Comments: opinion

Julian Coman The Observer "Should the church be a radical voice in politics?"

The Church should be a GOSPEL voice in politics. If that seems radical, so be it.

[Good insights by Giles Fraser. I was aware of the differences in soteriology between Eastern and Western Christians, but had never considered how that might be applied before.]

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 12 April 2015 at 1:44am BST

Something in what Giles Fraser says, perhaps, but if he's ever participated in a Greek Orthodox Good Friday service, he'll know that there is excruciating focus on the bleeding,crucified Jesus and mass weeping.

I'll always suspicious too about campaigns against 'substitution'/'debt' doctrines: such doctrines may take crude forms but are in some form or other surely intrinsic to Christian notions - and perhaps Jesus' own notions - from the very start.

But I do agree that the greater message of the Passion is life out of death.

Posted by John at Sunday, 12 April 2015 at 6:03pm BST

As Diarmaid MacCulloch is a professor of Church History it might seen disingenuous of me to accuse him of ignorance but I cannot really think of any other explanation for his very odd claims in that article. Is he aware of the research done in the last 20 years or so into the origins of priestly celibacy? Has he read Christian Cochini's "Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy"? If he had he would know that priestly celibacy has *always* been considered the ideal and that the 11th century reformers largely saw themselves as restoring ancient rigour, not enforcing a new discipline.

Besides that, there is no link of any description between celibacy and child abuse - most child abuse is committed by men within their own families and priests are no more likely to commit abuse than members of other caring professions (rather less in some cases). One case of abuse is one case too many but to prevent it we need to proceed on the basis of evidence, not guesswork by people who have never lived a celibate life and no nothing about the experience.

Posted by Felix at Sunday, 12 April 2015 at 10:46pm BST

1) To get to the Resurrection, one has to confront the Crucifixion, but to focus too exclusively on the Crucifixion (Mel Gibson, anyone?) diminishes the message of the Resurrection.

2) I have never understood "substitution theory". It baffles me. For people to say Jesus of Nazareth died for all the sins of humanity, to me, is arrogance, and conveniently escapist or denialist. It’s a way to diminish one’s own responsibility.
If I have sinned against people, only those people can forgive me, and they will presumably forgive me easier if I have shown true contrition and recompense. True atonement. If a third party recompenses (through money or other means) someone whom I have sinned, that third party may be regarded as praiseworthy, but I am still the one who caused the sin, and I am the only one who can try to correct it.
If I have sinned against God, only God can forgive me. To Christians, Jews, and Muslims, God (or Allah) is all merciful. If I, as a human being, am so lowly, so mundane, so unworthy to even be in the same space as Almighty God, that, on my own, I cannot meet God’s impossibly high bar for God’s forgiveness, for showing God true contrition, where is God's mercy? Isn't the fact that I am humbling myself before God, committed to true atonement, sufficient for a merciful God?
Does God really, truly require a human sacrifice (in the form of a crucifixion)? Where is the mercy in that?

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Sunday, 12 April 2015 at 11:13pm BST

Surely, the whole idea of Soteriology is that Christ died in order to defeat to power of eternal death as the consequence of sin. The link, for us humans, is that the Incarnation of Jesus linked God permanently with our human state. If Jesus 'died for our sins' - a Gospel concept - then he must have, in some way, 'absorbed' our sins; past, present and future; through the kenotic experience of his crucifixion.

God did not crucify his own Son. That was carried out by fellow human beings. Herein lies the difficulty of the attribution of the words 'penal substitution'. My question is: "How do the Churches of East and West differ (or cohere) on this theological proposition?"

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 13 April 2015 at 12:47am BST

re the account by Diarmaid McCulloch; the scandal is that he should have felt the need to withhold himself from priestly ordination - as an undoubted person of faith, in the Church of England - because of the attitude of the Church towards his intrinsic homosexuality. Perhaps the C. of E. needs to change its out-dated understanding of sexuality, before more gay people are dissuaded from pursuing what might be an authentic call of God into ministry in the Church of England.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 13 April 2015 at 12:53am BST

Looking over several, though not all, of the Easter sermon texts, there arises the question of the proclamation of the resurrection to the outside world. Some of the sermons appear to be very good messages for the faithful who came to church to hear them; but there are further questions about the nature of a resurrection message to the contemporary world. The gospel texts talk about empty tombs, rolling stones, stigmata, eating fish, and in so doing are contending with a mythology that spoke to the issues of audiences in antiquity. What message might there be for folks who tag along to an Easter service that might capture the imagination of the contemporary mind about the nature of resurrection itself? What message might there be, leaving aside mythical elements of the narrative that cannot be taken literally or as historical? What is a take away for church goers in terms of witnessing to the core of an ancient proclamation that transcends the mythological narrative?

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 13 April 2015 at 3:33pm BST

Forgiveness and atonement. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us". "Whoever's sins you forgive, those sins are forgiven; whoever's you retain, they are retained." These two statement are saying the same thing: that forgiveness is in our own hands. If we forgive other people then they are forgiven; if other people forgive us, we are forgiven.

Jesus not only told us this, he lived it, and he died it too, saying, 'Father forgive them'.

By living a life of forgiveness we are freed from the penalty of our sinfulness. By living in a community of forgiving people we are fully forgiven.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Monday, 13 April 2015 at 5:10pm BST

Simon Kershaw, wonderfully stated.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Monday, 13 April 2015 at 7:57pm BST

Rod Gillis asks a very important question which many liberal Christians have asked themselves over the centuries and which is ever more pressing. My answer would be that Christianity has to maintain a degree of belief in metaphysical realities, otherwise it has nothing very much to offer (something - but not very much), but shouldn't insist too much on specifics. So proclaim Jesus' resurrection, as historically believed in by a majority (not all) of his disciples and as showing that death is not the end but avoid hanging everything on the empty tomb, the witness of the women, the eating of fish, the particular form of the post-resurrection body, etc. The claim that death is not the end is surely a very great thing to 'offer'. As to whether it is believable, responses differ, but it is at least helpful to set aside the things aforementioned and focus on the essential question. All I'd say personally (and I'm being very frank here) is that (a) Christian belief (or not) in the resurrection has to be held in tension with general arguments for belief in God and practical arguments that 'it works' (i.e. one feels enriched by being a Christian), and (b) belief in the resurrection isn't harder than belief in nothing - which links back to the argument: 'it works'.

Posted by John at Monday, 13 April 2015 at 8:18pm BST

Rod Gillis asks all the important questions, and, in doing so, implies (though he does not state this explicitly, being more kindly than I), that the sermons linked for our delectation, neither ask the right questions nor provide the right answers for the twenty-first century. Indeed, browsing through the sermons myself, I was horrified at the mediocre quality of what was said from British pulpits on Easter Day (and especially, I must say, from the pulpit at Canterbury, where the archbishop seems to have forgotten that the passage from First Peter about living stones is explicitly anti-Semitic). I cannot think of one (though perhaps Ely came closest), having browsed through them very quickly, that had anything of living significance for people today. Mythology is read as fact, and the "facts" are already old, and say so little that has meaning today. The idea that we are afraid of death (a theme that runs through many) is not altogether true, since so many today want the option of being in control of their own deaths, which so many who do face with dignity and grace (and which the church continues to oppose). I am quite frankly horrified at the lack of a message in so many homilies that could be attractive to (that might indeed mesmerise) those who came so hopefully to be fed with "heavenly" food, who awaited a preacher who indeed "caught fire and burned steadily before them with a strange light" (to use verses from RS Thomas' poem, which is the only living part of Canterbury's sermon, which sits so ill with his paean to "the stones of this cathedral"). If religious belief has come to a sad pass in British life, then, perhaps, part of the reason is the entirely pedestrian understanding of faith that is in evidence in the sermons linked above. It is quite frightening to think how little thought went into the sermons (I prefer the word 'homily') that I read. The usual fare, without any effort to think behind the symbols that are so credulously recapitulated once again without thoughtful and even less with prayerful, understanding.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 14 April 2015 at 1:27am BST

Simon Kershaw is surely correct, when he says that the charism of forgiveness has been handed to us - to be dispensed in the lives of our fellow human beings.

