In 1998, Lee Strobel, a former atheist journalist, published a book entitled The Case for Christ wherein he lays out much of his extensive research and interviews regarding the Resurrection of Jesus. Initially, Strobel had intended to prove that the Resurrection was a hoax but his investigation eventually led to his conversion to Christianity. In the film based on the book, Strobel realizes that all of the evidence points towards the truth of the Resurrection, yet he still cannot decide whether or not to believe. In one scene he speaks with his atheist friend and who says that even to disbelieve in the Resurrection and in Christianity requires an act of faith. Since there is a preponderance of evidence in support of the Resurrection, one cannot disprove it entirely. Strobel is thus left with the choice to either believe or disbelieve based on the evidence. He chooses to believe.
All of this raises a very important question: Is it necessary for every single person to do all of this personal research before hemakes the decision to either believe or disbelieve the Resurrection? Surely, it is impossible for every person to have the time or even the inclination to make such a thorough, detailed inquiry into the veracity of faith. Thanks be to God that Lee Strobel underwent such a study since his findings have only served to strengthen belief in the Resurrection. But for the rest of us, what should be the basis of faith? St. Thomas Aquinas has a brilliant answer to this question.
In his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas answers a question concerning whether Christ should have demonstrated the truth of his Resurrection with proofs (III, q. 55, a. 5). When we read the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, there are certain details that act as circumstantial evidence. When Mary Magdalene and some other disciples inspect the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, they discover that not only is the body of Jesus missing but that the burial cloths have been neatly rolled up and placed inside the tomb. If someone had stolen the body, they would not have taken the time to remove the cloths from Jesus’ body and place them neatly in the tomb. Instead, they would have been in a rush to grab the body and rush out along with the cloths. Another remarkable detail is that, upon seeing the empty tomb, the disciples’ first thought was that Jesus was raised from the dead. They initially thought that someone had taken the body. Although they had heard Jesus’ prediction that he would rise again on the third day, it did not occur to them that this had actually happened. They were thinking on a level of natural human reason. Then, Jesus appears to them and confirms that he has in fact risen from the dead. He even eats some fish in front of them to show that he is not an apparition or a figment of their imagination.
All of the above proofs of the Resurrection are what Aquinas calls sensible signs: “Christ is said to have demonstrated His Resurrection by proofs, inasmuch as by most evident signs He showed that He was truly risen.” Aquinas then explains the reason for these proofs: “Now Christ showed these signs of the Resurrection to His disciples, for two reasons. First, because their hearts were not disposed so as to accept readily the faith in the Resurrection…Secondly, that their testimony might be rendered more efficacious through the signs shown them, according to 1 John 1:1-3: ‘That which we have seen, and have heard, and our hands have handled…we declare.’”
Clearly then, St. Thomas Aquinas does not consider the sensible signs of Christ’s Resurrection as primary proofs. What proof then does Aquinas consider as primary? The answer is the authority of the Scriptures. He says: “But it was from the authority of the Sacred Scriptures that He proved to them the truth of His Resurrection, which authority is the basis of faith, when He said: ‘All things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the Law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me.’” As Catholics and Christians, we are called to have complete trust in the Word of God as it is handed down to us through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and faithful magisterial teaching. It is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that has been entrusted with the task of faithfully preserving and handing on divine revelation. The deposit of faith (depositum fidei) does not change. The advent, birth, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ had been foretold in the Old Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. Jesus himself points out to the disciples walking to Emmaus all the things from the scriptures that pertain to him and how he has fulfilled them.
For those of us who are Catholic, we should have no need to investigate the sensible proofs of the Resurrection in order to believe. These facts have already been established. Rather, we have received the gift of supernatural faith at our Baptism so that we might give the assent of faith to God’s Word. We have confidence in the Word of God because we know that it comes from a God who “can neither deceive nor be deceived” (CCC 156). Faith is even more certain than the knowledge that derives from the natural sciences: “Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie” (CCC 157).
May you all have a very Blessed Easter! Christ has risen as he said, Alleluia!
By Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA