When Did the Resurrection Become Dogma?

In the early hours of the resurrection appearances on the first Easter Sunday news began to be circulated that Jesus was alive and had been seen. These reports were, at first disbelieved or at least doubted by the apostles. Various reports from both women and men were dismissed by the apostles. But suddenly in the evening of that first Easter Sunday there is a change and a declaration by the apostles that the Lord had truly been raised. What effected this change? We will see in a moment. But first note the early reports of the resurrection and how they were largely disregarded:

  1. The women who go to the tomb first discover it empty (Mat 28:6; Mk 16:6; Luke 24:5; John 20:2). The Gospel of John, which is most specific indicates that Magdalene went straightway to Peter and John and speaks anxiously, not of resurrection but of a stolen body. Peter and John hurry to the tomb to investigate. But meanwhile the other women have had a vision of an angels who declare that Jesus had risen and that they should inform the apostles. They depart to do so.  Here is first evidence though the risen Lord had yet to appear.
  2. Peter and John arrive at the tomb after the women had departed. They saw only the empty tomb but it was clearly not grave robbers for the expensive grave linens were lying outstretched. Peter’s reaction is unrecorded but the text said, John saw (the grave clothes outstretched) and believed (Jn 20:8). Exactly what he believed is not clear. Did he believe what Mary had said? Or does the text mean he came to believe in that moment that Jesus had risen? It is not clear but let us suppose that he has come to believe that Jesus has risen. Does this mean that the Church now officially believes that Christ has risen because one of the apostles (one of the first bishops) believes it? It would seem not. That will have to wait for later in the day. Peter and John depart the tomb.
  3. Mary Magdalene had followed Peter and John back to the tomb and, after they leave, Jesus appears to her. Here is the first appearance of the risen Christ. Does this now  mean  that the Church officially believes that Jesus is risen? It would seem not. That will have to wait until later in the day. For scripture testifies that Jesus appeared elsewhere to the other women who had gone to the tomb but that when Mary Magdalene and the other women report that they had seen Jesus risen, the apostles would not believe it (Mk 16:11; Luke 24:11) Hence, though we have appearances we cannot yet say that there is any official declaration by the Church that Christ is truly risen.
  4. Jesus appears also to two disciples (not apostles) who are journeying to Emmaus that late afternoon. At the conclusion of that appearance they run to tell the apostles who, once again, do not believe it (Mark 16:13). So now we have had at least three appearances but no official acceptance by the Church’s leaders (the apostles) that there is any truth to these sightings.

So when does the resurrection become the official declaration of the early Church? Up till now the stories had been rejected by the apostles as fanciful or untrue. Even the possible belief of one of the 12 (John) was not enough to cause an official declaration from the early Church. What causes this to change? It would seem that, after the early evening report by the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk or some other purpose and according to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Luke 24:34) the risen Lord appeared to him privately and prior to the other apostles. Peter then reports this to the others and the resurrection moves from being doubted to being the official declaration of the Church. The official declaration is worded thus:

The Lord has truly risen indeed, he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)

The resurrection is now officially declared. Notice, the world “truly” (some texts say “indeed”). It is not an officially attested fact that Jesus has risen. Neither Magdalene, nor the women in general, nor the disciples from Emmaus could make this declaration for the Church. It took the college of apostles in union with Peter to do this. Hence the dogma of the resurrection becomes so on very Catholic terms:  The first bishops (the apostles) in union or in Council with the first Pope (Peter) make this solemn declaration of the faith.

It is a true fact that the Lord upbraids them later for being so reluctant to accept the testimony of the others (Mark 16:14). He calls them “hard of heart” for this reluctance but he does not undermine their authority to make the official declaration for in the very next verse he commissions the apostles to go forth and preach and teach in his name. Surely the Lord was not pleased after he had promised many times to rise from the dead that they were so slow to listen to the voices of the first witnesses. Should they not have concluded it was the third day and that the Lord had promised to rise and connected the dots? Did he have to personally appear before they would believe? Alas, it would seem so. Jesus’ first bishops were not perfect men, far from it. But they were the leaders he had chosen, knowing their weakness. So too for today, the Church’s leaders are not perfect and may take far too long at times to make decisions or give clearer teachings or impose necessary discipline. But, in the end it is they who are nonetheless commissioned to teach officially.

