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The Few Witnesses to the Resurrection Print E-mail
By Bl. John Henry Newman   
Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Very Blessed Easter to all our readers from the staff of The Catholic Thing: Robert Royal, Brad Miner, Hannah Russo, and Maria Hungerford.

It might have been expected, that, on our Saviour’s rising again from the dead, He would have shown Himself to very great numbers of people, and especially to those who crucified Him; whereas we know from the history, that, far from this being the case, He showed Himself only to chosen witnesses, chiefly His immediate followers; and St. Peter avows this in the text.

This seems at first sight strange. We are apt to fancy the resurrection of Christ as some striking visible display of His glory, such as God vouchsafed from time to time to the Israelites in Moses’ day; and considering it in the light of a public triumph, we are led to imagine the confusion and terror which would have overwhelmed His murderers, had He presented Himself alive before them.

Now, thus to reason, is to conceive Christ’s kingdom of this world, which it is not. . . .This is the question, “Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people? why only to witnesses chosen before of God?” and this is my answer: “Because this was the most effectual means of propagating His religion through the world.”

. . .Now consider what would have been the probable effect of a public exhibition of His resurrection. Let us suppose that our Saviour had shown Himself as openly as before He suffered; preaching in the Temple and in the streets of the city; traversing the land with His Apostles, and with multitudes following to see the miracles which He did. What would have been the effect of this?

What could they have said and felt more than this, when “one rose from the dead”? In truth, this is the way of the mass of mankind in all ages, to be influenced by sudden fears, sudden contrition, sudden earnestness, sudden resolves, which disappear as suddenly. Nothing is done effectually through untrained human nature; and such is ever the condition of the multitude. Unstable as water, it cannot excel. One day it cried Hosanna; the next, Crucify Him. . . .Had our Lord appeared in public, yet few could have touched Him, and certified themselves it was He Himself. . . .It would have been open to the greater number of them still to deny that He was risen. . . .

It would seem, then, that our Lord gave His attention to a few, because, if the few be gained, the many will follow. To these few He showed Himself again and again. These He restored, comforted, warned, inspired. He formed them unto Himself, that they might show forth His praise. . . .

Doubtless, much may be undone by the many, but nothing is done except by those who are specially trained for action. . . . If the witnesses were to be such as really loved and obeyed the Truth, there could not be many chosen. Christ’s cause was the cause of light and religion, therefore His advocates and ministers were necessarily few. . . .

            The Morning of the Resurrection by Edward Burne-Jones, c. 1882

Now, let us observe how much matter, both for warning and comfort, is supplied by this view. We learn from the picture of the infant Church what that Church has been ever since, that is, as far as man can understand it. Many are called, few are chosen. . . .

But, besides this, we are comforted too; we are comforted, as many of us as are living humbly in the fear of God. Who those secret ones are, who in the bosom of the visible Church live as saints fulfilling their calling, God only knows.

. . .Let all “who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity be quite sure, that weak though they seem, and solitary, yet the “foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The many are “deceitful,” and the worldly-wise are “vain;” but he “that feareth the Lord, the same shall be praised.” The most excellent gifts of the intellect last but for a season. Eloquence and wit, shrewdness and dexterity, these plead a cause well and propagate it quickly, but it dies with them. It has no root in the hearts of men, and lives not out a generation. It is the consolation of the despised Truth, that its works endure.

The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church. “Fret not thyself” then “because of evil doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good … delight thyself also in Him, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart; commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. . . .”

The heathen world made much ado when the Apostles preached the Resurrection. They and their associates were sent out as lambs among wolves; but they prevailed.

We, too, though we are not witnesses of Christ’s actual resurrection, are so spiritually. By a heart awake from the dead, and by affections set on heaven, we can as truly and without figure witness that Christ liveth, as they did. . . .He who obeys God conscientiously, and lives holily, forces all about him to believe and tremble before the unseen power of Christ.

To the world indeed at large he witnesses not; for few can see him near enough to be moved by his manner of living. But to his neighbours he manifests the Truth in proportion to their knowledge of him; and some of them, through God’s blessing, catch the holy flame, cherish it, and in their turn transmit it. And thus in a dark world Truth still makes way in spite of the darkness, passing from hand to hand. 

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was made a cardinal by Leo XIII in 1879 and beatified by Benedict XVI in 2010. He was among the most important Catholic writers of the last several centuries

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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Manfred, March 31, 2013
Thank you for a beautiful and very timely post. There is no mention of popes, archbishops, bishops, etc. What makes this post accurate is that it is the individual who strives to follow Christ and live in the State of Grace, and the few others he/she influences in their lifetimes.
written by BradW, March 31, 2013
"And he said to him, If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded."
written by Pasrtor John, March 31, 2013
According to the bible over 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus.
written by Mark, April 01, 2013
The whole Sermon ("Witnesses to the Resurrection") is in Volume 1 of Newman's Parochial and Plain Sermons, which is available online.
written by Travis, April 01, 2013
As a matter of fact, the people of Our Lord's time did see one who had risen from the dead. Lazarus was well known by many around Jerusalem, and the fact if his death was very well known, as was the fact that her had been dead several days in the tomb. By raising him from three dead in such a manifest way, Or Lord performed what was his most public miracle, and Lazarus was talking, taking, confirmation of this on a daily basis. Did this move Chtust's enemies to convert, to believe in Him, to love Him? On the contrary, it strengthened their resolve to put Him to death. If they would not believe the living Lazarus as testimony of Christ's divinity, there is no reason to think they would have accepted His resurrection as evidence.
written by Jim Flynn, April 02, 2013
From JRF
Thank you TCT for bringing Newman's grace filled catechsis on the resurrection. And thank you Mark for reminding us where we can find the entire Sermon.
To Manfred, "No Popes, Archbishops, bishops, priests.." I can only conclude that both Luther and Calvin rejoice at your embrace of "Faith Alone" as the path to salvation. Go for it!!
written by Irenic, April 17, 2013
“Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people? why only to witnesses chosen before of God?”

A valid question. To begin to understand this, we need to turn the question on its side. We need to understand that death is only the last of a long list of enemies to be destroyed (1 Cor 15:26).

As there is "only" one fully authentic human person in the universe "in (whom...) dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally" (Col 2:9-10), so the Holy Spirit seeks out others persons, marking each with a personal not corporate seal.

For it is the person of Christ that is hidden in the Godhead (the self emptying servant) and this so that the gift of eternal life may be fully adapted to our own person (Lossky V., Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 1944, p. 168).

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