dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Two views of resurrection

Famous UC Berkeley sociologist Robert Bellah died last week, and to note the occasion, the university’s media center sent around an article on Bellah’s view of death. Gene Palumbo kindly sent it on to me. Here are some key paragraphs:

Where were you before you were born? That’s where you will go after you die.

Well before I was born, I was in the sperm of my father and the egg of my mother, I had within me the earliest beginnings of the components of a billion or more years of life, the genes that I share with worms (a lot) and with mold (some), and the atoms that I share with the universe all the way back to the big bang. So returning to all that isn’t so bad.

Further, I will join the company of saints, of all those whose cultural work has made it possible for me to have been a half-way decent person, and what I have added to the cultural pool, even when I am long forgotten, will go on having an influence (unless we become extinct soon, which is also possible) for a long, perhaps an immeasurable time.

As for eternal life, that is now. If we don’t see eternity in a grain of sand, when will we ever see it. As for resurrection, as Tillich said, dead men don’t walk. But Christ was surely resurrected in the consciousness of his disciples and is more alive today than the day he was crucified, in the faces of all those who follow his example and who keep him alive.

By coincidence or, as believers hold, by divine providence, I read today a sermon that the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe preached one Easter Sunday. Some contrasting paragraphs:

Jesus really died. The living human body which had been Jesus became no longer a human body but a corpse hanging from the cross and cadaver was put away in a tomb. There was no longer a man, Jesus of Nazareth: he had lived his short life and was no more. True, his soul was, no doubt, immortal, but a soul is not a human being. We only have an individual human being when that soul is the life of its inidividual human body. We are animals not ghosts; not even ghosts inside animals. What you are is this living flesh and blood, and when your flesh and blood ceases to live, when your life departs, you cease to be. You are totally absent, utterly not with your fellow men and women.  ...

And today we celebrate: we rejoice because he is alive and with us. “I am risen and with you.” God has risen him up. What had been a corpse, a cadaver, is now a living human body again, and much more, unimaginably more, humanly alive. ...

The gospel we preach is not about memories or ideals or profound thoughts. It contains all these things, but what it is about is the human person, Jesus, alive and present to us and loving us from his human heart. Our Easter faith is that we really do encounter Jesus himself: not a message from him, or a doctrine inspired by him, or an ethics of love, or a new idea of human destiny, or a picture of him, but Jesus himself. It is in this that we rejoice.

If I met you one day, I mean really met you, not a picture of you or a televised three-dimensinal holgram, or a truth about you, or a dream about you, but really met you, and you said to me, “By the way, it’s a rather interesting thing, my bones are in a cave in Palestine,” I would be astounded. I would not know what to think, but I would be inclined to say that you or somebody had done a remarkable “conjuring trick with bones.” This would be the really tricky and puzzling thing: that I should meet you (you, and not a ghost or a dream but the actual you), without meeting your body.

There is nothing in the least tricky or puzzling or quaint about God giving back life to the dead Jesus–and not just a resuscitation but a new and greater transfigured life in glory. There is deep mystery here, of course, as there is deep mystery in God’s giving us life in the first place, in God’s creation of the universe. To believe that God creates the whole universe and holds it in being over against absolute nothing, but to find it tricky or unworthy of belief that he should raise a man from the dead to a human life of glory seems eccentric. What we might find tricky, though, would be God raising Jesus to glory by doing something for something quite other than Jesus: producing, by sleight of hand, a substitute risen Christ while the body of Jesus is left buried in the grave.

God Still Matters (New York: Continuum, 2002) 226-228.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

"A corpse is now a living human body again..."  not in any ordinary sense

 

"We really do encounter Jesus himself"    yes, his eucharistic presence is bodily, but again not in any ordinary sense, it is a soma pneumatikon 

 

"my bones are in a cave" or mass grave -- perhaps not really incompatible with resurrection faith

People who believe in God a who think that resurrection is impossible are people who believe that God can do only what we humans can do.  What a failure of imagination!  

McCabe's sermon seems to contradict the empty tomb.

Molly Roach,

It seems to me that McCabe is indeed affirming the empty tomb (as Joseph O'Leary perceives and appears to question);

Joseph O'Leary,

and he's affirming "soma pneumatikon" = "a new and greater transfigured life in glory."

Both empty tomb and transfigured body. Appropriate for tomorrow's feast.

Ann, it is very hard to understand that a just God wouls create a world whose creatures are bound by physical laws, but choose that himself not be bound by them - sometimes letting things be, sometimes intervening. And then claim that he wants us to share in his divinity, and him to share our humanity. Whenever God flaunts his own laws (be they physical or moral), it's hard to swallow. I don't see it as a lack of imagination but as a desire for consistency. I never try to convince non-believers of the Resurrection, because I have no idea how to go about it.

McCabe was certainly aware (for that matter, who wasn't?) that we cannot understand the risen body of Christ in any "ordinary sense."  See his own words here: "not just a resuscitation but a new and greater transfigured life in glory"; "raise a man from the dead to a human life of glory." The soma or body is no longer psychikon, enlivened by the psyche or soul, but pneumatikon, enlivened by the pneuma or Spirit. That's St. Paul's take in 1 Cor 15. McCabe's point is that one does not have a human person without a body.

