The Resurrection and Theological Anthropology

Author: Pope John Paul II

The Resurrection and Theological Anthropology

Pope John Paul II


In the course of the General Audience of 2 December the Holy Father took up again the general theme of the resurrection of the body in the context of his catechesis on theological anthropology.

1. "When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Mk 12:25). These words have a key meaning for the theology of the body. Christ uttered them after having affirmed, in the conversation with the Sadducees, that the resurrection is in conformity with the power of the living God. All three synoptic Gospels report the same statement, except that Luke's version is different in some details from that of Matthew and Mark. Essential for them all is the fact that, in the future resurrection, human beings, after having reacquired their bodies in the fullness of the perfection characteristic of the image and likeness of God—after having reacquired them in their masculinity and femininity—"neither marry nor are given in marriage." Luke expresses the same idea in chapter 20:34-35, in the following words: "The children of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."

Definitive fulfilment of mankind

2. As can be seen from these words, marriage, that union in which, according to Genesis, "A man cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (2:24)—the union characteristic of man right from the beginning—belongs exclusively to this age. Marriage and procreation do not constitute, on the other hand, the eschatological future of man. In the resurrection they lose, so to speak, their raison d'être. "That age," of which Luke spoke (20:35), means the definitive fulfillment of mankind. It is the quantitative closing of that circle of beings, who were created in the image and likeness of God, in order that, multiplying through the conjugal "unity in the body" of men and women, they might subdue the earth. "That age" is not the world of the earth, but the world of God, who, as we know from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, will fill it entirely, becoming "everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:28).

3. At the same time "that age," which according to revelation is "the kingdom of God," is also the definitive and eternal "homeland" of man (cf. Phil 3:20). It is the "Father's house" (Jn 14:2). As man's new homeland, that age emerges definitively from the present world, which is temporal—subjected to death, that is, to the destruction of the body (cf. Gen 3:19, "to dust you shall return")—through the resurrection. According to Christ's words reported by the synoptic Gospels, the resurrection means not only the recovery of corporeity and the re-establishment of human life in its integrity by means of the union of the body with the soul, but also a completely new state of human life itself.

We find the confirmation of this new state of the body in the resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom 6:5-11). The words reported by the synoptic Gospels (Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:34-35) will ring out then (that is, after Christ's resurrection) to those who had heard them. I would say almost with a new probative force, and at the same time they will acquire the character of a convincing promise. For the present, however, we will dwell on these words in their pre-paschal phase, referring only to the situation in which they were spoken. There is no doubt that already in the answer given to the Sadducees, Christ revealed the new condition of the human body in the resurrection. He did so precisely by proposing a reference and a comparison with the condition in which man had participated since the "beginning."

Renewed in resurrection

4. The words, "They neither marry nor are given in marriage" seem to affirm at the same time that human bodies, recovered and at the same time renewed in the resurrection, will keep their masculine or feminine peculiarity. The sense of being a male or a female in the body will be constituted and understood in that age in a different way from what it had been from the beginning, and then in the whole dimension of earthly existence. The words of Genesis: "A man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (2:24), constituted right from the beginning that condition and relationship of masculinity and femininity, extended also to the body, which must rightly be defined as conjugal and at the same time as procreative and generative. It is connected with the blessing of fertility, pronounced by God (Elohim) when he created man "male and female" (Gn 1:27). The words Christ spoke about the resurrection enable us to deduce that the dimension of masculinity and femininity—that is, being male and female in the body—will again be constituted together with the resurrection of the body in "that age."

Like the angels

5. Is it possible to say something more detailed on this subject? Beyond all doubt, Christ's words reported by the synoptic Gospels (especially in the version of Luke 20:27-40) authorize us to do so. We read there that "Those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead...cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God" (Matthew and Mark report only that "They are like angels in heaven"). This statement makes it possible above all to deduce a spiritualization of man according to a different dimension from that of earthly life (and even different from that of the beginning itself). It is obvious that it is not a question here of transforming man's nature into that of the angels, that is, a purely spiritual one. The context indicates clearly that in that age man will keep his own human psychosomatic nature. If it were otherwise, it would be meaningless to speak of the resurrection.

