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St Augustine as apologist for the resurrection of Christ

  • Gerald O'Collins (a1)

In his sermons, Answer to Faustus a Manichean, and other works, Augustine insisted that belief in Christ's resurrection establishes the identity and defines the faith of Christians. In justifying resurrection belief, he appealed to evidence from (1) created nature and (2) human history, and to (3) the desires and experiences of those he addressed. From the perspective of creation, ‘the miracle’ of the world and all the wonders it contains (particularly the worldly pattern of ‘new life after death’) support Easter faith. Historically, Augustine argues from a visible effect (almost the whole of Roman society accepting the resurrection) to the only adequate cause of this phenomenon (Christ's victory over death). Finally, the human hunger for happiness, Augustine argues, finds its fulfilment only through sharing in Christ's resurrection – though in this context he does not forget the light provided by the Holy Spirit, through whom ‘with the eyes of the heart we behold’ the risen Christ (Sermon 263).

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1 Sermons (230–272B), trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1993), p. 37.

2 Sermons (184–229Z), trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1996), pp. 295, 297.

3 Answer to Faustus a Manichean, trans. Roland Teske (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2007). p. 222.

4 See O'Collins, G., Easter Faith: Believing in the Risen Jesus (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2003), pp. 124 .

5 The City of God XIXXII, trans. William Babcock (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2013), p 525.

6 Ibid., p. 526.

7 Ibid., p. 530; on Augustine's belief in God as creator, see Williams, Rowan, ‘Creation’, in Fitzgerald, Allan D. (ed.), Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 251–4. Vessey, Mark (ed.), A Companion to Augustine (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) has a chapter on redemption (by Lewis Ayres, pp. 416–27), but none on creation.

8 City of God XIXXII, p. 457.

9 Ibid., p. 464. See also Civ. 22.24 (City of God, p. 541) where Augustine enthusiastically rejoices in the beauty of created nature. Below we will come to physical miracles (such as healings) to which Augustine appeals. But here he uses ‘miracle’ in the broader sense of that which excites wonder; for Augustine creation is the great miracle, since it reflects the very creative nature of God. A little surprisingly there is no entry ‘Miracle’ in Fitzgerald's Augustine through the Ages; ‘miracle’ does not even feature in the index, as is also the case with Vessey's Companion to Augustine.

10 Sermons (341–400), trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1995), p. 231.

11 Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Maxwell Staniforth (London: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 36.

12 Tertullian, De resurrectione carnis 12, trans. Holmes, Peter, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1884), pp. 234–5.

13 Tertullian, Apology, 48.8, trans. Emily Joseph Daly (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1950), p. 119.

14 City of God XIXXII, pp. 499–500.

15 Ibid., pp. 500–1; emphasis added. Augustine ignores such educated early Christians as Paul and Luke to concentrate on those whom we know to have been fishermen: Peter, James and John. ‘All those fish of every kind’ may echo a scene in which Peter and ‘the sons of Zebedee’ (John 21:2) feature: the astonishing catch of 153 great fish (John 21:11), which could symbolise the church coming to include in one unbroken net people of all kinds. Or it may echo a parable of the kingdom in which a net thrown into the sea gathers fish ‘of every kind’ (Matt 13:47). On the possible symbolic meanings, see Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel According to John (XIII–XXI) (New York: Doubleday, 1970), pp. 174–5.

16 City of God XI–XXII, p. 501; emphasis added.

17 The New Testament, while twice picturing the disciples as seeing the ascension (Luke 24:50–1; Acts 1:6–11), never alleges that anyone saw the event of the resurrection itself. Augustine's language about the first Christian witnesses having ‘seen’ the resurrection is shorthand for their having seen the risen Christ when, after the resurrection, he took the initiative of ‘appearing’ to them or letting them see him.

18 Sermons (230–72), p. 230.

19 Sermons (184–229Z), p. 304.

20 City of God XI–XXII, p. 530.

21 See O'Collins, G., ‘The Appearances of the Risen Christ: A Lexical-Exegetical Examination of St Paul and Other Witnesses’, Irish Theological Quarterly 79 (2014), p. 136 .

22 Origen, Contra Celsum, 1.62, trans. Henry Chadwick, rev. edn (Cambridge: CUP, 1965), p. 57.

23 On 1 Cor 1:23, see Serm. 150.2 and 174.3 (Sermons (148–183), trans. Edmund Hill (New Rochelle, NY: New City Press, 1992), pp. 30–1, 259–60; and Serm. 240.5 (Sermons (230–272B), pp. 67–8; see also Civ. 10.28 (City of God XI–XXII, p. 338). On Gal 3:13, see Serm. 88.8 (Sermons (51–94), trans. Edmund Hill (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 424; and Serm. 377.1 (Sermons (341–400), trans. Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1995), p. 351.

24 See O'Collins, Easter Faith, pp. 39–43.

25 See Donlon, Stephen Edward, ‘Miracle, Moral’, in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 9, 2nd edn (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2003), p. 658 .

26 Origen, Contra Celsum, 2.55, p. 109.

27 See Serm. 229E.3 (Sermons (184–229Z), p. 282).

28 City of God XI–XXII, p. 501. See Acts 2:4–11; 3:1–10; 4:22; 5:15; 9:36–41; 19:12; 20:9–12.

29 City of God XI–XXII, pp. 501–2.

30 Ibid., p. 505.

31 Ibid., p. 506.

32 Ibid., pp. 505–17. Augustine's approach to such miracles is discussed by Brown, Peter, Augustine of Hippo, rev. edn (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 416–22.

33 City of God XIXXII, pp. 518, 519.

34 Ibid., pp. 518–20.

35 Early Christian Writings, pp. 25–6.

36 Tertullian, Apology, 48–50, pp. 117–26.

37 Contra Celsum, 2.77, p. 26. St Athanasius likewise cited the witness of Christians who ‘chose to die rather than deny their faith’ in the risen Christ (On the Incarnation, 27, trans. John Behr (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2011), p. 78).

38 City of God XIXXII, p. 518.

39 Ibid., p. 520.

40 Ibid., p. 505.

41 Sermons (230–272B), pp. 21–2.

42 The City of God I–X, trans. William Babcock (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012), pp. 133, 308. See also Civ. 5, pref. (City of God I–X, p. 143), Civ. 6.12 (City of God I–X, p. 205), Civ. 8.5 (City of God I–X, p. 248), Civ. 12.21 (City of God XI–XXII, pp. 58–61), Civ. 13.17 (City of God XI–XXII, p. 83), Civ. 14.25 (City of God XI–XXII, pp. 133–4), Civ. 18.41 (City of God XI–XXII, pp. 323–5), Civ. 19.4 (City of God XI–XXII, pp. 354–9), and Civ. 19.20 (City of God XI–XXII, p. 377).

43 Ibid., pp. 551–4. See John Bussanich, ‘Happiness, Eudaemomonism’, in Fitzgerald, Augustine through the Ages, pp. 434–7.

44 The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), pp. 348, 364. For the impact that Hortensius had on Augustine, see The Confessions 3.7–8, trans. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1997), p. 79.

45 The Trinity, pp. 351, 352, 354.

46 Rahner, K., Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, trans. Dych, William V. (New York: Crossroad, 1978), pp. 268–78.

47 See Feuerbach, L., The Essence of Christianity, trans. Eliot, George (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), pp. 135–6, 170–84.

48 The Trinity, pp. 77–8. On the Holy Spirit according to Augustine, see Eugene TeSelle, ‘Holy Spirit’, in Fitzgerald, Augustine through the Ages, pp. 434–7.

49 See e.g. Civ. 13.24 and 14.4 (City of God XI–XXII, pp. 95, 104).

50 Paul stresses here ‘the inward phenomena’ or shining in human hearts, not the outward, luminous phenomena of the Damascus road encounter that Acts narrates three times (chs 7, 22, 26); see Harris, Murray J., The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 333–7.

51 The Trinity, p. 160.

52 Letters 100–155, trans. Roland Teske (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003), p. 271.

53 Sermons (230–272B), pp. 220, 227.

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