The Resurrection

Thursday, May 15, 2003



There are many misconceptions out there about what progressive Catholics believe about the resurrection. This is partly our own fault, because we like to talk about resurrection in the language of mystery, where conservatives like to talk about in as clear terms as possible. There may also be different nuances among various progressives, and we are more tolerant of pluralism. I thought I would write my own progressive commentary on the resurrection as explained in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Before I begin, let me define a few terms:

History: What a progressive means by "history" or an "historical event" is that the event in question can be verified through secular historical methods. This is very different than what many conservatives mean. Conservatives tend to simply mean the event did or did not happen.

Maybe an example will help clarify the difference. It would go beyond historical science to say exactly what I ate on March 22, 1985, since I don't even remember, and nobody wrote it down. I doubt very much that anyone could find a witness to verify that I even ate anything on that day. I know I probably ate something, but whatever we guess I ate on that day, if anything, it would not be an historical event. Yet, the fact that I ate something is a real event.

The point is this: when a progressive says an event is not historical or is a-historical, she or he does not necessarily mean that the event did not happen. Rather, she or he means that the event in question cannot be proven or even fully understood by purely secular methods.

Progressives typically refer to the resurrection event as a "trans-historical" event to convey the idea that something happened that led the apostles to faith in the resurrected Christ, and this coming to faith of the apostles is historically verifiable. However, the nature of the event itself goes beyond purely secular historical methodology to determine.

The Real Jesus, the Jesus of history, and the Christ of faith: To the conservative, all three of these terms tend to be synonymous. Indeed, the Pope even wrote somewhere that we can not separate the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. I agree with the Pope that we can not separate them, but we can certainly distinguish them.

The real Jesus is the one who lived in Nazareth 2,000 years ago. The Jesus of history is what we can know about the real Jesus through secular historical methods. The Christ of faith is what believers have said about him that goes beyond historical methods. As a fellow believer, I accept that there is continuity between all three, but the distinctions are important - especially when talking to atheists, but also when trying to do rigorous academic theology.

Literary Devices: When progressives say that the Bible employs literary devices, many conservative lay-people assume that the progressive is accusing the author of fraud. This is not what is meant. If I said, "It's raining cats and dogs outside", I am not lying, but I am using a common idiom in American English. If I said to a Latino, "Esta lluviando gatos y perros?" she or he would be very confused. We use literary devices all the time in regular speech. For example, I just used another literary device by saying we do this "all the time". We don't literally do it "all the time".

The Bible was written by Hebrew, Aramaic and/or Greek speaking people over the course of maybe 2,000 years, and another 2,000 years have passed since completion of the original texts. The style of communication used by the people may be different than our way of communicating.

One of the most confusing literary styles used by the ancients was a literary genre that scholars call "myth". A myth is a creative narrative intended to convey a universal human truth. Because we Christians have historically rejected "pagan myth" in favor of Christian religion, we often have a bias against the very idea that myth contains any truth whatsoever. However, we need to remember that all myth was likely written by people who assumed that their audience grasped the universal human truth being conveyed, and understood that the creative portion of the narrative was not literally true.

Almost all cultures of the ancient world used this literary style, including the Hebrews. Many books we now consider "apocrypha" provide examples of Jewish mythic thinking. I am not about to suggest that there was no such thing as a real Jesus, or that the resurrection is a myth. However, I am intending to raise the question whether we can speak of aspects of language used to describe the Christ of faith as falling within the category of myth.

For example, when we say in the Apostle's Creed that Christ took his seat at the right of the Father, do we really intend to convey that the resurrected One is literally frozen in a chair sitting next to an old man in the sky whom we happen to call God? Of course not! This is metaphoric language that conveys the notion that Christ shares in the authority of God the Father.

Within the Gospels, when Jesus walks on water, is it absolutely necessary to believe that Jesus really walked on water, or might we suggest that this particular story employs the style of myth to convey the divinity of Christ?

I believe that Jesus was a miracle worker of some sort, likely a faith healer, and people certainly came to faith in him as the human representative of God the Father. I would suggest that this faith arose from the resurrection event more than from particular signs worked in his earthly life.

After the resurrection, I believe that it is possible that literary devices, including myth, might have been used to express faith in who the disciples believe Christ is for us. The authors writing these stories were not lying or fabricating a hoax. Rather, they were using a very common literary style to convey universal human truths that they came to know based on their experience of Christ, and they intended their readers to understand the style of literature they employed. We believe in faith that the creative process of crafting the New Testament narrative was guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guarentees that the texts tell us the truth about Jesus, without necessarily telling us the history of Jesus.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about human agency in the composition of Scripture:
110 In order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."76
Intellectual belief and faith: I intellectually believe that the earth is round. I have faith in God. Faith is not knowledge, though it is certainly based on a kind of knowledge. As we progress through an examination of our resurrection beliefs, I will sometimes try to distinguish what I believe intellectually from what I believe in faith.