I'd like to hear some theories that would explain how that Jesus' bones lie somewhere in Palestine is compatible with resurrection-faith.

In the second of the two wonderful chapters on history in his Method in Theology, Bernard Lonergan refers to the fine American historian Carl Becker and to an essay in which he explored how historians reach conclusions about whether something did or did not take place. Very often they must rely on witnesses and then a historical fact is one established by “the testimony of at least two independent witnesses not self-deceived.” Historians will do their best to establish the competency and honesty of these witnesses, but sometimes will conclude that honest and competent witnesses are, nevertheless, self-deceived. Here something else may be involved:

This something else is not in the event, or the witness, or his competence. It is in the historian himself. This something else is the historian’s inability to believe that certain kinds of events are possible, however much otherwise reliable testimony is brought to support them. When the historian is confronted with testimony to the occurrence of a specific event of a kind which he is profoundly convinced cannot possibly occur, he always says that the witnesses, whether two or two hundred, are self-deceived.

Why does he depart from his usual method and criteria, say, in the case of a claimed miracle, which he approaches with a definite idea “if not as to what must have happened, at least as to what must not have happened”? Becker’s reply:

  The preconceived idea...is determined by the climate of opinion in which the historian lives. Living in this climate of opinion he has acquired unconsciously certain settled convictions as to the nature of man and the world, convictions which interpret human experience in such a way that it is easier for him to believe that any number of witnesses may be self-deceived than it is to believe that the particular event testified to has ever happened or can ever happen.

Lonergan cites these views favorably and relates them to his own notion of horizons, both cultural and personal. He offers his own comment on the possibility and the occurrence of miracles, pointing out how “the uniformity of nature is conceived differently at different times” and how this conception will affect how the historian will approach miraculous claims:

In the nineteenth century natural laws were thought to express necessity, and Laplace’s view on the possibility in theory of deducing the whole course of events from some given stage of the process was taken seriously. Now laws of the classical type are considered not necessary but just verified possibilities; they are generalized on the principle that similars are similarly understood; they are a basis for prediction or deduction, not by themselves, but only when combined into schemes of recurrence; such schemes function concretely, not absolutely, but only if other things are equal; and whether other things are equal, is a matter of statistical frequencies. Evidently the scientific case concerning miracles has weakened.

Claire: I do not know whether this brief comment of Lonergan does anything to meet your puzzlement about God and the physical laws of the universe. Are you a “Laplacienne”?

"I'd like to hear some theories that would explain how that Jesus' bones lie somewhere in Palestine is compatible with resurrection-faith.

I have no problem with the resurrection of the body, but I hate the argument that some use that says it's meaningless to talk about resurrection apart from the body, as if a body that walks through walls, dislocates here and relocates there, and is unrecognizable to even his closest friends solves the problem. Add to this the fact that virtually no matter in a person's body remains throughout a person's lifetime, yet we still talk of a person as having "a" body, I don't really see why the God of all creation couldn't choose to resurrect Jesus and leave (a set of) his bones behind. Not saying that that's what God did, just that I'm not willing to draw the line there and say my logic trumps God's creative power.

Lonergan's remarks cited above are ok, but do not really meet Hume's famous objection. As a non-positivist, I recognize the Resurrection of Christ as a powerful historical reality -- it is a Phenomenon, a "saturated phenomenon" which floods the whole NT witness and the experience of Christians ever since, and it means that the Crucified lives on among us as a life-giving Spirit and in his eucharistic body.

Barth talked of the empty tomb as a sign of the reality of the resurrection but he was evasive on the strict historical reality of this tradition (and of the virgin birth) -- the earliest clear reference to it is in a text dating from 40 years after the event. I think it would be a grave pastoral mistake to say, "you doubt if the stone was rolled back, or the tomb was found empty, therefore you do not believe in the resurrection". Paul in 1 Cor 15 did not talk like that.

Note also that all four accounts of the empty tomb introduce Angels -- one or two, doing and saying different things in each narration. The presence of angels in a narrative is a strong indicator of its non-literality.

whether other things are equal, is a matter of statistical frequencies.

I am not sure what that means.

"Whenever God flaunts his own laws (be they physical or moral), it's hard to swallow. I don't see it as a lack of imagination but as a desire for consistency."

Claire -- 

Why is it an imperfection to "flaunt" physical laws?  Do physical laws have some sort of dignity, some sort of intrinsic worth that requires such respect that no one should violate them even for the sake of a greater good? What are physical laws *for*?  

And what is so valuable about consistency?  Vice is ordinarily punished, and, granted, it is inconsistent to be merciful at times and not to punish.  But is this a fault?  Yes, an internal inconsistency can be ugly, but when a system is part of a larger system, should the same laws always apply?  In other words, should generosity follow the laws of logic? 

 

"I'd like to hear some theories that would explain how that Jesus' bones lie somewhere in Palestine is compatible with resurrection-faith."

JAK --

It is well-known that a worm can be cut in two and thereby turn into two different worms.  The whole is now two wholes by the regenerative power of wormness, so to speak.  What isn't so well known is that the tips of human fingers can also regenerate -- cut of the last joint of your index finger and it might come back.  So can we say that it would be impossible for some of Jesus' bones to remain in the tomb while others were somehow regenerated?  I don't think this is logically impossible.

