth, leather, etc] together again? And I think I’m right in saying that St. Thomas Aquinas, who always liked to allow for everything, discussed the question, What was going to happen about people who were eaten by cannibals? Because you might have a missionary saying, “Here, that’s my big toe “, and a cannibal saying, “No, it’s not, it’s part of my stomach “.

Well, that isn’t really as difficult a difficulty as it sounds. You see, it’s a mistake to think of one’s body as made up simply of so many bits of pink stuff. Your body is a living thing, which goes on changing all the time, as living things do. I think the scientific people tell us that every year every part of one’s body is made up of different pieces of stuff compared with last year. I’ve still got a scar where I had an operation in the year 1906. The pieces of skin round that scar have changed thirty-seven times since then, but it’s still there, which shows that I’ve still got the same body. The same body, though not made up of the same bits of skin; it isn’t going to be difficult for us, then, to get back the same body in the next world, without going round looking for lost bits and pieces. If you come to think of it, your finger-nails aren’t the same finger-nails, in a sense, as they were when the war started, because you’ve cut them a good many times since then, at least, I hope you have. But they are still your finger-nails. We shan’t want to collect, when the general judgment comes, every single piece of stuff in the world that has once been our finger-nails; if we did, we should find ourselves in heaven with finger-nails about a mile long. No, God can give us back our bodies without bothering about all the pieces of skin and hair that once belonged to them.

And there’s a third question that obviously suggests itself, about heaven. “What shall we want bodies for?” Think of the Saints in heaven now; our Lady’s body, as we know, was taken up to heaven when she died, but that isn’t true of St. Peter or St. Paul or any of the other Saints. Well, you can’t imagine St. Peter, now, in heaven, complaining that he finds it rather uncomfortable not having a body. And therefore, if people can get on quite, comfortably without their bodies till the general judgment, why can’t they get on quite comfortably without their bodies after the general judgment?

The answer to that, I think, is that body and soul were made for one another, and therefore both of them are in an unnatural state when you divide them, and demand to be reunited. It isn’t that the soul is unhappy without the body; it can express itself otherwise, in heaven. But the body, which has been our companion all through our earthly pilgrimage, must not be permanently left out in the cold; that wouldn’t be right. It, too, has its passport to eternity.

Not that, in heaven, our bodies will be in the same state as here. St. Paul tells us that our heavenly body won’t be any more like our earthly body than the harvest which you cut in the summer is like the miserable little wizened seeds which you sowed in the late autumn. Our bodies, in heaven, will be etherealized; they will have none of the disabilities which they had on earth; there will be no getting pins and needles in heaven. Our bodies, here, are rather a nuisance in some ways, aren’t they? Always running into things, or even into people. Our bodies in heaven, the theologians tell us, will offer no resistance to the touch, won’t be solid. And another awkward thing about our bodies here is that they can’t get about quick enough; we haven’t quite finished drying them when somebody shouts “Last bell!” and we know that they ought to be in the refectory. That will be all right in heaven; we don’t have the kind of body which takes time in moving from place to place. We shan’t have bodily needs, either, which we have to satisfy, by eating and drinking, for example. Perhaps you don’t regard that as very good news, but it’s all right really. I’m sure, before now, you must have been late for meals because you were so excited about a game you were playing or a book you were reading? Well, if you like to put it that way, heaven means spending eternity in a state of such excitement that we shall be eternally late for our meals.

Some things the theologians tell us about heaven are just guess-work, and don’t pretend to be more than guess-work. I think they say we shall all be thirty-three years of age, because that is the perfect time of life; I dare say it’s true, but it’s not in the Credo. They also tell us we shall all be good-looking; which is good news for some of us, and makes us wonder how our friends are going to recognize us; but that again isn’t in the Credo. What I think you can say with perfect confidence, although as far as I know it isn’t laid down officially anywhere, is that we shall know one another, and that part of our happiness in heaven will be due to finding ourselves re united with those we love. We shall be united, too, with the Saints who prayed for us while we were on earth; we shall be united by a love we never dreamt of to our Lord himself.

And at the same time, when we get to heaven, if we get to heaven, we shall realize that the Credo was true, instead of just going on believing it was true. We shall be conscious of God as our Father; we shall recognize that everything which happened on earth was part of an almighty design. We shall find it quite natural that there should be three Persons in the Godhead, and that the second Person should be both God and man; God’s only Son, our Lord, the visible object, now, of our worship, thanking us for all the little services we did for him.

We shall have no difficulty in seeing that our Blessed Lady became his Mother and yet remained a Virgin. And although pain and suffering will then be only a distant memory of the past, no part any longer of our daily experience, we shall be able to look into and understand the sufferings which our Lord underwent when he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, all those billions and billions of years ago; we shall understand those sufferings, and take, from them, the measure of his love. We shall look down into the twilight world of Limbo, where once the patriarchs were; quite empty, now, only a record of the past; and the strange old people we used to see in stained-glass windows will be real people to us then; brought to light when our Lord descended into hell.

The Resurrection will not merely be something that seems quite natural; we shall be conscious of it at every instant as the very condition of our being; for we, too, shall have become part of that Risen Life which our Lord brought back with him from the tomb. We shall see him, ascended, sitting at the right hand of his Father, thank him for the merciful judgments he passed on us, living and dead. We shall feel the presence of the Holy Spirit within us; we shall know the Church for Christ’s glorious Bride; we shall be in conscious communion with all the Saints; our sins, instead of looking black, will be rose-hued, like clouds at sunset, with the grace of final forgiveness. We shall be risen, soul and body; soul and body pulsing at every moment with the energies of an everlasting life.

