The Priests’ Convention
Philadelphia, April 29-30, 1924
From The American Church Monthly, June, 1924, Vol. XV, No. 4.
Edited by Selden Peabody Delany, D.D.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
WE come now to the third phase of our general subject of the afternoon, "The Incarnation;" we are to consider that general subject in the light of the Resurrection of our Lord. We may note first of all, with thankfulness, that this part of our subject is not at the present moment a matter of popular controversy, even though for many minds it is beset with problems enough—problems which involve not merely the explicit historical evidence but the scientific possibility of the fact attested, the critical and psychological interpretation of the Church's earliest testimony, the significance of the fact for the whole body of the Christian faith (and indeed for all religion generally), and the implications of that fact, however variously interpreted, for human beliefs about the supernatural and man's hope of survival after death.
It is our purpose, in this brief paper, not to attempt to canvass the whole field of modern thought and research, or even to suggest solutions of the problems with which modern thought upon the subject is confronted. What we primarily undertake is, rather, to study the significance of our Lord's Resurrection for the doctrine of His Person. Who was He, in the light of this Fact? What does the Fact imply for a true estimate of His nature? What is involved for the doctrine of the Incarnation?
Now this might seem to an unbeliever an investigation (if not an argument) in a circle; or it may appear, to the convinced believer, an unnecessary procedure, a tour de force, a proving of what no one doubts and an ignoring of the immediate and authoritative inferences which the Apostles swiftly and unhesitatingly drew after the first Easter morning. The method promises to be dogmatic rather than apologetic, and to appeal to the scholastic rather than the modern mind. Nevertheless, it may prove in the end a useful method of procedure. At least, it gets us out of the impasse in which a considerable amount of modern thought and writing upon the subject finds itself. It leaves behind, for a time, some of our modern prejudices, problems, and limitations. And it may perhaps enable us to come back to them, later [273/274] on, with a new, fresh, positive conviction that will help us, and enable us to help others, out of the blind alley in which many thoughtful persons now find themselves. For my part, I welcome the opportunity to think through afresh, and free from the necessities of controversy, the implications of that vast, immensely significant, life-renewing experience of the earliest Apostles. If there be any who sense something of artificiality in treating as a problem what has been solved and settled once for all authoritatively and definitely; or any who expect a mock investigation, since Christian conviction must provide beforehand the conclusions to be arrived at, I can only plead the testimony of experience. We repudiate the intimation that an orthodox Christian cannot fairly think out a religious problem, even one that concerns the most vital principles of the faith; that he is given his convictions beforehand, and that all his study and research is only a trick of method leading to proper conclusions, like the writing of a tale of mystery and suspense. If the Christian scholar must, as the result of careful study and research, yield up his belief in the Resurrection as a historical fact, he will, if he is sincerely a lover of truth, cease to profess what he no longer believes. Certainly, if in Holy Orders, he must cease to profess that abandoned faith as a public servant and minister of the Christian religion. But while he continues his study and research, without anticipating such unhappy conclusions, he will do so as a Christian, a member of the Holy Catholic Church. Why should he not? What else can he do? Must the student of American Constitutional Law conduct his research as a man without a country? Is his citizenship prejudicial? Would his research be more successful were he first to become an Afghan or a Turk? [* "Prejudices," or at least presuppositions of some sort, are of course simply unavoidable. Without them, rational thought is impossible. I once heard Dr. Barry remark in a sermon that the only place where people are ever absolutely without prejudice is in the prefaces of books! It is fortunate, for the sake of interest, that this attitude of absolute impartiality goes no further than the preface. I note that Lord Balfour, in his second series of Gifford Lectures, just published, recognizes the worth of prejudices even in the world of speculative enquiry. See Theism and Thought, p. 80.]
Far from a disabling hindrance, the Christian student may reasonably be assumed to possess a real advantage in viewing from within, rather than from without, this vast and intricate structure of the faith, of Christian doctrine, wrought out among [274/275] men and under the conditions of time and place, of nationality and individual temperament, of inherited conceptions of nature and history, of language and contemporary thought, by the Living, Creative Spirit who proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. In golden words of warning and encouragement, Newman once declared the Catholic to be one whose intellect
"cannot be partial, cannot be exclusive, cannot be impetuous, cannot be at a loss; cannot but be patient, collected, and majestically calm; because it discerns the end in every beginning, the origin in each end, the law in every interruption, the limit in each delay; because it ever knows where it stands and how its path lies from one point to another."
If this be our advantage, as believers and not sceptics, as inheritors of the great tradition, all the more then it is our duty as disciples and teachers of the faith to think out its far-reaching principles as carefully and completely as we are able, in utter sincerity, without timid reservations and neglecting no real values, however incompatible with our limited private views of the total system of divine truth they may appear. Such we conceive to be not only the privilege but also the duty of the Christian scholar. Since Christ is Truth, our obligation is to obey truth at whatever cost. It no doubt involves an intellectual risk, one quite as real for the teacher of the faith here at home as the physical perils confronting the Christian missionary in some remote, uncivilized country, and one to be faced in a similar spirit of loyalty and devotion. For this also is to serve Christ. Only, in all our valiance for the truth, let us ever make sure it is really truth we serve, however humbly, Christ the eternal Wisdom and Power of God, and not the variable opinions of men. [Bishop Gore maintains this point of view clearly and forcibly in the preface to his latest work, The Holy Spirit and the Church.]
Very largely, our study concerns what is called New Testament Theology. Unlike Systematic Theology or Dogmatics, Biblical Theology does not attempt to correlate the subjects of its investigation into a final formulation or system; it views them partially, and as related one to another in historical sequence; it considers the dogmas of the Christian religion in their genesis and development; it necessarily takes account of their antecedents [275/276] and the factors which, historically speaking, conditioned their growth; and it accordingly recognizes various levels or stages of development, as the principles of the faith were ever more clearly recognized and received more accurate expression. [* Not that there have been no instances whatsoever of retrogression; for in this divinely guided but humanly conditioned evolution the laws of growth have been as strictly observed as elsewhere in God's universe. The faith did not unfold like a house of blocks, but like the living reality which it is. There are, I mean to say, writings in the New Testament, and especially in the early post-apostolic period, which, though later in date than their predecessors, seem to take no cognizance of the advance, but reflect either an earlier stage of growth or another line of development, parallel or, sometimes, divergent. The guidance of the Holy Spirit was required not only to lead but also to correct the Church's advancing recognition and formulation of the truth.]
1. In the first place, we must acknowledge two facts which concern the beliefs of our Lord's disciples during his ministry on earth. (a) They believed in resurrection as the destiny and reward of the righteous at the coming of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, this article of faith—or, rather, of hope—was shared by a considerable number of their fellow Jews. The apocalyptic writings of late Judaism, from the beginning of the second century before Christ, attest the vitality and persistence of this hope. How generally it was held by first century Jews in Palestine we cannot say. The Sadducees rejected it, and with them probably agreed the whole official hierarchy in Jerusalem. On the other hand, it was an important doctrine among the Pharisees, and it was evidently growing in popularity; the Book of Daniel, a passage in Isaiah, certain of the Psalms attested it in the Old Testament; and in the course of time, after the destruction of the temple and the consequent freer growth of the Synagogue liturgy, it found expression in the official services and prayers of Judaism. The Gospels indicate that this was one of the doctrines our Lord took for granted in his teaching. Only in the controversy with the Sadducees did he treat it, momentarily and for the sake of argument, as an open question. It may be assumed that the disciples never questioned the belief; many of our Lords’ sayings would have been meaningless to them had they doubted the coming resurrection of the righteous (and perhaps also of the wicked) to procede the Judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in visible splendor.
