Sunday, March 31, 2013

We Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

The New Jerusalem by Nicolas Bataille
The New Jerusalem by Nicolas Bataille (1373-1387)
Some time ago, my lay Dominican chapter president asked me to prepare a study "on the Resurrection" for our March meeting. That meeting was Palm Sunday. The study went well, I thought, but it occurred to me that maybe others would be interested in it.  So here are my study notes, slightly edited.

I asked chapter members to find and bring a favored Scripture passage on the Resurrection. Maybe you can think of one that you like now.

What do we mean by Resurrection?
I think when most of us think about Easter, we think about the Resurrection of Christ. It is after all the historical event that we are remembering. Most of the chapter members, as I expected, shared passages about this. One that I liked in particular focused on Mary Magdalene, whom we call "The Apostle to the Apostles" because she shared the Good News with the Apostles. She is also co-patroness with Our Lady of the Dominican Order, for this reason.

So yes, absolutely when we speak of the Resurrection, the first and most natural thing we think of is the Resurrection of Christ. It is a good thing for us to remember, but despite how awesome and amazing the event is itself, what is even more amazing is what it means for us.

READ 1 Cor 15:1-4; 15:12-22

Then also:

I think sometimes we can get caught up in the recounting of the story of the Passion and Death of Christ, that it becomes more of a story about someone else, or maybe we personalize the story, so that we put ourselves in the feet of the Apostles, imagining what it must have been like for them. The sadness, the fear, the disappointment, the guilt--and then the elation of Easter, that Christ is not dead; he is raised from the dead. Again, we are overjoyed at his Resurrection--what a relief! He's not dead; he is risen!

This is all very good, but it is just a nice story if we stop there, if we do not go on to consider what it means for us. The significance of Christ's Resurrection lies precisely in that by his Resurrection, his conquering death and hell, we too can take part in it. Our Christian hope is in this--the resurrection of our own bodies.

But what does this mean? It is interesting how this fundamental aspect of the Christian faith is so often obscured and, in a sense, minimized, while it is actually the core, the kernel, the essence of the Gospel. It comes towards the end of most of the creeds, and it is easy to just rattle it off without really thinking about it. So in this study, I thought it could be helpful to focus on this aspect of what we mean when we say "the resurrection," in particular, what is referred to as "the general resurrection," meaning that which will occur for all people (hence "general") at the end of the world.


Read Catechism 988-1004

Read 1015-1019 (Follows)
1015 "The flesh is the hinge of salvation" (Tertullian, De res. 8, 2:PL 2, 852). We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.

1016 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day.

1017 "We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess" (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a "spiritual body" (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44).

1018 As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer "bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" (GS § 18).

1019 Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men.

This is the basic outline of our doctrine, but let's dig deeper, with the help of good ol' Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. If you recall, I recently drew from this book for a study on theological grades of certainty, so the bits in parentheses speak to that.

All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies. (De fide.)

Nearly all of the most ancient creeds specifically say "resurrection of the body" (or of the dead, which can only mean body). (I followed Ott's references to Denzinger to find that out.) Now let's go to the Scriptural references.

Jo 11:24 - Martha professes faith in the resurrection.
2 Macc 7:9-11 - Maccabee martyrs profess faith in it.
Dan 12:2-3
Is 25:8; 26:19

Jo 5:28-29; 6:39-40
Matt 22:29-32
Lu 20:37-38
Acts 24:15
And the passages already referenced above.

You can see this is one of the better attested teaching, and that is of course why it is considered de fide--as being directly revealed by God.

You may also want to read Summa, Supplement, Q75, a1.

Many of the Fathers wrote treatises on it, by way of apology and instruction of the faithful, some of them extensively: Pope St. Clement I, St. Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ephraem, St. Basil, St. Epiphanius, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, St. Peter Chrysologus, and of course St. Augustine

The dead will rise again with the same bodies as they had on earth. (De fide.)

This is a slightly more challenging proposition because it raises a number of interesting difficulties. Let's dig into it a bit more. First, let's establish it is de fide.

Job 19:25-27 - this passage is now disputed with reference to the original languages, which St. Thomas did not have access to. At best, it seems the meaning attesting to the "this same body" aspect is less clear, although it can still be seen.
2 Macc 7:11 - "these [tongue and hands]" will be received again
1 Cor 15:35-58 - this passage can be difficult, but St. Thomas helps tease the meaning apart. Note "What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies." This is the basic argument for understanding that it is this body, and not some other. We cannot rightly call it resurrection unless it is the bringing back to life of that which died, our bodies.
Phil 3:21 - change our lowly bodies, not give us a different one

Now from Denzinger, the parts that Ott refers us to.

Denzinger 429, The First Chapter of the Fourth Lateran Council (12th ecumenical council, 1215--against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians, etc.) declares, "And finally the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, incarnate by the whole Trinity in common, conceived of Mary ever Virgin with the Holy Spirit cooperating, made true man, formed of a rational soul and human flesh, one Person in two natures, clearly pointed out the way of life. And although He according to divinity is immortal and impassible, the very same according to humanity was made passible and mortal, who, for the salvation of the human race, having suffered on the wood of the Cross and died, descended into hell, arose from the dead, and to render to each according to his works, to the wicked as well as to the elect, all of whom will rise with their bodies which they now bear, that they may receive according to their works, whether these works have been good or evil, the latter everlasting punishment with the devil, and the former everlasting glory with Christ."

D 16, the "Faith of Damasus" formula of the creed, Gaul c. 500: "...We believe that cleansed in his death and in his blood we are to be raised up by him on the last day in this body with which we now live…"

D 40, the Creed "Quicumque", a.k.a., the Athanasian Creed (some ascribe to St. Ambrose, also one "Anastasius"), which was used with authority in east and west, and in the liturgy, says, "…at his coming all men have to rise again with their bodies…"

D 287, Council of Toledo XI (675, against Priscillianists), The Creed of Faith, "In this example, therefore, of our Head we confess is accomplished (with true faith) the true resurrection of the body of all the dead. Neither do we believe that we shall rise in an ethereal or any other body (as some madly say) but in that in which we live and exist and move. When this example of His holy resurrection was finished, our same Lord and Savior returned by ascending to His paternal home, which in His divinity he had never left."

D 347, Pope St. Leo IX, in a letter of congratulations to Peter, the newly consecrated bishop of Antioch, in 1053, sharing the symbol of faith (the formula here was very much like the questions proposed to bishops being consecrated, "…I also believe in a true resurrection of this body, which now I bear, and in eternal life."

D 427, from a formulation of faith for recanting Waldensians, 1208, from the archbishop of Terraco, "We sincerely believe and with our mouth we confess the resurrection of this flesh which we bear and not of another."

D 464, 2nd Council of Lyons, 1274 (14th ecumenical council, concerning the union of the Greeks), from the profession of faith of Michael Paleaeologus: "The same most holy Roman Church firmly believes and firmly declares that nevertheless on the day of judgment 'all' men will be brought together with their bodies 'before the tribunal of Christ' 'to render an account' of their own deeds (Rom 14:10)."

D 531, Pope Benedict XII, edict Benedictus Deus, 1336, "…all men with their bodies…"

We see from these sources, including Scripture and ecumenical councils, that this doctrine is de fide, but we can do more to consider how it is so and what exactly the bodies will be like. For this, we turn again to St. Thomas, in the Summa Supplement, Q79ff. In it, you will see him referring back to many of the Scriptures above.

From these we better understand Some characteristics of resurrected bodies:

  • Incorruptible - they will not be subject to deformity, decay, or destruction.
  • Immortal - they will not die again.
  • Identical - they will have the same form and matter.
That they are incorruptible and immortal is, according to Thomas, due to two reasons. First, he explains that the principle of change in our bodies will be removed; this is due to the overall change in the state of the universe at this time--the new heaven and new earth will also no longer be subject to the same changing nature. This is equally true of the damned and the just.

