Resurrection Prolegomena

We are in the midst of Paschaltide; and our thoughts are focused on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its implications for the Church, the cosmos, and our personal lives. Last week I summarized the reflections of the fine British theologian Herbert McCabe on the nature of the Lord’s resurrected-and-ascended body: “How physical is the risen body of Jesus?” After reading the piece, you may have wondered if McCabe had actually answered the title question (if so, you are not alone). We tend to think about “body” as stuff, a conglom­eration of matter (whatever matter is), and it’s clear that McCabe is inviting us to think of embodiment differently—namely, as a mode of personal communica­tion and presence: consequently, he is able to assert that Jesus is more intensely embodied after his resurrection than before. Not only does his resurrection make it possible for Jesus to be bodily available to all people throughout the world, but it does and will also make it possible for him and his people to be united in the Kingdom in an immediacy of commu­nion beyond our imaginings (also see “The Risen Christ, Body, and the Language of God”). I think it’s fair to say that McCabe finds our usual scientific and philosophical concerns quite beside the point. This does not mean that we may not speculate to our heart’s content (McCabe loves specu­lating on doctrine), but it does mean that we should always keep to the forefront the funda­mental evangelical truth: “When our future is achieved there will be no intersection of present and future, no faith, no sacraments but only the immediate presence of our risen bodies to the risen body of Christ” (God Matters, p. 129).

In the present series, I will be summarizing the reflections of another Catholic theologian, Paul J. Griffiths, on the resurrection of Christ and glorified embodiment. Griffiths offers a complementary approach to that of McCabe. You will find the following definitions from his book Decreation helpful:

The LORD: “the name of the god of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Mary, and Jesus; a triune name that designates Father, Son, and Spirit. He, this triune LORD, is the one who creates everything other than himself out of nothing by giving the gift of being” (p. 3).

Creature: “any particular being brought into being and thus given itself by the LORD’s gift; thus a creature” (p. 4).

Cosmos: “the beautifully ordered and gorgeously ornamented ensemble of creatures, brought into being with and as timespace, and therefore as intrinsically spatio-temporal—timespace in every aspect and mode of its existence” (p. 4).

World: “the damaged cosmos, the cosmos as it has become since the double fall, of angels and humans. The principal signs of the world’s devastation are death (of animate creatures), annihilation by destruction (of inanimate ones), pain and suffering (for animate creatures), and chaotic decay-toward-destruction (of inanimate ones)” (p. 4). Griffiths often uses the phrase “the devastation” to signify the our fallen world.

Heaven: the timespace in which creatures, according to their kinds, are maximally and indefectibly intimate with the LORD and with one another. Creatures are in and at heaven: both prepositions are needed to indicate, in English, that heaven is timespace—not just a place and not just a time, but a place creatures are in and a time they are at. It is a locus tempus in which defect, lack, damage, and distance are all absent to the extent compatible with (particular varieties of) creaturehood. It is a timespace in which creatures capable of heaven, in their various kinds, find the damage that separated them in the devastation from the LORD and from other creatures finally and irreversibly healed” (p. 5).

Body: “the capacity for location in timespace, and thus for availability and responsive­ness to other creatures with such location; any creature with such capacity has, or is, a body” (p. 5).

Flesh: “living or animate body extended continuously in timepsace, and in that distinct from other kinds of body, such as the inanimate, whether or not continuously extended in timespace, and the animate but discarnate” (p. 158).

Soul: that which makes flesh flesh, i.e., alive. Separated from soul, a living body becomes inanimate body. Regarding the souls of human beings after death, the LORD maintains them in existence in an intermediate, discarnate state, awaiting the general resurrection.

Matter: that which constitutes a (material) body as possessing “weight and continuous extension in timespace” (p. 121).

Mass: “a body’s resistance to acceleration by a force acting upon it (inertial mass), and its gravitational attraction to other bodies (gravitational mass)” (p. 122). All bodies have mass—not only quarks and electrons but also, Griffiths controversially contends, angels and separated human souls (see “Angels and the Bodies They May Be”). To have mass is to have spatio-temporal location.

