Chapter 4
The Resurrection of Jesus

The Resurrection Appearances

The Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus agree that the body of Jesus was a real body, but a transformed one. It was real. It was the same body that Jesus had before he died so that Jesus could eat and drink and be touched, and the signs of his crucifixion were visible. Yet, on the other hand, this body could appear and disappear at will, for Jesus vanished from the sight of Cleophas and his companion, and he appeared to his disciples who had gathered with the doors of the room closed. Then there is the difficulty in recognizing Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, in his appearance to Mary of Magdala, and on the Sea of Galilee. So it was a transformed body.

St. Paul

St. Paul presents much the same message, not by way of stories but by a theological reflection on the resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were denying the resurrection of the dead, and Paul reminds them of the resurrection of Jesus which they had accepted, telling them that “if there is no resurrection, Christ cannot have been raised.” And he concludes: “If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.”

Then he tries to explain something of the nature of the resurrection body. Someone may ask, he writes, “How are dead people raised, and what sort of body do they have when they come back?” And he responds, “They are stupid questions.” (1Cor. 15:35) They are not stupid questions because they ask about the nature of the resurrection body, for Paul goes on to answer them, but they are stupid because the Corinthians are posing these questions as a way of denying the resurrection. Perhaps they are conceiving it as a kind of resuscitation or return of the same kind of body, and are ridiculing it as spiritually unworthy of them. Paul goes on to explain that our body can be in two states. On earth the body is perishable, contemptible and weak. It is a body that comes from the soul or psyche, a natural earthly body. But there is another state of the body that comes from the spirit (pneuma), a supernatural state in which the body is imperishable, glorious and powerful. The earthly principle or psyche gives rise to our earthly body, but the spiritual or supernatural principle gives rise to a heavenly body. Paul is not talking about the body vs. the soul as if the resurrection would mean we leave the body behind and enjoy some purely spiritual existence. Nor is he telling the Corinthians that they will have two bodies, one after the other, the first a natural body of flesh and blood, which would decay in the grave, and the second a heavenly body that they would receive at the coming of the Lord. Rather, he is saying that the same body can exist in two states, a natural one and a supernatural one.

Just as “the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment. The first man, Adam, as scripture says, became a living soul; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit. That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit. The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven. As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven. And we, who have been modeled on the earthly man, will be modeled on the heavenly man.” (1Cor. 15:45-53)

What Paul is saying here is extremely important for understanding something of the resurrection body of Jesus. He is talking about a real, physical body, (soma),1 not some ethereal or spiritual reality. The psychic or natural human being has one kind of body, but the pneumatic or supernatural human being who has a life that comes from the Spirit has another kind of body.2

This is the same essential message we saw in the Gospel resurrection narratives. There it was still implicit, and here it is beginning to emerge and be reflected upon. In both cases we are being told that the resurrection body of Jesus is a real body, but in both cases we are also being told that this resurrection body is a transformed one. The challenge we face is to understand something of the nature of this resurrection body.

Thomas Aquinas

In Chapter 3 we had already begun to encounter certain philosophical and theological notions like prime matter that are at the root of even modern theological debates about the resurrection. Now we need to look at these basic concepts in more detail in order to try to forge them into instruments that will help us understand the resurrection body.

We can gain some idea of how difficult this is by looking at some modern appreciations of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas in the thirteenth century, using the newly introduced philosophy of Aristotle, attempted to clarify the relationship between the soul and the body. He was taken to say that the soul directly informed prime matter so that there was no intermediate form between them. But such a view, while elegant in its philosophical simplicity, set off waves of theological uneasiness because of the repercussions it could have on doctrines like the resurrection. As Caroline Bynum put it, “If the nature of body is carried by soul and can be expressed in any matter that soul activates (matter being pure potency), then one cannot hold that a person’s body or matter waits to be reassembled after death. Once the unica forma has departed, the person’s body or matter will not exist at all. (The cadaver that does exist is second matter – formed matter – but it is informed not by the form of the soul but by the form of the corpse.) Therefore, when the human being rises the body that is matter to its form will by definition be its body.”3

While such a view of the soul informing matter makes it easier to imagine how a bodily resurrection could take place in general, for the soul would then inform whatever stretch of prime matter it found handy and turn it into the body, this is not really how we think about the resurrection of the body, nor how the vast majority of Christians in the past thought about it either. We want to know about the fate of bodies of our loved ones who have died, and about what the future holds for the bodies we now have. Further, scholars felt that Thomas, himself, had never pursued the radical implications of his own theory, and the awkward questions it led to. Could, for example, the resurrection of the body be seen as a natural event in which the soul from the very fact that it was the form of the body would reinform prime matter to bring into existence a new body?4 And why would  Thomas insist that Christ’s body did not decay in the tomb?5 Why not say that the reality of the body resided in the soul, and so if the body decayed, that really didn’t matter, for the soul could and would by its very nature generate a new body? Did Thomas, in fact, lose as much as he gained when he took up Aristotle’s prime matter? Did he make the reality of the body reside in the soul, and yet still try to hold on to our common sense view of the body?6 Did he still, in what Bynum calls “a theoretically incoherent move,” make matter the source of individuation? Theologians in Thomas’ time and after tried to resolve these problems by inserting a bodily form between the soul and prime matter, and by insisting that there was a real relationship between the body in the tomb and the body that was resurrected.

It is easy to see how such a view of St. Thomas in which the soul directly informs prime matter would appeal to someone like Gisbert Greshake, whom we met in Chapter 3, for it would appear to clear away the obstacles to his theory of resurrection at the time of death. If the entire reality, or being of the body, comes from the soul,7 then why worry about the corpse? If matter is pure potency,8 then the soul can make another body by informing new matter. The soul is certainly not meant to stand alone, and we can support this outlook by examining Thomas’ remarks on the deficient knowledge the soul has after death because of the lack of a body.9 It is better to say that “(t)he separate soul demands immediately the resurrection of the body.”10 If Thomas is inconsistent in his application of this theory, Greshake felt it was because of the neo-Platonic elements that remained in his thought. He had in his hands the tools by which to solve the difficult question of the identity between our earthly body and our resurrected body, but failed to follow through. The self-sameness of the resurrection body with our earthly body is guaranteed through the self-sameness of the soul alone and not by matter.11 It is the same matter insofar as it has the same form. Therefore the fact that the corpse remains in the grave is no argument against the immediate resurrection of a glorified body.12 We might also wonder why in such a view it would matter whether the body of Christ remained decaying in the tomb.

While these views have a certain plausibility, we should not be too eager to embrace them. In order to come to a decision about them, we need to explore the nature of bodies and prime matter, and see if Thomas’ conception of the relationship between the soul and the body are best understood in the way they have been presented.

Prime Matter According to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas

The Thomist story of prime matter starts with Aristotle. For Aristotle being was essence, or what a thing is. Each thing, a stone or a flower, had a certain kind of whatness, but Aristotle noticed that there was a radical kind of change in which one thing lost its essence and became something else. A piece of wood, for example, was thrown into the fire and turned into ashes. This posed a serious problem for him. The wood was certainly not the ashes. Genuine deep change did take place. But the wood became the ashes. There was a continuity in this change, and thus, he reasoned, some kind of substrate to it. It is here that Aristotle’s view of being got him into trouble. If being is essence, and in this radical change one essence becomes another, then the substrate of this change could not be essence or being at all. Therefore it had to be a certain kind of non-being which would have none of the positive attributes of being. If essence was act, then the substrate had to be a sort of pure potency. This was the origin of the notion of prime matter that we have been encountering.