For too long perhaps, the clergy alone have been seen to be the purveyors of forgiveness; whereas, the Gospel clearly is speaking to the whole Body of Christ; that forgiveness is our main gift from God - to be handed out to others. Judgement is not 'in the gift' of the Church. Forgiveness may be its only 'grace'.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 14 April 2015 at 2:09am BST

So Simon and peterpi - do we need a saviour or not? You seem to imply we can save ourselves. Is that really what you are saying o have I missed something?

Posted by Charles Read at Tuesday, 14 April 2015 at 10:55am BST

Charles Read: deep question! Depends what you mean by 'ourselves'. I'd rather start from a different angle: Jesus brings us 'life: life in all its fulness'. Part of that fulness is freedom from the consequences of our sinfulness. Jesus teaches us how to be free. We can only be wholly free (in the economy that I briefly sketched out) in a community of forgiveness -- in other words if we live fully in the kingdom of God: where Love reigns. We can try and do that if we let the Divine, the Spirit of God, live in us.

So, yes, I would say that there is a Saviour, and that is Jesus of Nazareth. But it's a salvation of grace and love, freely given to us and freely accepted, avoiding the language and the dogma of penal substitution, of substitutionary atonement. There are people here who can discuss this a lot more knowledgeably than I can. I will just say that I consider those ideas to be perverse, and incredibly unhelpful as a means of preaching the good news.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Tuesday, 14 April 2015 at 4:29pm BST

So, Simon, where does that leave you on the question of 'myth', in which Rod and Eric MacDonald seem to include any substantive resurrection? I think the whole package, however constructed or understood, has to include that, otherwise there isn't really a distinctive package. So the 'freedom' includes freedom from death - not least, of course, for those lives have been horribly curtailed, though not only for them.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 14 April 2015 at 5:23pm BST

Re John, " myth...to include any substantive resurrection.." There is a very interesting useful section of Bernard Lonergan's, Insight
(XVII Metaphysics as Dialectic) that considers metaphysics, mystery, and myth. Cannot resurrection be considered under not just one but all three of these categories?

The issue is not the dismissal of resurrection as mere myth; but rather how does one transcend the mythic presentation of resurrection in NT texts? Preachers have options. They can engage in naive literal-ism. Or, they can simply replace the message with some other message. Some of the preachers cited above opt for one or the other of these strategies.

It is not news to say that the resurrection itself is not an historical event. What is historical is the prototype witness to the resurrection, whatever one eventuality makes of such a witness. (Some scholars explain away early witness as a kind of post crucifixion cognitive dissonance). Do I believe that the Easter narratives describe historical events? No, I do not: They may be accounted for by apologetic literary redaction.

What one hypothesizes is some sort of religious experience, interior in nature, post crucifixion, on the part of some principal players in the post Jesus community. That is the rock upon which the scaffolding of gospel mythology stands. One question is; can I trust that those initial religious experiences, experiences evaluated by the mythic consciousness of those who first experienced them, are authentically grounded in a perception of God's love flooding the human heart?

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 14 April 2015 at 8:25pm BST

apropos 0f Rod's comment, following on those of others, that I find most intriguing and quite challenging - which, I guess, is what theological speculation is really all about.

It seems to me that the Resurrected Christ met each of those privy to His resurrection with the right conditions for them, personally. He was not immediately recognised by any of the disciples - male or female. He WAS recognised by a familiar act of kindness:

Mary Magdalene, perhaps by the gentle way in which he spoke her name. Had any of her lovers spoken to her in that caring way?

The men on the road to Emmaus; by the way in which he enlightened them from Scripture, and the way in which he 'broke the bread' at their meal together

Thomas; requiring physical proof, who was invited to put his hand in the wounds of Jesus,

The fishermen by the lake; by the way in which Jesus was waiting for them to cook their breakfast after their night fishing (how many times had he done this?)

Each of us is given some kind of experience of the Resurrected Christ - in a way we can understand. Such is the graciousness of a loving God.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 15 April 2015 at 2:19am BST

Any talk about "appearances" of the risen Jesus raises the problem, immediately, of the point made by Rod Gillis. Much better to follow Mark here. The question is not whether someone from the dead appeared to them, but how the experience of the man Jesus, and of his death, resonated with those who were left after the crucifixion. The gospels are trying to give life to an eschatological experience, something transcendent, that cannot be made of flesh and blood. The men on the road to Emmaus, for instance, do not have an experience of the risen Jesus as a resurrected man, but experience his presence as a stranger breaks bread with them, as Jesus had done, and their lives are then, to use Rod's words, flooded with the love of God. (That the stranger then disappears is additional confirmation for this reading, since the experience is of God in Christ. Only this can explain the confusing variety of stories about the resurrection, some which take place in Jerusalem, others in Galilee.) The story of Thomas is clearly a polemic on what might be called "Thomas" Christians, who were basically docetic at heart, and they, it seems, are far closer to the experience of resurrection than the canonical John is in the story of Thomas and the open wounds in a resurrected body (surely a strange notion, in any case). As Don Cupitt says in his disagreement with CFD Moule:

"The aliquid novi to which you refer is Jesus himself: the new thing in Christianity is not the resurrection event, but the person and work of the man Jesus, who (as the gospels emphasize so often) throw those who met him into an ecstasy of astonishment." [p. 36, Explorations in Theology 6 (SCM, 1979)]

What a difference a renewed theology of resurrection would make of those Easter homilies, for surely the risen Christ, if he is anywhere, is found in our midst; and we have to see that Christ through the lens of the stories told about Jesus, in the midst of a living community gathered in his name.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 15 April 2015 at 7:01pm BST

Eric MacDonald is spot on when he writes, "The gospels are trying to give life to an eschatological experience, something transcendent, that cannot be made of flesh and blood." He is likely right, as well, regarding both Emmaus Road and Thomas in John.

The relationship between appearance narratives and the original ending of Mark's gospel is interesting. The late Dr. R. Rhys Williams, an episcopalian academic, put forward an interesting theory about Mark's version of the empty tomb. I think its available in his little book, Let Each Gospel Speak For Itself. Williams theory has it that the promise to the women by Mark's angel,that Jesus will appear to his disciples in Galilee, is not a promise about a resurrection appearance near the end of that Easter day. It is, rather, a reference to the parousia at the end of time. The theory is certainly compatible with Mark as a mythological and apocalyptic story. It also makes the abrupt ending less puzzling. Beginning with Matthew, latter gospel writers take the empty tomb story in a whole new direction.

The words in my earlier post about God's love flooding our hearts is a tune borrowed from Bernard Lonergan, who writes in Method In Theology, "Faith...is ...further knowledge then [that]the love is God's love flooding our hearts." Later in that same work he writes,
" ...there arises the possibility of an exception to the old adage, nihil amatum nisi praecognitum. ... God's gift of his love (Rom.5,5) is not something that results from or is conditioned by man's knowledge of God."

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 16 April 2015 at 1:59pm BST

I think it's clear that the Road to Emmaus is fiction (in fact, I have an academic paper on that narrative which supports this though it is not the only point). So consign it (and some obvious other narrative wrappings of the resurrection) to the category of 'myth'. Beyond that, though, I find Rod's and Eric's language rather slippery. What does 'risen Jesus' mean if there's no (in however attenuated a sense) resurrection? How can God's love flood the hearts of the disciples if they're not brought - after Jesus' death and their own flight and despair - to some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection? Or our hearts either? And I do think the theodical problem (in which the late Joe Cassidy recently participated in TA) requires afterlife/soul survival, whatever. Also, while Hurtado over-eggs it, the case that the post-death Jesus was rather rapidly worshipped as a god/God is very strong, and the question is: why? I think (from something of an inside position) that most NT scholars accept that most of Jesus' disciples thought that Jesus resurrected. The late Jewish scholar Geza Vermes certainly though that, though after he gave up Christianity, he did not himself believe in the resurrection (in any form). As for the Gospel's narrativising eschatological experiences (which Rod and Eric seem to accept), orthodox Christianity completely agrees, except that Jesus' resurrection prefigures/is the first-fruits of general resurrection.

