Raised a Spiritual Body

By Fr. Peter Farrington – St. George Ministry – Coptic Mission Communities in the UK.

Some have imagined that in the resurrection our human bodies will be spiritual, like the angels, and even that the body of our Lord Jesus was of this nature, and was no longer physical after his resurrection. The passage of Scripture which is used to justify this opinion is 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, in which St Paul says…

So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

One of those who thought in this way was a certain Alexander of Alexandria, against whose teachings St Severus wrote during his exile in Egypt after 518 A.D. He had said that after the resurrection…

…man is in the form of angels, in that he contends that the holy bodies become spiritual bodies, denying the resurrection of the flesh and bones.

There were those in Egypt who were convinced by this teaching, and St Severus was obliged to respond to this false teaching. He says, in Letter XXVII to John and Theodore and John, Presbyters and Archimandrites..

It manifestly appears that he preaches contrary to the prophets and apostles and holy doctors of the church, who in revealing fashion taught the words of faith and expounded the God-inspired Scriptures, and outside what we receive, according to the apostle’s ordinance; and he is under anathema, even if we keep silence.

What are these Scriptures and teachings of the Fathers which St Severus believes contradict and condemn the teaching of Alexander? He turns to the very creation of the world itself, and says…

Again, if the first man had kept the commandment, and not gone astray after sin through the serpent’s deceitfulness, and lost the grace of immortality, having voluntarily drawn death upon himself, then creation itself also would have continued, acquiring for its own self the grace of immortality from God: for in accordance with the condition in which we are for whose sake it came into being its parts also pass away. For this reason then, when man himself was condemned to death, it itself also served corruption and ‘was made subject to vanity’, as the apostle says; but it hopes further to gain with us what it had from the beginning: and it will have continuance without corruptibility when we are admitted to the resurrection and the kingdom of heaven: for the most wise Paul himself also cries, “Creation itself also shall be freed from the bondage of corruption, into the freedom of the glory of the children of Gods”.

In this passage we see that St Severus points to the fact that salvation is not only a matter of the state of mankind, but that the whole of Creation, which has been plunged into turmoil by the sin of Adam, also waits for renewal in the resurrection. It would be possible to imagine than men and women, in the resurrection, might have some form like the angels, but St Severus insists that the whole of Creation is to experience renewal and it makes no sense at all to imagine that the material universe could become spiritualised in such a way. It is this solid and material universe in which God created and placed Adam, and it is this solid and material universe which will be renewed at the resurrection of Adam.

He continues…

For what logic is it, tell me, that rational man who sinned of his own accord should according to your argument be raised to incorruption, while creation which is inanimate and without perception, which for his sake was made subject to vanity, should be delivered to final destruction, and not partake of the incorruptibility and the glory of those for whose sake it was made subject to corruption? For that the world shall be consummated is manifest according to the faith in the divine Scriptures.

St Severus considers it to be unreasonable and illogical to suggest that mankind will be raised to incorruption, while the Creation, which was made for man, and which only fell into corruption because of Adam, will be left to complete destruction. On the contrary, St Severus insist that the belief that the Creation will be consummated and renewed in glory, is a matter of the teaching of Scripture itself. St Severus turns to St Gregory the Theologian, who speaks about these things, saying…

Words agreeing with these were written by the Theologian Gregory also, in the sermon on the funeral of his brother Caesarius, as follows: “But why am I faint-hearted about the hopes? Why do I become a man of time? I await the voice of the archangel, the last trump, the transformation of heaven, the changing of the earth, the emancipation of the elements, the renovation of the whole world. Then shall I see Caesarius, no longer departing, no longer carried, no longer being mourned for, no longer being pitied, bright, glorious, exalted, even as you have often appeared to me in a dream, O most brother-loving, and most brother-loving; either as I have wished to depict thee, or in reality”.

What is St Gregory teaching here? He is considering the passing of his brother Caesarius, and looks forward to the renovation of the whole world, and time when he will also see his brother again, no longer weak and ill and dying, but present in this renewed world for which he waits. Again St Severus says…

It was not as a sin of God that Christ reformed the world’s subjection also that was for man’s sake, that he might bring in one set of things in place of another, as this wicked and deceiving man says; in place of bodies that had been delivered to death the immortality of spirits, and in place of the corruption of the world eternal incorruptibility, and in place of abundance of sins abundance of right acts; but in order that he might raise man, who had fallen, and by erring been stripped of the grace of God through which he had immortality, to the original state, through the resurrection of the bodies into incorruption, by which this world also shall partake of the freedom and the glory, as we have written.

Alexander imagined that created matter was sinful, or at least not suitable to bear the glory of God, and so he called it sin. But St Severus states that God did not sin in his beginning the renewal of all things. Alexander considered that everything needed to be swept away, the Creation and man’s physical nature. But it was to renew these that Christ came. It was not by doing away with the body of man that he saved man, but by raising it to immortality and incorruption, and the Creation itself will be renewed and share in this glorious state at the resurrection, because the Creation will become glorious by the very resurrection of mankind, the physical resurrection in the renewed Creation, in which man will bear the glorious image of God undimmed.

St Severus concludes his letter, with the words…

But from the investigation you have plainly recognised his corruption on every point, … in the lessening of hope in the Resurrection, and the denial of the resurrection of bodies… these confused opinions are rejected and anathematized by the holy Church, and those who were the originators of them, there is none among Christians who does not confess.

