In 1969, there were those who called the moon landing the “greatest event in history.” From various perspectives there are many contenders for the title. From the combined perspective of everything scientific, moral and cultural, the Resurrection of Christ was the most important. Everything AD is different from everything BC in spite of nervous current attempts to eliminate the distinction between eras.
Given the historical ignorance and immaturity of many students today, who demand psychological counseling when they hear public speakers advocating thoughts contrary to their own and who, like gnostics, even propose that sexes can change by a simple declaration, they will not appreciate the difference the Resurrection made in civilization. The political culture of our day is distressed by candidates who were not taken seriously as they cavorted on the campuses in the 1960s. It is a chilling thought that the spoiled youth on campuses today, rather like what Shakespeare’s Brabantio called “The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,” may be our nation’s leaders not long from now.
Examine Roman culture before the Resurrection. The noblest characters of the Republic have molded some of the best of our own culture. And yet the pervasive tone of those days was melancholy, fear and superstition. In the funerary ceremonies, actors portrayed the darkness of the Underworld, and those who could indulge the luxury of philosophy, tended to identify wisdom as wistful longing.
It is a cliché to compare one’s own generation with the decline of the Roman Empire, but clichés become clichés usually by the substance of their accuracy. Even the Augustan Age came at the expense of the simple virtues of the remnant Republic. Its religion had no moral component. The noncupatio was a request made of some god, with the promise to give something in return, or a solutio. The pious deal made no moral demand on the client.
Power was the practical god, and anyone who could secure it was justified by the securing. The Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus was achieved by each betraying his closest relatives and friends. All was accomplished through the manipulation of a complex legal system of tribunes, praetors, quaestors, consuls, and aediles. It seemed neat on the exterior, if raucous.
Then appeared people declaring that a man named Jesus had risen from the dead in a backwater of the Empire. Not all of them were slaves and downtrodden: there were some relatives of the Flavian emperors and rich families like the Acilii Glabriones. The politicians accused them of contemptissima inertia, by which “contemptible laziness” they meant modesty, contempt for celebrity and public honors, reverence for life, disdain for cruelty, and exaltation of the family and the indissolubility of marriage.
The Resurrection of Jesus was not a myth invented to bolster this radical shift. It was the efficient cause of the change in the Empire and the world.
- FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER