We not only believe that the human soul is immortal, but that the human body is destined to rise immortal from the grave. Unlike our souls, which as spiritual substances are naturally immortal, our bodies are mortal by nature. They were not created subject to death, according to Gods original plan for mankind. But the sin of our first parents deprived them and their descendants of the gift of bodily immortality. All of us must die because we are all sinners.
One of the great benefits of Christianity to human wisdom is its clear teaching about both spiritual and bodily immortality.
In the Old Testament, the clearest revelation about the immortality of the soul is found in the Book of Wisdom. We are told:
The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them. In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster, their leaving us like annihilation; but they are in peace. If they experienced punishment as men see it, their hope was rich with immortality; slight was their affliction, great will their blessing be (Wisdom 3:1-4).
The New Testament simply confirms the teaching of the Old on the immortality of the soul. Our Lord could not have been more clear than when He told us, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28).
When the Apostles Creed was formulated, no explicit mention was made of the soul. But this omission was intended to guard against any idea that the soul dies and is raised up again with the body. One other reason for speaking only of the resurrection of the body was to refute the first-century heresy of Hymeneus and Philetus. They claimed that biblical references to the resurrection are not concerned with the body, but only with the souls rising from the death of sin to the life of grace.
What we have in the Creed, therefore, is a profession of belief in the real resurrection of the body.
Evidence of Scripture
Already in the Old Testament, Job differed with his friends who told him to admit his sinfulness as the cause of his misery. No, Job replied, the real reason for his suffering was the mystery of a just God whom he reluctantly calls my Oppressor. Then Job declares, I know that my Redeemer lives, and on the last day I shall rise out of the earth, and I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God (Job 19:25-26).
Christs raising several people from the dead shows that God is willing to have the human body reunited with the soul. And His own resurrection on Easter Sunday is the crowning proof that we, too, are destined by His power to rise one day from the grave.
On two dramatic occasions, Christ foretold that He would raise the dead back to life. When promising the Holy Eucharist, Jesus declared that, Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day (John 6:54). Before raising Lazarus, Martha complained to Jesus, If you had been here, my brother would not have died. The Savior assured her, Your brother will rise again. To which Martha replied, I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day. Then Jesus said: I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live (John 11:21, 23-25).
The longest and most explicit teaching in Scripture on the bodily resurrection is in St. Pauls first letter to the Corinthians. The entire fifteenth chapter of fifty-eight verses is on the final resurrection of the body on the last day. It is the climax to the apostles discourse on the practice of selfless love, which is to be rewarded in eternity, not only in the soul but also in the body.
The Resurrection Is Reasonable
Our bodily resurrection is certainly known by faith: It is part of Gods revelation to the human race. Nevertheless, it is also consistent with human reason. St. Paul makes a comparison with what we know in nature. Whatever you sow in the ground, he explains, has to die before it is given new life. And the thing that you sow is not what is going to come. You sow a bare grain, say of wheat or something like that, and then God gives it the sort of body that He has chosen. Each sort of seed gets its own sort of body (I Corinthians 15:37-38). Something like this takes place when our body dies. It is, as it were, sown in the ground. Then, in Gods own time, He will raise up from this buried seed the risen body of our glorified humanity.
The early Fathers of the Church dwell at length on these comparisons. The sun, they say, is withdrawn every day from our eyes, as if by dying, and is revealed again, as it were, by rising again. Trees lose their leaves and again, as it were, by a resurrection, regain them. Seeds die by decay and rise again by germination.
But there is more here than merely comparisons with nature. Our souls are immortal. They have a natural tendency to be united to the body. Their permanent separation from the body would be contrary to our human nature. It seems only proper, therefore, that our souls should be rejoined with our bodies. The Savior Himself appealed to this argument in His conversation with the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body (Matthew 22:23-33).
There is further logic in our faith in the resurrection of the body. During life on earth, we serve God not only in our souls but also in our bodies. It is only right that our reward in eternity should be not only spiritual but also bodily. No wonder St. Paul says that, If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:19). What the apostle means here is that even if the soul could rise without the body, it would still enjoy happiness in the next life. But his exclamation must refer to the whole man. Why? Because unless the body receives the rewards for its earthly labors, those who have endured so many trials and affliction in body and soul would indeed be of all men most to be pitied.
Finally, we are not angels, but human beings. We form one whole, body and soul. The soul cannot be perfectly happy unless the whole of us, body and soul, enjoys the rewards that God has promised to those who love Him.
All Human Beings Will Rise Again
Although the stress in Scripture is on the resurrection of the just, faith tells us that all human beings, the just and the unjust, will rise from their graves. St. Pauls all-inclusive language is plain. As in Adam, he says, all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (I Corinthians 15:22). Of course, the condition of all who rise will not be the same. In one of the most formal prophecies He ever made, Christ foretells why and how He will judge the whole human race on the last day.
I tell you most solemnly the hour will come in fact it is here already when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live. For the Father, who is the source of life, has made the Son the source of life; and because He is the Son of Man has appointed Him supreme judge. Do not be surprised at this, for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of His voice. Those who did good will rise again to life; those who did evil to condemnation (John 5:25-29).
