In our previous article we discussed the topic of purity of heart, as taught in the second cycle of catechesis (24-63) of St. John Paul II on the theology of the body. This article continues with the third cycle of the Holy Father’s catechesis (64-72) on the topic of the resurrection of the body.
This article will cover:
- Why the resurrection of the body is the topic of the third cycle
- How Jesus approached this teaching
- What Jesus actually taught about the resurrection of the body
- Why men and women will not marry in the final resurrection
- How the teaching of St. Paul about the resurrection complements that of Jesus
1. Why is the resurrection of the body the subject of the third cycle?
In our previous article we discussed purity of heart. As we indicated, the heart represents the interior of the human person, the center of his soul, his interior and spiritual dimension. It is now time to discuss the material dimension of the human person: his body.
Recall that according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which St. John Paul II follows, the human person is a substantial composite of body and soul (see CCC 362-368). The human body is an intrinsic part of the human person.
As we also stated in the previous article, Jesus came to teach us an ethos of the human heart: a set of values and virtues that enable the heart to be pure. In this article, we approach the ethos of the human body Jesus came to teach us. This ethos of the body is linked to the teaching of St. Paul on the redemption of the body that Jesus also came to accomplish for us. If we live by Jesus’ teachings on the ethos of the heart and of the body, we shall become, under the power of His redemptive grace, the new person He wants us to be.
The resurrected human body in Heaven is the fulfillment of the redemption of the body that we must work out under God’s grace here on earth. Therefore, just as the state of original innocence shed light on the men and women we ought to be, so the future resurrection of the body, whose glory is similar to that of Jesus’ own resurrected body, illuminates how we ought to live the redemption of our bodies here on earth.
2. How did Jesus approach his teaching on the resurrection of the body?
As in the case of Jesus’ teaching on the unity and indissolubility of marriage, His teaching on the resurrection of the body was given in the context of a polemic with some of Israel’s religious leaders of his time. But in this case the debate was against the Sadducees. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the human body. They only recognized as sacred the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. According to them, these books did not teach anything about the resurrection.
The debate is narrated in Matthew 22:24-30, Mark 12:18-27, and Luke 20:27-40. All three texts are virtually identical, except that Luke’s is more complete. That is why this will be the passage we shall quote as the key text for this entire cycle:
Some Sadducees who argue that there is no resurrection, approached Jesus and put this question to him, “Master, Moses wrote for us, if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally, the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be since she had been married to all seven?” Jesus replied, “The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are like the angels, and being children of the resurrection, they are children of God. And Moses showed that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him everyone is alive.” Some scribes then spoke up.
The Sadducees tried to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection by means of a weird case. But Jesus showed them that they were wrong by quoting the passage from Exodus 3:6, one of the books the Sadducees believed was inspired by God.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Sadducees that they are wrong on two accounts:
- They do not know the Scriptures (they have a very superficial understanding of the Word of God).
- They do not know the power of God (which is needed to understand the Bible correctly). By disregarding the power of God, they even deny the very possibility of the resurrection.
3. What did Jesus teach about the resurrection of the body in these passages?
First of all, according to Luke 20:38, where Jesus says that “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (which is not in the other two versions), He is teaching the immortality of the soul, since the final resurrection has not taken place yet. But the Sadducees did not believe in this doctrine either.
Combining the three passages, Jesus teaches that man and woman will continue to be male and female in the resurrection. This teaching highlights once again the fact that the human body, including its sex, is indeed intrinsic to the human person and is not disregarded in the afterlife. On the contrary, soul and body will be more united than ever.
The Christian view of salvation is not that the soul must “escape” the body. The body is not a “prison” of the soul (as Plato and other ancient philosophers wrongly believed). On the contrary, the Christian view of morality and of salvation is the ever-increasing integration of body and soul.
As the Christian progresses in his moral life – which is the road to salvation – he is able to submit his body to his soul and his soul to the Holy Spirit. This bodily submission does not mean at all that the body is something negative. Far from that, it is precisely in this free submission that the body becomes more itself because it is enlivened by a soul filled with the Holy Spirit.
The whole person living under the power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes the redemption of both body and soul, as well as their perfect integration in the world to come and in the final resurrection of the body.
In the resurrected state, both body and soul will be divinized by God. This means that they will both be glorified by God by participating in the Glory of God, in His Trinitarian divine life. Another way of saying it is that the whole person will be spiritualized by God. In particular, the human body will attain the perfection of its personal and conjugal meanings.
