Friday, April 19, 2024

Preview: "Witnesses of the Resurrection" on the Son Rise Morning Show

Continuing our Easter Season series on the Son Rise Morning Show, we'll discuss another Parochial and Plain Sermon by Saint John Henry Newman in which he answers the same question we looked at last week ("WHY did Christ show Himself to so few witnesses after He rose from the dead?") or a variation thereof: "Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people? why only to witnesses chosen before of God?" and provides another answer.

So I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time, about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern on Monday, April 22. 

Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later, as we highlight some insights from "Witnesses of the Resurrection" ("Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead." Acts 10:40-41)

To outline the highlights of Newman's argument in this sermon:

1. Jesus knew what He was doing after the Resurrection when He limited His Resurrection appearances to His followers, not appearing in Glory to the crowds or the Pharisees and those who had orchestrated His Crucifixion. They might have been amazed by His re-appearance, but it would not have persuaded them to believe and follow.

2. Jesus prepared those whom He had chosen to witness to His Passion and Resurrection so they'd be ready to spread the Gospel. Their witness, even to martyrdom, "spread the knowledge of Christ's resurrection over the idolatrous world" in a way that no "public exhibition of His resurrection" would have achieved, deeply and lastingly.

3. We need to recognize the wisdom of these events and apply them to our own response to His Resurrection: like the few He instructed before His Ascension, we need to hand on the Faith by our witness and example. We should never grow despondent if we perceive "the prevalence of error" around us, as the history of the Church demonstrates: "It is the consolation of the despised Truth, that its works endure. Its words {292} are few, but they live."

There's good reasons for Newman to explore this topic further, because this a mystery: not one to be solved but one to meditate upon. Before he poses the question, Newman suggests that we might have some mistaken ideas about the Resurrection of Our Lord:

IT might have been expected, that, on our Saviour's rising again from the dead, He would have shown Himself to very great numbers of people, and especially to those who crucified Him; whereas we know from the history, that, far from this being the case, He showed Himself only to chosen witnesses, chiefly His immediate followers; and St. Peter avows this in the text. This seems at first sight strange. We are apt to fancy the resurrection of Christ as some striking visible display of His glory, such as God vouchsafed from time to time to the Israelites in Moses' day; and considering it in the light of a public triumph, we are led to imagine the confusion and terror which would have overwhelmed His murderers, had He presented Himself alive before them. Now, thus to reason, is to conceive Christ's kingdom of this world, which it is not; and to suppose that then Christ came to judge the world, whereas that judgment will not be till the last day, when in very deed those wicked men shall "look on Him whom they have pierced."

But even without insisting upon the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, which seems to be the direct reason why Christ did not show Himself to all the Jews after His resurrection, other distinct reasons may be given, instructive too. And one of these I will now set before you.

As St. Thomas Aquinas states in the Third Part of the Summa Theologicae, (paraphrasing of course): if God did it this way, it must be the way it should have been done! Newman concurs: 

After His resurrection, He said to His disciples, "Go, convert all nations:" [Matthew 28:19] this was His especial charge. If, then, there are grounds for thinking that, by showing Himself to a few rather than to many, He was more surely advancing this great object, the propagation of the Gospel, this is a sufficient reason for our Lord's having so ordained; and let us thankfully receive His dispensation, as He has given it.

Newman supports this argument by saying that if we think Jesus appearing to the crowds, to the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisees would have persuaded them He was the Savior promised by God and predicted by the prophets, we've forgotten their reactions to the miracles and signs He worked during His public ministry:

His former miracles had not effectually moved the body of the people; and, doubtless, this miracle too would have left them as it found them, or worse than before. They might have been more startled at the time; but why should this amazement last? . . . In truth, this is the way of the mass of mankind in all ages, to be influenced by sudden fears, sudden contrition, sudden earnestness, sudden resolves, which disappear as suddenly. Nothing is done effectually through untrained human nature; and such is ever the condition of the multitude. Unstable as water, it cannot excel. One day it cried Hosanna; the next, Crucify Him. And, had our Lord appeared to them after they had crucified Him, of course they would have shouted Hosanna once more; and when He had ascended out of sight, then again they would have persecuted His followers. . . .

