JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Credentials of the Christian Revelations.

27. We have now prepared the way for the main proof of the Christian Revelation, which may be logically stated as follows: If Christ's mission was supported by miracles and prophecies then it was Divine (II. 13), and it ought to be accepted by all men; but it was so supported; therefore it was Divine, and it ought to be accepted by all men. We will first prove that it was supported by miracles. We have seen that a miracle is a marvellous event, out of the ordinary course of nature and produced by Almighty God (n. 12). Now such were many of Christ's works and He appealed to them as proofs that God His Father had sent Him (11. 24). Of His countless miracles we will select two for special examination: the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the Resurrcction of Christ. The raising of Lazarus is related with all its striking details by St. John (XI), who adds : A great multitude, therefore, of the Jews came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. But the Chief priests sought to kill Lazarus also, because many of tIme Jews by reason of him went away and believed in Jesus" (XII, 9-11). This fact evidently fulfils all the conditions of a true miracle. It was not denied by the chief priests: "The chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees gathered together a council and said: 'What do we do? For this Man does many miracles. If we let Him alone so, all will believe in Him.' -- From that day therefore they devised to put Him to death" (Jo. XI, 47-53).

28. As to the Resurrection of Christ, the fact is (a) related by all four Evangelists, and, as we have seen, (b) appealed to by St. Paul (n. n. 25) as an unanswerable proof of Christ's mission. (c) Jesus Himself had predicted it while He was still alive. For, when the Scribes and Pharisees asked Him for a sign, He gave them this as the one great sign of His mission, saying: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign, and a sign will not be given it but the sign of Jonas the Prophet. For, as Jonas was in the whale's belly three days and three nights, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights" (Matt. XII, 39, 40). The Death of Christ cannot be doubted. It had taken place in public, in the sight of a vast concourse of people. He had been put to death by Roman officials, in the presence of the Scribes and Pharisees and the chief priests, and the Body had not been taken down from the Cross till "One of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water" (Jo. XIX, 34), and St. John adds emphatically that he saw it himself. At the burial, Christ's enemies sealed the sepulchre and placed guards, because He had foretold His Resurrection, and they said they feared lest His disciples might steal the Body (Matt. XXVII, 66). All these precautions served only to make the Resurrection, when it occurred, absolutely certain. The Jews did not deny that on the third day Christ had disappeared from the tomb; but they gave out that the disciples had stolen the Body while the guards were asleep. "What credit can be given to sleeping witnesses?" asks St. Augustine. And why were the guards not punished for neglect of duty? St. Matthew boldly charges the chief priests with giving them, instead, a great sum of money, promising them security from prosecution (XXVIII, 12, 13). Besides, the timidity exhibited by the Apostles during the Passion of Christ clearly showed that they were not the men to do so daring a deed. The only explanation which is not absurd is that which St. Peter publicly gave to the assembled Jews: "This Jesus God raised again, whereof we are witnesses" (Acts II, 32). His disciples saw Him repeatedly alive in their midst, touched Him, ate with Him, beheld His sacred wounds; and Thomas, because still incredulous, was invited by Christ to lay his finger in the wounds of the nails amid his hand immto the side; and, overcome by the evidence, he adored Christ as his Lord and God (Jo. XX, 28).

If Christ was not-risen, then we must say that all the Apostles had conspired to practise this huge and wicked deceit on the world. What had they to gain by it in this life or in the next? Would they have given their blood in testimony of this false pretence? Men never act that way. Nor could they have deceived the world, even had they wished to do so. And the five hundred disciples who saw the risen Christ, were they all impostors? Did they deceive the many thousands of converts, some from among the Pharisees, and to such an extent that their imposture has never been detected? No fact in history is more certain than Christ's Resurrection: he who refuses to accept it will accept no historic proof whatever.

