From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914
Christian and Catholic
THE GREAT CREDENTIAL
THE Divinity of Christ may be proved by argument, but He can only be known by submission and prayer. When the soul accepts Him for its Master and Guide, it is willing to believe what He says because He says it, and to do what He wills because He wills it.
Now Our Lord gave one great credential of Himself. Men asked Him to give them a sign for the authority He claimed to possess. "Destroy this temple," and He spake of the temple of His Body, "and in three days I will raise it up." Likewise on several occasions He foretold His resurrection to His disciples. "The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men. And they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised again." It is clear that He speaks not in a metaphorical sense of His resurrection. For just as He foretold that His-crucifixion was to be a literal one, so, His words imply, was to be His resurrection. If one was literal so was the other. He reiterated this promise again and again. He pledged Himself to it. Believing in Christ we rest securely on His Word. We know He rose from the dead, because He said He would. This is enough for a Christian. There is no higher authority or more secure proof.
We may ask, however, what corroborative evidence is there that He did so rise?
We will not pause to argue with those who believe that no evidence can be sufficient, because the resurrection involves the violation of the natural order. Any idea of law which makes a miracle impossible is inconsistent with an intelligent belief in the existence of God. A miracle is only an unusual manifestation of power, but it does not necessarily involve an infraction of law. If man can work marvels, which are miracles to the unlearned, by combinations of nature's laws, more so can the Almighty, who knows them intimately and thoroughly as His own thoughts. God does not contradict Himself when He works a miracle, but uses modes unknown to us. The so-called laws of nature are but as a keyboard upon which the Almighty Hand doth play.
The first corroborative proof that Christ kept His word is to be found in a fact of which we all are cognizant. For the Master did not leave the evidence of Himself, as many seem to think, to the risk of manuscripts, liable as they are to destruction and interpolation. He established a much more sure and certain witness. Men were not forced to rely on manuscripts, but were to have a living witness of His resurrection. Christianity extends throughout the world. However separated, it is solidly in accord in one matter. Throughout the world on the first day of the week all Christians assemble to worship. They have done so from the beginning. "Upon the first day of the week the disciples came together to break bread." And now everywhere on the first day we hear the church bells calling men to worship. How are we to account for this fact? Christianity rose out of Judaism. The Jew with the strictest observance sacredly guarded the seventh day of the week. God Himself had bidden him so to keep it, and its obligation had the awful sanction of Sinai. The Christian Church began keeping another day which in time superseded the Jewish Sabbath. What right had it so to do? Something as tremendous as the proclamation of the law on Sinai could alone be its warrant. We know the reason. On the third day Christ rose from the dead. Christians kept, therefore, the first day of the week and called it "the Lord's Day." It stands as a witness of the resurrection. It declares that such was the universal belief from the beginning, and that it was on the third day Christ rose.
In examining the proofs of the resurrection, we find it gains credibility from the attacks unbelievers and hostile critics have made upon it. It has been said, for instance, that Christ did not really die. He swooned and became numb, and in that condition was placed in the tomb. The coolness of the stony chamber stayed the hemorrhage, the aromatic odor of the spices with which He was embalmed restored animation. Somehow, the manner not explained, He got out of the tomb after some days, and rejoined the disciples. The disciples deceived themselves into calling it a resurrection, and He Who was the Truth itself let them cultivate this delusion. Then He, to help on the fraud, went away and hid Himself in some obscure place where, unattended and uncared for by His former devoted friends, He died.
Now it has a bearing on His resurrection that by the ordering of Divine Providence our Lord met His death in a most public manner. It was also a matter of great concern to a large number of persons that He should be put to death. These persons were of the highest rank in the Church and State. His death was a great public event upon which the attention of the nation was concentrated. It was at the time of the great feast, when Jerusalem was crowded, and the many thousand pilgrims were encamped on her hills. He was tried before the High Priest and the Ecclesiastical tribunal and examined by Herod and Pilate. He was condemned, publicly executed, and the Roman centurion made an official report of His death. To make His death doubly sure, His side was pierced and the spear-thrust touched the heart. The water and the blood flowed out. If He had been in a swoon, the piercing would have extinguished life, while the outflowing water, modern science tells us, indicated that life was already extinct. There is no question, then, but that Christ died on the cross. As to the theory of His recovering, Strauss contemptuously shattered it. "Would," he said, "a man half dead, dragging himself from the mortuary cell, so weak as to require medical treatment and an infinity of care, who finally, in spite of all, succumbs to his sufferings, would he have produced on the Apostles the impression that He was the Prince of Life, the Vanquisher of the Tomb?"
