The impossible belief that has endured for two millennia


The Resurrection is impossible. So says science. And yet our belief in it has endured for two millennia. It has survived repeated and determined attempts to stamp it out.

The Arian heretics decided that the Lord of Life was not of the same nature with God, but merely of a like nature. No Resurrection for Him, then. When even a Pope vacillated over Arianism, St Athanasius came to the rescue and proclaimed the truth in his magnificent Creed.

The Communists maintained that religion was the opium of the people, and resurrection was ridiculous, but they were seen off by a Polish Pope.

A notorious Anglican Bishop of Durham some decades ago declared that he could not bring himself to believe in the Resurrection. He was one of many wobbly clerics. The then Catholic Bishop of Leeds, Bishop Gordon Wheeler, whose Easter sermons making it quite clear that the Resurrection actually happened were deservedly famous, used to tell an elegant joke at the Bishop of Durham’s expense:

“And Jesus said unto the Bishop of Durham, Whom dost thou say that I am? And he answered and said, Thou art the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we derive the ultimate meaning in our interpersonal relationships. And Jesus said, What?”

Dean Cupitt of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, also professed his disbelief in the Resurrection. There was a joke about him, too: “There is no God, and Dean Cupitt is His Prophet.”

Today, the totalitarian majority of the scientific and academic community regards anything unprovable as false. That is bad logic, but then totalitarianism and logic have never gone together. The present-day obsession with “the science” represents a dangerous and persisting but ultimately doomed attack on the Christian religion.

After all, scientists these days – particularly the totalitarians – believe in all manner of arrant nonsense that they cannot prove. For instance, they profess to believe in catastrophic global warming, even though there has been far less of it than they had predicted, and even though it has been and will continue to be generally beneficial.

Alice in Wonderland was sceptical of difficult beliefs such as ours. She said to the White Queen, “One can’t believe impossible things.”

The White Queen replied: “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Born of a virgin? Yeah, right. Rose from the dead? Come off it, mate. Bread is God? Pull the other one, squire, it’s got bells on. Pass the marmalade.

Pliny, the scholar of ancient Rome, wrote to his friend the Emperor Trajan to describe the bizarre beliefs of us Christians. In doing so, he provided what remains the most succinct description of transubstantiation: “They make their God and then they eat Him!”

How is it, then, that the things that we Christians believe, things that are surely more bizarre and off the wall than those of just about any other religion, have endured so successfully, despite all attempts to sneer at them and to suppress them?

No small part of the reason is that at every point the Christian belief is a belief in the family. Every man of good will understands the value and importance of the family.

The Christmas story is a family story. That is why it appeals so strongly to children. The story of the Holy Trinity is a kind of family story too: God the Father, God the Son and, proceeding from these two, God the Holy Spirit.

Above all, the Christian emphasis on love is rooted in the ideal of the family as the central unit of society, whose members are bound to one another by love.

People get that. They understand. For love is – or ought to be – part of everyone’s daily life. The Christian emphasis on love as the only rule of life comes to us, like much else in our philosophy, from the Jews. It was they who first enunciated in the Old Testament what became the two great Commandments of the New.

First Commandment: love God. Second Commandment: love thy neighbour. Third Commandment: there is no Third Commandment. That attractively comprehensible simplicity is reflected in the Code of Canon Law, which, after 2000 years of development, is no longer than a typical paperback novel.

We Christians instinctually measure the world around us by that simple, straight yardstick of love. When we observe agonizing events such as Mr Putin’s massacre in Ukraine, we are particularly moved by the stark contrast between the amiable, benevolent and generally Christian-influenced system of government under which we are fortunate to live and the bestially cruel and savage conduct of the Communists in Moscow and Peking not only towards the citizens of neighbouring countries but also towards their own.

The four great freedoms that we in the Christian West enjoy – the freedom of religion, the freedom of election, the freedom of markets and the freedom of speech – are all manifestations of love. We love our neighbour even if his religion is not our religion. We love him enough to allow him to participate with us in making and unmaking our government. We love him enough to let him sell to us and buy from us without let or hindrance. And we love him enough to let him say or write or print what he wants, even if we disagree with his opinion.

And that is why, when East meets West in battle, as now in Ukraine, we can say that this is a battle between love on our side and hate on theirs, right on ours, wrong on theirs, life on ours, death on theirs. Ours, then, is the future. And that is the meaning of the Resurrection. The Lord of Life did battle with the darkness and overcame death itself.

Likewise, that is why, this joyful Eastertide, we believe so cheerfully and so readily in that notion, impossible to mere rationalists, that He is truly risen – alethos anesti, as the Orthodox say in their reply to Christos anesti, their Easter greeting.

For the Resurrection, the ultimate triumph of love, is our guarantee that love will always triumph, and that Communism, together with all such shoddy embodiments of the anti-religion of hate, is doomed. Omnia vincit amor. We are on the winning side.