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The Nature of Jesus’ Resurrection and Its Historical Significance – Pope Benedict XVI

January 16, 2012

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is a painting of the subject of the same name by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, c. 1601-1602. It is housed in the Sanssouci of Potsdam, Germany. Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (at the National Gallery in London) graces all our pages where the world these apostles knew, like ours, is analogous to the basket of food and teeters perilously over the edge.

Let us ask once more, by way of summary, what it was like to encounter the risen Lord. The following distinctions are important:

  •   Jesus did not simply return to normal biological life as one who, by the laws of biology, would eventually have to die again.
  •   Jesus is not a ghost (“spirit”). In other words, he does not belong to the realm of the dead but is somehow able to reveal himself in the realm of the living.
  •   Nevertheless, the encounters with the risen Lord are not the same as mystical experiences, in which the human spirit is momentarily drawn aloft out of itself and perceives the realm of the divine and eternal, only to return then to the normal horizon of its existence. Mystical experience is a temporary removal of the soul’s spatial and cognitive limitations. But it is not an encounter with a person coming toward me from without. Saint Paul clearly distinguished his mystical experiences, such as his elevation to the third heaven described in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, from his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, which was a historical event — an encounter with a living person.

On the basis of all this biblical evidence, what are we now in a position to say about the true nature of Christ’s Resurrection?

It is a historical event that nevertheless bursts open the dimensions of history and transcends it. Perhaps we may draw upon analogical language here, inadequate in many ways, yet still able to open up a path toward understanding: we could regard the Resurrection as something, akin to a radical “evolutionary leap”, in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence.

Indeed, matter itself is remolded into a new type of reality. The man Jesus, complete with his body, now belong totally to the sphere of the divine and eternal. From now on, as Tertullian once said, “spirit and blood” have a place within God (cf. De Resurrect. Mort. 51:3, CCSL, II 994) Even if man by his nature is created for immortality, it is only now that the place exists in which his immortal soul can find its “space”, its “bodiliness”, in which immortality takes on its meaning as communion with God and with the whole of reconciled mankind.

This is what is meant by those passages in Saint Paul’s prison letters (cf Colossians 1:12-23 and Ephesians 1:3-23) that speak of the cosmic, body of Christ, indicating thereby that Christ’s transformed body is also the place where men enter into communion with God and with one another and are thus all, to live definitively in the fullness of indestructible life. Since we ourselves have no experience of such a renewed and transformed type of matter, or such a renewed and transformed kind of life, it is not surprising that it over steps the boundaries of what we are able to conceive.

Essential, then, is the fact that Jesus’ Resurrection was not just about some deceased individual coming back to life at a certain point, but that an ontological leap occurred, one that touches being as such, opening up a dimension that affects us all, creating for all of us a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God.

It is in these terms that the question of the historicity of the Resurrection should be addressed. On the one hand, we must acknowledge that it is of the essence of the Resurrection precisely to burst open history and usher in a new dimension commonly described as eschatological. The Resurrection opens up the new space that transcends history and creates the definitive. In this sense, it follows that Resurrection is not the same kind of historical event as the birth or crucifixion of Jesus. It is something new, a new type of event.

Yet at the same time it must be understood that the Resurrection does not simply stand outside or above history. As something that breaks out of history and transcends it, the Resurrection nevertheless has its origin within history and up to a certain point still belongs there. Perhaps we could put it this way: Jesus’ Resurrection points beyond history but has left a footprint within history. Therefore it can be attested by witnesses as an event of an entirely new kind.

Indeed, the apostolic preaching with all its boldness and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen, namely, the self-revelation and verbal communication of the risen Christ. Only a real event of a radically new quality could possibly have given rise to the apostolic preaching, which cannot be explained on the basis of speculations or inner, mystical experiences. In all its boldness and originality, it draws life from the impact of an event that no one had invented, an event that surpassed all that could be imagined.

To conclude, all of us are constantly inclined to ask the question that Saint Jude Thaddaeus put to Jesus during the Last Supper: “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (John 14:22). Why, indeed, did you not forcefully resist your enemies who brought you to the Cross? — we might well ask. Why did you not show them with incontrovertible power that you are the living one, the Lord of life and death? Why did you reveal yourself only to a small flock of disciples, upon whose testimony we must now rely?

The question applies not only to the Resurrection, but to the whole manner of God’s revelation in the world. Why only to Abraham and not to the mighty of the world? Why only to Israel and not irrefutably to all the peoples of the earth?

It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him.

And yet — is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great? Does not a ray of light issue from Jesus, growing brighter across the centuries, that could not come from any mere man and through which the light of God truly shines into the world? Could the apostolic preaching have found faith and built up a worldwide community unless the power of truth had been at work within it?

If we attend to the witnesses with listening hearts and open ourselves to the signs by which the Lord again and again authenticates both them and himself, then we know that he is truly risen. He is alive. Let us entrust ourselves to him, knowing that we are on the right path. With Thomas let us place our hands into Jesus’ pierced side and confess: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

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