Finally it should be noted that one of the apostles, Thomas, was absent. Even after the official declaration of the Church went forth he still refused to believe (Jn 20:25). Here too the Lord is merciful to him but in the end is clear that Thomas has fallen short. And Thomas has fallen short in a more egregious manner for he has refused the collective and solemn declaration of the Church. He has not merely disbelieved the testimony of one or a few disciples. Jesus goes on to declare blessed those who accept the solemn testimony of the Church though they have not seen him with earthly eyes (Jn 20:29).

27 Replies to “When Did the Resurrection Become Dogma?”

  1. So when does the resurrection become the official declaration of the early Church?

    On Pentecost (the birthday of the Church, i.e. there was no Church before the descent of the Holy Spirit), when the Apostles finally come out of hiding and Peter goes out to the crowd and gives public testimony of the Resurrection (Acts 2:22-36).

    1. I have often heard Pentecost called the “birthday of the Church” But I have never understood where this comes from or what is the thinking behind it. For example, the Catechism says “The Lord Jesus Inaugurated the Church by preaching the Good news of the Kingdom….” (CCC # 763) He gave her a structure in the call of the Apostles with Peter as head (765) CCC does speak of other images of the Church as coming forth from the wounded side of Christ as did Eve from the wounded side of Adam (776). The catechism does mention Pentecost but NOT as birthday, rather as a means of sanctifying his Church (767) and equipping her for her work (768). Hence I guess I am left to dispute your notion that there was “no church” prior to the decent of the Holy Spirit. When CCC speaks of a birth at all, it is from the wounded side on the cross. I will admit I am puzzled as to what it means that the Church was “inaugurated” before she was born. But no matter the Church is surely in existence by Easter Sunday morning by any reading of the Catechism.

      1. Shame on you, Msgr. Pope! You know that one does not come into existence at birth; one becomes visible to the world. Perhaps it would be best to say that the Church was “conceived” on Easter (or perhaps Good Friday — “Consummatum est”!) and “born” on Pentecost — which is certainly when she became visible to the world.

      2. **** Well Howard, your scenario isn’t exactly what the Catechism says. I don’t know that it is appropriate for me to feel shame for reporting what the catechism says. The concept of Pentecost as the birth of the Church is not expressed there. Rather the wounded side is mentioned in that regard and the inauguration (or perhaps to use yor word, the conception) took place at the opening preaching of Jesus. There are not my words or concepts, it is from the Catechism.

      3. I was going to write a response, but figure I’ll just quote St. John Chrysostom as he said it much better:

        “There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist.

        Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

        Actually, I have an afterthought. It might be heresy, but I’ll put it out there…

        There is clearly a progression over time with regards to the Church as it comes complete in fullness. It began in figures and shadows of the Old Testament, but something definitively happens with the coming of Jesus. However, something significant also happens at Calvary (what is the Church apart from the crucifixion?) and again in the tomb (what is the Church apart from the resurrection?) and yet again in the upper room (what is the Church apart from the Holy Spirit?

        Perhaps assigning a particular “birthday” to the Church is rather a unproductive argument?

  2. Really I too have wondered at concept of the birthday of the Church as Pentecost. The constant teaching of the Church has been that It was “born” from His side as He slept on the Cross. Other see the Church as having existed from the Creation. Now the real issue is when did the Church come into existence. For those who hold with Pentecost or even Good Friday on the Cross the problem is that to be “born” implies conception and hence we are speaking of something that occured in the Mind of God and the Body of Jesus because the Church is Divine and human. The fact that Jesus tells the Apostles at Caesarea Phillipi that “I will build my Church” implies that it is in fact a work in progress even if it is still in His mind, because Jesus being God has a thoought of a realtiy and hence a perfect thought because He is God, it needs to exist.

    That it is not manifested to the public at large until Pentencost is not to imply it did not exist. The Church seems to reach its’ completion at the Ascension of the Lord when He gives His final commission to the Apostles. Now the Church is seen as separate from her Founder, Jesus. Now the Church goes forth to do what She is created to do.

