Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Article IV
Of the Resurrection of Christ
Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherefore He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.

De Resurrectione Christi

Christus vere a mortuis resurrexit, suumque corpus cum carne, ossibus, omnibusque ad integritatem humanae naturae pertinentibus, recepit, cum quibus in coelum ascendit, ibique residet, quoad extremo die ad iudicandos homines reversurus sit.
(Composed by the English reformers in 1552/3.)

Fr. Robert Hart

The opening words of Article IV have a necessary double meaning. By saying “Christ did truly rise again from death” Anglicans affirm two things with the word “truly.” First, it is true that Christ rose from the dead. The second reason for saying “truly” has to do with what follows, that He “took again His body, etc.” That is, His resurrection was a physical fact. The Gospel is not a ghost story.

The most detailed passage in the Bible that explains all of this is the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul opened that chapter by declaring to the Church in Corinth the same Gospel he had preached to them from the start, the one in which we all stand. In that opening he points out that Christ had fulfilled what the prophets foretold (which is what is meant by the words “according to the scriptures”), that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose the third day and appeared to witnesses.

The historic context that occasioned Paul’s writing was, no doubt, a Hellenistic distaste for the old Hebrew idea of physical immorality. It was more fashionable to believe in an immortal soul, and to disdain the Hebrew doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Paul begins, therefore, by proclaiming the negative, that if the dead do not rise, then Christ did not rise either, in which case we would be left in our sins with no Gospel. Think about that in light of current religious talk about “going to heaven” as if we were going to spend eternity as disembodied spirits. For, even today, too many Christians think in Hellenistic rather than Biblical terms.

Then Paul ties the fact (the fact that was confirmed by many eyewitnesses) of Christ’s resurrection in to our own glorious hope, teaching clearly that all true believers will rise from the dead in the same way that the Lord did. At one point Paul uses imagery from agriculture, about the first fruits and the harvest:
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.” (vs. 20-23)

Paul explains, as well, that the Lord has become the Second man and the Last Adam, the father of a new humanity of the resurrection. The nature of Christ’s body changed into that of a body that is naturally and supernaturally immortal, that is, by its nature the resurrected body cannot die. It is a different body, but it is the same body. Others had been brought back from the dead miraculously, such as Lazurus. But, they had come back to a mortal life. Christ rose to a human life of immortality. It is the same, but it is different, just as a seed is not as glorious as the life that grows from it after it is buried and springs up.

Christ’s coming, on what he Himself called “the Last Day” in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, is that harvest of the General Resurrection to which we look forward with great hope; and not only hope, but as the Book of Common Prayer says, “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This hope is sure and certain because it is the promise of Almighty God.

Details in Article IV show how much care the English Reformers took to speak Biblically. They chose their words to match the revelation of God through Scripture. Therefore, they wrote, “His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature…” This echoes everything in I Corinthians 15, in I Thessalonians 4:16-18, and in the sixth chapter of the Gospel According to John, about that future perfection of the saints (i.e. all who are “in Christ”), and the present perfection of Christ’s risen and glorified human nature. Also, by a small detail such as “flesh [and] bones” rather than flesh and blood, we see their care to speak from Scripture. Compare the following verses.

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” (I Cor. 15:50)

“And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24: 38, 39)

We could say much here about Biblical Anthropology. The natural man lives by the soul, which corresponds to blood,

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11)
The word “life” is nefesh, that is, soul, the same word translated “soul” in the same verse. “He poured out his soul (nefesh) unto death,” says Isaiah (53:12) of the Suffering Servant, for His is the blood that makes the only true atonement.

The new man, that is the immortal resurrected man, lives by the spirit, which corresponds to breath rather than to blood. The soul and the spirit are not the same part of a man (I Thes. 5:23), and the Bible consistently attributes different elements and activities to each of them. A human being is a soul who has the spirit of life and a body in order to be complete (Gen. 2:7).

Also it is likely that the English Reformers meant to make a statement about the popular misconception regarding the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation by these words: “He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.” Most likely they wanted to defend the truth that Christ’s resurrected body is a physical reality, located beyond our reach until he returns. This served as a defense of two revealed doctrines of Scripture, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, against which they saw danger from a popular misconception of Transubstantiation.

So, the word “truly” in the opening line carries the strongest significance in all that follows it: “Christ did truly rise again from death.”

