The Truth will set you Free.

Doctrine in the Pastoral Context: 
Resurrection and Transubstatiation

FAITH Magazine July – August 2012

During the Q&A debate on Australian TV between Cardinal Pell and Richard Dawkins (see editorial article) the Cardinal mentioned the resurrection of the body. Just like St Paul's listeners at the Acropolis, Dawkins responded with surprise and seemingly genuine curiosity.

Dawkins: "I'm intrigued by the Cardinal saying that Christians believe you are going to be resurrected in the body. That's an astonishing idea. I don't believe you really mean that, just as I don't believe you really mean that the wafer turns into the Body of Christ. You must mean 'body' in some rather special sense.... Other denominations accept it as metaphorical. Catholics take it as literal... The body is certainly not resurrected in terms of the cell, the protoplasm, the DNA ... that certainly doesn't happen any more than the wafer turns into [the literal body of Christ]... in the sense in which any normal use of the English language would understand. You must mean it in some other sense than plain English."

How would we respond to this?

Resurrection of the Body

There are many things discovered by science which seem counterintuitive in "plain English". All we really mean by that expression is that we tend see the world according to the limits of our current understanding. Professor Dawkins speaks of "cells" and "protoplasm", but that is not how the ordinary person thinks of their body in "plain English". That is already a scientific, biological level understanding that goes well beyond ordinary sense perception. There are other ways of analysing the body too, even on the level of science. From a chemical point of view a body is a network of biochemical processes; to a physicist it is a complex of energy quanta. It could probably be expressed as an enormously complicated mathematical algorithm. These points of view do not contradict eachother.

There are other viewpoints too. If we shift our analysis to a higher synthesis than cellular biology, we can see a body as a living function within the environment, an organic unit within the whole ecosystem of the planet; indeed within the whole cosmos, not least because every particle of matter seems to be entangled with every other at the quantum level. The body is also a unit of meaning, a vector of functionality, a node of relationality within the mutually interactive skein of data that we call physical reality. And we haven't yet spoken of the body on the human, personal, psychological and spiritual levels. We would also want to add the unique purpose and final context of the human body within the plan of God centred on the Incarnation; that is the highest viewpoint or level ofsynthesis, but that would be way beyond Professor Dawkins' comprehension just now.

But to bring things back to "plain English", or at least to Dawkins' language of cells and protoplasm, we know that the organic components of a body are constantly changing. Cells die and are replaced daily. The atoms and molecules of my body are continually being replaced as life goes on. Yet my body retains a specific identity as this body and my body. So it is not the cells and protoplasm alone that constitute the body, it is the unique patterning of elements and the unique place and meaning of that pattern within the universe that makes it what it is.

When we speak of the resurrection of the body, there is much that we cannot yet know, but we do not have to envisage the same cells and molecules as currently compose our bodies coming together again. What is recalled into being will be identifiably mine, the same unique configuration of my material identity within creation, animated and informed by my spiritual soul, yet brought to its final expression and glory (God willing) in the Divine plan. The risen body will be human, but as different in form as the flower is from the seed that is planted in the ground.

The Holy Eucharist

As a matter of faith we simply take Jesus at his word when he said "This is My Body" (as Cardinal Pell said during his own response). When asking why and how this can be, we speak with caution and reverence as we further explore the nature of reality and the meaning of the body.

We may perhaps think of a body as the head, torso, feet and hands etc located in one place and time. Yet we have already seen there are more levels on which to view it. From the point of view of an electron there are light years of space between one atom in my body and the next. Likewise, seen at the atomic level the boundary between my body and the surrounding environment would look very fuzzy. What relates all the components as one body is the common reference to the organic function that is my physical presence in the universe, and its inherence within my spiritual personality. Even on a macro, "common sense" level, if I accidentally cut off my finger, for example, and take it to hospital to be reattached, while it lives it is mine, part of me. Its matter-energy relativities andorganic functions remain part of my identity and the unity that is "me". So the unity of a body is not so much a matter of space/time continuity as one of substantial identity within creation.

In the philosophy of Catholic tradition, "substance" makes something what it is no matter what variable properties it displays. Substance should not be thought of as an extra, invisible component - a deus ex machina, or ghost in the machine - but as the thing itself in its most formal and objective identification within the universe, and also therefore within the Mind and plan of God.

The properties of a thing (the "accidents" in Aristotelian terms), its appearance and even its component parts can be highly variable within limits without destroying that identity. Bodies change and grow, acquiring whole new forms in some cases (caterpillars to butterflies, for example) yet remaining one identity, one type of thing, one substance.

So what of the Body of Jesus? We believe it is the very purpose and vocation of his Body to be the life-giving vehicle of our communion with the Godhead. So it does not go against the conceptual or existential limits of the meaning of "body" for him - and him alone - to extend himself physically as well as spiritually to all his fellow human beings throughout time and space. At the last supper he did give himself to us through communion with his Body by making the bread that he took one thing with himself, objectively and substantially, not just symbolically or intentionally.

So the bread that we bless in obedience to his command becomes one reality and substance with his risen and glorified human nature. Whatever the material properties it presents, which remain that which we ordinarily experience as bread and wine, this object now has the same objective identity as the humanity of Christ - his Body, Blood and Soul, which are inseparable from his Divine Person.

On our altars after the consecration and in the tabernacles of our Churches he is fully and completely present to us - in every respect, human and divine, except that of sense perception. Just as I am fully present in every part of my living body, so each wafer and each particle of the Holy Eucharist is the whole of him, a true communion that gives life and healing and increase of grace to those who receive worthily. What we see, what we touch, what we receive in Holy Communion is Jesus Christ - and we mean that in plain English!

Faith Magazine