Monday, September 24, 2007

Biblical and Historical Evidences for Raising the Dead (Contra Lutheran Josh Strodtbeck)

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St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639)

Good ole Josh. Nothing but an objective, reasoning machine, able to see clearly the faults of every Christian tradition imaginable, and always filled with words of edification for his fellow Christian believers. Here is his recent comment on philosophers who convert to Catholicism (almost certainly a thinly veiled reference to Francis Beckwith and also possibly Rob Koons: high profile converts to Catholicism: the latter a former Lutheran):
I always find this interesting. One makes one's career in rational thought, then decides that the most perfectly reasonable thing in the world is to believe that there's a mystical Virgin floating around in the sky, covering the world in her veil and making magical myrrh gush out of consecrated paintings.

What won't people believe? What's next, the dead coming back to life?
Well, yes. The latter would be quite biblical:

Matthew 10:5-8 These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.

Acts 9:36-41 Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, "Please come to us without delay." So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, rise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.

Acts 20:7-12 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered. And a young man named Eu'tychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him." And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the lad away alive, and were not a little comforted.
People were raised from the dead even in Old Testament times, as in the case of the prophet Elijah:

1 Kings 17:17-23 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; and his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Eli'jah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" And he said to her, "Give me your son." And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried to the LORD, "O LORD my God, hast thou brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this child's soul come into him again." And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Eli'jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Eli'jah took the child, and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Eli'jah said, "See, your son lives."

The prophet Elisha also raised someone from the dead (2 Kings 4:17-37). Indeed, even Elisha's bones caused a man to be raised (2 Kings 13:20-21: an explicit biblical confirmation of relics). If it is objected that these were prophets, and hence a special case (hence irrelevant), then we present the words of Jesus about John the Baptist, who is considered the last prophet:

Luke 7:26-28 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, `Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."

Now, of course, I am not saying that raising the dead is as simple as anyone going out and praying for dead people. I don't plan on doing so, myself. Like all miracles, it would be an extraordinarily rare occurrence. I don't deny that the apostolic period was clearly one of increased miraculous occurrences (no question about that). But I am maintaining that the dead coming back to life is an entirely biblical notion, so that it is not in a category that can be mocked as utterly ludicrous or impossible (?) by the likes of Josh Strodtbeck.

It can't be so easily dismissed, since Jesus assumes that His disciples would be able to heal the sick and cast out demons as well, in the same passage (as well as evangelize). He doesn't separate raising the dead from the other things as if it were in an entirely different category. In other words, if Josh or someone else wishes to rule out all miraculous occurrences whatsoever, he is free to do so, but then he would be all that much more in contradiction to biblical teaching. Jesus taught that there was such a thing as demons and demon possession. Are we too sophisticated today to agree with Him? Is there no healing at all anymore?

If it is objected that miracles occurred only during the apostolic period, we can reply that there is nothing in the Bible to indicate what is known as "cessationism." In fact, James casually assumes that healing would continue to take place in the Church, by providing an example of Elijah that he applied to the Church age:
James 5:14-18 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Eli'jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.
Martin Luther didn't deny the possibility of continuing miracles. In his famous reply to Erasmus, The Bondage of the Will, he freely grants this, in his review of Erasmus' introduction (Part II, Section II).

I have in my library the book Raised from the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles (Albert J. Hebert, Rockford, IL" TAN Books, 1986). The book recounts resurrection stories from the patristic period, as attested by St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the historian Sozomen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Ambrose. How about St. Augustine?. He recounted four or five such stories (Cardinal Newman credits him with five). In one such story. St. Augustine affirms the miraculous nature of relics (of St. Stephen, in this instance) and the occurrence of someone being raised from the dead:

When the bishop Projectus was bringing the relics of the most glorious martyr Stephen to the waters of Tibilis, a great concourse of people came to meet him at the shrine. There a blind woman entreated that she might be led to the bishop who was carrying the relics. He gave her the flowers he was carrying. She took them, applied them to her eyes, and forthwith saw. Those who were present were astounded, while she, with every expression of joy, preceded them, pursuing her way without further need of a guide.

Lucillus bishop of Sinita, in the neighborhood of the colonial town of Hippo, was carrying in procession some relics of the same martyr, which had been deposited in the castle of Sinita. A fistula under which he had long labored, and which his private physician was watching an opportunity to cut, was suddenly cured by the mere carrying of that sacred fardel,—at least, afterwards there was no trace of it in his body.

Eucharius, a Spanish priest, residing at Calama, was for a long time a sufferer from stone. By the relics of the same martyr, which the bishop Possidius brought him, he was cured. Afterwards the same priest, sinking under another disease, was lying dead, and already they were binding his hands. By the succor of the same martyr he was raised to life, the priest’s cloak having been brought from the oratory and laid upon the corpse.

(City of God, Book XXII, chapter 8)
St. Irenaeus casually assumed that these things still took place, and that it was folly for heretics to disbelieve it:
2. Moreover, those also will be thus confuted who belong to Simon and Carpocrates, and if there be any others who are said to perform miracles—who do not perform what they do either through the power of God, or in connection with the truth, nor for the well-being of men, but for the sake of destroying and misleading mankind, by means of magical deceptions, and with universal deceit, thus entailing greater harm than good on those who believe them, with respect to the point on which they lead them astray. For they can neither confer sight on the blind, nor hearing on the deaf, nor chase away all sorts of demons—[none, indeed,] except those that are sent into others by themselves, if they can even do so much as this. Nor can they cure the weak, or the lame, or the paralytic, or those who are distressed in any other part of the body, as has often been done in regard to bodily infirmity. Nor can they furnish effective remedies for those external accidents which may occur. And so far are they from being able to raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and the apostles did by means of prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity—the entire Church in that particular locality entreating [the boon] with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints—that they do not even believe this can be possibly be done, [and hold] that the resurrection from the dead is simply an acquaintance with that truth which they proclaim.

(Against Heresies, Book II, chapter 31, 2)
St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was said to have raised three persons from the dead. Pope St. Gregory the Great tells the story of St. Benedict doing the same. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is reported to have performed this miracle. Bernard himself testifies that his friend St. Malachy (1095-1148) had raised a woman from the dead. Others who were used by God to perform this extraordinary miracle are St. Patrick, St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), Blessed Margaret of Castello (1287-1320), St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Catherine of Sweden, St. Joan of Arc, St. Bernardine, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri, St. John Bosco, St. Martin de Porres, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Padre Pio.

All this, yet Josh thinks belief in this sort of miracle is the equivalent of what he mocks as infantile, fairy tale-like belief in his gross caricature of Catholic Mariology, as "a mystical Virgin floating around in the sky . . . making magical myrrh gush out of consecrated paintings."

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