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Catholic Commentary on the Gospel of St John
Session 11 – The Resurrection of Jesus
I. The Resurrection – as depicted from the four Gospels.
A. It is important to note that no one witnessed the Resurrection itself:
“No one was an eyewitness to Christ’s Resurrection and no evangelist describes it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 647)
St Thomas Aquinas points out that Mary Magdalene is reported to be the first to see Christ risen (“He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” - Mark 16:9), yet she did not see the Resurrection itself but rather the stone rolled back (“And she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” – John 20:1). [cf. St. Thomas, ST III, q.55, a.2]
B. Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled back
“And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre. And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.” (Mt 28:1-2)
This stands as proof of the Resurrection, for the stone had sealed the tomb until the morning, but the body was miraculously no longer present, having passed through the walls and exited the tomb.
II. The apparition to Mary Magdalene – “The first to share the joy: as loving more than all.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
n.b. Peter and John both run, but John runs faster and comes to the tomb first. But John does not go into, rather he waits to allow Peter to enter first. This is a sign of the Petrine Supremacy.
A. Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? Whom sleekest thou?
“Origen wrote a striking Homily, and one full of devout feelings, respecting the Magdalene, in which he says, among other things, “Love made her stand there, and sorrow caused her to weep. She stood and looked around, if perchance she could see Him whom she loved. She wept, as thinking that He whom she was looking for, had been taken away. Her grief was renewed, because at first she sorrowed for Him as dead, and now she was sorrowing for Him as having been taken away. And this last sorrow was the greater because she had no consolation.” And then he proceeds to lay open the sources of her sorrow, saying, “Peter and John were afraid, and therefore did not remain. But Mary feared not, because she felt that there was nothing left for her to fear. She had lost her Master, whom she loved with such singular affection, that she could not love or set her hopes on anything but Him. She had lost the life of her soul, and now she thought it would be better for her to die than to live, for she might perchance thus find Him when dead, whom she could not find while she lived. ‘Love is strong as death.’ What else could death do in her case? She was lifeless, she was insensible: feeling she felt not, seeing she saw not, hearing she heard not. And she was not really there, even where she seemed to be. Her whole thoughts were with her Master, and yet she knew not where He was. I seek not for the angels, who do but increase, and not remove my grief, but I seek my own Lord, and the Lord of angels.” And after a few more bursts of glowing and holy affections, he adds, “I am straitened on every side, I know not what to choose. If I remain by the tomb, I find Him not; if I retire from it, I know not where to go, or where to seek for Him: hapless that I am. To leave the tomb is death to me, to remain by it is irremediable sorrow. But it is better for me to keep watch over His tomb, than to go far away from it. For perhaps when I return, I shall find that He has been taken away, and His sepulchre destroyed. I will therefore remain here and die, that at least I may be buried by the sepulchre of my Lord. Return, my beloved one,—return, the loved one of my vows.” He then adds, “Why, Beloved Master, dost Thou trouble the spirit of this woman? Why dost Thou distress her mind? She depends entirely on Thee, she abides entirely on Thee, she hopes solely on Thee, and utterly despairs of herself. She seeks Thee, as seeking or thinking of no one besides. And perhaps she does not recognise Thee because she is not in her right mind, but quite beside herself for Thy sake. Why then dost Thou say, ‘Why weepest thou-whom seekest thou?’'” (Fr Cornelius a Lapide)
B. Jesus, in his glorified body, could present himself in diverse forms.
1. He did this here with the Magdalene, likewise with the two on the road to Emmaus.
2. “For glorified bodies can put on any appearance they please, not by changing their own appearance, but by presenting only a refracted appearance to the sight of others. Christ did this, in order that she should not be startled. He appeared to her in consequence of her intense love to Him. But because she did not believe that He was alive, He veiled Himself from her, and presented Himself to her outward sight as the person she fancied Him to be. So S. Gregory (Hom. xxiii.), speaking of the disciples at Emmaus.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
3. “Christ's Resurrection was to be manifested to men in the same way as Divine things are revealed. But Divine things are revealed to men in various ways, according as they are variously disposed. For, those who have minds well disposed, perceive Divine things rightly, whereas those not so disposed perceive them with a certain confusion of doubt or error: "for, the sensual men perceiveth not those things that are of the Spirit of God," as is said in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Consequently, after His Resurrection Christ appeared in His own shape to some who were well disposed to belief, while He appeared in another shape to them who seemed to be already growing tepid in their faith:” (St Thomas, ST III, q.55, a.4)
C. Noli me tangere – “Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:17)
“This is a difficult passage, and the connection between the two parts is even more difficult.” Because the Lord later allows the women to touch him, and also Mary Magdalene. Further, St Thomas touches his hands and his side. Why then does he now not allow Mary Magdalene to touch him?