Another criticism which has been made from the time of Celsus asks why did not Christ show Himself to Pilate, Herod, and the chief priests? This objection is also a helpful one, for its answer will reveal the character and purpose of the resurrection. But first let us say there was no more obligation on our Lord's part to appear to them than to doubters of any succeeding age or to us. But there were moral considerations why Christ should not appear to His enemies. There is no reason to believe that our Lord's appearance would have done them any good. They were prepared to reject every kind of proof. Their state of mind is shown by their words. "That deceiver said while He was yet alive, after three days I will rise again." They were prepared for Him. Had our Lord appeared they would have either denied His identity, or said, as they had before, it was the work of Beelzebub. They would have again seized upon Him and endeavored to subject Him to further indignity. It was better for them that Christ should not appear before them. It gave to any in whom was aught of good a chance of restoration by an act of faith. But in respect of ourselves, so far as evidence is concerned, their testimony would have been of little value. They were not competent witnesses to His identity. They had seen Him but little. They did not know, as the Apostles did, His look, movement, gait, manner, voice. It required previous and intimate acquaintance with these in order to identify the Risen Lord with the Christ of Calvary. But these are not the real reasons why Christ showed not Himself to Pilate and the high priests.
The reason was He had finished His work with the world. With Him creation advances into a new stage of development. He is the new Fact and the Beginner of the new elevation in the evolutionary process. His public life was divided into three periods, viz.: His prophetical life, His priestly and suffering life, and his risen and royal life. When He had attained to the latter, He could no more go back into those that preceded it than the world having attained one geological period could return to a former period. His prophetical ministry to the world was closed and He could not return to it.
Moreover, it is well to remember that Christ's resurrection was not a return to His former life. By His own will He had separated His soul from His body. "I have power," He said, "to lay down My life and power to take it again." It was not by the crucifixion that His natural life was taken, but the soul was separated from His body by His own will. Yet though separated from each other, neither was separated from His Divinity. For, as we have seen, He was Divine. His body and soul hung on His Divinity as the sword and sheath to the warrior's belt. As the drawing of the sword from its scabbard separates neither from the soldier, so the human soul and body of Christ when separated from each other were not separated from His Divine Person. His body is in the tomb, but it cannot see corruption. It was dead only in the sense that the soul was separated from it, but was not dead as cur bodies are said to be dead. For it was living with an indestructible life in that it was united to the Divine Nature. When that soul returned and re-entered the body, then it rose. He did not, as in the cases of Jairus' daughter or of Lazarus, come back to the old conditions of life. He had passed through death and, so to speak, come out on the other side. So in the days of His resurrection He gathers about Him those only who were His, and to His disciples only He appears.
Let us turn to other corroborative confirmation of Christ's words. It has been so ordered that the resurrection of Christ should be evidenced both by His enemies and His friends.
Let us consider first the proofs offered by the former.
They are five in number. First, if Christ did not rise from the dead, His enemies were bound to prove He did not by producing the body. All the accounts agree in this, that Christ's Body having been taken down from the cross was laid in a new tomb which had been hewn out in the rock and "wherein was never man yet laid." The Jews went to Pilate, saying, "Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day." "Pilate said, ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch." Now it is admitted that shortly after the Apostles in Jerusalem preached publicly that Christ had risen. His body had been taken charge of by the Jews. They were responsible for it. They were therefore bound to produce it, or give some reasonable explanation of its disappearance.
The explanation given furnishes us with another proof. The story told of the disciples coming by night while the soldiers slept and taking the body is on the face of it a lie. It is incredible that the Roman guard would all have been asleep; and if so, how could they have known who were the perpetrators of the deed. This lie is effective evidence of the truth of the account it seeks to disparage.
Again, the act assigned to the Apostles is without any adequate motive. Why should they wish to disturb the tomb? Either they believed Christ would rise and in that case they would do nothing, or they were in a state of doubt, and still less would they take any action; or they had lost all hope in Christ as the Messiah, then surely they would not have risked their lives for a man or a cause in which they had lost all faith. Terrified, heart-broken, crushed, an effort to recover the body is the last thing that would have entered their minds.
One of the latest efforts at explanation is to say that the Jews took away the body themselves. This theory clears the Apostles but is open to an easy refutation. Within a few weeks of the resurrection the Apostles were arraigned before Annas, the high priest, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and the rulers and elders and scribes, for curing the impotent man, and they boldly proclaimed that it was by the power of Jesus Christ whom God raised from the dead. It is inconceivable if the Jews themselves had the body of Christ secreted in some place, that they should not, by producing it, have crushed and annihilated the hated Christian sect.
We offer as another proof the fact that Christ's enemies admitted the truth of the resurrection. When the Apostles were brought before them they did not dispute their story. If the tomb was still sealed they would have pointed it out. If they had removed the body they would have produced it. They did not venture on what they knew was a lie, and accuse the Apostles of having taken it. All they did was to forbid the Apostles to speak in the name of Jesus. Their inability to meet the testimony of the Apostles is an admission of its truth.
But finally, many of Christ's enemies changed their minds and believed. Upon the preaching of the resurrection of Christ by S. Peter about three thousand converts were made; shortly after, we read, "Many of them which heard the Word believed; and the number of men was about five thousand." We learn also that "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." There was thus a very large number, eight thousand or more, who believed the Apostles' witness. Undoubtedly, living in Jerusalem they made for themselves every investigation. The tomb would be visited by every tentative believer. Every person connected with the event would be obliged to tell his story again and again to untired listeners. The intelligent and critical inquirers would be sure to examine and cross-examine every detail. It is said that the critical faculty was not so developed as in our day. This is true "if we apply it to certain departments of literary evidence, like the authorship of a book or the value of a local tradition." But there is no truth in it as applied to a public fact, like that of the resurrection. The common-sense methods of finding out whether a fact of this kind is true are unvarying, and were possessed equally as well by the Jews of that day as by ourselves. Starting out as unbelievers, this large jury of eight thousand persons became convinced. The evidence must have been irrefutable to have converted so many.
One thing, moreover, is sure, that had the Apostles merely related their Galilean experience, they would not have made their converts in Jerusalem. If they had merely declared that after the third day, when, as they alleged, Christ rose, they had gone away into Galilee and there He had been seen by them, their story could have received little credence. If, it would be said, He rose on the third day, why did He not appear to some one or some persons on that day? Why, if He rose here, out of a tomb in Jerusalem, did He not appear here in Jerusalem? Why wait for days and then appear in distant Galilee where we cannot go and examine the conditions of His apparition? If He desired that we here in Jerusalem should believe, by all these reasons He was bound to appear here. It is foolish to suppose that the report of S. Peter's sermons are a whole account of what was said and done by the Eleven. It was because the Apostles, dealing with individuals, could appeal to all the facts relating to His entombment, the empty tomb, the failure of the Jewish rulers to produce the body, and could give their own witness to His appearances at Jerusalem, that they carried conviction. Thus Christ's enemies by their conversion testify to the truth of His resurrection.
Let us now turn to the other side of the case. Here the evidence divides itself into two sections. What can be known apart from the narratives in the four Gospels, and what is assured us by them?
In the first category we are struck first with the remarkable change of conduct found in the Apostles after the alleged resurrection.
The death of Christ had confounded the Apostles and crushed their hopes. All through the bright days of His ministry, when the sick had crowded about Him for healing and the common people had heard Him gladly, they had looked eagerly forward to the restoration of the Kingdom. The glories which had filled the visions of the prophets were upon the eve of their accomplishment. With what buoyant expectation had they awaited the glorious triumph. Suddenly all was at an end. A most dire calamity had taken place. Christ had succumbed to His enemies. He had been unable to extricate Himself. No intervention had taken place from heaven. The Father with whom He had associated Himself had not come to His assistance. Like a miserable criminal He had been nailed to the cross of shame, and He was dead. They would never see Him again or hear His voice. He was completely vanquished, and there was an end of all their hopes. They were shocked, completely cowed, and in a state of physical as well as moral collapse. They are found either wandering away or huddled together in a room, with locked doors, in fear.
In what vivid contrast is their appearance after the resurrection. They are not in hiding, they are publicly in the Temple, and elsewhere, preaching Christ Risen. They are standing before the great Ecclesiastical Court, and do not hesitate to tell Annas and Caiaphas and all the assembled dignitaries that they had crucified the Christ. They declared that He was risen from the dead. No threats, no punishments can make them cease their testimony. No one of them falters from his great truth-proclaiming mission. They go everywhere, throughout the world proclaiming it. They manifest the sincerity of their own belief by laying down their lives for its truth. We ask, What wrought this change? Whence had they the sustaining energy of their conviction? The only satisfactory answer is to be found in the fact of the resurrection. No interior reminiscence, no shadowy or imaginary vision could have kept them united. Nothing but hard facts could have enabled them to bear necessarily oft-recurring questioning and mental strain. It was because Christ had risen that they, resting on that adamantine fact, became transformed from desponding cowards, to transcendent heroes and martyrs. Another corroboration may be found in those two sacraments which are called by us on account of their universal application, "Sacraments of the Gospel." Christ, as we have said, left not His revelation to be evidenced by manuscripts alone. Christianity came into the world as an institution. This institution is a living organism, in which the Holy Spirit dwells and through which He acts and speaks. This organism has from the first declared that on the third day Christ rose from the dead. It does this to-day, not only by her creeds, but by her sacraments.
Go into what Christian Church you will, and infants and adults are all baptized by the same formula, viz.: "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Now, at the beginning of each dispensation we find God's character and nature revealed by a new Name. This is the mark upon the Patriarchal and Mosaic developments. The Christian is, in like manner, marked by the new and wonderful revelation of the Name of the Triune God. It lies at the basis of the Christian dispensation, and upholds it. But where and when was this great revelation made by Christ? Not during His life, anterior to the resurrection. There is nothing said about it in His public teaching. It was made after His resurrection, consequently the resurrection was not a myth nor an apparition alone, but a reality. Every baptism is a continuous witness that Christ rose from the dead. For it teaches, moreover, that Christians are buried with Christ and risen in Him. This, it is obvious, would be an unmeaning metaphor or symbolism, if Christ rose not from the dead.
The Holy Eucharist bears the same witness to the resurrection. It commemorates, as we all know, the death of Christ. But why should the Church do it, if Christ rose not from the dead? Why celebrate the tragedy in which Christ closed His life, which, if He rose not according to His promise, was only a tragic failure? If He rose not, the words and action of the Eucharist are a meaningless sham and a horrible falsification. For in that Holy Service are necessarily said the words, "This is My Body which is given for you," and "This Cup is the new covenant in My Blood." The words give the lie to the theory that our Lord did not resume His body and does not now wear it. For if His body saw corruption and disappeared, then the words, "The bread which we break is it not a participation of the Body of Christ," would not be true. For there would be no body in existence, spiritually or otherwise, of which we could be partakers. There could be no communion of body and blood that had ceased to exist. The Holy Eucharist thus bears witness to the death and resurrection of Christ. The two witnesses stand before the Temple doors, and proclaim that Christ has risen. Again, apart from the Gospels, we have an independent witness in S. Paul. His testimony is recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. This epistle, written about A. D. 57, is accepted by all critics as authentic. There he writes, "I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, He was seen of James; then of all the Apostles. And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." S. Paul had, so we learn from himself, received his information directly from S. Peter and S. James, whom he had visited in Jerusalem; we have thus the record of their testimony apart from the Gospel narrative. S. Paul adds also his own. He knew the difference between an internal spiritual revelation, a vision, and an external bodily appearance of Christ. The Lord had appeared to him bodily in the Damascus roadway, and the glory of His ascended body, like as when S. John beheld it, had blinded him. It has been asked, why does not S. Paul say aught concerning the visit of the holy women and the walk to Emmaus. His omission does not show he did not know them. He omits them because he is not giving an account of the resurrection, but is telling the Corinthians what as Christians they were bound to believe. He therefore states the fact of the resurrection and cites the authority of S. Peter and the Apostles as being by Christ authorized witnesses to it. It was on their authority and witness that the resurrection on the third day had become an article in the Creed, which existed before the Gospels were written. S. Paul adds his own testimony, and cites the fact of which he most well assured himself, that five hundred persons could testify to the resurrection.
Let us now examine the Gospel narrative.
Each evangelist gives an account, and with such differences as show there was no prearrangement. These differences, then, are a proof of their credibility. Moreover, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they were intended to set forth different aspects of Christ. One emphasizes His kingship, another His priesthood; one dwells on His humanity, another on His divinity. These different characteristics run through each Gospel from the beginning to the end. They consequently differ in their account of the resurrection. S. Matthew, who depicts in his Gospel Christ as the king and His kingdom, makes the chief event in the resurrection the assembly at Galilee and the royal mandate of Jesus: "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." S. Luke, who brings out the priesthood of Christ, has nothing to say of Galilee, but dwells upon the recovery and appearance to S. Peter, and the wandering disciples, and the making Himself known in the breaking of bread, and the command that repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all nations; and ends with lifting up His hands and blessing them; and their continually abiding in the temple. S. John, the evangelist of the Incarnation, and who especially sets forth the divinity of Christ, gives the apparition of our Lord both at Jerusalem and in Galilee. He dwells upon the divine side of His resurrection, on the evidence of the empty tomb and the grave clothes, which first flashed belief into his soul, on the interview with Mary Magdalene, wherein our Lord revealed His gracious humanity, and the divine sanctity of His nature. "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father." "I ascend," not unto our Father, but to "my Father and your Father and to my God and your God." S. John alone records the mysterious gift of peace and the solemn breathing on the Apostles, their wonderful empowering, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." It is in this Gospel of the divinity that we have recorded the confession of St. Thomas, "My Lord and my God." This closes the manifestation in Jerusalem. In Galilee we have the last miraculous draft of fishes. S. John, true to the spirit of his evangel, is the only one who records this, the only miracle wrought in the days of the resurrection. It is the only miracle, save the greater one of mercy, by which, on his threefold protestation, Christ restores Peter to his apostleship and the Gospel closes with the promise of the Divine Lord that He will come again. S. Mark is the delineator of Christ as the prophet and Son of Man. His Gospel is shorter than the others, but is fuller of detail and human incident. It is questioned by critics where the original of S. Mark's Gospel closes. If it ends at the sixteenth chapter, ninth verse, we have the empty tomb, an angel announcing to the women the resurrection. If it ends later, there is a brief confirmation of the Emmaus incident, and a description of our Lord appearing to the eleven as they sat at meat, quite characteristic of S. Mark, and with the command to go into all the world and preach.
We thus see why the evangelists do not give the same identical accounts of the resurrection. One dwells, like S. Matthew, on the Galilean manifestation, with its kingly command; one, like S. Luke, on that at Jerusalem, with its remission of sins and benediction. S. Mark brings out the human side; S. John, the divine. We may not be able to harmonize all the details. "We are not bound to demand identical accounts from historians who were unequally informed, who had no intention of recounting everything, and who, moved to write by different motives, distributed the events in different order." The accounts given, however, do not, necessarily, contradict each other. The differences fit in with, and are consistent with, the characteristics of the separate Gospel. The Gospel narratives thus are credible and bear witness to the resurrection of Christ.
Let us now look at some details. All the evangelists tell us of the visit of the band of women to the tomb. They came bringing the spices they had prepared. They find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. They seem to have met at some appointed rendezvous. They set off together, when we may suppose that either Mary Magdalene goes ahead as an advance guard, for they were in much fear, to see that the way was clear, or that the others lingered for some one of the party to join them, or went back for something which may have been forgotten. This accounts for the Magdalene arriving alone and first at the tomb. Finding it empty she immediately goes by some other way to find Peter and John, who were probably staying together. Meanwhile, the other women arrive and are addressed by an angel, who tells them Christ is risen. They depart with fear and great joy. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying, "All hail. And they came, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him."
