Vol 39 No 4
WELCOME THE STRANGER
HOLY, OR SAINTLY?
MINISTRY APPRAISAL: ONE PRIEST'S EXPERIENCE
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY: SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE BIBLICAL DATA
VOICES OF THE WOMEN
THE ABUSE OF MINORS: A CINEMA RESOURCE
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
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
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 livingthat 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
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
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
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'
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
Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is made clear that resurrection pertains
to all of humanityall 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 soulsmatter 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 faithscripture and
traditionas 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
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
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.