Divine revelation further teaches about two classes of people who will rise on the last day: those who will have died over the previous centuries, and those who will be alive on the Day of Judgment. The latter will first die and then they, too, will rise from the dead with the rest of the human race (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Each Person Will Receive His Own Body
All the evidence of Scripture in the Old and New Testaments indicates that each of us will be reunited with our own individual body. The prophet Job looked forward to the day when, In my own flesh I shall see God . . . my eyes shall behold Him (Job 19:26-27). St. Paul reminds us that, This perishable nature must put on the imperishable (I Corinthians 15:53).
This stands to reason. It is inconceivable that at the resurrection we would not be essentially the same persons we have been during our mortal lives on earth. As persons, we possess our own body and soul. During the temporary separation of soul from body, each still belongs to each of us as distinct human beings. When our bodies are reunited with our souls, they will be our bodies, not someone elses. They will be our bodies and not some new creation that never existed before.
All of this is consistent with the whole tenor of divine revelation. It is the individual person, each with his own unique body united with his own unique soul who will rise on the last day to receive the just recompense for his individual human conduct, in body and soul, during his mortal stay on earth.
Qualities of the Risen Body
We may begin our reflections on the qualities of the risen body with St. Paul.
The basic quality of the risen body will be its immortality. Following the example of Christ, who is the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep, and by His power and grace, so all men will be brought to life in Christ. But all of them in their proper order. Christ as the first fruits, and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to Him (I Corinthians 15:20, 22-23). Consequently, The last enemy to be destroyed is death, so that Death shall be no more (I Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 21:4). Note that the wicked will also rise immortal. However, condemned to everlasting suffering, they will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death will fly from them (Revelation 9:6). Bodily immortality, then, will be the common inheritance of both the saved and the lost.
Special Qualities of the Glorified Body. St. Paul identifies four distinctive qualities of the risen bodies of the blessed:
The thing that is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable. The thing that is sown is contemptible, but what is raised is glorious. The thing that is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful. When it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit (I Corinthians 15:42-44).
Since the first century, the Church has developed this revealed doctrine about the qualities of the risen bodies of the just. These qualities have been given technical names: impassibility, brightness, agility, and subtility. Each deserves some explanation.
Impassibility means that the risen body will no longer be subject to pain, or even inconvenience of any kind. Piercing cold will not affect the glorified body, nor will the glaring intensity of heat, nor can anything like the forces of nature hurt it. Since there will be no more death, neither will there be the earthly prelude to death, which is sickness and disease.
Brightness describes that property of the glorified bodies that will make them shine like the sun. In Christs own words, Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:43). The Savior briefly manifested what this brightness is like in his transfiguration on a high mountain. There in the presence of Peter, James, and John, He was transfigured. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as light (Matthew 17:1-2).
This brightness is not common to all glorified bodies in the same degree. All the bodies after the resurrection will be impassible, but their splendor will differ for each person. As explained by St.Paul, The sun has its brightness, and the moon a different brightness, and the stars a different brightness, and the stars differ from each other in brightness. It is the same with the resurrection from the dead (I Corinthians 15:41-42).
Agility is that quality of the risen body that frees it from the material burden that now presses it down. It will be able to move about with the greatest of ease and with a swiftness that depends only on the will. This is what the apostle meant when he said that our bodies are now sown in weakness, but on the last day they will be raised in power.
Subtility corresponds to what St. Paul calls a spiritual body. Without ceasing to be material, that is extended in space and perceptible to the senses. The glorified body will be completely under the control of the spirit. It will be fully obedient to the soul.
If we look more closely at the foundation for these marvelous qualities of the risen body, we find them resulting from the souls face-to-face vision of God. The beatific vision means just that. It beatifies; that is, makes the human soul perfectly happy in seeing the Holy Trinity. But it also beatifies the body with the soul in the indescribable joy of directly beholding the three Persons of the infinite Deity.
One closing observation on the state of the glorified body may answer some questions that come to mind. How will our bodies after the last day compare with the bodies we had on earth? The most detailed answer in Christian tradition is given in three whole chapters of St. Augustines City of God. Only a few passages will be quoted here.
It is understood that no part of the body shall so perish as to produce deformity of the body
For all bodily beauty consists in the proportion of the parts; together, with a certain agreeableness of color. Where there is no proportion the eye is offended, either because there is something wanting, or too small, or too large. Consequently, there shall be no deformity resulting from want of proportion in that state in which all that is wrong is corrected, and all that is defective supplied from the resources which the Creator provides. All that is excessive will be removed without destroying the integrity of the substance.
In the resurrection of the flesh, the body shall be of that size which it either had attained or should have attained in the flower of its youth, and shall enjoy the beauty that arises from symmetry and proportion in all its members (The City of God, III, 19-21).
There is great value in these reflections on the resurrection of the body. They help to sustain us as we go through life, by assuring us that our efforts are not in vain. Above all, they offer the promise of being glorified like Christ, provided we have endured like Him. In this we are encouraged by the first Bishop of Rome: If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, he says, be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when His glory is revealed (I Peter 4:13). The secret is to believe this and to act on what we believe.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
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