Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who saw Christ rising from the dead?

The Resurrection did not look like this.
In many popular depictions of the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus comes forth from the tomb clothed in glory and splendor, while the guards fall back to the ground. Seeing the Risen Christ, all are terrified and cannot speak. This is the scene: Christ rising from an open tomb, and the Roman guards cowering to the dust.
In two points, however, these artistic depictions of the Resurrection contradict the Scriptures. Last year, we considered that Christ rose from the tomb while it was still closed – in other words: Jesus walked through the walls of the sealed tomb, just as he would enter the locked upper room where the disciples had gathered.
Now, we consider the fact that, when Jesus rose from the dead, none saw him in his rising. He came forth from the tomb by walking through the walls which enclosed him, but the guards did not see this. No one witnessed the Resurrection, no one fell down before the glory of the rising Lord, there was no bright light and no glorious splendor (at least none that was visible to the human eye).
The night alone witnessed the rising of Christ, as the Church sings in her Easter Exultet: “O truly blessed night, which alone has merited to know the time and the hour in which Christ rose from the depths!” O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit! Neither the guards who were on watch through the entire night, nor the women who came in the morning saw the Resurrection itself. That night alone! That most blessed of all nights! The mystery of the rising of Christ is hidden perhaps even from the angels.

A depiction faithful to the Gospel accounts
None saw Christ rise
We know that no one saw Christ rise from the dead because St. Mark tells us the he appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), but we know that the Magdalene did not see the Resurrection for, when she arrived at the tomb, Christ had already risen from the dead. Therefore, if Mary did not see Christ rise, neither did any other. The Catechism puts it thus: "No one was an eyewitness to Christ's Resurrection and no evangelist describes it." (CCC 647)
The women who came to the tomb on the third day did not see the Resurrection itself, but they saw the work of the angels: And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. […] And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men. And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:2-6)
It is not the risen Christ which terrified the guards, but the angel. And the guards must have been terrified to realize that, though they had kept watch over the sealed tomb all night, yet the body of Christ was no longer inside! When had he risen? They had not seen it!
But to the women, the angel says He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. He is risen – it has already occurred, sometime in the night. The angel does not say, “He is rising” or “Behold, he rises;” rather, He is risen. In the night, before the women arrived at the tomb, the Christ had risen from the dead. None saw him come forth from the tomb, none saw him rise – but they knew he had risen, for the tomb was now empty, though it had been sealed. In his risen body, Christ had walked through the walls of the tomb and existed, invisible to the guards!
When did Jesus rise?
In responding to an objection – that because the day seems to start with the rising of the sun, and because Christ seems to have risen before sunrise, the Lord ought not to be said to have risen on the third day – St. Thomas considers the time of our Savior’s Resurrection.
“As stated above (51, 4, ad 1,2), Christ rose early when the day was beginning to dawn, to denote that by His Resurrection He brought us to the light of glory; just as He died when the day was drawing to its close, and nearing to darkness, in order to signify that by His death He would destroy the darkness of sin and its punishment. Nevertheless He is said to have risen on the third day, taking day as a natural day which contains twenty-four hours. And as Augustine says (De Trin. iv): ‘The night until the dawn, when the Lord's Resurrection was proclaimed, belongs to the third day. Because God, who made the light to shine forth from darkness, in order that by the grace of the New Testament and partaking of Christ's rising we might hear this – once ye were darkness, but now light in the Lord – insinuates in a measure to us that day draws its origin from night: for, as the first days are computed from light to darkness on account of man's coming fall, so these days are reckoned from darkness to light owing to man's restoration.’ And so it is evident that even if He had risen at midnight, He could be said to have risen on the third day, taking it as a natural day. But now that He rose early, it can be affirmed that He rose on the third day, even taking the artificial day which is caused by the sun's presence, because the sun had already begun to brighten the sky. Hence it is written (Mark 16:2) that the women come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen; which is not contrary to John's statement when it was yet dark, as Augustine says (De Cons. Evang. iii), ‘because, as the day advances the more the light rises, the more are the remaining shadows dispelled.’ But when Mark says ‘the sun being now risen, it is not to be taken as if the sun were already apparent over the horizon, but as coming presently into those parts.’” (ST III, q.53, a.2, ad 3)
Jesus rose in the very first rays of the dawn, moments before the women had arrived.
Is it fitting that none should see Christ rising from the dead?
The Angel of the Schools tells us: “As the Apostle says (Romans 13:1): Those things that are of God, are well ordered. Now the divinely established order is this, that things above men's ken are revealed to them by angels, as Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. iv). But Christ on rising did not return to the familiar manner of life, but to a kind of immortal and God-like condition, according to Romans 6:10: For in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. And therefore it was fitting for Christ's Resurrection not to be witnessed by men directly, but to be proclaimed to them by angels. Accordingly, Hilary (Comment. Matth. cap. ult.) says: ‘An angel is therefore the first herald of the Resurrection, that it might be declared out of obedience to the Father's will.’” (ST III, q.55, a.2)
For a mystery so great, it is most fitting not that men should see the mystery directly, but that it should be revealed to them by the angels. Nor does this in any way compromise the testimony which the apostles and the other disciples have given of Christ’s Resurrection – for, although they did not see the Lord rise, they did see him risen. Moreover, of all the apostles, who has testified more compellingly of Christ’s Resurrection than St. Paul? Though he never knew Christ in his earthly life, nor did he witness the Lord rise from the dead, nor even did he see Jesus before his Ascension (for it was only by divine dispensation that the Apostle saw the Lord’s glorified body in the physical apparition on the way to Damascus); yet this Saint has been the greatest witness to the truth of Christ’s Resurrection.
The apostles’ faith in the Resurrection has been passed down to us. And, though we did not see him rise, we believe him risen.


