What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

The ascension and the "objective vision" theory of the resurrection

I am presently working on research for an article on history and theism for a projected Routledge Companion to Theism. A cause of slight psychological strain in doing the research is a ban on content notes--footnotes or endnotes--in the finished product. I'm not as dependent as some scholars on large numbers of content notes, but I usually have a few. (I just wrote to the editor today asking, in so many words, "Is the prohibition on content notes set in stone?" But it's hard to send the image of big, sad, appealing eyes over e-mail, and in any event, scholars are notably unamenable to the pure emotional appeal. So I kept it businesslike.)

One side issue that I would probably discuss briefly in a content note, if content notes were allowed, is the issue of the ascension as it relates to what has come to be known as the objective vision theory of the resurrection of Jesus. I'm a couple of months liturgically early in discussing the ascension, but hopefully my readers won't mind too much.

The objective vision theory, associated with the Jesuit scholar Gerald O'Collins (and I gather held by many others) is the theory that Jesus wasn't literally, physically present with his disciples after his resurrection. Therefore, a camera couldn't have taken a picture of him; he couldn't be seen by normal, physical processes. He couldn't, in fact, be seen by anybody at all without special help from God, which has come to be known as "graced seeing" or "grace-assisted seeing."

O'Collins discusses this idea as if it were simply obvious in his seminal 1967 article "Is the Resurrection an 'Historical' Event?" One thing he keeps saying over and over again in that article is that when Jesus rose from the dead he passed out of the realm of space and time and into the "other" world of God.

What I kept thinking as I read the article was, "Wasn't that the ascension?" After all, passing out of this space-time continuum and into the other world of God sounds an awful lot like what we ordinary folk call "going to heaven." And anybody who has been taught the Christian story knows that Jesus didn't go to heaven immediately when he rose from the dead. He stayed around for forty days showing himself to his disciples by many infallible proofs (says Luke) and then ascended into heaven. The ascension is even, you know, in the Apostles' Creed. It's supposed to be important. But the objective vision theory, based on the premise that Jesus left the space-time continuum at the moment of his resurrection, and even as part of the essence of his resurrection, makes the ascension extremely hard to fit in. The ascension becomes, in fact, an embarrassment, because it duplicates something that supposedly happened at the resurrection.

I vote we keep the resurrection and the ascension both. As did the early Church, of course. But to do that, we're going to have to admit that Jesus walked around on the earth in a visible, tangible, physical body after his resurrection. And a good thing, too.

Comments (13)

The whole point of the resurrected Christ eating the fish was to show that he was really there in flesh and blood, and not in a vision, as though he were a ghost. Was the fish being chewed by some sort of "graced passivity"?

Is this enough of a reductio ad absurdum to respond to O'Collins?

Isn't Jesus' resurrection a precursor to our reserrection? And as far as I can remember from Sunday School, our resurrected bodies, however improved, will be flesh and blood as was his. I have to agree with Mr. Sullivan.

Is this wrong?:

I don't think that Jesus did (or could) go outside the space/time continuum (or even that space/time has an outside). I say this because, so far as we can tell, space and time are inextricably interconnected. Together they form our environment. Bodies, so far as we know them, require that specific environment. If the body of Christ has ascended into Heaven, then perhaps Heaven is a space/time kind of place. If life with God in Heaven is space/time life inhabited by bodies -- Christ's included -- then perhaps there is no outside to space and time, neither in this world nor the next.

Or, put differently, because they have their roots in the nature of God Himself, I doubt that reason or righteousness have an outside, so to speak. You can't ever get to where they do not obtain. Is it the same with space/time? Is God perhaps a sequential being, just as He is a rational and righteous being, such that you can't ever get to where this dimension in God does not obtain, does not apply to us? Biblically, God seems to be a sequential being, one to whom before, during and after all seem to apply. That makes philosophers crazy, though it doesn't seem to make the ancient Jews that way. So much the worse for some philosophers, I suppose.

Or, to go Greek for a moment, if it is in God that we live and move and have our being, (as Paul, quoting a Greek writer, affirms), and if our living and moving requires bodies and therefore space/time, perhaps space and time find their roots in the very life and nature of God, and to say so is not an anthropomorphism with regard to God but a deomorphism with regard to us.

Your take?

Michael Sullivan,

Yes, we had some fun around here talking about "graced dining" concerning the fish! :-) Where did the fish go, if he wasn't there in real flesh to eat it? Did it fall on the floor to be surreptitiously eaten by someone else later? But you have to remember that much of New Testament studies is dominated by people who assume (sometimes genuinely believing that this has been shown by unbiased scholarship, which it has not) that all the resurrection narratives are later accretions. They save their claim to orthodoxy by saying that the disciples did see Jesus, that there were resurrection appearances of some sort, but they shy away from the _details_ of those appearances as recounted in Scripture as if those details were themselves an embarrassment. I have an anthology edited by O'Collins and containing another of his articles plus a response (it's a symposium). In one of the responses a writer named Carnley who considers O'Collins too conservative (!) pushes him on the point that he has no way to distinguish between "graced seeing" and mere psychogenic hallucinations. Now, this is true if we just talk _vaguely_ about "seeings" or "appearances." O'Collins could refute the hallucination theory only by going into details which would tell very strongly against his own theory as well!

