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.