Posted by John at Thursday, 16 April 2015 at 6:31pm BST

John, you ask the question: "How can God's love flood the hearts of the disciples if they're not brought - after Jesus' death and their own flight and despair - to some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection?" But of course the answer is staring you in the face. Take the Emmaus story. Why would you take it as fiction, instead of an account of how followers of Jesus actually responded to his life and death? Think of the enormous impact that individuals can have on others, and then multiply that by any factor you like. That's enough of an explanation why Jesus should have been experienced as a living presence. Claiming that there must have been a bodily resurrection is just a piece of apologetic exaggeration. And what difference would that make now, for followers of Jesus centuries later, if that experience of the breaking of bread in community is not sufficient to keep the story of the living Jesus "alive" here and now? The strained historicism underlying so many accounts of the resurrection is really a cop-out, trying to hang a present experience on a long past supposedly historical event, for which the only evidence is, apparently, the living quality of the disciples' (and later Christian) sense of the presence of God in community. Remember that the story of the disciples' flight and despair is a story, not a piece of evidence. And is that not the experience recreated by the rehearsal of the events of Holy Week, so that the presence of the living Christ is actually experienced on Easter morning? And do NT scholars really suppose that the account of the despair coupled with the experience of new life is sufficient to support the historical belief in a bodily resurrection? If so, why are the stories so conflicting and so confused? Why the difference between the appearances at the tomb, and the equally astonished disciples watching the risen Jesus cooking fish on a fire in Galilee? Jesus' disciples had an experience which is being expressed in terms of bodily resurrection, but the body is exceedingly strange, able to pass through solid walls, and still have gaping wounds. Put that into a story, the story of an eschatological, transcendent experience, and how else were they to express something that they had never experienced before? But is this an experience that only the first disciples on that first Easter day could experience? Or is it an experience that can be experienced now? And if it isn't an experience that can be had now, that would explain why so many Easter homilies talk about the experience of the disciples, the women at the tomb, or Mary at the tomb, or Peter and John racing to the tomb, and forget all about the present experience of those who hear them. I bid you to read the exchange between Cupitt and Moule that I referred to earlier to see the difference between these two views.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 16 April 2015 at 11:16pm BST

Even Saint Paul, whose original deadly opposition to any belief in Jesus as the Messiah, risen from the dead, had to be convinced by a real awareness of the Risen Christ - on the Road to Damascus!

After a time of epic discipleship of the post-Resurrection Christ, he was led to the statement, in his first Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, speaks of the 'resurrection body' as being different from 'flesh and blood' which "Cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven". Therefore, whatever Jesus disciples experienced of him at his resurrection - this may not be true of us.

"The thing that is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable", says Paul. I'm content with that. I don't want to go up with a bald head and gout! Christ is risen, Alelluia!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 2:13am BST

John asks, "What does 'risen Jesus' mean if there's no (in however attenuated a sense) resurrection?" Interestingly, my initial post critiques some several sermons (above) on precisely this point, i.e. the preachers attenuate the message of resurrection for a contemporary audience, especially one outside church-land.

There are points of concurrence with John's post, particularly on this point, "most NT scholars accept that most of Jesus' disciples thought that Jesus [was] resurrected." Agreed.

However, there are further questions including: what did the disciples understand "risen" to mean; how did they express what they thought this meant? One must distinguish, at least at a theoretical level, between the original "witnesses" to the resurrection and how both they and their message(s) are understood in the gospels.

Some catalyst caused the first witnesses to proclaim "Christ is risen". I suggested earlier that it was an interior religious experience although there is no way to prove it was not mistaken, dissonant or fraudulent. The phenomena of that experience was not/is not recoverable for anyone outside the original witness group. It can only be mediated. Whatever that experience was, it was evaluated by the common sense of their time and place, engaged by their mythic consciousness, and then communicated to others who shared their world. The message is further mediated by the proclamation of the Christian community, and by the evangelists in mythological terms.

What are we to do with the message as it has been handed down to us here in our contemporary situation? It is not enough to dismiss it and replace with with a surrogate. Neither is it adequate to attempt to naively re-appropriate the canons of a mythological world.

How one moves from foundational texts properly understood to engaging a post mythological, post classical,post modern world presents huge challenges. To cut to the chase and be blunt about it, some of the sermons in the list above go from text to communication without passing through systematic theology. In fact, one could reasonably argue that some of the sermons underestimate two audiences, the outside world for sure, but also the one in front of them in the pew.

"How can God's love flood the hearts of the disciples if they're not brought - after Jesus' death and their own flight and despair - to some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection?" John poses a very good question. Asking it is a good start in refusing to relegate a transcendent experience to a merely mythological paradigm from antiquity.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 3:09am BST

John asks, "What does 'risen Jesus' mean if there's no (in however attenuated a sense) resurrection?" Interestingly, my initial post critiques some several sermons (above) on precisely this point, i.e. the preachers attenuate the message of resurrection for a contemporary audience, especially one outside church-land.

There are points of concurrence with John's post, particularly on this point, "most NT scholars accept that most of Jesus' disciples thought that Jesus [was] resurrected." Agreed. However, there are further questions including: what did the disciples understand "risen" to mean; how did they express what they thought this meant? One must distinguish, at least at a theoretical level, between the original "witnesses" to the resurrection and how both they and their message(s) are understood in the gospels.
Some catalyst caused the first witnesses to proclaim "Christ is risen". The phenomena of that experience was not/is not recoverable for anyone outside the original witness group. It can only be mediated. Whatever that experience was, it was evaluated by the common sense mythic consciousness of their time and place and then communicated to others who shared their world. The message is further mediated by the proclamation of the Christian community, and by the evangelists, in mythological terms. What are we to do with the message as it has been handed down to us here in our contemporary situation? It is not enough to dismiss it and replace with a surrogate. Neither is it adequate to attempt to naively re-appropriate the canons of a mythological world.

How one moves from foundational texts properly understood to engaging a post mythological, post classical, post modern world presents huge challenges. To cut to the chase and be blunt about it, some of the sermons in the list above go from biblical text to communication without passing through systematic theology. In fact, one could reasonably argue that some of the sermons underestimate two audiences, the outside world for sure, but also the one in front of them in the pew.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 4:26am BST

Because it is fiction, one of whose points is to show that the Eucharist works. In this as in other ways it's an extremely manufactured narrative. The answer isn't staring me in the face, because you (including you) have to explain why the disciples changed. Nor do I claim a 'bodily' resurrection: I don't care about the form, nor do I even care about the term: I do care (and think foundational) that the disciples thought (rightly or wrongly) that they received proof that Jesus survived beyond the grave. And - completely obviously - I'm not committed to the fishy stories. As for the disciples' flight and despair, one might suppose those natural reactions to the arrest and crucifixion by the Romans on a political charge of one's leader. I'm not remotely committed to 'strained historicism': on the other hand, I do think that total neglect of the historical circumstances (a la the a priori Cupitt) leads to poor history and poor theology.

Posted by John at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 11:33am BST

First of all, John, the disciples were already changed. That is not in question, but it happened well before the supposed events on Easter Day. To those who had followed the trajectory of Jesus' ministry, dejected though they may have been, the sense of the presence that they experienced in the context of the breaking of the bread was quite enough to convince them that Jesus had prepared a place for them.

