Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Novena for Fr. Jaki - Ninth Day

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

The celebration of Easter marked the spread of Christian faith. While in Augustine's time only a third of the oikumene was Christian, this ratio increased by leaps and bounds at least in Western Europe, where one young nation after another accepted the Christian message. Before long, only a historical value remained to Augustine's famous argument on behalf of Jesus' resurrection and of the faithful's resurrection. The argument is a piece of the dialectical abilities of the great rhetor Augustine was. He set forth the argument in Chapter 5 of Book XXII of his On the City of God, a work written against the pagans who blamed the destruction of Rome, the City of Man in ancient times, on the spread of the Christian religion, whose devotees undermined societal reverence toward the gods of Rome.

The argument begins with the statement of the obvious, although once it was held to be incredible: "But see, the whole world has now come to believe that the earthly body of Christ has been taken up into heaven. Learned and unlearned alike have now come to believe in the resurrection of his flesh and his ascension to the realms on high, and only a very few among learned and unlearned still remain in stupefied incredulity. If what the world believes is credible, the unbelievers should notice how stupid they are! If it is incredible, then surely it is even more incredible that so incredible a thing should be so credited! So we have two incredible things, the resurrection of our body to eternity, and the world's credence in this incredibility, both of them foretold by God before either of them came to pass."

There was still another incredibility: the fact that the world believed that Jesus rose and the dead will rise to the preaching, to the witnessing of "just a few men, the merest handful, untrained in the liberal arts, completely uneducated, as far as pagan philosophy is concerned, with no knowledge of literature, no equipment in logic, no trappings of rhetoric. And Christ sent them out as fishermen with the nets of faith into the sea of this world; and in this way he caught all those fish of every kind, including - more wonderful, because rarer - even some of the philosophers themselves."

And now came the knife of dialectic: "The first of those three incredibilities our opponents refuse to believe; the second they are compelled to observe; and unless they believe the third, they cannot account for the second." Then Augustine felt free to give a vast canvass of what that preaching was: "The resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven with the flesh in which he rose again, is by now proclaimed and believed throughout the world; if it is incredible, how is it that it is believed throughout the world? If many people, people of noble birth, of high position, of profound learning, had said that they had witnessed it and had been at pains to spread the news of what they had witnessed, it would be no marvel, if the world believed them; it would be crass obstinacy, in our opponents to refuse belief. If, and this is the truth, the world has believed a few men, of obscure birth, of no importance and of no learning, who assert in speech and wridng that they have witnessed this event, why do as few men show this perverse obstinacy in continued refusal to believe the believing world? The world has believed a hny number of men of low birth, low position, with no academic qualifications; and it has believed them just because in the persons of such insignificant witnesses the power of God exercised a much more wonderful persuasion. What I mean is that those who persuaded men of this truth did so by utterances which on their lips were turned into miracles, rather than mere words. For those who had not witnessed Christ's resurrection in the flesh, and his ascension into heaven in that same flesh, believed the report of those who told what they had seen, who not only spoke of it, but displayed miraculous signs. In fact, people who were known to have only one language, or two at most, were suddenly heard speaking miraculously in the languages of other nations; a man lame from birth stood up, sound and strong after forty years, cured at their word in the name of Christ; cloths taken from their persons had power to heal the sick; a countless number of sufferers from various diseases were stationed along the road by which the disciples were to pass, so that as they passed their shadows might pass over the sufferers and, as a rule, the sick were restored to health; and many other amazing acts were performed by the disciples in Christ's name; indeed, even the dead were restored to life. All this was observed by those who had not witnessed Christ's resurrection."

Here was the best presentation ever of the merit of the divine logic which wanted faith to be born out of the words and deeds of ever more indirect witnesses of Jesus' resurrection. Augustine wanted his reader to savor all aspects of the force of the argument, by showing the measure of unreasonableness on the part of unbelievers: "Now if these people admit that those things happened as they are recorded, then here we have all those incredibilities to add to our first three. And in order to make credible that one incredible event, Christ's resurrection and ascension, as it is reported, we heap up all this evidence for a multitude of incredible events; and yet we still cannot turn them from their hair-raising obstinacy and bring them to believe. Nevertheless, if they do not believe that those miracles were effected through Christ's apostles, to ensure belief in their proclamation of Christ's resurrection and ascension, then this one overpowering miracle is enough for us - that the whole world has come to believe in it without any miracles at all!"
[Jaki, Resurrection?]


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