Are you “going to heaven” when you die?

As you know, dear Reader, I am experiencing something like a fixation with the wrightings (sorry, that should be “writings” – see the depth of my problem?) of N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham.

His scholarship is first class, and there is much that he has to say that extremely good. His skill is to get us to take a “fresh look” at scriptural passages we thought we knew well, by placing them in the context of the 1st Century Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman worlds.

But there are some things… Well, I am not prepared to go as far as American Baptist Mark Seifred who says that when Wright is “good he is very, very good, but when he is bad, he is horrid”, but it is true that he proffers a good many opinions on the meaning of Scripture that would need to be put through the filter of Catholic tradition before we could truly embrace them.

One such area is Wright’s take on personal eschatology, or what is commonly known as “the afterlife”. He wrote a book a few years ago called “Surprised by Hope” on this subject, and many (for instance, Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory) had that “good/bad” reaction that readers of Wright commonly experience. Here is Neuhaus’ opening summation:

The first part of the book is a reprise of his argument for the historicity of the resurrection, which will be helpful for those not prepared to take on his more comprehensive Resurrection of the Son of God. Most of the book is devoted to making the case for a greater accent in Christian piety and liturgy on the final resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Or, as Wright likes to put it, we need to recover the biblical focus on “life after life after death.” I believe Wright is right about that. As he is also on target when he insists that the resurrection “is not the story of a happy ending but of a new beginning.” But his argument is grievously marred by his heaping of scorn on centuries of Christian piety revolving around the hope of “going to heaven,” and his repeated and unseemly suggestion that he is the first to have understood the New Testament correctly, or at least the first since a few thinkers in the patristic era got part of the gospel right.

Wright’s argument is repeated in miniature in his new book “Simply Christian”. I actually like this book very much – it achieves much more successfully, I believe, what C.S. Lewis set out to do with “Mere Christianity”. An alternative title, however, could have been “Simply Tom Wright”, as it offers a short potted account of Wright’s own view of the Christian meta-narrative.

In the second to last chapter of this book, he writes

Despite what many people think…the point of it all is not ‘to go to heaven when you die. …

Paul and John, Jesus himself, and pretty well all the great Christain teachers of the first two centuries, stress their belief in resurrection. ‘Resurrection’ does not mean ‘going to heaven when you die’. It isn’t about ‘life after death’. It’s about ‘life after life after death’. You die; you go to be ‘with Christ’ (‘life after death’), but your body remains dead. Describing where and what you are in that interim period is difficult, and the New Testament writers mostly don’t try. Call it ‘heaven’ if you like, but don’t imagine it’s the end of all things. What is promised after that interim period is a new bodily life within God’s new world (‘life after life after death’).

That’s his position in a nutshell. All that needs to be added is that the “new world” that Christianity (in Wright’s perspective) is looking forward to after resurrection and the general judgement (what we traditionally call ‘heaven’), is in fact the continuous with this world in much the same way that our resurrected bodies are continuous with our current bodies. The old heaven and the old earth will pass away and be replaced with a renewed (note that) creation consisting of a united heaven and earth.

God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world of which he said that it was ‘very good’. He intends to remake it. And when he does, he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. …In God’s new world, of course, Jesus himself will be the central figure. …He is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind that invisible viel that keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture and our work with the poor, where the view seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted, earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities. This is what the Christian vision of salvation…is all about.

Okay. So much for Wright. But is he, according to the Catholic faith, right?

For the moment, a quick scan of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will have to do. We find a good deal there on “life after death”, and a surprisingly small amount on what Wright calls “life after life after death”. But, and this is a surprising but, I think that if we take away what Neuhaus rightly calls Wright’s “scorn” for “centuries of Christian piety revolving around the hope of ‘going to heaven’”, we find that Wright is, in fact, right.

First, the corrective. As cited by CCC §1023, Pope Benedict XII issued the following definition in 1336 (retrospectively, perhaps, we could include this on the list of infallible papal definitions?):

By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints … and other faithful who died after receiving Christ’s holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, … or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, …) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment – and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven – have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature. [Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus(1336): DS 1000; cf. LG 49].