Given the above definitions, Griffiths identifies six kinds of bodies:

  • fallen fleshly bodies: common to all animate creatures (excepting angels and discarnate souls), characterized by weight and extension in devastated timespace;
  • risen fleshly bodies: common to all animate creatures in heaven following the general resurrection. At present only the risen Jesus Christ and the Theotokos possess such bodies;
  • temporarily discarnate animate bodies: possessed by all human beings who have died and now live between death and the general resurrection. Though fleshless, discarnate souls enjoy spatio-temporal location and therefore possess mass;
  • permanently discarnate animate bodies: possessed by the angels. Though discarnate, angels enjoy spatio-temporal location and therefore possess mass (but not weight);
  • inanimate material bodies: possessed by minerals, rocks, sticks, bodies of water, etc.—all characterized by weight and extension in devastated timespace;
  • discarnate inanimate bodies: subatomic particles. Though immaterial, they too enjoy a kind of spatio-temporal location proper to their natures.

Okay, feeling metaphysically and scientifically equipped? Let’s begin our exploration of what may be known, or at least conjectured, about the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Go to “Flesh in the Devastation”)

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19 Responses to Resurrection Prolegomena

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It seems odd to say that, even if we assume for disembodied souls a particular location in time and space (which is also in itself not uncontroversial) that they must therefore necessarily have mass. After all, no-one has detected any mass or physical presence at all for our embodied consciousness while alive, and that is quite definitely nevertheless located in a time and space. Our bodies and brains are the means by which we are embodied within the universe and can interact with it. The relationship between consciousness and matter is a deeply mysterious one: I am not sure postulating another, smaller massy object within the body / brain to be a physical “soul” (if that’s what he is doing) takes us any further, since you still haven’t answered how consciousness, intention and awareness can arise from / be equated with / interact with a massy physical object, only postulated a smaller one for it to interact with (with the added complication that there is no actual evidence a specific physical “soul object” exists).

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Iain, you have zeroed in on what may be the weakest (or at least most debatable) items in Griffith’s presentation. I won’t be discussing discarnate souls in this series, but let me note two points that may be of interest:

      (1) Griffiths believes that the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches the intermediate state of discarnate souls. At one point he says that his job as a theologian-philosopher would be easier if it didn’t, but since it does, it’s his task to articulate the doctrine as well as he can.

      (2) If angels and discarnate souls have no mass at all, then “they would be incapable of spatio-temporal locations, which, so far as I can see, the entire Christian tradition, speculative and magisterial, takes them to be, exactly because they are creatures” (p. 122). This statement, I think, is key to understanding Griffith’s systematic presentation.

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      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        It seems to me that Griffiths’ ideas are heavily influenced by materialist philosophy – that is the idea that only physical, material things exist or can exist (although he presumably makes an exception for God). Quite apart from it being demonstrably untrue (God and consciousness being two examples) it also undermines, to my mind, creation ex nullio as classically understood. It makes space and matter absolutes, rather than creations of God. If creation ex nullio is true, mass, matter and space itself are, in reality, operations of God, not things independent of him. “Mass”, “matter” or “location” are our conceptualisations of an underlying reality which is only God.
        It’s probably true that spatio-temporal location and physical embodiment etc are necessary for us (or angels, or anything) to operate within the (or this) physical universe, but to exist at all requires only that God continues to will our existence, and we should continue to be connected to and interact with whatever reality or circumstance God creates for us.
        There was a British tabloid newspaper that basically made its news up, and on one occasion published a picture of a blur on a starry background and splashed it as a headline “Exclusive Pictures of Heaven!” Griffiths seems to be sailing close to this sort of complete conceptual misunderstanding (although I am probably being unfair).

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Quick jot: Griffiths is most certainly not a materialist. I think he is just trying to better understand how the cosmos (i.e., which includes angels and discarnate spirits) fits together. He particularly finds the Thomist construal of angels unsatisfactory, as he thinks it comes close to dissolving angels into divinity–hence his claim that angels have immaterial bodies.

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    • Grant says:

      The mass of disincarnate souls does seem strange, as you say is there a bit of mass in us that is the soul, like the old spiritualist idea of ectoplasm? Does the body get a little lighter when we die? Somehow I have my doubts over this, it doesn’t follow for me that to say that disincarnate souls (or angels that are spirits) would have mass that could necessarily be detected. If say there where such things as nature spirits, say associated with a tree I doubt any quantitative measurement or obvervation would dectect such, unless did something that could be detected by things of earthly nature (or material nature).

