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CHRISTIANITY
from issue no. 10 - 2006

Albino Luciani, John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger




The evidence of the facts

Sermon by Cardinal Albino Luciani for the Easter Vigil, Venice, 21 April 1973

Patriarch Albino Luciani with Paul VI during the Pope’s visit to Venice, in September 1972

Patriarch Albino Luciani with Paul VI during the Pope’s visit to Venice, in September 1972

«Saint Paul says: “He was buried... he rose again on the third day... he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, then he appeared in a single time to more than five hundred brethren, of whom the majority are alive up to today... Furthermore he appeared to James, then to all the apostles; last of all he also appeared to me” (1Cor 15, 4-9). Four times here Paul uses the verb ‘appeared’, insisting on visual perception; now, the eye does not see anything inside, but outside us, a reality distinct from us, that imposes itself on us from outside. That removes the thesis of an hallucination, of which, for that matter, the apostles were the first to be fearful. They thought in fact at first they were seeing a spirit, not the real Jesus, so much so that the latter had to reassure them: “Why are you disturbed? Look at my hands and feet, for it is truly me. Touch me and look, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I do!” (Luke 24, 38). They still didn’t believe and Jesus said to them: “‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They set him before a piece of roast fish. And before their eyes he took and ate it” (Luke 24, 41-43). The initial incredulity, then, was not only Thomas’, but of all the apostles, healthy people, robust, realistic, averse to any phenomenon of hallucination, that only gave way before the evidence of the facts.
With such human material it was also very improbable to pass from the idea of a Christ worthy of reliving spiritually in their hearts to the idea of a bodily Resurrection by force of reflection and enthusiasm. Among other things, in the place of enthusiasm, after the death of Christ, there were only dejection and disappointment in the apostles. And then there wasn’t time: it’s not in fifteen days that a largish group of people, not accustomed to speculating, changes mentality en bloc without the backing of solid evidence!»


Thomas’ experience

Speech by John Paul II to the young people of the diocese of Rome, 24 March 1994

John Paul II among young people in Toronto, on 25 July 2002

John Paul II among young people in Toronto, on 25 July 2002

«Perhaps a word must still be added on Thomas. John’s Gospel read today tells us about Thomas, an enigmatic figure because when everybody had seen the Risen Jesus he had not seen him and said: if I don’t see I won’t believe, if I don’t touch I won’t believe.
We know this category, this type of person, also among young people, very well. These empiricists, fascinated by knowledge in the narrow sense of the word, the natural and experimental sciences. We know them, there’s a great many of them, and they are very precious, because this wanting to touch, wanting to see, all this speaks of the seriousness with which reality should be treated, the knowledge of reality. And they are ready, if Jesus once comes and presents Himself to them, if He show His wounds, His hands, His side, then they are ready to say: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20,28).
I think that many of your friends, your contemporaries, have this empirical, scientific mentality; but if they could once touch Jesus close to – see the face, touch the face of Christ – if they once touched Jesus, if they see Him in you, they will say: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20,28).
I add a further element, the last element in this prayer for Italy, especially for the intellectual class, because it is very sceptical, they have their reservations about religion, they have their Enlightenment traditions, so they need this experience of Thomas’. We pray that this experience of Thomas’ become their experience for in the end he said: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20,28). Thank you».


«An event that preceded their thinking and willing»

The introduction by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the book by Henrich Schlier On the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, republished by 30Giorni

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with Giulio Andreotti in the room of the Cenacle of the Chamber of Deputies, in October 1998

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with Giulio Andreotti in the room of the Cenacle of the Chamber of Deputies, in October 1998

It might turn out useful to the reader nowadays to begin from the last two pages of the book in which the methodical awareness of the author emerges in a very concise way but precisely for that reason in a very precise way also. Schlier was perfectly well aware that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead represented a limit problem for exegesis; but it becomes particularly clear in it that the interpretation of the New Testament, if it means to arrive to the heart of the question, always has to do with limit problems. Faith in the Resurrection of the New Testament Scriptures sets the exegete before an alternative that demands a decision from him. The exegete can certainly share the opinion (become vision of the world in historiography) of the homogeneity of all history, according to which nothing can really have happened except what could always happen. But then he is forced to deny the Resurrection as event and must seek to clarify what lies behind, how ideas of the kind can arise. Or he can let himself be overwhelmed by the evidence of a phenomenon that breaks the concatenated series of events to then seek to understand what it means. At bottom Schlier’s little book shows simply this: that the disciples let themselves be overwhelmed by a phenomenon that made itself manifest to them, by an unexpected reality, initially even incomprehensible, and that faith in the Resurrection sprang from that overwhelming and, that is, from an event that preceded their thinking and willing, that indeed overturned it.
Those who read Schlier’s book will see that the author went through the same experience as the disciples: he himself is a person “overwhelmed by evidence of a phenomenon that made itself manifest with naturalness”, and that is a believer, but a believer who believes reasonably. All his life was a letting himself be overwhelmed by the Lord who led him. Schlier does not trivially reduce the phenomenon of the Resurrection to the ordinariness of any fact whatever. The originality of this event, that is mirrored in the singular relations thus set up by the Risen One, emerges clearly in his book. It is not an event like all the others, but a going outside what ordinarily happens as history. Out of this arises the difficulty for an objective interpretation; out of this one understands the temptation to annul the event as event so as to reinterpret it as mental fact, existential or psychological. Though Schlier - as we have already said – leaves intact in its particularity what is singular to the Resurrection, and that is what in the last analysis is incomprehensible to us, he nevertheless kept intact – faithful to the testimony of the texts and to the evidence of that beginning – “the irreversibility and the irreducibility of the sequence: ‘apparition of the Risen One’ – ‘kerygma’ – ‘faith’”; that by resurrection one understands “an event, that is a concrete historical event”; or, put another way, that “the word of those who see the Risen One is word of an event that goes beyond the witnesses”.



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