So, without further ado, let's turn to The Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Paragraph 2. On the Third Day He Rose from the Dead
638 "We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus."488 The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross:
Christ is risen from the dead!
Dying, he conquered death;
To the dead, he has given life.489
488 Acts 13:32-33.
489 Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion of Easter.
The resurrection is the central event of the Gospel, which is good news. Without the resurrection, there is no good news. If the life of Jesus simply ended in death, his entire mission would been considered meaningless. The good news in Christ is that a man has risen from the dead, and what has happened in him can happen in us.

Immediately after the crucifixion, the disciples were crushed. The one whom they hoped was the messiah - the one who would restore the kingdom of David and usher in a reign of peace - was put to a bloody and senseless death before accomplishing what his disciples saw his mission to be. Only in the hindsight of the resurrection did the meaning of his crucifixion come to light.

The crucifixion is acknowledged by many historians as being an historical event - something not only real, but verifiable through secular methods. There are minor variances in the New Testament witness that can be explained by either the normal variances expected when multiple eye-witnesses tell the same story, or by the employment of a literary device by a particular author in a particular point.

An example of a potential literary device is Luke's placing Psalm 31:6 in the mouth of Jesus on the cross ("Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit" - Lk 23:46) where the other synoptics place Psalm 22 in Jesus' mouth ("My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?").

While it is possible that Jesus prayed both Psalms on the cross, it is more likely that Luke was afraid his Gentile audience would miss the reference to an Old Testament prophetic Psalm, and come to the conclusion that Jesus was not God. Thus, he tells the truth about Jesus without telling us what historically happened. In the way he crafts the narrative, he is making a theological point about Jesus offering himself to the Father. Mark's account is probably more "historical" and Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, knew his audience would pick up the reference to the Old Testament Psalm. John does not quote either Psalm, but alludes to Psalm 22 (v. 19) in the action taking place at the foot of the cross as soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes and so forth. The author of John may also be using a literary device.

With the resurrection accounts, we have greater variances than a phrase or action here or there. Luke has the Eleven seeing Jesus for the first time in the city of Jerusalem within 24 hours of the resurrection event, and Luke's Christ commands them not to leave the vacinity of Jerusalem until after the ascension. Matthew has the Eleven going a three days journey to Galilee to meet up with the risen Lord for the first time. Both accounts cannot simultaneously be literal history. There are other variances as well, but this is the most serious, because it seems impossible to harmonize them.

What scholars suggest is that mythic language is used to describe an experience of coming to faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It is important to note what I am saying and what I am not saying.

I am saying that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. This is an event that happened to Jesus, and not only to his disciples. It is a real event.

On the other hand, because of the seriousness of the variances in the New Testament accounts, the resurrection event is not an historical event. It cannot be proven or fully understood by secular historical methods. Furthermore, the descriptions of the resurrection are laden with mythic language that conveys universal human truth, but in a creative fashion that plays liberties with what we would call facts. It is not that the authors of the New Testament intend to deceive us. Rather, they are using literary forms common to the first century to lead their readers to the same faith we attempt to express in our creeds.
639 The mystery of Christ's resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56 St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. . ."490 The Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus.491
490 I Cor 15:3-4.
491 Cf. Acts 9:3-18.
Note that the first sentence of paragraph of 639 states what I had already said - the resurrection is a real event. However, the same sentence goes on to state that there were manifestations that were "historically verified". Then the paragraph quotes Paul's testimony to the fact that many witnesses claimed to experience the resurrected Lord (the Pauline passage states that there were over 500 witnesses, many of whom were alive as Paul was writing). This may seem to contradict my point, but I think it doesn't.

It is important that we distinguish what is real from what is historical, and what we believe intellectually from what we believe in faith.

It is something verifiable in history that by the close of the first century, there were many people who claimed faith in the risen Christ. Paul's statement about 500 witnesses is consistent with later historical evidences of the wide-spread Christian movement in writings such as Josephus, Pliny and Tacitus.

On the other hand, since many secular historians demand that an event of the supernatural order be verified by unbiased sources (non-believers), there exist no historical evidence for the veracity of the claim of these 500 witnesses. Since all 500 are believers, none are unbiased sources. Thus, the fact of 500 witnesses is "historically verified", but the claim of actual resurrection is not historically verified.

