We meditated yesterday on the latest Biblical scholarship about Resurrection as laid out by Bruce Chilton and, more briefly, John Dominic Crossan. I posited that a look into some of our greatest mystics might underscore the insights they offer.
Let us consider, for example, Thomas Aquinas. Though he wrote in the thirteenth century, he echoes Chilton and Crossan of the twenty-first century when he talks about the “first” and “second” resurrections.
He speaks of a “double Resurrection” wherein the first is Waking Up in this lifetime. He implies that if we do this correctly, we don’t have to worry about the second.
Aquinas explains the “first resurrection” this way: “First, let us try to rise spiritually from the soul’s death, brought on by our sins, to that life of justice obtained through penitence: ‘Rise, you who sleep, and rise from the dead; and Christ shall enlighten you’ (Eph.5:14). This is the first resurrection: ‘blessed and holy is one who has part in the first resurrection’ (John 20:6).’”
Being asleep is a kind of death from which we need to rise up and resurrect. The first resurrection is about Waking Up. He cites Paul: “’As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also must walk in newness of life’ (Rom. 6:4). The new life is the life of justice renewing the soul and leading it to the life of glory.”
How prevalent is the sleepfulness of which Aquinas speaks? It would appear to be universal, since Kabir, the fifteenth century Indian mystic, tells us: “You have been sleeping for millions and millions of years. Why not wake up this morning?”
Aquinas invokes Paul with an image from Isaiah 60.1: ‘Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem; for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. ‘Rise from a neglect of good works, you who sleep. ‘How long will you sleep, O sluggard?’ (Prov. 6:9) ‘Shall he that sleep rise again no more?’ (Ps 41:9).”
Says Aquinas: “There is a double resurrection, one of the body, when the soul rejoins body, the other spiritual, when soul reunites to God. Christ’s bodily resurrection produces both in us—though he himself never rose again spiritually, for he had never been separated from God.”
For Aquinas, our being asleep is being separated from God. It is also succumbing to acedia, the capital sin we often translate as sloth but that has a far richer meaning that includes depression, despair, passivity, boredom–in short couchpotato-itis. Aquinas defines acedia as “the lack of energy to begin new things.” We find it everywhere today, it is a “sign of our times,” and that is why we created a new word for it, namely couchpotato-itis.
Its cure is Waking Up. How does that happen? Aquinas proposes that zeal comes from an intense experience of love, beauty or goodness. Yes, beauty and falling in love are the cure for acedia and being asleep. The Via Positiva awakens us.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 166-168.
And Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 361ff, 114.
Do you recognize your experiences of the Via Positiva, awe, wonder, beauty, goodness as resurrection experiences? What follows from that?
Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him. He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French). He gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way.
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake