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Jesus and the Demise of Death: Read An Excerpt
The second section, on our passage, occupies the final four chapters. Chapter 4 examines the eschatological community that even now participates in Christ's resurrection and that awaits his return in glory and the consummation of history. Taking my bearings largely from the Book of Acts, I explore how faith, eucharistic worship, and charitable almsgiving relate us to Jesus. I ask whether Aquinas' portrait of these realities obscures the eschatological orientation that they have in the New Testament. The fifth and sixth chapters address topics that are fundamental for conceiving of the world to come in relation to this world: whether God enables our actions to merit eternal life, and whether God has created us with a spiritual soul. Lastly, chapter 7 asks how the life of the world to come-beatific vision, bodily resurrection, the new creation-fulfills the passage on which the church is already embarked (as sketched in chapter 4). I agree here with Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart: "Humans have been created to find our eternal fulfilment and joy in the vision of God. Creatures can have no completion or perfection in themselves alone, and human creatures will find their faculties of love, knowledge and enjoyment of beauty fully satisfied only in relation to God."15 As Bauckham and Hart point out, the vision of God does not compete with our knowledge and love for creatures, as it would if God were a reality alongside creatures rather than the transcendent Creator in whom all creatures have their being. The portrait of our eternal life in the Trinity that I offer in this final chapter requires, in Hays' evocative phrase, "the conversion of the imagination."16
Scripture, the Soul of Eschatology?
How can theologians claim to know so much about resurrection and eternal life? At the 2008 Synod of Bishops, devoted to the topic of Sacred Scripture, Pope Benedict XVI stated that "where exegesis is
not theology, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and conversely, where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church's Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation."17 The status of Scripture as the "soul of theology" is affirmed by the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (§24), and is also underscored by Benedict XVI's recent Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini. Indeed, in Verbum Domini he urges, "It is my hope that, in fidelity to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the study of sacred Scripture, read within the communion of the universal Church, will truly be the soul of theological studies."18
But has this been the case for traditional Christian eschatology? Consider, for example, the events that followed upon Jesus' death. According to the Apostles' Creed, Jesus Christ "descended into hell."19 The Catechism of the Catholic interprets Jesus' descent into hell in the following manner: "In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him" (§637). How does the Catechism know this? In accord with its rightful emphasis on doctrinal continuity, the Catechism here cites the Roman Catechism published in the wake of the Council of Trent. But does Scripture, as the "soul of theological studies," suggest any grounds for the interpretation of the Apostles' Creed that is offered by the two Catechisms?20 It might seem that a more biblically rooted theology would move away from the claim that the dead Christ "opened heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him."