Resurrection has redemptive significance - Catholic Courier

Resurrection has redemptive significance

One of the criticisms of Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” has been that it gives only glancing attention to the Resurrection, portraying it as something that happened primarily for Jesus’ own benefit, a sign of his personal victory over his Roman and Jewish persecutors.

For many decades prior to the Second Vatican Council, Catholic biblical scholarship — and the theology that depended upon it in such large measure — was not permitted by church authorities to take advantage of the most up-to-date historical and scientific methods of interpreting the sacred texts. It was not until 1943 that Pope Pius XII, in his extraordinary encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, gave Catholic biblical scholars that permission. The encyclical showed a remarkable confidence that science and faith could never be opposed to one another. The church has nothing to fear from the truth.

One of the fruits of this renewal of Catholic biblical scholarship was a newly invigorated Catholic theology, drawing now upon a richer, more accurate understanding of the meaning of biblical texts.

One of the most important insights that Catholic theologians had, especially those specializing in Christology in general and the Redemption in particular, was that the redemptive work of Jesus was not limited to his Passion and Crucifixion.

In that earlier approach, derived largely from medieval theology, the human community was saved because of Jesus’ willingness to endure unspeakable suffering, leading up to the most ignominious and painful death. In doing so, Jesus paid off the debt that we all had incurred in God’s eyes because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

Jesus’ preaching and good works, his acts of mercy and compassion, his courageous challenging of religious hypocrisy, were but a prelude to the Redemption.

Again, no redemptive significance in the Resurrection. It was primarily for Jesus’ personal benefit: a reward for having endured such suffering and such a death.

But the Resurrection was also to have some apologetical, but not redemptive, meaning for us. Because Jesus rose from the dead, his claims to be the Son of God were valid. Only someone who was truly divine could have come back to life.

The theological tide turned dramatically against this narrow view of the Redemption as Catholic theology entered a new period of peace and prosperity, so to speak, aided by Pope Pius XII’s liberation of Catholic biblical scholarship.

One of the first and most dramatic signs came in 1950 in The Resurrection: A Biblical Study by, appropriately, a Redemptorist biblical scholar, Francis X. Durrwell.

Father Durrwell’s book was quickly followed by many other books and articles on the subject by many other authors, and it was soon evident that there had been a veritable sea-change in the church’s understanding of the heart and the scope of the mystery of our salvation.

It was as if we had been led to read for the first time, or at least with fresh eyes, the classical lines of St. Paul on the redemptive significance of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, and specifically the line, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (v. 17). Indeed, the Holy Spirit, the first fruits of our salvation, could not have been given to us until Jesus had been raised and glorified (John 7:39; 16:7).

Perhaps Mr. Gibson might now consider plowing back some of his record-setting profits into a second film entitled, “The Resurrection of the Christ,” if only to complete the story.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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