      So while the heavenly and celestial intersect I doubt anything using earthly/material instruments would dectect anything unless they acted in certain ways (the angel rolling away the tombstone) or they caused an action allowing them to be observable in and by the mateiral world (and would cameras or instruments have seen the angels appearing to the shepards or to the women coming to Christ’s tomb or does that manifest and is percieved by conciousness and spiritual eyes alone?

      It’s also possible that the communion with the saints from the general ressurection but that perception of and experience of time and relationality is completely different and much more full, which includes commion with all present that incorporates the full aspect of themselves in communion in and through Christ. And this would include all that from fallen time would be seen to be the past in which they were asleep, yet because of the ressurection they are also alive and present because to us then it is also now ( as Our Lord said to the Sadducees that God is the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, not was, and ties this to the resurrection). Also in the ressurection we will participate more fully in God’s own nature and Being (to even more extent as finite beings participating in His Infinite Being) so perception and relation to time and space will unlikely be as confined as they are now, as God transcends such finite and created necessities, as He is more full than that. And so such perception of time even for us may became (and therefore are) more full, real and deeper than now, with moments not being lost as such. Very specualtive and and sort-of like a time travel story but it’s interesting to think about.

      Also they are alive in Christ, within His body, which is also present in the Eucharist, manifested in the Church and in all people so in that sense the saints are not disincarnate souls fully in that sense being alive in and to Christ.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Thanks for this comment, Grant. I share your confusion!

        You ask if the body gets lighter when we die. But as I understand it, when speaking of immaterial bodies (like subatomic particles), mass does not equal weight: only material bodies have weight. Hence your concern does does not obtain for discarnate souls within Griffith’s model. Nor, perhaps (and I emphasize the perhaps), does your concern about detection and measurement. It might well be that angels and discarnate spirits are undetectable by us except when they interact with our material world. Does this therefore mean that they cannot be properly described as quanta of energy, which is a phrase that Griffiths applies to angels and which presumably he would also apply to discarnate souls?

        And just to add to your confusion, Griffiths also believes that at death the human being is annihilated! He says this because, so he contends, the human being is essentially constituted by flesh. The discarnate soul is a remainder or trace, as it were, with its own powers and capacities. Each soul remains “intimate with the human creature of which it is a trace” but is “a creature of a distinct kind” and possesses its own kind of body that is “spatio-temporally discontinuous.” Griffiths writes:

        This view has certain advantages. Most important among them is the reconfiguration of traditional questions about the location of discarnate souls in the intermediate state. A Dantean geography of hell and purgatory and paradise, which provides locations for them in metronomically mappable timespace is not necessary; the bodies of discarnate souls, being discontinuously present in that kind of timespace, cannot have a location of that sort. Asking where they are in that sense is like asking where an electron is at the moment: a malformed question. The best answer to it is that they are, discarnately, more or less intimate, depending on their state—those in hell very much less, those in heaven very much more—with the locus-tempus that is the LORD. (pp. 180-181)

        Hmm. 👻

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        • Grant says:

          Ah I see, I should have remembered the mass rather than weight distinction as I watch enough sci-fi shows ;), so that’s my bad. I guess if they also have non-locality than issues of mass and motion aren’t an issue (such mass increasing as you get closer to the speed of light I think). The annihilation or trace issue is a little strange, though perhaps being in Christ (considering discussions on the nature of the ressurection body give some hint, as we are alive in Him) and the possibility that a fuller and complete relation than our present relation and movement in time (moving from one moment to another and last moment seemingly lost in the past) not being the case in the age to come and in general ressurection and all interactions then also sum up and contain interactions and moments now (such as our communion and prayers to the saints).

          Still Griffiths specualtions seem interesting even if a little odd in some ways at first. Should a interesting series to read.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Really, Grant. I’m very disappointed in you. You should immediately thought of the Vorlons in Babylon 5 and the Organians in Star Trek. 🙂

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

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          • Grant says:

            I really enjoyed Babylon 5, well at least until the Shadow war was over, and the Shadows, Vorlons and the First Ones left the galaxy, it lost focus a bit after that as it went beyond the original story arcs that had been mapped out. These days long numerous season long story arcs planned in advance are fairly common but back then B5 was quite unique among more episodic tv.