What I don't understand is why people can believe that the Lord created the whole damn cosmos from scratch but they also doubt that He can re-create the wholeness of a person who has died.  Talk about swallowing a pig but straining at a gnat!

 

Let me be explicit. Nobody would mistake me for a physicist. Having admitted that, I can say that I've heard knowledgeable people say that ther is no settled view in physics about what counts as "bodily identity." Matter apparently is wholly convertible into energy and vice versa. There are, apparently, reputable scientists who talk completely in terms of processes of conversions, no "static" permanence.

Then there are the philosophical problems of talking about consciousness, especially about self-consciousness.

And yet, I find it hard to think that we can make sense of anything without some sense of personal identity. Granted that we don't know what happens to a person at death. Obviously that's a unique event in a person's life. So was conception, if we understand conception as the first stage in the development of self-consciousness.

I cheerfully grant that I can't see how physics can come up with evidence that human beings survuve death, whereas other organisms don't. But then, I find it by no means strange the incapacity of finite beings, such as we surely are, exhaustively to understand either ourselves or anything else.

Notye that this is not an argument for thoroughgoing skepticism. Rather, it is a matter of taking our finitude seriously.

Once again, nobody would mistake me for a physicist.

Fr. O'Leary:  Does not Hume's argument against miracles depend in no small part on Hume's epistemology and general philosophical horizon?  As for the empty tomb-tradition, of course it is no "proof" of the resurrection. The Gospels of Matthew (28:13) and John 20:13-15) offer other explanations; but J.D.G. Dunn has recently argued that the discovery of the empty tomb could well be implied in 1 Cor 15:4 and that in any case it seems to be as old a tradition as that of the resurrection-appearances. Both Dunn and N.T. Wright note that the latter are much more sober than might have been expected, that is, more sober, for example, than the accounts of the Transfiguration.

Claire:  Explain to me why God should be considered "bound" by laws of his own creation.  For Lonergan statistical laws determined the frequencies of occurrences of events, the "law" being the probability from which actual events do not systematically depart. It is the sort of intelligibility that can be found in vast numbers and immense lengths of time and, if I'm not mistaken, in random variations. Even Aristotle and Aquinas recognized that the laws of nature apply only "for the best part," that is, that there are contingent, not necessitated, events.

Luke 24:36-43:

“While they were still speaking about this [Christ’s Appearance on the Road to Emmaus], he stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.”

Seems to me that whatever substance or substances constituted the Risen Christ, his closest followers knew him by the corporeal nature of his post-Resurrection body, a being with “flesh and bones” who ate a piece of baked fish in front of them. Likewise, those were not mystical wounds in Christ’s post-Resurrection body that jarred Thomas the Apostle into recognizing that the flesh-and-bone Crucified Christ was also standing before him. (See John 20:24-28.)

I'd like to hear some theories that would explain how that Jesus' bones lie somewhere in Palestine is compatible with resurrection-faith. 

In 1 Corinthians 15:42-49, Paul makes a distinction between the the "physical" pre-death body and the "spiritual" resurrected body.  It seems to me that the connection between the two is still a mystery and it isn't obvious that  "resurrection" is simply the reanimation of the pre-death body or to what extent the physical remains become incorporated in the resurrected body. 

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is[j] from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

 

Jesus' offer to let Thomas put his hand into his wounds would argue for the reanimation of his crucified body - but the fact that Mary mistook Him for the cemetery gardener and the disciples on the way to Emmaus didn't recognize Him would argue for a new body - as would His ability to appear in rooms whose doors had been locked. Did His body change between the resurrection and his ascension so he had wounds for Thomas but a glorified body by the time he ascended?

 

I don't think that finding bones in Palestine would be fatal to our belief in the Resurrection.  

Joe: I don't understand the Resurrection, but I accept it. Isn't that enough?

Probability is not enough of a natural expanation. When an event has probability almost zero of having ever happened since the beginning of time, how is that different from impossible?

If God is not bound by his own laws, i.e., not committed to respect them as we do, then anything can happen anywhere at any time. It's all arbitrary and he can be accused of non-intervention.

Actually an archeological team did discover the bones in question.

A Greek Orthodox priest, an Evangelical, and a Jesuit were on an archeological dig in Jerusalem. They came across a Tomb that says, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, "Here lays Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed he was King of the Jews, and was executed at Passover under Pontius Pilate".

Excited by the find, they open the tomb, only to be horrified to find a crucified body.

"Oh my goodness," said the Orthodox priest.  "My Church and all the good it does is based on a false event."

"Oh my goodness," said the Evangelical. "The Bible, which has guided by entire life, is nothing but a lie!"

"Oh my goodness," says the Jesuit. "There really was a historical Jesus!"

 

Claire:  It's not as if sometime long ago, God created the universe with certain physical laws and now may be indicted if he does not feel bound by them.  If there an ordered universe now exists, it is because now, at this moment, God wills it to exist--it is utterly contingent on his will. Whether he chooses at some moments to do or to permit exceptions to that created order for the sake of his desire to see the universe and especially its human constituents reach their goal is entirely his decision, and unless one denies his supreme wisdom and unqualified goodness, I do not know why one should think of such a decision as arbitrary.