Surely so it would have been; the chief priests would not have been moved at all; and the populace, however they had been moved at the time, would not have been lastingly moved, not practically moved, not so moved as to proclaim to the world what they had heard and seen, as to preach the Gospel. This is the point to be kept in view: and consider that the very reason why Christ showed Himself at all was in order to raise up witnesses {286} to His resurrection, ministers of His word, founders of His Church; and how in the nature of things could a populace ever become such?

Newman then concentrates our attention on what Jesus did after His Resurrection and its effects on the world:

It would seem, then, that our Lord gave His attention to a few, because, if the few be gained, the many will follow. To these few He showed Himself again and again. These He restored, comforted, warned, inspired. He formed them unto Himself, that they might show forth His praise.
This His gracious procedure is opened to us in the first words of the Book of the Acts. "To the Apostles whom He had chosen He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." . . .

I have already suggested, what is too obvious almost to insist upon, that in making a select few the ministers of His mercy to mankind at large, our Lord was but acting according to the general course of His providence. It is plain every great change is effected by the few, not by the many; by the resolute, undaunted, {288} zealous few. . . . One or two men, of small outward pretensions, but with their hearts in their work, these do great things. These are prepared, not by sudden excitement, or by vague general belief in the truth of their cause, but by deeply impressed, often repeated instruction; and since it stands to reason that it is easier to teach a few than a great number, it is plain such men always will be few. Such as these spread the knowledge of Christ's resurrection over the idolatrous world. Well they answered the teaching of their Lord and Master. Their success sufficiently approves to us His wisdom in showing Himself to them, not to all the people.

Then, as ever, Newman applies these lessons to us, emphasizing the tradition of the few handing on to the few, who become many:

Now, let us observe how much matter, both for warning and comfort, is supplied by this view. We learn from the picture of the infant Church what that Church has been ever since, that is, as far as man can understand it. Many are called, few are chosen. . . .

We, too, though we are not witnesses of Christ's actual resurrection, are so spiritually. By a heart awake from the dead, and by affections set on heaven, we can as truly and without figure witness that Christ liveth, as they did. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. Truth bears witness by itself to its Divine Author. He who obeys God conscientiously, and lives holily, forces all about him to {293} believe and tremble before the unseen power of Christ. To the world indeed at large he witnesses not; for few can see him near enough to be moved by his manner of living. But to his neighbours he manifests the Truth in proportion to their knowledge of him; and some of them, through God's blessing, catch the holy flame, cherish it, and in their turn transmit it. And thus in a dark world Truth still makes way in spite of the darkness, passing from hand to hand.

And he concludes with the witness of the martyrs, citing Saint Ignatius of Antioch:

Let these be our thoughts whenever the prevalence of error leads us to despond. When St. Peter's disciple, Ignatius, was brought before the Roman emperor, he called himself Theophorus; and when the emperor asked the feeble old man why he so called himself, Ignatius said it was because he carried Christ in his breast. He witnessed there was but One God, who made heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them, and One Lord Jesus Christ, His Only-begotten Son, "whose kingdom {294} (he added) be my portion!" The emperor asked, "His kingdom, say you, who was crucified under Pilate?" "His (answered the Saint) who crucified my sin in me, and who has put all the fraud and malice of Satan under the feet of those who carry Him in their hearts: as it is written, 'I dwell in them and walk in them.'"

Ignatius was one against many, as St. Peter had been before him; and was put to death as the Apostle had been;—but he handed on the Truth, in his day. At length we have received it. Weak though we be, and solitary, God forbid we should not in our turn hand it on; glorifying Him by our lives, and in all our words and works witnessing Christ's passion, death, and resurrection!

As usual, Newman has designed an argument that leads his audience into thoughtful consideration of the Scriptures and, indeed, Church Tradition, as Jesus taught the Apostles more about all He had taught them before His Passion and Resurrection and prepared them for spreading the Gospel. Newman involves us in his exploration of God's Providence in not appearing to the many but to the few, so he may convince us to be among those few today who hand on and witness to the faith of the Early Church, the Church of the Apostles and their successors!

Saint Peter the Apostle, pray for us!
Saint Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!
Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Image Credit: (Public Domain) James Tissot: Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles
Image Credit: (Public Domain) James Tissot: Feed My Lambs
Image Credit: (Public Domain) An icon of Ignatius of Antioch from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)

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