Sergius Bulgakov: The Glory of the Resurrection

When the Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory, he will return in the body that was crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised from death by the heavenly Father on Easter morning—the same body in which he appeared to his disciples, the same body in which he ascended into heaven, the same body in which he eternally offers himself to the Father as sacrifice for the sins of humanity—the same body, glorified, incorrupt, immortal, and perfectly responsive to his spirit and will. And because Jesus will return in his glorified body, his return will enkindle the glorification of all of creation and the resurrection of the dead. The apocalyptic revelation of Christ cannot be accomplished in the world in its present fallen state. “Only humanity that has been resurrected and made incorruptible, that has been clothed in immortality,” explains Sergius Bulgakov, “can meet Christ and receive his manifestation” (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 429). The parousia of Jesus is the universal resurrection; the universal resurrection is the parousia of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul declares, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess 4:14).

The universal resurrection will come upon the world as a sudden, transcendent act of God, “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16). The world does not contain within itself this power of resurrection. It cannot, and will never, evolve through its natural energies into a state of glory. It certainly cannot rescue the dead from oblivion. Only the transcendent Creator who has made the world from out of nothing can effect the deification of the cosmos and the resurrection of the departed: “the Father is the principle; the Son the Accomplisher; the Holy Spirit is the power and essence of the accomplishment” (p. 431).

The universal resurrection will be the fulfillment of the resurrection of Jesus, for in his divine-humanity the resurrection of all has been achieved. “For as in Adam all die, even so, in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Though analogous to the divine act of creatio ex nihilo (Rom 4:17), the act of universal resurrection must also be distinguished from it. The matter of the resurrected body is taken from the natural world, now redeemed, transfigured, and made immortal. “Resurrection is therefore not a new creation,” Bulgakov explains, “but only restores what has already been created. Through the energy of the soul, every human being receives his proper body, which he had previously (although he receives it in a changed state)” (p. 440). Bulgakov dismisses worries about the connection of resurrected body to the physical matter of the present world. Our mortal bodies are a “flux of particles, entering and exiting, constantly being renewed by assimilation from the matter of the world” (p. 442). It is sufficient to postulate the formation of our resurrection bodies from the pneumatized matter of the new creation.

All human beings will hear the summons, though it will be received differently by each person depending on his internal disposition. Even here we may think of a synergism between God and mankind:

On the one side there are the holy prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the righteous whose entire life was only a waiting for the coming Christ, with Christ’s Forerunner at the head. On the other side there are the indifferent, those immersed in the life of the world, and, then, Christ’s enemies, the persecutors, the blasphemers, the godless. If the first are resurrected actively, so to speak, the second are merely subject to the inevitability of resurrection. Synergism is revealed even in resurrection. The first are co-resurrected with Christ, spiritually and of themselves; whereas the second resist passively, so to speak, and do not go out to meet resurrection or await it. For the first, this necessity is a supreme freedom in the joy of the “resurrection of life”; for the second, it is a “condemnation.” (p. 434)

Universal resurrection flows from Pascha: “it is the accomplishment of something that has already been pre-accomplished, precisely by the resurrection of Christ” (p. 436). All human beings will be raised to new life, without exception—by God’s will, not by human choice. “To be a human being and therefore to belong to Christ’s humanity,” avers Bulgakov, “is the sole basis for resurrection: homo sum et nihil humani a me alienum esse puto. This same human nature is, by virtue of Christ’s Incarnation, also divine-human” (p. 438). Bulgakov grounds the universal resurrection in the Incarnation. This is a crucial, and perhaps controversial, point: because God has joined human nature to himself and become Man, all human beings are encompassed in the general resurrection, all are implicated in Christ’s deification of humanity, all will be raised to life everlasting. Given the profound unity that human persons share in the old Adam—and in the New Adam—none will be able to resist their eschatological embodiment and restoration to life. Bulgakov speaks here of a “natural necessity.” On this basis he also rejects proposals of conditional immortality.