Then came Thomas Aquinas who took up Aristotle’s philosophy, including the notion of prime matter, but in doing so he profoundly altered it. In his hands Aristotle’s idea of being as essence underwent a revolutionary change in which essence was no longer the supreme principle of being. We can try to understand it like this. We live in a world of many different things. We look around and can say, here is a bird, or there is a tree, and these simple assertions are the starting points of metaphysics. We have no doubt that a bird is a bird and not a giraffe, and a tree is a tree and not a hippopotamus. At the same time we are equally convinced that each of these things is, that each of them exists. But how do we reconcile these two equally certain assertions, that is, that the tree is not a bird, yet both of them exist? Thomas realized that the only way to do this was to see by means of a deep metaphysical intuition that essence was not really the supreme principle of being. Essences differed from each other, and so could not have given rise to each other. What made a what, or essence, to be what it is was not another what, but something else. Thomas saw that the fundamental principle of being was not a what, but a that, the very isness or existence of things, and essence stood in relationship to existence as potency to act. Or to put it in a more graphic way, an essence, or a what, was a certain capacity for existence. We can imagine essences like different shapes and sizes of crystal glasses in which we pour the water of existence. Existence is then limited by the particular size and shape of the glass in which it is poured, but flows into each glass and fills it.13

This new vision was such a departure from Aristotle that those who followed Thomas often didn’t grasp how different it was. Still less did they see that it had a profound impact on Aristotle’s prime matter. If for Aristotle being equaled essence, then the substrate of change had to be non-being, and this kind of non-being was really quite inconceivable, and though Thomists wrestled with prime matter long and hard, they could never get a handle on it. It remained a mysterious kind of non-being that was continually taking on a life of its own. With Thomas, however, there was another possibility. Certainly essences change in radical or substantial ways, but why not say that the substrate to change is existence. Both the wood and the ashes are forms of existence, and so in radical change we could say that wood existence becomes ashes existence, and the change from one essence to another takes place within existence, itself.

The Metaphysical Nature of Matter

This new view of radical or substantial change can open the door for us to understand the nature of matter. The most striking thing about the concrete things we encounter is precisely the fact that they can undergo this radical or substantial change. They can actually lose their being and become something else. So Thomas called matter a substantial potency to substantial existence. Let’s try to unravel what he meant. In his mind existing things fall into two broad classes. In the first, the class of things we call material beings, we have beings with a low degree of intensity of existence. We could say that their essences do not have a firm grip on their existence. They can lose it and become something else. Thus, they have a capacity to lose their existence, and that is what Thomas calls matter. The other major class of beings has a firmer grip on existence and cannot lose it. They are what Thomas calls spiritual beings. Then comes us. We are perhaps the strangest of beings because we straddle these two worlds. Our soul is a spiritual being, and once it is created, it can never lose its existence. Our bodies, on the other hand, are material, and can and do lose their existence and disintegrate. And what we need to examine closely is the relationship between the body and the soul.

Let’s start with the development of the human embryo. For Thomas the embryo at conception has what he calls, following Aristotle, a vegetative soul. Next at a certain stage of development it receives an animal soul, and later a spiritual soul is infused by God. The question is what happens to the vegetative soul when the animal soul comes on the scene, or to the animal soul when the spiritual soul is infused. If we take an Aristotelian view of prime matter, then with the arrival of the animal soul the vegetative soul disappears, for the animal soul directly informs prime matter in place of the vegetative soul, and the continuity between the two cannot be at the level of essence, or form, or soul, but in some mysterious way the level of prime matter, itself. With the advent of the spiritual soul it is the animal soul that disappears, and the spiritual soul that is directly informing prime matter.14

This theory of change is a mixture of both essential as well as accidental aspects. First the essential. Thomas, in contrast to some of his contemporaries, insisted that the spiritual soul was the single form of a human being. He did this because the form is what receives and exercises existence, and thus gives unity to a being, and so insisting on the unicity of the human form was to his mind the way to safeguard the unity of our being. As human beings we are one being, not many. But this crucial point was embedded in an accidental Aristotelian framework which imagined that the spiritual soul directly informed prime matter, and therefore excluded all other forms, or souls. But as we have been seeing, this cannot be true. There is no such thing as prime matter as it is usually conceived, and we can look at the whole issue from another perspective. While there can only be one dominant form which is something’s principle of being in action, it is entirely possible for one form to be taken up into a higher or more intensive form. Thus in the case of the vegetative soul, when the animal soul arrives on the scene the vegetative soul does not disappear, but it loses its autonomy and becomes subordinate to the animal soul which is now the new principle of existence and action. If for Aristotle essences as the supreme principles of being excluded each other, for Thomas existence is elastic, and among material beings the lower can be taken up into the higher, and that, indeed, allows the evolution of the universe which grows in the direction of more complex and intense beings.

So instead of saying that the vegetative and animal souls disappear because the spiritual soul must inform prime matter directly, it is possible to say that the vegetative soul is taken up into the broader and deeper animal soul, and the animal soul in its turn is taken up into the broader and deeper spiritual soul so that the spiritual soul contains within it virtually the animal soul which, in turn, contains within it virtually the vegetative soul. While at first glance this may appear like a rather strange arrangement, it follows the path of evolution in general. Elements are taken up into molecules, molecules into plants, and plants into animals. Why does this happen? It is because this is the only way in which more complex and conscious beings can come about. In our case the human spirit, while it is spiritual and thus exists on the other side of the threshold that divides matter and spirit, is the least intensive of spiritual beings, which means that it needs help in order to actualize itself and become what it is meant to be. This is the role that the body plays. The body by nature is not a hindrance to the development of the soul, and its exercise of intellect, will and consciousness, but the very means by which the soul exercises its spiritual powers.

Now we come to a critical point. If less intensive beings are taken up into more intensive ones so that the more intensive ones can act in a higher way, and in the process the less intensive beings lose their autonomy of existence and action, we can ask – putting the question a bit crudely – what is in it for them?  The answer is the reception of a higher way of being. Animals, for example, have a certain kind of animal imagination and intelligence. In human beings this animal intelligence and imagination serves the higher powers of the soul, but in doing so in virtue of their union with their spiritual soul, these animal powers receive a higher way of being and acting. They receive a new form of being which is not the entitative being by which they exist, but something we can call a unitive being, which comes to them in virtue of their union with a more intensive being.

Let’s try to clarify this new kind of being by looking at our experience of the human body. What we experience is not a vegetative or even animal body, nor something we could simply call matter. Rather, we experience the body precisely as it is united with the soul, and thus it possesses a being of union that is not something purely material nor purely spiritual, but the elevation of the material because of its union with the spiritual soul. Therefore, the twinkle of an eye or a smile, or a gesture, or even speech, itself, are all experiences of the material body transformed by its union with the spiritual soul.15 

The Relationship of Body to Soul

Now let’s look at the relationship between the body and the soul again. The spiritual soul is, indeed, spiritual. It cannot cease to exist. Our bodies, on the other hand, are material and they can and do cease to function and disintegrate. In death the body is separated from the spiritual soul and loses, as well, the elevation it enjoyed because of its union with the soul. This view of the relationship of the body to the soul demands that we avoid imagining that the body is somehow an extension or projection of the spiritual soul, itself, into space and time as if the essence of the body is actually a dimension of the soul so that at death this essential dimension of bodiliness is still within the soul while the material body is left behind. Such a view risks confusing the very real potency of the human spirit which is united to the body in order to actualize itself, with the potency to substantial existence which is matter, itself. The spiritual soul is not the body, for it is spiritual and not material, and material beings have their own existence and action. And while the spiritual soul represents a flowering of the evolution of the universe, the rest of the universe is very real and concrete and material, and not a projection of the spiritual soul. At death we do lose our bodies, and so it is hard to understand how we could say that the body is resurrected at the time of death. Certainly what the soul did in this life while united to the body is somehow carried on with it, but the body, itself, which is material and which is rooted in the entire universe is, in fact, left behind.

Let’s look at this issue in more detail. If we say that when we die and our bodies are lying in their graves, that somehow our bodies have been resurrected, what exactly does that mean? While the fruits of the union of the soul with the body continue with the soul, it still appears to be a strange way to talk about the resurrection of the body. Further, while it is also true that the body receives a special being of union because of its union with the soul, it is hard to imagine how this being of union can exist without matter, and somehow be called the resurrection body, itself. These kinds of considerations become critical when it is the question of the resurrection of Jesus. Can we really say that it matters little whether Jesus’ body remained in the tomb because somehow his body was resurrected despite of that? This an overly spiritual view of the body, and it is clearly not what the first Christians believed. Therefore to consider fundamentally altering their belief we would have to be on certain ground, and the rather vague theories about resurrection in death do not qualify. It is better to continue to struggle with the problem and see if we can come to a better solution. What this amounts to is to say that the resurrection of Jesus is about the resurrection of a real body, albeit a transformed one.