In other words, when you die in a state of grace, you DO “go to heaven”. Or at least your soul does, because Papa Benny XII is quite clear about the fact that it is your soul, not your body,that “goes to heaven”. He is also quite clearly talking about what Wright calls the “interim period”, or the “life after death” that comes before “life after life after death”.

Even here though, it is worth asking what we mean by “heaven”. Is it a “place” where we go, or a state of being, or something else? Pope Benedict XII is obviously quite clear that to be “in heaven” is to have “joined the company of the angels”, but also that it is to enjoy the “beatific vision” of God, “face to face, without the mediation of any creature”. The Catechism, immediately after citing the above passage, states in §1024 that

“This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

And yet, while this experience may be the “ultimate end and fulfillment of deepest human longings”, it seems that God has even more planned for us – in the words of Aslan in the final Narnia Chronicles book, it is “further in and further up” (!) – because the Catechism goes on, in §§1042-1050, to describe what comes –in BXII’s words – AFTER “the souls of all the saints…take up their bodies again” and AFTER “the general judgement”:

§1042 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed…
§1043 Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth” [I1 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1]. It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” [Eph 1:10].
1044 In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men [cf. Rev 21:5]. …
§1045 For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race, which God willed from creation and of which the pilgrim Church has been “in the nature of sacrament” [cf. LG 1]. …
§1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man… [Rom 8:19-23].
§1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ [St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 5:32:1 PG 7/2, 210].

This, then, shows that what Wright calls “life after life after death” has been there in Catholic teaching and tradition all along. Perhaps, he is wright (sorry, “right”) that it has not been sufficiently emphasised as the form of our final hope and salvation. Certainly, I balked to hear prayers offered at the vigil mass last night that the souls of our faithful departed may be “raised up to be in heaven forever”. That is not what “raised up” would mean even in terms of the Catholic Catechism, let alone the writings of Tom Wright.

Of course, for Wright, there is also the fact that he is trying to combat a kind of Christianity which rejects any concern for this world as it is today, because, after all “it is all going to hell in a handbasket” and we are all “going to heaven when we die”. No one could deny that there are Christians out there who believe that sort of thing, but it isn’t Catholic Christianity, as evidenced by this paragraph from Gaudium et Spes (cited by the Catechism §1049)

“Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society” [GS 39# 2].

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23 Responses to Are you “going to heaven” when you die?

  1. Matthias says:

    I have always believed that there will be a new earth and a new heaven,where all things are made new.Death,sin and the evil one will be banished.
    Until the Resurrection and the Last Judgment the souls of the Christian dead,and the Old Testament saints are in Heaven,living life after death,and with the New Creation there comes Life “after life after death’.
    it is essential that Christians be involved in their society-which is why Pietism,and aspects of AnaBaptism eg the Hutterites who live in colonies and who have little outside mission work-are not the model . If we look at Wilberforce,Lord Shaftsbury.Mother Theresa and Father Damien,we see people who were looking forward to life after life after death,but who sought to bring some of that to the world .

  2. Weedon says:

    As a Lutheran, I’ve always found a rather balanced and full doctrine of death and beyond in the hymn “This Body in the Grave.” I don’t think that even Bishop Wright could fault it for failing to accent the resurrection; and yet the hope of being “with Christ” in our souls after death is clear.

    • Schütz says:

      I found these words to the song to which Pastor Weedon refers – it is not one with which I was previously familiar. It is popularly believed to be by Martin Luther, but according to the Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde (by Johannes Hoops et al – cf. Google books p. 690) Luther himself denied authorship. The Reallexikon says “Nun lasset uns den Leib begraben” was actually from the Bohemian Brethren, probably by Michael Weisse, and was translated into English in 1938 as follows:

      4. This body in the grave we lay,
      There to await that glorious Day,
      When Christ shall bid it change and rise,
      To mount triumphant to the skies.