The other fact (b) which we must recognize is that although our Lord repeatedly announced to the disciples his own resurrection, [276/277] to follow his rejection and death (according to St. Mark and the other synoptists), they were "slow of heart to believe" not only what the prophets had declared but even his own explicit declaration. The reason for this is doubtless that the notion of rejection, suffering and death was simply and utterly incompatible with what they had always expected of the Messiah, and what they hoped for their Lord. "Far be it from thee, Lord," was Peter's reply to the first announcement of the Passion. To the very end, i. e., up to the very hour of his betrayal and arrest if not later still, they expected some sudden interposition to save our Lord from what they could view only as final and utter defeat. And if the death of the Messiah, viewed abstractly, or the passion and death of their Lord, viewed concretely, was inconceivable, then the prediction of his resurrection was of course meaningless. [We may note in passing that the modern interpretation of our Lord's career, recognizing the historical truth of his Messianic consciousness as represented in the synoptists, his awareness of his fate as he went to Jerusalem in spite of the incredulity and false hopes of the disciples, makes the story of the gospels far more reasonable, interprets the course of events more profoundly (because from the point of view of our Lord himself), and does away with the notion that he was a hapless, helpless victim either of his own folly or of sacerdotal tyranny.]
2. If these two facts are true, then it follows as a matter of course that the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise from the grave as the immediate sequel to his death and burial. The Resurrection, that is to say, or the "experiences" of the disciples recorded in the New Testament, were therefore not the product of a fond but deluded faith, as it is sometimes said, under the emotional stress and excitement of the events of Passover week. For the essential prerequisites to such a delusion were simply lacking. (This is often overlooked). No fact of history is better attested than their discouragement and sense of defeat at the death of their Master. They had not taken seriously—indeed, with their presuppositions, they could not take seriously—his announcement of his passion and resurrection. The end had come as suddenly as it was unforseen. Instead of ascending a throne, restoring the kingdom to Israel, and establishing by miracle his sovereignty over the nations, he was dead: crucified and buried. Their cause was lost. There remained nothing for them to do but go back to Galilee and resume their fishing, sadder but wiser men—if disillusionment be wisdom. Then came the great experience of Easter morning; their faith [277/278] revived; their conviction deepened; and their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, which they had acquired in spite of all appearances to the contrary during his earthly ministry, grew into the faith that he was Messiah still, in spite of the greatest contradiction of all, his death. Nevertheless, and here is a fact of first importance which the modern study of the life of Christ makes clear, they could not have believed that Jesus was Messiah after the resurrection unless they had believed it before—the resurrection came as the confirmation of their faith; and, moreover, they could not have continued to believe in Jesus' Messiahship without the resurrection. Stupendous as the miracle seems, to the mind of our scientific age, it is absolutely required in order to explain the mental process which lies back of the earliest manifestation of Christianity as a religious movement in first-century Judaism. Some kind of experience of fellowship with Christ after his death, some sort of continued relationship or contact with him, sufficient to give them the overwhelming persuasion of his real existence, and existence as Messiah, is necessary to account for it.
3. Here then are the factors which enable us to grasp the initial significance of our Lord's resurrection for the earliest disciples and apostles. "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon"—what did that announcement signify? We are quick to recognize the personal significance in it, the reassurance it conveyed to anguished hearts, the kindling sentiment, the overwhelming gladness and joy that it awakened; but we moderns need to be reminded of something involved in that statement which outstrips personal emotion and sentiment. A profound, transforming inference followed at once the assurance that Jesus had risen from the dead: it meant that he was Messiah, after all, in spite of all; and that what they had hoped and expected of him was still valid and true, and only postponed. I do not mean that they sat down to ponder the meaning of the resurrection, like a philosophic or scientific circle confronted with a new and wonderful phenomenon or discovery. It came in a flash; the materials for the inference were ready to hand. They already possessed inherited or otherwise acquired conceptions of the after-life, of the coming Kingdom, of the office and work of the Messiah; above all, they had our Lord's own teaching. [278/279] It was the major premise that was now supplied. "Jesus is still Messiah," and the reasonable inference followed at once: all things that the prophets have foretold, all things that God has predetermined, all that Christ himself has promised are now to come to pass. That this is a fair statement of the process seems evident from the New Testament documents, particularly from the earlier epistles of St. Paul and the first chapters of the Book of Acts. And somewhere in this process belongs the famous statement of St. Paul in the Epistle to Romans (1:4), "Jesus Christ .... was declared with might to be the Son of God …. by the resurrection."