Meanwhile, Peter and John arrive and examine the condition of the tomb and depart. Then Mary Magdalene, who has followed, sees the two angels sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. They address her, "Woman, why weepest thou?" Her memorable reply need not be repeated. The question and answer show it was not in a vision. As she was not expecting the resurrection, there was no suggestive motive which would predispose her to imagine one. With loving slowness so as not to overpower or suddenly shock her, Jesus discloses Himself. During all the resurrection time we discern Christ's majestic calmness and dignity coupled with personal consideration and tenderness. It is the same Christ who delivered the Sermon on the Mount, testified before Pontius Pilate, stooped with loving-kindness to the fallen, who calls His faithless disciples by the endearing name of "children," and who consoles Mary. "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" And she, supposing the speaker to have been the gardener, saith, "Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him and I will take Him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. And she came and told the disciples she had seen the Lord."
Not less interesting and confirmatory is the visit of the two Apostles to the sepulchre. They run both together. Naturally S. John, who gives us the account, being the younger, outruns Peter and comes first to the tomb. With his meditative, contemplative manner he stoops down and looks, then pauses, but does not go in. S. Peter, following, with his eager, impulsive nature, enters at once, gazes about and retires. "Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre and he saw and believed." The interesting question that arises here is, what did he see that made him believe? The answer is to be found in the Eastern manner in which the body was wrapped and bandaged for interment. A hundred pounds of spices had been used and the body then tightly wound in linen, made fast by long strips which were wound under and over the body and crossed behind and before. The head was treated after the anointing in the same way and the headgear resembled a sort of covering or helmet. Now what was it S. John saw? He saw the linen clothes. This might suggest to him the fact that the body had not been surreptitiously removed. Had the Jews, or had any one, taken the body they would have removed it just as it was. The myrrh would have caused the linen clothes to adhere closely to the body, and it would be a long as well as useless task to remove them. The body could not, therefore, have been stolen. But this would not account for the conviction that flashed into S. John's mind that Christ was risen. What he observed was that the grave clothes in which the body had been wrapped were not, as is given in the authorized version, "Laid by themselves," but, as in the Revised Version, simply "lying." Lying, as we read in S. Luke, lying alone, i. e., lying empty. The clothes had caved in and were lying down flat. The napkin which had been upon His head was rolled up in a place by itself. It had been bound and bandaged about the head, and had retained its helmet-like form. It was not rolled up like a ball, but held the twisted shape it had received and now stood by itself in the place where the head had been. It is not unlikely, as it retained some marks of the countenance of our Lord, that this was the origin of the ancient legend of S. Veronica. When S. John saw this arrangement of the grave clothes there was only one deduction to be drawn. No body could have been taken out of those clothes, with the bandages lying as they were, nor could any one have got out of them without disturbing them. When Christ rose, He passed through them, even as He did through the tomb, and as His body subsequently came through the closed doors. So John saw and believed.
It is but fair to state the last opposing theory of German criticism. It is that there are two accounts or two sets of appearances, one at Jerusalem and the other in Galilee. The latter is found in S. Matthew and S. Mark. They say nothing about the Jerusalem manifestations, if the last nine verses of Mark are omitted. S. Luke and S. John give the Judean appearances, and say nothing of Galilee, if we may omit the last chapter of John. Now these two accounts present great difficulties in the way of harmonizing them. We must therefore give up one or the other. The Galilean one is the simpler and more methodical, is in S. Mark and should therefore be adopted. In confirmation of this theory we have the testimony of S. Paul who does not mention the Jerusalem incidents. He says Christ rose on the third day, and that He appeared to Peter. But that is not saying He appeared to Peter on the third day. The disciples had fled terrified to Galilee. There Peter imagined he saw Christ. The spirit of seeing visions became contagious, so the Apostles thought they saw Him. They came back to Jerusalem, kept quiet, settled down, and gradually belief in the resurrection grew.
