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Eschatology or the Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things
A Dogmatic Treatise
Rev. Joseph Pohle Ph.D. D.D

The body that will be reunited to the soul at the Resurrection will be identical with the one inhabited by the soul on earth.

1. PROOF FROM REVELATION.—The Eleventh Council of Toledo says: “We believe that we shall arise, clothed not in air or some other flesh, but in the self-same [flesh] in which we [now] live, exist, and move.” The so-called Creed of Leo IX, which is still employed in the consecration rite of bishops, contains this passage: “I believe also in the true resurrection of the same flesh which I now have.” The Fourth Council of the Lateran defines: “All men will rise again with their own bodies [the same] which they now have.”

a) The Biblical argument for this dogma is based on the same texts that prove the Resurrection, especially the vision of Ezechiel and the passage from Job which we have quoted above.

Where Sacred Scripture does not expressly assert the identity of the risen body with that inhabited by the soul before death, it takes this identity for granted. For a man to rise again in a strange body would not be a true resurrection. “We cannot speak of a resurrection,” says St. Thomas, “unless the soul returns to the same body, because resurrection signifies a new rising. To rise and to fall belong to the same subject, … and hence, if the soul did not resume the same body, there would be no resurrection, but rather the assumption of a new body.” St. Paul writes: “For this corruptible [body] must needs put on incorruption, and this mortal [body] immortality.” Consequently, it is one and the same body which, having been corruptible and mortal in this life, becomes incorruptible and immortal after the Resurrection.

b) The Fathers conceived the Resurrection of the flesh as a reawakening or restoration of the body formerly inhabited by the soul, and rejected the contrary teaching of the Origenists. St. Jerome says: “As Christ arose in that body which lay with us in the sacred sepulchre, so we, on the day of judgment, shall arise in the same bodies by which we are surrounded and with which we are buried.” The Patristic teaching that holy Communion is a pledge of the Resurrection would be meaningless if the risen body were not identical with the one the soul inhabits on earth.

Tradition expressed itself practically in the solemn burial rite of the Church, the liturgical prayers recited for the dead, the respect shown to corpses, and especially the veneration exhibited towards the bodies of saints and their relics.

2. SPECULATIVE DISCUSSION OF THE DOGMA.—Speculative theology strives to understand the dogma more fully and to answer some of the questions that arise concerning the identity and integrity of the risen body and its functions.

a) As regards the identity of the risen body, it must be taken neither in too broad nor in too limited a sense.

Durandus declared that identity of soul is sufficient to constitute identity of person, and that the risen body may be composed of matter entirely different from that which constituted it during life. But would an entirely new body be really and truly “my body”? If my soul were to inhabit an entirely new body, should I not, on the contrary, be a different person, at least materially? The Church declares that after the Resurrection man will not only be of the same species as before, but identically the same individual. It makes no difference whether this identity is conceived in accordance with the hylomorphic system of Aristotle and St. Thomas, or the modern atomic theory, as long as the reality of matter is admitted.

Nor, again, must the identity of the risen body be conceived too narrowly. Of course, corporeal individuality is not to be gauged by a mathematical standard. Infants and old men will probably not arise exactly as they died, but in a more perfect form. Moreover, we know that in consequence of the process technically called metabolism, the human body changes its material composition every seven years or so. Hence there can be no absolute bodily identity even in this life. Nor need the identity of the risen with the earthly body be conceived as absolute. “What does not bar numerical unity in a man while he lives on uninterruptedly,” says St. Thomas, “clearly can be no bar to the identity of the risen man with the man that was. In a man’s body while he lives, there are not always the same parts in respect of matter, but only in respect of species. In respect of matter there is a flux and reflux of parts: still that fact does not bar the man’s numerical unity from the beginning to the end of his life.”

It has been objected that, as the same matter enters successively into the composition of different men, many individuals, especially savages addicted to anthropophagy, will have to fight for their bodies at the Resurrection. But this objection is unworthy of serious consideration. God in His omnipotence and wisdom can surely find ways and means of restoring to every man his own body.

b) The integrity of the risen body offers a real difficulty, owing to the fact that many men are mutilated before they die, while others (monstra) never enjoy the possession of a normal physique.