But I think that these discussions are often bedeviled by the definition of a miracle as an exception to the laws of nature. I've been trying to think how to translate the Latin word miraculum when it occurs in the sermons of St. Augustine. He did not stress its miraculous character; in fact, he thought it less wonderful that Christ should feed the five thousand than that God should everyday supply harvests of grain from a few seeds. Perhaps we should translate it as "wonder" in order to get at the primary experience, leaving apologetical uses of the idea and the phenomena to a later moment.

As for inconsistency on God's part, I do not know that the case of alleged miracles is any different, in principle, from the general problem of divine providence and the differing situations and fates that different people encounter or suffer. 

Exceptions to the created order put an obstacle to our understanding. How can we make sense of the world around us if anything may happen? How can we be free if we don't understand what's going on?  If God makes exceptions to intervene directly every now and then, then why does he not do it when some catastrophy happens?

It makes more sense to me that it is through us that God works in the world, so his impact depends on whether we receive his suggestions to us. He does not intervene directly  to make up  for our lacks, so we are full participants in the construction of the future. We humans are his agents, our role is to channel his will, but we are free to not do it, and when we don't, he does not step in to fix things directly. It is our responsibility.

Otherwise, if God occasionally sidesteps his own creation,  it seems to me to put our freedom in question, as well as making it scandalous that he lets some events happen when they cause much suffering. 

There is also an aesthetic reason: how beautiful it is that a complex world can be described with a few simple equations. Exceptions mar that beauty. For me attributing to God acts that violate his own laws is as offensive as attributing to him acts that appear to be evil. 

I understand that the coming of Christ to live a human life was a truly exceptional event, a one-time occurence, and I am willing to reluctantly accept that in that place and time there may have been - there have to have been - miracles that are normally impossible. The Resurrection is impossible, but it happened, so there has to be room for events outside the natural laws. But now, in the new alliance, why would God sidestep us?

I realize that it's not very satisfactory, but I don't have better answers.

Recently, I was going to teach catechism, the text to be discussed was the five loaves and two fishes, and just as I was leaving a thought came to me and I asked my dad in a last minute panic: "What if the kids ask me whether it happened exactly as written, if there really was a miracle in which five loaves of bread actually fed thousands of people? What do I answer?" He answered on the spot: "Just tell them that regardless of exactly how it happened, what matters is that, thanks to Jesus, they were fed; afterwards, all were satisfied, no one was hungry, and it was so abundant that many more could have been fed." I think it's a great answer. Whether it happened by natural or miraculous means is not so important, in a way. 

 

So, yes to miracles as wonders!

Loaves and fishes:In a passing conversation with a friend of mine who is a campus minister with advanced degrees in religious studies, she was startled to learn I believed the loaves and fishes story really happened (and I was a little startled she didn't).  I also believe the water and wine story as well and Jesus calming the sea. 

I think believing the sun's going to come up tomorrow, that we're going to make it okay through the day,is a bigger leap of faith than believing that God is able to make enough food to feed everybody.

But I sometimes find myself wondering what counts as belief? There are all kinds of things we Catholics are supposed to be believe.  A lot of  my belief is along the lines of  "ok, sure, why not, I'll believe that".  But if tomorrow it was announced  that we're dropping the Wedding at Cana story from the Gospels, I would be perfectly fine with that as well. (Though I do like a God whose 1st miracle was a favor to his mother).   So does this kind of tepid I-can-go-along-with-that approach count as belief? Or is some degree of fervor required?

Ann, (somehow I didn't see your comment until just now), yes, physical laws have an intrinsic worth: they are beautiful. I don't see them as less worthy than moral principles. Both have an explanatory power that enables us to move forward with trust that no matter what happens, there will be some appropriate response. As to consistency, it is so that there is a relation between the past, the present and the future. How can we trust the future? How can we learn from the past? There have to be some principles. Not at the detailed level of each action automatically determining the chain reaction, but at least at the level of what guides those actions. For example, "God is good", not just today but always. Without that kind of knowledge to rely on, we'd be totally lost, wouldn't we?

 

On miracles, wonders, etc. may I recommend Gerhard Lofink's book "Jesus."

Spectacular!

John P. Meier devotes 500 pages of the second volume of his massive Marginal Jew to a consideration of the historicity of all the miracles attributed to Jesus, including the so-called "nature miracles."

What do Lofink or Meier say about the Resurrection?

Fr. O'Leary:  Does not Hume's argument against miracles depend in no small part on Hume's epistemology and general philosophical horizon?  As for the empty tomb-tradition, of course it is no "proof" of the resurrection. The Gospels of Matthew (28:13) and John 20:13-15) offer other explanations; but J.D.G. Dunn has recently argued that the discovery of the empty tomb could well be implied in 1 Cor 15:4 and that in any case it seems to be as old a tradition as that of the resurrection-appearances. Both Dunn and N.T. Wright note that the latter are much more sober than might have been expected, that is, more sober, for example, than the accounts of the Transfiguration.

