The Resurrection of the Body

For those who have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Thomas the Apostle is like a patron saint.  Although he was filled with skepticism regarding the Resurrection of the Lord, once he touched the nail marks and placed his hand upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he came to full belief in Jesus Christ as true God and true man.  For only a man could have a heart and only the author of life could be so alive with such wounds.  While we can hardly imagine what that actually felt like, with the help of the other St. Thomas (Aquinas) we can piece together some profound truths about the resurrected body of Our Lord.  What is probably most amazing to ponder is that St. Thomas the Apostle was able to touch a heart that was filled with blood, the same heart that he well knew bled out completely when the wound was made in Our Lord’s side.

How can we know this?  It follows directly from what we know about the Eucharist.  It is the Resurrected Body and Blood of the Lord that we receive.  Therefore, we know that Our Lord’s blood also rose with Him.  Because the heart is the organ that “houses” blood, Our Lord’s resurrected heart too would contain blood.  While this certainly aids us in our devotion, there is also a more practical reason why we should study this.  St. Paul in writing to the Philippians tells them that “Christ will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil 3:21).  In other words, when we confess in the Creed that we “look forward to the resurrection of the body” we can gain access to the content of what it is specifically we are looking forward to in living with resurrected bodies, even if it strains our imagination what the experience will be like.

Like Our Lord, our resurrected bodies will have all of our organs intact.  This follows from one of Aquinas’ common sense principles, namely that because “‘[T]he works of God are perfect’ (Deuteronomy 32:4) and the resurrection will be the work of God, therefore man will be remade perfect in all his members.”  Everything that is part of the perfection of our nature, will be part of our resurrected bodies.  This includes even those things like hair and nails.  Aquinas, again quotes Scripture (“not a hair of your head shall perish”) and uses common sense (Christ clearly had hair and nails in His Resurrected Body or else he would have freaked people out as a glorified man with no hair and nails) to prove this.

By this same principle, namely that all defects of the body will be removed, St. Thomas even goes so far as to say everyone will be of a youthful age because it lacks the defect of not yet being full-grown and the defect of being no longer perfect.  He takes the idea that we will be conformed to Christ’s resurrection quite literally by saying this age is 33 since that is the age of Our Lord.  This, by the way, is also why he says it is fitting that Our Lord was crucified at the age of 33 because it was when He was at His greatest vigor.

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If all defects of the body are removed, then why do Our Lord’s wounds of Crucifixion remain?  St. Thomas says that wounds will not be in the bodies insofar as they imply a defect but will remain if they are signs of steadfast virtue and marks that will increase their own and others’ joy.  That is why some of Our Lord’s wounds remain and the wounds, say of the scourging, do not.  Saints who were beheaded will have their heads back, but there will be some marks to distinguish them as being martyred.

In his treatise of the resurrected body at the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul lists four distinctive marks of the glorified body (1 Cor 15:42-44).  First he says that it is incapable of suffering, or what is called “impassible” when he says “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.”  Because the body will be completely subject to the soul (more on this in a moment) and the soul in complete bliss of the beatific vision, the body will be incapable of suffering.  This obviously is why those in hell, even though they too receive their bodies back, are capable of suffering in their bodies (even if they cannot die again).

Secondly, he speaks of the clarity of the resurrected body when he says “It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious.”  Clarity simply means that the glory of the soul will overflow into the body.  Because, as St. Paul says “the sun has a splendor of its own, so has the moon; and the stars theirs. Even among the stars one differs from another in brightness. So it is with the resurrection of the dead,” each person’s clarity will be different based upon their earthly merits.  Yet, there will be no jealousy among the blessed because Heaven is a beautiful whole.  Even though the clarity of the Resurrected body surpasses the sun, it does not disturb the vision of the eyes but instead soothes it, thus we will all be pleased at seeing each other.

Third, he refers to the mark of agility when he says “It is sown weak; it is raised powerful.”  Agility refers to the freedom “from the heaviness that now presses it down, and will take on a capability of moving with the utmost ease and swiftness, wherever the soul pleases” (Roman Catechism).  This is why Our Lord was able to travel about so freely during the 40 days after Easter and was a fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah (40:31) “They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Lastly, he speaks of the mark of subtility when he says, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”  The idea of a spiritual body can be confusing for many people when they read this text.  Notice that he makes the distinction between a “natural body” and a “spiritual body” and not between a “physical body” and a “spiritual body.”  It does not mean that the body is somehow changed into a spirit.  It remains a physical body, but a spiritual one that has different properties.  Again, viewing our own resurrection through the lens of the resurrected Christ we find him telling the Apostles “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Lk 24:39).  It has flesh and bones, yet it can pass through burial clothes and locked doors

To understand the difference between a spiritual and natural body, we need to clarify some important points about the human soul.  Recall that strictly speaking all living things have souls.  It is only man who has a spiritual soul, or more accurately it is man’s spirit that acts as his soul.  In this life the soul has a two-fold function, both as spirit and animating principle.  Once it is separated from the body it no longer has a body to animate and is only a spirit.  In the first animation the soul is made conformable to the body (even if it is superior to it) but because the body comes first, the soul is created to animate the organism.  It is the body that is the occasion for the creation of this particular soul by God.  In the resurrection, it is the soul that makes the particular body.  The particular soul best expresses itself through the body that it was assigned to by God at its creation, so it follows that the soul would draw that body to itself.

Although this may go without saying after all that has been put forth above, it is important to emphasize that we will receive the same bodies in the resurrection.  While it is not clear what the principle of continuity is—after all our bodies now are not composed of the same matter as they were 20 years ago—St. Paul is clear that our souls return to the same body.  As St. Thomas says,

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.

Clearly this does not mean that the body is the same in every way.  St Paul likens the relationship between our natural bodies and our risen bodies as seedling to mature plant.

While it is comforting for those of us who are bald to know we will have our hair back in heaven, there is a further reason why we should try to flesh out (pun intended) what the resurrection of the body will be like.  When he declared the dogma of the Assumption, Pius XII warned about the rise of the cult of the body that he saw coming.  From too-skinny models to cosmetic surgery, to photo-shop, to tattoos, I think we would all agree that he was right.  By being witnesses of the Resurrection of the Body we will keep from being dragged into that.  How many women try to hide the effects in their body from all the children they have had, when in the resurrection those are likely to be “glory-scars?”  How about the effects of sleepless nights from taking care of a sick family member? Those who make a gift of themselves often have the scars to prove it.  The world says hide these, Christ says in the resurrection all these and more will add to our glory.  Rejoice, I say it again, rejoice in carrying about the wounds of Christ in your body.

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