St. Augustine says on this subject: “As the members appertain to the integrity of human nature, they shall all be restored together; for they who were either blind from birth, or who lost their sight on account of some disease, the lame, the maimed, and the paralyzed, shall rise again with an entire and perfect body.” The same holy Doctor expresses the expectation that “whatever old age or disease has wasted in the body … shall be repaired by the divine power of Christ,” and that the body will be raised, not in an immature or decrepit condition, but as it appeared in the prime of life. However, these are mere conjectures. We have no positive knowledge whatever on the subject.

Certain theologians hold that the bodies of the risen will be either asexual or all of the male gender. This opinion is untenable for the reason that the distinction of sex appertains both to the integrity and the identity of the individual and also because our Lord seems to take the continued existence of sex for granted when He says: “In the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married.” In Eph. 4:13: “Until we all meet and attain to the unity of faith, and knowledge of the Son of God, even to a perfect man, to the measure of the full stature of Christ,” the context shows that the Apostle speaks of that perfect manhood which the soul is destined to attain in the life beyond. He does not mean, as St. Thomas notes, that when the risen go forth to meet Christ, they shall all be of the male sex, but merely desires to foreshadow the perfection and strength of the Church, which shall be like that of a full-grown man.

c) Of the bodily functions all those that pertain to the vegetative life will cease in the next world.

Nutrition and propagation are incompatible with the status termini. Moreover, Christ Himself expressly repudiated the idea of a Mohammedan paradise. Cfr. Matth. 22:30: “In the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married, but shall be as the angels of God in heaven,” that is to say, though the distinction of sex remains, its functions will cease.

Scripture often likens Heaven to a banquet, at which all men will sit down to feast with the Patriarchs. This is a mere allegory, designed to illustrate the happiness of the Elect. St. Paul says: “Food is for the belly, and the belly for food; still, God will end both the one and the other.” This cannot mean that the organs of digestion and assimilation will be destroyed, for they belong to the integrity of the body,—but that they will no longer exercise their functions.

As regards the senses, the eyes and ears will no doubt continue to exercise their functions, the former by enjoying the sight of the God-man, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints, the latter by listening to the conversation of the Blessed and drinking in their paeans of praise and exultation.

What some theologians say concerning delicious odors, essences, etc., enjoyed by the Elect is pure speculation with no basis in fact.

3. THE FOUR TRANSCENDENT ENDOWMENTS OR QUALITIES OF THE RISEN BODIES OF THE SAINTS.—In addition to the natural characteristics of identity and integrity common to all risen bodies, the glorified bodies of the Elect will enjoy four supernatural qualities, viz.: impassibility, brightness, agility, and subtility.

a) Impassibility (impassibilitas, ἀφθαρσία) puts the bodies of the Elect beyond the reach of death, pain, and discomfort. 1 Cor. 15:53: “This mortal body must needs put on incorruption.” Apoc. 21:4: “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall mourning or wailing or pain be any more, because the first things are passed away.”

The term ἀφθαρσία, as employed by St. Paul, signifies something more than “incorruption.” The bodies of the wicked, too, are after a fashion “incorruptible,” but they are by no means impassible. Impassibility is a peculiarity of the glorified body. Whether it is a positive quality imparted to the soul by God, or results from the expulsion of the active and passive factors responsible for pain and suffering, we are unable to say. All that we know for certain is that the bodies of the Saints will be incapable of suffering. St. Thomas ascribes this supernatural impassibility to the complete and perfect dominion exercised by the soul over the body, whereby the latter is effectively protected against all harmful influences both from within and without.

b) The second quality of the glorified body is a certain brightness (claritas, δόξα) that will cause the just, in the words of our Saviour Himself, to “shine as the sun.”

