THINGS CATHOLICS ARE ASKED ABOUT
If there be no future life the bottom drops out of Christianity. If there be no future life Bolshevists are right in assailing Christianity. If there be no future life Socialists are justified in their opposition to Christianity. The very basis of Christianity is immortality. Take that away and the whole Christian edifice topples. The resurrection was the main argument of the Apostles for the truth of the religion of Christ. St. Paul declared that if Christ be not risen from the dead, Christian faith is shipwreck of life. The life and mission of Christ were meaningless unless there is a life beyond. He did not come to give man riches, or long life, or honors, or comfort, or anything that this world can give. He had none of these things Himself, although He might have had them all. He came to give us life. Not this present life, which is rather a living death, but life everlasting and glorious.
This present life is a steady march to the grave. We begin to die as soon as we are born. Hardly have we drawn our first breath when doctor and nurse are called in to ward off disease, accident, or death. Every day brings us one step nearer to the inevitable grave. Christ said: “I have come to give you life.” He was speaking to those who already had life, otherwise His words were vain. but not the life which He came to give. The life that He promises to those who serve Him is a share in His own eternal and blessed life, that life which knows no end, no anxiety, no pain, no sorrow, no desire unfulfilled. “They that shall be accounted worthy . . . of the resurrection from the dead . . . neither can they die any more, for they are equal to the angels and are the children of God” (Luke XX 35, 36).
Man’s destiny is to share the life of God. That is the key to life. We have not here a lasting city, but seek one which is to come. This life is preparation. Life is probation and the grave is not the goal but starting point of man’s real destiny. Hence Christ proclaims, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” In comparison with the life beyond, nothing in this life matters, except as a means of securing that blessed eternal life. Hence Christ, who knows, proclaimed that if need be we should sacrifice life itself for that other life. “He who loses his life for My sake shall find it.” Life is the supreme sacrifice. Yet even this sacrifice is imperative if it be necessary to ensure eternal life.
The whole body of Christ’s teaching rests on the certainty of immortality. Christian virtue calls constantly for the denial of what this world prizes most. Man desires to have his own way, to do his own will, to be his own master. Christ bids us look up to God in heaven and say, “Thy will be done.” Man desires personal gratification, and the world caters to his passions. Christ preaches the doctrine of the cross. And so all the way through, Christ and the world are antagonistic. That is why the world hated Him and put Him to death. The Jews would have accepted Christ if He gave them what they wanted, worldly power and glory. He came to give them something more than that. But because they had to receive His gift in humility, being proud and self-willed, they rejected Him. They not only rejected Him, they crucified Him. They not only crucified Him, but did so criminally, by false witnesses and false charges. His is the only case on record of a person being judicially proclaimed innocent yet condemned to die as a criminal. Christ foretold His crucifixion. He also foretold His resurrection. The Jews knew of this prophecy. Hence they went to Pilate for a guard to prevent any interference with the tomb of Jesus. On the third day after the crucifixion Christ rose from the dead as foretold. The resurrection was not only Christ’s greatest miracle, but it was also a very definite prophecy fulfilled. On the third day, precisely as foretold, while the tomb was guarded by the Roman soldiers, the best soldiers in the world, the huge stone of the tomb was rolled aside, and amidst a brilliancy which momentarily blinded the guards, and threw them in terror to the earth, Christ rose triumphantly from the grave.
Christ made the greatest claims ever made by any one in this world. He declared that He was Almighty God. He knew the magnitude of His claims, and the need of substantiating them. That was why He was so patient with His hearers, and made every allowance for them. The Jews held Jehovah in such reverence that they never directly mentioned His name. Yet here was one, in appearance like themselves, proclaiming that He was Jehovah. Christ, therefore, proceeded to confirm His claims by performing deeds which Jehovah alone could do. By His own power and in His own Name He gave sight to the blind, cleansed the leper, made the cripple walk, commanded the elements, and raised the dead. In presence of these divine deeds He said: “If you do not believe Me at least believe the works which I do, they give testimony of Me.” As a result the people at large believed in Him, as we see from the multitude that proclaimed Him the Messias after He had raised Lazarus from the dead. This alarmed the Jewish leaders, who called a council and said: “What do we, for this man doth many miracles? If we let Him alone so, all will believe: in Him” (John XI. 47, 48).
