Historical and Transcendent

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified

« prev : next »

A Real Event (639)

Christ's Resurrection is a real event, historically verified in the New Testament. Around 56 A.D., St. Paul wrote that Christ "was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4). Paul also listed various witnesses (Cephas, the Twelve, etc.) to whom Jesus appeared.

Discovering the Tomb Empty (640)

The empty tomb is the first element of the Easter story. Obviously, an empty tomb is not a direct proof of Christ's Resurrection because the absence of his body could be explained in other ways. However, the empty tomb is an essential first. The disciples' discovery of the Resurrection began with the holy women, with Peter, and especially with the disciple "whom Jesus loved." This Beloved Disciple "saw and believed." He was the first to realize that the absence of the body did not result from human means nor that Jesus merely returned to earthly life like Lazarus had done (Jn 20:5-7).

Appearing to the Disciples (641)

Mary Magdalene and the holy women were the first to encounter the Risen One (Mk 16:1). They became the first messengers of the Resurrection to Peter and the Twelve. Later, based on Peter's witness, the community exclaimed, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon" (Lk 24:34).

Making Them Witnesses (642)

These visions made the apostles witnesses to the Resurrection and foundation stones of Jesus' Church. The faith of the Early Church was based upon the testimony of men who were known and who were still living. Besides Peter and the Twelve (the primary witnesses), Paul mentioned other witnesses and "more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living" (1 Cor 15:6).

Experiencing the Risen Jesus (643-644)

Because of these witnesses, we realize that the Resurrection is a historical fact, not something outside the physical order. The disciples did not experience some mystical exaltation. Really, the passion had shocked them and they refused to believe the Good News. The Risen Jesus had to "upbraid them for their unbelief and hardness of heart" (Mk 16:14).

While actually seeing Jesus, they "thought they were seeing a ghost" (Lk 24:37). Jesus said "A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have" (24:39). Thomas doubted and demanded a sign (Jn 20:24-27). Even during Jesus' final appearance, "some doubted" (Mt 28:17). Their belief in the Resurrection did not come from their credulity but from a direct experience of the Risen Jesus.

Having a Real Body (645)

The Risen Jesus invited the disciples to touch him and to share a meal. They could see that he was truly risen and that he had the very same body, marked by the wounds of his passion. This authentic, real body had the qualities of a glorious body (not limited by space and time) able to be present how and when Christ willed. Jesus' body was no longer confined to earth, but belonged to the heavenly realm. Jesus could appear to his disciples (as a gardener or in other forms familiar to the disciples) so that their faith would be awakened.

A Life Beyond Time and Space (646)

Jesus had miraculously raised three people from the dead (Jairus' daughter, the widow's son, and Lazarus). These three returned to ordinary, earthly life and would eventually die again. Jesus' Resurrection is essentially different. He has passed from a state of death to another life, beyond time and space. Sharing in divine life, Jesus' body is filled with the Spirit. He is now "the man of heaven" (1 Cor 15:45-50).

A Historical Event Surpassing History (647)

No one saw Jesus rise from the dead. No Gospel describes the event and no one can say how it came about physically. Although the Resurrection is an historical event (verified by the empty tomb and Jesus' appearances to his disciples) the Resurrection transcends history. Therefore, Jesus did not reveal himself to the whole world, but "to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem who are now his witnesses" (Acts 13:31).

A Work of Three Persons (648-649)

Because God has intervened in history, the Resurrection is an object of faith. All three Divine Persons participated in this event. By his power, the Father raised up his Son and introduced his Son's humanity into the Trinity. By the Resurrection, Jesus was revealed as the "Son of God in power" (Rom 1:3-4). This manifestation came through the Spirit who gave life to Jesus' dead humanity (Rom 6:4). As for the Son, he effected his own Resurrection by his divine power. "I have power to lay down my life and I have power to take it up again" (Jn 10:17-18).

Body and Soul United to Divine Person (650)

The Resurrection happened because the divine person of Christ remained united to both the separated body and to the separated soul. "By the unity of the divine nature, which remains present in each of these two components of man, these are reunited" (St. Gregory of Nyssa).

« prev : next »