Aquinas on the Resurrection of the Body

I’ve run across a couple interesting sets of comments from Aquinas’ commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, regarding the resurrection of the body in Paul’s letter. In the first, Aquinas denies that the resurrection is in any way a natural occurrence; in the second, he discusses the kinds of perfections the resurrected body will experience.

This is the first set, on 1 Cor. 15:37-38, “And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body”:

Here it appears the apostle makes a comparison: when the human body is laid to rest in the ground, there is a kind of going to seed; but when it rises again, there is a coming to life. Because of this some are of the opinion that the resurrection of the dead is natural, since the apostle compares the resurrection to the sprouting of a seed, which is a natural occurrence. For they think that there are active seminal powers for the resurrection in the dispersed dust into which the human body is dissolved. But this does not seem to be true. For the dissolving of the human body into its elements takes place just as with other composite bodies, and so the dust into which human bodies are dissolved has no more active power than any other dust, where it is clear that there is no active power to compose a human body other than what is in human seed; rather, the dust into which human bodies are dissolved differs from other dust only according to God’s arrangement, as though these dust particles are arranged by the divine wisdom, in order that human bodies may once again be reconstituted out of them. Thus, the sole active cause of the resurrection will be God, though to this end he employs the work of angels to gather the dust… To conclude, the apostle does not here mean to prove that the resurrection is natural because a seed naturally sprouts, but he means to show, by way of a certain example, that the quality of the bodies of the risen and of the dying are not the same, and he does so because, in the first place, the quality of a seed and of its sprout are different. (Super I ad Corinthios 15.5.969)

And the second, on 1 Cor. 15:44, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body”, on the meaning of a “spiritual body”:

We see four things that proceed from the soul to the body, and they are more perfect to the degree that the soul is more virtuous. First indeed, it gives the body its being (dat esse); thus, when it arrives at the height of its perfection, it will cause the body to be spiritual (dabit esse spirituale). Second, it preserves the body from corruption; thus, we find that the stronger people are, the less they suffer from heat and cold. Therefore, when the soul becomes as complete as it can be (perfectissima), it will preserve the body totally impervious to external influences (omnino impassibile). Third, it provides beauty and brightness; for the sickly and deceased become discoloured on account of a failing in the soul’s working in the body, and when the soul arrives at the height of its perfection, it will make the body bright and glowing. Fourth, it gives the body movement, and this the more easily as the power of the soul gains strength over the body. And so when it arrives at the peak of its perfection, it will provide the body with agility. (Super I ad Corinthios 15.6.988)

This last paragraph is quite interesting: Aquinas believes the resurrected body will be unable to suffer any harmful influence or be affected from outside; it will quite literally glow with health; and it will be quicker than our bodies presently are. He even believes that two bodies could exist in the same space if God allows it, just as the resurrected body of Jesus could pass through closed doors (John 20:26), although this won’t be automatically possible (Super I ad Corinthios 15.6.983). This is of course so much speculation, but one imagines that our resurrected bodies will have breathtaking qualities something like these.


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