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Vol 39 No 4


Francis Mansour LCM

Charles Hill

Terry Lyons

Vincent Battaglia

Sophie McGrath RSM

Peter Malone MSC

Kevin Mark



The Resurrection of the Body:
Some reflections on the Biblical data


IN THE WORDS of the Apostles Creed, we profess that 'we believe in the resur rection of the body'. This profound claim is possible only in the light of the Easter Jesus. That is, our faith is built upon the resurrection of Christ, the model and cause of our resurrection, to which we look forward and which is anticipated in the assumption of Mary. It is an affirmation not only of the bodiliness of our eschatological destiny, but also the importance of the body in our lives today. Still, despite the evidence of the prayer and life of the church attesting to this claim, why do Christians downplay the idea that it is only as embodied persons that we can be truly happy, both now and in the life to come? This paper offers some theological reflections drawn from observations about contemporary living and from the scriptural witness.

The Ambivalence of the Body in Contemporary Culture
In Australia today, in common with many Western countries, an uneasy tension persists in relation to the human body. It is a tension that at once affirms the 'body-beautiful' yet at the same time seeks release from the finitude represented by embodied living. A synoptic survey of the kinds of outlets in any suburban shopping centre, and a casual glance at the imagery in the mass media, to say nothing of the industries built on the sale of sexualised flesh, would suggest that we value human bodily perfection as the highest good. Yet, paradoxically, elements of a body-denigrating philosophy linger in our mindsets. Are not body-piercing, eating disorders, and 'extreme makeovers' symptomatic of this latter trend?

Christians themselves would appear to both affirm bodiliness and deny it. Our language and our piety are very telling. Expressions such as 'good soul' (bounanima is a term with which Italian speakers would be familiar), 'poor souls', and 'going up to' or 'floating around' heaven betray the influence of Neo-Platonist emanationism. We celebrate 'All Souls' day. At stake here is the importance of the human body, and indeed of the meaning of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Yet the hope for a bodily resurrection makes many shudder – why would I want this body of mine to be with me forever? Surely I can be free of it! The desire to be free of the limitations of bodily living is essentially Platonic, one borne from the notion of the 'immortal soul' being the seat of human personhood. Any notion of the resurrection as a 'release of the soul from the prison of the body' is neither biblical nor traditionally Christian.

These issues raise the question of the proper relation between spirit and matter, and between body and soul, and in such a way that a dualistic division between them is to be avoided. How are Christians to understand the significance of the human body? In a nutshell, the Catholic tradition affirms the embodiment of human living, both in this life and the final, beatific life. This is a strong statement. Indeed, it may be argued that the affirmation of the bodiliness of human living—that we are embodied persons animated with a life-principle (the soul)—underpins so much of Catholic morality and anthropology that it could be considered as the root cause of a growing dissociation between Catholic culture and the broader Western culture. The time-honoured practice of Christian burial affirms, among other things, that the body of the Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 3:16, 6:19). Sacraments and sacramentals value, and involve, the participation of the body in worship. John-Paul II's writings on human sexuality have become a 'theology of the body'. Mary's glorious assumption into heaven is, among other things, a powerful statement of the salvation of human flesh. Moreover, in the Eucharist we sacramentally partake of the body of Christ. In short, the body-soul unity of the human person lies at the heart of the Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being, and therefore understanding the nature of human corporeality becomes crucial.

This affirmation of bodiliness in the Catholic tradition does not always find resonance in the popular Christian imagination. Often enough our images of the after-life are of 'disembodied' souls, which maintain an existence quite independent not only of the complement of their bodies but also of other human beings. The uncritical description of deceased infants being 'angels' in heaven is a confusion of the categories of human and angelic personhood. It may be asked, does the average Christian think of the after-life in mythological and syncretistic terms? What images of life after death do Christians have that are either borrowed from the 'New Age' movement or from other religions, such as the idea of 're-incarnation' or indeed the concept of 'ghosts'? Ironically, many people find it difficult to accept their own bodies as being worthy of glorification but are willing to accept a new, non-human body in the notion of 're-incarnation'.

In the light of these reflections the question becomes: what significance does the human body have to human identity and human happiness? This key question can be considered from many perspectives, and in this paper I examine the biblical data in order to provide some theological reflections.

The Resurrection of the Body in the Old Testament
Most exegetes hold that the idea of an 'after-life' is a relatively late phenomenon in Hebrew thinking. Hitherto Hebrew thinking, which is reflected in the earlier biblical texts, was thoroughly concerned with reward and judgment in this life. Building upon God's promise of a future to His people, as expressed in the Abrahamic, Sinaitic covenant, and Davidic traditions, the promise of an 'eschatological' future is rooted in the hope of the Israelites as expressed by the prophets and then by the apocalyptic writers. The pre-exilic prophets expressed both God's love and chastisement, perhaps paradoxically, through the image of the 'Day of Yahweh' (cf. Amos 5:18-20; Zeph 1:7-2:3), in which God would punish His people for their unfaithfulness and yet urge them to fulfil their covenantal obligations. Punishment was envisaged as 'this worldly' (for want of a better term), where the symbols of material prosperity were undermined through natural disasters, the loss of the monarchy and the priesthood, exile from the land, desecration of the Temple, profanation of the cult, and oppression of all kinds. On the individual level 'immortality' was viewed as participation in the full richness of earthly life, a long life and the blessing of children and grandchildren (e.g., Deut 4:40, 5:16; Job 5:26; Ps 91:16; Prov 3:2,16, 4:10; Sir 1:12,20); sin was therefore evidenced by poverty, illness, and childlessness. Death was not so much annihilation, as a descent into the murky shades of Sheol (e.g., Gen 37:35; Num 16:33; 1Sam 2:6; Qoh 9:10), which is a sort of common house vitally cut off from God and where the praise of God cannot be offered (cf. Pss 6:5, 15:10-11, 29:9, 87:5,10-12, 93:17, 113B:17-18; Is 38:18).

The notion of eschatological hope shifted with the post-exilic prophets, such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 'Second' and 'Third' Isaiah (40-65), Haggai, and Zechariah. These prophets similarly denounced the people for their idolatry and unfaithfulness but at the same time offered hope through an imminent coming of God's restoration in a new age, an age of justice and peace. This new age was variously symbolised as a new creation (e.g., Is 65:17, 66:22), a new exodus (e.g., Ez 34:13-16), a new covenant (e.g., Is 61:8-9; Jer 31:21-34, 32:40), the reunification of Judah and Israel (e.g., Ez 37:15-28; Zech 10:1-12), the restoration of the Davidic dynasty (e.g., Ez 34:23-24; Zech 9:1-17), the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple (e.g., Joel 4:17; Hag 1:2-2:9), the restoration of true religion (e.g., Is 66:18-24; Zech 14:16-21), and a complete observation of the Torah. Significantly, this prophetic literature characteristically viewed the new age as a destruction of the present order and the inauguration of a new world and cosmos, and Daniel 12:1-3,10-13 prophesies symbolically about when this is to occur. The Wisdom literature challenged traditional theodicies, especially the link between suffering on the one hand and sin and destiny on the other, and the Books of Qoheleth and Job are foundational in this regard. Some of the psalms (e.g., 72) also deal with this theme, as do the Servant Songs in Second Isaiah which interpret sickness and death as righteous suffering endured vicariously by the Suffering Servant (e.g., Is 52:13-53:12). From these themes emerges a tension between the present and the future, between the particular hopes of the Jewish nation and the universal hopes of all humankind, and between the vicissitudes of our present materiality and the promise of a renewed creation.

