Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who is the Subject of Resurrection? (Part I)

Since it is one of the central questions of my current research, I am revisiting the question Who is the subject of Christ's resurrection? this week. In other words, who raised Jesus from the dead?

Well, the obvious short answer is "God." But as things go for Christian faith seeking understanding, the short answer "God" inevitably requires further reflection. Because Christians don't talk about God without soon talking about Jesus Christ,which means making recourse to some variation of the doctrine of the trinity.

Here's two main ways of thinking about the question: (1) the Son raised himself, and (2) the Father raised the Son. I'm going to sketch the first way this week. I intend to follow-up soon with a sketch of the second option, followed eventually by an approach that attempts to critical appropriate the best insights of each.

So, on to the first option.

(1) The Son raised himself.

This is the "classical" approach, inasmuch as it can be found in a number of major figures in the history of Christian theology. It is where you would tend to end up taking your cue from traditional trinitarian theology. If God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human, then Jesus Christ raised himself from the dead. Actually, to be more precise, we'd need to say that Jesus Christ as God raised himself as human from the dead. But even with these specifications in place, one cannot avoid the reflexive pronouns entirely. The bottom line is the the Son raised himself.

Now this can be expanded in two directions. The first direction expands this through the lens of the incarnation: the divine nature hypostatically united to the human nature empowers (by deification) the human Jesus to overcome death. Death can't hold this man in the grave, because he is not just a man but God incarnate. In this line of thought, the divine nature is like a bomb that goes off in the grave and so frees the human nature from death. You find this sort of line developed by Alexandrian characters such as Athanasius and Cyril -- with more sophistication, of course.

The other direction (which does not contradict but in fact complements the first) expands this through the lens of the trinity: the triune God raised the human Jesus. This line of thinking retains the reflexive sense of the Son's self-raising by following through on the rule that the works of the trinity outside itself are indivisible. Because each triune persons fully indwells the other, no one persons acts without the participation of the other two. But this line of thinking also accounts for the sense in which the resurrection is attributed to God the Father. The triune God acts upon creation indivisibly, yet on the basis of Scriptural warrant we may attribute (or, in the classical lingo, "appropriate") certain acts to certain triune persons. For example, we attribute creation to the Father, while acknowledging that the Son and Spirit also participate in that work; we attribute redemption to the Son, while acknowledging that the Father and Spirit also participate in that work; we attribute sanctification to the Spirit, while acknowledging that the Father and Son also participate in that work; etc. So, concerning Christ's resurrection, in light of Scriptural warrant we may attribute Christ's resurrection to the Father while also acknowledging that the Son himself as well as the Spirit participate in the raising of the dead human Jesus. (Note: you can find this sort of thinking in a number of medieval scholastics, most beautifully and compactly in St. Thomas Aquinas ST III, q. 53, a. 4).

Now despite the conceptual precision of this whole approach and the care with which it upholds seemingly contradictory but necessary affirmations, a big question looms large over the whole enterprise: Do the dead raise themselves? If Jesus Christ raised himself from the dead, then was Jesus Christ really dead? Isn't one of the main elements of the condition of death the loss of agency or subjectivity? Can one who raises himself from the dead really be said to have been dead? The clarifications and specifications outlined above cannot rid this whole approach of the looming suspicion that either Jesus didn't really die or God the Son didn't unite himself to the human Jesus in his death. In either case, we're in a pickle. What can be done about this?

It is in respond to these questions that an alternative view emerges, which I intend to sketch in a subsequent post. But for now:

Any thoughts?


Bob MacDonald said...

Romans 6:4 so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, ...

I am not sure if Romans 1:4 also contributes...

Almost an incidental comment by Paul in this letter

David W. Congdon said...

I sense a Balthasarian move coming up ... :)

Nathan Hitchcock said...

Well, man, don't delay! There's a millennium and a half's worth of theologians waiting for the punchline!

Gerald Hiestand said...

This is an interesting discussion, and I look forward to reading your next post.

I've tended toward the second option, though I'm sympathetic to Athanasius and like your bomb imagery (though I might have used light and darkness). But like you say, it's not a zero sum game.

But the question I wonder about, in light of the musings in your last paragraph, is in what way can the divine person of the Logos really die? His human nature, yes. But his person? If, as Chalcedon states (and I don't like to be on the wrong side of the early creeds), the Logos is a singular divine person who has assumed a human nature, in what way can we say a divine, eternal, immutable, person died? And do we really need to? I can't recall if/where the Fathers talk about this, but I had it in my mind that they taught the divine person did not die. (If I'm wrong on that, please let me know.)

I guess maybe when it comes down to it, I'm not sure it's self evident that "a main element of the condition of death is the loss of agency or subjectivity"

Perhaps one needs to back up a step and answer the question "Why did Christ die?" If we conceive of the death of Christ in primarily forensic, substitutionary terms, then it might be problematic if the divine person didn't really die. Kind of a "did he really pay the penalty" sort of thing. (But maybe not even then.) But if we are thinking more along the lines of Paul's participationist logic in Romans 6, etc, than the primary function of Christ's death is to kill us (i.e., our sinful humanity), not so much to kill himself. He died to put us to death, not primarily to put himself to death. (Yet see Gaffin, who rightly points out that once Christ assumed sinful humanity, he too was in need of a death and resurrection, just as much as we.) In other words, the soteriological agenda of the Logos was to kill humanity and raise it again immutable. In this sense, the Son only needed to kill the humanity he incarnated. And indeed, the reason he could do this was precisely because it was impossible for the divine person of the Logos to lose agency or subjectivity.

Sorry for the rambling. If the above doesn't seem clear, it's probably because I'm not exactly sure what I'm trying to say. Been enjoying reading your blog and look forward to seeing what you come up with.