In the following posting, I borrow some wording from my own The Resurrection is Just Too Mysterious to Be Described. I apologize for that but it was the best way, So, please bear with me as I bare my thoughts.
Many of us who believe in the Resurrection believe it was physical. Many others do not. A fairly recent survey reported that only 68% of American Catholics strongly agreed with the statement, “Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead.” The percentage of Mainline Protestants was statistically the same at 67%. Evangelical Christians scored higher in this regard at 84%. The survey, Portraits of American Life Study (PALS) was conducted in 2006 by Michael O. Emerson of Rice University and David H. Sikkink of the University of Notre Dame with funding from their respective schools and the Lilly Endowment Fund.
Count me among those who strongly agree with the statement. For many Christians, a spiritual resurrection that is not physical or bodily makes more sense, a belief which to me, is perfectly acceptable. (See The Resurrection is Just Too Mysterious to Be Described). I might change my mind, as I have before. But for now and the foreseeable future, I’m a physical resurrection fan and believer.
But how so? Do I mean that what “happened” behind closed doors was physical? Do I mean the empty tomb was a physical reality? Do I mean that the post-resurrection appearances were physical? Was Jesus somehow transformed physically so that he could pass through locked doors and still be able to eat fish?
What if the Resurrection was simply an instantaneous change of state not just to the body but to the surroundings, as well. Air would NOT rush in to fill the space left by the disappeared body. It would just suddenly be there. Burial cloths would NOT fall to the surface on which the body lay. They would in that instant just be there. Think of something “occurring” in zero time.
We are all familiar, at least in principle, with the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. That is a process. We can make a time-lapsed movie of it and see each and every step. Some will say they see a miracle unfolding. Others will say it is nothing of the kind; it is a perfectly explainable biological process.
If you were to take the first frame and the last frame from the movie of the process, splice them together and pretend that nothing happened in between then you could demonstrate with a very short, two-frame movie a miraculous transformation without a process.
The Resurrection, if we are to believe it was in some way physical, was, by definition, a miracle. If we are to take our knowledge from scripture alone, there was a before and an after, a first frame, so to speak, and a last frame. There was nothing in between that we know about. So, why do we think there was a process? Why do we think, for instance, the body became mechanically transparent or dematerialized such that a cloth might fall through it or that that the body might release some form of energetic byproduct during the Resurrection? Why do we think, as Mark Antonacci, a well-known Shroud researcher, suggests that Jesus might have passed through a traversable Lorentzian wormhole in space-time or as Tulane professor Frank Tipler suggests that the process of resurrection might have been a form of electroweak quantum tunneling?
I’m left to wonder. Is it because of too much imagination or not enough?
Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica tried to explain that angels in going from one place to another did not pass through the place in between. Nor did they consume time doing so.
By this sort of local movement an angel may, at will, be present successively in several places and thus may be said to pass through the space between the first and the last place of the series. Or an angel may cease to apply its powers in the first place and begin to apply them in the last, not passing through the space between.
Since there is succession, that is, before-and-after, in the application of an angel’s powers, now here and now there, it must be said that an angel’s local movement occurs in time, and is not instantaneous. This time, however, is not measurable in our minutes or seconds; these units of time are applicable only to bodily movement.
Humor me. I’m just trying to make a point. For angels, at least for Thomas Aquinas’ angels, in how they traveled, there is only a first frame and a last frame, so to speak. Thomas Aquinas was much into angels and was brilliant at logical speculation. This notion of his provides a useful metaphor for pondering any and all supernatural “action.” There is in his imaginings a change of state and no measure of time. There is nothing like that in classical physics and perhaps nothing like that in quantum mechanics, as well.