The second relates to the restoration of original justice and the total subjugation of our bodily nature to our spiritual (also attested by St. Paul in the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 above--the "spiritual body," i.e., the body subject to the spiritual nature), so our immortal spiritual nature can prevent corruptible changes from happening to our bodies. This is only true of the just, who have received this grace of right ordering of our human nature.

As for identical matter, this presents some more interesting difficulties. It doesn't take a modern understanding of biology to find the difficulties in this teaching, and you can see even the ancients, both Greek and Jew, had trouble with it: Acts 17:18; 31-32; 26:5-8. And there is further evidence in the early Fathers' apologies and explanations around this subject as mentioned above.

St. Thomas first addresses the reasons why it must be the same, in Q79, a1: "For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body." Then also in a2: "... to maintain that he who rises again is not the selfsame man [199] is heretical [200], since it is contrary to the truth [201] of Scripture [202] which proclaims the resurrection [203]."

So it can help to ask, what does it mean to be identical? 
Q79, a3 - does it have to be the exact same matter in the exact same place ("the ashes")?  To answer this, Thomas gives us the analogy of identical matter of clock, toy, etc: "Now in artificial things, in order that the same artificial thing be remade, from the same matter [301], there is no need for the parts to be brought back to the same position. Neither therefore is it necessary [302] in man [303]." In other words, it doesn't matter if the same kind of matter is used to remake the various parts (heart, bone, ears), as long as the result is it is the same heart as pertains to it being my heart for me.

If we cast this is slightly more modern scientific words, we could rely on the concept of DNA. Our DNA forms, as it were, the schema for our bodies, the set of instructions that are used to give our bodies their particular identities. It isn't important that the exact matter in our body at any given time remain for us to retain our identities. We gain weight; we lose weight. Our hair and nails grow; our cells regenerate, and so on--the matter of our bodies is in constant flux. We no more have the same matter we had ten years ago, then we will in the resurrection, and yet we will have the same identical body.

Of course, St. Thomas didn't have the luxury of our modern scientific knowledge, and yet it is interesting how he uses different words that speak to the same realities. He speaks of "the truth of human nature," in terms of what will need remain for us to retain our identities. Q80, a3: "Whatever belongs to the integrity of human [118] nature [119] in those who take part in the resurrection [120] will rise again." And further in a4: What belongs to "the truth (essence/being) of human nature," which he says is, "what first belonged to the substance [346] of a man's body… and of that which was added secondly, thirdly, and so on, as much as is required to restore quantity."

He hits on the concept of DNA in Q80, a4: "all that was in the substance of the seed will rise again in this man who was begotten of this seed." St. Paul also speaks of a "bare kernel" and how God gives "to each of the seeds its own body."

He continues, "while certain parts are on the ebb and others are being restored to the same shape and position, all the parts flow back and forth as to their matter [391], but remain as to their species [392]; and nevertheless the selfsame man [393] remains." Again, it is not as if we could grasp the current matter in our bodies and say, "this is the matter I will have in the resurrection," but we can say, these arms, these eyes, this hair, in the sense that we would recognize them in ten years, and in the sense that if we had a DNA test, it would return positive.

The difference is that any defects in our DNA will be repaired, so our bodies will be the perfect body they should have been were it not for those defects and disorders. For the just, we will not be subject to either inordinate nor disordered desires.

In Q81, he addresses questions of age, size, male and female, animal functions. Our age will be the perfect age of maturity, meaning the point at which our body naturally achieves maturity, but before it begins to decay. Many speculate around 30 years or so. The same can be said for size/stature, except again, no defects or deformities will remain--we will have perfect health. Because being male or female is part of human nature and identity, we will retain our sex (and it will be rightly ordered), but as we will no longer have need of our animal functions, we will be "as the angels in heaven." Because we do not need to materially maintain our bodies nor to grow them, we won't need to eat. Because we will not need to propagate the species, we won't need to have sex. And so on.

