Reading Time: 6 mins

Real Wine: The Resurrection According to Father Brown

Reading Time: 6 mins

The opponents of Father Brown thought that debunking the fake resurrection of Father Brown would discredit the good news of Christ's resurrection. The truth, however, is the other way around.

With his Father Brown stories, the English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton pioneered a whole sub-genre of detective fiction known as "the clerical mystery." Chesterton's main character in these stories is a short and stocky, affable Roman Catholic priest who is not what he seems. While he appears clumsy, bumbling, and a little slow on the uptake, Father Brown is actually a sleuthing genius. His decades of pastoral experience make Father Brown an expert on both fallen human nature and divine truth. This wisdom and experience help him see things as they really are when others cannot see through the murkiness of criminal situations.

Chesterton wrote more than 50 stories about Father Brown, who was inspired by a real-life priest who helped to bring Chesterton himself into the Roman Catholic Church (G. K. Chesterton, The Incredulity of Father Brown, Mumbai, India: Wilco Books International, "About the Author.”) Chesterton's stories about Father Brown shed light on both the realities of human experience and the truth of the gospel of Christ. One such story is "The Resurrection of Father Brown."

This story—originally published in a monthly called Cassell's Magazine—is set in an unnamed South American country where Father Brown is serving as a pastoral missionary. The story opens with the pudgy priest enjoying—or, perhaps more accurately, suffering—some global fame for his success in solving mysteries. People are coming from all over to see the clerical sleuth for himself. An American journalist has even begun writing detective stories about the priest, and an eager audience devours them.

Father Brown himself, however, is far from pleased at the attention people are paying him. He writes to the journalist, telling him to stop writing the stories (The Incredulity of Father Brown, pg. 6). The journalist will only agree that Father Brown should temporarily disappear from print and then reappear, like Sherlock Holmes, who appeared to die only to be brought back to life in another story. In an attempt to find at least some minor relief from being a celebrity, Father Brown goes on with his pastoral duties, unaware that he will himself shortly appear to die and return to life.

As his unwanted fame continues, Father Brown receives all kinds of correspondence, solicitations for autographs, and strange personal requests. One unusual request comes from a German wine merchant named Eckstein, who seeks out Father Brown. This man asks the priest to drink some special port. This is not the first strange request from a fan, and so the priest consents to drink the port that evening (pg. 7).

That same evening, another man sends Father Brown a message. This man, named Alvarez, is a militant atheist who has been persecuting the priest in an attempt to prevent him from carrying out his ministry amongst the native population. In his message, Alvarez asks Father Brown to meet him that evening so that they might be reconciled with one another. However, Alvarez's true intentions are for anything but reconciliation.

Instead, Alvarez is part of a conspiracy that seeks to bring shame and disgrace both upon Father Brown and the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, which Father Brown believes, confesses, and preaches. The unbelieving plotters plan to fake and then later debunk the death and resurrection of Father Brown. Having drugged the port with a substance that puts the priest into a temporary coma, they lie in wait for him to keep his nocturnal meeting. Then, they stage a counterfeit murder.

The charade is observed by an eyewitness named John Adams Race. This witness is an honest American engineer, who is in South America on business. Race—a Protestant Christian who is suspicious of Catholicism but has a deep respect for the pastoral care exercised by Father Brown—observes the plot unfold. He sees figures accost the priest and appear to assault him. Then, Race hears a shout, "Father Brown is dead!" (pgs. 9-11).

Upon the apparent murder of Father Brown, Alvarez and his cohorts lead the people of the town in mourning the fall of the benevolent priest. The body of Father Brown is placed in an open coffin outdoors at the foot of a "great gaunt crucifix" (pg. 14). The juxtaposition between Father Brown and the crucified Savior he proclaims is made clear, as Alvarez makes a mockery of the priest's faith. Alvarez declares the gospel since God does not raise Father Brown from the dead when Alvarez challenges him to do so. The connection is plain. Since God cannot raise Father Brown, he must not have raised Jesus either. The gospel must be a lie.

But then, Father Brown does rise from the dead, or at least he appears to do so. The priest opens his eyes, blinks, and exits the coffin. Yet, when the crowd claims a miracle has occurred, the priest laughs and denies it. "Miracles are not so cheap as all that" (pg. 16-17).

