“Risen” and the Reality of the Resurrection | Word on Fire
Latest film review by Los Angeles's bishop Robert Barron. The bishop's reviews always spark reflection, but this one particularly so since the film in question involves the Resurrection--the very heart of the entire Christian world view and endeavor. Barron:
I specially appreciated this scene, not only because of its clever composition, but because it reminded me of debates that were fashionable in theological circles when I was doing my studies in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Scholars who were skeptical of the bodily facticity of Jesus’ resurrection would pose the question, “What would someone outside of the circle of Jesus’ disciples have seen had he been present at the tomb on Easter morning or in the Upper Room on Easter evening?” The implied answer to the query was “well, nothing.” The academics posing the question were suggesting that what the Bible calls resurrection designated nothing that took place in the real world, nothing that an objective observer would notice or dispassionate historian recount, but rather an event within the subjectivity of those who remembered the Lord and loved him.
Barron then reviews the work of well-known theologians--now probably widely regarded as 'liberal' but in the 1970s they were the en vogue mainstream--Edward Schillebeeckx and the more current Roger Haight. These and the popular historian James Carroll view the Resurrection event as an event occurring in the experiences of Jesus' followers, i.e., it didn't really happen. Barron's having none of this, and he's not alone:
The great English Biblical scholar N.T. Wright is particularly good at exposing and de-bunking such nonsense. His principal objection to this sort of speculation is that it is profoundly non-Jewish. When a first century Jew spoke of resurrection, he could not have meant some non-bodily state of affairs. Jews simply didn’t think in the dualist categories dear to Greeks and later to Gnostics. The second problem is that this post-conciliar theologizing is dramatically unhistorical. Wright argues that, simply on historical grounds, it is practically impossible to explain the rise of the early Christian movement apart from a very objective construal of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Thus more Barron:
Risen’s far more reasonable and theologically compelling answer is that, yes indeed, if an outsider and unbeliever burst into the Upper Room when the disciples were experiencing the resurrected Jesus, he would have seen something along with them. Would he have fully grasped what he was seeing? Obviously not. But would the experience have had no objective referent? Just as obviously not. There is just something tidy, bland, and unthreatening about the subjectivizing interpretations I rehearsed above. What you sense on every page of the New Testament is that somethinghappened to the first Christians, something so strange and unexpected and compelling that they wanted to tell the whole world about it. Frankly, Risen conveys the edgy novelty, the unnerving reality of the resurrection, better than much contemporary theologizing.
Once again, exactly right. The Resurrection was an event--and thus is an event. Unfortunately, the Catholic theological mainstream since the Second Vatican Council, mistaking the Council's great call to reach out to the world as a call instead to "drop everything you hold dear and reach out to the world," has sought to diminish this. Largely, it seems because they feel it's embarrassing. Barron sees Risen has raising a far more probing question: what if it happened as they feared?