by Norman St.John-Stevas
EASTER is the greatest feast of the Christian year — more vital if less touching than Christmas more exclusively religious, less pagan and less (mercifully) commercialised.
Christmas marks the possibility of our redemption but at Easter we rejoice in its fulfilment. We are redeemed of course not by the cross as such but by Christ's perfect submission to the will of the Father which entailed the crucifixion. God, after all, is the father of love not a Moloch to be propitiated.
After the suffering comes the glory — the triumphal exit from the tomb, the vanquishing of the last enemy. Easter invites reflection on a central doctrine of the Christian faith—the resurrection of the body. Christ's own resurrection points the way we all shall follow.
1 wonder though how many Christians take the resurrection of the body seriously, giving it an effective rather than a notional assent. St. Paul in that wonderful passage in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians develops the theme of resurrection using what are clearly inspired insights, returning again and again to his subject, but stressing always that the body will not only be raised but transformed.
"It is sown a natural body: it shall rise a spiritual body. If there be a natural body, there is also a spiritual body."
The body then after death remains a real body but it will be as some theologians put it a "glorified" body. We can see the archetype operatting in Christ himself after his resurrection. My own belief is that the resurrection of the body takes place immediately after death. I do not see how a disembodied soul can exist at all, suspended as it were and waiting for a body to come‘ along to inhabit. This does not accord with the facts of human nature which is not soul plus body but soul-body..
What then of the general resurrection of the dead? I see it as some kind of recognition of the final working out of God's plan for the world, a glorious manifestation of a new future for the whole human race when the earth itself and all those who have lived on it have passed away.
The Christian religion gives the body a higher place than any other world religion : in this sense Christianity is the most materialistic of religions. The body, after all, is holily created, holily redeemed, and is to be holly raised from the dead.
From the incarnation onwards there is something very concrete about our religion: it is related all the time to flesh and blood not to abstractions. How strange then that a religion which gives such a high place to the body should in practice over long periods have rejected it altogether.
In popular Christianity at any rate the idea is prevalent that somehow the body has fallen lower than the soul, an idea which finds its ultimate vulgarising in the notion that the sin of Adam was a sin of
In fact we do not know how the Fall came about: what we do know (and the evidence is on every side both within ourselves and without) is that it undoubtedly took place.
Human nature is not irretrievably damaged but is certainly flawed. Yet somehow over long periods of Church history heretical notions about the body have held their sway.
Who is to blame? The Church Fathers? The pagan Greco-Roman world into which Christianity came and reacted against? Misunderstanding of St. Paul, who is thought by many to have condemned the body when he condemned the "flesh" when he was rejecting in this phrase the spirit centred on this world instead of the two world centred spirit which Christianity manifests? Victorian culture with its spurning of the body? The list could go on.
Thecontemporary world on the other hand has rediscovered the body but has unfortunately forgotten about the soul. In the rock musical "Hair" there is a lyric "T love Life," a more or less pagan glorification of the body but which reminded me of Charles Williams' essay "The Index of the Body" written from the Christian point of view.
"The imperial structure of the body," he writes. "carries its own high doctrines of vision, of digestion, of mysteries, of balance, of movement, of operation." Every part of the body has its own unique function from the eyes, the windows of the soul down to the lowly feet on which the whole "imperial structure" rests.
The body is in fact our only true possession from which death separates us and as soon as we have lost one we gain another. The body is an essential part of us not a carcase animated by a ghost.
The body is good not evil although like everything else human it can be used for base purposes. Easter brings to mind the high destiny not only of the soul but the body, and proclaims that body and soul are properly one entity, torn apart by the unnatural event of death which itself is the penalty of sin.
Easter is the one time in which triumphalism is justified in the Church but the triumph is not ours save vicariously and in promise, in essence it belongs to Our Redeemer.
I take this opportunity of wishing all readers of the CATHOLIC HERALD a holy and happy Easter. I shall be spending mine in Rome and they will be remembered at the tombs of the apostles.