The Jewish leaders were looking for a glorious Messias. They confused the prophecies of His first coming in humility with His final coming in glory. Their wish being father to the thought, they blinded themselves against the evidence Christ gave them. They were convinced of His miraculous deeds, as is evident, but they were not converted. They did not see, because they chose to remain blind. Finally, Christ, when directly appealed to for proof positive of His divinity, gave His resurrection as the great confirmation of His divine claims. As said previously, the Jews knew of this prophecy and took every precaution to prevent its fulfillment. But all their precautions only served to make more certain the fact of the resurrection. If Christ is God the resurrection is the most natural thing in the world. If He were not God the resurrection is incomprehensible, nay, an impossibility. The evidence for the resurrection is the best that has ever been presented for a fact of history. First of all the Gospels which narrate it are the most genuine and authentic documents of mankind. This is the verdict of the most learned men in the world today. If we distrust the Gospel narrative we must reject every record of the past. The resurrection is better attested than any achievement of Julius Caesar. There are more and better monuments to Christ’s resurrection than there are to the victories of Caesar. The greatest monument to the resurrection is the Church of Christ, which rests on the resurrection as its foundation. To bring about the worship of one crucified as a malefactor by order of a Roman governor, was an impossibility without divine aid. The resurrection was the sign from heaven attesting the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Apostles based their mission solely on the resurrection. St. Paul, addressing his hearers, said: “If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain; yea, and we are found false witnesses of God . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ; we are of all men most miserable. But now Christ is risen from the dead” ( I Cor. XV. 14, 19, 20).
This was the burden of the preaching of all the Apostles, as we may see by reading the Acts of the New Testament. After St. Peter’s first sermon, which was on the resurrection, three thousand converts to Christianity were made in the very city and among the people who had witnessed the crucifixion When we consider the nature of Christ’s religion, it will be seen, that unless the resurrection were a fact, its establishment as the dominant religion of the civilized world could never have been effected. A complete moral and social transformation of the world, such as that brought about by Christianity, demands an explanation. The resurrection is the explanation. Christ’s resurrection was proof of a future life as well as proof of His divinity. It was the sign from heaven, confirming as true the teaching and mission of Christ. It thus came about that those who accepted the religion of Jesus Christ not only believed in a future life, but also believed that that future life was to be happy or miserable according as this present life was virtuous or vicious. The converts to Christianity, while living in this world, did not live mainly for it, but for that life beyond which was to be unending. This made them not only avoid the wickedness which prevailed but inspired them to that virtuous conduct which won the world’s admiration. Realizing that the world with its vanity was a passing thing, they regarded themselves as pilgrims on the way to their true and everlasting home. This realization of a blessed life beyond for all those who lived as Christ prescribed, brought hope and peace to a despairing people. It gave a new outlook on life to the slave — and over half the world was in slavery — who, though in human bondage, knew that he was the brother of Christ and destined to share the eternal life of God.
To those who were in poverty or illness or misfortune it was guarantee that the ills of this life could be the means of purchasing an everlasting life of blessedness. And thus it came about eventually that the Rome of the Caesars became the Rome of the Popes, and the pagan Roman empire became Christendom . All this was the result of belief in the resurrection. Some people are apt to think that only in these latter times has there been close examination into facts. They forget that the period when the resurrection occurred, and was preached, was the most skeptical in history. Never before or since was there keener analysis of human thought and events. That period is known in history as the golden age of literature. Philosophers, scientists, historians and statesmen flourished then, whose writings have been found worthy of preservation even down to our own day. Consequently, the resurrection had to present evidence capable of the closest scrutiny in order to gain belief. The religion of Christ was utterly unlike and opposed to the dominant religion of the age. Unless its main credential, the resurrection, bore the clearest marks of genuineness, the religion founded on it would never have supplanted the congenial cult of paganism.
