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from issue no. 10 - 2006

The Resurrection without the Risen One

For modern idealism the Resurrection derives from the posthumous idealization of the dead Jesus. The glory comes out of a defeat. Thus the Gospel story gets inverted, according to which, faith arises from the real perception of the Risen One, of He Who vanquished death

by Massimo Borghesi

The Resurrection without miracle
«The Resurrection is not only not a miracle, but is not even an empirical event. And faith in the Resurrection does not depend on the fact of whether one accepts or rejects the historical reality of the empty tomb». So says the blurb on the cover of the book by Andrés Torres Queiruga, The Resurrection without miracle, recently translated into Italian1. The essay is interesting in the extent to which it is the finished expression of a tendency that, after Bultmann, has become dominant in exegetical and theological studies: that whereby the Resurrection is a loose boulder, an errant mass that criticism must get rid of so as to make the content of the Christian faith comprehensible to modern man. The Risen Christ by Piero della Francesca or Caravaggio’s The disbelief of Thomas belong to the art of the past. In the future it will no longer be possible to give a realistic reading of the Resurrection, only a “symbolic” one will be allowed. In a singular reversal of cognitive processes faith does not presuppose the empty tomb and the tangible experience of the Risen One; on the contrary it is the risen Christ that only “appears” such in the pre-comprehension of the faith. In this way a conspicuous part of theological literature – that which takes as read the opposition between the “historical Christ” and the “Christ of faith” - abandons the realist position and conjoins, necessarily, with the idealistic point of view. For it is not reality, i.e. what happens concretely, that moves and explains the “persuasion”; on the contrary it is the “the world view”, the anterior belief, that makes evident, “visible”, facts that otherwise do not subsist. The faith, deprived of all plausibility, is no longer “judgement” but pre-judgment that “sees” in a way distorted away from reality, locus of an emotive, idealizing “mystical” experience. Belief idealizes its object thanks to imaginative mediation. In the case of Christianity this means that Christ “appears” as the Risen One in faith, thanks to faith. Aside from the faith there is only the mystery of an empty tomb, of a missing corpse. A problem that does not concern faith for which what matters is only the ideal, divine Christ. The Resurrection does not need the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, of his singular person; the idea is sufficient, the symbol of the Man-God. Faith lives off the idea, not off reality.
Some images and details of the altarpieces of the Maestà by Duccio di Buoninsegna, in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo in Siena; here above, the Risen Jesus and Mary Magdalen

Some images and details of the altarpieces of the Maestà by Duccio di Buoninsegna, in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo in Siena; here above, the Risen Jesus and Mary Magdalen

