Resurrection of Jesus Christ

                     Resurrection is the rising again from the dead, the resumption of life. In this
                     article, we shall treat only of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. (The General
                     Resurrection of the Body will be covered in another article.) The fact of Christ's
                     Resurrection, the theories opposed to this fact, its characteristics, and the
                     reasons for its importance must be considered in distinct paragraphs.

                                  I. THE FACT OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION

                     The main sources which directly attest the fact of Christ's Resurrection are the
                     Four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. Easter morning is so rich in incident,
                     and so crowded with interested persons, that its complete history presents a
                     rather complicated tableau. It is not surprising, therefore, that the partial
                     accounts contained in each of the Four Gospels appear at first sight hard to
                     harmonize. But whatever exegetic view as to the visit to the sepulchre by the
                     pious women and the appearance of the angels we may defend, we cannot deny
                     the Evangelists' agreement as to the fact that the risen Christ appeared to one or
                     more persons. According to St. Matthew, He appeared to the holy women, and
                     again on a mountain in Galilee; according to St. Mark, He was seen by Mary
                     Magdalen, by the two disciples at Emmaus, and the Eleven before his Ascension
                     into heaven; according to St. Luke, He walked with the disciples to Emmaus,
                     appeared to Peter and to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem; according to St.
                     John, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalen, to the ten Apostles on Easter Sunday,
                     to the Eleven a week later, and to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. St.
                     Paul (I Cor., xv, 3-8) enumerates another series of apparitions of Jesus after His
                     Resurrection; he was seen by Cephas, by the Eleven, by more than 500
                     brethren, many of whom were still alive at the time of the Apostle's writing, by
                     James, by all the Apostles, and lastly by Paul himself.

                     Here is an outline of a possible harmony of the Evangelists' account concerning
                     the principal events of Easter Sunday:

                          The holy women carrying the spices previously prepared start out for the
                          sepulchre before dawn, and reach it after sunrise; they are anxious about
                          the heavy stone, but know nothing of the official guard of the sepulchre
                          (Matt., xxviii, 1-3; Mark, xvi, 1-3; Luke, xxiv, 1; John, xx, 1).
                          The angel frightened the guards by his brightness, put them to flight, rolled
                          away the stone, and seated himself (not upon, ep autou), but above
                          (epano autou) the stone (Matt. xxviii, 2-4).
                          Mary Magdalen, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome approach the
                          sepulchre, and see the stone rolled back, whereupon Mary Magdalen
                          immediately returns to inform the Apostles (Mark, xvi, 4; Luke, xxiv, 2;
                          John xx, 1-2).
                          The other two holy women enter the sepulchre, find an angel seated in the
                          vestibule, who shows them the empty sepulchre, announces the
                          Resurrection, and commissions them to tell the disciples and Peter that
                          they shall see Jesus in Galilee (Matt., xxviii, 5-7; Mark, xvi, 5-7).
                          A second group of holy women, consisting of Joanna and her
                          companions, arrive at the sepulchre, where they have probably agreed to
                          meet the first group, enter the empty interior, and are admonished by two
                          angels that Jesus has risen according to His prediction (Luke, xxiv, 10).
                          Not long after, Peter and John, who were notified by Mary Magdalen, arrive
                          at the sepulchre and find the linen cloth in such a position as to exclude
                          the supposition that the body was stolen; for they lay simply flat on the
                          ground, showing that the sacred body had vanished out of them without
                          touching them. When John notices this he believes (John, xx, 3-10).
                          Mary Magdalen returns to the sepulchre, sees first two angels within, and
                          then Jesus Himself (John, xx, 11-l6; Mark, xvi, 9).
                          The two groups of pious women, who probably met on their return to the
                          city, are favored with the sight of Christ arisen, who commissions them to
                          tell His brethren that they will see him in Galilee (Matt., xxviii, 8-10; Mark,
                          xvi, 8).
                          The holy women relate their experiences to the Apostles, but find no belief
                          (Mark, xvi, 10-11; Luke, xxiv, 9-11).
                          Jesus appears to the disciples, at Emmaus, and they return to Jerusalem;
                          the Apostles appear to waver between doubt and belief (Mark, xvi, 12-13;
                          Luke, xxiv, 13-35).
                          Christ appears to Peter, and therefore Peter and John firmly believe in the
                          Resurrection (Luke, xxiv, 34; John, xx, 8).
                          After the return of the disciples from Emmaus, Jesus appears to all the
                          Apostles excepting Thomas (Mark, xvi, 14; Luke, xxiv, 36-43; John, xx,

                     The harmony of the other apparitions of Christ after His Resurrection presents no
                     special difficulties.

