In Perelandra C.S.Lewis puts out an interesting discussion about the physicality of angels. He says we conceive of angels and the spiritual realm as less real than this material world, but what if is the other way around?
I explained it in an earlier post here. Simply put, the gospels make it clear that Jesus was not a ghost, but they also make it clear that he was not simply a resuscitated body. Jesus’ body was physical, not spiritual and ghostly and ephemeral. However, it was also not like our bodies. It didn’t relate to the physical world like ours.
The simplest way to put this is that Jesus’ resurrection body was not less real than this physical world, but more real.
Lewis plays with this idea further in The Great Divorce. The souls from purgatory make a visit to heaven and they find that world to be more real than they are. The blades of grass hurt their feet. The apples are too heavy to pick up. They are afraid of the rain for it will pierce them like bullets.
I was delighted therefore to discover when reading St Therese of Lisieux that she says, “In heaven every grain of dust will be a diamond.” She had the same insight as Lewis. Nice.
Elsewhere she says, “In heaven the greatest patriarch will be the friend of a little child.” She might also have said, “The greatest Oxford scholar will be the friend of a little child.”
To ponder these truths further, it is worth gathering from this truth about the resurrection body of Christ what we can therefore learn about our own resurrection bodies. The church teaches that at the end of time our bodies will be reconstituted into our resurrection body.
James Gontis outlines St Thomas Aquinas’ teaching about our glorified bodies here
He says they will have seven qualities:
- Identity: The glorified body will possess its original identity in that it will be united to your soul. Your body will really be your body, but that does not mean it will look the same as it did during your life on this earth. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection, He often had to make Himself known in some way, even to those who were His closest disciples. We see this in various post-Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, such as when He had to call Mary Magdalene by name before she could recognize Him at the tomb.
A question often asked is this: Will we be able to recognize our family members and friends in their glorified bodies? The answer is: Yes, God will see to that. We will see others and they will see us as we and they really are. Our bodies as they are in their present state do not adequately convey to others what and how we really are. In fact, we shall not, in the fullest sense, really know others or be known by them until we are all in our resurrected bodies.
- Integrity: The glorified body will be integral (complete), regardless of how it was during its earthly life, or at the moment of its death, or after it has decomposed in the grave. Everyone in Heaven, regardless of the condition of his body while on earth, will have all his body parts. All will have perfect vision, hearing, mobility, etc. People die under all sorts of different circumstances. Many die of natural causes, but there are also those who die in ways that cause complete destruction of the body. This will be irrelevant at the time of the great resurrection. All glorified bodies will be entirely integral.
- Quality: This is the property of the glorified body by which everyone in his glorified body will be as if in the prime of life. Although “marrying and giving in marriage” will not be part of our post-resurrection life, nevertheless we shall all be either male or female — the same gender God conferred on us at the moment of conception. Only in the post-resurrection life shall we adequately understand what it is to be masculine and feminine.
One of the persistent myths that have haunted human imagination is the myth of “the fountain of youth.” This will cease to be myth in the resurrected life. It shall be reality. We shall be forever young. Our glorified bodies will never age, nor wrinkle, nor break down, and they will never die!
- Agility: This is the property by which our glorified bodies, acting completely under the dominion of our souls, will have the ability to go effortlessly wherever we desire them to go — at the speed of thought. Jesus manifests this property at Emmaus, cf. Luke 24:30-36, and St. Paul teaches us about it (as well as about other properties of the glorified body) in his First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 15. So, at the end of time, when God has transformed the created world, if you, in your glorified body, want to be on a beach, with the warm waves lapping up on your toes, at the moment you desire it, you would be there instantaneously. Or, if you want to see a particular family member, you would be able to be with that person face to face immediately. That, in a nutshell, is what is meant by Agility.
- Subtlety: On Easter Sunday night, Jesus appeared to His Apostles, who were hiding out in the upper room in Jerusalem. In Chapter 20 of his Gospel, St. John notes that the door behind which the Apostles were hiding was locked. Then Jesus appears before them in His glorified body. He is not a ghost! Because of the property known as subtlety, Jesus was able to pass through the door of the upper room. Earlier that same day, He had passed through the sealed tomb in His risen, glorified body. Our glorified bodies, while physical and tangible, will be completely under the direction of our souls, free from restraint or impediment. This is Subtlety indeed!
- Impassibility: Chapter 21, verse four of the Book of Revelation says that in Heaven, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” In our glorified bodies, there will never be pain, sickness, suffering, or death. There will be no natural or supernatural disasters. No cancer, heart disease, diabetes, violence, accidents — not even a stubbed toe! What there will be is unending joy — spiritual but also physical and sensual. We must not over-spiritualize. Remember the principle that human beings are a body-soul unity. Both body and soul are good and important. The reality in heaven is never-ending, uninterrupted happiness. There shall never be boredom in Heaven. We will go “from glory to glory” for eternity! “The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then he said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’ – Revelation 21:5.
- Clarity (sometimes referred to as Brilliance): In Chapter twelve, verse three, of the Book of Daniel, the prophet writes, “And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” Indeed they shall shine, both spiritually and physically. The body, in its final state, shall correspond completely to the state of the soul. Jesus gave the Apostles Peter, James, and John a foretaste of this property even before His Resurrection, when, on Mount Tabor, he appeared with Moses and Elijah, and was transfigured in their sight. He does this to give them a hint not only of what He will be like after His Resurrection, but what they will be like after theirs! About this event, St. Matthew writes, “And He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” – Matthew 17:2. We see this quality stunningly and powerfully explained in Chapters one and four of the Book of Revelation, both to describe Jesus and to describe the saints in glory. Regardless of how one’s physical appearance was or is on earth, the glorified bodies of everyone who arrive in Heaven will be magnificently beautiful beyond imagining, far surpassing in beauty and magnificence even the most beautiful people we have ever seen or known while they lived in this world. For at that time, “God will be all in all.” As Saint Paul says, “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor has the heart of man conceived the good things that God has in store for those who love Him!” Holiness will be seen as beauty because, when all is said and done, true and lasting beauty is identical with holiness!