Anonymous said...

The Scriptures say that there was an earthquake when the angel rolled the stone away. (Matthew 28:2)

Is it because of the Resurrection, because of the angels' strength, or because the quake signifies the Age of the Messiah? Or all three?

Anonymous said...

Artistic representations always lack in some way, but how else is one supposed to portray it? Jesus wasn't a white guy either.

That said, it is important to always make proper distinctions lest popular piety become a sort of pseudo-dogma.

Chatto said...

Happy Easter, Father! Christos anesti!

Regine said...

A most blessed Easter to you, Fr. Reginaldus! I cannot fully express to you how much this article has touched and moved me to the depth of my being. It is only with the eyes of Faith that one sees God's mysterious action in the world. And indeed, only those who are lowly in spirit can receive and understand God's revelations. Thank you so much for all the sharings and teachings with which you have gifted us. I praise God for you!

Bernardus said...

My dear Fr. Reginaldus,
A Blessed Easter to you.

Of interest to me, though not solely as the whole post cause wonder, ponder and contemplation, is the Angel's announcement. Because, it seems to me, there is a link or parallel to the Annunciation and the Herald to the Shepherds. For, in both instances, the Angel(s) open to us the Great Mystery unfolding, of God's most Merciful Love. The key is, if I may, to be open to that Mystery. And how awesome, Holy Church preserves this "pearl of great price" in the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass. We only have to be a people of faith as St. Paul.
Thank you for challenging thoughts. You are in my prayers, please pray for me.


GWAM said...

It intrigues me that Mark only mentions that it was a man, not an angel at the tomb. Is it possible that this may have been Adam? It seems clear that whether it was an angel or a human, the form was clearly a male. I wonder that it may in fact have been a human - transfigured, thus giving an angelic appearance - given that Matthew states that on Good Friday many of the (human) dead rose from the grave and appeared before witnesses.

I wonder what your thoughts are, Reginaldus (moreover, what may have happened to those that rose on Good Friday? Where are they now?).

It would seem very fitting if "the man" in Mark was, in fact, Adam.

Resurrexit sicut dixit!

Paddy said...

Your post mirrors my sermon for this glorious Easter morning, in spirit if not word for word!

A blessed Pascha to you.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Jesus appeared to His Mother, Mary, first.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ I am not Spartacus,

That is a very strong declarative statement ... I wish you had cited some authority (for example, St. Ignatius Loyola).
Theology should not be presented merely as matter of personal opinion, but should be rooted in revelation and the authority of the Fathers and Doctors.
Something for you to think about...

In support of the position I have espoused (that Mary Magdalene was first to see the risen Lord), I did not simply give my personal opinion but instead I cited the highest authority of all -- "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" (Mk 16:9). This passage of Scripture has been interpreted by many of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to mean that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Lord.