      5. And so to earth we now entrust,
      What came from dust and turns to dust,
      And from the dust shall rise that Day,
      In glorious triumph o’er decay.

      6. We have no cause to mourn or weep;
      Securely shall this body sleep,
      Till Christ Himself shall death destroy,
      And raise the blessed dead to joy.

      7. Then let us leave this place of rest
      And home-ward turn, for we are blest
      Who heed God’s warning and prepare
      ‘Cause death can’t take us unaware.

      I believe that Wright’s one complaint about this hymn would be the line “When Christ shall bid it [ie. the resurrected body] change and rise, / To mount triumphant to the skies”, “skies” being understood as “heaven”.

      The Hymn which Wright cites as perfectly reflecting his theology is the American Spiritual by Babcock, “This is my Father’s World”, the last verse of which reads:

      3. This is my Father’s world,
      O let me ne’er forget
      That though the wrong
      Seems oft so strong,
      God is the Ruler yet.
      This is my Father’s world,
      The battle is not done;
      Jesus who died
      Shall be satisfied,
      And earth and heaven be one.

  3. Fr Ronan Kilgannon Erem. Dio. says:

    Dear David, peace. I add a comment to the discussion above on life (or lives) hereafter. To know that after death I may be delighted to find myself in the Communion of Saints in presence of God has always been more than sufficient to me. Whether it be with or without the body, and therefore perfectly or less perfectly is of lesser importance. I accept what the Catechism and Pope teach from Scripture and Tradition, and applaud Bishop N.T. Wright’s scholarly attempt to make sense of the biblical texts. But I also know that we are of necessity projecting our understanding of time and place to where it does not exist – in eternity. Could it not be that the purgation, the individual and general judgements, the resurrection of the body, the return of Christ in Glory, the end of the age, the new heavens and the new earth are all present and experienced in the ‘now’ of eternity when we arrive there? This includes of course the possibility of being banished to hell. Is it possible that in another approach St Paul is suggesting in 1 Cor 15 that the ‘perishable body’ is what we bury and that we rise up to God – into the eternal ‘now’ – complete in our ‘imperishable body’ at the moment of death ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ when ‘the trump sounds’. What is left to be buried with dignity are the ‘mortal remains’ – the few remants of the physical body not incorporated into the ‘spiritual body’. How we then experience purgatory, the judgements, parousia, end of the age, new heavens and new earth without a sequence of time I do not know. That they happen I believe because it is the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. How they happen I leave to God. Am I way off course here? Blessings.

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Father,

      “To know that after death I may be delighted to find myself in the Communion of Saints in presence of God has always been more than sufficient to me. Whether it be with or without the body, and therefore perfectly or less perfectly is of lesser importance.”

      This does not seem in accodance with the focus of both the NT proclamation of the resurrection and the Creeds themselves, with end with the very definite confession of the future hope of the resurrection of the body.

      I think you overly spiritualise the resurrection. If the resurrection has no concrete connection to the body which we lay in the grave, then how can we actually say that it is “Resurrection”? Certainly, as Bishop Wright points out in his first volume of “The New Testament and the People of God”, resurrection that did not concretely mean the resurrection of the physical body would have made no sense to a 1st Century Jew.

      Your version of resurrection does not accord with the fact of Christ’s own resurrection. When he was raised, the grave was empty. Christ was not raised to an “eternal now”.

      Nor does it concur with the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption – she is the first human being to experience the full fruits of the resurrection. That is also why we do not have a tomb which contains the body of Mary. St Paul and St Peter on the other hand have not yet been raised from the dead (I know, I have recently been to their graves). They, like all others who have died in the faith, are awaiting the resurrection, though certainly they are (as Pope BXII put it) alive “in heaven”. But it is their souls which are in heaven, not their bodies.

      I disagree entirely that 1 Cor 15 envisages a “resurrection” as you describe it. The whole image of the “seed” and what grows from it suggests a strong continuity between this mortal body and the resurrected body. The very gospel which we proclaim is precisely that this mortal body will be changed to become a “spiritual body” at the resurrection.