Rod claims that "some of the sermons in the list above go from biblical text to communication without passing through systematic theology." I should argue that most of them do so. Almost all of them speak of the evangelists stories as actually occurring historical events, when we know (i) that Mark does not have a resurrection appearance tradition, (ii) the other resurrection stories are conflicting and confusing, and (iii) the most poignant of the stories tell of meeting Jesus, who is recognised only when he speaks or in some other way signals that his overwhelming presence is the presence of the living Lord.

To reduce those appearances to historical evidence for a physical resurrection is to drain them of transcendent significance (to use Rod's words: 'to go from biblical text to communication without passing through systematic theology'), that is, to empty a confusing set of appearance traditions to literal historical evidence, without appreciating how difficult it was to express the eschatological and the transcendent in plain language. That's precisely why most of the Easter homilies are so literal in their understanding of the resurrection stories, because bishops find it just as hard as evangelists. The thing is, however, that the evangelists leave us enough hints that they are dealing with something quite out of the ordinary that can't be expressed (now) in the same terms, and for which history is simply the wrong category. In Cupitt's words it makes contemporary "faith dependent on the apostles' knowledge." In order to confirm our faith, we have to surmise (and it is very much a matter of surmising) that there were genuine historical events which grounded the apostles' confidence, and, in turn, makes contemporary faith dependent on the truth of our surmises. And this reduces contemporary faith to belief in the historical claims upon which it is based. But that means that contemporary faith is based on dogma, not on present experience of the risen Christ.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 1:55pm BST

I wonder if I could make just one point but let it stand in all its eloquence for the standard of debate here: neither on this thread nor anywhere else have I written of a physical resurrection.

Posted by John at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 5:10pm BST

Yes, by all means, John, let that stand it all its eloquence (though I'm not sure what you are suggesting by 'the standard of debate here'). If you are going to call the experience of the men on the road to Emmaus a fiction, then what else have you but something physical? What would such confirmation look like, if the overwhelming experience of the men at Emmaus is to be dismissed as fiction?

Remember that you found my language "slippery". But isn't your language a bit slippery too? You want some kind of confirmation, but it can't be a physical one. That is precisely the problem that so many commentators have found in the Easter story, that, in its various forms, it is slippery too. Nothing stays firmly in one place, because each story is different from the others.

The problem lies in the idea that the disciples "changed". Could it not be that they came, at last, to see for the first time? In other words, not historical "proof that Jesus survived beyond the grave," but an experience of Jesus' living presence!

You say that you are "not committed to the fishy stories." (Is this a pun!) What makes the stories fishy (and which ones)? Isn't it simply that they provide no physical proof? And in any case, it has to be something that is able to be experienced now, for nothing else will do, for, remember, those are blessed who have not seen and yet believe! There is simply no proof that could possibly guarantee present faith, right now. If the disciples could know it, then so can we, for we can have similar experiences.

That's the message, surely, of the Thomas story. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." Recall Jesus' use of πιστεύειν and καρδίᾳ (Lk 24.25), where Jesus accuses the disciples of being "slow of heart" to believe. And then remember Paul on the road to Damascus (thanks to Fr Ron), or the Centurion at the foot of the cross who recognised Jesus as Son of God as he died! Is it too slippery to suppose that followers of Jesus might have that experience even now? That's what makes the homilies so bland, because there is a sense that this experience of the living Jesus is something only available to the disciples, that we must take on faith.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 8:38pm BST

Pretty clear what I'm suggesting here, Eric. Persistent misrepresentation/caricature indicates poor standards of argument.

Posted by John at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 9:10pm BST

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
He is risen Indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!
We are a Resurrection People!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 17 April 2015 at 10:06pm BST

I thought that was your intended meaning, John, but I thought you should come right out and say it. I fail to see how I misrepresented or caricatured your position. And you did not respond to my last comment, which directly addresses your point of view. Two can play the slippery word game, you know, and it is especially difficult when we come to speak about the resurrection. Moule basically accuses Cupitt of misrepresenting him too. It's one of the perils of theology!

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 12:39am BST

If I may reprise the end of a previous post, referencing one of John's points,

"How can God's love flood the hearts of the disciples if they're not brought - after Jesus' death and their own flight and despair - to some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection?"

John poses a very good question. Asking it is a good start in refusing to relegate a transcendent experience to a merely mythological paradigm from antiquity.

The enigma, what kind of resurrected Christ (?) remains an problem since the Corinthian correspondence. Like the is/ought bifurcation in moral theology, it remains an unresolvable issue. While the biblical text must be contended with, gospel texts are not the best starting place nor are they the final word. While not a Lonergan scholar, but merely a Lonergan enthusiast, I think his notion of "faith as knowledge born of religious love" i.e, an awareness of God's love flooding our hearts and the hearts of generations past,points to the most fertile ground. Other theologians,Schillebeeckx and de Chardin come to mind, point in the same general direction. The scarceness of these kinds of theologians in Anglicanism perhaps accounts for the breach in Anglican homiletics.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 3:20am BST

Rod, Jesus agrees with your thesis, when he says: "They will know you're my disciples by your love". There really is no other way. At a Requiem Mass today, evidence was give of the great love with which Elaine, the Departed one, loved both God and her family. The very mixed congregation - of Baptist and anglo-Catholics - were invited to experience something of that love in the Eucharist. I suspect some partook, who had never done so before. The influence, I believe, came directly from Christ's Presence in the Eucharist.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 11:15am BST

Very good question or no, Rod, John's remark (which you quote) -- "How can God's love flood the hearts of the disciples if they're not brought - after Jesus' death and their own flight and despair - to some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection?" -- and his use of the word 'proof' -- seem to me to cast the whole question in the wrong light, for what it does is precisely to relegate a transcendent experience (not to a mythical paradigm of antiquity -- there should be no problem with the idea of myth, if we are going to understand what the resurrection narratives are all about) to the realm of fiction. I don't see it as in any way similar to the is/ought disjunction in ethics. What is important is how the narratives are to be read. In the homilies linked above they are taken too literally, instead of mythologically. Not "mere" myth, since even the ancient Greek myths are often pregnant with human meaning. the word 'myth' refers to an essential relationship to human experience. And this does not leave us with an insoluble problem (which only arises if we take the narratives as some kind of historical confirmation) but with a religious experience, which years of trying to cook up an historical proof (like Richard Swinburne's Bayesian approach) has set at an historical distance from individual Christians. That's one of the great problems with Paul's "and last of all he appeared to me." But the beginning (chapter 2) of I Corinthians is perhaps more important: "I did not," he says, "come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified" (2.1-2) For this is where the mystery of the resurrection experience really lies. The crucifix and the Eucharist as the central symbols of Christianity is testimony to this.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 2:12pm BST

I wonder if I could again point out just one thing, which again I take to be supremely eloquent of the standard of debate of some participants here: I used the word 'proof' of the disciples (they thought they had received it). 'Proof' itself is a good word, because as 'pistis' it is all over the NT (one believes in Jesus because one has 'proof': no great interpretative subtleties required). But I didn't say the disciples' experiences or their interpretation of them were 'proof' of Christian claims that Jesus resurrected. I do of course think they should be given some value, not least as the historical reason why Christianity arose at all.

Posted by John at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 4:00pm BST

Eric, I may have stepped in it by prefixing "merely" to "mythological paradigm". What I am attempting to get at there is the not uncommon notion that once something is deemed to be myth it becomes banished as fanciful with any sense of the transcendence the myth attempts to speak to sent off with it. So, of course mythology may be pregnant with meaning from the Greeks to Jung and beyond. How otherwise would we be able to read scripture? Definition of terms is important, which is why I flagged my appreciation for Lonergan's treatment of myth, metaphysics, and mystery. It's my view that resurrection must be discussed with reference to all three. My critique of the Easter sermons can be shorthanded on that basis, at least one leg of the three legged stool appears to be missing. Anyway, I'm definitely not that guy who puts "sola scriptura" on a bumper sticker.