In any case, in the coming days, I will be posting on whether Christ appeared to our Lady...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Regine, Bernardus, Fr. Levi, and Chatto,
Easter blessings to you and to all!

Bernardus, I like the connection between the miraculous way Christ came forth from the Blessed Mother and that by which he came forth from the tomb -- indeed, both of these mysteries were announced by angels.

Gregory, I would lean toward the idea that it was an angel and not Adam -- because Adam's body is not yet risen ...
However, the point about those who rose after Christ's death is well taken (it seems that this event did not occur till Easter Sunday, though Matthew relates it to us on Good Friday).
I am of the opinion that this was a true bodily 'resurrection', but not a resurrection to glory (not as Christ and Mary have been glorified). Rather, it seems to have been more like what happened to Lazarus -- they were returned to earthly life.
Moreover, I believe that they died again almost immediately and that their bodies were returned to their tombs ... [it is a very difficult passage to interpret ... I am following Sts. Thomas and Augustine, but there are other possible interpretations]

GWAM said...

Thank-you Reginaldus -

May God bless you and keep you in your wonderful teaching mission.

JGP said...

I've been reading the Holy Father's Jesus of Nazareth, I like this passage which is somewhat pertinent to our topic:
'None of the evangelists recount Jesus' Resurrection itself. It is an event taking place within the mystery of God between Jesus and the Father, which for us defies description: by it's very nature it lies outside human experience.'
Chapter 9 Section 2B

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father

"The Liturgical Year,' Dom Gueranger. Volume VII "Paschal Time" - "Easter Sunday" Saint-to-be Gueranger cites Tradition, beginning with St. Ambrose that Jesus appeared first to His Mother, Mary. If one went solely by Scripture, then Jesus never appeared to His Mother but did, specifically, appear to Mary Magdalen, then Salome and Mary, then Peter, then the two wayfaers towards Emmaus, then the Apostles.

But not Mary? Really?

The reason I wrote what I did the way I did is what I wrote was, I thought, a Tautology. I have simply never known a traditional Catholic who thought otherwise.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

VATICAN CITY, MAY 21, 1997 (VIS) - The Holy Father focused the catechesis of today's general audience in St. Peter's Square on "Mary and the Resurrection of Christ," and recalled that "the Gospels narrate different apparitions of the Risen One, but not the meeting between Jesus and his Mother."

"From this silence," he continued, "one must not deduce that Christ, after his Resurrection, did not appear to Mary." This omission might be attributed to the fact that "what is necessary for our saving knowledge is entrusted to the word of those 'who were chosen by God as witnesses,' that is, the Apostles," he said, citing the Acts of the Apostles.

John Paul II asked how the Blessed Virgin, who was "present in the first community of the disciples, could have been excluded from the number of those who encountered her divine Son risen from among the dead. On the contrary, it is legitimate to think that the Mother may really have been the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not the absence of Mary from the group of women who approached the tomb at dawn constitute an indication that she had already met Jesus?"

"The unique and special nature of the presence of the Virgin at Calvary," added the Pope, "and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross, seem to postulate a very particular participation on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection."

The Blessed Virgin, who was present at Calvary and at the Cenacle, "was probably also a privileged witness to the Resurrection of Christ, in this way completing her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery. Embracing the risen Jesus, Mary is, in addition, a sign and anticipation of humanity, which hopes to reach its fulfillment in the resurrection of the dead."

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am not Spartacus,
Thank you for providing some reference for your claim ... I was aware of Ignatius of Loyola and John Paul II, but I had not yet looked at Gueranger's works.

Still, I should like to emphasize that there is freedom for diversity of opinion in this matter -- you don't seem to think this.
For some strange reason you think it is a "Tautology" to state "Jesus appeared first to his Mother". It is hard to understand how the statement is a self-evident tautology -- it may be true that Jesus appeared first to his Mother, but it is hardly a necessary, self-evident, analytic truth.

All I have claimed is that St. Thomas has a good reason to think that Jesus appeared first to the Magdalene -- namely, the most obvious reading of Scripture, "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene"...
You are free to think otherwise (and many have thought so), but you ought not to condemn a Doctor of the Church without citing any authority whatsoever...

Thank you for the various references in your later comments.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. I apologise for thinking those I run with have ideas which are universally normative. I intended no harm or insult.