Encountering the Risen Jesus

Let’s try to examine the same basic issue from another perspective. The followers of Jesus believed that after his death they saw him. What does that mean? Must we understand this as some sort of subjective experience or vision driven by guilt or grief or longing? There are no lack of critics of the resurrection who argue along these lines, and compare the resurrection appearances to encounters with spirits, or UFOs, or even Elvis or Big Foot.16 But it is one thing to throw out this kind of criticism, but quite another to demonstrate it. Let’s explore how some of these modern extraordinary experiences compare to the resurrection appearances that we have examined.

Here is how one critic put it: “For instance, during the 1970s and ‘80s the media were full of reports about people who claimed to have been abducted by extraterrestrials. The experiences were very vivid and lifelike, leaving the “abductees” convinced that something very real had happened to them. Nevertheless, all attempts to corroborate these stories with physical evidence or independent witnesses have failed. Further, such experiences have recognized explanations in terms of anomalistic psychology. Therefore, apologists must give solid evidence that the postmortem “appearances” of Jesus cannot be explained in similar ways.”17

Archetypes and the Resurrection

In a similar fashion, other critics have suggested that the psychology of C.G. Jung could explain the resurrection appearances. Even if we accept the value of apologetic arguments, writes Margaret Thrak, that the disciples were not in a mental or emotional state of mind that would have produced the resurrection appearances, we have only ruled out what is happening on the conscious level of the psyche. Why can’t we say that the appearances were “in part due to the activation of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.”18 In short, archetypal forces in the unconscious of the disciples, unleashed by the death of Jesus, were projected out in the form of visions of Jesus as the risen Lord. Thrak, herself, offers an alternative to this view in which it is the real presence of the risen Jesus “which ultimately set the psychological processes in motion, enabling the unconscious mind to create and project the resurrection visions.”19 Then she suggests that it might be possible to address both these alternatives by seeing that a more general question underlies them. Is God an absolutely transcendent being, or “only the dominant image of the collective unconscious”?20 And she concludes that Jung’s archetypes are not a sufficient explanation for biblical theism, and Jesus’ disciples framed his resurrection not in an archetypal, but rather in a theistic language.21

If we combine these two lines of criticism, we can ask whether we can use Jung’s psychology to understand something like abduction by aliens, and if we succeed, can we then turn around and explain the resurrection appearances in the same way? Aniela Jaffé in Apparitions and Precognition simplifies our task by examining the paranormal events contained in a series of 1,200 letters sent to the Schweizerischer Beobachter after a series of articles had appeared in the magazine about paranormal events, and the editor had requested similar stories from the journal’s readers. The responses were sent to Jung who gave them to Jaffé for analysis. Jung, himself, noted in his Foreword the twilight atmosphere exhibited by these kinds of stories: “An integral ingredient of any nocturnal, numinous experience is the dimming of consciousness, the feeling that one is in the grip of something greater than oneself, the impossibility of exercising criticism, and the paralysis of the will.”22 And one letter-writer referred to her prophetic dreams as “the dark, uncanny thing”23 that she would rather be rid of. Jaffé divided the responses into different categories. There were, for example, striking dreams in which a loved one appeared and bid the dreamer farewell, and soon after the dreamer awoke, he or she was informed of that person’s death.

There was also a whole class of events in which radiant or luminous ghosts appear to people who were not dreaming. These departed spirits were often transparent and associated with light, a light that was not visible to others besides the person to whom the apparition appeared. In one case the light appeared as a shining disk, and in another, the letter-writer reports having taken to her bed after a very stressful day, and having experienced a stiffening of her body that made her feel like she was hypnotized, and then seeing a shining figure of dense white light without a face enter her bedroom. When the figure vanished, so did her paralysis. Most of these encounters with the “radiant dead” are consoling, but other visitations are more disquieting. One of Jung’s patients dreamed of many shining spheres hanging from the curtains of her room. The dream led Jung to predict parapsychological events which, in fact, occurred, and he “interpreted the spheres of light in the dream as symbols of split-off fragments of psychic energy.”24 Another woman looked out of her kitchen window onto a road that passed nearby, and saw a small completely grey man with a face that looked like sandstone walking by.25

Then there are appearances of the dead to the living in which the person who sees the departed is not yet aware that he or she is dead. Jaffé gives two cases in detail. In the first, a man walking in the street sees his ex-colonel whom he is fond of, but the colonel turns away and does not acknowledge him, hurting his feelings. Soon after he learns that the colonel had died two days before. In a similar case, a woman walking along the street sees her father. She calls out a greeting, but he disappears. Then she learns he had died during the previous night. In both cases the recipients of these visions believe the person to be alive, but learn that they were already dead, and Jaffé comments that it was not possible to establish “a real and living contact with the “ghost”.”26

Sometimes the dead announced their departure by outer physical events. A woman’s mother always used to call her to wake up. Some days after the mother’s death the daughter heard her coming up the stairs and calling her. In another case one winter when a farming family was gathered at the table, they heard the sound of their well-loved farmhand thumping up the stairs in his wooden clogs, and then the door opened, but there was no one there, and no tracks in the snow. Two days later the family learned the farmhand had died at precisely that time. These kinds of stories are told the world over, and while some of them might be questioned, in the main they have the ring of authenticity, and they possess Jung’s “twilight atmosphere,” an archetypal dimension lacking in made-up stories.

Now let’s apply this sense of the archetypal to the story of alien abduction found in Whitley Strieber’s Communion. In the book Strieber, a novelist, recounts memories of having been abducted in October and December, 1985, memories which would later be more fully recovered by hypnosis. We might first be inclined to look at Strieber’s story as just that, that is, a story he invented for personal or commercial reasons, but a reading of the book dispels such suspicions. The story does not appear like one Strieber made up, but rather, an account of powerful and frightening events that engulfed him, events that brought with them the uncanny atmosphere that Jung spoke of, but here it is thicker and more disturbing. Strieber was awakened by a noise in the middle of the night while staying with his wife and young son at their country cabin. Instead of investigating it, he settled back in bed, an inappropriate response that would be “repeated many times.”27 He noticed a 3½ foot figure in the doorway, which then rushed at him. It was wearing a smooth, rounded hat, but had no discernable face, and two dark holes for eyes. On its chest was “the visible third of a square plate etched with concentric circles.”28 Strieber later remembered being taken from the room in a state of paralysis, and ending up in a small depression in the woods. There to his left he saw out of the corner of his eye someone whom he felt was a female in a grey-tan body suit. Later he described her as a little person made out of leather,29 and this person was somehow familiar to him. He discovered subsequently that other people who had had similar experiences had felt that the visitor was familiar to them, and usually perceived it “to be of the opposite sex.”30 In this encounter Strieber entered into a state of profound fear, and his personality seemed to disappear. The strange creatures did experiments on him. The next day he awoke in his bed with the memory of having seen a barn owl staring in the bedroom window during the night.31 But there were no tracks on the roof in the freshly-fallen snow, nor, we may presume, any tracks outside showing the signs of his being carried off by the aliens.

We can see that many of the characteristics of Strieber’s account are to be found in the letters that Jaffé analyzed. While Strieber was familiar to some degree with Jung’s work, and even surmised that the visitors could have come from “inside the human unconscious,”32 the power of his experiences made him feel that it was coming forth “from some extraordinary and unsuspected structure of the brain far more concrete than Jung’s collective unconscious.”33 And that below him there were “vast spaces totally unknown” by psychiatry, religion and biology.34

Jung would have responded, I believe, that the unconscious is far more powerful and mysterious than we realize, and it is quite capable of producing visitors from the other side, as well as strange outer phenomena. Strieber under the impact of these experiences appears to teeter back and forth, wondering whether to give a subjective or an objective explanation to them, and at one point, referring to the familiar-seeming female figure, writes: “In some sense I thought I might love this being – almost as much as I might my own anima. I bore toward her the same feelings of terror and fascination that I might toward someone I saw staring back at me from the depths of my unconscious.”35 He describes her as really old, and speaking in a startling deep voice which sounded like it came from the depths of a cave, and when Strieber objected they had no right to subject him to their experiments she replied, “We do have a right.”36 It is clear by now that Communion has a strong kinship with the stories Jaffé analyzed, and both are deeply rooted in the unconscious and its archetypal structure. In Strieber’s case what Jung calls the anima, that is, a feminine dimension in his psyche, plays a central role, and Strieber describes it as small, ancient, and eyeless, which probably indicates the considerable distance that separates it from consciousness. We may even relate the square plate with the concentric circles to the dream told to Jung about the curtains hung with spheres. Strieber, himself, felt that outer inexplicable experiences had accompanied the visitors.