4. It is no exaggeration to say that we have here the beginning of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.
We greatly weaken the significance of our Lord's resurrection when we treat of it—as I fear we sometimes do, in our infrequent or at best only annual sermons on the Resurrection—almost as a case for investigation by the Society of Psychical Research. Christ's resurrection was not simply a proof of the survival of one particular person; or even a test-case which proves that all other men are somehow capable of survival; it was first of all the survival of Jesus, whom the disciples believed to be Messiah; and it was more than survival, it was his entrance into a new and higher mode of existence, under conditions that now released the full powers of his deity. [* We err through our modern subjectivism, and our over-concern with our own private destiny, if we allow these to determine and limit in advance our interpretation of the significance of Christ's resurrection. I doubt if the disciples, confronted with the immense objective fact of Christ's victory over death, thought very much at first about its significance for their own individual, "personal" future.]
Nor was the resurrection simply a vindication of Jesus' own authority, or the proof of his gospel. This also is an afterthought. Our Lord's authority is certainly involved in his triumph over death; but at that time no such vindication was required. Nor, on the other hand, may we suppose that the resurrection "experience" of the disciples was understood by them to involve all that the Church later discovered to be involved in the fact. Their convictions were inevitably expressed, nay, were inevitably conceived, in the terms of their ordinary religious thought and feeling. Christ was still the Jewish Messiah, and the whole scheme of apocalyptic eschatology was, for them, involved in and guaranteed by that triumphantly vindicated [279/280] Messiahship. Christ was now in heaven, following his ascension. The out-poured Spirit, at Pentecost, was "sent" by him, as the earnest of his own coming in glory. His "mighty works" were being daily continued by the hands of his apostles. The message of repentance and baptism, which had been his message from the beginning, as it had been that of John, was now reënforced by the assurance of the impending Judgment. True, the Kingdom had not yet "come," in the way they anticipated it—nor, indeed, has it ever "come," in that explicit, external sense. The plans of God exceeded far the horizons of first-century Palestinian Christianity. But certainly here was the beginning of the Christian faith; and its essential principle, the Incarnation, was already implicit in that first message of the Apostolic Church: "Him God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.".... "This Jesus did God raise up, of whom we all are witnesses .... [He] is by the right hand of God exalted."
Thus, as the Rev. J. K. Mozley said at the Congress in London last year, [Report, p. 64.] the resurrection of our Lord is not just "a happy ending," like those which conclude tragic novels and plays (as H. G. Wells and others view it), but is rather a beginning; it is the great turning-point in God's dealings with man, the initiation of a new order of spiritual existence; it is the "beginning of the end" of the old order and the transition to the fully-realized and actual dominion or Kingdom of God. That states briefly and clearly, I believe, the entire New Testament view.
It is a matter for surprise to some persons that the manner of our Lord’s resurrection is not more definitely described in the New Testament. We must make use of a certain amount of "historical imagination" in accounting for this omission. Undeterred, as many of us might have been, by anything like our distinctly modern difficulties of conceiving the fact; undeterred, as Jews and Orientals, by any Greek scientific or philosophic difficulties (mild as these would have been); assuming without question the possibility of what their personal experience overwhelmingly [280/281] attested as a solid, substantial fact, the first disciples were not in the least inclined to study the mode or manner of the resurrection, or to draw private and subjective conclusions from it. The complete objectivity and external reality of the fact strikes us in every reference to it in the New Testament; and the early Church devoted every energy of devotion and belief, of scriptural exegesis and of exhortation to the elucidation of this fact, emphasizing its significance for the whole of human life, and especially for the ethical life: not just the life to come, but also life here and now in all its fulness. [* How different was this procedure from that which other centuries might have followed! Imagine the effect of the resurrection upon the minds of men had it taken place in the eighteenth century, or today! If one may hazard an overstatement, in order to make clear what is assuredly true, primitive Christianity was not so much interested in the Resurrection, which it assumed as a fact, a real datum of experience, a perfectly possible fact, as in the inference which inevitably followed it: Christ's Messiahship and exaltation.]
Even in the famous fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, which is often viewed as a rationale of our Lord's resurrection, it is not so much Christ's resurrection as that of believers which is under discussion (see verse 12). And it is not a speculative interest but a practical and ethical one that is uppermost in the Apostle's mind (see especially vv. 12-19, 29-34). The final deduction which closes the long chapter follows an exhortation to steadfastness: "forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." The resurrection of believers is to be expected since their Lord rose from the dead; therefore, neither beasts at Ephesus nor Epicurean moral appeals should dismay or weaken the Christian soul. And it is significant that, although St. Paul assumes the resurrection of believers will be like Christ's, by the power of Christ—"Christ the first fruits, then they that are Christ's at his coming"—he nevertheless does not attempt to explain the resurrection of our Lord by any of the analogies he offers (seed, flesh, the heavenly bodies, the two-fold creation, etc.). It is the believers' resurrection that he attempts to make clearer and more probable. [This was a new requirement, in a Gentile community (Corinth); the Jews, or at least those Jews among whom early Christianity spread, had no need of any such argument.] In a word, Christ's resurrection was not questioned in the Apostolic Church: so simply and universally is this true that Christ's resurrection can be adduced as evidence favoring the resurrection of believers. [See I Cor. 15:12-19, where the resurrection of Christ is the premise, not the conclusion of the argument. It runs, 'Christ really rose, and so none of these Inferences is valid.'] [281/282] Nor was the mode of Christ's resurrection a subject of discussion, so far as we know. Otherwise, we should not have the differing representations of the mode of his post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels and Acts. Some settled scheme would have been followed; some conformity to an agreed type would be observable; some standard formula would have been followed. [* As in the myths of other religions, observed in the rather tame conclusion of Philostratus' Life of Apollonius.] Such uniformity is absent from the New Testament; and the variety that we find is of value as indicating the numerous strands of tradition by which the original apostolic testimony was preserved and handed down before written gospels came into existence—a perfectly natural historical phenomenon, and one that far more strongly supports the truth of the tradition than a strict and rigid uniformity or a chronologically certain scheme or a logically harmonized representation would do. Uniformity would, in that case, be suspicious.
To sum up our conclusions thus far: The New Testament view of our Lord's resurrection represents it not as an isolated phenomenon, a final, indubitable instance of survival, such as many persons today are seeking; not as an inference from his divinity or his Jewish Messiahship as the disciples understood it; but as the completion of his work upon earth, the transference of his power to a higher sphere and range than was possible in Galilee and Judea; the first fruits of his triumph and the beginning of the establishment of the divine, supernatural Kingdom.
Looking backward, we can see another sequence—as, indeed, the author of the Fourth Gospel saw it: God in the flesh, therefore God triumphant over death, the last enemy of human flesh and spirit; or as St. Paul saw it: the Second Adam, the beginning of the New Creation of God, victorious over sin in the flesh and therefore over that mortality which is the wage of sin. But, historically, this was not the way the first disciples viewed it. For them the resurrection was the turning-point of faith; it was the solid, indispensible fact and datum upon which all else depended. The development of Christology in the earliest Church, say up to the time of St. Paul's earliest epistles, was a gradual [282/283] evolution or unfolding of the truth implicit in Christ's victory over death. The significance of our Lord's resurrection for faith in the Incarnation was, therefore, absolute and universal. Without it, humanly or historically speaking, there would have been no faith in the Incarnation. Though the disciples had previously believed our Lord to be the Jewish Messiah, this faith could scarcely have survived the shock of his death; the Resurrection was a new beginning, and, historically, the real beginning of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. Messianic exaltation provided the terms for the earliest formal description of Christ's nature and person. The later descriptions, Christ the Wisdom of God and the Power of God, the Logos, the Lamb, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the Son of God, the Eternal Son, the Only-Begotten, the second member of the Blessed Trinity,—all these were successive descriptions of the One who was "declared with might to be Son of God by the resurrection." As Professor Easton says, in summing up the development of Apostolic Christology, "The Church began in possession of Christ's claim to be celestial Messiah, judge of living and dead, author of resurrection, dispenser of the Spirit. And, in its own experience, the Church realized Him as Lord, giver of mystical union, hearer of prayer …. Hence, the inevitable result—acting as God, alongside of God, in God, and personal. And, therefore—God." [Anglican Theological Review, Vol. I, p. 382 (March, 1919).]