Claire:  Explain to me why God should be considered "bound" by laws of his own creation.  For Lonergan statistical laws determined the frequencies of occurrences of events, the "law" being the probability from which actual events do not systematically depart. It is the sort of intelligibility that can be found in vast numbers and immense lengths of time and, if I'm not mistaken, in random variations. Even Aristotle and Aquinas recognized that the laws of nature apply only "for the best part," that is, that there are contingent, not necessitated, events.

- See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/two-views-resurrection#comments

Fr. O'Leary:  Does not Hume's argument against miracles depend in no small part on Hume's epistemology and general philosophical horizon?  As for the empty tomb-tradition, of course it is no "proof" of the resurrection. The Gospels of Matthew (28:13) and John 20:13-15) offer other explanations; but J.D.G. Dunn has recently argued that the discovery of the empty tomb could well be implied in 1 Cor 15:4 and that in any case it seems to be as old a tradition as that of the resurrection-appearances. Both Dunn and N.T. Wright note that the latter are much more sober than might have been expected, that is, more sober, for example, than the accounts of the Transfiguration.

Claire:  Explain to me why God should be considered "bound" by laws of his own creation.  For Lonergan statistical laws determined the frequencies of occurrences of events, the "law" being the probability from which actual events do not systematically depart. It is the sort of intelligibility that can be found in vast numbers and immense lengths of time and, if I'm not mistaken, in random variations. Even Aristotle and Aquinas recognized that the laws of nature apply only "for the best part," that is, that there are contingent, not necessitated, events.

- See more at: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/two-views-resurrection#comments

Hume argued that when we read a historical report of an extraordinary miraculous event we must first exhaust every possible natural explanation before giving the report credence. This is what one would expect of a skeptical empiricist, but it also chimes with common sense.

The resurrection meets us first in the Pauline letters, as a stupendous reality, but about which little concrete information is offered. Dunn's suggestion that "kai etaphe" could be a reference to the empty tomb is an old one, but somewhat tenuous.

The elaborated narrations in the last chapters of the gospels, with the multiple contradictions between them, are clearly the result of an elaborated literary tradition that has been going on for 40 to 70 years after Easter Sunday. Quoting them as direct evidence for what happened is problematic.

I Cor 15 is the most precious -- eye-witness! -- account.

 

Augustine stressed a continuity between miracles and the ordinary regularities of nature. Claire raises a troubling point: if the laws of nature are suspended at one point, then does not the whole fabric of the universe and of human reasoning become undependable? Buddhist scriptures are overflowing with impossible miracles, which perhaps some Indians once believed to have literally happened, but which today we have no alternative than to take as symbolic fictions. Biblical miracles are more sober -- in Genesis we only have the late pregnancy of Sarah (who may not even have been as old, for J, as the P source claims). Exodus has a burning bush that is not consumed and some magical tricks. The spectacular paschal events do not entail any actual miracle.

I haven't read Lohfink's book, and John Meier does not intend to treat the passion and resurrection narratives. Meier does not think that a historian can answer the question whether a miracle has taken place; this is, for him, a matter for philosophers and theologians.

All that is beyond dispute is that the Jesus of history was a Jew who was crucified - a form of torture and death reserved for the political enemies of Rome.  It is the Resurrection faith that transcends that ancient execution and death, and transforms the Jesus of history into the Christ of faith.

Indeed, Tillich was right:  "dead men don't walk."  Instead of focusing our interests into the question of what was the nature of the risen Jesus, it seems to me that we should concentrate our present day 21st century inquiries into the question:  What were the event(s) or circumstances that sparked the Resurrection faith of Jesus' followers?

What was the phenomenology of these desperate, presumably uneducated, poor Jewish peasants that excited their imaginations to even conceive of a risen Lord?  What in their psychology of 1st century Jews in Palestine allowed them to make that leap in faith?  What was the powerful physical evidence or witness that helped the followers of Jesus to now confess to the world that they had seen the Risen Jesus?

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, always told us:  "Faith builds on nature."  So my question is:  What in nature did Jesus' followers experience that encouraged them to take arguably human history's greatest leap of faith?

Claire, et al.

I cannot do justice here to Lohfink's discussion of the Resurrection. What I can say is that much of what Jim Jenkins says above is at least in the ball park of Lohfink's reflections. For Lohfink, Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the cornerstone of the eschatological proclamation that the kingdom of God has begun in which death has no further hold. Lohfink emphasizes that there are no uninterpreted facts. Therre is good reeason to take it that Jesus' tomb was found to be empty. That encounter with the empty toomb fit well with th idea current at the time of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. Jesus'resurrection was inteerpreted as the inauguration of this end time.

Lohfink cites some work of Karl Rahner as being relevant to this interpretation.

Note that none of this has anything to do with anthing that physics can talk about. The issue for the Christian is the belief that Jesus is alive and active in our lives, that we have been incorporated into His reign in baptism and that we are ourselves now living in the end time, the time of God's kingdom. Jesus remains fully man as well as being divine. Hence He is what a glorified human being is and his body is a glorified body. As ours are meant to be.

This conception of what it means to be bodily, so far as I can see, has nothing to do with the subject matter that is studied in physics. But theere is no reason to worry about that. The objects studied in physics, or any other scientific discipline, are constituted in the course of a specific type of human investigation. Therre is no good reason, so far as I can see, for giving unequivocal primacy to any particular science and its objects. But this is another long argument.