29. Another class of credentials that prove a messenger to be from God consists of prophecies, either verified in his person, or uttered by him and afterwards accomplished. Both classes of prophecies testify to the Divine mission of Christ. As we remarked before (19-21), the Old Testament Scriptures are full of prophecies concerning the expected Messias. Now Jesus Christ, and He alone, has evidently fulfilled these predictions, and exhibited in His Life, Death, and Resurrection the marks by which the expected Saviour was to be recognized. Here are a few of these prophecies. He was to be of the family of David (Ps. 109): St. Matthew gives us the line of descent from David to "Jesus, who is called the Christ" (I). He was to be born in Bethlehem of Juda, as the Prophet Michaeas had predicted seven hundred and forty years before (V, 2), and as the priests declared to Herod when the Wise Men had come to adore the Child: "In Bethlehem of Juda; for so it is written by the Prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come forth the Captain that shall rule my people Israel" (Matt. II, 5, 6). Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as St. Luke narrates (II). He was also to be born of a virgin, as Isaias had foretold (VII, 14): "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel." Christ alone in all history was born of a virgin, and He is "God with us," which is the meaning of the word "Emmanuel". The Messias was to perform many miracles (Is. XXXV, 4-6), and to die for our sins (LIII, 5); His hands and feet were to be pierced, His bones to be numbered, His garments to be divided among His executioners, who should cast lots for His vesture. All this is predicted in the 21st Psalm, which proceeds to describe the fruits of His sufferimig: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and shall be converted to the Lord; and all the kindred of the Gentiles shall adore in His sight," etc.

The time of His coming was fixed by Jacob's prophecy: "The scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent, and He shall be the expectation of the nations" (Gen. XLIX, 10). Now the Holy Land became a Roman province shortly before Christ's birth, and the Jews soon after were scattered over the whole earth. Lastly, Daniel had determined the period of seventy weeks of years, at the end of which the Redemption was to be accomplished: 'Seventy weeks are shortened upon thy people and upon thy holy city that . . . everlasting justice may be brought, and vision and prophecy may be fulfilled, and the Saint of Saints may be anointed. Know, therefore, and take notice that, from the going forth of the word to build up Jerusalem again unto Christ the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks . . . and after sixty-two weeks the Christ shall be slain: and the people that shall deny Him shall not be His. And a people with their leader that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary" (IX, 24-26). All this was fulfilled in Christ and in the destruction of Jerusalem.

30. When the Jews, His own people, had rejected the Christ, because His was not an earthly, but a Heavenly Kingdom, they strove hard to put a new interpretation on Jacob's and Daniel's prophecies. But it was too late: their own interpreters had applied the words of the prophecies to the expected Messias. In fact, the world, owing to these predictions, was in expectation of His coming at the time of His birth, as even pagan authors have recorded.

Thus Tacitus, writing of the year 70, a time within his own recollection, says: "There was a wide spread persuasion that, according to the ancient books of priests, the time had come when the East should regain its strength, and those should come from Judea that should master the world" (Hist. V, 13). Suetonius, also a contemporary, writes: "A steady conviction had long been ripe in the East, that at this very time those should come from Judea who were destined to master the world" (Vit. Vesp. 4). Josephus the Jew testifies that this prophecy was found in the sacred writings of his nation (Bell. VI, 5).

31. Christ Himself made many prophecies, which were strikingly fulfilled. In particular He foretold the details of His Passion, and the fact and the time of His Resurrection: "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed to the Chief-Priests and the Scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to he mocked, amid scourged, and crucified, and the third day He shall rise again" (Matt. XX, 18, 19). He foretold also the treason of Judas, the fall and conversion of St. Peter, and in a most striking manner the destruction of Jerusalem: "As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him: Master, behold what manner of stones and what buildings are here. And Jesus answering said to him: Seest thou all these great buildings? There shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be thrown down" (Mark. XIII, 12). This was manifestly verified when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed under Titus; and more signally still when Julian the Apostate undertook to rebuild the temple with the view to falsify the prophecy, and the attempt led only to its more complete verification. Christ also foretold the future fortunes of His Church, the miracles to be worked by those who should believe in Him, the persecution and death to which they should be subjected, the spreading of the Church throughout all nations, and its perseverance till the end of timne.

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