Fr. Laurence Wells

For those who treat the Articles dismissively, either as a heap of Reformation polemic or as the English Church's compromise on a few disputed points, this Article is especially important. What we have in these well-crafted words.

is a ringing affirmation of the central truth of the Christian religion, the great Event which makes Christianity not only a religion but a Gospel, good news to lost mankind. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was not under dispute between Rome and the Reformation. Neither was there any radical sect which denied it, at least none which our research can find. Even the Racovian Catechism, which set forth the doctrines of the proto-Unitarians of the 16th century, clearly affirmed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. So what was the fuss about in Article IV?

In Articles II, III and IV we have a noble restatement of the New Testament kerygma, a recital of the Gospel in its simplest and baldest form. This is compelling evidence that the English Reformation was not merely a political settlement but a powerful revival of the Good News which Peter preached on Pentecost, which the Apostles carried to the uttermost parts of the earth, and Paul summarized in his Epistle to the Romans.

This Gospel is most concrete in the clock-time physical event of Jesus' Resurrection. N. T. Wright is correct when he points out that when Our Lord predicted His Resurrection (Matt. 16:21), the disciples were surprised not because He promised to rise again, but because He promised it would happen so quickly-- "in three days". This was a common Jewish idiom for a swift event, after a brief interval. Almost all Jews, except the Saddducees, believed in a Resurrection at the end of he world. But when the Resurrection was promised so suddenly, the Consummation of the Ages was at hand. The New Creation, which commenced in His Virgin Birth, was rapidly on the way. It will be consummated and finished when we also shall rise at the last day, as Paul sets forth for us in I Corinthians 15.

This means that the Christian life of here and now is lived between two cataclysms, two earthquakes, two Resurrections, His and ours. If a Sermon is preached at the Burial of the Dead, it should proclaim the great Easter in our future. Merely to say that the deceased has "gone on to a better place" (like moving from one suburban town to another), is a false Gospel. Simply stating that "the soul lives on" is chilly consolation.

I like particularly the blunt realism of this Article, with its language, "and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature." We cannot be too realistic in how we describe or affirm what happened at the Tomb of Jesus. Yes, His body was made glorious in a manner beyond our description. What Peter, James and John saw briefly on the Mount of Transfiguration is now His permanent condition (as it will be our also). But I become nervous when some begin to make a sweeping distinction between resurrection and resuscitation.

Resuscitation is simply the revival of a mortal body at the point of death or perhaps even past that point. The resurrection of Jesus (and likewise of ours!) will be far more wonderful and glorious than a resuscitation, but it will not be any less.

Having stirred up one controversy over the terms "reconciled/propitiated." I am about to stir up another. When the writer wrote "did truly rise again," I wish he had said "was truly raised again." The passive voice would have the double advantage of asserting that Our Saviour was truly dead, not merely unconscious, and of declaring that His Father raised Him up.

The Greek NT has two verbs which refer to Jesus' resurrection. There is anisthmi which has many occurrences but is used rather infrequently to refer to what happened at Easter. In John 20:9, we find this verb in the active voice: "for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead." In John 10:17 the active voice is even stronger, "I lay down my life that I may take it up again."

But the more common verb is egeirw, which is preferred by the Synoptics and by Paul, and was not unknown to John. This verb generally appears in the passive voice, the Hebrew idiom for Divine activity. But we also find the active voice in texts like Acts 3:15, "But you killed the Author of life, whom God hath raised up," or Acts 5:30, The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree."

The resurrection which Article IV sets forth was not an independent action of Jesus alone, but the mighty act of the entire Trinity, when the Father, acting through the Spirit, raised up the truly dead but incorrupt body of the Incarnate Son. There is no other spot in the Prayer Book which trumpets the Gospel so forcefully. God save us from ever losing it.

8 comments:

welshmann said...

Frs. Hart/Wells:

You touched on an interesting point. In His Resurrection, the Lord Jesus is "flesh and bone", not "flesh and blood". We also know He retains the marks of His crucifixion, the hole in His side, and the holes in His hands. Does Scripture say anything explicit about the current location of His shed blood? The fact that His glorified body retains the holes of crucifixion suggests to me that there is no blood in His veins. What that the intended meaning of the writers of the Articles?

My apologies if you've made this plain and I've missed the point. As always, many thanks for your ministry.

welshmann

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Welshmann:

It is not clear enough to be made plain. But, the mystery contained in Biblical expression seems to indicate not so much a lack of blood as the source of physical life. For the man of earth, the natural (literally soulish man, ψυχικός-as used in I Cor. 15:44,46) man before death and resurrection, as a living soul (Gen. 2:7) derives life from the blood.

"There is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." I Cor. 15:44-47

So, it seems the immortal body of the resurrected man lives by the spirit.

Knowing that the Old Testament word, nefesh (נֶפֶש) and the New Testament word psychē(ψυχή) are both translated "soul," we can take into account such interesting facts as the ones I pointed about Lev. 17:11 and Isaiah 53:12.

The Lord poured out His soul unto death for our atonement. Does that mean the resurrected body has no blood, or merely that the resurrected body draws its life from the spirit? Well, one thing is certain. The English Reformers were careful to use Biblically accurate words.

Anonymous said...

Welshmann: I believe the intent was simply to affirm the integrity of the resurrection body and avoid spiritualizing it into a ghost. If that is the point, then the blood is included in "all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature."

But come to think of it,the phrase "flesh and bone" may be an echo of the Incarnation. Christ is commonly said to be "flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone." Perhaps it is a stretch, but the point of this language may be to insist that although the resurrection body is glorified and transfigured, it still keeps its affinity with our humanity, "the body of our humility."
LKW

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

It makes perfect sense to me that Christ is animated by Spirit rather than physical blood. After all, when we partake of His Blood (and Body) during communion are we not consuming Them in "an heavenly and spiritual manner?" The life He imparts is not natural, but supernatural. As He says in John 6:63 - "It is the spirit that quickeneth..." The real, spiritual Body and Blood He offers us is what binds us to Him in a manner akin to marriage wherein two become one. It is a precursor to the marriage supper of the Lamb described in Revelation... a marriage which we, the Church (bride) are being prepared for sacramentally here and now. At least that is how I perceive it.

Blood is expressly forbidden in the Bible (Leviticus 7:26) because "Blood is Life." Hence Jews would (and did) find Jesus' words recorded in John 6 to be highly offensive. If only they could open their hearts and minds to the fact that His physical Blood was shed for them once and for all in atonement for their sins and those of the world - if only they would accept His Spiritual Blood (and Body) now because it is the manna of eternal life.

Susan

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The life He imparts is not natural, but supernatural.

Or, we could say, not natural but spiritual, after the manner of I Cor. 15.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Fr Hart. Another reference would be John 3:6 - "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Your "Laymen's Guide" is a wonderful study tool for those of us getting acquainted with the Anglican way!

Susan

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we might say that the Paschal Lamb, once crucified but now glorified-or, in the cruder parlance of lay-speak, "supernaturalized", was raised with "all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature", his blood included, precisely so that His blood might effectively diffuse His life to the souls and bodies of the baptized, in the holy mysteries: he was, after all, raised "a life giving spirit".

In other words, before the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of God the Word, the blood of the sacrifical victim was powerless to take away sin (What's more, because the life is in the blood, it's consumption was strictly forbidden). But, now, the blood of the true paschal victim, washes us from every stain of sin, in our baptism, and nourishes our souls and bodies unto everlasting life, in the Holy Communion. (Again, what was once forbidden to the people of God- the blood, which was sprinkled on the altar-is now offered to all the baptized at that altar " from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat". Christ is the Father's "yes", and He witholds nothing from us).

Perhaps a comparison with I Co. 10 would be illuminating? Paul sets up a remarkable typology for "our fathers in the wilderness", who were baptized "unto Moses, in the cloud and the sea", and who ate the same "spiritual food" and drank the same "spiritual drink" (i.e. they partook, in however shadowy a form, of something approaching the grace which Christians receive in the Dominical sacraments). More particularly, "they drank of that spiritual rock, which followed them, and that rock was Christ." The rock of Horeb was no docetic rock (Moses struck it with his rod, creating impact; solid meeting solid). My point is that the spiritual is never antithetical to the physical in sacred Scripture. We have here an uncanny spiritualization of God's good creature; a splendidly-solid rock, which, as embraced by the pre-incarnate Lord, through the Spirit, becomes a proto sacrament. And as our fathers slaked their thirst from the water that issued from the rock, they partook of Christ (they drank of that rock which was Christ).

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Rev. Fathers; I forgot to attach me name to that last incoherent post. I'll do better next time.

Happy New Year,

-Mark