I heard that St Paul spoke of a “spiritual body” after the resurrection and that that Christ was not physically present when he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. Did Jesus have a physical body after the resurrection?
St Thomas Aquinas considers the question of Christ’s body after the resurrection, and how a physical human body could go through closed doors, vanish from sight, and be unrecognisable in appearance. (Summa Theologica 3a 54.1) He refers to St Luke’s account of the appearance of Christ to the alarmed apostles, and his reassurance: “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Handle, and see: for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me to have.” (Luke 24.39) Our Lord then ate some cooked fish with them. In St John’s gospel, we have the account of St Thomas, and the very physical nature of Jesus’ invitation: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side (Jn 20.27)
The idea that Christ’s risen body was not physical was refuted as long ago as the second century by St Irenaeus, writing against the Gnostics who denied the goodness of the flesh. The fourth Lateran Council stated of Christ: “He descended in the soul, rose in the flesh, and ascended in both.”
After the resurrection, Our Lord’s body was “glorified”: that is to say, it had some properties that are not shared by those who have not risen from the dead. His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples are an encouragement for us to look forward to our own resurrection when we will share the glory of His risen body. The people that Jesus raised from the dead (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim) returned to an earthly life and would die again. Our Lord’s resurrection was not a return to an earthly life but a transcendent event in which he passed from death to the state in which his human body was glorified. In this physical yet glorified body he appeared to the disciples and invited them to the response of faith.
Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
Suggestions for Catholic Dilemmas are always welcome in the combox.