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from issue no. 02/03 - 2008


Visible or invisible? An exchange of views on the reality of the Risen Christ

The letter from Andrés Torres Queiruga, Professor of Philosophy of Religion at the University of Santiago de Compostela

by Andrés Torres Queiruga

<I>Resurrection</I>, Piero della Francesca, Museo Civico, Sansepolcro, Arezzo

Resurrection, Piero della Francesca, Museo Civico, Sansepolcro, Arezzo

Dear Professor Borghesi, an Italian friend let me have your review in 30Days of my little book La risurrezione senza miracolo [The Resurrection without miracle]. Already then I had thought of writing you, but I let it pass because I was waiting for the publication, by Dehoniana, of the book Ripensare la risurrezione. La differenza cristiana tra religioni e cultura [Rethinking the Resurrection. The Christian difference between religions and culture] (Edb, Bologna 2007, pp. 368), where I deal amply and with more detailed nuances with the understanding of this deep and wonderful mystery. By chance, I saw on the Internet that your article had appeared not only in Italian, but also in Spanish and English. That means that there will be thousands of readers – those at least less knowledgeable on the theological complexity of the topic – who will have gained the impression that I devote myself to attacking the belief in the Resurrection and that, everything said, I must be a very bitter enemy of the Christian faith.
I understand that the brevity of my pamphlet and the fact that you thought that I am a “philosopher of Santiago de Compostela” can have given you that impression. It is true that I teach philosophy at the University of Santiago and that philosophy is one of my passions. But it is even truer that I am a priest and theologian and that I devote the fundamental effort of my life to rendering the Christian faith clearly comprehensible and livable. I believe that, had you known this, you would have given a different reading to my text or at least might have had the curiosity to re-examine my work overall (in Italian there were, among some minor ones, La rivelazione di Dio nella realizzazione dell’uomo [The Revelation of God in the making of man], Borla, and Credo in Dio Padre [I believe in God the Father], Piemme), to find confirmation that, with greater or lesser theo-logical success, the book only intends to be a clarification and a defense of the Christian faith in the Resurrection. Moreover, given your immense philosophical background, I am sure that you can well grasp the meaning of the theology that I develop and propose.
I thank you for the attention that you devoted to the book and for the effort that you made, in the first part, to present the content. But the initial misunderstanding led you to an interpretation of my ideas that corresponds neither with the subjectivity of my faith nor with the objectivity of my theology.
First of all, I never reduced the Resurrection to an idea or to a symbol without reality. On the contrary. I insisted several times on the fact that the Resurrection is a real event; that it is Jesus himself who rose, not our idea of Jesus, but Him in person; that his life did not end on the cross because He was not annihilated by death, but through it entered into the fullness of God. That is why Jesus is now the Risen One, the glorified Christ, so great and glorious that He is beyond the limits of space and time. That is why, as happens with God (without us, for that reason, denying His existence), we cannot see Him, our senses cannot perceive Him. But thanks to this the Risen One has the marvelous capacity to continue to be present and agent in history, in such a way that we can live His presence and communicate with His life in a Eucharist in Rome or Manhattan or by helping the poor in the remotest part of Africa or Oceania.
This is my faith, that I proclaim in all my works. To the effort of a theological understanding of it, I devote my book. In doing so, I carefully distinguish these two moments, giving clear notice that the decisive one is the former, the faith. The second, the theology, is in its service and only intends to be my attempt at a possible explanation that may be of help in understanding the faith in the conditions of our culture. I am well aware of the fact that, as happens with all theological explanations, mine is debatable. I would be the first to withdraw any point of my explanation if there were valid reasons to convince me that what is asserted in it might damage the faith that it tries to explain. That is why I insist on the fact that my explanation is open to fraternal, informed and responsible exchange of views. The role of the theological community within the ecclesial communion and in its service is precisely this. Dialogue in theology and not devaluation of the faith. Collaboration in the mission and not attack between brothers.
I repeat, I understand that the initial oversight led you to a negative reading of my thinking. Closer scrutiny would lead you to see that when I assert that the Resurrection is not an empirical fact, I do not in any way mean to say that it is not real, but indeed, that it is so real as to be above the empirical fact: is this not that we rightly affirm about God Himself? And on the same line is what – like the overwhelming majority of averagely critical and responsible theologians – I mean to say when I assert that the Resurrection is not a “miracle” and is not accessible by the methods of “scientific” history.
The problems of the empty tomb, the apparitions, the possibility or not of seeing and touching the Risen One, are intimately linked with this, that in some way is the most radical and decisive. Those who know a little of the current thinking of theologians on the argument, know the importance of what is at stake. My intention – I repeat, debatable and open to dialogue – is to show that taking these narratives to the letter does not correspond to the most genuine insight of the Biblical texts. And, above all, contrary to what might appear at first sight, instead of defending the faith this reading ends by rendering it impossible. This, because, without wanting to, it falls into the “empiricist trap” of demanding physical proofs for a transcendent truth. Anthony Flew’s famous parable of the “invisible gardener” ought to lead us to be very cautious in regard: if, in order to believe in God, we demand empirical proofs, atheism is the unavoidable consequence. If, in order to believe in the Resurrection, one claims that the Risen One can – or could – be seen and touched, the Resurrection is either reduced to the resuscitation of a corpse or it becomes impossible to believe in it.
The delicate point of the issue, in short, lies in the continuous shift that takes place in your critique between the reality of the Resurrection and its discovery. That the perception of the tremendous injustice of the cross may have been the chief mode whereby the disciples discovered that Jesus could not be dead and annihilated, but alive and risen in God, does not mean that Jesus is risen in “believing subjectivity”. It simply means the most obvious thing: that believing subjectivity discovers – it is revealed to it – that Jesus is risen, He in person. He it is Who rises, not the subjectivity or the idea of Him. As in the terrible experience of martyrdom, the believing subjectivity of the second book of Maccabees discovers, with a clarity never reached before, the reality of the Resurrection. In the original kerigma itself of the Acts of the Apostles it is without doubt the believing subjectivity of Peter that reasons by arguing that “God could not allow his Saint to know corruption”, without it entering his head to question the reality of the Resurrection for that reason.
I was stunned to find myself transformed without warning into a radical “Idealist”. No, I am certainly not an empiricist and hermeneutics is very dear to me; but, for your peace of mind, I can assure you that my thinking is decidedly realist and that I have devoted many pages of my work to demonstrating so. I can also assure you that Hegel is a philosophical cult of mine but that I am not Hegelian; just as I respect Bultmann but am not Bultmannian. I confess, finally, that I do not know the work of Corrado Augias and Mauro Pesce so I cannot express a judgment on it.
I realize that the attempt at clarification has excessively lengthened this letter that was meant solely to dissipate a misunderstanding. Given that we share the same faith and the same interest in understanding and proclaiming it, I am sure that personally there was no bad intention in your article. But I hope that you too understand you have objectively exposed in public an erroneous view on something that, as believer, priest and theologian, strikes me in a very grievous way. I do not expect you to share my theology, as without doubt you neither think that I must be in agreement with yours. I believe, however, that this must not lead to publicly questioning my faith, something that moreover comes fully within the Lord’s admonition: “Judge not”. In any case, I do not want to enter into the sanctuary of your conscience: if before the Lord and after having studied my work, you believe you must continue to maintain your claims, I shall respect your decision, handing it to a superior judgment. If my argument seems just to you, would it be too much to ask, for the good of the faith and on behalf of the Christian fraternity, to clarify for your readers the true meaning of my position?
With my friendship, accept a fraternal greeting.

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