At this point I find myself at serious disadvantage, having jumped into Bulgakov’s eschatology before tackling his volume on Christology. I would like to know more about how he understands the Incarnation. That Christ’s resurrection must comprehend all is demonstrated by the universal resurrection: all human beings are raised, not in the fallen human nature into which they were born, but in the redeemed and glorified human nature of the New Adam. All are raised in Christ. Bulgakov has already acknowledged that the universal resurrection does not crush the human will, yet even those who reject Christ are, in some sense, in Christ. As T. F. Torrance observed, because the human and divine are now inseparably united in the eternal Logos, “the secret of every man, whether he believes or not, is bound up with Jesus for it is in him that human contingent existence has been grounded and secured” (The Trinitarian Faith, p. 183). I think Bulgakov would agree. Let’s put this down as a question that needs further exploration.

“He that raised up Christ from the dead,” St Paul teaches, “shall also quicken your mortal bodies” (1 Cor 15:38). Resurrection is bodily resurrection. Bulgakov firmly rejects Platonist understandings that see the body as a prison from which we need to be delivered. The resurrection is the restoration of the human being in his corporeal, spiritual, and psychic wholeness. Bulgakov puts the matter bluntly: “On one side, we have a graveyard with dead bones; on the other side, we have bodiless souls, awaiting the restoration of their integrity through reunification with the body” (p. 435). The fullness of human life is embodied life.

Bulgakov also distances himself from those Church Fathers who taught that the resurrection abolishes sexual distinction. “Is it not evident,” he asks, “that the Incarnation simultaneously eternalizes and certifies in their originality both the male gender, assumed by the Lord in his human nature, and the female gender, glorified and sanctified in the person of the Mother of God, who was resurrected and raised to heaven in Her flesh” (p. 441). Bulgakov offers what might be judged a modern reading of Gen 1:26-27:  “Male and female, differing as two distinct images of man, bear, in their unity, the fullness of humanity and, in this humanity, the fullness of the image of God: they bear the imprint of the dyad of the Son and the Holy Spirit, who reveal the Father” (The Lamb of God, p. 140). Sexual differentiation belongs to God’s original intent for humanity and is mysteriously maintained in the kingdom. 16oo years ago St Augustine noted the soteriological inclusivity of the Incarnation: “His temporal plan ennobled each sex, both male and female. By possessing a male nature and being born of a woman He further showed by this plan that God has concern not only for the sex He represented but also for the one through which He took upon Himself our nature” (On Faith and the Creed 4.9). More controversially, Bulgakov suggests that the Imago Dei is eschatologically manifested in the incarnate Son and Theotokos together: Jesus images God through consubstantial union; Mary images the Holy Spirit through creaturely deification and personal sanctity:

Hence it is incumbent on us to consider that the human essence of the Mother of God in heaven together with the Godman Jesus displays the full image of humankind. The Icon of the Mother of God with Child, the Logos and the creature receiving Him, filled with the Holy Spirit, in unity and its indivisibility, is the full image of humankind. The Godman and the Pneumatophore, the Son and the Mother, displaying the revelation of the Father through the Second and Third Hypostases, also display the fullness of the Divine Image in humankind or, to put it another way, of the human image in God. … Hence the Lord Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect human, truly became human and assumed all human nature; in the image of His humanity He is joined inseparably with His Most Pure Mother and is Son not only thanks for His Divinity, as the Only-Begotten of the Father, but also thanks to His humanity as Son of the Mother, born of her by the Holy Spirit. In this manner in His human nature His male principle is joined inseparably with the female principle of the Mother of God, and the fullness of the Divine image in humankind, or to put it another way, of the human image in God, is expressed through these two, through “the new Adam” and “the new Eve.” As God, Christ assumed all the fullness of human nature in order to save it and resurrect it. In this sense, the apostle Paul says, “there is neither male nor female, but you all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). But He expresses the fullness of the image of human nature only together with the Mother of God, who thus has found her place in the heavens beside the glorified human nature of her Son, so that not only the male but also the female nature is glorified and divinized, though in a different way. (The Burning Bush, pp. 82-83)

Decades before Rosemary Radford Ruether and Phyllis Trible launched their feminist critique of orthodox Christianity, Sergius Bulgakov provided the orthodox rejoinder.

Bulgakov devotes some twenty pages exploring the question that all inquiring minds want answered: what will our resurrection bodies be like? Bulgakov is sensitive to the fact of our ignorance: standing on this side of the parousia, we know little, if not nothing, about “the physics and physiology of the future age” (Bride, p. 445). He proposes that the resurrected body will perfectly incarnate the spirit of the human person as known by God. This corporal image is never realized in our present life, given our disfigurement by sin, sickness, and mortality; hence it may be rightly affirmed that it “appears for the first time only in the resurrection” (p. 444). Our glorified bodies will “express with perfect clarity the idea of each person. These forms contain all the features that make it possible to distinguish and recognize each individual. In other words, resurrected individuals will know one other not only by spiritual communication but also according to their bodily form, which has come out of the hands of the Artificer of the universe” (p. 445). Bulgakov goes on to speculate that given the importance of synergism in the God-human relationship, each individual will enjoy a measure of freedom in the co-creation of his or her body. Our new bodies will be perfectly transparent and responsive to the human spirit.

The reflections of Bulgakov on the future resurrection may be profitably read in conjunction with those of Dumitru Staniloae.  Staniloae speaks of the pneumatic quality of our future embodiment. Our bodies, he says, will be overwhelmed and penetrated by the Holy Spirit; hence, they “will somehow cease to be impenetrable and nonpenetrating” (The Experience of God, VI:163). They will lose that egoistic “thickness” that presently inhibits and interferes with interpersonal communion:

Each member of the heavenly Kingdom will experience the bodies of all others as his contents, as being united with his body but not identical with his body. … There will be a perfection and universalization of the loving relationship between “I” and “thou,” in which on one hand each one feels himself as representing and bearing the dual whole, and not existing except as part of this whole; and on the other hand he distinguishes his own self from the self of the other: “I” and “thou” remain “I” and “thou.” Souls go, even in this world, further in their unification through love than bodies. We feel bodies not only as a medium of communication, but also an obstacle on the path of complete unification. In the life to come, it will be possible to have a union that is just as strong through the bodies as well, without the bodies losing their individual existence. It will be more of a union by irradiation: through energies but not through substance. …

The realization of perfect and equal love through full communication with all, through full knowledge of the mysteries of all, through the warmth of the love and understanding of all, through the disappearance of all suspicions and hidden judgments—this is the Kingdom of Heaven. But its members, however, feel and know themselves as “many.” …

The unity of all in the universal body and their distinction are sustained by the mystical death and resurrection—that is, as a perfect love that is totally free, spiritual, and pure, similar to that of the angels—not by the law of nature or of sex, which is only a fragment from the former and a means to prepare for it. Heavenly love and friendship are perfect transparence and communication, unhindered by bodies as they are here, but still also being realized in their perfect form through bodies, just as on earth imperfect love is realized through them. (VI:167-168)

“In resurrection,” Bulgakov writes, “every human being is clothed in the image according to the divine sketch. This signifies that he is clothed in beauty. The bodies of the resurrected will be resplendent: ‘The resurrected body will be spiritual and miraculous, such that its quality cannot be adequately explained” [St Cyril of Jerusalem]. And angels and human beings will see one another as beautiful: God created the world as good (see Gen. 1). He did not populate the kingdom of glory with cripples, deformed people, or lepers, since pathological defects and monstrosities refer not to being but to states, not to divine creation but to creaturely freedom” (Bride, p. 452). Bulgakov thus disagrees with those Church Fathers, such as St Ephrem the Syrian, who postulate that the resurrected bodies of the wicked will reflect their inner deformity. Such a view contradicts Scripture, he claims, and presupposes the failure of the divine creation. The Imago Dei, our original sophianicity, cannot be so lost. Humanity will be raised in glory, not disglory.

If this is so, however, how do we reconcile the sophianicity of creation in its being, as created by the good and loving God, with the nonsophianicity of its state in creaturely freedom? This brings us to what Sergius Bulgakov calls “the greatest difficulty in theology”—the Final Judgment.

(Go to “Final Judgment”)

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3 Responses to Sergius Bulgakov: The Glory of the Resurrection

  1. Dante Aligheri says:

    Just a couple days ago, I have finally finished Ramelli’s tome on apokatastasis. What struck me is, unsurprisingly, that Bulgakov’s argument follows precisely what Ramelli says started with Origen onward – namely, the “spiritual resurrection” in the eschaton comprising of all beings, the final resurrection of Christ’s Body, the fulfilled Church. It took me about a month and a half to read it and take a substantial amount of notes, but Bulgakov here seems fairly resonant with it.


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