      Those of us who are alive when Christ returns will of necessity be “changed” in the “twinkling of an eye…when the trump sounds” in order that we may also inherit the new creation which God will bring about following the final judgement.

  4. Jeff Tan says:

    A very good “frisking” here, David, and very thought-provoking. But my perhaps simplistic take on this is that Heaven (life after death) is still a more immediate concern. The Resurrection is certainly hoped for, and it is an interesting theological topic to reflect upon, but first things first. :-)

    And now I’m reminded of the notion, perhaps it is a doctrine someplace, of Heaven (life after death) as being here and now, too. So I’m going backwards where Wright went forward. (Or I’m going left whereas he went right.) The Kingdom is at hand, and eternal life, or the work thereof, begins with baptism. Perhaps call it “life before death after death”, if you consider baptism our dying with Christ and rising to new life with him here and now.

    But now I’m a bit muddled, so I’ll stop now.

    • Schütz says:

      Like Fr Ronan (see above) I think you are on the wrong track not to regard the Resurrection of the Body and the final hope of a New Creation (a “new heaven and new earth”) as one of the “First Things” of our faith.

      As for heaven here and now, that is certainly true – in times of prayer, sacraments, in the Church earth indeed touches heaven and they overlap and connect. Yet we still look at the world and see that heaven is NOT yet here. It is the “now but the not yet” of Christian life. The consumation of all things must still finally take place, and that as a real part of history – if in fact the conclusion of it.

  5. Ben George says:

    Any case in which I see the word “heaven” I mentally swap it with “with Christ” and it generally makes more sense to me.

    • Schütz says:

      Perhaps, although as a translation that would not always work. It is popularly said that “heaven” is “where God is” and “hell” by contrary definition is “where God is not”.

  6. PM says:

    I am with David (and, for the most part, Wright) on the resurrection- we are not angels who unfortunately happen to be tethered to disgusting chunks of meat which we must slough off as soon as possible. If you will allow me to quote Aquinas, the soul is the substantial form of the body and ‘anima Petri non est Petrus’.

    Fr Ronan may, however, be onto something with his discussion of eternity which is, according to the classical theologians, a ‘now’ in which all time is simultaneously present. How we fit into that is not clear – indeed St Paul says that we would be foolish event to ask.

    There is some interesting backgound to Benedict XII’s ‘Benedictus Deus’. It was a correction to the view of his predecessor, John XXIII, who suggested in several sermons (but not, fortunately, in a formal papal document) that the blessed did not enjoy the beatific vision until the general resurrection. I suspect one reason Benedictus Deus won’t be declared infallible is that it draws uncomfortable attention to the mistake of his predecessor.

  7. Peregrinus says:


    Thank you for this; it’s terrific stuff.

    I think there is much good sense in what Fr Kilgannon writes. I think we can – even must –affirm the reality of both “life after death” and “life after life after death”, [i]and[/i] at the same time display a certain humility in saying what these terms mean. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, the mind of man cannot visualise what God has prepared for those who love him. How will it be to live as complete and perfected humans? We have no experience, we cannot imagine and we certainly lack the language to speak of this with any authority. What will words like “before” and “after” mean in such an existence? What can an empty tomb signify for the resurrection of the many millions whose tombs are already empty through the natural processes of time? The continuity between my mortal body and my resurrected body may be a continuity of materiality, without necessarily being a continuity of material – that is, I can have an embodied existence without necessarily having the atoms and molecules that I currently have.

    We cannot imagine what resurrected existence will be like, but we trust in God. It will be all that it should be. I do not know that we can usefully say much more than that.

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Perry,

      I don’t think we have to be “humble” about what is clearly revealed to us. That is false humility. We trust in God to be true to what he has promised, and we know some clear things about that.

