Sometimes the two seem to become connected in rather inappropriate ways. One example of such a connection is exhibited in the NPR article, “Why are Wedding Dresses So Expensive” (1). I showed it to Matthias who mentioned it in his previous post, before I posted it on facebook with sarcastic remarks on how our priest failed to properly assess my fittingness and disposition to marry by inquiring the amount I spent on the wedding gown. My husband should probably know about this, since the gown was on clearance and the veil bought off ebay. Joking aside now. The things that are pointed out in that article point to a societal separation between weddings and sacramental marriage, and a focus on weddings as events of great (monetary) value in their own right. Christine, in her comment on Matthias’s post, puts it pretty well. Weddings have become a ritual in “self-realization” and “adulthood,” and mark an entrance into another stage of life (but not necessarily the rest of your life together).
The term, “wedding” unfortunately, seems automatically to mean the reception in many people’s minds, not the ceremony in which you actually become married. A number of the people who asked me where the wedding was going to be, after my response indicating the particular church, indicated that what they meant by “wedding” was actually where the reception was going to be held. As if where we were actually getting married to begin with hardly mattered. As if the sacrament were only a brief prelude to the “real” wedding. Likewise, the questions about how the wedding planning was going also revolved around things related to the reception or other extra things. Did we choose the menu, the cake (we did cupcakes, actually), get a photographer, get a DJ, is the dress done? No one (except our priest and music director) in these “wedding-planning” conversations asked if we had chosen the readings for the Mass, or the music for the Mass, or anything about the Mass.
The popular ideal for a wedding seems to be about making it a perfectly designed and choreographed production that will amaze your guests. One of the biggest wow-factors of a wedding is the gown, so we end up with articles like the one mentioned above, and we observe a culture of glamour, rather than sanctity, surrounding weddings and their preparation in mainstream culture.
When my wife was searching for a wedding dress, she spent some time shopping before finding a discontinued dress on clearance. The dress looked lovely and the saleswoman told my then fianceé, "and you don't even have to tell anyone it was on clearance!" As if spending an insufficient amount on a wedding dress were a piece of moral turpitude best hidden from friend and foe alike. To some people, it is. Today wedding dresses not uncommonly cost thousands of dollars. Salespeople and friends ask if a bride is certain she has found “the” dress. Each bride a special snowflake to be matched only to the perfect dress.
What is true of the search for the modern wedding dress is true of modern weddings in general. . Flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses, photography, music, the reception all combine to make the average spectacle of a wedding today cost about $22,000. A recent article suggested various reasons for this particularly: showing of social status and, showing off how seriously a bride takes her marriage.
And yet as the costs of the wedding get higher and higher, the length of the marriages get shorter and shorter and the divorce rates ever higher. How is a society that values marriage so much more than it ever has (at least by the measure of mammon) unable to prevent marriages shorter from when they ever have been? Might the measure have gone wrong?
In the Christian tradition and the Christian ages, marriage stood as a channel of divine grace and a symbol of the union between Christ and his Church. The spouses were to mirror the self-giving, self-sacrificing, love of God. As God’s love was creative and led to the creation of the world (as well as the Incarnation and crucifixion), so a husband and wife are called to a procreative love in children. As the love of Father and Son eternally binds them together and leads to the Holy Spirit, so human love is to be open to the third in children. Fulton Sheen says that love is always triune. When the entire world can be a symbol of the divine, as it was to St. Francis, Augustine, and the entire Christian tradition, the world is a larger and richer place. When marriage can be a symbol of God, marriage is better off for it.
The modern world, however, is a material world. God is dead, or at least widely proclaimed to be so. Life, as life without God must be, is devoid of any real purpose, meaning, or objective value (2). In such a world, marriage can hardly be a symbol of the divine. It can be little more than (as it has become) a temporary contract entered into and broken at the whim of either party. NT Wright wrote, “sex used to be a sacrament, but in the modern world, it has become a toy” (3).
Still, by a basic and wild instinct, man still knows that sex and marriage ought to be something more than mere contract or animal instinct. Unable to value marriage as a sign of God’s love for His Church, however, (since God is dead), he shows his appreciation for marriage the only way a material world can, through money. A philosophically materialist world inevitably becomes materialist in another sense and so the cost of weddings goes ever higher. But so do the divorce rates.