I agree with something John posted earlier, "Christianity has to maintain a degree of belief in metaphysical realities, otherwise it has nothing very much to offer..." Christians have been debating "what kind of body (?) " , ( I Cor.15:35) for two thousand years. I'm doubtful you or I are going to resolve the problem in a 400 word or less post. Which is why NT narratives are not the best place to start or to finish. The question of God must tackled both before and after exegesis. And, I think Lonergan has it right, faith is knowledge born of religious love. Now that I would put on a bumper sticker.

Paul is a good example, by the way, of someone who had a defining religious experience, an experience which cannot be recovered by anyone, was not immediate to anyone but Paul. What we have to work with is his mediation of the same in a mythical framework. And yet here we are, proclaiming Christ is risen, alleluia!


Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 5:46pm BST

πίστισ Well, then, John, I am tempted to reply by saying: "Let the following stand as eloquent testimony to the standard of politeness in debate of some of the participants here." However, I will forbear casting such aspersions, for, as I suggest later, we are either disagreeing over a substantive point, or we are trying to express the same thing in different ways.

The word 'pistis' is certainly, as you say, all over the NT (35 times to be exact), but it almost always refers to faith or trust, or even a pledge or oath, but not proof as such. It may include that which causes trust and faith, such as faithfulness or reliability. It seldom means 'to prove something' as 'proof' is most commonly used in English.

Proof is certainly a good word, and nowadays its empirical use is most common, though of course there are also proofs in logic and mathematics. But the problem with using the resurrection stories as proofs in this sense (as underlying "some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection"), is to throw the experience of resurrection onto something already in the past rather than understanding it as something that is a present possibility. We believe in the resurrection now because they had some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection then. The trouble is that this is enigmatic, and thus, as Rod Gillis says, an insoluble problem. What can possibly be meant by these qualifications (like putting scare quotes around the word 'proof')?

But if we take the resurrection as a present possibility wherever two or three are gathered together in Jesus' name, then, as it seems to me, we must understand the stories differently, and as having a different purpose than to provide a "proof" of the resurrection. This is given quite eloquent expression in Fr. Ron's account of a Requiem Mass celebrating the life of Elaine.

I am not sure, to be honest, whether we are disagreeing about something important, or whether we are simply explaining the same thing in different ways, but it does not help the "tone" of our discussion to allude to your contributions as eloquent testimony of the [low] standard of debate by some participants (that is, not to put too fine a point on it, a participant whose name is Eric MacDonald). I do not think this is particularly helpful.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 18 April 2015 at 5:59pm BST

Rod, I guess I worry about the context of Lonergan's expression that 'faith is knowledge born of religious love,' for a few pages later he says that 'Among the values that faith discerns is the value of believing the word of religion,' and that is related, much later, to 'the permanence of dogma,' of which he says that 'Human understanding of it has ever to be in eodem dogmate, eodem sensu and eademque sententia.'(352; the Latin is in italics in the original, which I cannot reproduce here)

That dependence of the knowledge born of religious love on what amounts to the imposed limitations of the Magisterium (same dogma, same sense, and same judgement), I find exceedingly troubling. That is why, respecting the resurrection, I resonate with Lampe's point (and Cupitt's as well) that 'Resurrection appearances and empty tomb cannot in themselves furnish first-hand evidence of God's vindication of Jesus [that is, cannot be revelatory, whatever your metaphysics, nor however firm your dogma] ...; at best it is upon the reliability of certain stories that faith has to depend if it tries to ground itself in the resurrection as an event' (God as Spirit, 151). If this is the basis of resurrection faith, then, Lampe suggests, such faith would have to carry the rider: 'provided, of course, that the stories of the appearances and of the empty tomb are substantially true' -- hardly a satisfactory basis for faith; for in this context 'metaphysical' becomes something like a 'wilful suspension of disbelief.'

That's precisely my problem with John's 'some sort of conviction in some sort of resurrection', which actually includes an attenuated version Lampe's suggested qualification, for something like a conviction in a sort of resurrection can have no probative value for faith now, since it would depend on the outcome of historical study, and would always bear that qualification.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 3:45pm BST

Can't you see, Eric, your third paragraph misrepresents me?

'But the problem with using the resurrection stories as proofs in this sense (as underlying "some sort of conviction of some sort of resurrection"), is to throw the experience of resurrection onto something already in the past rather than understanding it as something that is a present possibility.'

You keep talking as if I am arguing that the fact (as I do believe it to be) that most of Jesus' disciples thought that they had received proof of his resurrection is 'proof' for us. I don't argue that.

As for 'tone', if people don't know how to argue -or don't observe proper standards of argument because they are too busy polemicising, it makes things difficult.

Of course, we're disagreeing about something important. I understand Cupitt perfectly well - he's not remotely difficult - and I think that the fact that he is now a non-believer limits his utility in the present crisis of western Christianity - as well as rendering incoherent any appeal to him that seems to maintain some sort of belief in metaphysical realities (thanks, Rod).

I don't agree with you about 'pistis': it's one of those reciprocal concepts like 'charis'.

But I'm sorry for my intemperance.

Posted by John at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 4:10pm BST

Eric, Lonergan's project had as one of its central concerns what he saw as the grave problems facing Catholic theology. See for example, Dimensions Of Meaning in 'Collection'. His interest in the magisterium is hardly surprising. The Latin citation " Eodem dogmate...etc." ( same doctrine ...mind ...judgment) appears to be from Denzinger Enchiridion Symbolorum. Again, hardly a surprise as Lonergan was looking at the question of continuity in cultural shifts. However, I'm not following your navigation out into deep water. Lonergan's work is very user friendly from both ecumenical and inter-faith perspectives. Instance his final chapter in Method, 'Communications'. Besides, an eclectic use of good ideas is prudent. There are some days when I think that Albert Camus was at least half right.

The witness to the resurrection appearances is extremely important. I've already stated that I understand the appearances as interior experiences, mediated in the culture of the witnesses, and distinguishable from the later empty tomb stories which are literary apologetic vehicles. Notwithstanding, the appearances are foundational. One may wish to better describe them as disclosure experiences, in the language of religious studies. However understood the appearances are foundational and the witness to them at least is historical. Notwithstanding, the starting point is much closer to home. It begins with the questions about the outpouring of God's love and the nature of conversion. The cross represents a complete solidarity of God in Christ with the human condition. The death of Jesus is crucial not because it is extraordinary but because it was so common and ordinary at the hands of imperial power. The resurrection is the countervailing Divine initiative. Little wonder, in what J.D. Crossan describes as the mercantile imperial world, it provoked the response that Jesus Christ is Lord. So what do we do with this on a contemporary Easter Sunday? I would suggest that rather than spending time defending mythological empty tomb narratives as historically true accounts, the church instead look at either the church's unwillingness to die to itself or its timid response to the cruelties of our time.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 9:09pm BST

Well, I'm sorry John. If you think I am misrepresenting you, I am certainly not doing so deliberately. It seems to me that the only reason to suppose that the first "witnesses" of the resurrection had "some kind of conviction of some kind of resurrection" -- whatever that means -- and here perhaps is the main problem -- is to provide in some sense the basis (the foundation) of faith for those who came later. They certainly did have experiences which launched the Christian faith, and without them we wouldn't be having this discussion at all. But do those experiences need to be distinctive, different than ours? Or are you saying that we also have some kind of conviction in some kind of resurrection? In short, I'm having trouble understanding the point you are trying to make, and we'll probably have to leave it at that.

As for Cupitt, the exchange between Cupitt and Moule that I am referring to is now a fairly early source, and does not depend on his later work in any way. Moule's problem is very much, I think, like yours with mine. But Cupitt's point is directly reflected, as I point out, in GWH Lampe's "God as Spirit." I simply do not see (and here I agree with Cupitt) that we are reasonably talking about metaphysical realities here (I'll have to address Rod's point later), unless we are using the word 'metaphysical' in a figurative way. 'Metaphysical', speaking non-figuratively, should be something confirmable by means of rational argument.

