Saturday, August 06, 2005

Talk of the risen Christ

I was surprised to find a comment from Fr. O'Leary on NWW this morning. Then I realized that he seems to be placing his 'comment' into blogs that linked to his 'neocath' post. For those interested in following this discussion, here is Fr. O'Leary's comment and here is a link to Phil Blosser's blog, Musings of a Pernicious Papist. Blosser's other blogs are Philossophia Perrenis and Scripture and Catholic Tradition. My own brief comments follow.
Phil Blosser has never as far as I know explained how his understanding of the resurrection differs from mine. However, he comes a little closer to concreteness in his latest. He says that I 're-interpret it, by classifying it an "eschatological" event, which means that it's relegated to the non-empirical, non-factual, non-historical realm of the noumenal "Christ of Faith." This leaves (me) free to deny that the Resurrection ever happened to the "Jesus of History.' I do not think that this is exactly what I am saying. I say that the resurrection is the inbreaking of the eschaton into history, an objective and real event, attested by the "appearing" of Christ to the Apostles and his presence as a life-giving Spirit to the early Church and to the Church ever since. It is empirical in a sense, just as the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is. This inbreaking of the eschaton means that the final glorification promised to all Christians is already enjoyed by Christ in his human nature, the first-fruits. Later doctrine teaches that it is already enjoyed by Mary as well. This eschatological reality is called the resurrection of the body. What is sown a physical body is raised a spiritual body. Phil Blosser thinks that Paul in I Cor 15 would agree with him that the resurrection is an empirical event; historical in the sense of something that an objective nonbelieving historian would have been able to register if he had been present. But it cannot have been so obvious. Matthew says that some of those who saw the risen Jesus doubted of the reality of what they saw (the scene, set on a symbolic Matthean mountain is no doubt a theological construction). Luke has a very solid risen Jesus who eats. But this too is a theological construction directed against docetists who reduced the resurrection to a ghost story -- correcting perhaps the misleading impression that might be left by talk of the risen Christ walking through closed doors (as in John 20). Paul does not speak of touching the solid body of the risen one; his account of the resurrection is as spiritual or pneumatic as that of Paul Tillich. The empty tomb, if it is a historical reality, would certainly be an empirical event in the most normal sense of "empirical". But the empty tomb is at most a sign of the resurrection. The resurrection itself is a reality of a different order. Phil Blosser creates a heavy dualism between eschatology and history, but in reality the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus will simply not fit into the category of historical events in the positivistic sense. It is a historical-eschatological event that is irreducible to the signs and isolated experiences that attest it. The narrations of the closing chapters of the four Gospels give many indications of how they are to be read -- not as a straightforward record but as traces of an overwhelming event that could not be captured in ordinary empirical terms. Resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas -- to embrace this truth of faith is not made easier by fundamentalist insistence on taking the gospel texts as literal records. Phil Blosser's version of the resurrection has caused many Christians to lose their faith, and many more hang on to it only in a constant debilitating battle against doubt. The Pauline vision of the resurrection is in contrast warranted by the sense of Christ present in his Church, eschatologically victorious over the present evil age. It is not an agonized hole in corner affair but the integral horizon of Christian historical existence.
I hardly think Blosser is a 'fundamentalist' and am indeed aware of how a 'back to basics' methodology can do violence to any text, including the Bible. I think Blosser and most thinking Christians would agree that the resurrection narratives are the very last place one should read in a mythological sense. Other texts in the Bible can be enagaged with more latitude. I am also of the opinion that saying "Phil Blosser's version of the resurrection has caused many Christians to lose their faith" is to have the matter exactly backward. If you were speaking about anything other than the resurrection, I could agree with you about the need to bring all of our scholarly tools to bear, including suspicion about narrative form vs. narrative content. In this case, however, to do so seems to me to be blundering against Mathew 22:32. You say you don't doubt the historicity of Christ's birth, which sounds fine until we see that the history of the resurrection is what you have in mind to doubt. Doubting the account of resurrection destroys the significance of claiming that Jesus was born and walked the earth. It alters our understanding of Christ's nature to no good purpose.

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