ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 19||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||September 1988|
"On the Third Day He Rose"
Fr Eamonn Bredin and the Resurrection
by John F. McCarthy
by Brian Harrison"Resurrexit tertia die." Thus does the Church, year in year out, century after century, proclaim her ancient faith in Jesus' Resurrection on "the third day" - the very heart of the "good news" of the Gospel.
(36) The Saviour's Resurrection is not truly a fact of the historical order, but a fact of the purely supernatural order - neither demonstrated nor capable of demonstration - which the Christian consciousness gradually derived from other truths;Besides these considerations which apply specifically to the Resurrection, there is another, more general, reason why we cannot "reinterpret" the credal formula "on the third day he rose" so that it comes to mean a non-physical, non-miraculous "Resurrection" on the first day, at the instant of Christ's death on the cross. This more general reason is simply that the meaning of each and every article of Catholic faith is necessarily fixed and immutable. This does not mean there can be no development of doctrine, in the sense of adding various nuances or explanations to clarify the original meaning. It means that the original meaning cannot ever come to be replaced by a contradictory meaning, which negates what was previously understood by a given article of faith.
(37) Faith in Christ's Resurrection was initially not so much concerned with the Resurrection as a fact in itself (de facto ipso resurrectionis), but rather, with Christ's immortal life with God.
If the Easter proclamation represented nothing more than the attempt to manifest an internal experience, it would follow that the original interpretation of the primitive (Christian) community would lack any absolute, normative value. The experience of faith, according to which the real fact of Jesus continues, would lend itself to another interpretation - for example, that Jesus' faith and love have a permanent significance. ... The confession of Jesus' Resurrection as a real event belongs necessarily to the Christian faith: it cannot be understood as the product of a historically-conditioned interpretation - one capable of alternative formulations - of an internal experience within history, the world, and man. (L'Osservatore Romano, 16 December 1967, p. 5.)Three years later, when addressing the theologians and exegetes participating in a congress on Jesus' Resurrection, Pope Paul VI issued a grave warning to those "who call themselves Christians" while "denying the historical value of the inspired testimonies" to the Resurrection. The Pontiff insisted that Jesus' existence now is "not merely a glorious survival of his 'ego,'" and rebuked those authors who "interpret Jesus' physical Resurrection in a merely mythical, spiritual or moral way" (AAS 62  pp. 221-223).
The resurrection cannot be considered as a mere subjective experience, nor simply as the living Christ's "invasion" of the private lives of the Apostles. ... It is really the self-same body which the Word of God took from the Virgin Mary by the power of the Spirit, which was crucified and buried, and which was transfigured by the power of the Spirit. Such an affirmation has always scandalized those who claim to determine limits to the power of God and to the freedom of his love. ... The texts of the Gospels, demonstrating for us the continuity between the burial and the resurrection, the discovery of the empty tomb, and the sense-perceptible quality of the apparitions, intend to bear witness to the continuity of the buried body and the risen body, "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:11). (L'Osservatore Romano, 26 March 1972.)John Paul II has recently stressed again the physical reality of the risen Christ. In his catechetical address of 27 January 1988, the Pope reaffirmed the immutable meaning of this article of faith:
To rise again means to return to life in the body. Although transformed, endowed with new qualities and powers, ... it is a truly human body. In fact the risen Christ makes contact with the Apostles; they see him, look at him, touch the wounds which remained after the crucifixion. He not only speaks to them and stays with them, but he also accepts some of their food. (L'Osservatore Romano, English ed., 2 February 1988.)As the French Bishops pointed out, this unashamedly physical character of Jesus' Resurrection has always scandalized those in whom a worldly spirit of skepticism about miracles has replaced a childlike trust in the power and freedom of God. This simple weakness in faith is the sad reality behind the exegetical sophistries which purport to "reinterpret" Our Lord's Resurrection on the third day. But in regard to this false, a priori scepticism about miracles in general, Pope John Paul II is no less definite and severe. We can do no better than conclude this brief reflection by quoting his catechesis of 9 December 1987:
As facts, they [i.e., miracles] belong to evangelic history, and the accounts of them contained in the gospels are as reliable and even more so than those contained in other historical works. It is clear that the real obstacle to their acceptance as facts of history and of faith is the anti-supernatural prejudice already referred to. It is a prejudice of those who would limit God's power or restrict it to the natural order of things, as though God were to subject himself to his own laws. But this concept clashes with the most elementary philosophical and theological idea of God, infinite, subsisting and omnipotent Being, who has no limits except in regard to non-existence and therefore the absurd. (L'Osservatore Romano, English ed., 14 December 1987, p. 3.)
