April 10, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Belief in the Resurrection

John F. Fink(Ninth in a series of columns)

Catholics are convinced that the Resurrection is historical fact. Christianity, in fact, is based on that historical fact. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor 15:17).

It’s easy to understand how people without faith can doubt the Resurrection. It just isn’t within our modern sphere of experience. Well, it wasn’t within the Apostles’ sphere of experience either. Our belief in the Resurrection is helped by the fact that the Apostles doubted it. They didn’t even believe the women who went to the tomb. It took Jesus’ appearance to them before they believed.

People who don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead must think that the first Christians were awfully naïve to believe such a thing. Either that or extremely clever to be able to concoct such a story, and then sell it not only to their fellow Jews, but also to Gentiles all over the world.

The fact that the Apostles refused to believe at first shows that they were not naïve. And Gospel accounts of the Apostles show that they were hardly the type of men who could plan and carry out a gigantic fraud.

The news about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead spread by word of mouth for decades before it was put down on paper. It was St. Paul who likely first did that in a letter he wrote in the year 56 from Ephesus, in modern Turkey, to the Christian community he started in Corinth, Greece. This was about 26 years after Jesus’ resurrection, but still likely before any of the Gospels were written.

In that letter, Paul reminded his readers what he had preached: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas [Peter], then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (1 Cor 15:3-8).

That is the basic teaching of Christianity about Christ’s resurrection. Paul was quite insistent about it when he wrote to the Corinthians, saying that our very salvation depends upon the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Christians are not given a choice in deciding whether or not to believe in the Resurrection.

Christians do not believe that Jesus was only resuscitated as he himself resuscitated Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain and the daughter of Jairus. Jesus rose from the dead with a glorified body, one that could pass through the locked doors where the Apostles stayed, one that could appear to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and could just as quickly disappear. And yet it was Jesus’ body, one that Thomas could touch when he was invited to examine Jesus’ wounds. †

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