So far as 'pistis' is concerned, I think there is a difference between the way the word is used, for example, in Aristotle, where it can in fact be used reciprocally, and the way it is used in the NT. The NT use is invariably translated as faith, not proof. But in Aristotelian rhetoric pistis can be an enthymeme, a partial proof, if you like, a syllogism with a suppressed premise. But in the NT pistis assumes -- it does not prove -- that that which is held by faith is true. Hebrews expresses this awkwardly by speaking of faith as evidence (or assurance) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (and not, as such, proof at all).

But I certainly am sorry for any misunderstanding I may have caused regarding what I am trying to say both in good faith and good humour.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 10:00pm BST

Rod, I won't answer at any length. I have always found Lonergan somewhat rebarbative. I found his "Insight" as hard to finish as Joyce's "Ulysses". And I have often felt that Camus was more than half right (if what you are referring to is his claim that the main philosophical question is the question of suicide).

What I find difficult to understand is why you won't allow the life and death of Jesus to be the divine initiative. If the Centurion was right, then that is in fact what constitutes the disclosure experience, and when the disciples came to their right mind they recognised what they had been so slow of heart to believe. I don't understand what you mean by appearances as interior experiences. The experience of the resurrection was, I think, social, not individual. That's why both the nativity and the passion narratives are conflicting and somehow tacked onto the beginning and ending of Matthew and Luke (and the passion in John). Someone thought Mark was missing the point, so added an appearance tradition, when he was the only one who really got it. That doesn't mean that the disclosure experiences were not important, but they were not, if Cupitt and Lampe and I are right, of something metaphysical (whatever you take that to mean). As Lampe says, everything we say about God in Trinitarian terms can be spoken of in terms of Spirit.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 10:17pm BST

Are the bones of Jesus somewhere on earth?

It is interesting that no premodern Christian interpreter would have answered that question Yes.

I suspect that had to do with a pre-Kantian philosophical position that allowed for people to have particular epistemic perspectives on time-space occurrences, not available to all, which the NT record itself emphasizes ('not to all, but to only select witnesses').

When one accesses language like 'interior experience' we are in the land of universals a la Kant or Troelsch.

One of the important intellectual developments of post-modernity is the sympathy with pre-modern epistemic perspectives.


Posted by cseitz at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 11:49pm BST

Verzeihung.

Ich habe 'Troeltsch' nicht richtig buchstabiert.

Posted by cseitz at Sunday, 19 April 2015 at 11:53pm BST

You're still doing it, Eric. I have explicitly said here (and frequently elsewhere on TA) that I think that acceptance (to whatever degree) of the Jesus story (in some form) has to be held in balance/tension with general arguments for the existence of God and with experience ('it works').

I know 'pistis' is generally translated 'faith': as a Classics professor I think the translation is wrong/misleading - the basic thing to grasp is that such vocabulary is judicial/legal.

cseitz' question reminds me of a TV debate between NT Wright and David Jenkins years ago concerning claimed bones of Jesus: for Jenkins it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't matter to me either but I appreciate it would matter to many Anglicans and I want to keep in communion with them (though some don't want that with the likes of me: hope cseitz isn't one of them).

Posted by John at Monday, 20 April 2015 at 10:04am BST

Well, John, I think that is unfair. What you say in your latest comment is not obviously related to what you have said elsewhere in this particular comment stream. For what you say here, that "acceptance (to whatever degree) of the Jesus story (in some form) has to be held in balance/tension with general arguments for the existence of God and with experience" is really shifting your ground from other things you have said here, and it is something with which I would not disagree. However, remember that you began thus a few days ago:"My answer would be that Christianity has to maintain a degree of belief in metaphysical realities, otherwise it has nothing very much to offer (something - but not very much), but shouldn't insist too much on specifics. So proclaim Jesus' resurrection, as historically believed in by a majority (not all) of his disciples and as showing that death is not the end but avoid hanging everything on the empty tomb, the witness of the women, the eating of fish, the particular form of the post-resurrection body, etc." That 'avoid hanging everything on the empty tomb, etc.' does not cancel out the claim that the proclamation of 'Jesus resurrection, as historically believed in by a majority (not all) of his disciples and *as showing that death is not the end*', which effectively provides an historical benchmark for later Christian belief (as I understand it), is precisely what you have been saying all along, notwithstanding the qualifications about not being too specific about the nature of the disciples' experiences. But then, as I say, I simply do not understand (as I said in my last comment) what you want to say about that first Easter, the events of the day, and what the disciples "saw" or "experienced" that convinced them that the grave is not the end. So I'm not "still doing it," for I acknowledge that I do not understand the point you are trying to make, and I said so explicitly; and your latest comment makes no contribution that helps me better to understand it. As to 'pistis', I would be grateful if you would show how this word is used in the NT as a judicial/legal expression, and why (almost) all translators get it wrong.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 20 April 2015 at 1:42pm BST

Re C. Cseitz on Kant and pre-modern epistemic perspectives: One wants to be careful, or at least nuanced, about drawing the same kind of line between modernity and post modernity as one draws between pre-modernity and modernity. Lonergan noted that Kant's Copernican revolution marks a diving line (Method). However, from the get go Lonergan, in his introduction to Insight states, " In a sense somewhat different from Kant's, every insight is both a priori and synthetic. It is a priori for it goes beyond what is merely given to sense or to empirical consciousness, It is synthetic for it adds to the merely given to sense or to empirical consciousness." ( p. x) I don't think anyone could accuse Lonergan of being unsympathetic to pre-modern epistemic perspectives.

As for the opening question, "Are the bones of Jesus somewhere on earth?" Cute. This is a derivative of the question about bodily resurrection, a question pretty much central to this thread, no? Are you advocating resurrection as the re-animation of dead organic matter? Just yesterday I heard in church that Jesus asked his disciples for something to eat. Was the risen Christ famished? Is he hungry still? Or, are those who are risen like the angels, neither eating and drinking? Or, is the object lesson, Jesus is raised, and here you go, take a look?

But here is a question. When the very first witnesses proclaimed that Jesus is risen, did contrary minded fellow Jews first respond by trying to point to the forensic remains, or did the contrary minded understand the claim of resurrection to be such that the presence or not of a corpse was very much beside the point?

Is there a systematic theologian in the house? (!)


Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 20 April 2015 at 1:57pm BST

I want to 'keep communion' with the reception history of the church (prior to modernity) and its own philosophical bearings. If NT Wright and David Jenkins want to imagine modernity as an advanced terrain, and to struggle away on it, fine. I'd prefer to learn from the sophistication of earlier ages.

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 20 April 2015 at 2:10pm BST

Eric, regarding the "rebarbative" Lonergan, as a preacher confronted with foundational texts from a strange world not my own, I have found ideas from thinkers like Lonergan a good basis for developing working solutions. There is the caveat, of course, that enthusiasm is not expertise. Scholars have spent their whole careers focused solely on a Lonergan or a Kant, just as Lonergan spent a career "reaching up into the mind of Aquinas". With regard to the resurrection appearances as interior appearances, what I find a helpful borrowing from Lonergan is the notion of self-transcendence, that there is simply more to knowing than taking a look.

Along this line perhaps, the exclamation of the dying Stephen in Acts is intriguing. Near the end of Luke's long rhetorical idealized apologetic construct, the dying Stephen exclaims,
"Behold, I see the heavens [having been] opened up, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Lk.7:56, RSV). Is it possible that this exclamation, placed on the lips of Stephen, are reminiscent of an interior experience,a resurrection experience? Clearly, inside the narrative his interlocutors do not "see" what Stephen "sees". The intrigue deepens with the introduction of Paul and his transition to conversion and self-proclaimed resurrection witness.