For my part, I find Lohfink's account remarkably persuasive.

I should have added to my earlier remark the acknowledgment that what I said there certainly doesn't do justice to what Lohfink has written. The only wortih of what I have said is that it may prompt others to read him.

Bernard:   I agree entirely that physics has nothing to offer to clarify what the bodily resurrection is like. I think that a meditative reading of 1 Corinthians 15 might be useful. It was written about twenty years after Christ's death and resurrection, and it begins with the summary creed that was handed on to Paul upon his conversion, two or three years after the event: "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and, in accordance with the Scriptures rose on the third day; that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. After that he was seen by five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have fallen asleep. Next, he was seen by James; then by all the apostles. Last of all he was seen by me, as one born out of the normal course. ... This is what we preach and this what you believed" (1 Cor 15:3-8, 11).

Later in the chapter, he writes: "Perhaps someone will say, 'How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have? A nonsensical question! The seed you sow does not germinate until it dies. When you sow, you do not sow the full blown plant, but a kernel of wheat or some other grain. God gives body to it as he pleases--to each seed its own fruition....  So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural (psychical) body is put down, and a spiritual (pneumatical) body comes up. ... This is what I mean, brothers. flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, no more can corruption inherit incorruption." (1 Cor 35-38. 42-44. 50)

It is clear that Paul was addressing people who had difficulties similar to those one still hears about the resurrection of Jesus, but he is insistent: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty, too. ... If the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised, and if Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless, and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:13-14, 16-17).

Paul leaves the mystery a mystery. But he could not be clearer or stronger about the fact on which all his preaching and all the faith of his people rested.

Jim Jenkins:  On the testimony of Paul, the experience that led them to resurrection-faith was their seeing the Risen Lord.  Notice how many times and of how many people he says:  "he was seen by".  And, of course, all four Gospels speak of appearances to various disciples. I do not believe any phenomenology is going to yield much more than this.  They were convinced they had seen the Lord: "He is not here! He is risen!"

Joseph Komonchak:  On the testimony of Paul, agreed.  In fact, Paul states his claim to apostleship on his personal witness to the risen Jesus.  Reading that passage in Corinthians you cite, one can see that Paul is pulling himself up shoulder to shoulder with James the brother of Jesus, Peter, the rest of the Twelve; I guess we would have to include Mary Magdalene in that group; as well as the "five hundred brothers and sisters" presumably from the primitive Jerusalem community.

[There is something very quirky about Paul's use of language when he includes himself in that group of resurrection witnesses: "and last of all he [Jesus] appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born."  Very curious - what did Paul really mean by "abnormally born"?  Oh well ...]

However, when you read Paul's rendition of the risen Jesus he never actually claims a bodily resurrection or resuscitation.  Paul seems to be speaking of a spiritual body that has been glorified and risen.  I think it is hard to argue that Paul believed that Jesus' intact corpse somehow revived.

So, excuse me for repeating myself, "What in nature did Jesus' followers experience that encouraged them to take arguably human history's greatest leap of faith?"  What were the physical properities, what physical phenomena did the early followers of Jesus experienced that caused them to give testimony to a Risen Jesus?  Not what was their perception [how they made sense of their experience], but rather what was their sensation [what stimulated their sensory organs]?

[I suppose you will anticipate that a bow to "mystery" will not satisfy my questions.  Sorry.  When I studied human psychology and its biological bases, it was always critical to separate sensation (i.e., stimulus) from perception (a psychological construction - what the subject experiences).  I'm asking about Jesus' followers "sensations" of the resurrection.]

It's several years since I have read Meier's "Marginal Jew" and the books are not readily at hand, but Google found this interview with him:

 

Q: Can historians address the Resurrection, then?

 

A: We can verify as historians that Jesus existed and that certain events reported in the Gospels happened in history, yet historians can never prove the Resurrection in the same way. Why not?

 

Perhaps some fundamentalists would claim you can. Apart from fundamentalists, perhaps even some more conservative Catholic theologians would claim you could. I myself along with most questers for the historical Jesus—and I think a fair number of Catholic theologians as well—would say the Resurrection stands outside of the sort of questing by way of historical, critical research that is done for the life of the historical Jesus, because of the nature of the Resurrection.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is certainly supremely real. However, not everything that is real either exists in time and space or is empirically verifiable by historical means.

 

Q: What do you think happened to Jesus’ body?

 

A: The true Jesus who had died rose in the fullness of his humanity into the full presence of God. That is, I think, the essence of belief in the Resurrection. What the relationship of that risen body is to the body that was laid in the tomb is first of all not something that is historically verifiable. It is not subject to historical research at all.

 

Indeed, theologians among themselves disagree on that question. The fundamentalists would almost have a rather crass resuscitation view. Most traditional Christians have at least read Paul, First Corinthians 15 about the necessary transformation, as well as the Resurrection appearance narratives in the Gospels. They think in terms of transformation as well as continuity.

 

Thus the risen body of Jesus is indeed in continuity with the body laid to rest in the tomb. But nevertheless it has undergone radical transformation as a glorified, risen body. It is no longer of this world of time and space and not subject to its laws....There is a whole range of speculative possibilities about the precise relationship of the risen Jesus to the body laid in the tomb. As a person trying to pursue historical work, that is something beyond what I can investigate.