St Severus will not allow this teaching that the resurrection of mankind is purely a matter of spirit, like the angels, and which would lead to the destruction rather than the renewal of Creation. Not is this only his opinion, but it is the settled opinion of the Church. Which other Fathers did he have in mind? He has already referred to St Gregory the Theologian. But St John Chrysostom also speaks of this matter, in his Commentary on One Corinthians, saying…

Is our present body not spiritual as well? Yes it is, but then it will be more so. For now the grace of the Holy Spirit often leaves people who commit great sins, and even if he remains, the life of the flesh depends on the soul, with the result that the Spirit plays no part. But after the resurrection this will no longer be so, because then the Spirit will dwell permanently in the flesh of the righteous and the victory will be his, even while the soul is also alive.

He shows us here that the idea of the spiritual body is not to be understood as meaning a ghostly or immaterial body, but that it refers to the body filled with the Holy Spirit. Even now, he says, we are those who are becoming more spiritual day by day by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and we may become less spiritual when we sin and the Holy Spirit withdraws from us, and even in the most spiritual person there are aspects of our life which remain controlled by the soul. But in the resurrection the Holy Spirit will fill us all to overflowing, so that in all things we will be spiritual, that is of the Holy Spirit. But it will be in this flesh of ours, renewed and resurrected, but in this physical body, that the Holy Spirit will make us spiritual, so that we have a spiritual body, physical and not immaterial.

Origen of Alexandria also speaks about this, and we might expect him to have an opinion like Alexander, who spiritualised the resurrection body, instead of understanding that it is a body of flesh and bone, in which the Holy Spirit is all. But in fact he says in his work, On First Principles…

In regard to our bodily nature we must understand that there is not one body which we now use in lowliness and corruption and weakness and a different one which we are to use hereafter in incorruption and power and glory. Rather this same body, having cast off the weaknesses of its present existence, will be transformed into a thing of glory and made spiritual, with the result that what was a vessel of dishonor shall itself be purified and become a vessel of honor and a habitation of blessedness.

He is clear. There is not one body and then another, but it is the same body which will be transformed at the resurrection, and this being made spiritual means that it is purified, and becomes the habitation of blessedness, not that it ceases to be the same body of flesh and bone. It will be changed and renewed and transfigured, but we use these words because they describe a continuity. The resurrection of this body is not the destruction of our old body and the giving of a new and different one, but it is the bringing back to life, indeed the transformation in divine life, of this same body.

In the same work he says…

The quality of a spiritual body is something such as will make a fitting habitation not only for all saints and perfected souls but also for that ―whole creation‖ which is to be ―delivered from the bondage of corruption.

This passage makes clear that he has in mind the renewal of the whole Creation in which man, in his resurrection, will find a suitable habitation. But it is in this Creation and not some other, in this universe, renewed and glorified, that man will dwell in a renewed humanity of the same Created substance.

We might also turn to Oecumenius, who writes about the spiritual body saying…

Christ had a spiritual body, because he had received the full presence of the Holy Spirit when the dove rested on him.

This is the same idea as found in St John Chrysostom. The spiritual quality of the body is not found in it becoming immaterial, but in it becoming the dwelling place of the full presence of the Holy Spirit. And in the resurrection, when our own bodies become the fitting dwelling for the full presence of the Holy Spirit, we shall also be spiritual, and have spiritual bodies, even though made of flesh and bone. And in this present life we are called to this. Not to avoid the Createdness of all things, especially as if it were evil and sinful, as Alexander taught, but to seek such a fulness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as far as this is given to us, so that we begin to become spiritual men and women in spiritual bodies of flesh and bone even now.

And finally, Augustine of Hippo writes on this subject in the City of God. He says…

As the Spirit, when it serves the flesh, is not improperly said to be carnal, so the flesh, when it serves the spirit, will rightly be called spiritual—not because changed into spirit, as some suppose who misinterpret the text, ―What is sown a natural body rises a spiritual body, but because it will be so subject to the spirit that, with a marvelous pliancy of perfect obedience, it will accept the infallible law of its indissoluble immortality, putting aside every feeling of fatigue, every shadow of suffering, every sign of slowing down. This ―spiritual body will not only be better than any body on earth in perfect health but will surpass even that of Adam or Eve before their sin.

What is he saying? It is as the other Fathers have indicated. The flesh, our flesh of matter will become spiritual, not because it is changed into an immaterial nature, but as it comes to serve the Holy Spirit in the spirit. It will become a spiritual body of flesh and bone, as it becomes obedient to the spirit, in the grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It will be a body like our own, the same body, but fulfilled and renewed as God wills. It will be a body like Adam and Eve’s but will surpass their own, because it will be this body of ours, of flesh and bone, as God intended for Adam and Eve if they had remained faithful.

This wide and vast Creation waits for our renewal and resurrection, because it is in this universe of matter and energy, renewed and fulfilling the purpose for which God first created it, that mankind, in the glory of the resurrection of these physical and material bodies, will fill the Creation with the glory of the image of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit in his fulness in mankind, a life which we begin to experience now as we seek this fulness of the Holy Spirit so that we might be becoming spiritual men and women, in flesh and bone, even in this life, with fulfilment in that renewal which is to come.

Source: http://www.stgeorgeministry.com/raised-spiritual-body/

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