In faith, we believe that the claim of these 500 witnesses describes a real event. However, the event that is real that they claim to have witnessed is not itself an "historically verified" event, since it was not documented by a collaborating non-believer.

In faith, I believe that the truth told by Paul is that Christ is risen bodily from the dead and dwells now in a new existence where we can rightly say he is with the Father.

Yet, intellectually, we can ask the question about what the exact experience was that lead these 500 witnesses to faith in the same reality we profess.

Rudolf Bultman once said that he would believe in the resurrection even if the tomb was not empty and nobody saw the resurrected Christ with their physical eyes. Personally, I struggled with this idea when I first came accross it. Yet, in time, I have come to a point where I can hear what Bultman is saying without assuming he is denying the faith.

I experience the living Christ most profoundly in my own day-to-day life in the Holy Eucharist, or in Scripture, in prayer, or sometimes I get that glimpse of him in other people. I know in faith that Christ's presence in these means is always "true" or "real".

I am not saying that Christ rose only in the hearts of the disciples. Christ is risen - this is a real event. The resurrection happenned to Jesus, and is not merely something experienced by the disciples with no correlant in reality. This resurrection event is the condition for the possibility for what we experience in our hearts.

I suppose it is possible that the risen Christ can appear bodily to whomever he wants, but the question is whether he actually does or has appeared bodily to anyone! To ask such a question intellectually need not be a denial of faith. Faith is stronger and deeper than intellectual knowledge. I have come to a point in my life of faith where it is no longer necessary for me to know if he appeared bodily to anyone in order for me to believe that he has risen bodily!

Even if Saints Peter and Paul came to faith through some means that did not involve physical sight, their faith was so real that they were willing to die for it. They would not be practicing deception if they were using common idioms and literary genres to describe this faith, and their faith is so honest and genuine that they became martyrs. Does it really matter if they saw him in a physical sense?

Paul never tells us personally Luke's story of Paul falling off a horse and being blinded. Is it possible that this is a mythic device - something like saying "That idea knocked my socks off". Does it make Paul's witness less authentic if he came to faith as he was in prayer over what he was doing to the early Christians and was "blinded" as the meaning of Jesus' life and mission dawned upon him? Yet, his faith was in a resurrected body, which he clearly states in unambiguous terms. Does it matter how he came to this faith?

Likewise, what if the tomb was not empty.

Intellectually, I think was the tomb was empty. I don't think that Matthew 28:12-15 makes sense historically if it were not empty. This is the story where the Pharisees are said to have bribed the guards to say the body was stolen. I believe this passage is Christian apologetic against a rumor still circulating when this Gospel was authored. It demonstrates that the opponents of Christianity also believed the tomb was empty, which also presumes there was body known to these opponents that could be stolen - historical evidence of the existence of Jesus comming from non-believers as glimpsed in the apologetic of the believer.

Yet, to say that I intellectually believe the tomb was empty is not quite the same as saying that the empty tomb is a matter of faith. Indeed, as my faith has grown, I imagine that if a time machine were invented and someone took me back to the Monday after Easter and showed me a body, I would simply say, "That's no more him than the hair he left at the barber. He is risen! I know it because I talk to him every day."
The empty tomb
640 "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."492 The first element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. In itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ's body from the tomb could be explained otherwise.493 Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection. This was the case, first with the holy women, and then with Peter.494 The disciple "whom Jesus loved" affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered "the linen cloths lying there", "he saw and believed".495 This suggests that he realized from the empty tomb's condition that the absence of Jesus' body could not have been of human doing and that Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with Lazarus.496
492 Lk 24:5-6.
493 Cf. Jn 20:13; Mt 28:11-15.
494 Cf. Lk 24:3, 12, 22-23.
495 Jn 20:2, 6, 8.
496 Cf. Jn 11:44; 20:5-7.
There are a couple of essential points here. First, paragraph 640 seems to agree with the progressive that the empty tomb, in itself, is not proof of the resurrection. Indeed, one can have faith even if the tomb were not empty. Just as Jesus left hair, fingernails, excrement, and so forth during his earthly life, it is possible that his resurrected body shed something in the process of resurrection.

Yet, the empty tomb is seen as an essential sign. I demonstrated above that I intellectually believe in the empty tomb and see it as important evidence that Jesus existed. I would also go so far as to say that even if nobody saw the resurrected Christ in his glorified body, it might have been the empty tomb that first sparked faith in some of the disciples. The Scriptures sited in footnote 495 of the CCC actually confirm this. The beloved disciple in John's Gospel steps into the empty tomb and immediately believes before any narration of a bodily appearance!