Let’s return now to the criticisms raised about the resurrection appearances. While it is true that Communion and no doubt many other accounts of aliens can and ought to be given a psychological explanation, when we turn to the resurrection narratives we see that they have a different atmosphere than the archetypal manifestations we have been seeing. The resurrection appearances simply don’t lend themselves to the same kind of interpretation. If Jesus had emerged out of the unconscious of the disciples, we would expect him to have come trailing clouds of archetypal material. This is not the same as saying there is no archetypal dimensions to the Gospels with their talk of life and death, light and darkness, good and evil, but rather to say that the resurrection stories do not present themselves as primarily being the result of the eruption of unconscious material.

Visions and the Resurrection

Phillip Wiebe in Visions of Jesus allows us to continue this kind of inquiry by letting us ask how modern visions of Christ compare to the resurrection narratives. Wiebe placed advertisements in newspapers and magazines asking people to contact him who had had a “direct visual encounter with Jesus Christ.”37 While he admits that the result is no scientific sample, it is fascinating none-the-less. His study deals principally with 28 cases, most of which leave the impression that the recipients of these visions were honestly trying to tell him what happened, and the result is often moving.

While Wiebe divides his cases into five categories, what is most relevant for our inquiry is that almost all of them appear to deal with what could be called imaginative visions, which is not a prejudicial way of saying that the visions were unreal or made up, but rather, experienced only by the person receiving it without intersubjective repercussions. If this is true – and here we are departing from Wiebe’s own analysis – then they would be different from the resurrection stories in which the encounters with Jesus are taken to be outer objective events often experienced by more than one person. In the visions that Wiebe reports, the figure of Jesus most often bears the marks of subjective perception. The recipients of these visions often recognized Jesus, but didn’t understand why they made that identification, and they experienced a deep sense of love and compassion expressed in his eyes. The figure of Jesus starts off, for example, as an outline. The face is not seen, or is partially seen, or the figure is partially hidden or indistinct, or the body or the face of Jesus is oversized, or is transparent, or the placement of the body was, in fact, impossible in real space and time, or did not move. And even though in many of the experiences there were other people around, these people did not see Jesus.

Let’s look at seven cases in more detail in which outer effects noticed by others were said to be present.

Case #1. The recipient falls unconscious and has a vision of Jesus in a heavenly city. She reports that the smell of wine came from her mouth and was noticed by other church members.

Case #2. A visionary falls asleep and is battling an evil creature with the help of Jesus whom he never sees above the level of the shoulder. His wife reports that he levitated during this struggle. In neither case do the bystanders see Jesus.

In case #25 the recipient has a vision of Jesus outside in snow 18” deep. The spot where Jesus stood, which was about 3’ in diameter, was bare ground, but no tracks led to the spot. The person receiving the vision was unsure if the body was transparent or not.

Case #26. The visionary was the victim of a ski accident which injured his neck vertebrae. Jesus appears to him in the hospital and he makes a miraculous recovery. He could not see the details of Jesus’ face. It was as if there was a hollow with hair draped around it.

Case #27. The recipient sees Jesus standing over the bed of a sick friend, but facing and looking at him. Jesus touches his friend and disappears. His friend jumps up, healed, and had felt something touch his head but had not seen anything. The recipient felt that this encounter was like an encounter with an ordinary person, although the fact that Jesus is looking at him and he recognizes Jesus spontaneously might be taken as pointing to its subjective character.

None of these cases are particularly convincing that Jesus was present in other than an intrapsychic way. By far the most challenging case is #28 in which a Pentecostal minister reports numerous extraordinary experiences including two appearances of Jesus to a group of church members. In the first, Jesus opens the door to the church and walks down the aisle, and when he reaches the pulpit, walks through it. Then Jesus places his left hand on the minister’s shoulder who falls to the ground, and Jesus speaks to him in another language. Fifty people were present on this occasion.38

In a second instance a woman, in a congregation which numbered 200, got up to give testimony about a vision of Jesus she had had, and as she did so, she disappeared and Jesus took her place, and after several minutes, he disappeared and the woman reappeared. This was witnessed by “virtually everyone” and was filmed.39

These events certainly would have abundantly qualified as objective events if they could be substantiated, but unfortunately the process of authentication is surrounded by difficulties. Wiebe, himself, saw the film long before he authored his book, and then visited the church where it took place some 32 years after the event, but the lady who had disappeared and reappeared was now dead, and the members of the congregation differed among themselves about what the film showed, with some not even remembering they had seen it. The film, itself, had in the meanwhile disappeared. Wiebe concluded about the second event: “Perhaps nothing can be established beyond reasonable doubt.”40

When we take these modern visions of Christ as a whole, we find no compelling reason to interpret them as other than interior visions, and while Wiebe will marshal arguments by which he tries to show that these visions could be similar to the resurrection appearances, the general impression remains that what the New Testament writers were trying to describe were what they considered outer events, and their reports do not show the characteristics of subjective perceptual alterations that we noted in these modern visions. We may argue, as Wiebe does, that such subjective alterations were present, but not reported upon, but that is a rather weak argument.

What can we conclude from this analysis of these subjective events? The resurrection stories were written in the belief that Jesus physically appeared to his disciples, and these stories are free from the characteristic marks of subjective visions that we have been seeing. Did the reporters of these stories carefully erase these marks? That is not likely because they clearly left in place descriptions of the extraordinary qualities that the body of Jesus possessed.

But we can still wonder about the distinctive character of the resurrection narratives themselves. Fitzmyer, for example, quotes V. Taylor about these stories, “Here the immediate need was assurance about a new and astounding fact. Was it true that Jesus had risen and had appeared to His own? To satisfy this clamant need single stories were enough; there was no demand for a continuous Story such as the modern man desires. Testimony, witness-bearing to the fact of the Appearances, was the first essential for preachers and hearers alike.”41 The disciples, in other words, gave much less thought to the transmission of the details of these appearances and their physical settings than simply recording the overwhelming fact of their existence. But while this might be true it does not get to the heart of the matter. The strange nature of the appearances, themselves, which were real yet somehow breaking into this world from a deeper dimension, and demanding in addition to an external passive seeing an active interior assent, would have made the logical expression of these appearances more difficult.

Seeing and Recognizing 

If the body of Jesus was both a real body and a transformed one, then we should expect that these two aspects would be expressed in the disciples’ descriptions of their encounters with the risen Jesus. If the body of Jesus was a real body, then these resurrection appearances could not have been simply subjective visions. The followers of Jesus felt that they saw him, and that he did things, e.g., he walked with the disciples on their way to Emmaus, he spoke to them, and he ate with them. But built into these stories is a distinction between seeing and recognizing. Therefore, Mary of Magdala saw someone at the tomb whom she believed to be the gardener, and the disciples in their boat fishing saw someone standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It would be hard to argue that this initial seeing was a seeing in faith because those who saw did not know it was Jesus, and in some instances did not know Jesus had, in fact, risen from the dead. It is as if beyond seeing was a deeper seeing, or insight, or recognition, bound up with an interior movement of the heart, that is, with faith, itself, that allowed the disciples to recognize that it was Jesus who was present, not as a resuscitated body, but as the risen Lord. Therefore, the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus must burn before recognition came to them. Mary of Magdala must be addressed in words spoken in love, and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee are stirred by witnessing the remarkable catch of fish.

This distinction between physical seeing and  recognition might help resolve a tension that is found in contemporary theology of the resurrection that comes from a reluctance to come to grips with the physical nature of the resurrection appearances. Kenan Osborne, for example, illustrates this reluctance  when he comments on the divergence between the contemporary scholarly view of the resurrection and the popular pastoral approach “which has remained more or less physical, historical, or even fundamentalist,” that is, believing that people actually saw Jesus and touched him. In theological scholarship, on the other hand, Osborne tells us, this kind of seeing and touching is secondary, as is the empty tomb, itself. 42

Post-Vatican Catholic theology of the resurrection of this kind and the more radical views we saw before generated a whole atmosphere that was not confined to theological circles. Perhaps the experience of Philip St. Romain is less rare that we would like to think. When in the early 1970s he had questions about the resurrection: “(l)ike most Catholics when confused about religious matters, I turned to my local parish priest, in this case an extraordinarily well-educated campus minister. He told me he doubted that Jesus’ corpse was transformed to new life and he surmised that the empty tomb passages were probably mythological stories with no historical rootings.”43

For Thomas West, in Jesus and the Quest for Meaning, the views of Stephen Davis and N.T. Wright that the appearance of the risen Jesus could have been captured on film seem too physical.44 “I think we are justified in saying that they “saw” something objective that is remarkable, but that their seeing was in part already a faith experience.” Davis on his part insists not only on the physical nature of the resurrection appearances, but writes: “Were enhanced powers of perception... necessary to have seen the risen Christ? I am arguing that the answer to that question is no. But was a special grace necessary to see the risen Christ in such a way as to recognize him as Lord and to grasp what he was calling one to be and do? Of course.”45

While Davis in this same essay differs in emphasis on this matter from Gerald O’Collins, they are also closer than it first appears. While Evans also insists on the role of faith, O’Collins will assemble the different elements necessary for understanding the nature of the resurrection appearances: first is the non-hallucinatory nature of the appearances. The resurrection of Jesus was not described as a dream or happening by night, or is similar to Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9ff), even though these categories were available to the evangelists.46  Secondly, he will insist on the material nature of the resurrection: “At this point let me only suggest that if our resurrection were to take us completely and utterly out of any kind of material environment, it is hard to see how that would be a bodily resurrection...”47 and thirdly he will go on to emphasize the necessity of faith as shown in Thomas’ Summa where he says that the apostles saw Jesus after the resurrection with the eyes of faith. (III, 55, 2 ad 1) “As John presents the meeting with Mary Magdalene, the mere sight of the risen Jesus did not necessarily lead her to ‘know’ him and believe (20:14).”48

This leads us to our next challenge which is at the heart of our inquiry, which is to ask how a real body can at the same time be a transformed one.

The Resurrection Body of Jesus

The principle we saw in which a higher intensity being when united with a lower intensity being gives that lower being a higher way of existing in virtue of that union finds its highest application in the relationship between the humanity of Jesus and his deepest identity as the Word. The first followers of Jesus and the generations of Christians who followed struggled to articulate this relationship even while they affirmed it. They wrestled with the fact that on one hand Jesus was a genuine human being, yet on the other he was the very Word of God. But if he was the Word, then how could he not be aware of being the Word? Yet if he was aware of being the Word, wouldn’t the light of that awareness overshadow his humanity to such a degree that he would really not be like us after all?

Jacques Maritain proposed an ingenious solution to this dilemma. He affirmed that the very center of Jesus’ identity, his deepest personality, was indeed his existence as the Word. But in regard to his humanity this existence as the Word was buried in the depths of what Maritain called his spiritual unconscious, those far reaches of the human spirit which are beyond the ego and its conceptual workings, not because they are beneath it in the form of some sort of primitive instinctive unconscious, but because they are above it. This dwelling of the Word in the depths of the human soul of Jesus, while it bathed his soul with a light and warmth coming from the fact he was, indeed, the Word, did not flood his soul with a dazzling vision of God. It was only in Jesus’ death and resurrection that the translucent partition that separated Jesus’ being as the Word from his human soul gave way, and the humanity of Jesus was fully transformed by his divinity.

Maritain explains this hypothesis in a little book called On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus, and I have commented on it elsewhere.49 What is important for us here is to imagine the sun of Jesus’ divinity in the deepest depths of Jesus’ humanity bathing his human spirit in its warmth and glow, but not yet blazing forth.

Now let’s look at the same issue from a more ontological point of view. What happens to the humanity of Jesus because it is the humanity of the Word, that is, because it is united to the Word? This humanity should receive a higher way of being in virtue of that union. While it remains a genuine human nature, it is transformed so that it is the humanity of the Word. Emile Mersch in The Theology of the Mystical Body makes this kind of transformation central to his understanding of the Christian mysteries, and Maritain and Mersch complement each other in creating a theology of the Incarnation which safeguards Jesus’ identity as the Word and yet allows us to glimpse how he could be genuinely human, as well. Yet Maritain and Mersch, engrossed in creating these powerful theological tools, did not examine what would happen if the same principles were applied to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Let’s imagine it this way. Jesus dies and his body is placed in the tomb. His soul lives on, and is now flooded with the light that comes from his union with the Word. But this light flows from the soul of Jesus into his body and not only brings it back to life so it has that entity of union which comes to it in virtue of its union with the human soul, but it now has a higher form of union because the soul that it is united to is a soul that has been transformed by its union with the Word. Therefore, the body of Jesus is a transformed body. This body not only comes alive, but has a higher way of existing and acting. It is no longer in the tomb, but it has not left the tomb in virtue of being a resuscitated body, but a body which has a different relationship to space.

In order to try to understand the distinction between seeing and recognizing more deeply, we can turn to the encounters people had with Jesus during his lifetime. They certainly saw Jesus in the physical sense, and we could say that they encountered the being of union that the body of Jesus received by being united to his soul, and this entity of union was expressed in his voice and smile and gestures. But there was another, deeper dimension in the personality of Jesus, another entity of union in which his human soul took on a higher way of being due to its union with the Word, and that transformation of the soul could not but transform his body and his words and deeds. Therefore, while everyone saw Jesus, it took a certain interior disposition on their part to see him more deeply, to see the light of the divinity that rippled over the surface of his humanity. Why would this change after his death and resurrection? It would not change, but only become more intense. Because of its union with a glorified soul his body was transformed into a resurrection body. So it was a real body that could be seen, but it was only with the eyes of faith that someone could go farther and encounter Jesus as the risen Lord.50

What we are doing here is developing an idea that was already present in St. Thomas’ account of the nature and  qualities of resurrection bodies in his Summa Theologica. What he said there, however, is not easy to understand because of the difficulty of the subject matter, and by his use of thirteenth century physics and cosmology. But Thomas makes it clear what the fundamental principle is that should guide such a discussion: “From the glorified soul there will flow into the body a certain perfection....and this perfection is called “the gift” (dos or dowry) of the glorified body.”51 Elsewhere he talks of “the overflow” (redundantia) of the soul’s glory into the body.”52

The essence of what Thomas is saying is really no different than what we saw St. Paul saying, and we can express it like this. The spiritual soul is the form of the body, and it gives the body a higher way of being, as we saw. But if the spiritual soul is united to the Spirit, then it is transformed by this union and receives a higher way of being, which we could call a supernatural being. But since the soul is still the form of the body, its new way of being will cause the body to exist and act in a new way, as well. What is at stake here is not a spiritual body that is so spiritual that it has no connection with the material, but a real physical body that becomes hyper-real. 

Let’s begin our exploration of the qualities of this resurrection body of Jesus with a strange inquiry that can help stimulate and shock our minds to begin to think of bodies in a new way. We have seen almost a phobia about the physical body among some of the ultra-progressive resurrection theologians. They rightly want to avoid a resuscitation view of the resurrection, but they wrongly think that this demands the abandoning of the empty tomb, and they no doubt imagine that taking this approach will assuage modern sensibilities, but modern sensibilities might not be quite what they imagined.

While it is certainly understandable to react against an overly physical view of the resurrection, this should not prevent us from taking a look at the strange qualities that bodies can possess.

Michael Murphy, the cofounder of Esalen Institute, for example, in his The Future of the Body makes an encyclopedic effort to collect data that allows us to see that our potential for bodily development might be much greater than we suppose. Here we find material drawn from sources as diverse as shamanism and spiritualism, and modern scientific studies of the remarkable powers of yogis and Buddhist meditators. But Murphy recognizes that the lives of the Catholic saints, as well, are fascinating storehouses of strange phenomena upon which we can ponder in order to fathom what the human body is capable of. “Catholic saints and mystics have exhibited psychophysical changes as dramatic as those found in any other religious tradition. Moreover, such phenomena have been subjected to much skeptical appraisal through canonization proceedings and investigations by journalists and medical researchers. Surveying the enormous literature about Catholic religious life produced in the past 200 years, I have been impressed by the sheer volume of medical reports, ecclesiastical reviews, and investigative journalists’ accounts it contains. Taken as a whole, studies of Roman Catholic sanctity provide a unique body of evidence for human transformative capacities.”53

Murphy gives pride of place in examining the stories of the saints to the work of the Jesuit historian Herbert Thurston who wrote during the first half of the 20th century and whose articles were collected in The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. If we turn to Thurston we see that he explored the lives of the saints and the strange happenings to be found there with a critical eye: the stigmata, or manifestations of the wounds of Christ, a phenomenon which started to appear around the time of St. Francis of Assisi, the strange lights that have surrounded these holy men and women while at prayer, the burning fires of love that seemed to consume them, and produce at times an inner physical heat, and even several well-documented cases of levitation like those of Teresa of Avila and Joseph of Copertino, and other marvels.

Incorruptibe Bodies

But what we want to examine are not the remarkable qualities of the saints’ bodies while they were alive, but the strange phenomena exhibited by their dead bodies. Among them, for example, was the so-called odor of sanctity, a fragrant and attractive smell given off by the remains of some of the saints. Others exhibited a lack of the usual rigor mortis, and in certain cases their bodies bled long after their deaths, or exuded some sort of oil. But the central feature in these kinds of phenomena has been a certain kind of incorruption in which the normal rapid course of human decomposition has been suspended, or more accurately, greatly retarded.

When Thurston, for example, examined the cases of 42 saints from 1400 to 1900 whose feasts were celebrated throughout the universal church by those using the Roman rite, he found that in 22 of those cases “there is good evidence that the body of the saint was found incorrupt after an interval of time which in normal individuals almost invariably sees the development either of an advanced stage of decomposition or of complete decay.”54 Let’s look at some of these cases.55


Name and date of death

State of the body

John of God, (1550)

1570 body entire and fragrant except for the tip of the nose

Frances of Rome, (1440)

4½ months after death body fresh and very fragrant

Francis of Paula, (1507)

flexible and fragrant a week after death; the body entire in 1562

Antoninus of Florence (1459)

flexible and fragrant 8 days after death. Still incorrupt in 1589

Paschal Baylon (1592)

entire and incorrupt after 9 months despite being covered with quicklime. 1611 body still preserved and fragrant

Bernadine of Siena (1444)

body fragrant, blood coming from the nostrils after 24 days. Body incorrupt in 1472 and on into the 17th century

Philip Neri (1595)

“Viscera removed but body apparently not embalmed. Incorrupt after 8 months. Entire when examined in 1599, 1602 and 1639.”

Mary Magdalene of Pazzi (1607)

body taken from damp grave in 1608 and found flexible and entire exuding fragrant oil, but face darkened. Incorrupt in 1639 and 1663.

Rose of Lima (1617)

18 months after death body fragrant, flesh-colored and entire. “Still fragrant but wasted and desiccated in 1630”


To these cases we can add the more modern one of Charbel Makhlouf, a Maronite monk who died in 1898 in obscurity, and was buried without embalming or coffin. An extraordinary light surrounding his grave led to the exhumation of the body which, although it was floating in mud, was perfectly preserved. This state of preservation was later attested to in 1927, and 1950, and later.56

What are we to make of this? In Thurston’s estimation these cases are well-attested, and they deal with highly visible facts, that is, the rigidity of the corpse, its stage of decay, and so forth. Further, the wide dispersion of such accounts over time and distance argues in favor of their authenticity. Certainly forensics has advanced significantly since Thurston’s time, and more so from the times from which these accounts derive, and while it would be valuable to have modern studies of these kinds of remains that resist corruption, what we do appear to have is evidence that exceeds what can be explained by the normal laws of bodily decomposition. Thurston confines himself to reporting the facts, but it is hard to resist trying to go farther. Certainly it appears that we can rule out psychosomatic effects, for the psyche is no longer present. Is it possible to say that these bodies have retained in some mysterious fashion qualities imprinted on them by the soul during life?

Karl Rahner in his On the Theology of Death writes that after death the “human spiritual soul will become not a-cosmic but, if such a term may be used, “all-cosmic”. We might also mention here in passing that, on the basis of this hypothesis, certain parapsychological phenomena, now puzzling, might be more readily and more naturally explained.”57 We might take his remarks as a springboard for some rather imaginative speculations in which we try to see the bodies of the saints sharing in some partial and very deficient way in the state of the resurrected body they will enjoy in the future so that these signs become symbols of that resurrection to come. Put in another way, we could say that the soul retains an orientation to the body after death, and in certain cases this orientation affects those bodies. We can hardly see these phenomena as manifest miracles witnessing to the resurrection of the body, but they are nonetheless exceedingly strange, and at a minimum we can take them as a sign that we ought not underestimate that mysterious reality we call the human body.

Space and the Resurrection Body

In Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments,Robert John Russell makes the important point that despite the extensive dialogue going on today between science and religion, the topic of the resurrection has seldom been discussed.58 Unfortunately, this collection of essays does not significantly change that situation. This failure cannot be charged to the account of theologians alone, and their lack of knowledge of scientific matters. Noreen Herzfeld, in an essay in this volume “Cybernetic Immortality versus Christian Resurrection,” illustrates how far some members of the scientific community are from a Christian understanding of the resurrection and the immortality of the soul. They are advancing an out and out materialism which they feel should replace them. These views take a variety of form: the replacement of our biological parts by mechanical ones, or an uploading of our memories and other neuronal configurations into a computer so we die in the flesh, but live on in the computer. Such views are so alien from Christian ones that it is no wonder that the dialogue breaks down.

But this does not mean that such a dialogue is impossible. Among the mostly exegetical experts who had assembled in Rome in 1970 for the Vatican sponsored meeting on the resurrection was to be found the French philosopher and friend of Paul VI, Jean Guitton, and we can only wonder how his remarks were received among these scholars preoccupied with historical-critical matters. Guitton tells them he is making forays into unexplored territory. Human sexuality, for example, could be seen as a symbolic anticipation of the resurrection body, and he takes seriously the strange bodily phenomenon in the lives of the saints, particularly incorruption, making reference to the earlier nineteenth century work of Görres who felt that the perfume reported as emanating from the body of the saints could be seen as a sign of the resurrection to come.59 Guitton also mentions in this regard the studies of Thurston and the French doctor, Herbert Lacher.

What is most striking, however, about Guitton’s reflections is the depth of his vision. We have moved from a world filled with historical debates and theological wrangling to an attempt to see the positive reality of the resurrection. What would happen, Guitton muses, if we saw the resurrection as a definitive step in the evolution of humankind, so just as the biosphere is followed by the Teilhardian noosphere, the noosphere is followed by a pneumasphere?

In his earlier The Problem of Jesus he had advanced similar reflections. What we have looked at under the heading of being of union Guitton called sublimation, and quoted Leibniz, “The lower exists in the higher in a manner nobler than in itself.”60 And Guitton treats us to an allegory of the fourth dimension to give us some idea of what a resurrection body would be like. Imagine, he tells us, flat people living in a two-dimensional world. What would happen if a third-dimensional being appeared to them? This being would seem to appear and disappear from their midst in a way that they could not comprehend, and yet, to follow the direction of Guitton’s logic, this third-dimensional being, far from being a ghost or nebulous apparition, would be more solid and more real than his two-dimensional audience.

When Jesus appeared in the midst of his disciples gathered in the upper room, the doors of which were closed, his disciples understandably feared that they were seeing a ghost. Not only did they know that Jesus had died, but they knew that his appearance defied the normal laws of matter. And so Jesus had to address their fears and show them that he, indeed, did have a real body. If we wanted to argue that the early church community had invented these stories, we would have to explain why their inventions were flawed by the fact that they insisted that Jesus had a real body at the same time that they insisted that he had a transformed one. It would have been much easier to hold to one or the other of these characteristics, and thus make their stories more readily believable. They could have said that Jesus had come back from the dead with a body that had the same qualities as the body he had during his lifetime, or they could have insisted that Jesus had come back in a spiritual way without a real physical body at all. The most obvious explanation for bringing these two apparently paradoxical traits together was how they had experienced his appearances.