            I just hope the real angels aren’t much like the Vorlons ;), Kosh was alright and pretty good and stand-up guy, but most seemed to be like Ulkesh and as bad as the Shadows playing their disagreement out among the younger races. In that they were more like fallen and misguided angels.

            What is interesting in this scene is not only does each race see Kosh as he wanted them to see him (aided by mellennia and eons of genetic engineering) but that Lando who has given into the Shadows temptations and influence doesn’t see anything at all. In his darkness he is unable to perceive or understand the revelation of Kosh at all. Interesting analogy to angelic manifestations perhaps, so see nothing or only feel fear (such as in the book of Daniel) or perhaps cannot comprehend or understand what they see at all (say rolling the stone away).

            Oh, anyone who is a fan or was of B5 say a prayer of the soul of Michael O’Hare who played the first commander Jeffrey Sinclair (who went back become Valen, hero-prophet of Minbari) who during the first season of struggling with extreme mental illness and depression (with extreme paranoia) which is why he left the series in the first season abruptly. He was well enough to come back for the brief two-parter in which the character goes back in time to become Valen but he never overcame the mental health problems. He ended up having to leave his family, and fell hard, developing health problems and died a while back, I think mabye 10 years ago. So I pray he has found release and freedom from the afflictions of death that so hurt him and his family to his falling asleep.

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      • Kristofer Carlson says:

        I don’t think Paul W. Griffiths is using the term “mass” in the same way as a scientist would. To use his terms, disincarnate fleshly bodies and inanimate material bodies have mass in the manner a physicist would describe it, while both temporary and permanent disincarnate animate bodies have mass in a different sense. It would have been nice had he defined what he meant by mass in his lexicon.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I wish I were able to explore a bit further with Griffiths his understanding of mass. I’m confident that he has done his research (that’s just the kind of scholar that he is) and believes that the modern physics understanding of mass implies locatability; but I expect that a number of readers are confused or uncertain about this.

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  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A question for those who are knowledgeable in quantum physics: Are elementary particles (photons, gluons) spatially and temporally locatable? I raise this because Griffiths states that it is precisely mass that enables discarnate inanimate bodies to have such a location, which he wants to say about angels (and separated human souls):

    Sixth, and last, there are discarnate inanimate bodies, which include at least quarks and other subatomic particles. The bodies of the angels are always discarnate, in this like inanimate bodies such as quarks and electrons. Discarnate animate bodies, though fleshless and with capacities for apparently (and perhaps really) discontinuous motion in time and space, are nonetheless bodies precisely because they have spatio-temporal location—which, in terms of contemporary physics, is just what it means to have mass. Angelic bodies, according to this definition, have mass, but not, or not necessarily, matter. “Matter” is a word that has no generally agreed definition in ordinary English. “mass,” by contrast, names, in the discourse of physics, a body’s resistance to acceleration by a force acting upon it (inertial mass), and its gravitational attraction to other bodies (gravitational mass). These may be properties of bodies without matter, which is to say of bodies consisting only of energies; I had this in mind when writing above of availability and responsiveness as proper to bodies, indeed, definitional of them—availability and responsiveness name, at the level of theoretical physics, these two specifications of mass; to speak of a body’s mass, then, is another way of speaking about its availability and responsiveness to other bodies, without necessarily attributing to them the weight and aggregated extension in space characteristic of animate fleshly bodies. Angelic bodies, I should think (in this like the bodies of the separated souls), are bodies whose mass is immaterial, where this means certainly discarnate, and with small gravitational and inertial mass—but not with no mass, because then they would be incapable of spatio-temporal location, which, so far as I can see, the entire Christian tradition, speculative and magisterial, takes them to be, exactly because they are creatures. (p. 122)

    Now because I am almost completely ignorant about quantum physics, I am confused about how elementary particles like photons and gluons fit in here. As I understand these do not possess mass. Does this therefore mean that they are not spatio-temporally locatable and for this reason do not have bodies, according to Griffith’s definition of “body”? As far as I can tell, Griffiths does not mention the elementary particles; but they exist in timespace (right?) and are therefore beings (right?) created by God.

    Anyway, I have edited my article and removed reference to elementary particles and specifically to photons and gluons, which Griffiths does not mention.

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    • They distinguish, I think, locatability, which is highly problematic, epistemically & probabilistically (think “uncertainty principle”) and a particle’s locatedness, ontologically, which it does possess, although sometimes even described in terms of multiple locations (think “superpositioned” states). At the meta-level of quantum interpretation, which tries to unscramble the epistemic-ontic egg, some even invoke a nonlocality. But I think Griffith’s basic intuition regarding 3 dimensional spatial coordinates & particles seems reasonable enough, for now, i.e until speculative cosmology advances. It’s not entirely clear, yet, whether spatio-temporality is even necessarily a primitive of physical reality versus an emergent property, whether there can be a spatialization of time and/or even a temporalization of space as reality would transist between 2, 3, 4 or more dimensions, up & down, continuously or abruptly, smoothly vs a singularity, with oscillating universes that bounce (thermodynamically

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      • sorry, I inadvertently hit SEND …
        that bounce (thermodynamically) or bang (quantum fluctuation) or even crunch. My bet is that, whether via a singularity or a smoother transitioning, that space likely remains a primitive alongside quantum realities, while time emerges as a property, as a 4th dimension. That’s my inchoate grasp.

        I wouldn’t cursorily dismiss intermediate states on grounds of either logical inconsistency or internal incoherence, because no one, including Aristotle, has the metaphysical market cornered on reality’s primitives. As far as an account being externally congruent or not with spatio-temporal reality, which version? Nonreductive physicalists don’t have the epistemic warrant to dictate how we avoid Cartesian dualism or how we apply hylomorphism. Again, whose hylomorphism? Aquinas’, Bonaventure’s or Scotus’? All of these accounts seem consistent & coherent when charitably interpreted, adjusting for terminological nuances. Which is externally congruent or not? That’s proving too much. Common sense & theological traditions best norm that from experience, albeit fallibly.

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  3. Josh T. says:

    I wonder if there’s another way to go without positing a discarnate body with mass. There’s a quote (or paraphrase) from John Polkinghorne that I’ve heard about God downloading our “software” onto his “hardware” until we get new hardware of our own at the resurrection. Perhaps that’s a way to avoid the idea of an embodied intermediate state while also maintaining some level of limited existence between flesh-and-blood body and future glorified body. So maybe we don’t have to go flesh-and-blood body / discarnate body / glorified body, maybe the intermediate state can be a truly disembodied existence, or maybe the Polkinghorne idea is ultimately nonsense.

    There are two things related to this topic I’d be interested in hearing DBH’s opinion on: (1) What does he think the intermediate state is (given his comments on “spirit” being more substantial than flesh), and what’s the deal with Jesus in Luke 24:39 saying “…a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” in light of the same (does Hart see a conflict between Luke and Paul here?).

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  4. Kristofer Carlson says:

    I’m just beginning to read Paul J. Griffiths book, and I have a different problem. He seems to be basing his definition of Last Things on the Latin term Novissimum. He writes: “The word is a superlative derived from novum, meaning “new.” Novissimum, therefore, means “newest” or “freshest” or “youngest.” To call something—some state or condition of a creature—“newest” is exactly to say that there will be no newer state or condition to follow it. If there were a newer thing to follow a putatively newest thing, then the putatively newest thing would thereby be shown as not the newest thing and so not the last thing. If, then, a creature has a novissimum, it has a last thing in the sense of a condition or state after which there is no novelty, no new and different state or condition for it yet to come.”
    My problem, which I hope he deals with, is that creatures are defined by change. Only God is changeless. When he states that there is no new state or condition after the final judgment, does he deny the person’s continual growth becoming a god by grace? I’m not far enough into the book to know, so it will be a voyage of discovery.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Kristofer, I just discovered this comment in the spam queue. Sorry it took so long for me to catch it.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      As you have no doubt discovered by now in your reading, Griffiths denies the notion of epektasy (i.e., an endlessly novel future). I wonder if he’s ever read St Gregory of Nyssa and St Maximus the Confessor on this topic.

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