I once said to a self-defined conservative Catholic that the resurrection is not resuscitation of a corpse. By this, I mean two things. No matter what we believe, the authors of Scripture are not describing a Night of the Living Dead scenario where a bludgeoned and bloody corpse walks limply around on Easter Sunday.

Second, as paragraph 640 states, we are not even talking about a resurrection like Lazarus' rising in John 11. Lazarus was restored to his old life, and presumably would die again. The resurrected Christ is now glorified, which is something altogether different than resuscitation of a corpse. It is not less than resuscitation, but infinitely more than resuscitation.
The appearances of the Risen One
641 Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One.497 Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ's Resurrection for the apostles themselves.498 They were the next to whom Jesus appears: first Peter, then the Twelve. Peter had been called to strengthen the faith of his brothers,499 and so sees the Risen One before them; it is on the basis of his testimony that the community exclaims: "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"500
497 Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1; Jn 19:31,42.
498 Cf Lk 24:9-10; Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:11-18.
499 Cf I Cor 15:5; Lk 22:31-32.
500 Lk 24:34, 36.
Here the Church is cautious in what she is saying and what she is not saying. Note that the emphasis is on "encounter" with the risen Lord after hearing a "witness", rather than too physical a description of such an encounter as the cause of faith. It is not that the Church is denying a possible physical encounter - and I don't deny such a possibility either.

We can assume that the risen and glorified Christ COULD appear bodily to anyone to whom he chooses to appear. The question is not what he can do, but what he has actually done!

Matthew 28: 16-17 states the following:
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
I wonder how they could be looking physically right at the resurrected Christ and still doubt? Is it possible that there was something ephemeral about their experience of coming to faith? Is this what might have prompted the author of John to say, "Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe." ?

Was it a challenge to believe at first, perhaps something that left them wondering if their own subjective imaginations were getting the best of them?

Consider the following quotation as taken from a recent article in Commweal (Apr 11, 2003) by Terrence W. Tilley entitled More Than a Kodak Moment: What to Look For in the Resurrection:
"Now consider the following dialogue of scene 1 of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan:
JOAN: I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.
ROBERT [DE BAUDRICOURT]: They come from your imagination.
JOAN: Of course: That is how the messages of God come to us.
Maybe the experience was physical in some sense, and maybe it wasn't. Paul never uses the word "physical", but he does use join the words "spiritual body". What does that mean? Whatever it was, it was powerful and real enough that it remains a historically verifiable fact that many of the disciples died to defend their witness to this faith.

But what exactly was their experience?

The resurrection experience is a trans-historical event. It is a real event with historically verifiable results in the disciples. However, the real event that produced these historically verifiable results in the disciples lies inaccessible to us through historical methods. Those of us who share this faith believe and trust precisely in the belief that we participate to some degree in their experience. We know the resurrected Christ in the breaking of bread and the opening of Scripture - like the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 23).
642 Everything that happened during those Paschal days involves each of the apostles - and Peter in particular - in the building of the new era begun on Easter morning. As witnesses of the Risen One, they remain the foundation stones of his Church. The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary "witnesses to his Resurrection", but they are not the only ones - Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles.501
501 I Cor 15:4-8; cf. Acts 1:22.
This paragraph, 642, is confirming what I am trying to say. Our faith comes through hearing the witness of those who already possess faith. It never ceases to awe me that our capacity to demonstrate apostolic succession means that our faith is passed on from one person to another in an unbroken chain. Furthermore, when we read the lives of the saints, no saint I know of was isolated from other saints. Catholicism is not formed by a book. It is formed by human relationships between people sharing faith.

Our faith is based on the witness of the Apostles unto death and the impact of their witness on other people, not on what we imagine they experienced leading up to this witness. It is through the Church, formed by the Apostles in the post-crucifixion and post-resurrection age that we come to faith. It is not so important that we understand what each of the 500 experienced. We can only imagine and guess at this. What is important is that we come to understand the truth they were trying to convey.

What is that truth?

In my commentary on paragraph 638 above, I stated that the resurrection is a real event and the center of our faith. It is the good news that a man has risen from the dead - not only as a resuscitated corpse with a little extra time, but as a glorified body that is at once physical (he eats and drinks) and beyond the physical (he appears through locked doors).
643 Given all these testimonies, Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact. It is clear from the facts that the disciples' faith was drastically put to the test by their master's Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold.502 The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized ("looking sad"503) and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an "idle tale".504 When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, "he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen."505
502 Cf. Lk 22:31-32.
503 1 Lk 24:17; cf. Jn 20:19.
504 Lk 24:11; cf. Mk 16:11, 13.
505 Mk 16:14.
The phrase, " is impossible not to acknowledge it [the resurrection] as an historical fact." would seem to contradict all that I have said. However, while I do not think the real event itself is accessible through history, I do believe that the effect of some mysterious event is so historically verifiable that we cannot deny it.

