Recovering the Resurrection (part 3)

The Resurrection in Early Christian Works

There are many authors and works to choose from when examining the topic of the bodily resurrection in early Christian literature. This paper will focus on the works of two of the early church fathers to illustrate how important the bodily resurrection was to some of the earliest and most important theologians.

Athanasius

Athanasius, an early theologian, wrote numerous works during the 4th century A.D. Among his writings was an extensive work entitled On the Incarnation which detailed the theological significance of the incarnation. In this work he devoted an entire chapter to the resurrection of Christ, and it reveals how important the bodily resurrection of Jesus was to his Christian faith. He states the following about Jesus rising on the third day:

The  interval was no longer, lest people should have forgotten about it and

grown doubtful whether it were in truth the same body. No, while the

affair was still ringing in their ears and their eyes were still

straining and their minds in turmoil, and while those who had put Him

to death were still on the spot and themselves witnessing to the fact

of it, the Son of God after three days showed His once dead body

immortal and incorruptible; and it was evident to all that it was from

no natural weakness that the body which the Word indwelt had died, but

in order that in it by the Savior’s power death might be done away.[1]

Athanasius is adamant that the resurrection of Jesus was of the body that had been killed three days before. The body had changed in that it was incorruptible and immortal, but it was the same body with the same scars. Later in the same chapter Athanasius goes on to detail how the resurrection of Christ and victory of Jesus over death provide the definition of what a Christian has to look forward to after death:

But now that the Savior has raised His

body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ

tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny

their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not

perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the

resurrection.[2]

Athanasius clearly believed that the hope of a Christian was found in the bodily resurrection of Christ. He believed that this was the reason why early Christians were able to readily die at the hands of their persecutors: they knew that eventually their bodies would rise as Christ’s did and they would have incorruptible bodies that would allow them to worship their savior for all eternity.

Augustine

Augustine was one of the most extensive writers of the church fathers and his works contain many references to the resurrection. The search for a succinct definition of Augustine’s view of the bodily resurrection can be found in the work entitled Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love. The work is a sort of handbook for the Christian that contains useful thoughts on a broad range of Christian issues, both theological and practical. On the issue of the bodily resurrection he stated, “The bodies of all men—both those who have been born and those who shall be born, both those who have died and those who shall die—shall be raised again, no Christian ought to have the shadow of a doubt.”[3] While this statement in no way does complete justice to Augustine’s thinking on the matter, it does sum up his belief in the bodily resurrection and leaves no room for doubt as to his stance on the issue.

Conclusion from the New Testament and History

The previous section illustrates both the uniqueness of the idea of the bodily resurrection to Christianity and the historical precedent for the belief. The belief in a bodily resurrection is one that stretches through the entirety of the Christian canon and into the writings of the church fathers. It was believed by the authors of the New Testament to be a doctrine vital to Christianity and one that was written about repeatedly. Having established the importance and uniqueness of the bodily resurrection for the Christian faith and throughout history, it is necessary to explore the reason behind and impact of its decline on the modern church.


[1] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.html. (accessed April 16, 2009).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Augustine, Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/enchiridion.chapter23.html?highlight=resurrection#highlight/ (accessed April 16, 2009).

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