And, just to stir the brew, and since asking playful questions is not unknown here, let me ask this; just as the risen Christ is "seen" by Stephen and "appears" Paul, could not the risen Christ, in theory, also appear to someone like Helen Keller? (The question is not intended to be facetious.)

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 20 April 2015 at 2:45pm BST

Certainly, Rod, the writings of others (Tillich, Küng, Gordon Kaufmann, Cupitt etc.) are helpful in developing "homiletic solutions" when faced with foundational texts from the distant past. I have never found Lonergan helpful. Küng more so, since his theology does in fact run "counter to ... classical expectations," which is what Lonergan desiderates in "Dimensions of Meaning." I don't think Lonergan achieves anything like this (though my knowledge is limited). Lonergan's language is much more convoluted (rebarbative, as I said). "Dimensions of Meaning" less so, but then, in that article he steps out of theology altogether.

Regarding the resurrection narratives, I don't think self-transcendence is really involved. That's why preaching them seems so dreary and predictable. And the Stephen story is too stylised. Self-transcendence more obviously appears in Paul as he passes from blindness to sight - also his sense of becoming the vehicle for Christ's disclosure. Perhaps you are right about interiority, for there is more here than factual knowing, but the real substance of resurrection is found in lives transformed (as John says), but there is no reason to focus on the first to experience resurrection.

It might be suggested that experiences of the first "witnesses" to the resurrection must have been more immediate than that of those who came later, in that they had known Jesus in the flesh. But was their experience of "resurrection" more immediate? For we really have no idea how long it took for the significance of Jesus' life and death to have sunk in (in terms of resurrection). We certainly cannot simply take the gospels at their word, or accept "the reception history of the church (prior to modernity)" (Entschuldigung, C. Seitz) as having a determinative significance here (though some continuity with that is essential). We certainly cannot assume that whatever 'resurrection' refers to occurred immediately following the burial (if there was one). The accounts are too much reworked in terms of prophecy historicised for that. Indeed the gap between Easter and Pentecost suggests precisely something like this. How this transformation occurred, and how long it took, is, I think, lost to us.

As to your playful question, I don't think it's unreasonable to say that Helen Keller could have had the experience of "seeing" the risen Christ (which introduces the interiority you want to emphasise), but that has somehow also to be in continuity with the historic Christian community.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 21 April 2015 at 12:01am BST

Not a whole lot I disagree with in your most recent post, Eric. Example,Hans Kung is very helpful in terms of the sociology of religion. I began reading him with, 'The Church', when I was a teenager. Indeed, Lonergan is actually most helpful (ecumenically) when he steps outside theology. On the subject under discussion here I'm taken by his framing of the questions about cognitional theory, epistemology, and transcendent meta-physics to which he adds the consideration of religion (Method). There is a helpful article titled, Religious Experience According To Bernard Lonergan by Louis Roy O.P. (Sintese, Belo Horizonte v.38 n.122, 2011). The article in English, is available as a download using your search engine. Roy looks at the relationship between pre-modern doctors of the church and modern notions of religious experience. He tends to want to solve problems rather than dismiss the questions that problems provoke. This kind of thing, whether from Lonergan or elsewhere, is a way forward from the critique leveled at the Easter sermons with which this thread began.

As an aside, Lonergan is theologically conservative and hardly dismissive of the intellectual inheritance of the church. His work on the Trinity is as meticulous as it comes. I seem to recall reading an article about his views on the Trinity by comparison with Urs Van Balthasar, where Lonergan is discussing Jesus as not a human person but a person with both a human and Divine nature, how the natures relate, and so it goes.

While returning fire to posts here I came across my copy of, The End of the Word and the Ends of God: Science and Theology on Eschatology. ( edited by Polkinghorne and Weir). The book contains a very good article by scholar Donald Juel titled, Christian Hope and the Denial of Death. Juel's treatment there of Mark, and the ending to Mark is relevant to the debate here.

Of course the Stephen narrative is stylized. My question is whether the exclamation is an echo from an earlier witness. As a preacher I could not begin with the NT resurrection narratives as historical accounts. However, I do believe the resurrection itself is grounded in an outpouring of God's love to potentially intentional recipients, an experience of something real, not imagined.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 21 April 2015 at 2:22pm BST

I must say, I'm much enjoying the theological discourse around the equivalence of the words 'proof' and 'faith'. To my simple mind, the N.T. charism of faith (received only by those willing to believe) is all bound up with the word 'hope' AND - to further extend the possibilities of theological cohesion - the word 'love'; the love of 'the God and father of our Lord, Jesus Christ', that characterises the presence of God within the heart of Christians.

As Paul says: "Faith, Hope and love - these three, BUT the greatest of these is love". This points us, irrevocably, to The God of Love.

Now this is really where the vengeful god of ISIS cannot compete with the G.& F. of OLJC.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 22 April 2015 at 10:12am BST

Since peace seems to have been restored, I hesitate to return. But the use of Mark is a critical issue. No one (that is, only a few) doubts that Mark is anterior to the other Gospels and provides the main basis of Matthew and Luke (whether John has read the synoptics is another question). But not the only basis. The case that Mark is more authentic than the others is, however, fair enough. It would be strengthened by a very early dating (say 40). This is upheld by a few good scholars but it's very minority, and most think (rightly, in my view) that Mark is 70-ish. This means that traditions about Jesus' post-death appearances in Paul (early 50s-64) 'trump' such difficulties as there are in Mark. The difficulties in Mark are two: (1) the lack of any description of Jesus' post-death appearances; (2) the ending: 'fear'. But (1) Jesus' post-death appearances are clearly pre-supposed, (a) by his prophecies; (b) by the empty tomb; (c) by the statement that they'll see him in Galilee (which isn't eschatological). As to (2), it's essential to grasp that (even) Mark isn't just a narrative of what happened (allegedly), it's also a contemporary text, written in the first instance for a particular Christian community, with its own 'present' concerns (true of course of all the Gospels and explains many anachronistic elements). So the 'fear' poses an on-going challenge to Christians in 70 and all subsequent Christians. But they are Christians because they are already Christians and accept the resurrection, which is sufficiently covered in their text.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 22 April 2015 at 4:25pm BST

Re Father Ron and hope and other virtues, it is an interesting and concise post. Here is a line from Juel's article (referenced above), the article is titled, Christian Hope and the Denial of Death. Juel writes, " How to speak of resurrection requires artfulness.The mark of theological wisdom is knowing when and how to speak of such matters in a way that avoids an escape from the reality of death--and that prevents closing off the future to new possibilities for those who take strange solace in the finality of death"

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 22 April 2015 at 5:01pm BST

John, I think judging from your most recent post, you might enjoy the article by Donald H. Juel
(you may already be familiar with it). The article is short but very intricate, making a brief quote problematic. But Juel comments on the ending of Mark as a significant issue,

" The ending is disappointing. The hoped for break through from the time of silence to a time of speaking does not occur. If Jesus' resurrection is the in breaking of the end, the dawning of a new age, it appears to make no impact. Readers are left with the word of the young man. There is no proof. And when the women run away, too terrified to tell anyone what they have seen, we are left without the means of ending the story. There is no one to trust or doubt, no one whose word can be tested. There is only fearful silence. Jesus is no where to be found, and whether he will appear to speak a hopeful word, what it will be, whether or not it will be for us--all are left open and unresolved."

[Donald Juel. Christian Hope and The Denial of Death: Encountering New Testament Eschatology, in The Ends of the Word and The Ends of God. ed. by Polkinghorne and Weir. p. 178]

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 23 April 2015 at 12:30am BST

Thanks, Rod, and for the reference. I take it that part of the function of end-Mark (assuming it's genuine, which I do) is to challenge readers/listeners to 'write the sequel' in their own lives (Acts similarly).

Posted by John at Thursday, 23 April 2015 at 11:25am BST

@ John, no Juel is pointing in a different direction I think. Also, Juel looks at the ending of Mark with a consideration of the work of Frank Kermode, something Juel also did in his book, A Master of Surprise:Mark Interpreted, a very engaging little work ( Fortress, Minneapolis, 1994). In that earlier work Juel writes, " Mark's Gospel, as the rest of the writings in the New Testament, can be read as promising only if the God who plays such a major role in the story can be trusted. If god does not keep promises to Israel, there is little reason for Gentiles to expect anything. Reading Mark's story as promising means understanding the investments that binds the Christian movement tightly to its Jewish ancestry." (p. 144)

Juel points to the questions of the trustworthiness of the promises of Jesus, the trustworthiness of God, and an openness of the faithful to be acted upon by God.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 23 April 2015 at 1:40pm BST

Juel sounds an interesting NT scholar, Rod. I had never heard of him. But I do agree (and have said for years) that Christianity must be bound to its Jewish ancestry. My question is whether this can be done with the texts as we have them, where the Jews are almost uniquely held responsible for the death of Jesus, and the Romans are exculpated, at fact that has caused enormous harm throughout the centuries, and no less when Hitler adopted Luther's programme so avidly. I guess my question is how that binding is to be accomplished, without fairly drastic revision of Christian scripture. The anti-Jewish motif is so strong and so widespread throughout the gospels and the letters that it is almost impossible to eradicate, let alone dilute it (on this point, at least Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is right). And how would this play out in terms of our understanding of resurrection? For it must inevitably have that result. The passage, quoted by the ABC in his Easter homily (and favoured by +Fred), about living stones, from 1 Peter, is viciously anti-Jewish (almost as bad as "He came unto his own, and his own did not receive him"). That which gives us life is said to come because he was rejected by his own people, the Jews. Jesus came into the darkness (a worldly darkness, certainly, but more specifically a Jewish darkness, as John's gospel makes clear), and the darkness could not overcome it -- pointing directly to the crucifixion and resurrection. What would Juel say in respect of such thoughts? For he obviously raises the question.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 23 April 2015 at 7:50pm BST

Rod, I realised Juel was going in a different direction. I was trying to suggest some of the factors that go against taking Mark (a) as the earliest Christian witness; and (b) even in his own terms, as 'pessimistic' (shorthand). From your quote, I'd seriously disagree with J. about the relationship between promises to Israel and Christian credibility. If all Gospels are post-70, then they all carry the implication: those Jews who rejected Jesus and the continuing Jesus movement were rightly punished by God through the Roman capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. That's how they were read by the early Christian fathers (as Lampe memorably showed). The implication is horrible and is the basic reason why all the Gospels can be read as antisemitic (in some rather strong sense of the term). For my own attempt to deal with it, see:

http://research.ncl.ac.uk/histos/documents/2011104MolesJesustheHealer11782.pdf

There's a lot to wade through, but basically the 'defence' resides in 'I will heal them'.

Posted by John at Thursday, 23 April 2015 at 9:00pm BST

Eric and John you will get no argument from me about the issue of anti-Semitism and NT literature, even though I can't subscribe to Eric's radical proposals for the canon. But on that score, As Abe Lincoln said, "one war at a time." I gather Juel was concerned about the issue of anti-Semitism as well. Picking up the quote from Juel's, Mark A Master of Surprise just one earlier line earlier one reads, "A profile of Mark's implied audience demands that current readers not only do some homework but undertake a new assay of theological investments in Jewish matters regarded as passé since perhaps the second century". Better to read him for yourselves. However, this profile of the late Donald Jule from the Princeton publication Inspire, is very informative.

http://www.ptsem.edu/uploadedFiles/Seminary_Relations/Communications_and_Publications/Publications/inSpire/2012_Winter_Fall2011/Features/feature3_juel.pdf

My concern from the get go has been about the problem of the phenomenology and the noumena of resurrection in relation to contemporary proclamation. So one converts an old slogan attributed to Barth. i.e. preach with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, into a new slogan, i.e. preach from texts developed by mythic consciousness on the one hand to an audience on the other hand that understands the universe as random.


The Book edited by Polkinghorne and Weir contains an article written by Jurgen Moltmann who observes, " ...in modern societies the living acquire ascendancy over the dead. If there is to be a community, it cannot proceed from the dead, but must start from the living." Moltmann notes that the death is not a farewell but a transformation into that other world of God's which we call eternal. He concludes, " The other side is the community of those who come afterwards with their forbears. Anyone who forgets the rights of the dead will be indifferent toward the lives of those to come as well. Without a 'culture of remembrance' ...there will also be no 'culture of hope' that will open up a future for our children." ( Moltmann. Is There Life After Death?). Again, offered with the caveat that quoting intricate and concise works risks misunderstanding.

John, thanks for the link to the article. I hope to get to it asap.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 24 April 2015 at 2:02am BST

John, thanks again for the article which indeed is heavy sledding. The level of technical erudition in the interpretive work is vigorous and demanding; but I'm consoled by Lonergan's wisdom in his schema of the functional specialties coupled with the old proverb, "Every man to his trade". I can only relate what I found helpful.

The minority stance you take on chronology and relative dating is certainly interesting. The section treating Acts 17:1-34 is fascinating. In the section on John you note, "John does not make explicit that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection constitute the greatest ‘healing’ of all and ‘save’ all people: he does not need to (or not to readers who have read him aright)." The point overall has an interesting application to the discussion on this thread, i.e. applied to an understanding of the phenomenology of resurrection.

You raised the issue of antisemitism in your post. It seems to me that tackling Christian antisemitism requires several strategies. Tackling tensions in the text through the use of scholarship and preaching is one necessary strategy. Your treatment of Matthew's material seems a fair example, "Matthew’s handling of the problem of Jewish rejectionism is not only morally commendable (up to a point),but also very adroitly executed. " However, the several strategies must be pursued together. Liturgical reform is another; but by far one of the most important is engagement in Jewish-Christian dialogue with an attention to what Jewish Scholars are saying in their re-appropriation of Jesus the Jew ( or Paul the Jew for that matter). Those voices include Geza Vermes, of course, and scholars like Peter Schaefer and Daniel Boyarin and others. With regard to the notion of resurrection it means, as well, learning with humility from peoples who have been victimized by Christianity but who continue to integrate remembrance with hope. The posture of Jews, both religious and non-religious, in the aftermath of the Shoah is one example. The experience of Aboriginal peoples is another. Christians might become more effective at proclaiming resurrection by attending to other religious traditions, Jewish, aboriginal, for example, even when those traditions seek meaning and hopefulness within their own horizon.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 24 April 2015 at 10:26pm BST

Rod,

Thanks x2. Away yesterday at conference, only back in harness now. Christians need to be much more honest but for many that is very difficult because for them it threatens Christian truth. I still think Anglicans handle these things relatively well: the Anglican version of the Good Friday prayer ('let us pray for God's ancient people' - no recriminations, no imputation of mistaken-ness) seems just right: never fails to make me weep.

Posted by John at Saturday, 25 April 2015 at 11:25am BST

Re Anglican handling, The Canadian Good Friday Liturgy has a couple of interesting features. The rubrics that direct the reading of John's Passion state, " The term 'the Jews' in St. John's Gospel applies to particular individuals and not to the Jewish people, Insofar as we ourselves turn against Christ, we are responsible for his death". I'm not sure the rubric, in the end, doesn't simply dig the hole deeper.

More promising is the text of one of the responsive anthems in the Canadian Good Friday liturgy. "I grafted you into the tree of my chosen Israel, and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder. I made you heirs with them of my covenants, but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt." The congregational response is the trisagion. (The anthem is credited to a supplemental worship resource From Ashes to Fire, published by Abingdon.)

One thinks as well of John XXIII striking the blatantly anti-Semitic prayer from the Roman Rite.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 26 April 2015 at 1:01am BST
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