Gina, I think what you are saying is an excellent point. They would try to respond to it by saying that even if our bodies are flesh and blood, they will be _so different_ from our ordinary flesh and blood as not to be visible or tangible to others in the ordinary way. This is entirely made up, of course. Scripture emphatically does not support it, and the resurrection appearances are excellent evidence against it. Sometimes they will lean heavily on the fact that Paul says in I Corinthians 15 that "it is raised a spiritual body," as though "spiritual body" meant "not really, truly, physical body." N.T. Wright is excellent in his discussion of "spiritual body" in the Jewish context and of how it could not possibly be used to argue against a true physical resurrection.

Michael Bauman, you have a good question as to whether heaven for incarnate beings should be said to be "outside the space and time continuum." I believe the question of whether existence in the resurrection will be strictly timeless or aeveternal has been discussed in the theological tradition, coming down on the latter. I was waiving that point for the sake of the discussion above, because people often _do_ talk about heaven as being "outside space and time." Certainly the phrase "the 'other' world of God" must mean something like heaven. I think it must at least be correct to speak of heaven-for-incarnate-beings as being outside _this_ space and time, rather as physicists talk of other universes or as Narnia is another world. That is to say, I think it's importantly true that you couldn't find Jesus sitting on His throne if you merely traveled to the right corner of our physical universe. But, of course, that separation between Him and His disciples took place at the ascension, not at the resurrection, prior to which one could have touched him, anyone in the right place at the right time could have seen Him, and so forth.

Oh, I should have responded to the other part of your comment, Michael: I do believe that God as non-incarnate is timeless. I'm a Boethian on that. Time applies now to the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity because He came down from heaven and was made man.

If Jesus "wasn't literally, physically present with his disciples after his resurrection," then it's just another ghost story. Interesting but easily dismissed.

Amen. And you'd think after all the trouble He went to to dispel any such idea, people wouldn't still be saying it after all these years. Some people are just uncomfortable with the intersection of the physical with God, I think.

If Jesus "wasn't literally, physically present with his disciples after his resurrection," then it's just another ghost story. Interesting but easily dismissed.

True, but then insufficiently radical scholars (like O'Collins) would have a hard time justifying their compensation at Catholic (so-called) theological (so-called) seminaries. Lukewarmly liberal theologians appear to serve no purpose but to prove Nietzsche right.

I've done a little research on this matter since I was privileged (blessed, graced, astounded) to meet the Risen Lord during the Rite of Welcome as I was becoming a Catholic.

I directly experienced the person and presence of God through the agency of another person who was doing the various rituals of touching me with his hand to make crosses on my body at different places. Forehead, eyes, mouth, shoulders, chest. . .

During the process, I realized that at some point he would probably kneel and make a cross on my feet since that would accord with the washing of the feet by Jesus in John at the Last Supper. I was deeply moved by the humility of the man doing this for me. I was properly humiliated by the ritual and the reality of a person doing this for me. I was aware of being unworthy of the honor and kindness.

When the man began to kneel as I expected, he was no longer Tom I knew from the RCIA but a man in a rough cloth robe, off white in color, with long brown hair whose face was obscured by his facing downward.

The sensation of Presence was like a blinding white light of Pure Love and I wanted to flee, to run away because I didn't want such purity to get dirty from having to touch something as filthy as me.

Later, I came to understand Peter saying, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."

I felt that a thousand fold, but I couldn't run away because I was taking part in this event, no one else could see it was Jesus acting on me in the church, and I would look insane if I suddenly bolted. So I was forced to endure this blinding love and infinite forgiveness/acceptance/mercy, and realized later that God doesn't get dirty from us no matter how diseased, rank, and foul we may be.

Anyway, I could say a lot more about God's nature, but my point is that God manifests himself in a variety of ways as I later learned from investigating such experiences that others have had.

I read of a small, evangelical church in a small, Midwestern town where early in their service a group of about fifty or so people watched Jesus walk down the aisle of the church, mount the sanctuary and stand at the podium and speak to them for a period of time (it's impossible to measure time when God appears or is present).

Nobody remembered what he said except that it was beautiful, perfect, and lovely. And then he left them as he'd come.

Simone Weill, a Frenchwomen, records her experience of meeting Jesus and of them sitting at a table in her apartment talking for what she thought was hours.

There are many stories like this.