by Brian HarrisonFr. Eamonn Bredin is a lecturer in Systematic Theology at the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Mount Oliver in Dundalk, Ireland. In a recent book, Rediscovering Jesus (Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic, Connecticut, 1986), Fr. Bredin devotes an important chapter ("Reading the Easter Narratives," pp. 214-229) to Our Lord's Resurrection. His ideas on this subject - unfortunately - are typical of a kind of "reinterpretation" which has become rather widespread in the last decade or so; therefore, in examining what Fr. Bredin has to say on this matter of crucial importance to our Catholic and Christian faith, we need to be conscious of not a few other theologians who have introduced into the Catholic fold very similar "re-readings" of the Gospel narratives. (There is nothing especially new about Fr. Bredin's basic approach; I remember reading not long ago an essay by Msgr. Ronald Knox, written in 1913, refuting the same basic "reinterpretation" of the Resurrection. The only novelty is that the approach has now been adopted by those teaching in the name of the Catholic Church - Knox was arguing against a liberal Anglican.)
Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy maintained and continues to maintain, that the four Gospels,... whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up (cf. Acts 1:1-2).The Council goes on to point out that while the evangelists selected and edited the material that had come down to them, this was "always" (semper) done in such a way as to hand on to us "the honest truth about Jesus." As regards the Resurrection, the Council went out of its way to stress the historicity of the final chapters of each Gospel, which deal with the great miracle of Easter: the words "until the day when he was taken up," in the above quotation, were added to the final draft of the conciliar Constitution precisely in order to express unambiguously the Church's faith in the historicity of the Resurrection narratives.
These narratives came into being in the first place because disciples brought two thousand years of Israel's tradition to bear on the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth.But do fact-reporting narratives "come into being" because people "bring to bear" ancient traditions on anything? They come into being because people have witnessed real, new events; traditional ideas might well influence the interpretation placed on those events, but they do not cause the report of the events themselves.
It is easy to be convinced that we already know what these narratives are saying before we approach them because of our traditional faith in resurrection.Now, as we have seen, Vatican II reaffirms emphatically that we must understand the NewTestament narratives (Like Scripture in general) in the light of the Church's Tradition. Fr. Bredin, however, seems to say the contrary - that if we want to "hear what these narratives are really saying," we must let this Tradition ("our presuppositions") be judged and corrected by some new insights or discoveries of himself and other modern scholars. We can hardly avoid suspecting that Fr. Bredin is going to ask us - presumably in the name of recent progress in exegetical and other sciences - to discard the traditionally accepted meaning of the article of faith, "On the third day he rose," in favour of a different meaning. But if so, such a proposal is ipso facto condemned infallibly by the solemn anathema of an ecumenical council of the Church. Vatican Council I defined:
Because we assume that we know what Easter is, what resurrection means, who God is, how history is to be understood, we will simply hear these narratives as confirmation of what we already know and not as a proclamation of what is shatteringly new. ... If we could admit the extent to which we are held captive by our presuppositions and consequently be prepared to redefine our cherished notions of history, of the relationship between God and the world, of what is and is not possible in the light of these narratives, we might be in a position to hear what these narratives are really saying to us. 1
If anyone should say that, in accordance with the progress of science, a meaning must sometimes be attributed to dogmas declared by the Church which differs from that meaning which the Church has understood and understands, let him be anathema. 2Unfortunately, Fr. Bredin soon lends further support to our suspicions. He even seems to cast doubt on whether it is possible ever to report events substantially the way they took place: "Human beings," we are told, "cannot express themselves without interpreting or interpret without transforming." 3 And, in fact, while the Church of Vatican II and all previous ages firmly believes that these Resurrection narratives faithfully hand on what Jesus really did and said, Fr. Bredin tells us that
it is helpful to realise that the Easter narratives are much more the poetry of love, expressing the most liminal of experiences, rather than pedestrian literal descriptions. 4The apostles' "experience" of the risen Jesus, according to Fr. Bredin, was analogous to the experience of "interpersonal love." 5 In other words, it was an internal experience of the heart and the affections, not a tangible encounter with one who had physically risen, who ate food with his disciples, and showed them his hands and sides bearing the marks of the nails.
is something that took place between the crucified Jesus and his God and Father and obviously there could be no eyewitness to such an event. 10The last clause here does not seem to this writer true at all, much less "obviously" true. Indeed, it so happens that there were in fact no eyewitnesses to the moment of Resurrection itself, because nobody was inside the sealed tomb with Jesus' body. But to say that "obviously there could be no eyewitness to such an event" seems to imply that the Resurrection had no visible or tangible effect on the crucified body of Our Lord at all, much less did it empty the tomb! Andthis is somehow supposed to be "obvious"!
is now at the very heart of the heart of God. Here disciples begin to stammer, "for not everything has a name" and "words strain and crack and sometimes break ..." and "... after speech reach into silence." 15Once again, this is obfuscation: it is Fr. Bredin, not the disciples, who is "stammering." The Gospels and Acts clearly speak of a physical, tomb-emptying Resurrection, while Fr. Bredin studiously avoids joining them in that affirmation. He rightly claims that Jesus' Resurrection is something "more" than a Lazarus-type resuscitation; but what he seems to regard as "more," the disciples and commonsense Christians of all ages would regard as less - a "Resurrection" which did not even raise Jesus' body from the grave, let alone endow it with glorious supernatural qualities which the risen Lazarus did not enjoy.
one act among other acts within our space and time and history. We are trying to come into contact with something that takes place beyond the fringes of human experience, that is metahistorical and yet is graciously refracted through human history. 16Would it not be better to say that the Resurrection took place at the fringes of human experience, not "beyond" them? We can, if we wish, think of Jesus' Resurrection as an exit or passage from "our space and time and history" to a new mysterious dimension of glorified existence. But just as an exit door at the "fringe" of a building is located at a definite spatial point of the building itself, so Our Lord's transition from death to glorified life had its starting point in ordinary human history: that is, at a definite time (36 hours or so after His death on the cross) and at a definite place (the tomb where His body was laid). To say this is by no means to "leave no room for wonder or mystery," or to "diminish" the Resurrection accounts to "a Lazarus-type return to this life" or to "the resuscitation of a corpse and nothing more." 17 Jesus' Resurrection is the resuscitation of His corpse and something more, namely, the mysterious, trans-historical glorification which leaves all the room in the universe for wonder and mystery.
Even in the Easter stories that come closest to a more physical description of Jesus as raised (especially in Luke and John), he is nevertheless presented as no longer confined to our time-space continuum. 21It seems reasonable to conclude once again, therefore, that by telling us not to "reduce" the Easter event to "nothing more than the revival of a corpse," Fr. Bredin really wants to intimate that Jesus' corpse was not brought to life in any way at all. He offers no argument for this position, however, and leaves it with a thin veneer of orthodoxy only by insinuating - at a superficial level - a false identification between the idea of corpse-revival in general and the mere corpse-revival experienced by Lazarus.
was communicated at a level literally too deep for words and yet was grasped by them at that profound pre-linguistic level. The experience of non-verbal communication in contemplation or between lovers ("We were together and said nothing all the day") may help to throw some light on this experience. 24Within one brief paragraph Fr. Bredin moves from a mere suspicion that this might be the case ("we might begin to suspect" it) to an assertion that it was the case - but without any argument being given to justify such a transition. But it certainly needs justification: judging by the experience of recent visionaries, such as the children at Lourdes and Fatima, such supernatural communication can very definitely be a verbal one, even though the words received in such an experience were obviously not spoken in the "everyday" manner. Sister Lucia has always insisted that Our Lady of Fatima and the Angel of Portugal communicated certain precise words to her and the other shepherd children in 1916-17. Bernadette at Lourdes was given the exact words "Immaculate Conception" which were previously quite beyond her own limited vocabulary. How, then, can Fr. Bredin be so confident that the disciples did not really receive from the risen Christ the words attributed to Him in the Gospels themselves?
It seems permissible then to say that the words placed on the lips of the Risen Jesus in the Easter stories are later attempts by the community to give expression to what had at first been communicated to them at this most profound level. 25The word "then" implies of course that this assertion is supposed to follow logically from what has already been said. But so far we have been shown no reason for supposing even that there was a "non-verbal" communication instead of the real words recorded in the Gospels, much less that these words were "placed on the lips of the Risen Jesus" by the later community rather than by the Apostles who first encountered Him. In other words, Fr. Bredin is simply presenting us with an unsupported hypothesis - one which in fact is by no means in harmony with the constant teaching of the Church regarding the historicity of the Gospels.
there are so many difficulties and inconsistencies within the tomb stories themselves that no harmonization of details is possible. 28Now, even if it were true that the details cannot be harmonized (a position which we consider mistaken, but will not undertake to rebut here), that would not alter the fact that all four Gospels clearly agree on the substantial elements: that the tomb was found empty by one or more worsen on the first day of the week, and that this emptiness was proclaimed by one or more angels to be due to Our Lord's bodily Resurrection. Where, then, is Fr. Bredin's evidence that "the Scriptures offer no basis" for our thinking that the Resurrection was the cause of the tomb's emptiness? Our author goes on to quote with approval Walter Kasper, who maintains that although Mark's tomb story is older and less "legendary" than the others, "It is clear that in its present form at any rate, it is in no way a historical account." 29 If Mark's account, and therefore the more "legendary" ones as well, are "in no way" historical, that means they are substantially non-historical. Fr. Kasper's reasons for saying this appear ostensibly to be largely literary ones. As quoted by Fr. Bredin, he says that in Mark's empty tomb narrative,
We are faced not with historical details but with stylistic devices intended to attract the attention and raise excitement in the minds of those listening. Everything is clearly constructed to lead very skilfully to the climax of the angel's words: "He is risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him" (16:6). 30For the substantial non-historicity of the "tomb stories," then, we have been offered only two pieces of "evidence," namely, the (supposed) incompatibility of the details in the respective Gospel accounts, and the alleged literary skill of Mark in presenting his account. But this is completely unconvincing. If several witnesses write an account of some dramatic event - say, a fire in a large building - some years after it took place, we will almost certainly find some discrepancies of detail - differences, for instance, as to what time it broke out, how long it took to be extinguished, how many people were seen to jump from its windows, and so on. But what serious historian would take this as evidence that the reports were "in no way historical," and that perhaps the fire never took place at all?
