The Catholic Thing
The Resurrection, in Our Own Days Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Spinoza had raised the question: Why do people take miracles – the striking departures from the Laws of Nature – as the sign of God, rather than taking the Laws of Nature themselves as the most striking evidence of a Creator forming a universe governed by laws?  But as C.S. Lewis observed, the popular “religion” of our day seems to be averse to a God who does miracles. What sense is there, after all, to a God who suspends the laws that govern everywhere else for the sake of relieving the affliction of this person and not that one, who could be far more deserving? 

For certain minds, it may appear unseemly for God to engage in “special effects.” But the base of the aversion, as Lewis suspected, was the resistance to the notion of a “living God” who takes an interest in persons. There has been a remarkable, enduring appeal to the notion of a God who just blends in with the world, with the sun and wind and stars. It becomes pantheism under one variation or another.

The curious mark of an age high in schooling and diminished in education is that this view of God should be taken as something novel and avant-garde. In fact, it has been one of the most primitive temptations wrapping itself in the pretensions of theology. As Lewis remarked, “If ‘religion’ means simply what man says about God, and not what God does about man, then Pantheism almost is religion.”

But as Ronald Knox reminded us with a sharp note, “Don’t let’s make any mistake about this; [Jesus] claimed to do miracles, and claimed, by doing miracles, to prove where he came from; to prove that he came straight from God.” And the culminating miracle, of course, was his own Resurrection.

It was, as Knox said, “the climax of that series of miracles by which our Lord justified his claim to be the ambassador of a Divine revelation.” Jesus had raised three other people from the dead – apart from Lazarus there was Jairus’s daughter and the widow’s son at Naim. Each of these happenings was taken as a miracle, stunning in its own way.

And yet, as Fulton Sheen noted, in that fine meditation in this space on Sunday, the curious thing was that the Resurrection had come as a surprise to the disciples. They had heard or seen of the other miracles; why would they not have anticipated that Jesus would have performed the same miracle for himself?  

     The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca, 1463

But it has been, over the years, a further confirmation of the account in the Gospels that the disciples were ordinary men, anchored in the world, largely bereft of illusions. They had to be shown. It was a small, telling part of Luke’s account that Jesus asked whether they had any meat. He was there in his body, and hungry. They gave him “a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.”

It is hard to avoid the inference that the shock and the surprise for the disciples was not a surprise or disappointment for Jesus. The jolt and deep astonishment were critical ingredients in imparting the news – and the lesson – to disciples, and to a larger world, that could not be counted on to be credulous.       

I write these notes on Easter Sunday, with the Masses overflowing at St. John the Beloved church in McLean, Virginia. This must be one of the darkest times for Catholics in America, as we see the politics that engulfs us and the corruption of our laws. And yet, I’ve rarely seen people happier or more upbeat. The greetings of “Happy Easter” rang from friends met again, on foot and in passing cars.

Aided by one of the first days of spring, the sense of life reborn was in the air, and that itself was a kind of miracle. The venerable Fr. Franklyn McAfee recalled the claims arising now and then to the discovery of the bones of Jesus in or around Galilee. He recalled also a man he had known saying that it would make no difference, that he would continue practicing the faith and attending Mass. Fr. McAfee pronounced that view as “preposterous” and indefensible. If the dead body of Jesus were found, he said, he would leave the Church and so should the people assembled there on Sunday.

For if the Resurrection had not happened, if Jesus was not who he claimed to be, what would all the rituals mean but an elaborate series of play-acting?  But the Resurrection of Jesus was also the promise to the rest of us that we, too, may rise again, and yet even more:  that we may rise with him even now, in our days here.

The lines I’ve cited here from Ronald Knox come from a series of sermons that he delivered during the Second World War, to girls who had been evacuated to the Assumption Convent in Aldenham Park. The times were far darker than our own, but Knox told his pupils that they might live in equally troubled times, when it will look as if everything we Catholics care for were going under.” 

But the Church, he said, “is the Church of the Risen Christ, and till the end of time every death she undergoes will be the prelude to a resurrection.”

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 22, 2014
For today's generation, so it seems, the miraculous has become commonplace, trite. Nothing is held in awe. Yet go to some quaint restaurant staffed by millenials and order a diet coke. The response you'll get is "Awesome." What? Ordering a coke is awesome? How about the notion of an incarnate God who rose from the dead. That's awesome. How about the fact that you could be dead to sin and this very same resurrection could enable YOUR rising from the dead? Do you find that awesome? Today I will be preaching the noontime Mass and will suggest that the resurrection should be like a smack to your face - startling, awakening, mobilizing you to action and prompting you to tell others about it. Nothing ho-hum here.
written by Manfred, April 22, 2014
Dr. Arkes: Thank you for the cerebration you craft into each of your columns. I look forward to them each week.
written by Helen, April 22, 2014
Thank you, Dr. Arkes. I am uplifted and inspired by this.
written by Aramis, April 22, 2014

With respect.. it is ungenerous to excoriate "millenials" who had to inherit the ashes of western civilization and all the deceptions and delusions foisted on them by the most self-glorifying generation in recorded history, the Baby Boomers. Tough to comprehend the awesomeness of the incarnate God who rose from the dead when no one ever taught you about Him.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 22, 2014
Aramis, I could not agree with you more. What I said applies to all in today's culture. I simply was alluding to the fact that the young seem enamored of the expression "awesome" which, given it's true meaning, is jarring when applied to the most mundane of experiences - such as ordering a Coke. A deficit in an appreciation of the miraculous is pandemic indeed.
written by Dan Deeny, April 22, 2014
A very good essay. I'm not so sure about Fr. McAfee though. I think I'd probably continue going to Mass, if it were still said. Would the Mass be "an elaborate series of play-acting"? What about Jesus' life? Didn't he save a woman from being stoned to death? What about the Good Samaritan story? The Prodigal Son? Mary's story about the angel? Couldn't she have been stoned to death also? Didn't some folks say that the father of Jesus was a Roman centurian named Pantherus? In his novel The Master and Margareta, Michael Bulgakov has a very interesting chapter titled "Pontius Pilate" Maybe Fr. McAfee got carried away by his Easter enthusiasm. But still, a very good article.

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