Witnesses of the Resurrection

BLESSED JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN

Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people?

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. . . .This is the question, "Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people?  why only to witnesses chosen before of God?" and this is my answer:  "Because this was the most effectual means of propagating His religion through the world."

. . .Now consider what would have been the probable effect of a public exhibition of His resurrection.  Let us suppose that our Saviour had shown Himself as openly as before He suffered; preaching in the Temple and in the streets of the city; traversing the land with His Apostles, and with multitudes following to see the miracles which He did.  What would have been the effect of this?

What could they have said and felt more than this, when "one rose from the dead"?  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. . . . Had our Lord appeared in public, yet few could have touched Him, and certified themselves it was He Himself. . . . It would have been open to the greater number of them still to deny that He was risen. . . .

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. . . .

Doubtless, much may be undone by the many, but nothing is done except by those who are specially trained for action. . . . If the witnesses were to be such as really loved and obeyed the Truth, there could not be many chosen. Christ's cause was the cause of light and religion, therefore His advocates and ministers were necessarily few . . . .


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 . . . .

But, besides this, we are comforted too; we are comforted, as many of us as are living humbly in the fear of God.  Who those secret ones are, who in the bosom of the visible Church live as saints fulfilling their calling, God only knows.

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.

. . . Let all "who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity" be quite sure, that weak though they seem, and solitary, yet the "foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."  The many are "deceitful," and the worldly-wise are "vain;" but he "that feareth the Lord, the same shall be praised."  The most excellent gifts of the intellect last but for a season. Eloquence and wit, shrewdness and dexterity, these plead a cause well and propagate it quickly, but it dies with them.  It has no root in the hearts of men, and lives not out a generation.  It is the consolation of the despised Truth, that its works endure.

The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.  "Fret not thyself" then "because of evil doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.  For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good . . . delight thyself also in Him, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart; commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. . . ."

The heathen world made much ado when the Apostles preached the Resurrection.  They and their associates were sent out as lambs among wolves; but they prevailed.

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 who obeys God conscientiously, and lives holily, forces all about him to 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.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

John Henry Cardinal Newman. "Witnesses of the Resurrection." from sermon XXII of Parochial and Plain Sermons (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997).

As reprinted by The Catholic Thing on March 31, 2013.

THE AUTHOR

Blessed John Henry Newman was born in London, 21 February 1801, and died Birmingham, 11 August 1890. As Vicar of St. Mary's Oxford he exerted a profound spiritual influence on the Church of England. Joining the Catholic Church in 1845 he founded Oratories of St. Philip Neri in Birmingham and London, was the first rector of the Catholic University in Dublin, and was made Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. Through his published writings and private correspondence he created a greater understanding of the Catholic Church and its teachings, helping many persons with their religious difficulties. At his death he was praised for his unworldliness, humility, and prayerful contact with the invisible world. He was declared Venerable on 22 January 1991. John Henry Cardinal Newman is the author of many books including, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Difficulties of Anglicans, The Idea of a University, Fifteen Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford Between A.D. 1826 and 1843, and Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

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