                     Briefly, therefore, the fact of Christ's Resurrection is attested by more than 500
                     eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered
                     them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to
                     deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain,
                     but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their
                     apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective
                     truth of their message. Again the fact of Christ's Resurrection is attested by the
                     eloquent silence of the Synagogue which had done everything to prevent
                     deception, which could have easily discovered deception, if there had been any,
                     which opposed only sleeping witnesses to the testimony of the Apostles, which
                     did not punish the alleged carelessness of the official guard, and which could not
                     answer the testimony of the Apostles except by threatening them "that they
                     speak no more in this name to any man" (Acts, iv, 17). Finally the thousands
                     and millions, both Jews and Gentiles, who believed the testimony of the Apostles
                     in spite of all the disadvantages following from such a belief, in short the origin of
                     the Church, requires for its explanation the reality of Christ's Resurrection, fot the
                     rise of the Church without the Resurrection would have been a greater miracle
                     than the Resurrection itself.

                                         II. OPPOSING THEORIES

                     By what means can the evidence for Christ's Resurrection by overthrown? Three
                     theories of explanation have been advanced, though the first two have hardly any
                     adherents in our day.

                     (1)The Swoon Theory

                     There is the theory of those who assert that Christ did not really die upon the
                     cross, that His supposed death was only a temporary swoon, and that His
                     Resurrection was simply a return to consciousness. This was advocated by
                     Paulus ("Exegetisches Handbuch", 1842, II, p. 929) and in a modified form by
                     Hase ("Gesch. Jesu", n. 112), but it does not agree with the data furnished by
                     the Gospels. The scourging and the crown of thorns, the carrying of the cross
                     and the crucifixion, the three hours on the cross and the piercing of the Sufferer's
                     side cannot have brought on a mere swoon. His real death is attested by the
                     centurion and the soldiers, by the friends of Jesus and by his most bitter
                     enemies. His stay in a sealed sepulchre for thirty-six hours, in an atmosphere
                     poisoned by the exhalations of a hundred pounds of spices, which would have of
                     itself sufficed to cause death. Moreover, if Jesus had merely returned from a
                     swoon, the feelings of Easter morning would have been those of sympathy rather
                     than those of joy and triumph, the Apostles would have been roused to the duties
                     of a sick chamber rather than to apostolic work, the life of the powerful
                     wonderworker would have ended in ignoble solitude and inglorious obscurity, and
                     His vaunted sinlessness would have changed into His silent approval of a lie as
                     the foundation stone of His Church. No wonder that later critics of the
                     Resurrection, like Strauss, have heaped contempt on the old theory of a swoon.

                     (2) Imposition Theory

                     The disciples, it is said, stole the body of Jesus from the grave, and then
                     proclaimed to men that their Lord had risen. This theory was anticipated by the
                     Jews who "gave a great sum of money to the soldiers, saying: Say you, His
                     disciples came by night, and stole him away when we were asleep" (Matt., xxviii,
                     12 sq.). The same was urged by Celsus (Orig., "Contra Cels.", II, 56) with some
                     difference of detail. But to assume that the Apostles with a burden of this kind
                     upon their consciences could have preached a kingdom of truth and
                     righteousness as the one great effort of their lives, and that for the sake of that
                     kingdom they could have suffered even unto death, is to assume one of those
                     moral impossibilities which may pass for a moment in the heat of controversy,
                     but must be dismissed without delay in the hour of good reflection.

