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Jesus and the Demise of Death: Read An Excerpt
How then to describe the hope of Christians without falling into an unhelpful dichotomy between the horizontal and the transcendent or
between biblical narrative and Greek philosophical culture? It seems to me that Thomas Aquinas can help us here. Rooted in Scripture, the Apostles' Creed, and the Fathers' insights, and benefiting from a critical appreciation of Greek philosophy, Aquinas' contemplation of the mysteries of faith generates rich insight into Jesus' passage and ours. We will explore Jesus' descent into hell, his resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father. Jesus enables the Church, as his eschatological people, to share in his passage by sending the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and to enable us to perform works of love. By tracing this path, I hope to gain insight into how Christians can appropriately speak about "the hope set before us" (Heb 6:18).
As we begin this study, then, let us pray with the psalmist: "You have said, 'Seek my face.' My heart says to you, 'Your face, Lord, do I seek'" (Ps 27:8). In the joys and trials of this life, "The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them for ever" (Ps 28:8-9).131
1 Richard B. Hays, "'Why Do You Stand Looking Up toward Heaven?' New Testament Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium," Modern Theology 16 (2000): 133. See also Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, trans. Michael J. Miller and Adrian J. Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 179: "Our preaching, our proclamation, really is one-sided, in that it is largely directed toward the creation of a better world, while hardly anyone talks any more about the other, truly better world."
2 Hays, "'Why Do You Stand Looking Up toward Heaven?,'" 133.
3 Anthony Godzieba, e.g., thinks that "current Roman Catholic eschatology is in disarray. The problems are rooted not only in the fact that the eschata are fundamentally mysteries that lay beyond any humanly achieved certainty. There are also major questions concerning the relative appropriateness of the images, language, and categories to be used for liturgical and personal prayer, for preaching, and for theological reflection upon eternal life. Crafting a contemporary eschatology has been made more difficult due to the demise of theology's traditional dualistic anthropology and by the fact that the theological discussion of 'personal identity' has lagged behind the contemporary philosophical discussions of subjectivity and alterity." Godzieba, "Bodies and Persons, Resurrected and Postmodern: Towards a Relational Eschatology," in Theology and Conversation: Towards a Relational Theology, ed. J. Haers and P. De Mey (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003), 211. Godzieba expresses concern that the 1970 revisions of the funeral liturgy removed references to "soul," and he seeks to provide a postmodern, nondualist account of "soul" as symbolizing "the intersubjectively sharable incarnated depth of the self" (224).
4 For the development of Christian eschatology under the influence of Greek philosophical culture, see Brian E. Daley, S.J., The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Daley, "A Hope for Worms: Early Christian Hope," in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments, ed. Ted Peters, Robert John Russell, and Michael Welker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 136-64. See also more specialized studies such as Charalambos Apostolopoulos, Phaedo Christianus: Studien zur Verbindung und Abwägung des Verhältnisses zwischen dem platonischen "Phaidon" und dem Dialog Gregors von Nyssa "Über die Seele und die Auferstehung" (Frankfurt: Lang, 1986).