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Resurrection and Real Justice | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008 | Ignatius Insight
"Nam qui Deus erat, homo
natus est, et qui homo natus est, operatur ut Deus; et qui operatur ut Deus, ut
homo moritur; et qui ut homo moritur, ut Deus resurgit. Qui devicto mortuis
imperio cum ea carne, qua natus et passus et mortuus fuerat, resurrexit tertia
die...." -- Formula "Fides Damasi" c. 500 A.D. 
"It is clear from the New
Testament that the Resurrection was in no sense a restoration of Jesus to an
earthly life as He had previously lived it; but neither was it merely a series
of visions which assured the disciples that Jesus was still alive and present
with them in spiritual power. The event is rather a mighty act of God, by which
Jesus 'was raised up' ... and exalted by the Father to His rightful position of
glory at the Father's right hand (Acts 2, 22-36, etc.). It was a victory of
Christ over death, with results not only for Himself but for all Christians (1
Pet. 1, 3 f, cf. 1 Cor. 15, 14), and hence the beginning of a new era (Jn. 20,
17, Mt. 28, 16)." -- "Resurrection of Christ," The Oxford Dictionary of the
Christian Church. 
In the Prologue to the
Gospel of John, we read the famous words, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt
among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the
only son from the Father" (Jn 1:14). John is careful to assure us that Christ
is not an "illusion," as the Docetists thought, because, for them, it was a
scandal that God could actually in any sense be a man, one of our kind. So John
uses a word that cannot be mistaken for an abstraction or an illusion, "flesh."
Christ did not become merely a human "soul," which He did. He became "flesh,"
body and soul.
And the dwelling amongst us
comes from the word for "pitching one's tent" in a given place, in this case,
among us. Once the Word is made "flesh," He needs a place to be, in which to
dwell. Obviously, this world is where He intends to be. He is among precisely
"us," not on some other planet in some other galaxy, if there be such. We
should not forget that the principal difficulty that the ancient witnesses had
with Christ was not so much that He was God as that He was man. But neither was
He merely another prophet or holy man. He was what He claimed to be, "true God"
but likewise "true man." As Fides Damasi says, Christ was born as man, but He acted as God. He was not half one
and half the other, but all one and all the other. When He "rose again on the
third day," He rose as "true man." As God, He did not have to "rise." God as
such does not die. The man who was God does die, but God remains eternal. The
God who, as man dies, rises again, true God and true man. The fact that Christ
is one Person, with two natures, one divine, one human, allows us to affirm all
of these things without contradiction.
As we come to Easter and its
central teaching about the kind of beings we are, we often see various ways to
understand it. We seek to make sense of the Resurrection—that of Christ
and what it implies and promises, namely, that of our own. We know the doctrine
of the resurrection of the body is, if true, consoling. It is in fact
astonishing. Indeed, the major difficulty with this doctrine as a cornerstone
of the Christian faith, as Chesterton often noted, is that it is "too good to
be true." This being "too good" is one of the principal theoretical arguments
against the Resurrection of Christ as a valid and true event in history.
Since we wish it to be true,
so the argument goes, we are just projecting our empty hopes onto an ancient
reality. If we have a "theory" that the resurrection could not happen,
therefore, as scientists, we conclude that it could not, in principle, happen,
even if there is evidence that it did. We proceed to deny fact in the name of
our theory. As Christians, however, we do not begin with a theory but with a
fact to which there were credible witnesses. On the basis of fact, we build our
theory about whether and why it could or could not happen.
We can say of the Apostles,
the ones who alone could have witnessed something about this event at the time,
that, by all accounts, they never expected that Christ would die and rise
again. They were told, as the record shows, that this remarkable event might
happen. But from all we know they did not believe a word of it. The unbelief of
the Apostles has, indeed, long been taken as an indirect proof that the event
happened. St. Paul, in a famous remark, said that if Christ is not risen, our
faith is "in vain" (1 Cor 15:14). There is nothing in that remark that proves
objectively that Christ did rise again. All it proves is that the witnesses
truly testified to what they saw. If it did not happen, we should forget it. If
it did, we are faced with something unprecedented that we must address.
Nothing in the record
indicates that the Apostles were disillusioned, impostures, or seeing things
that they did not see. There is, as we know, a whole literature devoted to
attempts to prove that the Apostles could not have seen what they in fact saw.
But almost all of this literature has, as a philosophic basis, the
presupposition that it could not have happened; therefore, anyone who said that
it did happen must be lying, deranged, or confused. Unfortunately for this
theory, which would have as its purpose the denying of any necessity to take
the matter seriously, no real evidence exists that the Apostles were either
lying, deranged, or confused.
What is "new" about our
thinking about the resurrection of the body since, say, last Easter is the publication,
in the meantime, on November 30, 2007, of Benedict XVI's Encyclical, Spe
Salvi, on hope. In this encyclical,
it strikes me, there is one feature that deserves considerable attention.
Usually, arguments for the truth of the resurrection of the body are almost
exclusively from the side of believers or those favorably disposed to them. But
if the doctrine or fact is true, we might also expect that the "logic" that
considers this doctrine objectively also might be true.
What do I mean by this "logic?"
Suppose we do not begin our consideration of the validity of the supposed
resurrection of the body with what Christians say about it. The Nicene Creed
clearly says: "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the
world to come." This affirmation is what is generally attacked on theoretical
and factual grounds, on whether it "could" happen or whether it "did" happen.
While leaving these theoretical and factual questions where they are, let me
outline another way to approach this question, one that actually leads through
To begin, I will recall something in Plato. In his Republic,
we read of a conversation with Plato's brothers, Adeimantus and Glaucon. We
have to face the question, they think, of whether we should be just not on the
basis of rewards and punishments. They want to hear justice praised for its own
sake. If we are just and get no reward, or if we are unjust and do get a
reward, it makes no difference. This often happens in the world. But because of
this widespread failure in the world of proper punishment for doing what is
wrong or inadequate reward for what is right, it seems that the world is poorly
made. And who else could make such a world "poorly" but God Himself?
But this vision of an unjust
world will never do. Socrates proposes the immortality of the soul precisely as
a remedy for this situation. What is unrewarded or unpunished in this world
will not escape recognition. If there were no future life, it would mean that
many crimes would go unpunished and many virtues unrewarded. But since there is
a judgment on death, there will be no escape via death. Basically, heaven and
hell stand as supports for what is right. These doctrines do not so much arise
out of the whims of an arbitrary God, as is often postulated, but out of the
iron logic of justice and man's vivid reaction to the unbalance.
In the course of his reflections in Spe Salvi, an
encyclical about the four last things, Benedict remarks that much modern
ideology is "moralist" in tone. What does he means by this? He means that
modern atheism makes a moral case for itself on the basis of the accusation
that religion itself is the cause of the injustices in this actual world. It
supposedly deflects man from doing what needs to be done to right injustices.
Modern ideology is "moralist"; that is, its passion is for justice, in effect,
Much injustice is seen in
the world. Ideology claims the right to eradicate it. It is going to outdo God,
as it were, at His own game. In the event, modern ideologies ended up not so
much making a better world but making little hells on earth. In thinking that
they had grasped the causes of human disorder, they merely sought to impose
their own ideas onto the world. Somehow, these ideas were not in accordance
with human nature but radically against it. What it is to be a human being
remained. The same problems remained within the operation of the ideologies.
But the plot thickens.
Modern Marxist thinkers, who did see what happened when this ideology was put
into practice, still were convinced justice seekers. Benedict has read them. He
cites in particular the well-known Frankfurt philosopher, Theodore Adorno, whom
he probably knows. Adorno is not a believer. He sticks to the view that
religion is not convincing. Yet, he notices a peculiar fact. If God badly
making the world such that, within it, we have terrible injustices, we still
have to face the Platonic fact that the world is ill-made if specific historic
crimes are not punished in fact. Even if God is not admitted, the "logic" of
justice is acknowledged. The ideology did not get rid of injustices either.
Where does this "justice
logic" lead? Remember, we Christians have faced the same issue. We think that
Christ came into this world to redeem us from our sins. We locate the source of
evil in human free will, which will remain present wherever there is man. We do
not think God can or should take away our free wills so that we cannot sin.
Were He to do this, we simply would not exist as the kind of beings we are. To
put it briefly, we have a superior explanation about the meaning and
consequences of evil in the world and how it is met. Adorno's problem is met
in the Incarnation and Redemption. We cannot redeem ourselves. Why not?
Another Platonic background
stands behind this issue. In the Phaedo, another myth is found about the condition of the world and our place
in it. Here we see that the immortality of the soul is postulated because
justice must finally be done if the world is to make sense. Thus, after we die,
we are brought to judgment. If we are guilty of crimes, we are subject to
punishment. We are thrown into the River Styx where we float and flounder
helplessly around and around until the person against whom we commit our sins
individually forgives us. This is a remarkable concept.
When we read this account as
Christians, we are aware that we cannot wholly forgive someone else of sins
committed against us, even though we are supposed to "forgive those who
trespass against us." Every sin is not merely committed against someone else,
but it reaches to Him who causes others to be at all, who loves what He
creates. In other words, the atonement for sins seems to require some divine
intervention itself. This is what has happened. The standard understanding of
Christ's Crucifixion is that He has sacrificed Himself to atone for all of our
sins. But He is an innocent sufferer. So suffering can have a sacrificial
meaning. "Man learns by suffering," the Greek tragedian wrote.