We have, however, seen why the Gospel narratives are not identical. It is therefore difficult to harmonize them. Our Lord most fittingly, however, appears both in Judea and in Galilee. S. Paul gives not a full account of the resurrection but adduces the authorized proof of it. He learned from S. Peter himself the fact of our Lord's appearance to him. S. Luke, who wrote under S. Paul's oversight, is the only one who records the fact, and it takes place not in Galilee but in Jerusalem. The Apostles told their story publicly and at once, and were arrested for it. The eight thousand at Jerusalem would never have been converted by such a Galilean tale. The questions concerning the body, where it was if Christ had not risen, would remain unanswered. This theory does not hold well together. It leaves the credibility of the Gospel narrative unshaken.
Let us, then, draw our conclusion. It is of record that S. Peter preached at Pentecost that Christ had risen, and so it is clear that the story was not a myth. For myths grow, but this account did not. It was stated from the beginning.
The Apostles declared they had seen the Lord. It was not then a spectral illusion, could not have been a ghost For they knew the voice, touched the body, put their hands into His side, they walked with Him, they ate with Him. He said, "Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."
As it was not a ghost, neither was it a reminiscence which took delusive shape in their minds. They would have soon got tired of announcing as a fact what in sober moments they would know was but a mental illusion. It could not have been a reminiscence for the further reason that Christ went on with His teaching. He opened their minds to the understanding of the scriptures. He revealed the new name of God, which they knew not before. He gave them the royal power of administering absolution. He established the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
He rose from the dead and was with the Apostles off and on during forty days. Rising in triumph over death, it was but natural, as the benefit was for all the world, He should appear in Judea and in Galilee of the Gentiles.
The Apostles saw Him in the house, by the lake, in the evening, at daybreak, at all times, and listened to His instruction and received His gifts which were embodied in institutions.
Then He led them out to Bethany, and according to His promise that He would ascend into heaven, openly, in broad daylight, He ascended till the cloud received Him out of their sight. Not only did He promise it, but one whole Book of the New Testament, which might be called the Gospel of the Ascension, bears witness to it. Thus He the divinely sent and commissioned Teacher, whose words and life prove His divinity, rose from the dead and ascended to the Right Hand of Power.
What a light this Great Credential throws upon His whole life. He was, as St. John declares, the Word Incarnate. God had wrapped round His divine nature our humanity, that through it He might set forth the Divine Life.
We need not be staggered by the consideration that this planet is a small one. God loves little things. He loves to hide Himself. He comes to the little nation. He is born in the little town. So He comes to the small planet. Yet as He comes into the world for all men, He comes into creation for the benefit of the whole of it. The universe is a unit and God enters it that He might unite all things in Heaven and earth in Himself.
He has thus given us proof of His divine nature by His resurrection. No wonder that one who had so supernatural an exit from this world should have an equally supernatural entrance. As our first parents could not have been derived from a preceding pair, but must have been singly produced, so when Creation advances to a new stage, the new Head and Type is produced in like unique manner. Christ Himself bore testimony to His own pre-existence. Blessed S. Joseph declares he is not His earthly father. The sanctity of the ever Blessed Virgin bears witness to the testimony S. Luke has recorded. God the Word became Flesh.
What wonder, then, that when He was born all creation was present at His birth to honour it. The stars, created it may be for the very purpose, shone at His birth. One especially formed or angel-borne guided the Magi from their Eastern home. The angel hosts and chorus from off the great rood screen of the skies, jewelled and lit with its many thousand lamps, chanted the glad gospel of peace and of good-will to man. All nations were represented by Jew and Gentile; the shepherds and the kings came to do Him homage. The high and low, the rich and poor, man and woman, surround His cradle throne. There, too, are the kneeling or waiting cattle, and the sheep of the flock, and the produce of the earth, the straw of the manger, and the mineral gifts of the kings. When the Lord of creation entered it, most fittingly all creation was representatively present. Most naturally, too, when He entered on His work, all creation acknowledged Him as its Lord. The winds and waves obey His command. He controls the law of gravitation by a greater law, and walks on the sea. He is Master of the law of the extension of matter, and multiplies the loaves. The fishes obey His behests and gather in crowds into the net. The fig tree withers away at His condemnation. The Roman soldiers go back and fall to the ground at His simple word. Sickness and disease flee before Him who is the life itself. The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, death gives up its prey and the dead are raised.