Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Fr. O'Leary on the Resurrection

Commenting on a recent post by Christopher entitled "The Perplexing Sayings of Fr. O'Leary" over at Against the Grain, which we mentioned recently ("Sorting out O'Leary," Aug. 2, 2005), Randy managed to smoke out Fr. O'Leary with the following remark:
I always wonder how guys like this can remain priests in good standing in the Catholic church. When you deny the resurrection you have pretty much denied the essense of the christian faith. I just don't understand why the church doesn't react when a priest does this. (Source)
I was on the verge of responding to Randy myself, suggesting how O'Leary might respond to him, when I noticed -- Lo, and behold! -- the very next comment was by O'Leary himself, or, should I say, by our notorious old friend, the "Spirit of Vatican II." Responding to Randy, O'Leary writes:
Randy, denying fundamentalist literalism in handling the Resurrection narratives is not the same as denying the Resurrection. Phil Blosser has to regard the vast majority of Catholic exegertes as denying the Resurrection -- and this cannot be right. (Source)
True to form, alright. I though it appropriate to add my two cents, so here's what I said to Randy (with a few emendations):

Randy, I just KNEW that if anything, you're remark about the Resurrection would smoke out Fr. O'Leary. I was about to remark on what you'd said when, sure enough, the next comment was by our old friend, the "Spirit of Vatican II" himself!

First, O'Leary's references to "the majority of Catholic exegetes" is a red herring, designed to distract. Even if it were true, it wouldn't prove anything. Sad to say, far too many Catholic biblical scholars have bought into the "historical-critical" legacy of Protestant Liberalism and are flirting with heresy, and the Vatican hardly seems to know what to do with them.

Second, the key is the dualism implicit in O'Leary's reply to you: "Randy, denying fundamentalist literalism in handling the Resurrection narratives is not the same as denying the Resurrection" (emphasis added). The ambiguity created for the traditional Catholic by many liberals is that they don't always outright deny the Resurrection. Rather, they re-interpret it, by classifying it an "eschatological" event, which means that it's relegated to the non-empircal, non-factual, non-historical realm of the noumenal "Christ of Faith." This leaves them free to deny that the Resurrection ever happened to the "Jesus of History" without denying that the "Christ of Faith" has been resurrected (... em, yeah ... whatever that means).

In fact, here's a quotation from Fr. O'Leary on the matter from another venue, and notice the dualization implicit in what he says:

"... the historicity of Paul's witness is beyond doubt and the reality of the Resurrection presence to the early Church is persuasive to faith."

[Comment: That sounds encouraging, at first, I admit. But note the word "faith" here, which clues us in to how he means what he's just said: it isn't intended as referring to the "Jesus of History" at all. It's not a matter of empirical "fact." It's a matter of "faith." This is confirmed by what O'Leary says next.]

"The Resurrection as such in its inner essence is an eschatological event and to equate it with a historical event -- even with the reanimation of the corpse of Jesus and its transformation into a spiritual body as an empirically observable matter -- is misleading -- such a reanimation, like the empty tomb, would be a SIGN of the resurrection. Even in the seminary, students would discuss whether the discovery of the body of Jesus in Palestine would refute the reality of the Resurrection, and the feeling was that this remained an open question. A common joke at the time was that Paul VI phones Paul Tillich -- 'Paul, this is Paul. Can you help me, we got a problem. Our archeologists have found the bones of Jesus!' Tillich is struck dumb. Then after a pause, 'What? You mean he really existed...?'"

Funny, eh? O'Leary has a great sense of humor. But notice the ambiguity. Is the Resurrection being affirmed or denied here? It isn't clear, until you see that it's being affirmed on one level (the level of noumenal "faith") AND being denied on another level (the level of phenomenal, empirical, factual history). Only O'Leary is cautious enough to put it more tentatively, suggesting that in his seminary days it remained "an open question" among the students whether the archiological discovery of Jesus' body in Palestine would refute the reality of the Resurrection. So what is the "Resurrection" then? What existential theologians call an "eschatological event" (i.e., it doesn't belong to history). Perhaps, like me, you may wonder what Paul would have said about all this in light of his discourse on the bodily resurrection of Jesus in I Cor. 15:12-20. I do not doubt for a moment he would have regarded it as an utter delusion. (Source)

St. Paul's words, by contrast, lack the academic tentativeness and ambiguity of contemporary historical-critical Bible scholars, and have the logically tight structure of a deductive syllogism, replete with "If_____, then_____" statements:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:12-20)
But of course, the "Spirit of Vatican II" would regard us as sophomoric tyros and antedeluvian fundies for taking Paul literally. . . along with patristics like Ambrose and Augustine, medievals like Anselm and Aquinas, and moderns like Bellarmine and Newman. What shall we say? I consider ourselves in good company.

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