Body's Spiritualization Will Be Source of Its Power and Incorruptibility

Author: Pope John Paul II

Body's Spiritualization Will Be Source of Its Power and Incorruptibility

Pope John Paul II


During the general audience of Wednesday, 10 February, John Paul II continued his catechesis on the resurrection of the body.

1. From Christ's words on the future resurrection of the body, recorded by all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), our reflections have brought us to what St. Paul wrote on the subject in the First Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 15). Our analysis is centered above all on what might be called the anthropology of the resurrection according to St. Paul. He contrasts the state of the "earthly" man (i.e., historical) with the state of the risen man, characterizing in a lapidary and at the same time penetrating manner, the interior system of forces specific to each of these states.

Radical transformation

2. That this interior system of forces should undergo a radical transformation would seem to be indicated, first of all, by the contrast between the weak body and the body full of power. Paul writes: "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power" (1 Cor 15:42-45). "Weak," therefore, is the description of the body which—in metaphysical terms—rises from the temporal soil of humanity. The Pauline metaphor corresponds likewise to the scientific terminology which defines man's beginning as a body by the use of the same term (semen,seed).

If, in the Apostle's view, the human body which arises from earthly seed is weak, this means not only that it is perishable, subject to death, and to all that leads to it, but also that it is an animal body.(1) The body full of power, however, which man will inherit from the second Adam, Christ, in virtue of the future resurrection, will be a spiritual body. It will be imperishable, no longer subject to the threat of death. Thus the antinomy, weak—full of power, refers explicitly not only to the body considered separately, but also to the whole constitution of man considered in his corporeal nature. Only within the framework of such a constitution can the body become spiritual: and this spiritualization of the body will be the source of its power and incorruptibility (or immortality).

3. This theme has its origin already in the first chapter of Genesis. It can be said that St. Paul sees the reality of the future resurrection as a certain restitutio in integrum, that is, as the reintegration and at the same time as the attaining of the fullness of humanity. It is not truly a restitution, because in that case the resurrection would be, in a certain sense, a return to the state which the soul enjoyed before sin, apart from the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Gn 1-2). But such a return does not correspond to the internal logic of the whole economy of salvation, to the most profound meaning of the mysteryof the redemption. Restitutio in integrum,linked with the resurrection and the reality of the other world, can only be an introduction to a new fullness.This will be a fullness that presupposes the whole of human history, formed by the drama of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Gn 3) and at the same time permeated by the text of the First Letter to the Corinthians.

Perfect harmonization

4. According to the text of First Corinthians, man, in whom concupiscence prevails over the spiritual, that is, the "animal body" (1 Cor 15:44), is condemned to death. He should rise, however, as a spiritual body, man in whom the Spirit will achieve a just supremacy over the body, spirituality over sensuality. It is easy to understand that Paul is here thinking of sensuality as the sum total of the factors limiting human spirituality, that is, as a force that "ties down" the spirit (not necessarily in the Platonic sense) by restricting its own faculty of knowing (seeing) the truth and also the faculty to will freely and to love in truth. However, here it cannot be a question of that fundamental function of the senses which serves to liberate spirituality, that is to say, of the simple faculty of knowing and willing proper to the psychosomatic compositum of the human subject.

Just as one speaks of the resurrection of the body, that is, of man in his true corporeal nature, consequently the spiritual body should mean precisely the perfect sensitivity of the senses, their perfect harmonization with the activity of the human spirit in truth and liberty. The animal body, which is the earthly antithesis of the spiritual body, indicates sensuality as a force prejudicial to man, precisely because while living—"in the knowledge of good and evil"—he is often attracted and impelled toward evil.

Influence of the Holy Spirit on man

5. It cannot be forgotten that here it is not so much a question of anthropological dualism, but of a basic antinomy. Constituting it is not only the body (as the Aristotelian hyle), but also the soul, or man as a "living being" (cf. Gn 2:7). Its constituents are—on the one hand, the whole man, the sum total of his psychosomatic subjectivity, inasmuch as he remains under the influence of the vivifying Spirit of Christ,—on the other hand, the same man inasmuch as he resists and opposes this Spirit. In the second case man is an animal body (and his works are works of the flesh). If, however, he remains under the influence of the Holy Spirit, man is spiritual (and produces the "fruit of the Spirit") (Gal 5:22).

6. Consequently, it can be said that we are dealing with the anthropology of the resurrection not only in First Corinthians 15, but that the whole of St. Paul's anthropology (and ethics) are permeated with the mystery of the resurrection through which we have definitively received the Holy Spirit. Chapter 15 of First Corinthians constitutes the Pauline interpretation of the other world and of man's state in that world. In it each one, together with the resurrection of the body, will fully participate in the gift of the vivifying Spirit, that is, in the fruit of Christ's resurrection.

Christ's reply

7. Concluding the analysis of the anthropology of the resurrection according to First Corinthians, it is fitting to turn our minds again to Christ's words on the resurrection and on the other world which the evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke quote. We recall that in his reply to the Sadducees, Christ linked faith in the resurrection with the entire revelation of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob and of Moses (Mt 22:32). At the same time, while rejecting the objection proposed by those who questioned him, he uttered these significant words: "When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Mk 12:25). We devoted our previous reflections to these words in their immediate context, passing on then to the analysis of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15).

These reflections have a fundamental significance for the whole theology of the body, for an understanding both of marriage and of celibacy for the kingdom of heaven. Our further analyses will be devoted to this latter subject.


1. The original Greek uses the term psychikon. In St. Paul it is found only in First Corinthians (2:14; 15:44; 15:46) and not elsewhere, probably because of the pre-gnostic tendencies of the Corinthians, and it has a pejorative connotation. As regards its meaning, it corresponds to the term "carnal" (cf. 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4).
However, in the other Pauline letters, "psyche" and its derivatives signify man in his manifestations, the individual's way of living, and even the human person in a positive sense (e.g., to indicate the ideal of life of the ecclesial community: miâ-i psychê-i = "in one spirit—Phil 1:27; sympsychoi = "by being of the same mind"—Phil 2:2; isópsychon "like him"—Phil 2:20; cf. R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms. A Study of Their Use in Conflict Settings [Leiden: Brill, 1971], pp. 2, 448-449).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
15 February 1982, page 9

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