The catholic Christology, that is, was not something new or "different" in the second century, or the third, or the fourth: nor in the Gospel of John, or the Epistle to Hebrews, or in St. Paul's earlier or later Epistles, to trace the sequence in the opposite order. It was essentially one continuous development, from the beginning of the Church's life. It was the slow, gradual unfolding, under the conditions and limitations of human thought, of a truth, Christ's Deity, implicit from the start. There is a difference in expression, certainly, between the Creed of Chalcedon and the Book of Acts, between Athanasius and the Epistles of St. Paul; but there is an identity of meaning, that is, of value, as we say today. Christ's significance as Redeemer and as Victor over death has the same value for primitive apocalyptic Christianity that it has for the developed Catholic Christianity of the fourth century.
 The real problem of today is not, "Can we believe in the Resurrection of our Lord, or explain it?" It is, rather, "Can we accept any other explanation of the spiritual phenomena attested in the New Testament and in the long life of the Church than that which the New Testament and the Church unite in affirming? Is there any conception of God, or of the world, of the meaning of history and human experience, that unlocks the mystery of existence—the whole phenomenon of sentient existence in a material universe (as St. Paul suggested: Romans 8:19-23)—save the one that the New Testament and the Church offer us in the doctrines of the Incarnation and Resurrection?"
The common objection to the Resurrection on the ground that it was a "miracle" is of course conclusive to those who hold a purely naturalistic view of the universe. It is also Hume 's objection; what many persons fail to recognize, however, is that Hume's objection was not limited to miracles; it was levelled against the possibility of any knowledge of real causation (and not just of those final causes which engage the philosopher and theologian), against the possibility of all "scientific" understanding of the universe, of any and every clue to the fundamental meaning of life. [Compare what is said by the Earl of Balfour in his last Gifford Lectures. Theism and Thought, p. 55f. "Science was theoretically in even greater peril than theology."]
Whatever of poetic exaggeration Browning's lines contain, they are at least truer to the experience of many intelligent human beings than the negations of Hume and his nineteenth-century followers:
"I say the acknowledgement of God in Christ,
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in this world and out of it,
And has, so far, advanced thee to be wise."
There is today a broader sympathy for mankind itself and its profound spiritual needs than the critical philosophy of the eighteenth or the naturalism of the nineteenth century possessed; there is a greater readiness to acknowledge the possibility of "things passing understanding" both in the physical universe and in the realm of spirit; there is a surer acquaintance with and [284/285] a deeper appreciation of the historical origins of Christianity than formerly, a feeling that something true, something valid and vital and no fiction or dream or delusion lay at the heart of the most vigorous religious faith the world has seen. Mankind has had naturalistic religions and philosophies and schools of religious thought a-plenty, throughout the centuries of its chequered spiritual experience. Out of their ruins has sprung up, in the western world, a supremely spiritual, supernaturalistic religion which, instead of running the usual cycle of development and decay, is still vigorous and expansive, and flourishes today as never before. The roots of that faith must be embedded in reality: otherwise, how account for the persistence of Christian hope and faith—unless all our spiritual experience be a mirage and mockery of man's most vital requirements.
Nevertheless, it will be said that our conclusion is invalid, since we are endeavoring to substantiate an external, historical fact by the testimony of inner, spiritual experience. [* The question is once more raised and a suggestive solution offered in a recent article, "The Historical Element in Christianity" by the Headmaster of University College School, London; see The Hibbert Journal, 85 (October, 1923).] Professor Lake denies that "spiritual experience can guarantee the historical fact of the Resurrection of our Lord; [*The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1907, p. 4] and Professor Bowen quoting him with approval, [*The Resurrection in the New Testament, 1911, p. 478.] cites the words of Dean Inge:
"The inner light can only testify to spiritual truths. It always speaks in the present tense; it cannot guarantee any historical event, past or future. It cannot guarantee either the gospel history or a future judgment. It can tell us that Christ is risen and that He is alive for evermore, but not that He rose again the third day." [*Christian Mysticism, 1899 p. 326.]
The problem is crucial for the philosophy of religion, and no off-hand affirmation or denial will satisfy those who realize its force. It may be suggested, however, that Catholic faith, that is, faith in the Incarnation as the historic Church has testified to it, does not so much substantiate a historical event as enable us to lay hold on truths that render it probable, and set us in that central position from which the whole of a far-reaching sequence of historical facts and spiritual truths are viewed in proper perspective. [285/286] Mere rationalism is of course no more useful to the Christian than to the unbeliever. No iron chain of logic binds together spiritual experience and historic fact. Yet, in the last analysis, after making all allowance for the variations and divergences of early tradition (e. g. the body of flesh and bones in St. Luke, and the completely "spiritual" body assumed in First Corinthians), the question demands an answer: "Did Christ really rise from the dead? Was the body of his mortal flesh really transformed, glorified, made immortal? Was it fact or fancy that 'on the third day He rose again?'" And the Christian who has come to know Christ, the glorified, eternal Son of God, and actually to communicate with Him in prayer and sacrament, will not hesitate to answer in the affirmative. He is not arguing from his subjective experience to the external reality of Christ's resurrection: he is simply accepting the confirmation of his own experience to the historical testimony of the earliest "eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word." The believer stands on both feet. History and experience alike support him.
In conclusion, I wish to offer three practical suggestions.
1. First, in presenting the fact of our Lord's Resurrection, in our preaching, let us beware of making it primarily a solution of the problem of life after death. That follows, of course; but the major fact is obscured in over-concern with our private destinies; and it is a perverse trait in human nature to suspect what is affirmed with unusual emphasis. Primarily, as in the New Testament, our Lord's resurrection is a solution of the problem (for the moment such a problem existed), "Who is Christ?" The Resurrection of our Lord is the central fact in an immense objective process begun by God and accomplishing what has been called "the drama of Redemption."
2. Secondly, in dealing with those for whom the Resurrection of Christ is a problem, let us endeavor to do three things: (a) Emphasize clearly the absolute duty of truth, a duty we owe to the whole truth and nothing less. Too often men stop with half-truths, or bare opinions, if these suit their somewhat limited views of spiritual reality. For example, if a man is satisfied with a quasi-naturalistic, "scientific" view of human experience and knowledge, our first task is to break down the walls of that narrow prison-house of the mind. (b) At the same time, let us [286/287] be patient and sympathetic. These difficulties did not exist for men fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago. They do not exist for some of us; but they are tragically real difficulties for many minds, none the less. (c) Let us try to get the whole problem out of the subjective atmosphere. For example, the true question is not, "Can we believe this or that?" but, "What was the proper divine procedure under the circumstances?—not just the circumstances of Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial; but the whole circumstance of a world in need of a divine self-revelation, of redemption, new hope and newness of life. What is the bearing of this Fact of our Lord's Resurrection upon his own past life, and upon the future history of mankind, and the final destiny of the human race? Granting its truth, what difference does it make in our estimate of Christ, and in all the world's estimate of him? That is, who is He, in the light of this fact?" These are the really vital questions, and they are all objective; that is, they concern first of all something, someone, outside us.
3. Finally, let us be very cautious in adopting any final rationale of the mode of Christ's resurrection. For all his analogies, St. Paul did this; he offered no final scientific or philosophic rationale. The modern doctrine of substance, of matter and spirit, is not settled. We are told that the risen body of the Lord is "spiritual," subtle, superior to those limitations of space and time which condition all the activities of matter or of life and spirit manifest in matter, such as our bodies of flesh and those of the animal creation; we are told that it is "glorious," so that natural eyes cannot behold it, lest vision be "blasted with excess of light." And it may seem quite probable that the latest developments of biology and physics illustrate, at least by analogy, the Catholic doctrine regarding our Lord's risen body. Only, let us beware of direct identification—or even of suggesting it. After all, such analogies may not be spiritually helpful, and they may tie the doctrine to a kind of science that in twenty years will be discredited. Men still seek for signs and proofs, as they did long ago, as they doubtless will continue to do for a long time to come. But the Lord's Body is to be "spiritually discerned," both in the Holy Eucharist and in the devout exercise of the Christian intelligence as it contemplates the Glorious Mystery of His Resurrection.