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Chapter 19: Fulfillment in Jesus and Human Fulfillment

Question E: What is the perfection of our bodily union with Jesus?

1. The fulfillment of human persons united with Jesus is not limited to mature sharing in divine life. Their union with him in bodily life and in human action will also be perfected. In this way the created humanity of the divine Word becomes the medium for the salvation of the humankind whose fulfillment was blocked by sin.

2. The perfection of our bodily union with Jesus will be sharing in his resurrection life. St. Paul insists on the close relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of those who live and die in him. The Father “who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Cor 4.14). That Christians will rise to share in the glorified life of Jesus follows from their present relationship to him (see 1 Thes 4.13–17). “If we have died with him [Jesus], we shall also live with him” (2 Tm 2.11). He is the first fruits in a heavenly harvest of life (see 1 Cor 15.20–23).14

3. Because the bodily relationship between the Christian and Jesus is so real, the New Testament sometimes regards the Christian’s resurrection as having already taken place (see Eph 2.5–6; Col 3.1–4). The baptized are one flesh with the risen Lord, and they somehow share in his accomplished resurrection. Perhaps we have some inkling of this in the situation whereby humankind as a whole visited the moon when two astronauts did; but the unity of Christians with Jesus is greater, and so our present participation in resurrection far transcends a merely vicarious sharing or any form of projection or transference.

4. St. Paul, in the richest synthesis of his teaching on the resurrection, makes it clear that the new risen life, though different from and better than our present life, will be really bodily and not merely ghostly (see 1 Cor 15.12–56).15 Persons now and persons then will have two things in common: that they are bodily and that they are not dead (see S.t., sup., q. 79, aa. 1–2; S.c.g., 4, 79–89). Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection did not receive an enthusiastic reception, since it seemed foolish to those Greek thinkers who considered the body as at best a mere vehicle for the soul and at worst an obstacle to spiritual fulfillment (see Acts 17.31–32; 1 Cor 1.18–25). The doctrine still encounters difficulties with people who share this dualistic view of the human person.16

5. Resurrection life will also be different, in ways we do not positively understand, from the mortal life of human bodies in this world. The bodies of the blessed will be glorious, immortal, and spiritual—that is, heavenly and suited to persons who share in divine life.17

Jesus promises resurrection to those who share in the Eucharist (see Jn 6.54–57). But the resurrection includes all humankind, not only those living in Jesus (see Acts 24.15). The creeds make the doctrine of general resurrection very clear, and the Church is at pains to exclude any doubt about whether it is a realistic renewal of individual life in one’s own body (see DS 76/40, 684/347, 801/429, 854/464). As St. Thomas Aquinas points out, even if one’s soul were to enjoy salvation in another life, still such a disembodied existence would hardly amount to the salvation of a human person, for the human person is bodily. The soul is only a part of the bodily person: “My soul is not I” (see S.t., 1, q. 75, a. 4; 1–2, q. 4, aa. 5–6).18

The New Testament’s teaching on resurrection and marriage (see Mk 12.18–27) makes it clear that resurrection will occur, and that future life will not be merely a continuation of present life. Since God will transform the conditions of life, people will be immortal; generation will no longer be appropriate. In commenting on the New Testament’s teaching on the resurrection of the body and marriage, John Paul II makes it clear that the resurrection perfects the person. The spiritualization of the person in the resurrection will eliminate all inner conflict; this “does not, however, signify any ‘disincarnation’ of the body, nor, consequently, a ‘dehumanization’ of man.” What is involved is not a victory of spirit over body, but a perfect participation by what is physical in the person in what is spiritual. This spiritualization will be the fruit of the divinization of the whole person, “of the communication of God, in his very divinity, not only to man’s soul, but to his whole psychosomatic subjectivity.”19

14. See F. X. Durrwell, C.Ss.R., The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), 269–90.

15. See the helpful study: Ronald J. Sider, “The Pauline Conception of the Resurrection Body in I Corinthians XV, 35–54,” New Testament Studies, 21 (1975), 428–39. Also: Jacob Kremer, “Paul: The Resurrection of Jesus, the Cause and Exemplar of Our Resurrection,” and Maurice Carrez, “With What Body Do the Dead Rise Again?” in Immortality and Resurrection, Concilium, 60, ed. Pierre Benoît and Roland Murphy (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970), 78–91 and 92–102.

16. An exegetical study which firmly clears away modern prejudices to recapture the realism of St. Paul’s teaching on the bodily union of Christians with Jesus: John A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952), 49–67.

17. “Spirit” here does not mean immaterial, but transformed by divine life: Durrwell, op. cit., 91–107.

18. St. Thomas Aquinas, Super primam epistolam ad Corinthios lectura, xv, 2: “. . . now since the soul is part of the body of man, it is not the whole man, and my soul is not I; and so even though the soul should reach salvation in another life, still not I, nor any man.”

19. John Paul II, “The Resurrection Perfects the Person: Address at the General Audience, 9 December 1981,” L’Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., 14 December 1981, 3.