The disciples witnessed to the reality of the resurrection with their lives. The issue is not really whether the resurrection happenned or not, but whether we can speak of the resurrection as an historical fact. The Church seems to hint we can, but progressives are only comfortable stating that its effects are historically verifiable through purely secular methods.

Coming to faith is a struggle for all of us. It was for the original disciples. To say that perhaps they did not "see" the Lord with physical eyes should not weaken our faith, because most of us have never "seen" the Lord with physical eyes.

Indeed, if anything, to suggest such a possibility might strengthen our faith in our own subjective experience of the power of the risen Christ in our lives. That feeling you have that he truly is risen may be the same experience that lead the Apostles and other disciples to eventually come to a faith so strong that they were willing to die for it because it expresses the ultimate truth about the human condition and our ultimate hope!

Conservatives, in general, are often very frightened of subjectivity and feelings. Progressives are saying that it is in the subject that we experience the very seeds of the faith that will save us. We come to know that he is truly risen in bodily and glorified form by nurturing that feeling we have that he truly is risen! And nurturing this feeling gives our own lives new purpose, new meaning, and new direction that was hitherto unknown.

Does the conservative want to bring an atheist to faith?

If so, don't just argue with him or her on an intellectual level about the empty tomb. Share the story of your own personal conversion. Bring him to Mass, where the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist, his real voice in Scripture, and real presence in the priest and assembly will plant the seed of faith that will be experienced as a feeling - dare I say, even a hope that Jesus Christ is Risen indeed. (alleluia!)
644 Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem: they thought they were seeing a ghost. "In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering."506 Thomas will also experience the test of doubt and St. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord's last appearance in Galilee "some doubted."507 Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles' faith (or credulity) will not hold up. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus.
506 Lk 24:38-41.
507 Cf Jn 20:24-27; Mt 28:17.
Many conservatives believe that the phrase "Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles faith (or credulity) will not hold up." contradicts my entire thesis thus far.

If you thought this, you probably misunderstood what I am trying to say.

I agree with the sentence. It is not the faith of the apostles that makes the Resurrection happen.

Rather, the reality of the resurrection event is the condition for the possibility of the apostles coming to faith - even if that faith was experienced as a feeling of growing belief without sight, and full of doubt in the beginning. Then, it is the faith of the apostles, caused by the reality of the resurrection, that becomes the spark to our own journey of coming to faith.
The condition of Christ's risen humanity
645 By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion.508 Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father's divine realm.509 For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith.510
508 Cf. Lk 24:30,39-40, 41-43; Jn 20:20, 27; 21:9,13-15.
509 Cf. Mt 28:9, 16-17; Lk 24:15, 36; Jn 20:14, 17, 19, 26; 21:4.
510 Cf. Mk 16:12; Jn 20:14-16; 21:4, 7.
Note that paragraph 645 is saying that the resurrected and glorified Christ is bodily because the authors of Scripture portray him as eating and drinking. We progressives believe in the resurrected and glorified body, but there is nothing in paragraph 645 that indicates that it is contrary to faith to suggest that the authors of Scriptures used literary devices to make this belief understood and known to all of us.

As pointed out earlier, if I take Luke and Matthew's accounts literally, I have a problem that the Eleven would need to be in Jerusalem and Galilee at the exact same time. Someone is using literary devices here. This does not mean the truth is not real, but I can still be hesitant to say I am certain what the Eleven or the 500 experienced exactly. The point of the texts is that we Christians do not believe in a ghost or spirit - something that is less than full redemption of our whole personhood, including our bodily existence! Rather, we believe that Jesus' whole human personhood has crossed from death to life.

Indeed, according to Scripture and this same paragraph of the CCC, the mysterious nature of the resurrected Christ is also said to be unlimited by time and space, can be present at will, is not confined to the earth, dwells in the Father's realm, and enjoys divine sovereignty. There is something about the trans-historical event of the resurrection that is indescribable and ineffable mystery - Don't we all experience the Risen One as just such a mystery?
646 Christ's Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus' daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus' power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again. Christ's Resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus' Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is "the man of heaven".511
511 Cf. 1 Cor 15:35-50.
We see here all that I have been trying to say. While we believe in the resurrection of the body, we believe in more than the resurrection of the body, without believing less.

Christ has transcended time and space and become present throughout all time. He did this as a man, and we hope to be with him one day where we will intercede with the saints and commune with God and one another in a perfect and blessed union of love resembling a wedding feast.

We taste this every time we participate in the Eucharist, where we become the Body of Christ that we receive. In us, the glorified Christ continues to live and dwell, though he certainly can also manifest himself in a human body to any one of us at any time (even though he usually doesn't).

Some progressives will go further than myself at this point, and deny that the glorified body can appear as a physical form. In the resurrection event, Christ transcends time and space and became present throughout all time and space. Christ is really risen, and dwells in the Church here on earth. To suggest that a body exists somewhere other than our reality can imply a sort of dualism whereby another world exist than the world we experience here and now.

While I can intellectually accept this position, it does not seem to me to be what the Biblical authors are saying in their emphasis on the physicality of the glorified body. While I can accept that the authors may not have seen a body, it seems to me to be very clear that their faith is a faith in the resurrection of the body, for Christ and and for us. This faith is expressed in the Apostle's creed when we say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

Rather than dualism, I think of our current experience of reality as limited. Just as cats can see spectrums of light unknown to the naked human eye, and insects can sense things with their antenae that we cannot experience, I believe that there are aspects of reality in our world that are unknown to us. The resurrected Christ does not exist in another world than this world, but he exist in a mode beyond our physical senses. Yet, the faith of the Church is that this existence is somehow a physical existence in a mysterious nature called "the glorified body".

In this belief, I may be a bit more conservative than many of my fellow progressives, and I cannot offer any evidence for this position other than to point to the Biblical text and say, "This appears to me to be the faith of the Church, and I find it a meaningful expression of the goodness of our bodies." I think the more physical understanding is the sense of the faithful.
The Resurrection as transcendent event
647 O truly blessed Night, sings the Exultet of the Easter Vigil, which alone deserved to know the time and the hour when Christ rose from the realm of the dead!512 But no one was an eyewitness to Christ's Resurrection and no evangelist describes it. No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses. Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles' encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history. This is why the risen Christ does not reveal himself to the world, but to his disciples, "to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people."513
512 O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit!
513 Acts 13:31; cf. Jn 14:22.
The resurrection is the absolute center of our faith. It is the good news in and of itself. It from the resurrection of a man that we later come to faith that this man is the Christ (the messiah), the Son of the living God, indeed, God himself in the flesh. Yet, we know that "no one was an eyewitness to Christ's Resurrection and no evangelists describes it". The actual events of Easter Sunday morning prior to Mary comming to the tomb were not witnesses by anyone. The event itself is real, but not history. Furthermore, we believe in faith that the event was Christ's transcending history itself: The Resurrection, "...remains at the heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history."
648 Christ's Resurrection is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history. In it the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father's power "raised up" Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son's humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as "Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead".514 St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God's power515 through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus' dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship.
514 Rom I 3-4; cf. Acts 2:24.
515 Cf. Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 13:4; Phil 3:10; Eph 1:19-22; Heb 7:16.
Through the resurrection, Christ's mission of announcing the in-breaking of God's reign in the here and now has been vindicated. His whole person has been taken up into the very meaning and existence of God, such that we have come to know that he is the human face of God. Through the recognition that he is God in the flesh, we come to ponder and apprehend the incomprehensible truth of the Trinitarian nature of God, and our resemblance to this relational God in our communion with other persons.

The resurrection is the object of our faith. It is not logical proposition arrived at through pure human reason. The truths of faith do not contradict reason, but they may often go beyond reason into the realm of mystery. Belief in the resurrection is more than belief in an event in the past. It is belief in a present and living reality that we encounter in word and sacrament and in the community of faith! It is as a communion of persons in the Church that we image the Triune God who is a commune of persons in His nature. This is symbolized, made real, and actualized through the living presence of Christ in the Eucharistic action of the Mass and through the entire sacramental economy of the Church.
649 As for the Son, he effects his own Resurrection by virtue of his divine power. Jesus announces that the Son of man will have to suffer much, die, and then rise.516 Elsewhere he affirms explicitly: "I lay down my life, that I may take it again. . . I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."517 "We believe that Jesus died and rose again."518
516 Cf. Mk 8:31; 9:9-31; 10:34.
517 Jn 10:17-18.
518 I Th 4:14.
As we continue to grow in faith and deepen our understanding of the resurrection, we come to know that what he has become in the resurrection, he always was. Christ rose by his own power and reveals himself to everyone being saved!