Fulton Sheen wrote that two empty cups cannot fill each other; two sticks cannot be tied together save by something outside themselves, and the modern world has found materialism (in both senses of the word) a poor cord. The Christian Ages of the world had an answer, and to them we turn for ours. There, love could be love because it could be triune. Spouses could love each other because Love Himself was involved. Chesterton called Christianity the answer to a long riddle. If only the modern world cares to see it.
(2) For one assessment of this see, William Lane Craig’s essay, “The Absurdity of Life Without God.”
(3) from Simply Christian.
We continue to celebrate the Easter Season by considering the Resurrection. Last week’s post was some simple reflections on Updike’s famous poem on the Resurrection; this week briefly considers some historical evidence for the Resurrection; the next couple weeks will consider other aspects of it and why it matters.
St. Paul famously wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is in vain,” while centuries later John Updike echoed him saying if He did not rise in His body, “the Church will fall.” Unlike every other religion and mythology, Christianity is unique in being based on a single historical event, without which it cannot survive (1); here then, I will consider briefly some evidence for that event sketching an argument developed by modern scholars such as N.T. Wright and William Lane Craig.
A good sketch of evidence for the Resurrection will have two parts, 1. Establish 3 facts (the empty tomb, appearances of the risen Christ, and the origin of Christian belief, and 2. Establishing that the best explanation of those facts is that the Resurrection really occurred.
I. The Three facts:
A). Jesus’ Burial and discovery of his empty tomb three days later.
1. The discovery of the empty tomb in multiply attested in early, independent sources. The pre-marken passion source, Paul’s letter to Corinthians mentions it, Matthew is an independent source since he includes the guard at the tomb, which is not in Mark.
2. Mark’s story is simple and lacks significant legendary development. (esp. compared to later Gnostic gospels which are real legends.
3. The empty tomb was discovered by women. Women were not regarded as reliable witnesses, so their presence indicates the account is probably legit, since no one would invent women as discovers of the empty tomb.
4. The earliest Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body (Matt. 28.15) shows that the body was in fact missing from the tomb. The only reason to put that story there was if the Jews were really claiming that Jesus’s followers stole his body, by which they admitted the tomb was empty.
5. The disciples could never have preached the Resurrection unless the tomb were really empty. No one would have believed them
- For these and at least 3 other reasons, Gary Habermas found in a survey that 75% of scholars admit the empty tomb. “Experience of the Risen Jesus” Dialog 45 (2006):292.
B. Appearances of the risen Christ on multiples occasions to multiples individuals.
1. “The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15. 5-7 guarantees that such appearances occurred. These included appearances to Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, the 500 brethren, and James.”
2. The gospels account for multiples appearances, including to the women. The latter are probably reliable for the reason given above. They would not have been made up.
3. The appearances were physical. Paul in Corinthians implies this, Jesus invites Thomas to touch his side, Jesus eats a fish. If the appearances were not physical, the disciples would not have said Jesus was raised, they’d say they saw his ghost.
- Even the radical skeptic Ludemann agrees that these appearances happened. He simply disagrees on the best explanation of them, by arguing that they are simply hallucinations.
C. The Origin of Christian Belief: The Disciples Came to Believe, in Spite of Every Reason Not to, That Jesus Was Really Raised From the Dead (This section is largely from NT Wright).
1. The ancient world always used the word “Resurrection” to mean a physical bodily resurrection. And they universally, from Plato, to Homer, through ancient Greece and Rome, agreed that Resurrection in this sense did not happen.
2. The sole exception was the Jews, who came to believe there would be a Resurrection of all the just, at the end of time.
3. Among the early Christians, however, this belief underwent some remarkable changes: a. Resurrection moves from the periphery to the center, b. Early Christians came to believe one man has been raised ahead of time, c. Early Christians came to believe that the Messiah has been raised, d. Resurrection becomes something Jesus’ followers could contribute to in the present life.
4. Finally, in early Christianity, as opposed to Judaism and paganism, there was virtually no spectrum of belief of life after death.