This teaching about the divinization and spiritualization of the human person in the world to come can be deduced from Luke 20:36: ¨They will be like angels.” It is clear from what Jesus taught about the resurrection of the human body that the human person will not assume the angelic nature but will remain human, but in a glorified state of both body and soul.
This final state of the human person will be superior to that of the original innocence. Man and woman in the original innocence were called to walk with God and eventually reach this glorified state. Original sin frustrated this call, but Jesus came to restore it and to enable man and woman to attain it.
4. But Jesus taught that in the final resurrection men and women will not marry?
Jesus’ teaching about men and women not marrying is not a degradation of marriage. It is simply that marriage is only for this life. Once its role has been fulfilled, there will not be any need to continue this institution in the afterlife.
This teaching should not be interpreted either by suggesting that marriage is only for procreation. According to this view, once the number of human beings God planned to create is completed, then marriage is not needed any more. But Jesus did not teach that. We have already seen in the previous articles how highly Jesus regarded the unity of man and woman in marriage.
The main point of Jesus’ teaching is that the final resurrected state of the human person is a virginal state. And the reason for this is that the union of the human person with God will be so profound that no other union will be needed; God’s love will completely fill the soul and body of the human person.
But this does not mean that every person will forget about his loved ones from earth. On the contrary, his God-filled love will enable everyone to love and be united to his neighbor like never before, in complete self-donation devoid of any selfishness.
Christian marriage, by being a sacrament, is an efficacious sign that makes present the union between Christ and His Church (See Ephesians 5:21-33). But in Heaven there will be no need to mediate this union with God because each person will be directly and completely united to God.
This latter teaching implies that the virginal or celibate state here on earth is superior to the marital state. This truth has nothing to do with an inferior view of human sexuality and marriage. What it means is that Christian marriage, by being a sacramental sign, is a mediation between the spouses and God. But in the consecrated life, the person is already living in anticipation of this direct union with God in a virginal state, without the need of any mediation.
5. What did St. Paul teach about the resurrection and how does his teaching complement that of Jesus?
Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection deeply impacted St. Paul. The Apostle of the Gentiles himself experienced the presence of the Resurrected Christ while he was persecuting Christians (see Acts 9:26-27).
St. Paul’s teaching on the resurrection is mainly located in 1 Corinthians 15:3-57. He taught that Christ’s Resurrection is the foundation of our faith (see verses 17-20) and God’s victory over death (see verses 26 and 54-55).
St. Paul taught about the resurrected human body by contrasting it to the earthly human body (see verses 35-55). More specifically, he calls the resurrected body a celestial or spiritual body, and the earthly body a terrestrial body. He does not despise the earthly human body when he uses pejorative terms, such as “perishable” and “sown in weakness and dishonor” (verses 42 and 43). On the contrary, he is merely indicating that our earthly bodies are not in their final state but will be transformed into an unimaginable glorified or spiritualized state. Both the body and the soul will be glorified by God.
St. Paul is not a dualist, one who denies the unity of body and soul in the human person. His holistic view of the human person is clearly shown not only in this chapter, where he insists in the final resurrection of the body, but also in the very fact that he uses the image of the human body to illustrate his understanding of the Church as the body of Christ (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
In fact, he went beyond the glorified state of the resurrected human body and added that the whole material creation will also be glorified:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23).
In this way, St. Paul’s teaching on the resurrection is coherent to that of Christ and at the same time complements it.
What does St. John Paul II teach next?
So far, we have a clear picture of the original unity of man and woman, of original sin which tends to shatter that unity, and of the human person in body and soul on his way to redemption by Christ.
However, we need to know in more concrete terms how the human person, under the grace of God, lives out his soul-body redemption. This process of redemption must be situated in the context of Christ’s call (vocation) to love. There are essentially two Christian vocations: virginity or celibacy for the Kingdom of God, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
We discuss first virginity or celibacy for the Kingdom of God in the next article on cycle 4. Then we discuss the Sacrament of Marriage in the following article on cycle 5.
Since the theology of the body is a huge commentary on the encyclical Humanae Vitae, whose main topics are the transmission of life and conjugal love, we leave for the last article cycle 6, the teaching of the Holy Father on love and fertility – keeping in mind that cycles 1-5 are a preparation for cycle 6.
Previous articles in this series: