Sense and Nonsense: The Resurrection of the Body

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Easter is this: Christ, true man, crucified under Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor in Palestine, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Several identifiable, credible witnesses saw him, ate with him. He was the same Jesus from Nazareth who died, not some other man. This man, Jesus, in fact, was executed in a public trial. The trial was doubtless a frame-up. But the execution took place.

However, this Jesus was, in his being, a divine person. He was “God from God, light from light.” His rising again was part of a divine plan to redeem all men from their sins and to lead them into the condition in which Christ now was, resurrected in his body. Jesus was not some abstraction or shadow. He was human in all things but sin. He was likewise divine, of the Godhead.

Christ’s coming was intended to explain the inner life of God to us, as well as our own inner lives. Christ’s resurrection is a perplexity to the philosophers and scientists throughout the ages. They lack the tools to test it by repeating it, so they doubt it. However, Plato, the philosopher, thought divine life was suffused with goodness. Aristotle thought it moved by thought and love. Christ spoke directly of his Father, the Almighty. He spoke of sending his Spirit, of coming again.

While it is important for us to know about God with our own powers, the fact is that we know precious little, even with the most diligent work, a work, however, that Aristotle said we should earnestly undertake. The Christian scriptures can be read by anyone. One might not “believe” them, but what they maintain is at least intelligible, with, whatever we make of it, some tangible evidence for it. What these accounts imply is that this Christ, true man, died as man, and rose again, still as man. This rising is, because of who Christ is, the grounds for teaching that each human being, after dying, shall also rise again. This does not happen by human power or configurations, but it happens.


Approaching the Third Millennium, we are to think particularly, as John Paul II told us, of the specific Christian teaching about God, about his inner life, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We think too little about what God is, in fact. We are culpable in this neglect, for there is much to think about and to learn. We have been sent the Holy Spirit, by whom we are able to call God what he wishes to be called, “Abba, Father.” God is not some sort of being now father, now mother, now all the above mixed up. These latter sorts of images arise from current philosophy. They are unfortunately imposed back on right thinking about God. The distinctions within God come before any distinctions within creatures such as that of male and female. If, in teaching us, revelation uses images we know, father-son, it is because they are the closest we might approach to understanding by analogy what the inner life of God might be like.

But the resurrection of the body seems the ultimate absurdity. “Where is the mechanism?” we might inquire. Each of us, it is true, has a unique genetic structure that appears as such only in us. An intelligibility, that might almost be called a “word,” exists in the way we are put together, however we might concoct its precise formulae.

In Paris in August, John Paul II observed that:

Jesus Christ has reversed the meaning of human existence. If everyday experience shows us this existence as a passage toward death, the paschal mystery opens us to the perspective of a new life beyond death. . . . The Church, which professes her belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection, has every reason to speak these words (from the Creed): ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.’

Probably if we were present at the resurrection of Christ, the scientific question would not have occurred to us; we would not ask Christ to “do that again” so we can see just how he pulled it off.” Rather, viewing the event, we would realize, “This is what I want for myself!” We do not necessarily want to live forever in the condition in which we now are. We know that we shall die, as Christ did.

But we do want what we are to continue, body and soul. We might not see how this is possible, but no doubt we want it. Thus, if we believe in the resurrection of the body, we do so that we might understand what it implies. It implies just what we want.

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.


Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books including The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His later books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His last books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017); The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018); Run That By Me Again (Tan, 2018) and The Reason for the Season (Sophia Institute Press, 2018).