This presupposition, a veritable conceptual a priori, is obvious in Torres Queiruga’s book. For the philosopher from Santiago de Compostela the «irreversible» gains made by exegesis and modern-day culture see to it that we can no longer conceive «the active presence of God as a specific irruption, that is, physical and accessible to the senses, in the unfolding of the world»2. A perfect definition of the Incarnation that the author erases with a stroke of his pen. As with Bultmann, for whom «the conception in which the unearthly, the divine, appears as earthly, human, the beyond as the here and now is mythological»3, for Torres Queiruga also God could not act perceptibly in this world. That is why «the analysis of the resurrection of Jesus as “miracle” – the most spectacular – has definitively vanished from serious treatises. To such an extent that even in more “orthodox” treatises one can find the claim that the Resurrection not only is not a miracle, but is not even an “historical” event»4. The “experiencing” of the Risen One must free itself of all presence of an empirical sort. «If the Risen One were tangible or ate, he would be necessarily constrained by the laws of space, meaning he would not be risen. And the same thing would happen if he were physically observable»5. To believe otherwise would mean submitting to the «imperialism of the empiricist principle»6, making «the plausibility of belief in the Resurrection» impossible7. For the author «the disciples did not see the Risen One with their eyes nor did they touch him with their hands, because that was impossible since he was beyond the reach of their senses»8. What they “saw” «can have no material relationship with a space-time body»9. For that matter, «not even in earthly life can the body be considered the absolutely essential underpinning of identity», nor «does one see what there the transformation (?) of the dead body, that is of the corpse, could contribute»10. For the “idealist” Torres Queiruga the “reality” of the risen Christ does not presuppose his perceptible, bodily reality. It is founded on the subjectivity of the believer, on the «psychic experiences, of visualizations or imaginations of inner convictions. Convictions that can have a real referent – the mystic in his vision connects really to Christ – without the form in which he present himself being so»11. The “vision” presupposes the inner experience, the particular personal and environmental condition, starting from which the «imaginative mediation»12 – that the author evokes harking back to Kant – occurs by giving form to the object of his aspiration. In the case of the disciples, «within the culture of the time, open to the extraordinary and empirical manifestations of the supernatural, the imaginative scheme of the Resurrection as a kind of return to life could function with all naturalness»13. The disciples, that is, believed they saw him in that they were predisposed to it by a context, a spiritual ambience. Within that horizon the decisive element, the spark, was struck by the fundamental experience of the death of Jesus: «The highly-charged emotional context caused by the drama of Calvary»14. It is here, in the drama of the disappearance of the dearly beloved, that there develops «what we can call in Kantian fashion the “imaginative scheme” for understanding the Resurrection as already happened»15. In the messianic-eschatological context of Israel the death of Jesus generated a rending void, an experience of pain that urged for its resolution. The cross of Christ “transmuted” itself into the Resurrection: «The Resurrection occurred on the cross itself»16. Christ, the dead man, returns to life in belief. Torres Queiruga follows to the letter, without quoting him, Rudolf Bultmann: «Cross and Resurrection as “cosmic” event are all one»17. The Resurrection is not a real event that follows on the death of Jesus on the cross. It is, symbolically, the ideal transfiguration of Christ induced by the tragic experience of his end. In a paradoxical form, that is at the center of the idealistic model, the absence produces the presence, the void gives place to a fullness, deprivation is transmuted into victory. This requires that the aspect of scandal, in the Pauline sense, is removed from the cross: the Son of God hanging on what is, for modern people, the gallows. This aspect is alleged to be, in the Gospels, a literary construction, not an historical element. Torres Queiruga recognizes that «an ingrained habit, that strongly relies on the letter of the Gospels, led to seeing the cross as a locus of “scandal”, that decreed the end of the faith of the disciples, who at that point are claimed to have fled, denying and betraying their Master. To explain their subsequent conversion something extraordinary and miraculous must have occurred that, by its irrefutable concreteness, restored them to the faith. This something is said to be the Resurrection, that in this way gained an authentic historical “demonstration”. One cannot deny that the argument has force, and in fact it continues to be the most current in the treatises in use. Nevertheless closer scrutiny has brought out, each time with greater clarity and wider acceptance among scholars, its nature as literary “dramatization” with apologetic slant»18. This conclusion is said to be vouchsafed by the fact that «the hypothesis of betrayal or renegation turns out to be deeply incomprehensible and unjust to the disciples»19. These are said to have betrayed Jesus in the moment of supreme ordeal, have been ungrateful and heartless. This, for the author, is inadmissible. And for that matter the scandal had meaning for the Romans, not for the Jews: «The criminals for Rome were heroes for the people subjected by them»20.
The cross of Christ, from the altogether positive standpoint of Torres Queiruga, is not what distances, the locus of solitude. On the contrary it is the clotting point of faith: «The crucifixion, with the abominable scandal of its injustice, appears as the most determinant catalyst for understanding that what happened on the cross could not be the definitive conclusion»21. The cross is not a point of flight, but of “change”. A required conclusion, this of Torres Queiruga’s, to the extent to which between the death of Jesus and the faith of the nascent Church nothing happens. Idealism, as philosophy of the non-event, entails a short circuit whereby the faith must precede the event, not follow it. The argument according to which the disciples fled, afraid and demoralized, has “its own force”, as the author recognizes, and yet cannot be admitted. The void must produce fullness, the death become idea of the Risen One, not indeed generate scandal, flight, disorientation. Otherwise we would have “apologetics”, not history. In its effectuality the dead body is a banner, the symbol of a life that could not wane.