And to be clear, we are talking about miracles in a classic sense of the word. We are not talking about the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. We are talking, here, about:
- “The highest degree in miracles comprises those works wherein something is done by God, that nature can never do.” — The Summa Contra Gentiles by St. Thomas Aquinas
- “A miracle is a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” — “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” by David Hume
Might miracles be like Thomas Aquinas’ angels, who avoid the in-between and use no time?” Not concerning ourselves, here, with questions about Biblical literalism, when Jesus healed the blind man was there a moment in time when the man’s eyesight was partially restored? When Jesus turned water into wine was there a moment in time, no matter how brief, when the wine was still mostly water and when, perhaps picoseconds later, the water was mostly wine? Or was it that the man’s eyesight was suddenly restored? Was it that the water was suddenly wine?
There was, when I was growing up, a book that could be found gathering dust here and there about our house. It was sometimes in its place on the bookshelf but more often it was on the corner of a desk, a coffee table in the living room or on top of the television set where it was used to prop up the rabbit ears antenna at just the right angle for getting the best television reception from a broadcasting tower five miles away. The theory was that my grandmother, on purpose, would leave the book around the house in hopes that someone would read it. The book was Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison (real name Albert Henry Ross; Faber and Faber, 1930). Promoted by such luminaries as T. S. Elliot and G. K. Chesterton, the book was a big success when it was first published in 1930. It is now a classic.
Now, in “thumbing” through the Kindle version I came across this thought:
In each case the women arrive to find the stone already rolled away, yet with no hint from the writers as to how this came about. It is only when we turn to St. Matthew’s Gospel that we read of a great angel descending and removing the stone.
Now the peculiar and significant thing is this. We can search the apocryphal writings through and through, and we shall nowhere find even the remotest suggestion that the Lord Himself broke the barriers of His own prison. We are told that the stone ‘rolled away of itself’, or that supernatural beings descended and moved it. But nowhere is the obvious miracle recorded that Jesus Himself threw down the physical defences of the grave.
I wondered, could it be that the angel (or a metaphorical angel), removed the stone as Thomas Aquinas might have imagined his angels doing? Could it be that in an imperceptible, immeasurable instant, absent any sound or disturbance of any kind, the stone was found to be in a new position? It didn’t roll. It didn’t slide. The stone was moved but never was there any motion.
Might the Resurrection “moment” in the tomb have been that way: a miracle with a before and after and no in-between process? In other words, might the Resurrection have been a miracle in which Jesus neither removed his shroud nor passed through it, yet, nonetheless, it had been shed — a miracle in which he went from point A to point B without passing through the in-between — a miracle in which the stone was not rolled away but found to be in a new place — a miracle in which an image did appear on the cloth?
And in that sense, did Jesus suddenly appear by the Magdalen’s side? And did He just appear to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? Had they looked back down the road before the encounter, would they have seen him approaching from afar or not? Had Jesus just suddenly appeared in the Cenacle, not passing through doors or walls at all? Did Jesus travel to a place on the Road to Damascus for his encounter with Saul of Tarsus? Or was the Christ just there?
And was the image just there at the instant of the Resurrection?
John Jackson et al. wants us to play the game of best fit as we consider his Resurrection of the Falling Cloth scenario. It’s a best fit for many image characteristics we are told. And by his selection, characterization and measurement criteria he is right. Fair enough. But, arguably — and by making some allowance for many years of folding, spindling, and well-intentioned mutilation — the image created as part-and-parcel of a body transformation, stone relocation, and image formation miracle is, by definition, a perfect fit.
There is still the question of why. Why is there an image at all? And for what constituency was that image placed on the shroud?
Dare we wonder about carbon 14 ratios? Could we even imagine altering the C14 content as part-and-parcel of the miracle? That’s a “why” too strange, to even contemplate.
So I’m reluctant to embrace my own imagination except that compared to EVERY OTHER image forming proposal from radiation to corona discharge to Maillard reaction to photosensitive contact printing to dust painting to rubbing and even acid etching, I prefer a two-frame, now-you-don’t-see -it-now-you-do, part and parcel with the Resurrection model. And the Resurrection is not the cause of the image.