Today's Gospel shows the first disciples having difficulties and doubts about the Resurrection. Is it real, did it really happen, or is it an illusion, are we misinterpreting the evidence?[Hat tip to E.E.]
Traditionally, the Church has distinguished between difficulties and doubts. According to John Henry Newman, 'Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt'. As reasoning people, we naturally apply our minds to our religion, including to what happened in the aftermath of the Crucifixion. There are difficulties here - about the sources, about the agreement of the witnesses, about the possibility of miracle, and, in the larger picture, about how the Resurrection of the Messiah can be said to fulfil the hope of Israel and consummate the creation. We face up to these difficulties, none of which is insuperable (to put it mildly!), and through them we grow into a more informed and intelligent faith.
Doubt is something more radical. Doubt is wondering whether religious terms have any reference to reality at all. 'God', 'Christ', 'The Resurrection', 'The Holy Spirit', 'grace' - are these words just counters, is it all a game? Curiously, this kind of radical doubt is mentioned by both St Luke and St Matthew in connexion with the Resurrection appearances. With the risen Christ before their very eyes, some doubted. In today's Gospel, Christ gives his own analysis of why this could be and his explanation runs: the cause of it is fear or anxiety. 'Why are you so agitated?' 'Why are these doubts arising in your hearts?' 'Your hearts', we notice, not 'your intellects'. Something is wrong with their sensibility, with their passions, their emotions, and this is what is doing the damage to their judgment. This is what is causing doubt.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Doubts about the Resurrection
Aidan Nichols, in "Doubt no longer" (tourch.op.org, April 2009):