Where Did Jesus Go?


Several comments on my post on the Ascension pondered on where Christ went. If we went up physically, where did he go? Did he go to some sort of physical/spiritual realm that we cannot conceive of?

As it happens, I have just come from a session with our sophomores in High School discussing Nominalism and Realism. The Realists of the Middle Ages had a philosophy based on Plato which taught that the true reality was not the physical, material world which we think is ‘real’ but another invisible realm where things are more, not less real. C.S.Lewis was a Platonist (or Realist) in this sense. This is why in The Great Divorce the blades of grass puncture the feet of the spirit, and the apples are too heavy to pick up and he dare not go under a waterfall for fear of being crushed.
Nominalism (at the risk of being ridiculously simplistic) taught that there was no ‘real’ invisible realm, but this physical material world was the only reality. Protestantism was spawned by Nominalism, as was Deism, Scientism, Individualism and various other icky isms.
Back to the Ascension: if it is important that Jesus ascended physically then where did he go? If the Realists and Platonists are correct, he went to a realm which was not less physical than this one, but more physical. He entered into a dimension that was supra-natural not just supernatural. In other words, it was not just above nature, but it was dynamically more, far more than we can imagine natural, physical and material.
In one of his space trilogy books Lewis discusses this way of standing on one’s head about what is real or unreal. He says it is all a matter of perception. If you did not know that fog was insubstantial, and a man solid, then when you saw a man step through a bank of fog you might think he was so insubstantial as to move through solid material. So it is when an angel (or the resurrected Christ) step through a wall. It is not the resurrected Christ who is insubstantial–it is the wall. Christ is not less real or solid than the wall–he is more real and solid than the wall.
Likewise with his Ascension into heaven. He goes up into the clouds and disappears. This is not because he has become ethereal and ‘spiritual’ and less physical, but because he has moved into a realm in which he is more physical and ‘real’ than this world. That’s why we can’t see him, but also why he is more present and more powerfully real in the world than if we could see him.
There, I suppose I have confused everyone totally, and perhaps I’ve even strayed into heresy, who knows. If I have offended anyone or strayed off track simply say I am being speculative….
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  • A most interesting insight, Father. I suppose we could say something similar about the Assumption of Our Lady. The late Proffesor Macquarrie might have used existentialist insights is saing we share Being in relation to God. God is more “beingful”; we are “beings on the way” and “Being-itself is the primordial lLetting-be that is prior to all modes of is-ness. ” again, a bit complicated but the Macquarrie, an Anglo-Ctholi, does not seem to be read by Anglican ordinands these days.do you remember we exchanges emails when you aere in England. It is wonderful you are now a priest in the US. I met up for a pub lunch with Cyprian Blamires in the summer. Robert Tickle

  • ok, my brain hurts.

  • Robert, I do remember corresponding with you. Thanks for visiting my blog. All best regards to Cyprian

  • Love it (but don’t understand it)…I mean especially about Jesus being more powerfully present that way.

  • Jesus is more powerfully present throughout the world rather than being limited to just one space as he was during the time of the incarnation.His powerful presence now is through the Holy Spirit, through the Church, in the sacrament.He said it himself, “I will be with you always even to the end of time…I must go away so the Advocate can come.”

  • I’m thinking he took the ‘red pill’; and woke up underground like Neo in ‘The Matrix’, ala Eldredge. He went down the rabbit hole.

  • I think another important point is to couch the ascension in eschatological as well as (not instead of) “vertical” terms if you will. Jesus has not just gone “up” to some higher level of reality, he has ascended into the reality of God’s future, the eschatological telos of all creation that is communion of all created being with the Holy Trinity. The “place” where Jesus is is God’s future, his “location” simply is the Father, the very one who is the goal, source, and hope of all created beings.Thus, we understand Christ’s ecclesial and eucharistic presence in a similarly eschatological way. Christ is present to us in the eucharist and in the gathered people of God (and other ways of course) as the future – divine-human communion – is realized on earth through the Spirit. The presence of Christ is the reality of the Trinitarian future of the world apocalyptically breaking into the present age.Because Christ has ascended into God’s future, we have a future indeed.

  • Verbum, G.