The experience of the suffering of the righteous under the hand of various foreign occupying powers, especially in the time of the Seleucid dynasty (ca. 301-63 BCE), led to a gradual emergence of the theme of life after death. This experience of foreign domination, and disillusionment with such institutions as the Temple and its priesthood, gave rise to an apocalyptic eschatology. This kind of religious thinking characteristically rejects the present experience of human life and looks towards its overthrow by supernatural powers, coupled with a fervent anticipation of a final and glorious salvation for the faithful and a final judgment for the wicked. Daniel 7 and 12:1-13 best illustrates apocalyptic eschatology in the Hebrew Bible. Whilst the notions of God saving even those in Sheol (e.g., 1Sam 2:6; Wis 16:13-14; Hos 13:14; Amos 9:2) and the resurrection of the dead (e.g., Is 26:19; Ez 37:1-14) grew in the consciousness of the Israelites, Daniel 12:1-3 is the only unequivocal affirmation of the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament. The Second Book of Maccabees, an apocryphal work to the Jews, mentions the making of a sin offering, an atonement, for the fallen Jewish soldiers who died wearing amulets of false gods (see 2Mac 12:42-45), which also evidences a belief in an after-life, although no details are provided about its bodily aspect. The 'passion' of the seven brothers also suggests the resurrection of the body (see 2Mac 7). The point is that it is only during inter-testamental Judaism that the notion of an after-life proper comes into the fore in Hebrew thinking.

It is not until the Greek period (ca. 332-63 CE), and in the Book of Wisdom in particular (see Wis 2:22, 3:1-4, 9:15, 16:13-14), that we find in the Old Testament an approximation of the human person as composed of body and soul and the affirmation of the immortality of the soul. This is evident also in the apocryphal works, such as the Books of Enoch and Ezra, from which the notion of an 'intermediate state' between death and judgment first arose1. It would appear that the Essenes of Qumran believed in some kind of continued bodiliness after death, though it is unclear to what extent this was a continuation of some kind of Stoic materialist conception of the soul2. The Hebrews had had a different, tripartite schema of basar (flesh), nephesh (soul), and ruah (spirit), all of which were used varyingly and often as different ways of describing the human person. Hence, there is an interchange of ideas between Greek and Hebrew thinking in the century or two before Christ, all of which formed the background to the New Testament. The description of death as the separation of body and soul has become normative for Christians, having been used since the earliest of the Patristic writers, and in itself implies a post mortem continuation of the soul's existence3.

The Resurrection of the Body in the New Testament
The Hebrew Bible (with all its Hellenistic borrowings), the diversity of religious beliefs and expectations among first century Jews, along with the Græco-Roman culture of the Mediterranean, provide the background to the inspired authors of the Christian era. A chief legacy of the Jewish people was the belief in the resurrection of the dead, held widely among the Jews with the notable exception of the Sadducees (Mk 12:18 par.). The early Christians sifted and interpreted these traditions through the prism of the person and work of Christ so as to form a christological hermeneutic.

There are two primary sets of data in the New Testament evidencing the kerygmatic faith in the resurrection of the body, namely the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and the Pauline epistles, especially First Corinthians. The gospels have varying, and ultimately disharmonious, accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet these accounts do not seek to provide an historically accurate picture of what occurred, but rather are faith testimonies of the experiences of the early Christians, the correct interpretation of which the church has always reserved to herself. The post-resurrection accounts are theologically important in an examination of the 'nature' (or the 'what' and 'how') of the resurrection of the human body because Jesus' own resurrection, as the work of the Father in the Spirit, serves as both the exemplar and means by which we all shall rise. Holding that Jesus' resurrection is the exemplar of our resurrection, however, is not the same as saying that our resurrection will be exactly like His.

There is an evident tension in the New Testament of the 'already-not yet' character of the kingdom of God, the primary symbol of the new reality inaugurated by the saving words and deeds of Jesus. The gospels portray Jesus as proclaiming the kingdom as both present (e.g., Mk 1:15 par.; Lk 17:21) and a future reality (cf. Mt 6:9; Lk 11:2); the end-time (eschaton) has already begun but awaits consummation. Wonders and signs of cosmic upheaval accompany its fulfilment (e.g., see Mk 13; Rom 11:15; 2Th 1:7-10). These signs of the end-time herald Jesus' return a second time (parousia) (Mt 24:3, 14:27,37,39; Jn 14:3,18, 21:21-23) in judgment (e.g., Mt 25:31-46; Jn 5:28-29, 12:48; Acts 3:20-21) and glory (e.g., 1Cor 11:26; 1Th 4:15-17; Tit 2:13; Rev 22:17,20). Personal judgment follows the death of the individual (Heb 9:27). Thus, in the New Testament there arise key notions such as promise, judgment, and historical and cosmic fulfilment, themes that form the core of the belief in a post mortem bodily existence.

All four gospels share a theme of seeking to explain how the risen Christ is in some way both continuous and discontinuous with the pre-resurrected Jesus. The continuity is emphasised in bodily terms; this risen Jesus is the same bodily person that the disciples had known before (see Mt 28:9; Lk 24:31,39ff; Jn 20:27); Mary Magdalene even recognised his voice (Jn 20:16). Nonetheless, there is discontinuity in the sense that His body is very different from the one they had known (see Lk 24:16,31,35; Jn 20:14,19), so much so that He was at times plainly unrecognisable (see Jn 20:14, 21:4; Lk 24:31ff). It is clear that Jesus' resurrected body is neither a resuscitation of a corpse, nor a ghost, nor mere visionary experiences of the disciples, though (short of these false paths) many and varied interpretations of the Easter stories are possible. The purpose of including references to the risen Jesus' eating with His disciples (Lk 24: 41-43; Jn 21:9-15) is to make clear that the risen Jesus was still of the same human nature as that which He assumed in the incarnation, and this is a sign of what our future resurrection will be like, namely that we shall retain our humanity, our identity, and our relationship to materiality. The Gospel of John sees our resurrection and the resurrection of Christ as part of the one saving work of God; indeed, Christ Himself is the resurrection and the life (cf. Jn 11:25) and His mystical risen body of flesh and blood is our nourishment (cf. Jn 6:55). John's gospel has Jesus speak of Himself as the 'bread of life' whose own 'flesh and blood' is given 'for the life of the world' (Jn 6:35,51-58).

The Pauline corpus, most of which was written before the gospels, is a rich source of information about the divine promise of our resurrection. Perhaps fortuitously for the future of Christianity, some Corinthian Christians had evidently questioned how the resurrection of the dead is to occur. Paul's response, in chapter 15 of First Corinthians, has generated sustained Christian theological reflection throughout the ages. Paul's letters, and those of his disciples written in his name, attempt to explain not only the 'how' of the resurrection, but also its meaning, nature, and when it is to occur. Considering the entire Pauline corpus, the meaning of Jesus' resurrection is soteriological. That is, Jesus is the first to rise from the dead, opening the way for others to follow (1Cor 15:20,23; Rom 8:29; Col 1:18; see also Acts 26:23). Paul thus modifies the sharp Jewish apocalyptic dualism of the present age and the coming age. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus enables us to be raised, or saved, through Him (1Cor 15:21-22; Rom 4:25; 2Cor 5:15). Indeed, such is the efficacious importance of Jesus' own resurrection that if He had not risen, the Christian faith would be in vain (1Cor 15:14). The Spirit of the resurrected Christ forms communion amongst Christians, and between the church and Christ (1Cor 12:12-13, 15:45; 2Cor 1:22, 5:5).

