Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Philosophical Works.: How one even of those who are without may be brought to believe the Scripture when teaching of the resurrection.
XXV. How one even of those who are without may be brought to believe the Scripture when teaching of the resurrection 1711 .
1. Some one, perhaps, having regard to the dissolution of bodies, and judging the Deity by the measure of his own power, asserts that the idea of the resurrection is impossible, saying that it cannot be that both those things which are now in motion should become stationary, and those things which are now without motion should rise again.
2. Let such an one, however, take as the first and greatest evidence of the truth touching the resurrection the credibility of the herald who proclaims it. Now the faith of what is said derives its certainty from the result of the other predictions: for as the Divine Scripture delivers statements many and various, it is possible by examining how the rest of the utterances stand in the matter of falsehood and truth to survey also, in the light of them, the doctrine concerning the resurrection. For if in the other p. 415 matters the statements are found to be false and to have failed of true fulfilment, neither is this out of the region of falsehood; but if all the others have experience to vouch for their truth, it would seem logical to esteem as true, on their account, the prediction concerning the resurrection also. Let us therefore recall one or two of the predictions that have been made, and compare the result with what was foretold, so that we may know by means of them whether the idea has a truthful aspect.
3. Who knows not how the people of Israel flourished of old, raised up against all the powers of the world; what were the palaces in the city of Jerusalem, what the walls, the towers, the majestic structure of the Temple? things that seemed worthy of admiration even to the disciples of the Lord, so that they asked the Lord to take notice of them, in their disposition to marvel, as the Gospel history shows us, saying, “What works, and what buildings 1712 !” But He indicates to those who wondered at its present state the future desolation of the place and the disappearance of that beauty, saying that after a little while nothing of what they saw should be left. And, again, at the time of His Passion, the women followed, bewailing the unjust sentence against Him,—for they could not yet see into the dispensation of what was being done:—but He bids them be silent as to what is befalling Him, for it does not demand their tears, but to reserve their wailing and lamentation for the true time for tears, when the city should be compassed by besiegers, and their sufferings reach so great a strait that they should deem him happy who had not been born: and herein He foretold also the horrid deed of her who devoured her child, when He said that in those days the womb should be accounted blest that never bare 1713 . Where then are those palaces? where is the Temple? where are the walls? where are the defences of the towers? where is the power of the Israelites? were not they scattered in different quarters over almost the whole world? and in their overthrow the palaces also were brought to ruin.
4. Now it seems to me that the Lord foretold these things and others like them not for the sake of the matters themselves—for what great advantage to the hearers, at any rate, was the prediction of what was about to happen? they would have known by experience, even if they had not previously learnt what would come;—but in order that by these means faith on their part might follow concerning more important matters: for the testimony of facts in the former cases is also a proof of truth in the latter.
5. For just as though, if a husbandman were explaining the virtue of seeds, it were to happen that some person inexperienced in husbandry should disbelieve him, it would be sufficient as proof of his statement for the agriculturist to show him the virtue existing in one seed of those in the bushel and make it a pledge of the rest—for he who should see the single grain of wheat or barley, or whatever might chance to be the contents of the bushel, grow into an ear after being cast into the ground, would by the means of the one cease also to disbelieve concerning the others—so the truthfulness which confessedly belongs to the other statements seems to me to be sufficient also for evidence of the mystery of the resurrection.
6. Still more, however, is this the case with the experience of actual resurrection which we have learnt not so much by words as by actual facts: for as the marvel of resurrection was great and passing belief, He begins gradually by inferior instances of His miraculous power, and accustoms our faith, as it were, for the reception of the greater.
7. For as a mother who nurses her babe with due care for a time supplies milk by her breast to its mouth while still tender and soft; and when it begins to grow and to have teeth she gives it bread, not hard or such as it cannot chew, so that the tender and unpractised gums may not be chafed by rough food; but softening it with her own teeth, she makes it suitable and convenient for the powers of the eater; and then as its power increases by growth she gradually leads on the babe, accustomed to tender food, to more solid nourishment; so the Lord, nourishing and fostering with miracles the weakness of the human mind, like some babe not fully grown, makes first of all a prelude of the power of the resurrection in the case of a desperate disease, which prelude, though it was great in its achievement, yet was not such a thing that the statement of it would be disbelieved: for by “rebuking the fever” which was fiercely consuming Simons wifes mother, He produced so great a removal of the evil as to enable her who was already expected to be near death, to “minister 1714 ” to those present.
8. Next He makes a slight addition to the power, and when the noblemans son lies in acknowledged danger of death (for so the history tells us, that he was about to die, as his father cried, “come down, ere my child die 1715 ”), He again brings about the resurrection of one who was believed about to die; accomplishing the miracle with a greater act of power in that He did not even approach the place, but sent life from afar off by the force of His command.
p. 416 9. Once more in what follows He ascends to higher wonders. For having set out on His way to the ruler of the synagogues daughter, he voluntarily made a halt in His way, while making public the secret cure of the woman with an issue of blood, that in this time death might overcome the sick. When, then, the soul had just been parted from the body, and those who were wailing over the sorrow were making a tumult with their mournful cries, He raises the damsel to life again, as if from sleep, by His word of command, leading on human weakness, by a sort of path and sequence, to greater things.
10. Still in addition to these acts He exceeds them in wonder, and by a more exalted act of power prepares for men the way of faith in the resurrection. The Scripture tells us of a city called Nain in Judæa: a widow there had an only child, no longer a child in the sense of being among boys, but already passing from childhood to mans estate: the narrative calls him “a young man.” The story conveys much in few words: the very recital is a real lamentation: the dead mans mother, it says, “was a widow.” See you the weight of her misfortune, how the text briefly sets out the tragedy of her suffering? for what does the phrase mean? that she had no more hope of bearing sons, to cure the loss she had just sustained in him who had departed; for the woman was a widow: she had not in her power to look to another instead of to him who was gone; for he was her only child; and how great a grief is here expressed any one may easily see who is not an utter stranger to natural feeling. Him alone she had known in travail, him alone she had nursed at her breast; he alone made her table cheerful, he alone was the cause of brightness in her home, in play, in work, in learning, in gaiety, at processions, at sports, at gatherings of youth; he alone was all that is sweet and precious in a mothers eyes. Now at the age of marriage, he was the stock of her race, the shoot of its succession, the staff of her old age. Moreover, even the additional detail of his time of life is another lament: for he who speaks of him as “a young man” tells of the flower of his faded beauty, speaks of him as just covering his face with down, not yet with a full thick beard, but still bright with the beauty of his cheeks. What then, think you, were his mothers sorrows for him? how would her heart be consumed as it were with a flame; how bitterly would she prolong her lament over him, embracing the corpse as it lay before her, lengthening out her mourning for him as far as possible, so as not to hasten the funeral of the dead, but to have her fill of sorrow! Nor does the narrative pass this by: for Jesus “when He saw her,” it says, “had compassion”; “and He came and touched the bier; and they that bare him stood still;” and He said to the dead, “Young man, I say unto thee, arise 1716 ,” “and He delivered him to his mother” alive. Observe that no short time had intervened since the dead man had entered upon that state, he was all but laid in the tomb; the miracle wrought by the Lord is greater, though the command is the same.
11. His miraculous power proceeds to a still more exalted act, that its display may more closely approach that miracle of the resurrection which men doubt. One of the Lords companions and friends is ill (Lazarus is the sick mans name); and the Lord deprecates any visiting of His friend, though far away from the sick man, that in the absence of the Life, death might find room and power to do his own work by the agency of disease. The Lord informs His disciples in Galilee of what has befallen Lazarus, and also of his own setting out to him to raise him up when laid low. They, however, were exceedingly afraid on account of the fury of the Jews, thinking it a difficult and dangerous matter to turn again towards Judæa, in the midst of those who sought to slay Him: and thus, lingering and delaying, they return slowly from Galilee: but they do return, for His command prevailed, and the disciples were led by the Lord to be initiated at Bethany in the preliminary mysteries of the general resurrection. Four days had already passed since the event; all due rites had been performed for the departed; the body was hidden in the tomb: it was probably already swollen and beginning to dissolve into corruption, as the body mouldered in the dank earth and necessarily decayed: the thing was one to turn from, as the dissolved body under the constraint of nature changed to offensiveness 1717 . At this point the doubted fact of the general resurrection is brought to proof by a more manifest miracle; for one is not raised from severe sickness, nor brought back to life when at the last breath—nor is a child just dead brought to life, nor a young man about to be conveyed to the tomb released from his bier; but a man past the prime of life, a corpse, decaying, swollen, yea already in a state of dissolution, so that even his own kinsfolk could not suffer that the Lord should draw near the tomb by reason of the offensiveness of the decayed body there enclosed, brought into life by a single call, confirms the proclamation of the resurrection, that is to say, that expectation of it as universal, which we learn by a parp. 417 ticular experience to entertain. For as in the regeneration of the universe the Apostle tells us that “the Lord Himself will descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel 1718 ,” and by a trumpet sound raise up the dead to incorruption—so now too he who is in the tomb, at the voice of command, shakes off death as if it were a sleep, and ridding himself from the corruption that had come upon his condition of a corpse, leaps forth from the tomb whole and sound, not even hindered in his egress by the bonds of the grave-cloths round his feet and hands.
12. Are these things too small to produce faith in the resurrection of the dead? or dost thou seek that thy judgment on this point should be confirmed by yet other proofs? In truth the Lord seems to me not to have spoken in vain to them of Capernaum, when He said to Himself, as in the person of men, “Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself 1719 .” For it behoved Him, when He had accustomed men to the miracle of the resurrection in other bodies, to confirm His word in His own humanity. Thou sawest the thing proclaimed working in others—those who were about to die, the child which had just ceased to live, the young man at the edge of the grave, the putrefying corpse, all alike restored by one command to life. Dost thou seek for those who have come to death by wounds and bloodshed? does any feebleness of life-giving power hinder the grace in them? Behold Him Whose hands were pierced with nails: behold Him Whose side was transfixed with a spear; pass thy fingers through the print of the nails; thrust thy hand into the spear-wound 1720 ; thou canst surely guess how far within it is likely the point would reach, if thou reckonest the passage inwards by the breadth of the external scar; for the wound that gives admission to a mans hand, shows to what depth within the iron entered. If He then has been raised, well may we utter the Apostles exclamation, “How say some that there is no resurrection of the dead 1721 ?”
13. Since, then, every prediction of the Lord is shown to be true by the testimony of events, while we not only have learnt this by His words, but also received the proof of the promise in deed, from those very persons who returned to life by resurrection, what occasion is left to those who disbelieve? Shall we not bid farewell to those who pervert our simple faith by “philosophy and vain deceit 1722 ,” and hold fast to our confession in its purity, learning briefly through the prophet the mode of the grace, by his words, “Thou shalt take away their breath and they shall fail, and turn to their dust. Thou shalt send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth 1723 ;” at which time also he says that the Lord rejoices in His works, sinners having perished from the earth: for how shall any one be called by the name of sin, when sin itself exists no longer?
Otherwise Chap. xxvi. The title in the Bodleian ms. of the Latin version is:—“Of faith in the resurrection, and of the three dead persons whom the Lord Jesus raised.”415:1712
Cf. S. Mark xiii. 1415:1713
Cf. S. Luke xxiii. 27-29.415:1714
S. Luke iv. 39415:1715
S. John iv. 49416:1716
Cf. S. Luke vii. 13-15.416:1717
Omitting, as several of Forbes mss. do, and as the ms. employed by Dionysius seems to have done, the words ἀποδίδοναι πάλιν τῷ ζῆν. If these words are retained, βιαζομένης must be taken passively, and the πρᾶγμα φευκτόν understood not of the condition of the corpse, but of the resurrection of Lazarus.417:1718
1 Thess. iv. 16.417:1719
S. Luke iv. 23417:1720
Cf. S. John xx. 27417:1721
1 Cor. xv. 12.417:1722
Col. ii. 8.417:1723
Ps. 4:29, 30 (LXX.). Cf. also with what follows Psa. 104.31-35.
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