      1) Regarding the Resurrection of the Body, any redefinition of what Resurrection might be which does not involve an empty tomb is not Resurrection in any sense in which the NT writers would have conceived it. And the natural decay of the physical body in the tomb does not signify either. When the NT describes the resurrected body, one thing is quite clear: my mortal body and my resurrected body will be related to one another by a continuity of bodily identity. This cannot mean a simply material continuity if by that you mean the actual atoms that make up my body at the time of death. We all know that the body recycles its atoms entirely every seven years or so; nevertheless, if you saw me after an interval of ten years, you would still recognise my body. There would be an identity to my body that is not based on the purely material identity. It is also quite clear that there is no other body lying about somewhere that can claim to be me. My body has a single identity, despite the recycling process. This unique bodily identity – whatever it is that can be truly identified as “bodily me” – is what is raised up. This must include any physical “bits of me” that are still identifiably me – otherwise it would not be a resurrection of my body. If, at the resurrection, there is nothing left of my body (as, for eg., like Newman’s body) what would be raised would still be identifiably MY body and there would be no other bits left lying around about which you could make that claim. Or, I might be like St Paul – just bone fragments left in my tomb. But those bone fragments would still identifiably be MY body, and it could not be considered a dinky di resurrection if those bits were not included in MY resurrection. You understand, I am not talking atoms here, but identity. Because those “bits” are still identifiably ME, they have to be included in the resurrection. Nor could you speak of me having some sort of “resurrected body in the eternal now” after my death if in this history (the historical now) there are still bits of my body lying about in a tomb somewhere. And this is for the simple reason that I cannot have more than one uniquely identifiable bodily existence. And we have proof of this in Christ’s own resurrection (and indeed in the assumption of our Lady). The existence of his body now in eternity necessarily means there is nothing left in this historical time which can be in any sense identified as his body (and of course, this related to our Lady too, which is extra proof of the fact).

      2) Regarding knowledge of what will happen in the eschaton and in what order, again, we need show no false humility about what has been clearly revealed. Jesus has bodily ascended to the right hand of God in heaven, but we are told to expect the “appearing” or the “coming” of Jesus. When he comes, we are told to expect the Resurrection. After the resurrection, we are told to expect the final judgement. After that we are told to expect a new heaven and a new earth, in which heaven and earth will be united as one and in which the blessed will enjoy eternal communion (in the body as well as in the “soul”) with God. All of this is quite clear in the NT witness. The New Creation, which indeed we “already” see coming in the presence of the Kingdom of God in this history, still has a definite “not yet” character. The NT reveals that the New Creation, like our resurrected body, will have an identifiable continuity with this present creation. We cannot say that the New Creation has fully come while this creation in which we now live continues to exist. That is why we read that that the old must pass away before the new can come. The New Creation is like our Resurrected body – God will not abandon what he created “good”.

  8. Peregrinus says:

    Hi David

    I absolutely affirm the empty tomb, while also noting that empty tombs are not really what it’s all about, in the sense that for the great bulk of humanity there will be no tombs to empty, natural processes having already done the emptying.

    As regards the nature of resurrected life, there’s a great deal more to it than the empty tomb. As you point out, the continuity is a continuity of bodily identity, not bodily material. In considering the resurrection we should also recall the ascension. The risen Christ still has a bodily existence today, but I do not think this has to mean that he has two arms and two legs and is sitting on a cloud somewhere. And if this need not be true of the risen Christ, need it be true of the risen David or, God willing, the risen Peregrinus? Resurrected life is real in the deepest sense, but Catholics of all Christians should understand that reality is not determined by any physical characteristic.

    As regards “what will happen in the eschaton and in what order”, I don’t think we have to read the Revelation of St John as a factual narrative of events that will occur in the future. And while the eschaton is definitely “not yet” for those of us living within the constraints of our current earthly life, we simply do not know that that :”not yet” has any meaning for those who have joined the church triumphant.

    • Schütz says:

      I wasn’t just using the Revelation to St John as the “factual narrative of events that will occur in the future.” In fact, I would caution anyone against that. However, the whole of the NT witness, including the minor apocalypses in the Gospels, does point toward the outline of “events” as I have given them in my comments above.

      On top of which, I think I would affirm that Christ in heaven at the right hand of God DOES have two legs, two arms and possibly even a beard. I base that idea on the fact that his bodily ascension was observed, and he was observed to have ascended in recognisably the same human body that he rose from the grave. Add to that the fact that the disciples were told that they would see him come in the same way they saw him go into heaven, and I don’t think you have any basis for saying that at any point his resurrected body (as observed by the apostles etc) was altered or abandoned.

      This does not mean that his body cannot take other forms, such as in the Sacrament of the Eucharist or in the Communion of Saints which is the Church.

  9. Tom says:

    This was a topic hotly debated by the medievals, and I favour (as is my want) Aquinas’ response.

    Matter is the individuation of the body – in order to avoid the kind of post-mortal soul soup where every soul is simply all mixed in with one another (such as Avveroes describes) the soul requires an individuation. That is, the soul is not a ‘ghost’ or a ‘spiritual substance’ of some description, but the soul is the actuality of a potentiality (the act of a person existing; what Aristotle called the ‘principle of living things’). For this though, it does require a potentiality (now it gets a bit tricky here, because matter, or potentiality, never exists in its own right, but only when instansiated by form).

    Aquinas argued that upon death the seperated soul (which was only the intellect and the will) would depart this present reality for the next; however, without a nutritive and sensible aspect to our soul all we would do is nothing; without a body to experience we wouldn’t have anything to think about. So; in this post seperated state, God provides us with phantasms (images, ideas etc.) in our brain until the point of the General Resurrection.

    Now, in this post seperated state there is no such thing as time; time is connected with space (this was not einsteins theory, but known as early back as the 800’s). Because there is no matter in this post seperated soul state, there is no time, and so in this state, while giving Phantasms of experience God also provides a sense of time; this is what people would call Purgatory; the time after death awaiting the general resurrection, or until God brings you into the fullness of the Beatific Vision.

    So back to the matter part; in order to leave this phantasmic state; that is, in order to be truly and fully alive in heaven and to be able to talk and move and learn and everything else that is good (which is what God wants for us) we need bodies. Aquinas says that our souls are prevented from being mashed together by the individuation of our previous bodies, and of our bodies to come, which will be perfected in the general resurrection.

    Thus, the whole argument eventually goes; because the nature of a soul is that it enforms a body, and that in heaven rather than being replaced nature is perfected, everything in heaven will be perfect. So, we will be raised with a perfect body (Aquinas theorised that the 33 year old body was the perfect one, as it was the age Christ was when he was raised) and able to live a life, in the beatific vision, in perfect contentment and happiness.

    But yeah, in the end, heaven will require a body. If heaven is truly the perfection of nature, then in heaven we have perfect bodies.

    “…I believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, amen.”

    • Peregrinus says:

      Thanks for this, Tom.

      I like your account of Aquinas’s analysis of the problem of existence without a body. With due respect to him, though, his suggestion that the problems will be solved by the divine provision of phantasms, including a phantasm of time, can be no more than an intelligent conjecture.

      As for the 33-year old body being the perfect one, we should bear in mind that with the state of medicine, hygiene and nutrition in first-century Palestine, the 33-year old body of the day would have been rather more battered about the edges than today. Few 33-year olds would have had anything like a full set of teeth, for one thing.

      More to the point, the “perfect body” was the one Jesus had after his resurrection, not the one he had before. And, while we have no explicit description of that body, we do know that it differed dramatically in capacities (instantaneous travel from place to place, passing through locked doors) and in appearance (not recognisably Jesus). so, yes, it may have been 33 years old, but we can’t assume that means what it would mean of a “normal” body to say that it was 33 years old.

      And of course that is before we consider what the phenomenon of Ascension might suggest about the nature and form of the resurrected body.

  10. Tom says:

    The perfect body was just an interesting thought – i’ve no idea what the perfect body will be, although young/middle adult years would suggest that’s when we’re healthiest. It’s not that important; what is important is that for a soul to ensoul (as is its nature) it needs a body to ensoul.