After telegraphing the local bishop, who denied the occurrence of any miracle, Father Brown is escorted home by John Adams Race. Later, over a drink with Race, the priest reveals to the engineer the true mischief behind the plot hatched against him by the local despisers of Christianity.

With the assistance of Race, the priest discovers that his enemies spiked the gift of port with a trance-inducing drug so that it would appear that he had risen from the dead. Later, once the story of the supposed miracle had been spread, they would "prove" that Father Brown's rising from the dead was a hoax. Then they hoped to also prove the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was also a lie (pgs 19-20).

The true resurrection of Christ debunks our death. Because Christ is risen, death will not hold us either because we have been baptized into his resurrection.

Father Brown, however, has outmaneuvered his opponents by debunking the debunking of the gospel. Having satisfactorily put to shame the shaming of the gospel, the priest invites Race to join him in another drink. "'Look here,' he said, 'what about a real bottle of wine?'" (pg. 21).

In this vignette, Chesterton reflects the sentiment expressed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. "If Christ has not been raised," the apostle writes, "your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:17-19).

Either the resurrection of Christ happened, or it did not. Either Jesus was raised from the dead like the Scriptures proclaim to us, or he was not. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then the whole gospel is nothing but a sham.

The gospel is not just a message of spiritual truth. It's not just a religious myth that gives us a parable for our ability to start fresh again when we mess up. The gospel is not just a fictional tale. The gospel is truth, and it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

Both this truth and power come from the reality of Christ's real resurrection. Chesterton knew this. He believed it, and as an apologist, he argued for the reality of the resurrection of Jesus over and against the skepticism of modern agnosticism and atheism. Chesterton's clerical sleuth was fictional, but the message of the story is true. The resurrection is real. Jesus didn't just swoon on the cross and then wake back up on Easter Sunday. Some unbelievers have argued this, but we have eyewitnesses who tell us otherwise.

One of these eyewitnesses is John—not John Race but St. John the Apostle. He tells us that he saw Jesus die for real with his own eyes (John 19:30). He tells us that he saw a Roman spear pierce Jesus and that blood and water came out of the crucified Savior's side, showing that he was really dead (John 19:33-37). John then tells us that he saw Jesus buried. Then, on Easter, John saw the empty tomb, and later, the risen Jesus appeared to him and the other disciples.

If the resurrection of Jesus were a hoax, then the Christian faith would be a sham. Certainly, this is what the devil wants us to believe. Satan wants us to reject the truth of the resurrection of Jesus or, at the very least, to spiritualize it into oblivion. Like the villains in Chesterton's story, the devil and his demonic minions scurry around under the cover of darkness to sow doubt and hatch schemes meant to bring shame and disgrace upon Christ and his gospel. They think that if they can destroy the integrity of the preachers of the gospel, then they can disprove the whole of Christian truth. But Christ has the last laugh because his resurrection is no hoax. Jesus didn't just fall asleep. He actually died, and he actually rose again from the dead.

And Holy Scripture promises us that because Jesus is risen from the dead, we too will be raised to life everlasting. In Romans 6, St. Paul writes: "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His" (Rom. 6:4-5).

Jesus doesn't leave whether or not we will believe the truth of his gospel up to chance.

The opponents of Father Brown thought that debunking the fake resurrection of Father Brown would discredit the good news of Christ's resurrection. The truth, however, is the other way around. The true resurrection of Christ debunks our death. Because Christ is risen, death will not hold us either because we have been baptized into his resurrection. Now, we can rest assured that when Christ returns we too will be resurrected, "just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity" (Luther's Small Catechism: with Explanation (St. Louis: CPH, 2017), 17).

In the meantime, to combat the lies of Satan, Jesus comes to us personally to reassure us of the promise of our resurrection. He doesn't leave whether or not we will believe the truth of his gospel up to chance. Instead, Jesus comes in person through his Word and his sacraments, and he creates faith in our hearts. He shows up for us and gives us faith so that we can know and trust that he is risen and that he has overcome our sin and our death. He even offers us a drink. Coming to us with his own body and blood, he takes away our sin and the toxic brew of skepticism the devil so readily slips us. And in trade for the cup of doubt, the risen Jesus says, "Look here, what about some real wine?"