But doesn’t insisting on both of these traits really demonstrate that the resurrection appearances cannot be real? Doesn’t putting them together violate some fundamental immutable physical law? A material body, as we saw, has a potency to substantial existence, but now we need to carry our analysis a step farther. This potency is at the root of its low intensity of being which gives rise to its extension in space. Material beings have dimensions because they need to interact with each other by means of substantial change, but the higher intensity a being has, the less it is embedded in space, and if it has no potency to substantial existence, that is, it is a spiritual being, then it is not in space at all. What if Jesus’ resurrection body appeared and disappeared not because it was somehow not a real body, but because it was a hyper-real body, as it were? Jesus’ body is not less real than a normal body, but more real, and as such it is not confined to a three-dimensional world, but dwells in another dimension from which it enters our world at will. It does not pass through the locked doors of the upper room as if it had to compete for space with normal bodies, but enters and exits third dimensional space from any point because this higher dimensional space, or better, supradimensional space, is present to any place in ordinary space.

What we are dealing with, then, is a real body which has become a supradimensional body, and what makes this difficult to understand is that we are convinced that the more physically solid something is, the more real it is, while in actual fact the less physically solid something is, if that is due to a higher intensity of being, the more real it is. A body is solid not because it is composed of some sort of core of matter that makes it to be real so that the differences between things are more superficial than the matter within them. Things are not real because they contain some kind of core of prime matter, either. Rather we could say the human soul is more real than the body and contains it, and in containing it gives it new qualities, and a transformed soul will give the body qualities it did not possess before, one of which is a transcendence in regard to place.61

Let’s try to summarize and deepen the these ideas about the resurrection body in a series of diagrams.


Figure 1

Figure 1 represents the normal human process of embryological development. The smallest cone represents the elements, the next largest one the vegetative soul, then the animal soul, the spiritual soul, and finally, the supernatural dimension of grace. Each stage gives way to a higher one. It is swallowed up in a higher, wider, more intense being.

Figure 2

But as Figure 2 shows us, each lower stage receives an entity of union which transforms and elevates it because of its union  with the higher being.


Figure 3

But what happens when we die? As Figure 3 shows, the spiritual soul with its transformation by grace is separated from the rest of the organism. We saw before how some theologians seemed to argue that at death the identity of the body resides in the spiritual soul because it is the form of the body, and the resurrection can take place at death when the spiritual soul reinforms prime matter and creates a new body. But this kind of approach rests on a view of prime matter that has been carried forward from Aristotle and the Middle Ages and not sufficiently critically examined. This view of prime matter is defective, and therefore the conception of the resurrection of the body based on it needs revision. Indeed, while prime matter is invoked, the driving force of such conceptions appears more a desire to avoid a crude, physical view of the resurrection. While it is true and important to say that the spiritual soul is the form of the body, and therefore the ultimate guarantee of the identity of the body so that since the spiritual soul is immortal this vital dimension of the body’s identity is never lost, we should not use this as a way to negate the reality of the body, itself. Because the spiritual soul is the form of the body, we can say that even after death it maintains a relationship to the body, but why can’t we turn around and say that in some way the body has a relationship to the soul?

At the moment of death the body is separated from the spiritual soul elevated by grace, and from the entity of union that had elevated the animal soul. These losses upset its equilibrium and it begins to fall apart. It is as if the animal soul has lost its vital center which is the entity of union that it received by being united with the spiritual soul, and it begins to disintegrate and initiate a cascade of disintegration that extends to the lower stages of being that it had incorporated into itself. The animal soul’s loss of its entity of union leaves it not neutral as if it could somehow continue to lead a purely animal existence, but disoriented and deprived. We could say that just as the soul as the form of the body could be said to long for the body, so, too, the body could be said to long for the completion and elevation it has lost.

In order to delve into this matter more deeply we have to distinguish normal efficient causality in which bodies interact with each other in space from another kind of interaction which takes place by formal causality.This allows us to pick up the idea of a dialogue with the sciences, for a case can be made that formal causality underlies strange phenomena that can be found in physics, biology and psychology. To take one example, one of the greatest mysteries of modern physics is the question of nonlocality. In numerous experiments two particles, separated in space, have instantaneously influenced each other’s behavior in ways that normal physical laws cannot explain. They act as if they are not confined in separate dimensional spaces, but somehow share a higher dimensional formal unity. I have explored how this plays out philosophically in regard to nonlocality, as well as morphic resonance and synchronicity, in The Mystery of Matter.

What is at stake here is to ask whether an analogous form of formal causality could help us penetrate more deeply into the nature of the resurrection. Then we could say that the spiritual soul, even after death, radiates a formal energy which resonates with the body it once had. In the normal course of events this energy is too weak to prevent the rapid disintegration of the bodily organism, but in certain exceptional cases, perhaps because the formal energy of the spiritual soul has been transformed and elevated by a high degree of grace, the body appears to resist disintegration. It is as if the soul’s formal energy can resonate with and reactivate the imprint that the loss of the entity of union left in the animal soul, not enough to bring the body back to life, but enough to prevent disintegration from immediately proceeding.

We have seen how this plays out in the case of the incorruptible bodies of the saints, but they are only deficient examples of the archetypal case of the resurrection of Jesus. To say that after Jesus’ death his body now had the form of a corpse which directly informed prime matter, and to use this kind of reasoning to justify a view in which the body of Jesus remained and disintegrated in the tomb is not convincing. At death the body of Jesus was separated from his soul which had a unique entity of union because it was the soul of the Word of God. When the radiance of the Word at the death of Jesus flooded into the soul of Jesus, his soul sent out a powerful burst of formal energy that resonated with the body of Jesus. If some of the saints’ bodies resisted corruption, how much more would the body of Jesus resist corruption in the first hours of death? But the formal energy radiated by the soul of Jesus was of such an intensity that the death of the body was reversed, and it came to life. The snapped link of the entity of union was restored, and even more than this, the radiant energy that filled the soul of Jesus flooded into his body and transformed it into a glorified body.

This resurrection body of Jesus, in virtue of its participation in this formal energy, was not confined to three-dimensional space and efficient causality. It dwells in a hyper-dimensional or supra-dimensional space. It is a real body, but one in which its material substance can and should be distinguished from the quantitative dimensions that anchor a body in a particular place.62

In our own cases our resurrections are deferred. Our souls lack the formal energy to bring about the resurrection of our bodies, or even, except in the most exceptional cases, retard the disintegration of the body, but this does not mean that our bodies are still not marked by a relationship of the soul, and a longing, as it were, for the resurrection.

Just as there is a process of human genesis, there is a process of human death in which the form of the spiritual soul departs, leaving the animal soul for a while before it, too, departs, leaving the vegetative soul still present, and at the time of its departure another form becomes the highest form, and thus the principle of being and action. In this way we can imagine a hominization that leads to birth, and a dehominization in death, both of which processes St. Thomas took note of.63

But why can’t we say that as long as any of the lesser forms of the body remain, even the flesh or the bones or the disintegrated fragments of the body, they retain a relationship with the spiritual soul that once animated them, and at the time of the resurrection they will form part of the resurrection body? But if it is so, then we can understand the concern of the Christian community to preserve and venerate the bodies of the martyrs and all the faithful, as well as its reluctance to sanction cremation. We can then also understand the veneration of relics. Further, we might even speculate that these remains of the body contain in some way resonances of the higher formal energies that once animated them, and which still exist.

Further, there is no reason to believe that this glorification of the body will be divorced from the glorification of the earth, and indeed, from that of the entire universe, for the body is a microcosm, a blossoming of the evolution of the universe. This transformation of the universe is a theme we find expressed a number of times in the New Testament in terms of a new heaven and a new earth, and we find it expressed in a particularly vivid way in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans where he writes: “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.” (8:22-23) How this will take place pushes our imaginations to the limit, but we need not and ought not, however, hold to a “resuscitationalist” view of creation as if it were to return in the same way as it was before, but again, it was meant to be transformed.

