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The Resurrection of the Body

The Apostles' Creed states: "I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body". It is a doctrine of the Catholic faith that after the Second Coming, the physical bodies of those who have died will be raised and will join the souls of both the saved and the damned, the righteous and the wicked. Our bodies will be in a glorified state, will not be subject to pain, illness, suffering, and will be able to perform functions that men cannot do with their earthly bodies. Cyril of Jerusalem states: "This body shall be raised, but it shall not remain such as it is. Rather, it shall abide as an eternal body. It shall no longer require for its life such nourishment as now, nor shall it require a ladder for its ascent; for it shall be made a spiritual body, a marvelous thing, such as we have not the ability to describe" (Catechetical Lectures 18:18 [A.D. 350]). This will not be a new body, but the same body, as Epiphanius says: ""As for those who profess to be Christians . . . and who confess the resurrection of the dead, of our body and of the body of the Lord . . . but who at the same time say that the same flesh does not rise, but other flesh is given in its place by God, are we not to say that this opinion exceeds all others in impiety" (The Man Well-Anchored 87 [A.D. 374]).

Paul supports this doctrine when he says: "But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins . . . But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?" . . . There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another" (1 Cor. 15:13-17, 35, 40). Those who deny the resurrection of the body cite verse 50: "This I declare, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption". This means that those who are alive cannot enter heaven, with their human bodies; rather, those in heaven will have glorified bodies. The denial of the resurrection of the body is such a well-established doctrine that two believers, Hymenaeus and Philetus, were excommunicated for believing that "the resurrection has already taken place" (in other words, the only union of our bodies to our souls already took place in the womb at ensoulment, and therefore, the bodies of the dead will not rejoin the soul), thereby denying the resurrection (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).

Those who oppose this doctrine may be tempted to say that the resurrection of the dead means the rising of the soul to eternal life. But Tertullian explains what is meant by the term "resurrection of the dead": "In regard to that which is called the resurrection of the dead, it is necessary to defend the proper meaning of the terms ‘‘of the dead'' and ‘‘resurrection.'' The word ‘‘dead'' signifies merely that something has lost the soul, by the faculty of which it formerly lived. The term ‘‘dead'' then applies to a body. Moreover, if resurrection is of the dead, and ‘‘dead'' applies only to a body, the resurrection will be of a body. . . . ‘‘To rise'' may be said of that which never in any way fell, but which was always lying down. But ‘‘to rise again'' can only be said of that which has fallen; for by ‘‘rising again'' that which fell is said to ‘‘re-surrect.'' The syllable ‘‘re-'' always implies iteration [happening again]. We say, therefore, that a body falls to the ground in death . . . and that which falls, rises again" (Against Marcion 5:9:3––4 [A.D. 210]).

One may wonder how God can raise up a body that has corrupted in the grave. Augustine answers thus: "Perish the thought that the omnipotence of the Creator is unable, for the raising of our bodies and for the restoring of them to life, to recall all [their] parts, which were consumed by beasts or by fire, or which disintegrated into dust or ashes, or were melted away into a fluid, or were evaporated away in vapors" (The City of God 22:20:1 [A.D. 419]); "God, the wonderful and inexpressible Artisan, will, with a wonderful and inexpressible speed, restore our flesh from the whole of the material of which it was constituted, and it will make no difference to its reconstruction whether hairs go back to hairs and nails go back to nails, or whatever of these had perished be changed to flesh and be assigned to other parts of the body, while the providence of the Artisan will take care that nothing unseemly result" (Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Charity 23:89 [A.D. 421]).

Justin Martyr (First Apology 52 [A.D. 151]) "[Christ] shall come from the heavens in glory with his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived"; (The Resurrection 8 [A.D. 153]) "God has called man to life and resurrection, he has called not a part, but the whole, which is the soul and the body". Tatian (Address to the Greeks 155 [A.D. 170]) "There will be a resurrection of bodies after the consummation of all things". Theophilus of Antioch (To Autolycus 1:7––8 [A.D. 181]) "God will raise up your flesh immortal with your soul". Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1:10:1––4 [A.D. 189]) "The Church . . . has received from the apostles . . . the faith in . . . the raising up again of all flesh of all humanity". Tertullian (The Resurrection of the Dead 63:1 [A.D. 210]) "The flesh shall rise again: certainly of every man, certainly the same flesh, and certainly in its entirety". Aphraahat (Treatises 8:3 [A.D. 340]) The body which has been laid in the ground is the same which will rise again".

Catholic Tracts


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