The point is that when Jesus makes his Presence felt, it is often seen, is physical and yet, floods reality with his holiness, light, so as to make you realize he is the way, the life, the truth.

You realize that Jesus is a man. A physically, real man (if he chooses to be entirely solid rather than simply a "presence").

He is what Jesus could not be when he was mortal; fully God, that is.

My advice for people who talk a lot of theology, speculate on how or why God must be this or that is for them to go and meet God face to face first.

I have a theory as to why most people don't experience God directly - Fear.

Take it from me (and the author of Hebrews), it's a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a living God. But you can hardly imagine what a wretched human being I was at the time, the depth of my hideousness.

Later on, while I was thinking I was pretty tight with the Lord and on my way to sainthood, I asked God to reveal himself to my wife so that she could know him as I did. I thought that would be a good thing.

Some time later, we were doing the Stations of the Cross during Lent, my wife looked up at the monstrance on the altar and saw/felt/experienced Christ directly.

She immediately turned away from his "gaze" and was shaken to her core with fright. She hadn't wanted to see him in the first place (not really) and what she experienced made her never want to be made so utterly naked again.

God is not hiding from us, I later understood. We are hiding from him.

Oh, I don't recall Simone Weill expressing fear or people from that church doing so. Their experience may be qualitatively different than mine. Julian of Norwich didn't claim any fear, and numerous saints did not have mine or St. Paul's or St. Peter's reaction to Jesus.

I was just trying to point out that my experience is not unique.

Also, Homer in his epics demonstrates a multitude of ways that Athena, for instance, makes her presence felt or seen. I'd thought Homer was simply inventing ways to to have the gods appear. It took me a long time to realize that Homer was merely fictionalizing the myriad ways that even pagans in the ancient world experienced God and grace.

Oddly enough, the Bible is very reticent about illustrating such experiences even though it is entirely based on the personal revelations of various people. It isn't until Ezekiel and Isaiah that you could a bit more expansion on the mystical experience of manifestation of God or theophany.

The Jews apparently distrusted such people just as we tend to distrust the next person who claims to have a direct line to the Lord. After all, look at what the Mohammeds and Joseph Smiths have done to the world.

The temptation to try and use such experience as a power trip of some sort is frighteningly intense. It's like Frodo's ring, in a way. If you try and use it to your advantage, even in the hope of doing great good (another ego trip), you become corrupted by it; you corrupt it, that is, turning it into something ugly and yet compelling to many of the weak and innocent.

Which may be another reason God is so shy about meeting some of us -- because we can't be trusted with the revelation. It would do more harm than good for us.

St. Paul disappeared for what, seven years or so before he began evangelizing.

Me, I had a great priest to guide me until I could get a handle on it all and just let life go on as it normally would.

What's ironical to me is that even if I wanted to capitalize on my experiences, there's no market for it for someone like me. If you ever wanted to meet somebody with zero charisma -- say hello to me.

I've had great charisms come my way, but no charisma. I find that amusing and a bit pathetic.

Mark, thank you for the insights. I believe you are totally correct that many people experience these sorts of things, and in various distinct ways. At a rally in front of an abortion clinic, I ran into a man who had many such mystical experiences (not just with Jesus). What was interesting in his case is that he gradually figured out that many of these events were actually from devils trying to damage him or others. And he learned to not trust his initial impressions about them.

Michael, what you raise may perhaps be a stumbling block for some philosophers, but I don't think it necessarily poses a stumbling block for philosophy as such. God is not limited in His nature. A physical being like a man is limited as such. I don't want to get into a whole complete dialog about how those limits arise and exist, I just want to say that it is not irrational to consider possible that just as the extendedness in space that we experience, rooted in body, is a form of limitedness that is inapplicable to God, so also the experience we have of sequential unfolding of becoming is also a reflection of limitation that we have as created beings and inapplicable to God.

To All,

God is not limited by any time. While HE uses a time-table for the sake of our understanding, HE is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our ways are not HIS ways. HE has always been and always will be.. You really can't measure infinity, therefore to be present with HIM, there is no beginning or end. When dealing with GOD' time, forget using human terms.

"May the Lamb that was slain receive the rewards of it's suffering"

The Moravians Missionaries, the first two who sold themselves into slavery to preach the gospel quoted this as they held their hands that's cuffed, damned not to return..

My fellow brothers and sisters, let us be like the Moravians..

For me, Christ did all..

He died, resurrected and ascended into heaven.. According to Jewish tradition, resurrection means both spiritually and physically resurrection. So, taking that into account, Jesus should have appeared physically.. ;3

All is done, so what are we doing today my breathren? Let's be in God's season and flow as He desired.. He gave His son 4 us, now it's our turn to give all to God.. ;3 I'm afraid of the required sacrifices and persecution.. But all for God, it's worth all the tears and blood.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.