Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by John Henry Newman
He is God, not of the dead, but of the living.
God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and called himself the “God of Abraham;” and Christ tells us that in this simple announcement was contained the promise that Abraham should rise again from the dead.
In truth, if we may say it with reverence, the all-wise, all-knowing God cannot speak without meaning many things at once. He sees the end from the beginning; he understands the numberless connections and relations of all things one with another.
Look at Christ’s words, and this same character of them will strike you; whatever he says is fruitful in meaning, and refers to many things. It is well to keep this in mind when we read scripture.
When God called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He implied that those holy patriarchs were still alive, though they were no more seen on earth. This may seem evident at first sight; but it may be asked how the text proves that their “bodies” would live; for, if their “souls” were still living, that would be enough to account for their being still called in the Book of Exodus servants of God.
Our Blessed Lord seems to tell us, that in some sense or other Abraham’s body might be considered still alive as a pledge of his resurrection, though it was dead in the common sense in which we apply the word. His announcement is, Abraham “shall” rise from the dead, because in truth he “is”still alive. He cannot in the end be held under the power of the grave, any more than a sleeping man can be kept from waking. Abraham is still alive in the dust, though not risen thence. He is alive because all God’s saints live to him, though they seem to perish.
We are apt to talk about our bodies as if we knew how or what they really were; whereas we only know what our eyes tell us. They seem to grow, to come to maturity, to decay; but after all we know no more about them than meets our senses. We have no direct cognizance of what may be called the substantive existence of the body, only of its accidents.
Again, we are apt to speak of “soul and body,” and if we could distinguish between them, and knew much about them; but for the most part we use words without meaning.
It is useful to make the distinction, and scripture makes it; but after all the gospel speaks of our nature, in a religious sense, “as one.” Soul and body make up one man, which is born once and never dies.
Philosophers of old time thought the soul indeed might live for ever, but that the body perished at death; but Christ tells us otherwise, he tells us the body will live for ever. In the text he seems to intimate that it never really dies; that we lose sight indeed of what we are accustomed to see, but that God still sees the elements of it which are not exposed to our senses.
God graciously called himself “the God of Abraham.” He did not say the God of Abraham’s soul, but simply of “Abraham.” He blest Abraham, and he gave him eternal life; not to his soul only, without his body, but to Abraham as one man.
(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 1, pages 271-273)
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was born in London and brought up in the Church of England. He went up to Trinity College, Oxford in 1817, became a Fellow of Oriel five years later, was ordained deacon in 1824 and appointed Vicar of Saint Mary’s, Oxford, in 1832.
The impact of his sermons was tremendous. He was the leading spirit in the Tractarian Movement (1833-1841) and the condemnation of “Tract 90” led to his resignation from Saint Mary’s in 1843. Two years later he was received into the Catholic Church
He was ordained in Rome and founded a house of Oratorians in Birmingham. Newman’s Essay on the Development Christian Doctrine throws light on his withdrawal of previous objections to Roman Catholicism; his Apologia reveals the deepest motives underlying his outward attitudes, and the Grammar of Assent clarifies the subjective content of commitment to faith.
In 1879 he was made a cardinal and he died at Edgbaston in 1890.
**From Saint Louis University