The Resurrection Effect: Transforming Christian Life and Thought. By Anthony J. Kelly


Pp. xv, 205 , Maryknoll, NY , Orbis Books , 2008 , $30.00 .

Kelly is a Redemptorist priest who teaches theology at the Australian Catholic University, and is a member of the Catholic Church's International Theological Commission. His book tackles an important question for specialist and non-specialist alike: how can we ensure that the resurrection of Christ is not merely read as an epilogue to the Gospel, or some sort of add-on, but rather is seen as central to our understanding to the whole story of Christ? In other words, to use the phrasing of his subtitle, how do we understand the way the resurrection transforms Christian life and thought? Could, for example, the resurrection have a decisive effect, among other things, on the way we do moral theology (pp 159–168)?

How these questions will be answered will depend on the way we view the resurrection in the first place. And here we encounter the central challenge. No one witnessed the event itself; and the appearances of the risen Christ after the resurrection are mysterious to say the least. The resurrection event is qualitatively different to the other events in the life of Jesus, as Kelly makes clear in his first chapter (pp. 1–23). This is the only course to take, for to try and place the Resurrection with other events would be to reduce it to another miracle like the others, which it most clearly is not. In his first chapter Kelly admits that he is stating the obvious, but the obvious, in this case, needs to be stated.

Faced with this problem, or challenge, of understanding just how the resurrection stands out as a unique event, Kelly turns to phenomenology as the method that will best articulate the answer. The resurrection, we discover, is a ‘saturated phenomenon’ (p. 27), from which starting point we begin a fully phenomenological investigation. As for the results of such an investigation, we encounter conclusions such as the following: ‘Through [Jesus'] resurrection, the divine persons are disclosed to the world of violence as being from and for each other in a dynamic of mutual love. Such a divine unity, eternally differentiated and eternally achieved in self-giving love, is the all-encompassing and final truth. Outside and apart from this source and exemplar, any hope of reconciliation or peace-making activity is deprived of its ultimate support. The theological horizon must unfold, therefore, in an open-ness to the phenomenon of the resurrection. The resurrection of the Crucified saturates all moral existence.’ (p. 165). Naturally enough, one agrees with these sentiments, but that may be because they tell us what we already knew; and that these thoughts are in fact contained in embryo in the original idea of the resurrection as saturated phenomenon. Again, we may agree, but want to put it another way, if we are not phenomenologically inclined. But at the same time an unbeliever could simply decline to enter the phenomenological discourse, though acknowledging its internal coherence: that might be a pity, but could one blame her? What is needed is a theology of the resurrection that cannot be ignored but which must command attention.

Fr Kelly's book, an eloquent exposition of the phenomenological approach, illustrates the heights to which such a language can reach, and its limitations as well.