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Dec1997/feature3.asp

Pope Benedict praised Meier's work:

A new book by Pope Benedict XVI highlights Notre Dame biblical scholar John P. Meier’s extensive research on the history of Jesus.

 

“From the immense quantity of literature on the dating of the Last Supper and of Jesus’ death, I would like to single out the treatment of the subject, outstanding both in its thoroughness and its accuracy, found in the first volume of John P. Meier’s book, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus,” the pope writes in Jesus of Nazareth, volume two, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection.

 

This is the second time Meier has been so honored. The pope also mentioned Meier’s work in the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth.

http://al.nd.edu/news/22191-popes-new-book-lauds-notre-dame-theologian/

"yes, physical laws have an intrinsic worth: they are beautiful. I don't see them as less worthy than moral principles. Both have an explanatory power that enables us to move forward with trust that no matter what happens, there will be some appropriate response."

Claire ==

I wish I could have as benign a view of the laws of nature.  Nature on a biological level is "red in tooth and claw".  For me, the exceptions -- the miracles -- renew my confidence in the ultimate value of the world. 

You also say, "As to consistency, it is so that there is a relation between the past, the present and the future. How can we trust the future? How can we learn from the past? There have to be some principles."

Yes, there have to be some principles.  But it seems to me that the general regularity of nature is strong enough for us to be confident of what will happen, especially on the level of physics.  On the other hand, human wills are also an intrinsic part of nature, and they disrupt our expectations all the time, sometimes for the good sometimes for evil.  Why would God's disruption of physics for the sake of some higher good be be a minus in the general plan of things?  For me, such disruptions only confirm that "God is good".

To over-simplify, I guess I'm saying that a good contingency trumps a bad necessity.

Jim Jenkins:   I agree that there is a difference between sensation and perception, the former being simply the deliverance of a sense (e.g., soundwaves upon our organs of hearing) and perception, which is the sound we attend to, e.g., a friend's voice as we walk along a noisy street.  But I believe that sensations are utterly private, precisely because they are sensible, and I haven't the foggiest idea how anyone could go about trying to determine what sensations were experienced by the witnesses of the resurrection . All we have are their testimonies, and for them they use the language of seeing, and I would like to know how you think it would be possible to go somehow behind them, to bare sensation--"what stimulated their sense organs."  This seems to me an impossible question to ask a historian, but if you know some way at getting at it, I'd like to hear it.

"My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, always told us:  "Faith builds on nature."  So my question is:  What in nature did Jesus' followers experience that encouraged them to take arguably human history's greatest leap of faith?"

 

Jim J. --

 

The mystery is not how *nature* accounts for the ressurection.  It can't possibly be accounted for in natural terms.  Yet the disciples were convinced that it happened.  So what accounts for their beliefs?  Mass hysteria that they (hundreds of people) held to consistently for years even to the point of dying for their hysterical beliefs?  They might have been uneducated, but that doesn't make them dumb.  And that is exactly why a transcendent act, a miracle, best accounts for the behavior not only of the resurrection itself, but this in turn accounts for the reactions of those peasants.  

 

N. T. Wright is great on this (if I understand him correctly.)  See

The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) Paperback

by N. T. Wright  (Author)

 

Of course, if you think that it is impomssible for God to break His own physical laws, then it's all nonsense.

8-6-13

 

" There is nothing in the least tricky or puzzling or quaint about God giving back life to the dead Jesus–and not just a resuscitation but a new and greater transfigured life in glory. There is deep mystery here, of course, as there is deep mystery in God’s giving us life in the first place, in God’s creation of the universe. "

Really !?

Is it not time for the RC Church to consider further the evolution of  human thought and knowledge, such as scientific biblical research, and the other disciplines and fruit of their research, that go with this thought process of a twenty-first century scientific worldview, rather than age of mythology thought incorrectly used?

Funk's (et al) The Acts of Jesus, epistemology, logic, the sciences from cosmology to biology, scientific history, etc. is what I am saying.  ' Etc'  means the vast literature and expertise in this present world of ours that is available to help us evolve in our thinking, practice, behavior, and actions.

I was happy to see the direction that the Catholic Biblical Association of America is taking, celebrating their seventy-fifth anniviversary (see An Act Of Theology, Frank Matera,  in Commonweal), and related mateial online. We are on the move!

 

typos correction: anniversary and material

"All that is beyond dispute is that the Jesus of history was a Jew who was crucified."  It is also beyond dispute that his disciples became convinced that he had been raised from the dead.

Actually there also are a few people who dispute that there was a Jesus of history.  

Ms. Rottschaefer:  You write: "Is it not time for the RC Church to consider further the evolution of  human thought and knowledge, such as scientific biblical research, and the other disciplines and fruit of their research, that go with this thought process of a twenty-first century scientific worldview, rather than age of mythology thought incorrectly used?"

I think the RC Church has been considering what you suggest for some time now. The Catholic Biblical Association, as Fr. Matera points out, has been doing this for some 75 years. It is not a new phenomenon, and whether undertaken by Catholics or by others, it does not invariably lead to where Robert Funk et al. think it should. Are you familiar with the critiques of the Jesus Seminar?