I can not remember who it was that explained that "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.." refers to the first that day/morning which does not rule-out Jesus appearing to His Mother just after His Midnight resurrection.

He was born at midnight (Wisdom 18; 14,15) in a Cave and, obviously, Mary was there first and, to me at least, it satisfies a spiritual balance and complimentarity that Mary would also be the first to witness his rebirth from a Cave whereas to think He did not appear to her first seems incongruent and off-putting; but, I realise that is my personal opinion.

"The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius A Lapide (matt 28) cites Bede vis a vis Jesus appearing to His Mother, Mary, first.

As to diversity of opinion on the matter, I do recognise the legitimacy of it and the reason I seem not to is the curt and aggressive way I write.

So, I apologise for that, Father.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
No need to apologize ... I hope my own response was not too strong! Like you, I try to write clearly and directly, and this can sometimes come off as being overly aggressive...

In any case, thank you for all those great references. If you are reading Fr. Cornelius a' Lapide and Abbot Gueranger, you are doing well!

As I mentioned, I will be writing a post on this topic in the coming weeks -- comparing various opinions ... I myself am not entirely settled on the issue ...

I hope you will continue to read and comment freely here at NTM ... I especially hope you will join in on the conversation when the future article on whether Jesus appeared to his Mother is posted.

Peace and blessings to you! +

Tim said...

I sometimes wonder if Our Lord had His Mother in mind when he said to St Thomas, "...blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed."

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. You are kind and generous Thank-you. I can't remember who directed me to this Blog but I am glad they did.

For your readers who have not read Dom Gueranger's , "The Liturgical Year," (TLY) they do not know what they are missing.

He is so alive to me and TLY is an absolute joy to read and it is a Treasure Chest over-flowing with beauty, sanctity, authentic ecclesiastical history, and rock-solid exegesis.

And the hymns and selections from Ancient Missals he selects. Wow.

Thanks to him, I begin every day of this Paschal Time by praying "Aurora coelum purpurat..." from the Office of Lauds.

Hearing "hell howl with fear rage..." is early morning music that ought be heard by every set of ears on every single Church Militant. That, and not Good Morning America or "All Things Considered" is the way to begin a day.

Pax tecum, Father

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

More coming on the topic of the apparition of our Lord to his Mother ... but here is what the Catechism says about the FIRST appearance: "Mary Magdalene and the holy women ... were the first to encounter the Risen One." (CCC 641)

There is indeed much to consider!

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

From an Ancient German Missal (cited by Dom Gueranger, Saturday in Easter Week),

"Give praise, O Mother, to thy risen Jesus, who reigns triumphant over the price of death. Cease they mourning; for Jesus, the fruit of womb, is restored to life, and visits thee...."

Dom Gueranger, Thursday in Easter Week, "After Mary - in whom the light of faith never waned, and to whom, as the sinless Mother was due the first manifestation - who were the first to be illumined with that faith whereby the Church lives? Magdalen and her companions..."

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Defending the Bride cites six Doctors of the Church as holding that Jesus first appeared to Mary

And here is CUF

I'm looking forward to your piece on this issue

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I am not Spartacus,
In fact, I am working on a response right now!
I will note, however, that the common reference to St. Ambrose is likely spurious ... the text and context is not at all clear -- it seems that the Bishop refers to Mary Magdalene rather than to the Mother of God (and this is admitted even by the "defendingthebride" website) ... "St. Ambrose is often, though wrongly, cited (De virginit., 3; ML, XVI, 270); in this passage he is not speaking of the Blessed Virgin, but of that one of the two Mary Magdalenes who, in his theory, was a virgin." (footnote 11,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have just posted a consideration of the possibility of a prior apparition to the Mother of God, "Did Jesus appear first to his Mother after the Resurrection?" (May 2, 2011)

Gary said...

Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your comment shows that you don't really understand anything of the traditional Christian beliefs regarding the authorship of the Gospels. You state that most Christians assume that "eyewitness wrote the Gospels"... um, no. Actually, we don't assume that. In fact, we have always maintained that St Mark and St Luke were not eyewitnesses to the events they record.

As to the rest of your comment, it smacks of that bigotry which presumes that what heretics thought up in the past 100 years is automatically better that what the saints preached for 2,000 years, simply because the recent heretics happen to live closer that that golden age of your own existence.

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