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Hope to Die (with Scott Hahn)

Scott Hahn

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In this episode Trent sits down with Dr. Scott Hahn to talk about his latest book Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body and how the recent pandemic sheds light on our mortality and helps us understand the true meaning of life.


Welcome to the Council of Trent Podcast, a production of Catholic Answers.

Trent Horn:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Council of Trent Podcast. I’m your host, Catholic Answers apologist and speaker Trent Horn. And I’m excited about my guest today. My guest is talking about a new book that has been released and slightly altered, if you will. It’s very providential. The book has come out now. Given everything that we’re dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic, I understand what it’s like to have books come out and things kind of take a different turn for you. My book authored with Catherine Pakaluk, Can A Catholic Be A Socialist?, just came out and now we have one of the largest government interventions in our lives that we’ve ever seen. So that was providential for that book. And I think providential for this book we’re going to discuss and the author we’re going to discuss with. The book is Hope To Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. And the author is Dr. Scott Hahn.

Dr. Scott Hahn is the Father Michael Scanlon Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at the Franciscan University of Steubenville where he has taught since 1990. He’s the founder and president of the St. Paul Center and an apostolic dedicated to teaching Catholics to read scripture from the heart of the church. Dr. Hahn’s been married to Kimberly for 40 years and together they have six children and 18 grandchildren. Two of those sons are currently in priestly formation with the diocese of Steubenville. Author and editor of over 40 popular and academic books and one of my teachers while I pursued my Master’s Degree in Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, which I highly recommend, not just because Dr. Hahn is with us but because it’s an excellent program. But he is with us and I’m happy for that. Dr Hahn, welcome to the Council of Trent Podcast.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
It’s great to be with you, Trent. Thanks for inviting me.

Trent Horn:
It’s good to be with you as well and we were discussing before the show, I’m praying everything turns out all right. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing you in person at the Defending the Faith Conference in Steubenville, Ohio at the end of July. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed on that. That would be great. Can people still register, look up that conference online?

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Sure. They can go to the Franciscan University website and scroll down and find conference registration, and Defending the Faith is the last scheduled conference in the summer. So that’s why we are optimistic that by then we’re going to be so happy to get back together again. Not only to hear you and others too, but just to be together.

Trent Horn:
Yeah, to have that communal experience. I remember listening to a professor from Christendom College, Professor Cuddeback actually, so he’s over at Christendom and he gave a talk a few months ago. It’s so funny, it was a talk on technology and how technology has creeped into our lives too much and replaced real human to human interaction. Now we’re kind of forced into it given the way everything is with social distancing. But it really isn’t the same, it’s not the same as having that flesh and blood person with you.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Yeah, that’s right. In his post Easter time. I think all of us have a deep longing for the body of Christ to come out of the tomb of this coronavirus crisis.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
And when it really finally happens, I think we’re going to have jubilation as well as the celebration of the sacraments with a new meaning. Last week, my daughter was saying to me, in fact her husband is one of Dr. Cuddeback’s colleagues, Dr. Bill Reinhardt, but our daughter Hannah was saying, “I have never realized until now how much I took the holy sacrifice of the mass for granted.” And she said, “I hunger for holy communion like I never even imagined it would be possible.” And so I think she gave voice to a feeling that a lot of us really share deeply.

Trent Horn:
It’s really interesting. It’s like we’ve entered into sort of a sacramental burial and we await that kind of resurrection and joy that will come once, it’s finally available, which fits well with your book that’s come out right now. Your new book is Hope To Die” The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. According to this press release, it says, “In this book, Scott Hahn explores the significance of death and burial from a Catholic perspective. The promise of the bodily resurrection brings into focus the need for the dignified care of our bodies at the hour of death.” So it’s a very pertinent and timely book now. Obviously you didn’t plan that when you first wrote it. So what prompted you to write the book in the first place?

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Well, I mean, it goes back to my own discovery of the Catholic faith from sacred scripture to see how the curriculum that God established in creation was designed not only for the life we all know to be natural, physical, bodily, human, but also the mystery of divine life that is spiritual, that is eternal. And so I found in Jewish sources like Philo back in the first century, but even more in St. Augustine and Araneus this insight into the deeper meaning of what was there in the beginning when God breathed into our first father’s nostrils the breath of life. There is life and then there is life, and so he was breathing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide like the animals but he also had the breath of God’s own spirit. And so the life that he received was not only human but divine, not only natural, but that supernatural grace that we refer to as sanctifying grace.

And so 10 verses later, in our tradition we can see this, that when God said to Adam, “The day you eat of it, you will surely die,” the forbidden fruit wasn’t toxic to the body but what it amounted to was what we call mortal sin. In fact, in First John 5:17, the sin unto death uses the same Greek term Thanatos that you find in Genesis 2:17. So even the Jewish philosopher Philo recognized that God was an issuing an idle threat, God was warning about spiritual death, which is not less of a death than if the serpent bit them or if a bullet penetrated your brain. The loss of divine life is much more of a death than the loss of human life. And so when our first parents committed original sin, they basically committed spiritual suicide. And when we all contract original sin, in our tradition, as Catholics, deeper sense of sacred scripture is made because we’re not born deprived as I believed as a Calvinist, but we’re almost certainly born deprived, deprived of the divine life that our parents had that they forfeited.

Trent Horn:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Scott Hahn:
So we get natural life from them, but not supernatural life. So even if your parents happened to be canonized double saints like St. Therese, nevertheless they had her baptized and in baptism we receive back a divine life that brings about the resurrection that St. Paul speaks of in Romans 6. After dealing with the original sin in Romans 5:12 to 21, the opening verses of chapter six describe how in baptism we are united to Christ’s crucifixion, but even more to his resurrection. And in effect, I found this understanding of life and death to point to the fact, well to the mystery, but to the fact that we are resurrected in the waters of baptism, whether we were baptized as infants or adults, even more than Lazarus was resurrected from the tomb on the fourth day. Because what he got back was physical, natural, human life for his body. What we get back is supernatural divine life. So it isn’t a metaphorical resurrection.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
It is an ontological reality, a metaphysical mystery to be sure, but one that is so ontologically real it requires the gift of faith to perceive it. But once you see it through the eyes of faith, you wonder in a certain sense whether or not this fascination that people have with zombies, I think of the movie The Sixth Sense, which has been our favorite, a favorite of our family for 20 years or so, when Cole finally admits to Malcolm, played by Bruce Willis, “I see dead people,” they don’t know they’re dead.

Trent Horn:
They don’t know they’re dead though.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Yeah, they only see what they want to see. There’s almost a Christ child, a Christ figure, because I think our Lord could say, “I see dead people. They don’t know they’re dead. They only see what they want to see.” And grave no, they’re everywhere. What God sees as a father, he sees his sons and daughters who are spiritually dead because of original sin or spiritually dead because of actual sin, mortal sin. And the longing on the heart of Christ in this Easter season is to impart to us a resurrection that includes the physical body to be sure, but takes us up into a life that is not just human but divine. And the reunion of the human and the divine, the reunion of our souls that have experienced what we could say is the death of the soul as the catechism describes original sin, there is a sense in which the physical death that our first parents experienced is a sort of anti sacrament that corresponds to the spiritual death, the spiritual suicide.

And so what I want to do is clarify, simplify, summarize, synthesize, pull all of this together and show not only the explanatory power of the Catholic faith with regard to the Bible, but human experience.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
And I thought about this coming out in Easter of 2020. My last book was called The First Society. It came out on Easter Monday back in 2018. But little did I know that besides my timing with the publisher, Emmaus Road, I think there was another sense of divine timing because I worked on this book throughout 2019, sent it off at the end of the year, got the page proofs back at the end of January and I was working through them, finishing up at the end of February when suddenly this pandemic struck. And it was leap year so on the 29th of February, I think it was, I called the publisher and I said, “Stop the presses,” which I’ve never done before, “but we have got to rewrite this last chapter so that people can experience the truth of the message of this book in a way that really pertains to what it is we’re all going through.”

