From “Love Triumphant,” Some Defects in English Religion (1917)

The Resurrection surprised the disciples. It surprises us still. That is strong evidence of its truth. This shows how false is the view that the story was created by faith. Faith to that degree was precisely what the disciples had not got. Slowly and with reluctance did they come to own that Love had achieved its triumph. Worn and dispirited, they had witnessed the failure of their hopes as they stood round the Cross. All that was left was to inter with reverence the body. Then came the flash of revelation dazzling them.

“The narratives are not easy to harmonize.” They are not. A great lawyer said to me the other day that this is no difficulty. No one acquainted with evidence and the discrepancies in quite ordinary narratives could regard that as ground for disbelief. Only on the long-discarded theory of literal inspiration are these discrepancies a difficulty. That theory still lives to do harm both to orthodox and infidel. In one point all the narratives do agree. None of the disciples, not even our Lord’s mother, expected the Resurrection. Only after the event did they see the drift of much that he had said on this topic.

Some men admit a spiritual resurrection but deny the bodily. This tampers with the best attested part of the narrative, the story of the empty tomb. Or else they admit the story, but seek other means of explaining it, as that the Jews had stolen the body. The Christian institution of Sunday replacing the Jewish Sabbath is one of the strongest evidences for the rising on the third day, and is opposed to the notion of merely spiritual appearances.

Besides, to separate in this way between soul and body is to indulge in that false abstraction which treats the spiritual as something entirely apart from the physical, and by implication banishes God from the world. As a fact we know neither body nor spirit apart from the other. Westcott defines body as ” the expression of the life in terms of the environment.” If our Lord be alive still, as distinct, we may be assured that his life clothes itself in appropriate form. That form is in the semblance of triumphant Love.

Such triumph could come only through pain and death. Without such assurance there is no hope for faith in the only God that is worth having. Jesus Christ torpedoed all other notions of God. We cannot worship a power which is not in the highest sense good, i.e., does not will the good of the world. But for the resurrection the tragedy of the passion would be an irrefragable argument for pessimism. For it would show us Love conquered by selfishness, and nothing to repair the disaster. Easter reminds us that it is not so. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

Neville Figgis CR (1866-1919) was an English Anglican priest and monk, as well as an influential political scientist and philosopher. He advocated a communitarian approach to social order, and his studies of the history of constitutionalism remain significant.


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