Paganism flattered man and pandered to his passions. Christianity humbled man and curbed his passions. Unless the resurrection were a fact, the austere creed of Christ could never have triumphed over the pleasant and easy-going state-religion of the haughty Romans. Yet triumph it did, and the throne of Caesar became the throne of Christ’s Vicar, and Christianity became the religion of civilization.
The establishment of Christianity without the resurrection, says St. Augustine, would be a greater miracle than the resurrection itself. As well expect a delicate lily to grow on the asphalt pavement, as for the spiritual and austere religion of Christ to take root in pagan soil, unless by divine power. The divine power was the resurrection of Christ, a fact so incontestable, that it was never denied even by the Jews. They endeavored to stop the Apostles preaching the resurrection, but never denied that it occurred. It may be asked how could they fail to be convinced of Christ’s mission if they acknowledged the resurrection? I ask how could they fail to acknowledge Christ’s mission after His resurrection of Lazarus, who was dead and buried? After the resurrection of Lazarus they held a council, admitted the resurrection, and seeing all the people turning to Jesus, planned to kill Him, and also to kill Lazarus, the living witness of His divine power (John XI. 45-53 and XII. 9-11).
The Jewish leaders were convinced but not converted. Their hearts were evil. Proof of it is that they deliberately plotted murder, a double murder, in order to do away with Christ and Lazarus, and thus hold their supremacy over the people. They hated Christ because He disclosed their hypocrisy and flayed their vices. Those bent on an evil course do not stop at anything. By intrigue and propaganda they finally brought Christ to an ignominious death. They thought, then, that all was over with Christ, that they had triumphed. But it was the beginning of His victory. Like the grain of wheat cast into the earth and which dies before springing into new and multiplied life, Christ, after expiring on the cross and being entombed in the earth, rose gloriously, and became, by His resurrection, the source of eternal life to all those who believe in Him and live by Him. Now two thousand years after His enemies pronounced the end of Him and His mission, He is living in the hearts of hundreds of millions of subjects throughout the entire world, in every nation and in every land known to man.
The death and resurrection of Christ accomplished what His teaching and labors and miracles did not effect. All these prepared the way. It was the resurrection which made effective in the lives of men the doctrine which He taught while among men. Up to the time of Christ there was, it is true, a universal belief in a future life. But it was not, except in certain cases, of a character to influence conduct effectively. Christ’s resurrection demonstrated not only a future life, but also the truth of what He taught about it. A future life in itself means merely future existence. But Christ taught that future life would be eternally happy or eternally miserable according to man’s good or bad conduct in this life. That it was, which made it difficult for the resurrection to gain belief among men. If believing in the resurrection entailed no consequences, it would be easy to explain why such a consoling doctrine as the resurrection should win the favor and consent of mankind. But since believing in the resurrection implied living in accordance with the austere morality of the Gospel, the resurrection was submitted to the severest tests ever applied to any fact among mankind. That thousands in the very city of the resurrection embraced the religion of the resurrection on the very first day it was preached is compelling evidence of its reality. And when we reflect that nearly all those who became followers of the Crucified, not only embraced a life of exalted virtue, but were also persecuted by imprisonment, exile, and death, it becomes evident that the basis of their faith, the resurrection, must have presented the strongest possible credentials for its genuineness.