In the orbit of Hegel
It is odd that Torres Queiruga cites Kant various times – for the imaginative mediation of belief – and does not hark back to Hegel instead. Odd because his thinking can be set, fitting perfectly, within the idealist conceptual horizon, with his Christology following the lines of Hegel’s, with disagreements that, for the given theme, are entirely marginal22. As with Hegel, so for the Spanish philosopher, revelation «does not consist in the irruption of something external, rather in the discovery of a presence that, perhaps ignored and maybe forefelt, was already within and tried to make itself known»23. Christianity is concerned with ontology, not history. It reveals what is already present from ever beforehand, even if veiled, in the inwardness of the self; it is an immanent relationship, not worked from the outside. «It is not that in a given moment God “enters” into the world to reveal something in an extraordinary intervention. He is always present and active in the world, in the history and life of the individual, and is always trying to make his presence known, so that we be able to interpret it in correct fashion»24. This is why «what serves is not that the sun begin to shine, but that the windows be open and clean»25. Revelation is not God who “reveals” himself, for he does it always, but human discovery «that constitutes revelation in the strict sense»26. Torres Queiruga radically dehistoricizes Christianity. He turns it into an ideal structure, into a gnostic-pantheistic conception whereby the God-in-the world craves to make himself knowable by piercing the veil of shadow of human ignorance. The historical Christ, as in Hegel, is only the “occasion” of the arousal, in consciousness, of the awareness of the ideal Christ. In the same fashion as Socrates, he is the “midwife” whose maieutic art brings to light the God-in-us according to the «rich and deep tradition of the magister interior»27.
This perspective, the idea of an immanent revelation, in terms of which the historical Christ is only a contingent provocation, clarifies the second point of closeness between Hegel and Torres Queiruga: the negation of the empirical dimension of belief. In his Lectures on the philosophy of religion Hegel distinguishes a twofold belief: exterior faith and inner faith. “Exterior” faith is founded upon the historical Christ, on his person and authority. This for Hegel, however, is a limited, contingent faith. It is «an exterior, accidental mode of faith. True and proper faith rests in the spirit of truth. The other still affects a relationship with the immediate perceptible presence. True and proper faith is spiritual, is in the spirit: it has as its foundation the truth of the idea»28. In comparison to it «exterior faith must therefore be considered only as a means for reaching true faith; in so far as exterior it is subject to contingency and the spirit gains its truth not according to contingency but according to free testimony»29. Inner faith rests on the eternal idea, on the immanent ideal of the spirit, not on miracles or on empirical revelation. It is that faith which, according to the idealist Hegel, “produces” the idea of the Man-God, transforms the dead into a risen one. Inner faith brings about the metamorphosis of the historical Christ, a Jewish utopian with a revolutionary message, into the “theological”, divine Christ. Thanks to it, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth is consigned to memory, to the past, to the first non-spiritual apparition of the divine.
The Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples at Emmaus

The Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples at Emmaus

The point that mediates the passage between the two images of Christ, the empirical and ideal – and it is the third element that the Christology of Torres Queiruga has in common with that of Hegel – is the death of Christ. The death is the Resurrection: this topos of the idealist Christology, from Hegel to Bultmann, is the real hub on which a great deal of historico-critical exegesis turns. It works, on the speculative plane, only if the assumption of the dialectic is valid, the one whereby from the negative necessarily proceeds the positive. As Torres Queiruga says: «Modern thought itself, whether philosophical or theological, is aware of the revelatory capacity of this type of experience, because its inner contradiction obliges one to seek a synthesis capable of reconciling it»30. In the case of the death of Jesus «only the Resurrection and exaltation made it possible to overcome this terrible opposition that threatened to sink everything in the absurd»31. From death, from the negative, emerged the necessity of the positive. A conceptual necessity: Christ rises in the idea, in the conception of the community, in inner faith. Not in factual reality. In this way, as Hegel says: «This death is the central point around which everything revolves, in its conception lies the difference between the exterior conception and faith, that is to say the mediation with the spirit»32. As consequence it follows that genuine faith is founded on the death of Jesus, not on his Resurrection, it arises out of the dead Christ, not out of the risen Christ. The risen Christ did not found the faith, he was rather “founded”, idealized by faith. Idealism, subtending the opposition between the Christ of faith and Christ of history, in this way turns upside-down the terms in which, in the conception of the Church, the relationship between faith and reality presents itself. To the extent to which the Risen One already presupposes faith in the Man-God, that faith must arise, necessarily, from the sublimation of a defeat. Christianity, as dogma, arises out of the idealization of a failure, not indeed out of the empiricism of John the Evangelist founded on what has been «seen, heard, touched by the hand».

An incomprehensible death and a faith without Resurrection
Historico-critical idealism, founded on the negative dialectic, makes arduous not only an understanding of the Resurrection – the creation, in any case, of “visionaries” – but also of the death of Christ. If Jesus was not condemned to death for having proclaimed himself God, why was he crucified? The divine self-proclamation is denied on behalf of the opposition between the historical Christ and the Christ of faith. Only the community of believers deifies Jesus who for himself would never have conceived himself as God. To explain the reason for the death sentence all that remains is the political hypothesis: Jesus as potential zealot who was crucified as a danger to Roman order. It is the leitmotiv of the “Jewish” Jesus that is the leading thread of the Investigation into Jesus by Corrado Augias and Mauro Pesce33. Further evidence of a quest, curious and at times not trivial, that, nevertheless, has not succeeded, because of presuppositions yet again idealist, in producing anything new. The Jewish non-Christian Jesus34 of Augias-Pesce is a utopian, close to the group of John the Baptist, marked by a total faith in God and a particular concern for the most humble. A radical without, however, an organized social utopia, that, apart from the tones and the testimony, shows nothing original in morals from Jewish law. Why, therefore, was this apolitical and harmless dreamer put to death? Pesce declares that it was not for religious but political reasons that Jesus was condemned by the Roman authorities. The responsibilities of the members of the Sanhedrin was the work of the reconstruction, afterwards, of pro-Roman drafters of the Gospels. What, however, were the political reasons for which Jesus was condemned? It was a matter of suspicions about the nature of a movement that arose in people who «had not grasped the real goal of Jesus’ action. Thus it was on the Romans’ part a gross and grave mistake in political evaluation»35. A surprising consideration, indeed, that leaves entirely in suspension the reasons for condemning Jesus to death. Not extended, for that matter, and this also seems strange, to his disciples. Equally mysterious the Resurrection, claimed not by eye-witnesses but by seers who “saw” into the cultural-religious schema of Israel. Likewise totally enigmatic, in the Investigation, is the rise of Christianity. Pesce does not agree «on the idea that Christianity arises with the belief in the resurrection of Jesus, nor that it was born thanks to Paul… Paul too, like Jesus, was not a Christian, but a Jew who remained within Judaism»36. Christianity would rise later, in the second half of the 2nd century in a process of Hellenization of the original Jewish position. Going further than Hegel and Torres Queiruga, Augias and Pesce add a further break that makes the birth of the Christian faith more enigmatic still. In the Hegelian view Christianity is mediated by the death of Jesus, the product of which is the idea of the Risen One. In Investigation into Jesus it comes much after the vision of the Resurrection, the outcome not of belief but of a belated theologico-philosophical reworking of Hellenistic mould. What remains fixed is the dominant topos: the faith was not founded on the Resurrection, it preceded it or followed it without any relationship to it. A scheme that instead of simplifying the problem complicates it enormously. If the historical Christ is what is described by Augias-Pesce, a practising Jew without anything truly original, one cannot understand how he could be «the man who changed the world». One cannot understand why he was condemned. If this man ended his life in failure, one cannot understand, if one doesn’t accept the logical necessity of the dialectic, how in the primitive community belief in a living being could arise from a corpse. One cannot understand, lastly, how the “Christ of faith” can do without the Resurrection, real or imaginary as may be, and take shape only in the 2nd century, as Pesce wants. A singular destiny for historico-critical rationalism: conceived in the intent of making the context clear, it manages to delineate an overall picture full of shadowy areas and leaps in the dark. The idealist model shows all its limits. Starting from the prejudgement that the fact cannot have happened – that God cannot become man and rise from the dead – it has to justify the faith as idealization. With that, however, the Gospel narration becomes incomprehensible. If the descriptions of the risen Christ constitute the great enigma, for the ancient and modern reader, nevertheless its suppression generates a series of questions without answers. It is the “historical” Christ that becomes incomprehensible. Rediscovered, archaeologically, under the layers of the faith, he appears as a dreamer, radical and naive at the same time, who does not provide reason for the conflagration that has blazed in history. The conclusions of critical rationalism – bringing forth a live being from a corpse, a spiritual revolution from a utopian analogous to many other – are profoundly absurd. The defeat of this position is the “critical” premise for the restatement of a realist position that does not have the pretension of demonstrating the dogma but of recognizing that it is against all rational human evidence to affirm that the desolate sight of a crucified man can generate the glorious idea of a Risen One.


1 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo [The Resurrection without miracle], It tr., Edizioni La Meridiana, Molfetta (Ba) 2006. The text, of which the original Spanish is not indicated, is a summary of a larger work, Repensar la resurrección. La diferencia cristiana en la continuidad de las religiones y de la cultura, Trotta, Madrid 2003.
2 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo, op cit., p. 8.
3 R. Bultmann, Neues Testament und Mythologie. Das Problem der Entmythologisierung der neutestamentlichen Verkündingung, Herbert Reich Verlag, Hamburg-Bergsted 1948, It.tr., Nuovo Testamento e mitologia. Il problema della demitizzazione del messaggio neotestamentario, in: R. Bultmann, Nuovo Testamento e mitologia, Queriniana, Brescia 1973, p.119.
4 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo, op cit., p. 8.
5 ibidem, p. 42.
6 ibidem, p. 48.
7 ibidem, p. 47.
8 ibidem, p. 46-47.
9 ibidem, p. 49.
10 ibidem, p. 54. In identical fashion Kant affirms: «Reason has no interest in dragging a body into eternity which (granted that individuality rests on the identity of the body) must always, however purified it be, be composed of the same material that is at the base of our organism and to which the man himself was never been attached during life; nor is it comprehensible what this loamy earth of which man is formed might ever have in common with heaven» ( I. Kant, La religione nei limiti della semplice ragione [Religion in the limits of simple reason], It. tr. in: I. Kant, Scritti morali, Utet, Turin 1970, p. 457, note).
11 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo, op. cit., p. 42
12 op. cit., p. 65.
13 op. cit., p. 41.
14 op. cit., p. 23.
15 ibid.
16 op. cit., p. 53.
17 R. Bultmann, Nuovo Testamento e mitologia. Il problema della demitizzazione del messaggio neotestamentario, cit., p.165.
18 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo, cit., pp. 26-27. My italics.
19 op. cit. , p. 26.
20 op. cit. , p. 29.
21 op. cit. , p. 30.
22 On Hegelian christology cf. M. Borghesi, La figura di Cristo in Hegel [The figure of Christ in Hegel], Studium, Rome 1983; Idem, L’età dello Spirito in Hegel. Dal Vangelo “storico” al Vangelo “eterno”, [The age of the Spirit in Hegel. From the “historical” Gospel to the “eternal” Gospel], Studium, Rome 1995.
23 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo, cit., p. 59.
24 op. cit., p. 36.
25 ibid.
26 op. cit., p. 37.
27 op. cit., p. 38.
28 G.F.W. Hegel, Lezioni sulla filosofia della religione [Lessons on the philosophy of religion], It. tr., 2 vols., Zanichelli, Bologna 1974, vol.II, pp. 388-389.
29 ibidem, vol. I, p. 283.
30 A. Torres Queiruga, La risurrezione senza miracolo, op. cit., p. 30. My italics.
31 op. cit., p. 31.
32 G.F.W. Hegel, Lezioni sulla filosofia della religione, op. cit., vol. II, p. 372.
33 C. Augias – M. Pesce, Inchiesta su Gesù. Chi era l’uomo che ha cambiato il mondo [Investigation into Jesus. Who was the man that has changed the world], Mondadori, Milan 2006.
34 ibidem, pp. 221 and 237.
35 ibidem, p. 168-169.
36 ibidem, p. 201.

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