  3. The use of the words, “Church” and “Catholic” in this article are a violation of historical accuracy. Certainly Christianity was born of the events noted in the article. The Church was inaugurated at one of the Councils in the late 300’s, and the use of the word Catholic became a title when Henry VIII moved in on the Pope.
    To identify in an historical context these words is an unacceptable attempt to usurp the whole of a manmade portion of the Christ’s legacy.

    1. Your remarks are unhistorical. Any reading of the Fathers of the Church well prior to the “late 300s” will demonstrate that the Church existed and had a self understanding of her existence right from the start. The Didache, the Writings of St. Ignatius of Anticoh, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Tertullian, et al. speak of the Church. It was Ignatius in 107 AD who first called the Church the catholic Church (Symna 8:2). The early creeds also use this term. Even Jesus himself refers to his Church. Hence your comments are puzzling to say the least.

    2. Actually the term catholic was used to describe the Church well before Henry VIII. St. Ignatius of Antioch uses the term several times in his letters on his way to martyrdom in the late 1st, early 2nd century (ca. 108AD). This was not used in the sense it is today sicne it was not used particularly as a title but as a description of the Church. The Church grew over time and the official title used for it changed as well. For instance, at the time in question, what we call the Catholic Church today was then called “The Way.”

    3. …and even Ignatius doesn’t even use the term as though he’s inventing it – the term “Catholic” was almost certainly in use prior to his martyrdom.

  4. Just as a mighty wind accompanied the creation of the world and man came into existence when God breathed into him, just as Jesus did not become “man” until the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary, so too in like fashion was the Bride of Christ not fully established until the Holy Spirit descended upon her. It was only when “the assembly” was filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Love, it was only when God breathed into the Body of the Church at Pentecost, that one can say she was born, that is, revealed to the world. Before then, she was still gestating in the womb, being knit by God.

    Ten minutes before the Holy Spirit descended, the Apostles and disciples were still the “church” of Peter the Denier. The moment the Spirit came, they became the authentic Church, the Church of Pope Peter the Martyr (witness), the missionary Church, and they were instantly made, in a true yet mystical way, “One Body” in Christ. The moment they were filled with the Spirit, the group became “holy.” Before then, they were just a bunch of confused guys in hiding. At the moment the Spirit came, as like tongues of fire, only then did they become “Catholic,” that is, universal, as shown by its effect upon peoples from all over the world being able to understand each other. And it was not until they replaced Judas, by choosing his successor shortly before Pentecost, that the group truly became “apostolic.”

    Pope Benedict spoke of this on Pentecost 2008

    “Beginning with the event of Pentecost this union between Christ’s Spirit and his Mystical Body, in other words the Church, was fully manifest. I would like to reflect on a particular aspect of the Holy Spirit’s action, that is, the manner in which multiplicity and unity are interwoven. The Second Reading speaks of this, addressing the harmony of the different charisms in the communion of the same Spirit. But already in Acts we heard the account of this interweaving which is revealed with extraordinary clarity. In the event of Pentecost it becomes clear that many languages and different cultures are part of the Church; in faith they can be understood and make one another fruitful. St Luke aims unambiguously to convey a fundamental idea, which is, that the very act of the Church’s birth is already “catholic” or universal. From the outset the Church speaks in all languages, because the Gospel entrusted to her is destined for all peoples, according to the will and mandate of the Risen Christ (cf. Mt 28: 19). The Church which is born at Pentecost is not primarily a particular Community – the Church of Jerusalem – but the universal Church, which speaks the languages of all peoples. From her other communities were to be born in every part of the world, particular Churches which are all and always actualizations of the one and only Church of Christ. The Catholic Church is therefore not a federation of Churches but a single reality: the universal Church has ontological priority. A community which was not catholic in this sense would not even be a Church.”

    1. The claim that the Church was born from the open side of Jesus on the Cross is admirable poetry, but it cannot be good theology, because the Church could not exist before the paschal mystery had unfolded, and the paschal mystery includes the death and the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ is the great event that divides history into a before and an after, into the old dispensation and the new. The Church is of the new dispensation, and therefore could not exist before the resurrection.