Few of us come to faith solely through looking at evidence. Belief in the resurrection may be supported by various forms of evidence, and their is nothing irrational about such belief. However, our faith is less in what Peter or Paul experienced, and more in what we experience in our own personal encounter with God in the risen Christ today. This encounter takes place within the context of the Church, where the people of God are gathered into the living Body of Christ.
650 The Fathers contemplate the Resurrection from the perspective of the divine person of Christ who remained united to his soul and body, even when these were separated from each other by death: "By the unity of the divine nature, which remains present in each of the two components of man, these are reunited. For as death is produced by the separation of the human components, so Resurrection is achieved by the union of the two."519
519 St. Gregory of Nyssa, In Christi res. Orat. I: PG 46, 617B; cf. also DS 325; 359; 369.
The resurrection is tied to the incarnation. It is through our own encounter with the risen Christ that we come to "see" that he is the incarnate God - the divine as human and the human as divine. See my articles on the human personhood of Christ and his divinity for further comment.

In the Eucharist, God the Father offers himself to us in Christ, and we offer ourselves back to the Father with Christ. We are united to the event of the Last Supper made present in our own time space by Christ's own living presence. In the reception of the Eucahrist, we become what we receive. We are the Body of Christ. We are drawn into relationship with God through our relationships to one another. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive the whole Christ, which is Jesus the head, and his whole body. We receive one another. We become alter Christus to one another through the action of the Eucharist.
651 "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain."520 The Resurrection above all constitutes the confirmation of all Christ's works and teachings. All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority, which he had promised.
520 I Cor 15:14.
Without the resurrection, nothing Christians preach makes any sense. The doctrines of incarnation and Trinity make no sense if he is not risen. It was his resurrection that lead the disciples to ponder the deeper truths about Christ. We are fools if Christ is not alive and present to us today as truly as he was to the Eleven!

Thus, it is less important to discern exactly what the apostles might have experienced, and more important to encounter Christ personally in the sacraments. The condition for the possibility of such an encounter lies precisely in the fact that Christ is risen today! He is alive and revealing himself today in the world through the Church.
652 Christ's Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises both of the Old Testament and of Jesus himself during his earthly life.521 The phrase "in accordance with the Scriptures"522 indicates that Christ's Resurrection fulfilled these predictions.
521 Cf. Mt 28:6; Mk 16:7; Lk 24:6-7, 26-27, 44-48.
522 Cf. I Cor 15:3-4; cf. the Nicene Creed.
The resurrection event is the in-breaking of the fulfillment of all human hopes and desires. What every single person, down to the atheist and the pagan, yearns for in the deepest part of the heart is the resurrection from the dead in a glorified state. This hope was expressed in the Old Testament, and fulfilled in Christ. It will one day be fulfilled in us!

When people ask me why I believe the Bible is God's word, I do not typically appeal to rational arguments and historical evidence the way so many apologists try to do. To me, the Bible is obviously God's word because it expresses the ultimate hope of all humanity before God in the Old Testament. No other hope is worthy of my belieef.

In the New Testament, we see that this ultimate hope has begun to be fulfilled. It is such good news and so beautiful that if there is a God, this must be his word. The Bible is the greatest story ever told, and even if it were all "imagined", I would accept it as true because we cannot imagine a greater story or a greater God, and all knowledge is gained because we first imagine something to be true.

Even the belief that the earth circled the sun was not widely embraced until people began to imagine that such a thing could be true. All reality is interpreted reality, and the Christian interpretation is a rich and joyful way to be in the world - a hope that cannot be surpassed!

The only other option truly is atheism, which is why most fallen away Catholics do not join non-Christian religions but simply drift in agnosticism. As the disciples themselves are recorded saying "You have the words of eternal life. Where else would we go?" I believe the mystic and the athiest see reality as it is, and a choice is made. Either it is all meaningless, or everything is layered with infinite meaning going beyond what I can see with my eyes! I don't argue with atheists about facts. The question is what it all means?

When we each come to faith in the risen Christ, we begin to interpret the world in the same manner as the apostles. We achieve a shared world of meaning with those who were willing to die for their faith in the resurrected Christ. Life is hardly worth living until we have found a truth worth dying for. Through our resurrection faith, our own lives are transformed, and we die to sin to rise with Christ. All things become new in our sight, and new hope is born in our hearts.
653 The truth of Jesus' divinity is confirmed by his Resurrection. He had said: "When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he."523 The Resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly "I AM", the Son of God and God himself. So St. Paul could declare to the Jews: "What God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.'"524 Christ's Resurrection is closely linked to the Incarnation of God's Son, and is its fulfillment in accordance with God's eternal plan.
523 Jn 8:28.
524 Acts 13:32-33; cf. Ps 2:7.
As the disciples of Jesus came to firm faith in the resurrection, it vindicated his entire life and mission and lead them to understand his divinity. Some people say that Jesus preached the reign of God and Paul preached Jesus. This is true to some extend. However, the deeper truth is that in the resurrection, we see that the final goal of the reign of God that Jesus preached has already broken into our world in his very person.

There is continuity and consistency in the development between what Jesus preached and what Paul came to see in faith. This tradition continues to develop in the formation of the New Testament and the formation of the Church. Under the guidence of the Holy Spirt, this continuous development of thought and faith is sustained in the Church.
654 The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, "so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."525 Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.526 It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ's brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: "Go and tell my brethren."527 We are brethren not by nature, but by the gift of grace, because that adoptive filiation gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection.
526 Cf. Eph 2:4-5; I Pt 1:3.
527 Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17.
The resurrection is OUR hope - it is a liberating event and joyful news.

In the future, I hope to write some more exploring the meaning of liberation in Christ, including the "integral liberation" of the whole person from all that is oppressive and denying of life - including personal sin, social sin, and freedom from oppression in this life continuing into the next.

Far from being an opium for the masses, as Karl Marx had stated, Christianity is a shot of adrenelin in the arm of the oppressed. Faith in the resurrection has transformative power that has freed people from personal addiction, inspired political movements and led to great works of social service and charity. Far from "pie in the sky" illusion, the resurrection leads to a fearlessness in the face of death that sheds new meaning on the day-to-day here and now of life!
655 Finally, Christ's Resurrection - and the risen Christ himself is the principle and source of our future resurrection: "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."528 The risen Christ lives in the hearts of his faithful while they await that fulfillment . In Christ, Christians "have tasted. . . the powers of the age to come"529 and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may "live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."530
528 I Cor 15:20-22.
529 Heb 6:5.
530 2 Cor 5:15; cf. Col 3:1-3.
Christ is the first-fruits. What happened in him is promised to us.

There is not much more I can add to this. Let me say this much. Lately, some non-Catholic progressives have argued that the original interpretations of the the meaning of Jesus' life are too cultic, too "religious" and too supernatural for today's world.

I completely disagree with these critics. However, the debate that we need to engage with these critics is not over the facticity of the resurrection, but its meaningfullness. We need to be able to talk about what it means to each one of us that Christ IS risen today!
656 Faith in the Resurrection has as its object an event which as historically attested to by the disciples, who really encountered the Risen One. At the same time, this event is mysteriously transcendent insofar as it is the entry of Christ's humanity into the glory of God.
The living presence of Christ in the here and now is the object of our faith. This faith is historically known in its effects on Jesus' original disciples who encountered him in various ways including but not necessarily limited to the breaking of the bread, in the Scriptures, and in one another. The event that caused these historically known effects in the disciples transcends history such that it can be known to us today through the living presence of Christ in his body, the Church.
657 The empty tomb and the linen cloths lying there signify in themselves that by God's power Christ's body had escaped the bonds of death and corruption. They prepared the disciples to encounter the Risen Lord.
Faith does not contradict reason, though it can certainly go beyond reason. There are various evidences that point to a the reality that Jesus Christ is risen today. None of these serve as absolute proofs in and of themselves, and God permit a choice. We chose to share in the meaning of life discovered by the disciples of Christ.
658 Christ, "the first-born from the dead" (Col 1:18), is the principle of our own resurrection, even now by the justification of our souls (cf. Rom 6:4), and one day by the new life he will impart to our bodies (cf.: Rom 8:11).
What happened in him is happening to us. Whatever the events that lead others to come to faith, once we share this faith it is known as a promise that our deepest longings are already being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The absolute fulness of our hope may not reach its complete realization in this life, but the presence and power of the risen one is already breaking into our world with liberating and transforming power today.


I hope I have helped to clarify that the resurrection itself is considered very real to this progressive Catholic, though I certainly feel free to talk about it in terms that more open to mystery, mystical experience, and subjectivity than many lay conservatives express.

I am also leary of some forms of conservative apologetic, which I think can lead to traps of contradition or poor exegesis of Scripture. It is not necessary to proove the resurrection in history, since the experience of the Risen One is available today! Furthermore, it is not even possible to prove the resurrection in history, because it is a tranhistorical event.

I think the discussion between liberals and conservatives, and believers and non-believers regarding the resurrection needs to focus more on the meaning of the resurrection. The questions we need to focus on are not "What happened behind the texts?" or "Was it physical?" or even "Did it happen to Christ or the disciples?"

Rather, the questions we should focus on today are "What is the relevance of the resurrection today?" and "How do we experience and encounter with the Risen One today?"

He IS risen. Alleluia!

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at

posted by Jcecil3 3:30 PM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by