Trent Horn:
It makes me think, I could imagine you’re trying to, because being an author myself and you go to an editor and you pitch a book, there’s always that back and forth with the editor. Like, “Well, I don’t know if people are going to want a book on this or a book on that.” And I don’t know if there was a conversation of, “I don’t know if people want a book on death. When are people going to be interested in death as a topic?” And yet it’s on everyone’s minds right now.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
That’s right. And not only are we confronted in a way that is inescapable, we’re also confronted by this pandemic with with the certainty of our mortality.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
But the fact is, whether we’re over 60, whether we have pre-existing conditions or not, whether we’re going to die from this, we are now recognizing not only the inevitability of suffering and death, but how inordinate our fear of suffering and dying is. We’re so afraid of losing a life that is in a certain sense incapable. We’re not going to be able to keep our life on earth forever. That’s the reality. On the other hand, it confronts Catholic Christians with the sense that we are more afraid of physical suffering and physical death than we are of spiritual suffering and spiritual death through mortal sin and the divine life which is so precariously weakened through venial sins and those kinds of vices that we merely reduce to bad habits. And so to me, it’s a kind of a wake up call, not only for us as a society, but especially for us as a church to recognize the sacredness of human life, but to recognize the greater sacredness of a divine life that is obviously superior but much more vulnerable.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
And so we have to do what we can to preserve it because all ultimately, only by preserving divine life to the hour of death and dying in a state of grace can we ensure that the resurrection of our bodies will be a resurrection unto glory. And this to me is really the point of convergence where all of the sacred mysteries converge. Because you look at when Jesus institutes the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, he sets something in the motion that transforms the execution at Calvary on Good Friday from being merely a Roman execution to being in the consummation of a sacrifice that began when he instituted the Eucharist as the Passover of the new covenant. And so it’s only the Eucharist understood as a sacrifice that transforms the Roman execution to the consummation of that sacrifice. But then Easter Sunday, which we’re still sort of basking in the afterglow, Easter is what transforms that sacrifice into what we know as the blessed sacrament.

Because he’s not just resuscitated, it’s not just a historical fact, it’s not just a miracle, it’s not just the fulfillment of a prophecy, it’s categorically different than what happened to Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter, because the resurrection is what makes Jesus’ humanity not only glorious, but communicable, edible. And so there’s a straight line so you can see that the body that we receive, the real presence we profess, is the same body that was in the upper room on Holy Thursday and was hanging on the cross on Friday and buried in the tomb on Saturday. But the real presence that we profess is the body of Christ resurrected, ascended, enthroned. That is what we profess because that is what we receive in holy communion. This is how Christ fulfills that pledge back in John 6 in the bread of life discourse. “He eats my flesh and drinks my blood. I will raise him up on the last day.” Because the flesh and blood we eat and drink, that bread of life, is the resurrected body.

For Aquinas, the resurrected body of Christ in the Eucharist becomes a divine instrument whereby we are prepared for the resurrection of our own bodies. And so the Eucharist is not just a really sacred ritual. It is the fulcrum whereby you end up with the divine leverage so that we can enter into the same glory of the resurrected body that Christ has. He didn’t do it to get more glory for himself because he was God. He couldn’t get anymore. So why go to all of the trouble? Well, it was to impart to us this participation, this full share in his glory. And so what I want to do again is to connect the dots between the old and the new.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Between Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but also between the body of Christ we receive in the Eucharist and the body that we receive into our mortal bodies. And ultimately I just kind of want to show people that the resurrection is much more central to who we are and it is something that we ought to focus on. In fact, I share a story in the beginning of how I preached my first sermon at a funeral as a Protestant minister for my grandmother’s funeral. And when I was done preaching from John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he said to Lazarus’s sisters, my mother came up and she was a practicing Evangelical, and she said to me, “You don’t really believe that, do you? That these bodies are going to be raised.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s basically what we profess in the Creed.” And she said to me, “I’m not sure I want this body back.” “Well, mom, it’s so imperishable it will be raised imperishable. It’s so incorruptible it’s raised incorruptible.” And she was still sort of like [crosstalk 00:16:00]

Trent Horn:
And it’s a point that a lot of people seem to miss. Like when Paul says in Philippians 3:21, “He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body.” I think a lot of people treat the resurrection as, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I know,” but they don’t give it, to avoid the pun, the glory it deserves. It reminds me in you mentioned John chapter 11, John 11:23 through 24 when Jesus is talking to Martha and he says, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” I almost want to add the inflection to that, “I know, he’ll rise on the resurrection the last day.” It’s kind of like when we’re at funerals it’s like, “I know they’ll rise again at the end,” but it’s almost like we don’t appreciate how beautiful and comforting that truth is because it seems like kind of too long far off almost.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
That’s right. And obviously, Martha and Mary shared a faith in the resurrection with a lot of Jews because the Pharisees clearly believed in that when the Sadducees didn’t.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
But the conception of the resurrection that was the object of Jewish faith that you find in Pharisaic sources is pretty much of a natural resurrection. Because as the catechism reminds us, there is no doctrine of original sin in traditional Orthodox Judaism.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
We don’t know what we lost until it’s gained back by the new Adam.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
And then suddenly we recognize that the life that is restored to us was not just the spiritual life of the soul, it was a divine mystery that we had the seed of grace that was destined for glory so that we would not just be servants of God as beloved creatures, we would be sons of God, not just made in the image of God, but to enter into this union with he who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation in Colossians 1:15. And the fulfillment that Christ brings about does not just restore us to the status quo ante before the fall, it takes us to a higher place than we would have been if Adam hadn’t sinned. It’s not plan B. That’s why in the Easter Exultet we hear at Holy Saturday in the Easter vigil [inaudible 00:18:12]. We end up in Christ, immeasurably higher than we would have been an Adam. And it’s not just a difference of degree. It’s a difference in kind.

And so what we find in our faith is something that Mary and Martha were like, “Okay, wait a minute. You keep using that word resurrection. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Trent Horn:
I don’t it think it means what do you think you means.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Yeah.

Trent Horn:
Well, let’s talk about then the resurrection of the body, looking at that and then how that would connect then that the body is important and the body matters, that many people have that mistaken Cartesian Platonic view that we’re just souls trapped in bodies. And people always think, I guess, when people think of the afterlife for me, I always think that they imagine the soul and its relation to the body is kind of like that movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze. They’re like, “The soul is like the real you and it could come out of you and it has clothes. That’s the real you and this body’s just kind of a shell.” But that’s not what we believe as Christians and especially how that factors into our understanding of burial and how that’s connected to death and leading to the resurrection. That’s important.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Right. There are two extremes to avoid. One is dualism, which sees the soul is trapped in the body. The famous Greek pun that Plato uses that, “the soma is the sema, the body is the prison.”

Trent Horn:
Hm.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
On the other hand, what we find today, perhaps even more widespread is a kind of monism, a materialistic conception that when the body dies, there’s really nothing left but vapor and that doesn’t last much less is it immortal.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
And so Patrick Swayze and Whoopi are playing a part, that’s at least it reignites the sense that maybe there is something more than the flesh.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
What Paul is doing in First Corinthians 15, the famous resurrection chapter, is distinguishing to unite, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would put it. We distinguish the body and the soul not to divide or oppose but to show that the body is not just a symbol of the soul, I like to describe it in the book as a small S sacrament of the soul. What is a sacrament? Well, it’s a visible sign of an invisible reality. The seven sacraments point us to invisible realities that are divine and supernatural, but there really is a sense in which the body is more than a disposable carton or a package that we have to kind of live in. No, it really is an essential part of what we are as human beings. It’s a part of human nature. It’s a lower part, but the lower part in some ways is essential to the soul.

And so we’re not angels that are pure spirits. We’re not animals that are just, in a certain sense, animal souls so that when their bodies die, their soul cease. We are rational animals. And Paul sort of presupposes that to show us that God had all of this in mind when he created us in his image and likeness, but even more when he created us with an eye toward redeeming us in the new Adam so that Christ would assume our nature, body, and soul in order to impart his nature, 2 Peter 1:4, we’re partakers of the divine nature. But there’s a sense in which he experienced the reality of human death because his soul descended into Hades, it was separated from his body, but his divine nature was so inseparably united, not only to his human soul, but to his body.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
I remember in a Christology course a professor pointing out that when our lady holds the corpse of her son, like in the Pieta of Michelangelo, she’s not just mourning, she’s worshiping because the divine nature is still united to that body, even though the soul is separated. It’s a real death, but it’s a triumphant descent.

Trent Horn:
Right, united is the word, yeah.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
And so he empties Hades of the souls of the faithful departed of the Old Testament, and basically repopulates heaven in his ascension, which explains that obscure passage in Matthew 27 that after Jesus resurrected, a lot of the saints came back and were seen in Jerusalem bearing witness to the reality, not just of an individual person’s bodily resurrection, but of the fact that he pillaged Hades and basically takes captivity captive up to heaven as Paul describes in Ephesians 4.

Trent Horn:
Yeah.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
So the resurrection of the body is really the fulfillment of what it means to be human, but it goes beyond our highest hopes. It exceeds our wildest dreams. We had no idea what it meant to be human because it’s not merely natural life restored. It really is a kind of deified humanity, which doesn’t subtract but multiplies exponentially what it means to be fully and truly human, and at the same time to be elevated to a share in this filial deification. We’re sons in the son, not just servants.

Trent Horn:
Well, as we come to a close with our time together, what are some words of encouragement that you could offer to people who might be dealing with death or despair in a variety of ways? They may be facing their own mortality or the mortality of other people, or perhaps they’re going through that kind of sacramental death we alluded to earlier of they being deprived from the sacraments and feeling apart from God. How do we apply this resurrection hope? And I love in First Corinthians 15, how do you pick favorite chapters in the Bible, but, I mean, obviously my conversion experience, that’s one of the one of the first, because you see the resurrection provides that hope. I love in First Corinthians 15:55 through 57 the way that Dewey Rhames translate, “Oh, death, where is thy sting?”

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Right.

Trent Horn:
How do we impart that resurrection hope to people that are experiencing physical, spiritual mortality, especially in tough times right now?

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Well, obviously, we want to encourage them to lay hold of the sacred mysteries of faith because they constitute a reality that is more enduring than the U.S. Constitution and all of the social structures that we would like to see re-invigorated. For me to live as Christ to die is gain, and Paul is not indulging in religious rhetoric.

Trent Horn:
Right.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
When we get to the other side of the veil, we’re going to look back and wonder why 80 or 90 years seemed so interminably long. We’re going to enter into not just a staring contest with God where we come to know the divine essence, we’re going to come to heaven and experience a family reunion that is going to make the happiest vacation we ever had almost seem miserable by comparison. This too is not just good doctrine. It is the reality that brings the joy of the Gospel to souls that are facing despair. I sought my mom, who never ended up becoming a Catholic, but after she went through darkness with stage four bone cancer, she said to me, “I am feeling a joy and anticipation.” She wasn’t presuming, but at the same time my sister said, “I have never seen mom’s heart softened and I’ve never seen that kind of joy and peace in her eyes.” Death is something of a divine curriculum that’s allowed God to father us all the way home and trust him even more than we trust our physicians.

Trent Horn:
Amen to that. Let the divine physician heal us. He has innumerable ways to be able to do that. Even in these dark times, it’s always darkest before the light. It was dark in the tomb, but then when the stone was rolled away, the light burst forth. The light will be bursting forth for all of us. Thank you Dr. Hahn for being with us. Where can people learn more about your work and get a copy of this great book?

Dr. Scott Hahn:
Well, Kimberly are kind of leaving a legacy in this thing we call the St. Paul Center. You mentioned it earlier at the beginning of the show. We founded it 20 years ago to teach scripture from the heart of the church and to impart this, to cradle Catholics and converts, for clergy, for laity, for beginner, intermediate, and advanced. And so go to stpaulcenter.com. That’s S-T Paul center.com and you’ll see that we’ve kind of made ourselves into the quarantined Catholic hub. But even after the quarantine, we still are going to provide, as we have for two decades now, a super abundance of scriptural and doctrinal resources, again, for beginner, intermediate, and advanced. And Emmaus Road Publishing is a part of the St. Paul Center and so you can get the book now if you order it. It’s coming out this week. You can also get an electronic version that you can begin reading right away.

But I’m really kind of excited because we’ve got a number of other projects coming in the next year or two through Emmaus Road as well as the st Paul center. So come back to it on a regular basis and I think you will be very pleased.

Trent Horn:
And then I’ll also add, we discussed at the beginning of the show, be sure to check out Franciscan University’s conferences including the Defending the Faith Conference being hosted at the end of July at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. We’ll pray that by then we may be back to a certain phase of normality that will allow for conferences. So I think people will be ready to get out. And if you’re able to make it, you’ll be able to hear Dr. Hahn, myself, many other great guests. So be sure to go to Franciscan University of Steubenville, click on conferences, and you can get information about that. The book is Hope To Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body by Dr. Scott Hahn. Be sure to go to your local online book retailer, I guess, right now, anywhere else you can get a copy of that book. I think you will be greatly benefited by it. I haven’t benefited by Dr. Hahn’s books for many years now and many others have as well. Dr. Hahn, thank you so much for joining us on the Council of Trent Podcast.

Dr. Scott Hahn:
You’re welcome. Thank you so much for the privilege of joining you.

Trent Horn:
All right, take care everyone and thanks for listening. Be sure to go to trenthornpodcast.com for more bonus content and I hope that you all have a very blessed day.

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