On the nature of the resurrected body, Paul states that 'we are all going to be changed' (1Cor 15:52) and through Him all the dead 'will be brought to life' (1Cor 15:22). Paul proceeds to explain that through the death and resurrection of Christ the seed of our 'physical body' (soma psychikon) is sown and the seed of our 'spiritual body' (soma pneumatikon) is raised (1Cor 15:44), a crucial distinction that is at once evocative yet open to many interpretations. A 'spiritual body' appears to be a unified, whole human reality ('body') suffused with the power of Christ's life-giving Spirit ('spiritual'); this is not an empirical description but a theological one. Utilising a range of images, Paul speaks of the resurrection of the human body being 'incorruptible', 'imperishable', 'immortal', and 'heavenly' (see 1Cor 15:39-54). Jesus Christ will come from heaven to refashion our lowly bodies and mould it into His own glorious body (Phil 3:20-21). This eschatological promise addresses the 'whole being, spirit, soul, and body' (1Th 5:23). We are to avoid overly spiritualistic interpretations of the historical reality of Jesus' resurrection (see 2Tim 2:18). From these passages Paul's emphasis on somatic continuity is clear, though 'body' tends more towards personhood than biology. This understanding of body as soma is distinct from his use of sarx, and enables us to understand Paul's statement that 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven' (1Cor 15:50)4.

On the how and when of this resurrection, the Pauline corpus uses a range of apocalyptic imagery (e.g., 1Th 4:13-17; 1Cor 15:51-56; Phil 3:20-21), which mirrors similar language elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., see Mk 13 par.; 2Pet 3:10-12; Rev 19-22). For Paul, the 'Day of Yahweh' becomes the 'Day of our Lord Jesus Christ' (1Cor 1:8; 2Cor 1:14; 1Th 5:2, etc.), and until this definitive day, which is a day of judgment (Rom 2:6, 14:10; cf. Mt 13:39-42,49, 24:39-41, etc.), the righteous await in hope for the redemption of their bodies (cf. Rom 8:23; 2Cor 5:2-10). There is also a shift in his belief in the imminence of the end; he first thought to be personally alive when Jesus returns (1Th 4:13-5:11; 1Cor 15:15-52), but his experience of people dying before the parousia requires him to theologise that the just rest in Christ in the meantime (cf. Phil 1:23) and that he too may die before Jesus returns (2Cor 5:3,6-8). What is certain for Paul is that we need a transformation of our present life in order to enjoy everlasting life, for 'what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable' (1Cor 15:50). Life 'in Christ' (e.g., Rom 6:11, 8:2; Eph 1:7, 2:13; 2Tim 1:10; cf. Gal 2:20), however, does not commence in death but in baptism (see Rom 6:3-7; Gal 3:25-26). The future age can be experienced in the present age because the resurrected life is already a participation in Christ's resurrection for those baptised in Him (Eph 2:6; Col 2:12-13, 3:1-4), those in whom the triune God dwells (cf. 1Cor 3:16, 6:19; Gal 2:20).
One curious aspect of the life of Paul is that he claims to have 'seen' the risen Lord. The language is sensory; Paul is blinded and he hears voices, all suggesting a physical (though not necessarily bodily) manifestation of Jesus (Acts 9:3-8; cf. Gal 1:12). Such is the importance of this mysterious encounter that he is commissioned as an apostle, and as such can validly hand on the 'tradition' of the Christ-event (Gal 1:6-2:14; Eph 3:2-3; 2Cor 12:1). Paul does not, however, focus on the specifics of Jesus' resurrected body, but undoubtedly it informs him when he speaks of the resurrection in his letters and in his preaching. Thomas Aquinas, for his part, says that Paul indeed saw Christ's 'true body' in this vision, not just an apparition5.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is made clear that resurrection pertains to all of humanity—all will be judged, not only the righteous (see Jn 5:29; Acts 24:15). This is a definitive judgment of the good from evil, which would appear to occur at the end of time, when human history (as we know it) ends with cosmic history (or rather, when creation is renewed) (2Pet 3:7,10,12; Rev 20:12-14). There is a curious reference in the Gospel of Matthew to the bodies of many holy people rising from the dead as a sign of the dawn of the eschatological era (see Mt 27:52-53). This reference troubled many Patristic commentators, though it is clear it continues the Old Testament theme of the resurrection of the upright as symbols of the fulfilment of the promises by God to Israel (Is 26:19; Ez 37:1-14; Dan 12:2). In response to a question from the Sadducees, Matthew presents Jesus as stating that there is no marriage in the after-life (Mk 12:18-27 par.), a theme also picked up by the Church Fathers. The resurrection of Christ and of all humanity is the work of the Father (Rom 4:25, 10:9; 1Cor 6:14, 15:15; Gal 1:1; 1Th 1:10). This can be compared with John's gospel, wherein Christ's resurrection is seen as the work of the Son in obedience to the Father's will (cf. Jn 10: 17-18, 16:28, 17:2).