  • Okay everyone, let’s take a trip to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

  • Thanks, Fr. Dwight, I think I got it now. So, the Ascension emphasis needs to be on the cosmic presence of Christ, more than on his absence, and we have no reason to feel Left Behind. Christ has, since his ascension in glory, been present with the Father but also He has been present in the world, sacramentally, incarnate, and He is present in his body, the Church (also incarnationally). And all this is so by virtual of a “Real” supra-sensible Presence and not mere “Nominal” (virtual) presence. I looked up a research and found our discussion to be well in sync with the Eastern Orthodox Church teaching. The Kontakon for the Feast of the Ascension (always a good starting point) goes: “When Thou didst fulfill the dispensation for our sake, and didst unite earth to heaven, Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, not being parted from those who love Thee, but remaining with them and crying: ‘I am with you and no one will be against you!’” The part about no one being against us is powerful, isn’t it? Especially, as Jesus had already prophesied tribulation in this world, resistance to be leveled against his teaching, division, and that his followers would be accused falsely for His sake. But all that would be settled before the other eschaton. In this vein, I am reminded about Romans 8, where it says: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” (NLT)

  • I love that idea about Jesus being more substantial and the world less substantial. Clear as a bell to me. Thanks so much for writing about it. Poor John Spong, who thought himself out of Christianity without ever seeming to realize it, wrote many times about the “ridiculous” idea of Jesus shooting up into the sky and out of the earth’s orbit… It is a ridiculous idea. But why he thinks anyone believed the Ascension meant that is beyond me. Gail F

  • I think we have every reason to feel left behind. I for one have a few questions and would like a little sit-down, face-to-face time, manno manno. For one thing, is the shroud of turin real? I could punch up quite a list.

  • Wikipedia: “Nominalism holds that verbal abstractions employed by humans are only manners of speaking, having no existence beyond human thought and discourse.”Father, is this why Protestants do not believe in the Real Presence?

  • Hmm…Jesus being more physical as God than when he was while executing his ministry here on earth. This does contradict the many assertions I’ve previously come across that God is a spirit and “not something to be grasped” in any sense.More physical than matter? Are you saying he has more atoms/ molecules than the physical things we come across? Perhaps the word “potent” should be used in lieu of the word “physical” for consistency sake.

  • “Is this why Protestants do not believe in the Real Presence?”Precisely. Protestants build on a very different philosophical foundation than Catholics. Their first assumptions are different, so their conclusions are different.

  • Thanks. Helpful post.

  • Dwight,Eh? You claim Protestants are too spiritually obtuse to understand your very well explained theology on the Ascension for which you quote heavily from C.S.Lewis.But he was a….Protestant!James

  • James, do me the courtesy of not putting words into my mouth. I never said Protestants were ‘spiritually obtuse.’

  • Calm down, Dwight.When you state wrongly that: “Protestantism was spawned by Nominalism…” it is difficult not to surmise you think we Prods are ‘spiritually obtuse.’I did praise you by stating your theology was ‘very well explained.’ Take a compliment.I’m just puzzled how you can make regular references to Protestantism as, well, being wrong, but you can’t let go of one of the greatest Protestants of the 20th century, C.S.Lewis, to the extent of writing a book titled More Christianity. Despite what you might secretly hope, Clive Staples did NOT walk through the wardrobe marked ‘Catholicism.’By your logic, as a Prod, C.S.Lewis is on a theological par with the ol’ Tennessee snake charmers, making up his theology and morals as he goes along, without the backing of the Magisterium. James

  • Dear James, we Catholics try to appreciate truth, beauty and goodness wherever it appears, and there’s plenty of it in C.S.Lewis that’s for sure.On the spectrum between snake handling Pentecostals and Catholics though, Lewis is far closer to Catholicism than Pentecostalism.He eschewed religious free for all worship. He hated emotional tacky music. He loved liturgy, believed in the efficacy of the sacraments, believed in purgatory, prayed for the dead and honored Mary.Nevertheless, you’re right that he did not become a Catholic. I recommend Joseph Pearce’s ‘C.S.Lewis and the Catholic Church’ published by Ignatius Press–its the best book on him.I think maybe it is time for me to do another post on the Protestants and things about Protestantism that I admire. This may help you to realize that, while I criticize the philosophical and theological quicksand on which your religion is built, there is much that I admire within it.