11. Europe: The Christian Ferment

11.1 The Resurrection of Jesus

The most enigmatic event in the history of mankind is the rise of the Christian civilization. The Buddha was a prince. He had been educated in a palace and was of superior intelligence. He was credited with mastery in the handling of large numbers, which matched the skill displayed by Archimedes. To follow him was not demeaning. Muhammad was an extremely rich man. He was in addition a man of action, a warlord. He was a leader able to command the loyalty of his followers. The crucified Jesus was a thirty-three years old Galilean carpenter who had started preaching an esoteric creed three years earlier. Luc credited him with a precocious great intelligence (Luc. 2:46-47) but his social origin was not predisposing him to leadership. He was a simple man, never married, apparently illiterate, exposing his ideas in parables to the low-class simple people who followed him. They followed him because he was a good shaman who healed the poor people better than did physicians (Marc. 5: 25-34). His twelve apostles, however, were not simpletons.

He was put to death by the Roman occupant at the demand of the Jewish religious authorities and was given the death reserved to slaves: crucifixion. His death was demanded because his teaching was blasphemy. Yahweh, the respected God of Abraham, the Supreme Being, the creator of heavens and earth, the Master of the Universe, could not possibly be incarnated into a human son (Mat. 12:50; 17:5; Marc 14:61-62, Luc. 23:69-70). Such an affirmation was blasphemy. The beatitudes he advocated were also blasphemy. To heal foreigners was scandalous (Mat. 15:21-28). To preach love and pardon of the enemy opposed the Torah that says “eye for eye, tooth for tooth”. The claim that each adult human being is responsible for his own actions was also objectionable to commanders and rulers. The Romans and the Greeks thought that he was crazy. For a Greek, the divineness of a man and his death on a cross were irrational. St Paul recognized that Christianity is, for a Greek, a folly and, for a Jew, a scandal (1 Co., 1:23). The Koran also denied the crucifixion of the prophet Jesus. It states (IV, 157) that somebody else was crucified while Jesus went to heavens from where he will return at the end of the times. After the execution of Jesus, the apostles went underground, fearing of a persecution. His death was shameful, his preaching a complete and irremediable failure and these simple men who feared authority as much as most humans do, holed up in the cenacle. Then, suddenly, their attitude changed completely and they began evangelization. The change was prompted by the resurrection of Christ (fig. 11.1).

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Figure 11.1. The Resurrection painted by Giotto in 1310. Capella della Maddalena, Assisi, Italy. According to John (20:17) and Matthew (28:9), Mary Magdalena held the feet of Jesus but resurrected Jesus refuses (noli me tangere, no one should touch me) on the ground that he has still not risen to his Father.

The Florentine Giotto’s style differs from the Gothic style flourishing North of the Alps. Giotto is committed to the idea of realism in art. He shed the stereotyped Byzantine elements and tries to give his figures the maximum naturalism, shows interest in the movement of his figures, and their psychological interplay. This trend achieved perfection three hundred years later (fig. 11.2).

Figure 11.2. The resurrection painted in 1612 in the rococo style by Rubens (1577-1640). Central Panel, Cathedral of Antwerp. The metempsychosis is the transmigration of the soul of an animal or human being at death into a new body of the same or of a different species, according to merit. At the time of Christ, it was a highly respected religious concept, especially in the East. Christ reincarnated into himself, proving therewith his perfection. In this painting, Christ emerges from a cavern, not a tomb.

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The story of the resurrection in the gospels betrays the most authentic human psy­chology. It is certain that the disciples of Jesus did not forge the news of his resurrection. The news of the resurrection produced reticence, not joy. The women who discovered the empty tomb mistook the resurrected Christ for the gardener, were with fear and ran away. They went to the cenacle to tell of the event and met with disbelief. Only Peter and John made the effort to verify their story. An empty tomb does of course not mean resurrection and, afraid and fearing the Jewish establishment, they conti­nued to keep hiding. It is the resuscitated Christ who met them in their hiding place. Thomas was absent and expressed his scepticism.

The resurrection is, par excellence, the good news, in Greek “eu aggelia”, i.e. evangel. Paul discusses the event at length in 1 Cor. 15. He explicitly states “If Christ is not resuscitated, our faith is vain” (1 Cor. 15:17). The resurrection of Christ proves that there will be a general resurrection at the end of the times. Faith in the resurrection of Christ is of capital historical importance because it is almost certain that it specified the formation of a Christian community. The resurrection is a supernatural event that escapes history. What is puzzling is the willingness of the witnesses, the martyrs, to give their life for the testimony. Martyrs, in Greek “marturoi”, means witnesses. During three centuries, the Christians were persecuted and killed for the sole reason that they attested the reality of the resurrection. By resurrecting, Christ vanquished death. In doing so, he gave a sense to life, which does not end up in absurdity. His resurrection from the death of a slave means that there is no human suffering without a remedy. Jesus is on the side of the victims, not on the side of the tormentors. God is on the side of he who suffers.

The resurrection of Christ must be considered the most important event in the history of mankind because it allowed during 1000 years a civilization that contemplated God through men. Man had been created at the image of God and one respected God in Man. This glint of God gave to each human being an inalienable dignity, which allowed him to strive and work at the development of the contemporary world. The resurrection of Christ is a story that became symbolic because it cannot be assimilated into the contemporary myth of objective consciousness. Contemporary man has surrendered to the scientific myth with unquestioning faith. This myth is embodied by doctors, scientists and military men who do their job with as little emotional involvement as possible. Just as the myth of Christendom floundered in the 16th century, it is nowadays recognized that the scientific myth of unending progress also is a myth that slowly dies under the evidence of its incapacity to solve the problems it has itself created.

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