In terms of theological anthropology, there are references in the New Testament to the Hellenistic distinction between the body and the soul. The evangelists have Jesus speak of this distinction (Mt 10:28). Paul uses it to describe Adam, the prototype of 'natural' human living (1Cor 15:45). Other inspired authors also share this anthropology (1Pet 3:18-20). What is unclear from these scant references alone is whether the soul and body together form a unity (as in Aristotelianism), a composite (as in Platonism), or a mixing (as in Stoicism). Most troubling for Christian writers throughout the ages is a relic of the notion of the 'intermediate state' developed in the inter-testamental era, especially conveyed in the parable of the rich man desiring to be in 'Abraham's bosom' like Lazarus was (Lk 16:19-31), the repentant thief promised 'paradise' by the hanging Christ (Lk 23:43), Stephen seeking his 'spirit' to be with Jesus (Acts 7:59), and Jesus 'preparing' rooms in his Father's mansion in an anticipatory manner (Jn 14:3). These passages raise the question, is there a paradise (for the elect) before the resurrection, and is the difference the presence or absence of bodiliness? Whatever the possible answers are to this question, it is important to note that Jesus states that paradise is open by being 'with me' (Lk 23:43), thus forever stamping the Christian view of the intermediate state with a christological character6. The International Theological Commission declared these passages, and others, to be indicative of the late Jewish idea of the intermediate state of the 'upper level' of Sheol, now understood as a communion with Christ before the parousia7.

Lessons from Scripture
It would appear from this scriptural analysis that certain themes about human bodiliness can be discerned. The central message is that God has power over death and life, and that even death is no barrier to God's saving love, and this is made definitively clear in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In traditional language, Jesus' resurrection is the model and cause of our future resurrection8. Mary's bodily assumption glorifies Christ's resurrection, and it is pre-figured by the 'assumptions' of Moses (cf. Deut 32:50, 34:6) and Elijah (cf. 2Kgs 2:11). Believing that it is with our bodies, transformed and glorified, that we attain our ultimate happiness is an unequivocal affirmation of the value and dignity of every human body. Our identity, self-expression, and the fulness of human happiness are made possible only with and through our bodies. Conversely, we are not merely our souls—matter matters, so to speak. Remembering we have bodies helps us to affirm the corporate dimension to salvation. It is the body that allows our soul to find expression, in particular a social and relational expression. It is as embodied persons that we love, give and receive, and build communion. In short, human identity and human fulfilment are possible only with bodiliness.

Despite these lessons from scripture, questions persist to which answers are difficult to obtain. For example, what will our resurrected bodies look like? Do we have full use of our senses? How can all resurrected people fit on this planet? When will the general resurrection occur, and can it be simultaneous given the relationship between space and time? Where is Jesus' resurrected body now, and what is its function? Can we experience something of the resurrection in our baptism? Do disembodied souls have no memory if they have no brain? In thinking about answers to these questions, issues arise about post mortem time and space, the definition of 'soul' and 'identity', the 'intermediate state', and the extent to which disembodied souls in the intermediate state are fully human when they do not have their bodies. Furthermore, the notion of the 'communion of saints' is under threat if disembodied souls are seen to be less than fully human.

