Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side (John 20:19).
The Qualities of the Glorified Body
Where has our youth gone? Where did the hair on our head go? Our teeth? Our toned, or not so toned muscles? Where did all those physical things go that we used to be so vain about? Out the door, slowly ebbing away, or hanging flabbily from our bones since we hit forty or so. The flesh that made our bodies young has been shed, reduced perhaps to the potency of matter, as Aristotle said all material things eventually do, even the matter that makes me an individual and complete human being. Our bodies grow older every day, until one day they can no longer be animated by our soul and, then, we die. The flesh that gave us so many aches and pains in the later years of our life becomes food for the worms as it decomposes six feet under. Every soul, at death, will be judged: heaven, purgatory, or hell, await the word of the Son of God.
No matter where our bodies are, at the last day, the angels shall gather up what is ours, and we shall rise in our identical flesh. I will try to explain that word “identical” later. For those who died in grace, the soul and the body, reunited forever, will rise glorified and immortal. For those who died in sin, their bodies will be reunited forever with their sinful souls, and they will suffer, as complete substances, the torments of hell.
If we persevere in grace, the gift most worth praying for, then, at the last day, we shall be remade anew. We shall be glorified.
The complete man in glory will never suffer again. He shall be immortal. As a son of God he shall shine forever with the brightness of the state of perfection he has merited in grace.
We do well, especially when our bodies seem to be breaking down with no hope of a virile agility on the horizon, to think not only of the four last things, but also of the glory of immortality that awaits us in eternity if we love God. True, this is just an accidental joy, incomparable with the beatific vision, which is the essence of eternal life. Nevertheless, the joy of beatitude will flow over into our very flesh as we rejoice forever in perpetual youth and lightsomeness.
I made a list below of the qualities of the glorified body that we can look forward to. One cannot put them into an order of greater or lesser, for they are all utterly marvelous. God is so good. His rewards are incomprehensible, even the accidental rewards He has in store for us. His love for us and for His angels is so beyond words that all we can do is say, ‘Abba, Father, thank you. Thank you for creating me and giving me a share in your Beatitude. Thank you most of all for your Son, our Humble Savior Jesus, whose obedience to You is the cause of our future glory. Thank you for giving us a Mother, Holy Mary, whom Your Son obeys. She is the Refuge of Sinners. She is the hope of all sinners whom Your justice ought to have condemned. But, no, You hear her pleas for the most unworthy sinners, sinners in whom she finds a small flame of love, and for whom she intercedes with Your gracious condescension to bring to the fountain of grace.’
I choose to put clarity first. The reason is that it confers not only radiance but perfection in health. In this fallen mortal state of life , as we grow older, the pains of the flesh, the loss of agility, and the slow corruption of the body, weigh us down, emotionally. We may feel that we are a burden to others. And some of the “others” who love us the most, unintentionally add to our grief: “take this, take that, exercise, go on a diet.” And none of this lifts us out of our hebetude. We may have trouble sleeping, up every couple of hours, never getting the sleep necessary to lose weight. I digress.
Let us think of the everlasting good health to come, which the Good God has in store for us. Let us consider the invisible clarity of the soul before the resurrection. It will not be perfect because we shall not be complete until the body is resurrected. But it will be perfect in the beatitude of the spirit, because the One whom we shall see is a Spirit. “What shall we not see,” Saint Augustine says, “when we shall see Him who sees all.”
Clarity:“The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43) and Wisdom 3:7: “The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds.”
If the just shall shine, imagine the radiance of the Just One in glory and the brilliance and beauty of the Immaculata. Those who have seen our Blessed Mother in apparitions could find no words to describe her beauty and radiance.
Next, I choose to list subtlety. This quality appeals to me immensely. When I read the Gospels and I see that Jesus passed through walls and a closed tomb after His resurrection I am astonished. That is why I introduced this article with the text from Saint John. He saw it and gave testimony. The doors of the Cenacle were closed and Jesus passed through in His Risen Body and appeared to the dejected Apostles. He ate with the Apostles and He had Thomas put his finger into the holes in His hands and His side. Therefore, His Body is indeed palpable, touchable. “Why are you troubled,” He said to the Apostles in the Upper Room, “and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle, and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and feet. But while they yet believed not, and wondered for joy, he said: Have you any thing to eat? And they offered him a piece of a broiled fish, and a honeycomb” (Luke 24: 38-42).
Our bodies, too, in glory, shall not be hindered by any material obstacle. We, too, shall pass through walls. But, how is that? Our bodies will still be material. How can one body pass through another? Let me just say, without getting into a rational defense of the cosmology involved, that the lesser body will surrender its extension in space (without losing its quantity), to the greater. There will be two bodies, but the glorified body will have the “right of way” so to speak. It shall be able to pass through, in a second, the whole earth, if it should so choose, to get to the other side. The glorified body will not be a spiritual body (that would be an oxymoron), but a material human body, recreated anew, (spirit-like, if you will, on account of its impassibility), that will have qualities that surpass all that we know of human bodies in the mortal state.
Are we to believe, then, that two bodies, one glorified, one not, can occupy the same place at the same time? No, that cannot be, naturally speaking, not even if one body is glorified. To occupy a place is to have the accident of extension in space that goes with the quantity (the how-muchness) of any material thing. On the other hand, Saint Thomas teaches, that by the power of God, the glorified body can occupy the same place as another body — not naturally, but by divine power, for all things are possible to God. Hence, the body of Our Lord, who is God, passed through the virginal body of His mother at birth. We can use the analogy of light passing through a window, but the subtlety of light, which is material, does not actually occupy the same “place” as the glass. Moving light is composed of contiguous particles, so rarefied and miniscule, that they can naturally penetrate the denseness of glass.
Enough of that. The subject is as complex as it is wonderful, and it is beyond the power of, not however contrary to, reason. Suffice it to say, that the soul in glory is so powerful in its animation of the body, that it confers upon the body quasi-spiritual properties. When it comes to the four qualities I am enumerating here, these qualities are indeed miraculous. But God performs far greater miracles than these in the multi-location of His own One Body in the Holy Eucharist.
The next quality I choose to place before your wonder is agility. To be agile means to be easily mobile. Well, with a glorified body, that mobility shall be instantaneous. With the speed of thought a body will be able to go from any “here” to any “there.” Our Resurrected Lord appeared in many places in an instant. One second He was speaking to the women who had come to His burial place, another second He was walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and in another second He was with the Apostles in the Upper Room. He appeared to His friends and disciples eleven times in the recorded apparitions after His Resurrection and before His Ascension. Other apparitions during this time are attested to by tradition. I prescind from Our Lord’s countless bi-locations after His Ascension and throughout the centuries. Our Blessed Mother bi-located while on earth to encourage Saint James while he was preaching in Spain. Bi-location, however, is not the same thing as agility. In the glorified state the saints shall be able to go anywhere in the universe, without leaving heaven, in the instant of an act of the will. Now that should be something to look forward to. The universe shall be recreated along with the “face of the earth.” The Limbo of the unbaptized who have died with no personal mortal sin is “someplace.” And the blessed in heaven will be able to go there and visit the unbaptized children who will be in a new body of perfect maturity, although unglorified. This is an opinion that was taught by the great Jesuit theologian Francisco Suarez, luminary of the Council of Trent. Father Leonard Feeney comforted many mothers who lost children by miscarriage with this hope.
Lastly, I give for your consideration the quality of impassibility. This gift, which is consonant with the immortality of the next life, is more than immortality. Even the damned will live forever. But only the blessed in heaven will be wholly impassible. Impassibility not only means that the body cannot suffer any harm from the outside, but it will also be incorruptible, immune from all sickness and pain and deformity:“[The body] is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42). So, too, the soul — no sadness, no tears, only perfect happiness.
Imagine that! We shall rise in perfect maturity and integrity of body. We shall all be beautiful and our beauty will be radiant in clarity. Nothing impure or imperfect shall be in heaven. We shall be as the angels in purity and innocence. Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were impassible, but they were so by the arrangement of God, who made all things in paradise to serve their needs. For immortality, they ate from the Tree of Life. So long as they obeyed God’s command, they would live forever and never know death. But, the state of glory is incomparably greater than the paradisal state our first parents originally enjoyed. There are no tests to pass in heaven, just the repose of the seventh day, eternal rest, beatitude, and camaraderie with the saints, all the multitude in their crowns of varying splendor.
These are the four properties of the glorified body.
There are three other qualities of the resurrected body which complement the state of glorify but are not actually essential to it.
The first is identity. When we are united with our body after the last day, it will be “our” body, no one else’s. Nothing that made us physically who we were on this earth will be lost. Saint Thomas goes so far as to say, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, that matter is not only what individualizes us, but that without the body we are not complete persons. I do not know what to think about that. It is too Aristotelian for me. I tend to favor Duns Scotus’ idea that “person” is the “thisness” of a rational being. It comes with the creation of the soul directly by God at conception, rather than with the body. In other words it has more to do with “form” than “matter.” Nevertheless, I think Saint Thomas has a very good point in including the body in the understanding of what makes us persons, or shall I say, complete individual persons. The souls of the departed are certainly persons. They can say “I,” so how can they not be persons?
Boethius, the great sixth century philosopher, defined person as “a complete, individual, and incommunicable substance of a rational nature.” This brings us back to identity. As the catechism teaches regarding the resurrection of the dead, the dead shall rise in eodem corpore (in the same body) that they had on earth. How will God do this, after our bodies have decomposed? Rather than ask “how,” we ought to ask “can He do this?” Then the answer is obvious: “Yes, He can.” If God can make man out of the dust of the earth, as He did Adam, and all of Adam’s children, then God can take our “dust” and make us anew at the resurrection. “And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God” (Job 19:26).
The second is integrity, which was already discussed under impassibility. The body, after the resurrection, will be whole: the blind shall rise with perfect vision, the lame shall rise perfectly ambulatory, the mentally handicapped will have healthy brains and perfect intelligence — whatever the illness one had on this earth, whatever incompleteness of body, will be remade whole on the last day. Even the damned will have bodily integrity, although their bodies will not be wholly impassible because they shall have suffering and pain in the flesh, albeit their bodies will be incorruptible.
The third is quality. This gift is part of clarity. It means, perfect health, or perfect youth, and it complements our incorruptibility. Jesus said that in the resurrection the good shall be “as the angels in heaven.” With our bodily identity there will always be male and female, but there will be no married state in heaven. Our wives, or our husbands, if they are saved, will be our dearest companions, but so shall be our children, our parents, brothers and sisters, and our friends. In fact, we shall all be brothers and sisters in Christ forever. We shall be one family in God. What we have tried in grace to live in this life, as mortal members of the Mystical Body, in the next life we shall live in perfect charity.
Credo in resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam aeternam, Amen