Apart from the teaching of revelation, there are abundant reasons that there is a future life. Philosophy teaches that whatever pertains to man everywhere and at all times is natural to him, that is, inherent in his nature. Speech, for example, is natural to man. There may be individuals or groups here or there who have not the faculty of speech, but these are the exception and prove the rule. Whatever is natural to man has the Creator for its author, and is given to man for a purpose. The appetite for food is a natural craving for nourishment, implanted in nature by the Creator in order that man might sustain life. Every natural appetite of man has something corresponding to it which is its object, and which is intended to satisfy it. There is a craving in man as intense and universal as that for food. It is the yearning for happiness. If you analyze your actions of a day or month or year you will find that, either consciously or unconsciously, you were always seeking to satisfy a craving for happiness in one way or another. You might have been mistaken in what makes for happiness, but there is no mistake that happiness was your object. There is nothing in this life that satisfies man’s instinctive quest for happiness. Unless, therefore, there be a future life where this natural appetite will find its object, the Creator has given us an appetite in vain, which would be contrary to divine wisdom. It follows, therefore, that there is a future life where happiness, meaning, peace, rest, contentment, arid the fulfilling of natural cravings, may find its object. There is no permanent happiness in this life. The most fortunate of mankind are in uncertainty always. Accident, death, the possibility of reverses, ever threaten peace and security. No matter what we have we want something else. What we most desire, when attained, loses its value. Finally disease or accident awaits each one of us to usher us to the grave. Such an ending does not correspond to that natural craving for permanent happiness which is inherent in man, which has God for its author, and which has an object somewhere which answers to its call. That object is not here, hence it is hereafter, hence there is a future life. Another reason which postulates a future life is based on justice. God is certainly as just as the creatures He made. All our justice has its source and origin in the Creator. He must possess eminently whatever sentiments of justice He gave mankind, since no one can give what he has not. It is a matter of experience that justice does not reign in this life. Might, cunning, and various other phases of force or cleverness often displace justice among mankind. Frequently the clever wicked triumph over the good. Might often takes the place of right. Unless there be a future life where justice is vindicated we must conclude that God is indifferent to justice, or rather that He favors the unjust, who so often lord it over the just, and in certain cases prosper to the end, while their victims perish miserably. Unless we are prepared to admit that the wisdom and power shown by God in the creation of the world are absent in its governance, we must conclude that there is a future life where Providence will justify its ways. A third motive for belief in a future life is the fact that belief in it is as extensive as the human race. There has never been a race or tribe of men anywhere or at any time that did not believe in a future life. This belief is not based on education or environment or any circumstance of life, but is as universal as mankind. Whatever is thus common to all mankind is natural to man and has its origin in the author of nature, hence can not be false. There may be various forms of this belief in a future life, some of them debasing, but the fact of belief in future existence among all mankind, in one form or another, is incontestable. This does not mean that individuals or groups here or there may not be found who deny future existence. These exceptions only serve to confirm the general truth of the statement. However, all the reasons assigned for a future life, although logical and weighty, did not influence human conduct at large, until the resurrection of Christ convinced man of the absolute certainty of a life beyond the grave. The resurrection of Christ was not merely His own resurrection from the grave, but a pledge of ours. “I am the Resurrection and the Life: He that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live” (John XI. 25). It was in accordance with this pledge of Christ that the Apostle St. Paul declared: “If the spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of His spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. VIII. 11). All indeed shall rise from the dead, but not all to the same destiny. “The hour cometh wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God — and they that have done good things shall come forth into the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment” (John V. 28, 29).
The important thing is, therefore, not future life, which is inevitable but the character of future life — which will depend on what we make it. That is what gives the resurrection of Christ its tremendous significance. It is a personal matter for each one of us, and a vital matter, eternally vital. Easter commemorates the resurrection. It is the greatest festival of Christendom. It changed the day of worship from the Sabbath (Saturday) of the Old Law to Sunday of the New. Every Sunday recalls the resurrection, but Easter recalls it impressively. What a wonderful thing it is that Jesus Christ is the only person among mankind whose entrance into the world and departure from it are commemorated twenty centuries afterwards! Christmas and Easter, the two most joyous and consequential celebrations of mankind, recall the birth of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. A belief enduring two thousand years among the most advanced nations of the world, and now professed throughout Christendom, and celebrated as a world-holiday must rest on the foundation of fact. To every man trying to do right the resurrection is the greatest incentive, and the greatest source of strength, peace, and joy.
Note by GADEL: Fr. Martin Jerome Scott (1865-1964) was a Jesuit Priest and scholar of the pre-Vatican II Church. He has authored many books including Introduction to Catholicism, God and Myself, The Hand of God, You and yours; practical talks on home life, Have you a God? what is He like?, Marriage problems, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John Were they fooled? – Did they lie? and No Pope can be wrong in teaching doctrine among others that shows how consistent the pre-Vatican II Church is with that of Vatican II.