BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (105) – Is there a future for our bodies?

Rev José Mario O Mandía 

Once a person dies, his body starts to rot and decay (cf CCC 997). 

From the philosophical point of view, the soul (the substantial form of the body) gives life and unity to the body. Once body and soul separate in death, the body loses its unity. It starts to disintegrate: every substance that used to form part of the whole begins its own  independent existence, separate from the other substances. 

Faith tells us, however, that that is not the end. Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (15:12-14; cf CCC 990, 991) teaches that our mortal body will come to life again. “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” 

In the Creed, we profess belief in “the resurrection of the body.” Does that mean that we will see dead bodies walking? No. Because they will be alive again. The CCC (997) says: “God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.” 

Will everyone – good and bad people – rise again? Yes, all the dead will rise again, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29; cf Daniel 12:2) (CCC  998). 

But the bodies of the just will be quite different from those who have refused God. 

“So, in him, ‘all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,’ but Christ ‘will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,’ into a ‘spiritual body’ (Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 801; Philippians 3:21; II Corinthians 15:44)” (CCC 999).

Peter Kreeft (Catholic Christianity, p 139) explains how the bodies of the just will be like that of Christ’s resurrected body. “Our only real data for what we know about our own future resurrection bodies come from the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Resurrection body. This body was recognizable as Christ; it had continuity with his former body; it was he and not another. And yet it was different – so different that at first his own disciples did not recognise him – and then they did (Luke 24:13-32; John 20:11-16; 21:1-13). It could walk through walls (John 20:19) and ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Yet it was a body, not a ghost; it could eat and be touched (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-29; Matthew 28:9).”

St Thomas Aquinas explained that “the glory and power of the soul elevated to the divine vision will add something more ample to the body united to itself [the soul]. For this body will be entirely subject to the soul – the divine power will achieve this”  (cf Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 86). Saint Thomas summarized these into four characteristics, citing proofs from Sacred Scripture. 

(1) The bodies of the just cannot suffer any pain. “It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption” (I Corinthians 15:42). It is called the gift of “impassibility.”

(2) The body is subject to the soul and not weighed down or hampered by matter (as when Christ walked into the Upper Room after his Resurrection). “It is sown a corruptible body, it shall rise a spiritual” (I Corinthians 15:44).  This is called “subtlety.”

(3) The body obeys promptly what the soul commands (as when, after his Resurrection, Christ could appear wherever he willed). “It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power”  (I Corinthians 15:43).  This is called “agility.”

(4)  The bodies of the just will be full of beauty and radiance. “The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). This is called “clarity.” 

And when will this happen? At the end of the world. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (I Thessalonians 4:16)” (CCC 1001; cf John 6: 39-40, 44, 54; 11:24). (Image: Peggy Choucair at Pixabay)