“The best explanation is this, “Do not waste any more time in thus touching Me. Go and bear the glad tidings of My Resurrection to My disciples at once. I do not just yet ascend into heaven. You will have ample time before then to touch and converse with Me.” Christ afterwards allowed Himself to be touched by her and the other women, because they were then on their way to tell the Apostles that He had risen. (Matt. xxviii. 9.)” (Cornelius a Lapide)
III. The apparition to the Apostles and to St Thomas
A. “When the doors were such, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them: Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
“Calvin says that Christ opened the doors, or entered through an open window, so as not to be compelled to admit that one dimension could penetrate another—penetratio dimensionum, or that two bodies could exist together in the same place, which Durandus (in iv. dist. 44, Quæst. vi.) says is even beyond the power of God. But S. John here intimates the contrary, for he says that the doors were shut, to signify that Christ passed through the closed doors, as He did both at His conception and nativity, and passed through the stone when He rose from the grave, thus manifesting the almighty power of His Godhead, and the gifts conferred upon His glorified Body. On this subject see Bellarmine, de Eucharistia, iii. 6, who quotes both Greek and Latin fathers on this point. As S. Augustine, “The closed doors opposed not His Body. Let us grant that God can do anything, which we admit, though we cannot understand. It all turns on the power of the Creator.” (S. Ambrose on Luke xxiv; S. Hilary, de Trin. lib. iii.; S. Justin Martyr, Resp. ad Græcor Quæstiones; Epiphanius, Hæresi, lxiv.) “As our Lord rose from the grave, not by raising up another Body, but the very same, changing it into the subtile nature of a spirit, thus He entered the closed doors, a thing impossible to our gross bodies,” &c. (Origen). And S. Cyril, “The Lord entered suddenly, the doors being closed, overcoming the ordinary nature of things by His omnipotence; for being true God, He is not under the power of nature.” And Euthymius, quoting S. Chrysostom, “He did not knock at the doors, lest they should be alarmed, but as God entered through them, though closed.”” (Cornelius a Lapide)
B. How did Christ walk through the walls? Was it by the power of his glorified body, or by the divine power alone?
St. Thomas explains that what makes two bodies (i.e. pieces of matter) to be two and not one is that they occupy different space. So that, if two bodies were in the same space in the same respect, they would not be two but only one. Therefore, it is impossible that two bodies should be in the same space in the same respect – excepting by a miracle. Hence, it could not have been by the power of “subtlety” given the glorified body that Jesus walked through the walls. Only the divine power can keep the two bodies distinct while in the same place.
“The Blessed Virgin gave birth to her Son by a miracle. Now in this hallowed birth it was necessary for two bodies to be together in the same place, because the body of her child when coming forth did not break through the enclosure of her virginal purity. Therefore it is possible for two bodies to be miraculously together in the same place. Further, this may again be proved from the fact that our Lord went in to His disciples, the doors being shut (John 20:19-26).” (ST Suppl., q.83, a.2)
C. “Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.”
1. “Didymus means a twin. See notes on. chap. xi. 16. But here he is so called (double, doubtful) because he wavered and doubted as to Christ’s resurrection. He was at that time weaker than the other Apostles, but afterwards (after Christ again appeared) was bolder and more full of faith than all of them, inasmuch as he alone traversed nearly the whole world in preaching the Gospel. Stapleton (de Vita Thomæ) says that he went to the furthest part of India, to Abyssinia and China, and even to America.” (Cornelius a Lapide)
2. “My Lord and my God” – “Hence S. Gregory (Hom. xxvi.), S. Hilary (de Trinit. lib. xii.), and S. Augustine (in loc.), say that Thomas saw one thing and believed another: he saw that Christ had risen, he believed that He was God, and consequently had raised Himself. By touching My human nature which has been raised (Christ would say) thou hast believed My Godhead which lay hid within, and which raised it up.” (Cornelius) “He touched the man, and confessed him to be God.” (St Gregory the Great)