Monday, February 06, 2006

Why the Resurrection

Today's thought is drawn from an essay on Baptism written by Katherine Vaz for Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments (Dutton, 2000). I'm not sure how it fits into her essay on Baptism, but I think it provokes important thinking about the Resurrection and the life of faith. Tell me what you think.

It is the person we long for, not the elegant lesson. Memory, for all its
misfirings, should be humbler than it is, and nostalgia cannot be trusted to
honor the dead. It extrapolates from the known, makes us construct who someone
would be, based solely on what he or she was. If we resort only to the
inaccuracies of memory, then everyone we love is at one point finished and
attests to our failure of imagination. (I am not referring to revisionism, which
whitewashes the past, but to the effort to send our imaginations in pursuit of
what Apollinaire called "the truth behind the true.") I want people to possess
stories they did not have the chance to enact while alive. I still want my loved
ones to surprise me.

Thus Katherine Vaz, at p. 30.

It strikes me that God raised Jesus from the dead, not just to "prove" that Jesus was right, but also to prevent the kind of tricks memory plays from reducing Him to a grand idea. We see a lot of theology that is "thesis-driven" -- i.e., that does not take seriously that faith is an event, not a great idea; that Jesus is a person, not a cause.

In Theological Discussion, we are reading Christian Thought Revisited by Justo Gonzalez. In the work, he teases out three major strains of thought in early Christianity, one of which was radically influenced by Platonist philosophy and driven by a desire to portray Christianity as consistent with the "high" art of philosophy. That strain continues to be strong, it seems to me. Christianity is portrayed as a way to succeed (financially, emotionally). Or it is driven by great ideas (liberation, "God is love"). This is done without any particular reference to the person of Jesus or his on-going body, the Church. And if that's what "faith" is, the tricks of memory kick in: We make Jesus into something "better," more helpful, more accessible -- whether that is true to who He is or not.

I really don't like "Jesus and me" talk -- "He walks with me and he talks with me." But I realize that I don't really object to the notion of the presence -- palpable presence, even -- of the Lord in one's quotidian affairs. Instead, I object that the claims made in such talk usually are not true to how Jesus in his pre-Resurrection life lived, and they do not jibe with promises and mandate for his post-Ascension presence.

I think, for example, that to talk about Jesus without a real-presence, effective, objective sacramental theology is bunk. (I'm sorry: I know that is insensitive. I use "bunk" merely for effect. I don't dismiss the entire Calvinist heritage, for example.) How can one come to celebrate the presence of the Lord in a "memorial"? When he promised to be bodily present in the Eucharist, for example, how can we trust any memory that denies that bodily presence? Is that not reducing the Incarnation to an illustration, salvation to sophisticated philosophy, faith to the correct idea. Wasn't that the message of the great Christological and Trinitarian controversies -- viz., that what The Faith has to deal with is a Person (or Three Persons), not just a good idea?

None of this is very clear yet, but I am grateful to Katherine Vaz (and to the good fortune which led me pick up this for under 10 bucks at a remainder house) for a rich insight into Christian thinking and practice. Was this, perhaps, one of those surprises of which she writes?


Eric Lee said...


How odd: I just read that González book a couple weeks ago. It's good, yah? I thought he made an interesting argument. I wasn't able to finish the whole thing, only getting about 3/5ths through it and then I had to move on to some other reading in another class.

I thought the strongest critique that González had was that both the theologies of Tertullian and Origen paved the way for the conversion of the empire. I guess that's a good or bad thing depending upon your outlook on empire. I would lean toward the 'not good'.

I didn't get a chance to read as much of the last chapter as I wanted to, but he seemed to be saying that the 20th century contained somewhat of a return to the 'Type C' theology of Irenaeus, but at least in my own upbringing, it was about as legalistically 'Type A' as one could get within the circles of fundamentalism that I traveled.

Anyway, interesting.



Dwight P. said...

Yeah, the Gonzalez is great -- very useful for organizing my thinking about the realm of theology. He helped crystallize for me why it is that I find Orthodoxy so attractive -- and why I thought Christus Victor made so much sense. (Written by a Lutheran, the book was virtually ignored in my Lutheran education. How come? Well, Gonzalez helps to explain.) I haven't read the final chapter yet. Maybe I'll have to blog on it -- or maybe you should.