With this background, let me
now return to Benedict and Adorno. As the pope cites him, Adorno maintains
that, even though he does not believe it, the only "logical" way that there
ever could be true justice in this actual world would be for there to be
something like the resurrection of the body. Clearly he is right. There is, no
doubt, something amusingly ironic about a Marxist philosopher appearing
prominently in a papal encyclical as an upholder of the basic Christian doctrine
of the resurrection of the body. Why does he say this? What did Adorno mean?
As I unravel his logic,
Adorno implied something like this: Agreeing with Plato that the world is full
of unpunished crimes and unrecognized good deeds, the fact is that most of these
crimes, especially the great ones, go unpunished or unrewarded. The world
itself is thus full of moral disorder and unbalance. As Plato said, the popular
view is that great criminals get by with their crimes and the saints are
punished. The ideological movements of modernity that addressed themselves to
the eradication of this situation only made things worse than we had ever seen
before. They created their own hells on earth. So something was wrong with
their approach and premises.
But Adorno is very concrete.
He sees that the repair of historical crimes cannot be an abstraction. It must
reach each individual against whom the crime was committed. If I might put it
in modern terms, each aborted fetus, unjustly killed, must have its day. And
that can only come, as Adorno clearly sees, if there be an actual resurrection
of the body. In addition, as the pope emphasizes, there must be a judgment of
the living and the dead to set the record straight. This position is pretty
much what Plato understood. For Benedict, it seems quite normal that an honest
philosopher, if he carries out the logic of a given premise as far as it must
go, will arrive at a truth, even if, in the end, the same philosopher cannot
himself accept it.
On this Easter, 2008, I
think, we are in the extraordinary position of finding that the Christian
doctrine of the resurrection of the body makes considerable sense to
non-believers. In fact, it solves the unbelievers' speculative difficulties
about retributive justice. Adorno is quite right. If there is no resurrection
of the body, there is no way in which the world is properly made.
This position is what
Chesterton argued all along, of course. As this year, 2008, is the one
hundredth anniversary of the publication of Orthodoxy, let me conclude by citing Chesterton. Adorno had
said, and the pope cited him with great appreciation, that if we are to have a
just world, we must have a resurrection of the body, that is, those who were
responsible for the crimes and those who were not rewarded need to be accounted
for. The resurrection of the body means that we remain what we are, what we
choose ourselves to be by our deeds and theories. Of Christianity, Chesterton
says in Orthodoxy: "No other
philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into
living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between
God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is
necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him."
Adorno's point of view is
that of justice. The resurrection of the body is not, of course, only about
justice. It is about God remaining God and man remaining man. Modern ideology
has not solved its own problems in its own order because they cannot be solved
there. Adorno rightly saw that a "judgment of the living and the dead" is
necessary for the completion of our understanding of the world. Hans Urs von
Balthasar said that on Holy Saturday, Christ descended into hell to experience
of the nothingness of those who have utterly rejected the gifts that were given
to them. Nothing that could have been done was not done. But the mystery of the
world is not our anguish over justice. It is that the final word is not justice
but mercy, a mercy that does not deny the fact that justice needs to be done
for the world to be set aright.
I go back to the man being
punished in the river Styx waiting for the one he killed to forgive him. The
Pharisees were scandalized because Christ forgave sins, a divine prerogative,
as they knew. The resurrection of the body means that there is already Someone on
that shore who can pull us out, even if those we sinned against will not
forgive us. Christ died for all sinners. The resurrection of the body restores
human creation to the original integrity in which it was created and without
which we cannot be complete. Man was originally created to see God
face-to-face. This is the other side of Adorno's justice and its completion.
The "logic" of both sin and love is the resurrection of the body, by which
alone, saints or sinners, we see God face-to-face in judgment of all we are. As
Chesterton said, it is often the heretics that enable us to see most readily
what not only is true, but must be true if we are also to understand what we
"He who was God, was born a
man; and He who was born a man, acts as God; and He who acts as God, dies as a
man; and He who dies as a man, rises as God. He who, having put aside the reign
of death, with the same flesh in which he had been born and suffered and died,
rose again on the third day...."
 "For He who was
God, was born a man, and who was born a man, acted as God; and He who acted as
God, as man died, and He who as man died, as God rose (again). Having overcome
the reign of death with that flesh with which He was born, suffered, and died,
He rose on the third day...." Denziger, #16.
 "Resurrection of Christ," The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2d Edition; London: Oxford, 1974), 1178.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Excerpts, & Interviews:
Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
The Truth of the Resurrection |
Excerpts from Introduction to Christianity | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
For Us | Hans Urs von Balthasar
of Suffering, The Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Easter: The Defiant Feast | Fr. James V.
Easter Delivers Us From Evil | Carl E. Olson
The Easter Triduum: Entering into the Paschal Mystery | Carl E. Olson
The Paradox of Good Friday | Carl E. Olson
The Encyclical on Hope: On the "De-immanentizing" of the Christian
Eschaton | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning,
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006) and
The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007). His most recent book is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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