2006-04-30 Stone walls do not a prison make

April 30, 2006

“Stone walls do not a prison make/ Nor iron bars a cage.” So wrote Richard Lovelace in the seventeenth century. In the first century, the witnesses to the Resurrection went to prison rejoicing in the interior freedom Christ had given them.

Barely a century later, Saint Irenaeus thrilled at hearing St. Polycarp recount how he heard St. John the Apostle describe the appearance of the Risen Christ, through locked doors, in the Upper Room. One of the qualities of Christ’s risen body was “subtlety.” This ability to move through material objects signals what Pope Benedict XVI has called a “mutation” in the normal form of the body. This was not a mere resuscitation. It was a whole new form of existence, which is also offered to us by grace in eternal life.

Irenaeus was a priest of Asia Minor sent to help the bishop, Pothinus, whom Polycarp had sent to Lyons in Celtic Gaul. Irenaeus saw how heresies quickly sprung about in the persecutions and went to Rome only to find that even the Bishop of Rome was somewhat naïve about some of these heretics. Irenaeus bucked up Pope Eleutherius and returned to Lyons where he succeeded Pothinus, who had been martyred. His church there was torn apart by ridiculous theories about the Resurrection and the moral order. He remarks how “silly women” in the parishes, mostly elderly gossips with little brains, were attracted to pseudo-intellectuals, rather like readers of best-selling novels debunking Christianity today. He writes:

“The faith and the tradition of the churches founded in Germany are no different from those founded among the Spanish and the Celts, in the East, in Egypt, in Libya and elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. Just as God’s creature, the sun, is one and the same the world over, so also does the Church’s preaching shine everywhere to enlighten all men who want to come to a knowledge of the truth. Now of those who speak with authority in the churches, no preacher however forceful will utter anything different—for no one is above the Master—nor will a less forceful preacher diminish what has been handed down. Since our faith is everywhere the same, no one who can say more augments it, nor can anyone who says less diminish it.”

No prison in any age can stifle the Gospel of the Resurrection. Today in China seven bishops are imprisoned, ten under house arrest, and one in hiding. Last week the Chinese government released Bishop Giulio Jia Zhiguo, presumably as a goodwill gesture during their leader’s state visit to President Bush. Bishop Zhiguo has been arrested eight times, and has spent twenty-two of his eighty years within “stone walls and iron bars.” But each time he is released he preaches to some one million of his underground Catholics in Hebei Province that Christ is Risen.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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