    It is true what you said, about the nature of purgatory, although I do find what Aquinas has said convincing and reasonable; without a body, we cannot experience time, such that the space between death and the general resurrection without an experience of time would either feel instantaneous or infinitely long (and i mean literally infinitely long; a single second could feel like millions of years [these are arbitrary numbers], since there is no relation to the flow of time). That being said, if we do have a separated soul post-mortem, and we are not lying in our graves haunting our corpses waiting for the resurrection, it seems a reasonable thing to me that God would provide for an experience of time and individuality. Otherwise we’re back to Avveroes soul soup.

    In order for us to maintain a difference, as was said before, we need matter to be instantiated; since post-mortem we are removed from our matter, to remain individual souls capable of enforming a body we need something to keep us individuated. This is supposedly Gods will; phantasmically or not; something that can operate outside the normal spheres of space & time sounds like God to me. That is, until, ultimately in Heaven we are resurrected, and perfected and our natures completed.

    In terms of the phenomenon of the Ascension I think it is clear what it suggests; that the Body is not foreign to heaven; Christ was perfect in his body; he wasn’t a perfect ghost encumbered by a worrisome body, but rather truly human and divine, entering into the fullness of the resurrection and eternal life.

    Much in the same way of miracles; grace does not operate counter to nature; grace co-operates with nature to perfect it – someone who is cured of a terminal illness has not had the normal order of operations super-ceded, but rather God has intervened to perfect nature and bring it back to what it was originally intended to be. Illness, sickness and death are not part of what God intended reality to be; this is the corruption of the world through sin. Heaven, grace and miracles are the perfection of nature, not the cancelling out of nature.

    I think Aquinas argues, and I agree with him here, that the nature of the soul is to enform a body. If this is the case, then in Heaven we will have bodies. Also, the church teaches this.

    • Peregrinus says:

      [i]I think Aquinas argues, and I agree with him here, that the nature of the soul is to enform a body. If this is the case, then in Heaven we will have bodies. Also, the church teaches this.[/i]

      And I accept this. My point is that we should be a little hesitant before we say, or assume, what “body” means in this context. The body will be perfect, but I am sceptical as to whether that perfection will be found in being 33 years old. Or in having even, white teeth. Or two kidneys but only one liver. Or two arms and two legs. Or in any of the other physical features which we, in our earthbound existence, call to mind when we think of bodily perfection. And I point to the body of the risen and ascended Christ as we encounter it today, not to suggest that our risen bodies will resemble his in every particular, but to suggest that they could be just as radically different from our current bodies.

      With respect to our experience of time in the afterlife:

      [i] . . . if we do have a separated soul post-mortem, and we are not lying in our graves haunting our corpses waiting for the resurrection, it seems a reasonable thing to me that God would provide for an experience of time and individuality. Otherwise we’re back to Avveroes soul soup.[/i]

      It’s a very reasonable speculation. On the other hand, it would be arrogant to suggest that providing a simulacrum of time is the [i]only[/i] way in which God could provide meaning and identity to our dead-but-not-resurrected existence. As you point out, we can also conceive of this state as being timeless, i.e. instantaneous. This state of transition, if I can call it that, can be purgatorial with [i]necessarily[/i] being experienced temporally. Or we could experience it in some other way, not temporal, but currently inconceivable to us. I accept the “phantasm” speculation as reasonable, but I’m a little leery of it because it suggests that God is creating an illusion, the appearance of something which in fact is not, whereas I like to think that in the afterlife we will experience reality more clearly and directly than today, not less so. Plus, does it have connotations of a dishonest God?

      I’’m pretty sure you could talk me out of the more alarming of these thoughts without too much difficulty, but my sense is that the whole enquiry is misguided. In our fallen condtion, we are too distant from what is to come to imagine or understand it. The mystery calls for faith, not intellectual vivisection.

  11. Tom says:

    Well, on that note we will have to depart from what I think so far, has been largely agreement. Certainly not the full knowledge of heaven can be known by us, and the true and fulfilling joy of the beatific vision is something that we can enjoin in today, only through faith – a taste of heaven, if you will.

    But if you wish no more, then we may cease – i should probably get back to study anyway.

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