The Logic of the Resurrection

The truth of the resurrection of the body is bound up with the question of justice.

This window of the Resurrection by Christopher Webb is in Sherborne Abbey. (Fr. Lawrence Lew

This window of the Resurrection by Christopher Webb is in Sherborne Abbey. (Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP)The resurrection of the body is not primarily a question of logic. It is a question of fact, of witness. We do not begin from a philosophical theory to deduce the resurrection of the body. Rather we start from the fact of the resurrection of Christ. We ask whether it makes sense, whether it is “reasonable” in some basic manner. In this sense, philosophy follows fact, provided we can accept the facts of what is

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Benedict XVI examined all the evidence that would argue that the resurrection as a fact did not happen. He concluded we have no evidence showing that the testimony and witness of the disciples present at the events were fabricated, false, or naïve. We conclude that Jesus was who He said He was. Included in this understanding of who He was is His resurrection. But the resurrection involves the fact that Christ as such was one of the Persons of the Trinity, the Word, who became man. It was not the Father or the Spirit who became man. The resurrection thus refers to Christ insofar as He was true man, yet also God.

We learn in the Old Testament that God never intended for us to die. But we also learn that death was a consequence of a prior act of man. Death followed the exercise of freedom. Man was not forced to be what he was intended to be. We might then expect that the overcoming of death would also be the consequence of freedom. The question is whether the exercise of human freedom, our self-redemption, was sufficient to accomplish this purpose. The whole account of Christ’s passion revolves about this issue.

Behind this question of freedom, however, is the fact that by nature we human beings, body and soul, are not free from death. We are the mortals. We die and we know that we die. Yet, something about us seems “immortal.” We call our souls precisely immortal, a spiritual power. But this immortality as such does not include our bodies, the whole persons that we are. 

To speak of the “logic” of the resurrection I want to approach this question through something in Plato. As a young man, Plato was concerned with the question of whether the world was necessarily formed in injustice as it seemed to be. He implied that if it were formed in injustice, there could be no coherent order of man, society, or cosmos since no consequences would follow from any unjust acts. And, to add to his problems, it seemed that the world, not just Greece, was not in fact created in justice.

Why did Plato think this way? Basically, he was reflecting on the execution of Socrates, which appeared to him to be an injustice. At the end of his trial, Socrates told the jury that condemned him to death that wherever his story was told (and it was Plato who told it), the men of this jury, the citizens of Athens, the best existing city, would be held accountable for the death of the philosopher Socrates, a just man.

Plato then recognized that injustices of this sort existed at all times and places in human history. Thus, if there were to be justice in the world, it had to come after death. Consequently, he proposed the philosophical “myths,” themselves so close to revelation, in which he pictured the immortal souls of the dead being judged for their crimes and rewarded for their virtues. This understanding is based on reason. Only in this way, on this hypothesis, could there be justice in the world if the crimes and sins were in fact punished and the virtues properly rewarded.

This Platonic reflection brings us to the immortality of the soul but not to the resurrection of the body. Plato at times seemed to think, contrary to Genesis, that the body was the cause of our errors and sins. This consideration brings up two further issues that relate to the resurrection of the body. The first is one that relates to Aristotle. Man as such is a rational being properly not a soul but a complete being, body and soul. He is not what he fully is in only body or soul. Since we all die, the issue of human completion remains. The immortality of the soul at least indicates some link is possible between the soul, the form of our bodies, and what we will be in the resurrection. Otherwise, we would be new beings and not ourselves.

The second issue has to do again with justice. Since it is not merely our souls that are involved in either our sins or delights, it follows that the “logic” of the resurrection of the body grows from Plato’s consideration of justice. Thus, a coherent understanding of justice includes the resurrection of the body together with an understanding of freedom that requires us to choose to be just. If the world is not created in justice, we need not be just. Anything goes. Power rules. If the world is created in justice, the drama of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ makes perfect sense.

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).