For those who lack of matter for the resurrection of their bodies, St. Thomas says in Q80, a4: "substitution is made by Divine power so far as the perfection of quantity requires, as it does in those who die before the perfect age." This is also true if our matter were to be, for instance, shared in some way. For instance, we die, and our bodies feed other plants and animals that then are consumed by other humans--in such cases, God will make up for the insufficiency of matter.

Somewhat amusingly, Thomas also addresses the question of whether all of the matter that belonged to our bodies will rise again, in a5: "body of one who rises again will be very dense, or it will be immoderate in quantity." LOL. Just imaging our bodies if it were true that all the matter were resurrected. We'd be as dense as diamonds or as bloated as a blimp! He goes on, "the whole of what is in man will rise again, if we speak of the totality of the species which is dependent on quantity, shape, position and order of parts, but the whole will not rise again if we speak of the totality of matter." Again, the concept is akin to the idea of reconstructing the human body from DNA (as in the cloning in science fiction, if you will).

Our bodies will be our bodies (again about DNA), from Q81, a2: "At the resurrection human nature will be restored not only in the self-same species but also in the selfsame individual : and consequently we must observe in the resurrection what is requisite not only to the specific but also to the individual nature."

To put it briefly, it is not the exact same particular matter from any point in our lives (much less what was there when we died or remained thereafter) but the identity of our bodies, free from defect and disorder, and restored to perfect maturity, health, stature, and so on. What particular matter is used to form this body is for God to figure out, but it will be my body, this body, not some other and not some non-physical spiritual/ghostlike body. That's pretty awesome.

The bodies of the just will be remodeled and transfigured to the pattern of the Risen Christ. (Sent. certa.)

The qualities of the resurrected bodies of the just as outlined above:
- Perfect - completely whole, healthy, of optimum age, and rightly ordered

And also, as in Summa, Suplement, Q82-85 - the four qualities of beatified bodies
- Impassibility, the incapability of suffering
- Subtlety, spiritualized nature--not spirit but a spiritualized body--completely subject to the soul
- Agility, capability of the body to obey the soul with the greatest of ease and speed (near instantaneous)
- Clarity, brightness, the "glory" of our souls being seen in our bodies

These are drawn from Scriptural sources, either specific statements about our bodies, taken from the Transfiguration, and from that related about Christ's body after his resurrection. Our bodies will be conformed to his, like his, so we can derive these truths about our bodies based on what we are told about his.

The bodies of the godless will rise again in incorruption and immortality, but they will not be transfigured. (Sent. certa.)

The understanding of the quality of the bodies of the damned are taken also from Scripture, implied in what is said of them. St. Thomas deals with this topic also in Question 86 of the same part.

Q86, a1: ""The dead shall rise again incorruptible"; where a gloss [13] says: "The dead, i.e. sinners, or all the dead in general shall rise again incorruptible, i.e. without the loss of any limbs." Therefore the wicked [14] will rise again without their deformities."

a2: immortal and incorruptible: " It is written (Apocalypse 9:6): "In those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it, and they shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them."
Further, the damned will be punished with an everlasting punishment [78] both in soul [79] and body (Matthew 25:46): "These shall go into everlasting punishment [80]."

a3: not impassible: "Now on account of the former co-operation not only the soul [129] but also the body will be rewarded after the resurrection [130]. Therefore in like manner the bodies of the damned will be punished; which would not be the case were they impassible. Therefore they will be passible."

As noted already, these truths are at the very heart of the Christian faith. They are part and parcel of the Good News. Even that dealing with the damned is in accord with this being Good News, not because we, much less God, are spiteful and wishful that any should so perish--God forbid! Rather, it is in that part of God's perfection is perfect justice, and the only just recompense to a rejection of God's mercy is to be judged without the application of that mercy. We know that God does not desire that punishment, but in his justice, he allows for it. We know that God gives each person sufficient opportunity to take advantage of his mercy, so no one is thus condemned unjustly.

This is good news because we know that God is and remains perfectly just and that he rewards each of us according to what we have done. Even more, for those who throw themselves on God's mercy, they will be receive the additional grace of having their resurrected bodies glorified, transfigured to be like Christ to live with God forever.

"Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”  Rev 21:3-4