      Whether the Church was “born” at Easter or at Pentecost is a question that may have no answer, since we have two different accounts of the gift of the Spirit: the Synoptics say it occurred 50 days after Easter, while the Gospel of John says it occurred on the same day as the resurrection. The only safe thing to say is that the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit form a single saving event (whether separated in time or not), and that the Church is born of that saving event.

      Understanding the centrality of the paschal mystery (and therefore of the resurrection) also helps us see the mistakes in certain claims that are made about the moment when Christ instituted the various sacraments. Because the Council of Trent states that each of the seven sacraments was instituted by Christ, theologians think it necessary to nail down exactly when during his earthly life he instituted each one of them. There may be room for discussion about the moment of institution of the various sacraments (since these are not articles of faith), but it should be clear that none of them could have been instituted before Easter, since all sacraments derive their saving power from Christ’s death and resurrection. In other words, there were no sacraments before the resurrection.

      This is clearly so with respect to baptism, since in baptism we die and rise with Christ. This cannot happen before Christ actually died and rose from the dead. If there is no baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ before Easter, then before Easter there are no other sacraments either, since they all presuppose baptism.

      It is often said that Jesus instituted the Eucharist and “the priesthood” (i.e. the ministerial priesthood) at the Last Supper, or that the Last Supper was the first mass. But these claims cannot be true. If, as the traditional definition would have it, the mass is the non-bloody re-presentation of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross, the re-presentation cannot occur before the actual event being re-presented. And so there can be no mass before Christ died and rose from the dead. Nor can there be any ministerial priesthood before Easter, since it presupposes the baptismal priesthood, which cannot antedate the resurrection.

    2. And it was not until they replaced Judas, by choosing his successor shortly before Pentecost, that the group truly became “apostolic.”

      Of course, while this is the first implementation of apostolic succession, the word “apostle” meaning “emissary” or “one who is sent out” in Greek, it was not until Peter spoke to the assembled crowd at Pentecost, that the Church became fully “apostolic.”

      It was only upon the coming of the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus and foretold by the Prophets, that all four marks of the Church were present — One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

  5. Do you mean to say that the whole time the disciples were following Jesus they were NOT holy?

  6. Oh dear, the nitpicking of this congregation makes me sad.
    The point of this gospel was the Apostles, “the women” and the disciples were all human beings, like us.
    They all felt terribly lost that Friday, they had been told everthing bu until John looked into the tomb:
    ‘he saw and believed’
    ‘yet he did not understand’
    The groundwork was set; the hierarchy had been hand picked by the Lord himself.
    The Holy Spirit was the catalyst to jump start those frightened men into action.
    That small group of fallible men in one brilliant moment became unafraid, all the knowledge
    that they been given became crystal clear and we are the inheritors of that great moment.
    He has Risen, Alleluia!

    1. Ah but Tapestry, find some room in your heart for us nitpickers 🙂 Some great conversations are had about the details. But I appreciate your beautiful description of the moment!

  7. Bender, the notion that the 4 marks define when the Church came to be is unique. But given that the Church even in her Conception in the mind of God fulfills the test of the 4 marks. As He conceives, and remember as God thinks He conceives (makes real), the Church is One in the mind of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because she is His conception she is by definition Holy. That she is destined to fulfill the command of Jesus she is Universal and because she is Apostolic even with Jesus Who is the Apostle,the One sent by the Father to announce her existence.

  8. It seems to me that a lot of interesting discussion has revolved around when the Church is born. I am sympathetic to Archangel’s point that the Johannine Pentecost takes place at the piercing where Jesus gives over his Spirit and the double meaning of John’s use of that expressions seems quite intended. In the end however, it seems that the Safest approach to this is that of the Catechism which says the Lord Inaugurated the Church at the beginning of his public ministry, birthed her from his side, and gifted her at pentecost. While some of the wording/imagery is clumsey perhaps a way to summarize the three stages are: conception (=inauguration), Birth, and Matured (=gifted)?

  9. Am not concerned as to when exactly The Church declared the Resurrection to be a dogma: but I do know that the Council of Nicea declared it in the Nicean Creed which made it a dogma, along with the other beliefs listed.

  10. Msgr. Pope is correct on the dogma of the resurrection. He has the theological training to be the expert statesman on the subject matter. The lay person’s opinions are many and varied. There appears to be alot of confusion on the exact starting point of the “Official Dogma” of the Resurrection. A Dogma, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#88) says: The Church’s Magisterium excercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truth contained in a divine Revelation, or when it proposes truths. (89) Dogmas are lights along the path of faith: they illuminate it and make it secure. Paragraph 881 of the CCC says: The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock (Mt. 16:18-19; Jn 21:15-17). The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to the head. This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is constituted by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope. The early Church would have been called the Community of Belivers in Christ. What Msgr. Pope is teaching us in Luke 24:34, is that Peter’s declaration of the Resurrection is indeed the “Official Dogma,” or truth, or enlightenment. In a Catechsis, it behooves us to use our skill of listening to those like Msgr. Pope, who have been taught the official doctrine on Church matters. I am a Great Grandpa, but not too old, or proud to learn from those smarter than me. Otherwise, each of us becomes our own arbitrator of scripture, like those other so called religions. Then, the truth is divided, and is compromised with contrary opinions which serves the outsider to say; “Those Catholics cannot agree on any matters relating to the Church.” So lets gather around the Good Shepherd, Msgr. Pope, and present the appearance of One Body, One Spirit united to the Official Dogma. Every Catholic home needs a Catholic Study Bible, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Resurrection, as you know, is the very crux of our faith, and we call this event Easter Sunday. Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ; 1 Cor. 15:57.

    1. With all respect Grandpa Tom, to you and the good Monsignor, since I feel that your comments are, at least in part, directed toward me, I will only say that my reference to Pentecost being the birth of the Church (and thus the starting point of authority) is not quite one of my many and varied “opinions,” but is from the repeated statements of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II (e.g. Dominum et vivificantem 25 and 66), and Pope Paul VI (Ecclesiam Suam 22), not to mention that the Church gets her magisterial authority to proclaim dogma, not from her own authority, but only from the Holy Spirit, which was not given to them until Pentecost.

      1. Well let’s all be clear, my title was edgy, meant to provoke discussion. What I try to demonstrate in the post is that the magisterium is operative in seminal form in this first moment of the resurrection. Of course seminal form is not the same as full maturity. But the fact remains that the text uses the word “true” in reference to the resurrection only after Peter confirms it and the others decalre it with him and that is significant.

        While I am grateful to Grandpa Tom for his vote of confidence I cannot accept the praise of being smarter or even better trained which I do not presume. While I do not know you Bender I surely consider you well trained and probably a lot smarter that me! 🙂

        However, I also want to stick by my point to certain extent here. I am grateful for your reference to JP II but am still puzzled as to where the language of the Pentecost as the Birthday comes from. He cites VC II but does not say where. Perhaps Lumen Gentium. But the problem I have is that this is not the usual or traditional way of describing the Church’s birth which traditon ascribed to the wounded side of Christ. Further, While JP II wrote D et V the Catechism he promulgated seems to trump the encyclical in terms of magisterial teaching authority and the catechism does not use this description but rather the more attested to one of the Church as coming forth from the side of Christ. (John of course combines the giving of the Holy Spirit with the opening of the side of Christ).

        With all this in mind I think something of a truce can and should be declared here. This is not a hill I choose to die on (the resurrection – yes I’ll die on that hill, but not the Hill of when it formally became dogma or when the real birthday is). My blog was meant to spur discussion and to advance a theory. I think the discussion has been had and it was interesting. Like many things in the Church it would seem that we can spar and point to different traditions and then go have a beer. You quote here I quote there but in the end we’re still sons of the Church as long as we stay inside the guard rails of solemnly defined teaching and doctrine. Even in the scriptural tradition Johannine and Lucan theology locate the coming of the Spirit differently and if divergent tradition exists there perhaps we cannot fully resolve it here.

  11. I’ve never thought of it like that before. Thanks for this, Monsignor.

  12. I just want to ask you about the best way to approach the resurrection of Jesus. How am I to study or somehow make a paper about it?

    Thank You!

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