Jesus as the resurrected one, the one who was resurrected in virtue of being the Word as the head of the mystical body, has begun our own resurrection and that of all creation, a process which will not be complete until the end of the world. It is not an accident that the resurrection appearances have strong resonances with the Eucharist, or that the Eucharist was celebrated from the earliest times on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.64 The Eucharist is the partaking of the glorious body and blood of Christ which have been transformed by their union with his soul, and through the soul with the Word. From this perspective the Eucharist becomes another example of the beings of union that we have been seeing. We can imagine the transformation of the bread and wine not taking place from below as if it were necessary to conceive of the substance of the bread and wine disappearing to be replaced by the body and blood of Jesus while the accidents of the bread and wine remain, as the traditional doctrine of transubstantiation had it. Rather, we might think that the bread and wine are transformed from above by receiving a new entity of union by being united to the glorified body of Jesus. This highlights the Eucharist as an active instrument of the transformation of both our souls and our bodies into glorified ones.65


We saw in Chapters 1 and 2 that there is no real reason to hold that the resurrection of  Jesus was a fable created by the first Christians. It was what they genuinely believed. Nor can we readily make a case that they misconstrued an entirely natural and subjective phenomenon. All this, however, does not and cannot compel us to believe any more than the seeing of Jesus during his life compelled people to believe in him. What we have done, hopefully, is to clear away the obstacles to our consideration of the invitation of faith.

It is clear that the message of the resurrection in the New Testament is the message of a bodily resurrection, that is, a real material body, yet a transformed one. While some scholars deny the resurrection altogether, and others attempt to purify it from what they imagine to be a crude physicalism and by way of reaction overspiritualize it, the resurrection is, in fact, about bodies, the body of Jesus in the tomb, and our bodies. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian message. It means God takes us as we actually are with all our wounds and weaknesses, imperfections and sins, and wishes to redeem the whole of us. The incarnation of Jesus in a fallen world led to his crucifixion, and then to his bodily resurrection. God has no need to save just the spiritual part of his creation. He saves it all except for sin.




(1) Craig, p. 120

(2) Ibid., p. 126.

(3) Bynum, p. 259.

(4) Ibid., p. 263.

(5) Ibid., p. 264.

(6) Ibid., p. 270.

(7) Greshake and Kremer, p. 226.

(8) Ibid., p. 228.

(9) Ibid., p. 230.

(10) Ibid., p. 231.

(11) Ibid., p. 232.

(12) Ibid., p. 234.

(13) Arraj, God, Zen.

(14) Arraj, The Mystery of Matter.

(15) Origen’s idea of a corporeal form is suggestive here as long as we don’t push the matter too far because Origen, naturally, was working out of a very different philosophical framework than Thomas. This corporeal form for Origen was not the soul, itself, which was immutable, nor was it the continually changing elements that made up the body, but rather, a bodily or somatic form which he likened to a river whose waters were continually flowing. (Crouzel, p. 690) From a strictly Thomistic philosophical point of view, such a bodily form would destroy the unity of the human being, but if we take it as a suggestion of a virtual form, then it has similarities to the approach we are examining here.

(16) Goulder, for example, suggests that the resurrection stories are similar to those about Bigfoot. (p. 62)

(17) Parsons, p. 434.

(18) Thrak, p. 206.

(19) Ibid., p. 213.

(20) Ibid., p. 214.

(21) We need not pursue the relationship of Jung’s psychology to Christian thought here. See my St. John of the Cross and C.G. Jung, and Jungian and Catholic?

(22) Jaffé, p. vii.

(23) Ibid., p. 18.

(24) Ibid., p. 76.

(25) Ibid., p. 105.

(26) Ibid., p. 167.

(27) Strieber, p. 11.

(28) Ibid., p. 12.

(29) Ibid., p. 75.

(30) Ibid., p. 99.

(31) Ibid., p. 21.

(32) Ibid., p. 69.

(33) Ibid., p. 50.

(34) Ibid., p. 89.

(35) Ibid., p. 100.

(36) Ibid., p. 102.

(37) Wiebe, p. 40.

(38) Ibid., p. 77.

(39) Ibid., p. 78.

(40) Ibid., p. 82.

(41) Fitzmyer, p. 1535.

(42) Osborne, p. 105, 140.

(43) St. Romain, Introduction.

(44) West, p. 111.

(45) As cited in West, p. 240.

(46) See O’Collins, Jesus Risen, p. 21, and p. 107 for the weaknesses of the hallucination theories.

(47) Ibid., p. 154.

(48) Ibid., p. 119.

(49) Arraj, Mind Aflame, Chapter 5, and Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain, Chapter 5.

(50) Arraj, The Inner Nature of Faith, Part III.

(51) III Suppl., Q84, A1.

(52) III Suppl., Q85, A1.

(53) Murphy, p. 478.

(54) Thurston, p. 251.

(55) Ibid., p. 247-251.

(56) Cruz, p. 294ff.

(57) Rahner, On the Theology of Death, p. 29-30.

(58) Russell, p. 3.

(59) Guitton, “Epistémologie,” p. 122.

(60) Guitton, The Problem of Jesus, p. 133.

(61) So Wright will talk about the “transphysicality” of the body of Jesus, p. 477.

(62) The Mystery of Matter, p. 155.

(63) See Wallace.

(64) See Richard Swinburne on the practice from earliest times of celebrating the Eucharist on Sunday in “Evidence for the Resurrection” p. 207ff.

(65) See Nichols.


Chapter 4 Bibliography

Arraj, James. 1988. God, Zen and the Intuition of Being. Chiloquin, OR: Inner Growth Books

_____ 1988. The Inner Nature of Faith. Chiloquin, OR: Inner Growth Books

_____ 1996. The Mystery of Matter. Chiloquin, OR: Inner Growth Books

Bynum, Caroline Walker. 1995. The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336. NY: Columbia University Press.

Crouzel, Henri. S.I. 1972. “Les critiques adressées par Méthode et ses contemporains à la doctrine origénienne du corps ressuscité” in Gregorianum, 53, p. 679-716.

Cruz, Joan Carroll. 1977. The Incorruptibles. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books.

Davis, Stephen T. 1997. “ ‘Seeing’ the Risen Jesus” in The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus. Edited by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, S.J. and Gerald O’Collins, S.J. Oxford University Press. p. 126-147??.

Goulder, Michael. 1994. “Did Jesus of Nazareth Rise from the Dead?” in Resurrection: Essays in Honour of Leslie Houlden. Stephen Barton and Graham Stanton, editors. SPCK.

Greshake, Gisbert and Jacob Kremer. 1986. Resurrectio Mortuorum: Zum theologischen Verständnis der leiblichen Auferstehung. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Guitton, Jean. 1955. The Problem of Jesus: A Free-Thinker’s Diary. NY: P.J. Kenedy & Sons.

_____ 1974. “Epistémologie de la résurrection. Concepts préalables et programme de recherches” in Resurrexit. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Herzfeld, Noreen. 2002. “Cybernetic Immortality versus Christian Resurrection” in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments. Editors: Ted Peters, Robert John Russell and Michael Welker. Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Jaffé, Aniela. 1963. Apparitions and Precognition: A Study from the point of view of C.G. Jung’s Analytical Psychology. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.

Maritain, Jacques. 1969. On the Grace and Humanity of Jesus. NY: Herder and Herder.

Murphy, Michael. 1992. The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Nichols, Terence. “How to Understand Transubstantiation,” Commonweal, October, 7, 2005:’This+is+my+body’%3a+how+to+understand+transubstantiation-a0137864220

Parsons, Keith. 2005. “Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli on the Hallucination Theory”, in The Empty Tomb. Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder. NY: Prometheus Books.

Peters, Ted, Robert John Russell and Michael Welker, editors. 2002. Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments. Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

St. Romain, Philip, 2001. The Meaning of the Resurrection. risenview.html #IntroductionOriginally published as Jesus Alive in Our Lives. 1985. Ave Maria Press.

Schep, J.A. 1964. The Nature of the Resurrection Body: A Study of the Biblical Data. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Strieber, Whitley. 1987. Communion: A True Story. NY: Avon Books.

Thrall, Margaret E. 1979. “Resurrection Tradition and Christian Apologetics” in The Thomist. p. 197-216.

Thurston, Herbert, S.J. 1952. The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.

Wallace, William A., O.P. 1995. “St. Thomas on the Beginning and Ending of Human Life” in Autori Vari, Sanctus Thomas de Aquino Doctor Hodiernae Humanitatis. Studi Tomistici 58 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana), pp. 394-407.

West, Thomas H. 2001. Jesus and the Quest for Meaning. Minneapolis: fortress Press.

Wiebe, Phillip H. 1997. Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Today. NY, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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