The premiss of the scientific approach is a wholly law-bound determination of all events. ... In scientific theory there is no room for a miracle in the sense of an event with no physical cause and therefore no definable origin. 36That Fr. Kasper is confusing this particular philosophical position with real science - in the sense of certain and true knowledge which "modern" man just has to accept - becomes clear a little further on, when he tells us that any "miraculous" event
always comes about through the action of created secondary causes. A divine intervention in the sense of a directly visible action of God is theological nonsense. 37On the contrary: it is precisely this opinion of Fr. Kasper - which amongst other things would presumably rule out such "directly visible actions of God" as the raising of a dead body and a virginal conception - that seems like theological (and philosophical) nonsense. Why should the One who created the material universe from nothing find it impossible or unseemly to work further marvels?
but of itself an empty tomb does not prove anything, least of all the resurrection of Jesus (Jn 20:8-9). In fact, these stories are emphatic that its emptiness at first led to confusion, fear, and dismay because it was open to many interpretations. If it were empty, it needed an explanation. The faith of the disciples is faith in the raising of Jesus, not in an empty tomb. 38Why this constant stress on the ambiguity of the empty tombs Of course it is true that "of itself" an empty tomb does not prove that Jesus rose from the dead. But no traditional Christians have ever supposed that it did. Nobody has ever imagined that, without the appearances of the risen Christ, an empty tomb alone would be sufficient evidence that He had been raised to life. What one looks for, and significantly fails to find, in this sort of currently fashionable theology, is the recognition that the tomb's emptiness, although not indeed sufficient, is nonetheless necessary, for an authentic, well-founded belief in the Resurrection (not to mention the Church's teaching that the Gospels are historically reliable). It is essential because, if Christ's mortal remains stayed permanently lifeless (whether in the original tomb or somewhere else) then His triumph over death was less than complete. There would in that case be no evidence that His entire human nature was raised to eternal life; on the contrary, the corpse would be devastating evidence that it was not, and that any subsequent apparitions of the risen Christ - no matter how lifelike - were basically just illusions or at best, visions of a more conventional type. (Angels, after all, are often recorded in Scripture and elsewhere as appearing in human form, even though they are by nature invisible pure spirits.) Now, if Christ's whole human nature was not raised and glorified for all eternity, what grounds have we for hoping that our bodies, too, will be restored to us?
is not primarily about chronology but about theology and salvation. In the Bible the third day is a way of speaking of divine vindication and fulfilment. It is the crucial time, the decisive turning point when God overcomes all distress and disaster (see Hosea 6:2-1) [sic]. 43One need only glance at the "evidence" offered for this interpretation in order to see that it is a merely sophistical attempt to rob words of their obvious meaning. One piece of "evidence" does not come from the Bible at all: Fr. Bredin speaks of a "Jewish tradition" which anticipated the resurrection of all the dead "three days after the world's end." 44 (Even then, he presents us with no reason for supposing that the ancient Jews who held that tradition did not understand it literally and chronologically.)
Come, let us return to Yahweh.We have here a typical example of the well-known parallelism in Hebrew poetry, wherein an idea is repeated using slightly different wording. The Jerusalem Bible, in a footnote on this passage, observes that even within this poetical form, the temporal expression still has a chronological meaning: the phrase, "after a day or two ... on the third day," means "before long." Another footnote makes the same point about the words "on the third day" used by Jesus in predicting the consummation of his ministry (cf. Luke 13:31-33, verses which Fr. Bredin also quotes). A brief time - even if not a precisely specified time - remains the essential meaning of the phrase in that context. Fr. Bredin then also refers to the words attributed to Jesus by His accusers regarding the raising up of the temple "in three days" (Mk 14:58, Mt 26:61). No more evidence than this is offered - and no more argument. How then can Fr. Bredin feel justified in concluding that, "In the Bible the third day is a way of speaking of divine vindication and fulfilment"? The "logic" seems to be:
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wounds;
after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence. 45