Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fr. Dresser: sowing doubt about the Resurrection at Easter time

Here are some of the latest ravings to come from Rev. Fr. Peter Dresser, deep in the bowels of Catholica’s discussion board:

[…] Having investigated the biblical evidence particularly regarding the evolution of the empty tomb narratives, [Raymond] Brown found that it was the insight of faith that shaped the narratives of the discovery of the tomb. He judges that Christians can and indeed should continue to speak of a bodily resurrection but not as a bodythat we know bodies, bound by the dimensions of space and time. He sees the resurrection as some kind of spiritual rather than a natural phenomenon. By way ofconclusion he states that the biblical evidence contines to favor the idea of a bodily resurrection although at the same time it serves to correct a notion popular in the past that would equate resurrection with physical resuscitation.
It is important, I think, that we do not accept resurrection in a literal sense as being a resuscitation - with Jesus literally coming alive and dancing on the tomb! Those who insist on interpreting Jesus' resurrection as his physical restoration have perhaps never considered the difficulties raised by such a view. Sadly, for many and perhaps most Christians the resurrection is simply the reversal of the death of Jesus. Jesus somehow resumed his corpse and physically emerged from the tomb. It is the meaning and significance of resurrection that are the important issues. In practical terms the resurrection means that the community (of the Church) lives in the awareness that the dead Jesus is alive and with his community. In other words the focus or locus of resurrection was in the minds and hearts of the followers of Jesus. For the disciples to have reached the conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead, some process of conversion, a growing faith must have preceded this point. The Kerygma or the teaching proclamation of the early church was that Jesus was alive and well but this assertion does not rely on evidence about an empty tomb. Thus was have scholars such as Rudolph Bultmann clearly stating that Easter is not a fact to be cited as evidence for believers; Easter is itself an object of faith.
It is my suggestion that the bodily resurrection of Jesus should not be taken literally in any way except in the spiritual sense that I have outlined above. In this respect it is interesting to note that the so-called appearances of Jesus after the resurrection are invariably vague and shadowy. Jesus was sometimes recognised but usually not. His appearances were sporadic, elusive and evanescent and were experiences which lay on the extreme edge of normal human experience. Usually they are in the context of a shared meal (breakfast on the beach, Emmaus, etc) that represents the Eucharist which is of course the memorial of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I am no Scripture scholar and so I present the above comments with due acceptance of that fact and am nowhere near Ian with his Scriptural insights and particularly his Pauline analyses...but I do feel that to see resurrection in the literal sense of something like the resumption of a corpse is to do a great violence to any intelligent person and certainly impoverishes one's Christian faith. Can I suggest that even now we share in the resurrection of Jesus insofar as we respond to the action of God in ourselves and in others. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus was in reality a resurrection of and for his followers! What Paul saw in Christ was the full realisation of sharing. We are the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are part of each other in the world and are linked together with Jesus in his new closeness with his God.
Just a couple of thoughts....Happy Easter!
(italics in the original)
In response to a comment from Dr. Ian Elmer, Fr. Dresser says:

Many thanks for your reply.
Like yourself I have great problems with any kind of dualistic thinking and for this very reason there has to be some aspect of corporeality involved with the Resurrection. And so, like fellow Catholics I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It would not make sense to say that Jesus or anyone of us would rise as human beings without some kind of corporeality. It is through our bodies that we join with each other and commune with each other and so forth. But I would make the point that even if the bones of Jesus crucified were to be found, I would still believe in his bodily resurrection because his resurrected and glorified body is not bound by space or time and in his new bodily existence he is universally present in a far more beautiful and expansive and comprehensive way than ever he was during his earthly existence.
My point was to stress this new awareness in the minds and hearts of his followers that he was truly risen and alive with them and they with him in all their hopes and joys, griefs and anxieties.
I believe he is preeminently the prototype of our own resurrections which must involve, quite obviously, some kind of corporeality. And hopefully, like Rilke's swan, each of us will, one day, like Jesus has done, swim majestically and beautifully in that great river of Resurrection...with trumpet blast!
(italics in the original)
What a confused individual. While it is true that spirituality, or subtility, is one of the attributes of the risen and glorified body and that, by virtue of this subtility and another attribute, namely agility, the risen body is not bound by space and time, and it is true that the resurrection, whether of Christ or of the Elect at the end of time, is not merely the revival of and resumption of one’s corpse, it is still the revival and resumption of the corpse in which one perished, its newly glorified state notwithstanding. But if, as Fr. Dresser says, Christ did not resume the body in which He was crucified then this clearly raises huge problems.

1. So Fr. Dresser thinks that the hypothetical discovery of Our Lord’s remains would not harm his belief in His bodily Resurrection. But if the Resurrection were bodily, as Fr. Dresser maintains, then what was this body? Was it just an apparition, a sort of optical illusion? If so, then what was the point of all this? Presumably Fr. Dresser does not dispute that Christ’s soul did not perish at His death, so what is achieved by a mere display?

2. Or, if not just an apparition, presumably Fr. Dresser would think that Christ’s Resurrection involved the infusion of His soul into the substance of a body. But then why not the same body in which He caused the remission of sin? If God can create a new body ex nihilo, or fashion a body out of pre-existing matter, then surely He can use a ‘ready-made’ body. All else equal then, and given the fact that a resumption of His crucifed body would have been more fitting than the assumption of a different body, then why not the restoration to life of that crucifed body?

3. If Christ’s Resurrection involved the abandonment of His crucified body in favour of another body, then what does this make the Apostles? If they thought that there was a contradiction between their announcement of the Resurrection and a non-empty tomb, then it makes them deceivers. And if they did not see any contradiction, then why not keep the remains as relics, or, if not thinking it necessary or desirable to venerate them, then why not at least acknowledge them?

But all these scenarios are fictitious. The truth is: at His Resurrection Christ resumed the same body in which He had been crucified, that is, His soul was restored to that same body (from which His Divinity had never departed); this body rose, by His Own power, to a glorified state characterised by subtility, clarity or radiance, impassibility and immortality, and agility, and it is this kind of resurrection which we hope to attain ourselves. And it is whatever convoluted reasoning that Fr. Dresser might invoke in support of nonsense like points 1. to 3. that does “a great violence to any intelligent person and certainly impoverishes one's Christian faith”.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. George, Martyr, A.D. 2009
P.S. Does anyone know whether Fr. Dresser is still a parish priest?


Anonymous said...

I was informed today that the RE teachers in Tasmania are (allegedly) all being taught that the Resurrection was not bodily etc and they are passing it on to the students.


Anonymous said...

Preach it, Pole!

Heck, even my rather liberal PP preached a corker of a homily at the Easter Vigil on the Resurrection, and quoted St Paul on the subject.

Cardinal Pole said...

"I was informed today that the RE teachers in Tasmania are (allegedly) all being taught that the Resurrection was not bodily etc and they are passing it on to the students."

That is disturbing. Someone should raise this with the relevant R.E. department heads.