These issues have a profound bearing on our faith and our worship. Christian writers throughout the ages have struggled with them, and the church continues to do so. One of the key questions in eschatology in recent decades is whether deceased persons are 'resurrected in death', such that there is no 'intermediate' state between death and the general resurrection. This issue requires a return to the sources of the faith—scripture and tradition—as well as a dialogue with the natural sciences. Consensus amongst exegetes is yet to form on this issue. It also raises anthropological questions, including the extent to which the Christian faith borrows from Hellenistic thought as much as it does from its Hebrew heritage, and whether the Christian faith is inherently bound to a soul-body relationship that is dualistic. The way in which scripture is used in this area of inquiry may also be an issue, in particular if scripture is used as a 'proof-text' or in a way that does not have a critical sense of the culturally-bound historicity of revelation. The International Theological Commission attempted to address some of these issues, but there remains the chief riddle of how the soul can be seen to carry full personal human identity in the 'intermediate state' of the after-life yet at the same time be deficient in carrying full personhood on account of not having the complement of its body9.

Christians need a healthy sense of what it means to be embodied; it is not as if 'the flesh has nothing to offer' (cf. Jn 6:63). However, understanding our corporeality can be difficult. Ultimately this is an area that requires a consonance between theology and other disciplines, especially natural science, history, and philosophy. Dialogue partners need to respect each other's area of expertise. Theologians cannot ignore scientific data, which needs to be interpreted in the light of the revealed data. Yet it would appear that only relatively recently, probably since the experience of attempting to curtail the 'threat' of Galileo Galilei's new cosmological inquiries, has the church learned to avoid the pitfall of regarding definitions of natural science as being within its competence. History too becomes a dialogue partner because, like theology, it also is a study of the praxis of human living. The critique of religion by such influential writers as Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx has challenged all religionists to direct their concerns from an 'other worldly' life to the 'here and now' of human suffering. On the pastoral level, many Christians are lured by alternative eschatologies provided by cosmologists, social revolutionists, imperialists of race or nationalism, and ideologies borne of the 'New Age' movement. Only a theology richly sourced in scripture and tradition, and reflecting upon truth in whichever discipline it is found, and concerned with the plight of this world, can rise to meet these challenges. Affirming the eschatological dignity of the human body in the face of either body-worshipping or body-denigrating cultural tendencies is one time-honoured message to which the church can resort in its proclamation of the gospel of hope.

Vincent Battaglia is a post-graduate student in theology at the Australian Catholic University.


1 Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, Dogmatic Theology, 9, trans. Michael Waldstein and Aidan Nichols, O.P. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 120-122.
2 ibid., 123.
3 cf. Karl Rahner, Quaestiones Disputatae, Vol. 2. On the Theology of Death, trans. CH Henkey (London: Burns & Oates, 1961), 16-17.
4 Patristic and medieval exegesis required a rejection of a literal interpretation of this passage. See, for example, Thomas Aquinas, S.T.,III,Q.54,A.3,ad 1.
5 S.T.,III,Q.57,A.6,ad 3.
6 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 124-125,129.
7 International Theological Commission. 'Some Current Questions in Eschatology'. Irish Theological Quarterly 58 (1992): 3.3-3.4. The original Latin text is available in Gregorianum 73 (1992): 395-435.
8 cf. Augustine, De Trinitate, IV.3.6; Thomas Aquinas, S.C.G.,IV,82.4; S.T.,III,Q.53,A.1,ad 3, Q.54,A.2,resp. and Q.56; Suppl.,Q.76,A.1,resp.
9 The only viable solution is to hold these truths in tension; the soul carries human identity in death such that the deceased is said to exist, yet this soul is not quite the full person. This appears to be the answer provided by the Theological Commission: ibid., 5.4.