5. Beliefs in life after death, being very important and precious to people, tend to be very conservative. For Christians to 1). show such changes and 2). agree almost completely, this demands explanation
Part II- The explanation of these three facts.
The most probable explanation of these three facts is that Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead leaving behind an empty tomb. It easily exceeds other explanations in explanatory scope, power, and other criteria for best explanation.
Please Note- none of these arguments assume the Bible was written early or that it was written by the first generation. I only claim that it is sufficient, when treated as a historical source, to establish the facts listed above.
- Beginner/Popular Level:
NT Wright, Surprised By Hope Rethinking Heaven and the Resurrection, chap. 3-4.
William Lane Craig, The Son Rises
Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, chap. 8.
NT. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God.
(1). Of course, we cannot confuse the existence of the event with evidence for the event. If the Resurrection were shown not to have occurred, then Christianity would fall, but it might have occurred and there could simply be little evidence for it (though I think the evidence remarkably good).
The Cross of Christ: Embarrassment or Reason to Boast?
Here begins the first a several blogs posts for the Easter season on the Resurrection. This is simply some brief reflections on a favorite John Updike poem.
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
—John Updike, “Seven Stanzas At Easter,” 1964
In Galatians 6:14, St. Paul said, “may I boast in nothing but the cross of Christ.” For a Christian the cross is a tremendous source of pride and cause for awe, as we boast in a God who took on human flesh and became man, thereby committing the greatest act of humility the world had ever seen. Similarly, He took the full force of all the world’s evil onto himself, defeating sin and death in the greatest act of love the world had ever seen.
Though St. Paul boasted in the cross, for much of modern society and many people, even some claiming the name of Christian, the cross is not a source of pride, but a source of embarrassment. It was of those that John Updike wrote warning lest they be embarrassed by the miracle.
Modern embarrassment with the idea of a God who took on flesh, died, and then rose in glorified flesh essentially dates to the so-called Enlightenment and rise of materialism toward the end of the eighteenth century. Modern people “knew” that dead men did not rise as their silly unenlightened ancestors, bless their fruit of the looms, had believed. This change affected even theology as 20th century theologians began to reject the reality of the Resurrection. Rudolph Bultmann, (I think) remarked that no one who had seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope could be expected to believe in the literal Resurrection. Consequently, he turned the Resurrection into a metaphor, a sign of the call to authentic existence in the face of death.
A modern material mind cannot believe in the Resurrection, it believes that dead men do not rise. Yet, the modern mind, still does not become wholly irreligious. Like Bultmann, it may try to retain some “spiritual” (though the belief is really very unspiritual) metaphorical meaning, thereby “mocking God with metaphor.” The modern mind, like the pagan antique mind, cannot accept a literal, physical Resurrection. God as matter is repellent to it.
It is a strange thing that the more materialist the word becomes, the more disgusted with matter it becomes. A literal resurrection is foolishness to the gentiles, but a “spiritual” religion such as Buddhism or the eastern paganisms are perfectly acceptable. This disgust with matter may come from the fact that in a material universe, the universe is simply, as one writer put it, the random product of time plus chance. There is nothing to give it purpose or meaning, and hence nothing to dignify it. And so matter and the material world becomes a prison.
This embarrassment with the crucifixion, however, is nothing new; rather it goes back to the beginning. Paul in Corinthians wrote that ‘we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” Peter himself confessed Our Lord as Messiah, but then objected to the Crucifixion and was denounced as Satan. Indeed, disgust with a God become man who suffered, died, and rose, goes back further still. One of the speculations about Satan’s fall, was that God revealed to him the episode of the cross and Satan objected. Satan refused to adore a God who would so humble himself and become man. He was too enlightened.
To the Christian, however, the cross is not an embarrassment. Rather, the love and humility of God become man, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are not a cause for embarrassment, but a source of pride, and indeed, the only real source of pride in the whole universe. Children boast on the playground that “my daddy can beat your daddy.” The Christian can similarly boast, with St. Paul, that Our Father, the God become man in Jesus, has fought and beaten the entire forces of evil, sin, and death, and Resurrexit.