The resurrection experience of the apostles was certainly something more than a deduction or a leap of faith. "I have seen the Lord" means encounter with an overwhelming phenomenon, the glorified Christ, who appears (the verb ophthe suggesting not a passive object of perception such as a ghost but an active self-revealing entity).  Paul gives a direct even if laconic account of this in Galatians 1:15, 1 Cor 9 and 1 Cor 15. There are also the three Damascus-road narratives in Acts.

This has nothing to do with God suspending the laws of physics (pace Ann Olivier above).

When I was 20 a German man told me how troubling he found the resurrection narratives in the gospels. I immediately reread them and declared myself more convinced than ever, responding to the kerygmatic power of these texts and glossing over their difficulty if taken as literal historical reports.

Where and when did Christ appear to Peter? I think a historian could well wrestle with this question, and I find Meier's answers rather coy.

About keeping up intellectually -- the academic situation now is such that there is just too much scholarly work being produced for everyone in a discipline to even know what is being worked on where.  It often takes time for the good new ideas or the radically new interpretations of data to filter out to the rest of the discipline.  And the situation for the general public is even worse -- the media often don't have the academic background even to know even which questions to ask the academics, much less how to relay answers from them accurately.

As I never cease to relate, it often takes 100 years or more for new philosophical ideas to filter into the general populace.  And usually this happens because of the effect of philosophical ideas on the particular disciplines.  Take the  breakthroughs in logic and the philosophy of language.  They began in the mid-ninteeth century George Boole and Boolean algebra plus the ideas of some other philosopher/logigicians/language theorists.  Boolean algebra is a foundation of computer science, and it's actually quite simple.  Still you can see how long it took to invent computers -- several generations at least..

 

 

Jim Jenkins: "my question is: What in nature did Jesus' followers experience that encouraged them to take arguably human history's greatest leap of faith?"

With all due respect to Paul Tillich, I think the only credible answer to that is they saw a dead man walking.

I don't think  Jesus could have appeared all that different post-resurrection, or at least not transfigured.  Didn't Mary Magdalen mistake him for the gardener?

I think the only credible answer to that is they saw a dead man walking.

BRRRRAAAAAAIIIIINNNNNSSSSS!!!

Joseph A. Komonchak:  While I agree that usually physical sensation phenomena are peculiar to the individual, if we take the NT accounts of the rise of the Resurrection beliefs at face value, these individuals are claiming that regardless of what was the exterior sensate phenomena, the group of Resurrection witnesses seem to have concluded that they had a “group” perception or at least a similar experience of the same stimuli (i.e., Jesus is risen). 

 

This is an extra-ordinary claim from any group of witnesses to the same event:  They are claiming that they have had a shared experience (perception) of the same stimuli.  Rarely are two witnesses who have experienced the same physical stimuli able to construct or endorse the same perception. [Ask any law enforcement official how difficult it is to find the perceptions of two witnesses that agree.]

 

I’m suggesting that we need fresh inquiry and speculation from exegetes on the shared perception of these Resurrection witnesses.  Since not even St. Paul - the first Christian witness to record his perceptions - posits [a resuscitated body now walking around talking], conseuqently neither should we.

 

But I have to conclude that something, some stimulus, in the physical plane of natural experience sparked a belief in a risen Jesus.  What was that spark?  We should be looking beyond just theological reflection or traditional doctrines to archeological and/or other scientific inquiry to enlighten our understanding of the Resurrection belief. 

 

Perhaps a narrative deconstruction free of the biases of belief could lead to new insights.  It may be that today’s believers need to remain open to a fresh inquiry into the historical and archeological record, even those records that we may easily dismiss out of hand.

 

Personally, I would start any examination with the supposition that all the witnesses shared the same perception of some evidence and/or artifact of the same resurrection event which gave rise to their shared resurrection belief.

 

The stakes are high for this and succeeding generations: Christians need to reclaim the belief in the resurrection for our time with 21st century sensibilities.

 

Tillich was right, of course, "dead men don't walk," but what this comment has to do with the NT witnesses to the risen Lord escapes me. The basic claim is that Jesus is not dead.

Mr. Jenkins:  You wrote: "We should be looking beyond just theological reflection or traditional doctrines to archeological and/or other scientific inquiry to enlighten our understanding of the Resurrection belief." 

I could agree with this except that you seem to think that there might be archeological evidence to explain what "sparked" belief that Jesus had been raised. Could you explain what such evidence could conceivably be.  I myself am having difficulty understanding how an artifact or other trace could provide evidence for that "spark. "That is, I do not understand what "artifact of the same resurrection event" could be. Can we ever expect to go back beyond the texts we have, only one of which (Paul's) is first-hand?

J.D.G. Dunn in his Jesus Remembered (857-62), after noting the diversity in the traditions about the resurrection, describes certain comment elements: (1) that they claim that people "saw" Jesus; (2) that there was also failure to recognize Jesus; (3) that the accounts include commisionings; (4) that a meal was involved in some of them; (5) that the appearancs were on the first day of the week. If we were to look for the "core" elements in this tradition, Dunn would find them in the first, third, and fifth of these.

Pages

Share

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.