The resurrection means the restoring to the real life of human corporeity, which was subjected to death in its temporal phase. In the expression of Luke (20:36) just quoted (and in that of Mt 22:30 and Mk 12:25), it is certainly a question of human, that is, psychosomatic nature. The comparison with heavenly beings, used in the context, is no novelty in the Bible. Among others, it is said in a psalm, exalting man as the work of the Creator, "You have made him little less than the angels" (Ps 8:5). It must be supposed that in the resurrection this similarity will become greater. It will not be through a disincarnation of man, but by means of another kind (we could also say another degree) of spiritualization of his somatic nature—that is, by means of another "system of forces" within man. The resurrection means a new submission of the body to the spirit.

Plato and St Thomas

5. Before beginning to develop this subject, it should be recalled that the truth about the resurrection had a key meaning for the formation of all theological anthropology, which could be considered simply as an anthropology of the resurrection. As a result of reflection on the resurrection, Thomas Aquinas neglected in his metaphysical (and at the same time theological) anthropology Plato's philosophical conception on the relationship between the soul and the body and drew closer to the conception of Aristotle.(1) The resurrection bears witness, at least indirectly, that the body, in the composite being of man as a whole, is not only connected temporarily with the soul (as its earthly "prison," as Plato believed).(2) But together with the soul it constitutes the unity and integrity of the human being. Aristotle taught precisely that,(3) unlike Plato. If St. Thomas accepted Aristotle's conception in his anthropology, he did so considering the truth about the resurrection. The truth about the resurrection clearly affirmed, in fact, that the eschatological perfection and happiness of man cannot be understood as a state of the soul alone, separated (according to Plato: liberated) from the body. But it must be understood as the state of man definitively and perfectly "integrated" through such a union of the soul and the body, which qualifies and definitively ensures this perfect integrity.

Let us interrupt at this point our reflection on the words spoken by Christ  about the resurrection. The great wealth of content enclosed in these words induces us to take them up again in further considerations.


1. Cf., e.g.: Habet autem anima alium modum essendi cum unitur corpori, et cum furerit a corpore separata, manente tamen eadem animae natura; non ita quod uniri corpori sit ei accidentale, sed per rationem suae naturae corpori unitur... ["Now the soul has one mode of being when in the body, and another when apart from it, its nature remaining always the same; but this does not mean that its union with the body is an accidental thing, for, on the contrary, such union belongs to its very nature..."] (St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. 1a, q. 89, a. 1 [New York: Benziger, 1947]).

Anima, quandiu est corpori coniuncta, non potest aliquid intelligere non convertendo se ad phantasmata, ut per experimentum patet. Si autem hoc non est ex natura animae, sed per accidens hoc convenit ei ex eo quod corpori alligatur, sicut Platonici posuereunt, de facili quaestio solvi posset. Nam remoto impedimento corporis, rediret anima ad suam naturam, ut intelligeret intelligibilia simpliciter, non convertendo se ad phantasmata, sicut est de aliis substantiis separatis. Sed secundum hoc non esset anima corpori unita propter melius animae, si peius intelligeret corpori unita quam separata; sed hoc esset solum propter melius corporis, quod est irrationabile, cum materia sit propter formam, et non e converso. [The soul united to the body can understand only by turning to the phantasms, as experience shows. Did this not proceed from the soul's very nature, but accidentally through its being bound up with the body, as the Platonists said, the difficulty would vanish; for in that case when the body was once removed, the soul would at once return to its own nature, and would understand intelligible things simply, without turning to the phantasms, as is exemplified in the case of other separate substances. In that case, however, the union of soul and body would not be for the soul's good, for evidently it would understand worse in the body than out of it; but for the good of the body, which would be unreasonable, since matter exists on account of the form, and not the form for the sake of matter] (Ibidem).

Secundum se convenit animae corpori uniri, sicut secundum se convenit corpori levi esse sursum....ita anima humana manet in suo esse cum fuerit a corpore separata, habens aptitudinem et inclinationem naturalem ad corporis unionem. [To be united to the body belongs to the soul by reason of itself, as it belongs to a light body by reason of itself to be raised up.... So the human soul retains its proper existence when separated from the body, having an aptitude and a natural inclination to be united to the body] (Ibidem Ia, q. 76, a. 1, ad 6).

86. To men soma estin hemin sema (Platone, Gorgias 493 A; cf. also Phaedo 66B; Cratylus 400C).

87. Aristotle, De anima, II, 412a, 19-22; cf. also Metaph. 1029, b 11; 1030, b 14.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 December 1981, page 3

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