                     (3) Vision Theory

                     This theory as generally understood by its advocates does not allow visions
                     caused by a Divine intervention, but only such as are the product of human
                     agencies. For if a Divine intervention be admitted, we may as well believe, as far
                     as principles are concerned, that God raised Jesus from the dead. But where in
                     the present instance are the human agencies which might cause these visions?
                     The idea of a resurrection from the grave was familiar to the disciples from their
                     Jewish faith; they had also vague intimations in the prophecies of the Old
                     Testament; finally, Jesus Himself had always associated His Resurrection with
                     the predictions of his death. On the other hand, the disciples' state of mind was
                     one of great excitement; they treasured the memory of Christ with a fondness
                     which made it almost impossible for them to believe that He was gone. In short,
                     their whole mental condition was such as needed only the application of a spark
                     to kindle the flame. The spark was applied by Mary Magdalen, and the flame at
                     once spread with the rapidity and force of a conflagration. What she believed that
                     she had seen, others immediately believed that they must see. Their
                     expectations were fulfilled, and the conviction seized the members of the early
                     Church that the Lord had really risen from the dead.

                     Such is the vision theory commonly defended by recent critics of the
                     Resurrection. But however ingeniously it may be devised, it is quite impossible
                     from an historical point of view.

                          It is incompatible with the state of mind of the Apostles; the theory
                          presupposes faith and expectancy on the part of the Apostles, while in
                          point of fact the disciples' faith and expectancy followed their vision of the
                          risen Christ.
                          It is inconsistent with the nature of Christ's manifestations; they ought to
                          have been connected with heavenly glory, or they should have continued
                          the former intimate relations of Jesus with His disciples, while actually
                          and consistently they presented quite a new phase that could not have
                          been expected.
                          It does not agree with the conditions of the early Christian community;
                          after the first excitement of Easter Sunday, the disciples as a body are
                          noted for their cool deliberation rather than the exalted enthusiasm of a
                          community of visionaries.
                          It is incompatible with the length of time during which the apparitions
                          lasted; visions such as the critics suppose have never been known to last
                          long, while some of Christ's manifestations lasted a considerable period.
                          It is not consistent with the fact that the manifestations were made to
                          numbers at the same instant.
                          It does not agree with the place where most of the manifestations were
                          made: visionary appearances would have been expected in Galilee, while
                          most apparitions of Jesus occurred in Judea.
                          It is inconsistent with the fact that the visions came to a sudden end on
                          the day of Ascension.

                     Keim admits that enthusiasm, nervousness, and mental excitement on the part
                     of the disciples do not supply a rational explanation of the facts as related in the
                     Gospels. According to him, the visions were directly granted by God and the
                     glorified Christ; they may even include a "corporeal appearance" for those who
                     fear that without this they would lose all. But Keim's theory satisfies neither the
                     Church, since it abandons all the proofs of a bodily Resurrection of Jesus, nor
                     the enemies of the Church, since it admits many of the Church's dogmas; nor
                     again is it consistent with itself, since it grants God's special intervention in proof
                     of the Church's faith, though it starts with the denial of the bodily Resurrection of
                     Jesus, which is one of the principal objects of that faith.

                     (4) Modernist View

                     The Holy Office describes and condemns in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh
                     propositions of the Decree "Lamentabili", the views advocated by a fourth class of
                     opponents of the Resurrection. The former of these propositions reads: "The
                     Resurrection of our Saviour is not properly a fact of the historical order, but a fact
                     of the purely supernatural order neither proved nor provable, which Christian
                     consciousness has little by little inferred from other facts." This statement agrees
                     with, and is further explained by the words of Loisy ("Autour d'un petit livre", p.
                     viii, 120-121, 169; "L'Evangile et l'Eglise", pp. 74-78; 120-121; 171). According to
                     Loisy, firstly, the entrance into life immortal of one risen from the dead is not
                     subject to observation; it is a supernatural, hyper-historical fact, not capable of
                     historical proof. The proofs alleged for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are
                     inadequate; the empty sepulchre is only an indirect argument, while the
                     apparitions of the risen Christ are open to suspicion on a priori grounds, being
                     sensible impressions of a supernatural reality; and they are doubtful evidence
                     from a critical point of view, on account of the discrepancies in the various
                     Scriptural narratives and the mixed character of the detail connected with the
                     apparitions. Secondly, if one prescinds from the faith of the Apostles, the
                     testimony of the New Testament does not furnish a certain argument for the fact
                     of the Resurrection. This faith of the Apostles is concerned not so much with the
                     Resurrection of Jesus Christ as with His immortal life; being based on the
                     apparitions, which are unsatisfactory evidence from an historical point of view, its
                     force is appreciated only by faith itself; being a development of the idea of an
                     immortal Messias, it is an evolution of Christian consciousness, though it is at
                     the same time a corrective of the scandal of the Cross. The Holy Office rejects
                     this view of the Resurrection when it condemns the thirty-seventh proposition in
                     the Decree "Lamentabili": "The faith in the Resurrection of Christ pointed at the
                     beginning no so much to the fact of the Resurrection, as to the immortal life of
                     Christ with God."

                     Besides the authoritative rejection of the foregoing view, we may submit the
                     following three considerations which render it untenable: First, the contention that
                     the Resurrection of Christ cannot be proved historically is not in accord with
                     science. Science does not know enough about the limitations and the properties
                     of a body raised from the dead to immortal life to warrant the assertion that such
                     a body cannot be perceived by the senses; again in the case of Christ, the
                     empty sepulchre with all its concrete circumstances cannot be explained except
                     by a miraculous Divine intervention as supernatural in its character as the
                     Resurrection of Jesus. Secondly, history does not allow us to regard the belief in
                     the Resurrection as the result of a gradual evolution in Christian consciousness.
                     The apparitions were not a mere projection of the disciples' Messianic hope and
                     expectation; their Messianic hope and expectations had to be revived by the
                     apparitions. Again, the Apostles did not begin with preaching the immortal life of
                     Christ with God, but they preached Christ's Resurrection from the very beginning,
                     they insisted on it as a fundamental fact and they described even some of the
                     details connected with this fact: Acts, ii, 24, 31; iii, 15,26; iv, 10; v, 30; x, 39-40;
                     xiii, 30, 37; xvii, 31-2; Rom., i,4; iv, 25; vi, 4,9; viii, 11, 34; x, 7; xiv, 9; I Cor., xv,
                     4, 13 sqq.; etc. Thirdly, the denial of the historical certainty of Christ's
                     Resurrection involves several historical blunders: it questions the objective reality
                     of the apparitions without any historical grounds for such a doubt; it denies the
                     fact of the empty sepulchre in spite of solid historical evidence to the contrary; it
                     questions even the fact of Christ's burial in Joseph's sepulchre, though this fact is
                     based on the clear and simply unimpeachable testimony of history.

                                III. CHARACTER OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION

                     The Resurrection of Christ has much in common with the general resurrection;
                     even the transformation of His body and of His bodily life is of the same kind as
                     that which awaits the blessed in their resurrection. But the following peculiarities
                     must be noted:

                          Christ's Resurrection is necessarily a glorious one; it implies not merely
                          the reunion of body and soul, but also the glorification of the body.
                          Christ's body was to know no corruption, but rose again soon after death,
                          when sufficient time had elapsed to leave no doubt as to the reality of His
                          Christ was the first to rise unto life immortal; those raised before Him died
                          again (Col., i, I8; I Cor., xv, 20).
                          As the Divine power which raised Christ from the grave was His own
                          power, He rose from the dead by His own power (John, ii, 19; x, l7-18).
                          Since the Resurrection had been promised as the main proof of Christ's
                          Divine mission, it has a greater dogmatic importance than any other fact.
                          "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is
                          also vain" (I Cor., xv, 14).

                                  IV. IMPORTANCE OF THE RESURRECTION

                     Besides being the fundamental argument for our Christian belief, the Resurrection
                     is important for the following reasons:

                          It shows the justice of God who exalted Christ to a life of glory, as Christ
                          had humbled Himself unto death (Phil., ii, 8-9).
                          The Resurrection completed the mystery of our salvation and redemption;
                          by His death Christ freed us from sin, and by His Resurrection He
                          restored to us the most important privileges lost by sin (Rom., iv, 25).
                          By His Resurrection we acknowledge Christ as the immortal God, the
                          efficient and exemplary cause of our own resurrection (I Cor., xv, 21; Phil.,
                          iii, 20-21), and as the model and the support of our new life of grace
                          (Rom., vi, 4-6; 9-11).

                     A. J. Maas
                     Transcribed by Donald J. Boon
                     Dedicated to Bishop Andre Cimichella of Montreal, and to Blessed Kateri

                                       The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII
                                    Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
                                    Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                  Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
                                 Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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