This prerogative was foreshadowed in the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Thabor. “Our conversation,” says St. Paul, “is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness, that it may be one with the body of his glory, by the force of that power whereby he is able to subject all things to himself.” Elsewhere the Apostle intimates that the body will be transfigured in proportion to the light of glory which illumines the soul and enables it to behold the divine essence. Cfr. 1 Cor. 15:40 sq.: “The glory of the heavenly is different from that of the earthly. There is the glory of the sun, and the glory of the moon, and the glory of the stars; for star differeth from star in glory. And so it is with the resurrection of the dead.” “Thus,” explains St. Thomas, “the glory of the soul shall be perceptible in the glorified body as the color of a body enclosed in a glass receptacle is visible through the glass.” As the wounds of our Divine Saviour do not disfigure His glorified body, but shine forth with indescribable radiance, so, we may assume, the scars of the blessed martyrs, far from marring, will rather enhance the beauty and glory of their transfigured bodies.

c) The third quality of the glorified body is a certain agility (agilitas, δύναμις), by which, under the influence of the spirit, now no longer restrained, the body is freed from its innate clumsiness and moves with the utmost facility in whatever direction it is drawn by the soul.

The body of our Lord after the Resurrection was no longer subject to the limitations of space. Similarly the transfigured bodies of the Saints will be able to move from place to place, from planet to planet, from star to star, with the utmost ease and celerity. St. Thomas ascribes this ability to the fact that in the glorified body the soul is free to exercise its functions as the substantial form and motive power (vis motrix).

Can the Blessed move from place to place in a timeless moment, that is, without passing through the intervening space? This purely philosophical question is answered negatively by the Angelic Doctor. “The glorified body,” he says, “moves in time, but imperceptibly because of its quickness.” Suarez takes the opposite view and supports it with certain utterances of the Fathers. The metaphysical possibility of such unhampered motion depends on the nature of time and space.

d) The fourth and last quality of the transfigured body is subtility (subtilitas s. spiritualitas). This property does not imply that the glorified body (σῶμα πνευματικόν) is imperceptible to the senses, or that it is transformed into spirit. The body merely enters into the full possession of grace and participates in the higher life of the soul to such an extent that it may be said to be almost spiritualized.

The soul is filled with the divine pneuma, which, as the principle of supernatural life, assumes into itself the life of the body and raises it to its own level. The soul is no longer subject to death and suffering and no longer depends on material objects for the processes of nourishment and acquiring knowledge. The body becomes absolutely subject to the spirit, and the former conflict between the two is at an end.

It is a controverted question whether the transfigured bodies of the Blessed, by virtue of this supernatural gift of subtility, can penetrate one another, i. e. occupy the same space. Most authors hold that they are endowed with mechanical compenetrabilitas, i. e. the capability of mutual penetration. That this is metaphysically possible we know from the fact that Christ after the Resurrection passed through the walls of the sepulchre and the closed doors of the council chamber without let or hindrance. St. Thomas ascribes this prerogative to a special act of divine omnipotence, whereas Suarez thinks it may be explained as a natural effect of the spirituality of the transfigured body.

READINGS:—E. Ramers, Des Origenes Lehre von der Auferstehung des Fleisches, Treves 1851.—M. Seisenberger, Die Lehre von der Auferstehung des Fleisches, Ratisbon 1867.—J. Bautz, Die Lehre vom Auferstehungsleibe nach ihrer positiven und spekulativen Seite, Mayence 1877.—G. Scheurer, Das Auferstehungsdogma der vornizänischen Zeit, Würzburg 1896.—A. Brinquant, La Résurrection de la Chair et les Qualites du Corps des Elus, Paris 1899.—*F. Schmid, Der Unsterblichkeits- und Auferstehungsglaube in der Bibel, Brixen 1902.—Chadouard, La Philosophie du Dogme de la Résurrection de la Chair au 2e Siècle, Paris 1905.—A. J. Maas, S. J., art. “Resurrection,” in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XII, pp. 792 sq.—B. J. Otten, S. J., History of Dogmas, Vol. II, St. Louis 1918, pp. 418 sqq.

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