Lombard on the Necessity of Believing in Resurrection

At the very beginning of his treatment of resurrection, the final judgment, and heaven and hell in the Sentences (book IV, dist. 43-50), which will run to the end of his work, Peter Lombard (c.1096-1160) emphasizes the necessity, for Christians, of believing in the future resurrection. He begins:

Finally, we must briefly discuss the condition of resurrection, and the mode of those who will rise, and also the day of judgment and the quality of mercy. “I am unable to satisfy all the questions that are usually raised about this subject, but no Christian should in any way doubt that the flesh of all those who have been born and will be born, and have died and will die, will be resurrected” (Augustine, Enchiridion 23.84). For Isaiah says, “The dead will rise, and those who will be in the tombs will rise” (cf. 26:19).

To a quotation from Augustine’s famous treatment of resurrection in the Enchiridion, he adds biblical confirmation from Isaiah. Lombard then quotes 1 Thess 4:13-17, which gives him the framework for some of distinction 43 on the events surrounding the resurrection (the sound of the trumpet; the middle of the night; then, whether the elect will remember their past sins; those who will be found alive at Christ’s return; in what sense Christ is judge of “the living and the dead”; and that all will rise incorruptible). His first little chapter of the distinction thus concludes: “The truth of resurrection, and the cause and order of those who will rise, is very clearly insinuated in these words.”

The way Lombard begins his treatment of eschatology, quoting Augustine on the necessity of believing in the resurrection–“no Christian should in any way doubt” (nullatenus ambigere debet christianus; Augustine reads, nullo modo dubitare)–is highly instructive. In Christian theology from the Fathers through the Reformation, the resurrection was an indubitable article of faith. Yet it was–and is–also attended by numerous intellectual difficulties: What about those with physical deformities or scars? What about those who are stillborn? What age will one be in the resurrection? Lombard’s dist. 44, which deals with these questions, opens this way: “But some tend to hesitate and ask, at what age and in what bodily state will everyone be resurrected?”

These questions, arising from this “hesitation,” can only be asked on the basis of accepting that there will be a future resurrection–what Lombard calls the veritas resurrectionis, quite clearly insinuated in Is 26 and 1 Thess 4, for instance. How this resurrection will take place is the mystery, and the subject of many scholastic disputations. In modern theology, this intellectual difficulty and mystery begins to creep forward, into faith in the resurrection itself. The seemingly irresolvable difficulties attending the thought of the long dead rising in new bodies, the how, has been thought to challenge the that.

But this distinction is crucial to the New Testament witness about resurrection itself. That Jesus rose from the dead is the central confession of the entire New Testament; how he rises or the “mode” of his rising, why, that is, he sometimes goes unrecognized (Luke 24:16; John 20:14; 21:4) or can pass through closed doors (John 20:19) or disappear (Luke 24:31), is not explained to us. Because Jesus’ resurrection is the “firstfruits” and therefore model of our own (1 Cor 15:20), this is mirrored directly in the theology of our own, future resurrection.

The very layout of Lombard’s treatment of resurrection in book IV is, then, a reflection of the shape of the biblical witness: he begins with the necessity of believing in the resurrection on the basis of Scripture (dist. 43) before moving onto the difficulties implied by this belief, the questions for which Scripture offers no answer (dist. 44). Both of those are, further, encapsulated in the brief, opening quotation from Augustine. That we will rise is a basic Christian confession–“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thess 4:14)–but how, the “mode” as Lombard calls it, is the mystery.