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General Resurrection

Resurrection is the rising again from the dead, the resumption of life. The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that all men, whether elect or reprobate, "will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear about with them" (cap. "Firmiter"). In the language of the creeds and professions of faith this return to life is called resurrection of the body (resurrectio carnis, resurrectio mortuoram, anastasis ton nekron) for a double reason: first, since the soul cannot die, it cannot be said to return to life; second the heretical contention of Hymeneus and Philitus that the Scriptures denote by resurrection not the return to life of the body, but the rising of the soul from the death of sin to the life of grace, must be excluded. (We shall treat of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in a separate article; here, we treat only of the General Resurrection of the Body.)

"No doctrine of the Christian Faith", says St. Augustine, "is so vehemently and so obstinately opposed as the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh" (In Ps. Ixxxviii, sermo ii, n. 5). This opposition had begun long before the days of St. Augustine: "And certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics ", the inspired writer tells us (Acts, xvii, 18, 32), "disputed with him [Paul] ...and when they had heard of the resurrection of the dead, some indeed mocked, but others said: We will hear thee again concerning this matter." Among the opponents of the Resurrection we naturally find first those who denied the immortality of the soul; secondly, all those who, like Plato, regarded the body as the prison of the soul and death as an escape from the bondage of matter; thirdly the sects of the Gnostics and Manichaeans who looked upon all matter as evil; fourthly, the followers of these latter sects the Priscillianists, the Cathari, and the Albigenses; fifthly, the Rationalists, Materialists, and Pantheists of later times. Against all these we shall first establish the dogma of the resurrection, and secondly consider the characteristics of the risen body.


The creeds and professions of faith and conciliar definitions do not leave it doubtful that the resurrection of the body is a dogma or an article of faith. We may appeal, for instance, to the Apostles' Creed, the so-called Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, the Creed of the Eleventh Council of Toledo, the Creed of Leo IX, subscribed by Bishop Peter and still in use at the consecration of bishops the profession of faith subscribed by Michael Palaeologus in the Second Council of Lyons, the Creed of Pius IV, and the Decree of the Fourth Lateran Council (c. "Firmiter") against the Albigenses. This article of faith is based on the belief of the Old Testament, on the teaching of the New Testament, and on Christian tradition.

(1) Old Testament

The words of Martha and the history of the Machabees show the Jewish belief towards the end of the Jewish economy. "I know ", says Martha, "that He shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day" (John, xi, 24). And the third of the Machabee martyrs put forth his tongue and stretched out his hands, saying: "These I have from heaven, but for the laws of God I now despise them: because I hope to receive them again from him" (II Mach., xii, 11; cf. ix, I4). The Book of Daniel (xii, 2; cf. 12) inculcates the same belief: "Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always." The word many must be understood in the light of its meaning in other passages, e. g. Is., liii, 11-12; Matt., xxvi, 28; Rom., v, I8-19. Though Ezechiel's vision of the resurrection of the dry bones refers directly to the restoration of Israel, such a figure would be hardly Israel, such a figure would be hardly intelligible except by readers familiar with the belief in a literal resurrection (Ez., xxxvii). The Prophet Isaias foretells that the Lord of hosts "shall cast down death headlong forever" (xxv, 8), and a little later he adds: "Thy dead men shall live, my slain shall rise again. . . the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall cover her slain no more" (xxvi, 19-21). Finally, Job, bereft of all human comfort and reduced to the greatest desolation, is strengthened by the thought of the resurrection of his body: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; this hope is laid up in my bosom" (Job, xix, 25-27). The literal translation of the Hebrew text differs somewhat from the foregoing quotation, but the hope of resurrection remains.

(2) New Testament

The resurrection of the dead was expressly taught by Christ (John, v, 28-29; vi, 39-40; xi, 25; Luke, xiv, 14) and defended against the unbelief of the Sadducees, whom He charged with ignorance of the power of God and of the Scriptures (Matt., xxii, 29; Luke, xx, 37). St. Paul places the general resurrection on the same level of certainty with that of Christ's Resurrection: "If Christ be preached, that he rose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (I Cor., xv, 12 sqq.). The Apostle preached the resurrection of the dead as one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, at Athens, for instance (Acts, xvii, 18, 31, 32), at Jerusalem (xxiii, 6), before Felix (xxiv, 15), before Agrippa (xxvi, 8). He insists on the same doctrine in his Epistles (Rom., viii, 11; I Cor., vi, 14; xv, 12 sqq.; II Cor., iv, 14; v, 1 sqq.; Phil., iii, 21; I Thess., iv, 12-16; II Tim., ii, 11; Hebr., vi, 2), and in this he agrees with the Apocalypse (xx, 12 sqq.).

(3) Tradition

It is not surprising that the Tradition of the early Church agrees with the clear teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. We have already referred to a number of creeds and professions of faith which may be considered as part of the Church's official expression of her faith. Here we have only to point out a number of patristic passages, in which the Fathers teach the doctrine of the general resurrection in more or less explicit terms. St. Clement of Rome, I Cor., xxv; St. Justin Martyr, "De resurrect.", vii sqq.; Idem, "Dial. c. Tryph.", Ixxx; Athenagoras, "De resur. carn.", iii; Tatian, "Adv. Graec.", vi; St. Irenaeus, "Contra haer.", I, x; V, vi, 2; Tertullian, "Contra Marcion.", V, ix; Idem, "De praescript.", xiii; Idem, "De resurrect. carn.", I, xii, xv, Ixiii; Minucius Felix, "Octav.", xxxiv; Origen, tom. XVII, in Matt., xxix; Idem, "De princip.", praef., v; Idem, "In Lev.", v, 10; Hippolytus, "Adv. Graec." in P. G., X, 799; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Cat.", XVIII, xv; St. Ephraem, "De resurrect. mort."; St. Basil, "Ep. cclxxi", 3; St. Epiphanius, "In ancor.", lxxxiii sq., xcix; St. Ambrose, "De excessu frat. sui Satyri", II, lxvii, cii; Idem, "In Ps. cxviii", serm. x, n. 18; Ps. Ambr., "De Trinit.", xxiii, in P. L. XVII, 534; St. Jerome, "Ep. ad Paul" in LIII, 8; Rufinus, "In symbol.", xliv sq.; St. Chrysostom (Ps. Chrysostom), "Fragm. in libr. Job" in P. G., LXIV, 619; St. Peter Chrysologus, serm. 103, 118; "Apost. Constit.", VII, xli; St. Augustine "Enchirid.", 84; Idem, "De civit. Dei", XX, xx; Theodoret, "De provident.", or. ix; "Hist. eccl.", I, iii.

The general resurrection can hardly be proved from reason, though we may show its congruity.

  • As the soul has a natural propensity to the body, its perpetual separation from the body would seem unnatural.

  • As the body is the partner of the soul's crimes, and the companion of her virtues, the justice of God seems to demand that the body be the sharer in the soul's punishment and reward.

  • As the soul separated from the body is naturally imperfect, the consummation of its happiness, replete with every good, seems to demand the resurrection of the body.

The first of these reasons appears to be urged by Christ Himself in Matt., xxii, 23; the second reminds one of the words of St. Paul, I Cor., xv, 19, and II Thess., i, 4. Besides urging the foregoing arguments, the Fathers appeal also to certain analogies found in revelation and in nature itself, e.g. Jonas in the whale's belly, the three children in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lions' den, the carrying away of Henoch and Elias, the raising of the dead, the blossoming of Aaron's rod, the preservation of the garments of the Israelites in the desert, the grain of seed dying and springing up again, the egg, the season of the year, the succession of day and night. Many pictures of early Christian art express these analogies. But in spite of the foregoing congruities, theologians more generally incline to the opinion that in the state of pure nature there would have been no resurrection of the body.


All shall rise from the dead in their own, in their entire, and in immortal bodies; but the good shall rise to the resurrection of life, the wicked to the resurrection of Judgment. It would destroy the very idea of resurrection, if the dead were to rise in bodies not their own. Again, the resurrection, like the creation, is to be numbered amongst the principal works of God; hence, as at the creation all things are perfect from the hand of God, so at the resurrection all things must be perfectly restored by the same omnipotent hand. But there is a difference between the earthly and the risen body; for the risen bodies of both saints and sinners shall be invested with immortality. This admirable restoration of nature is the result of the glorious triumph of Christ over death as described in several texts of Sacred Scripture: Is., xxv, 8; Osee, xiii, 14; I Cor., xv, 26; Apoc., ii, 4. But while the just shall enjoy an endless felicity in the entirety of their restored members, the wicked "shall seek death, and shall not find it, shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them" (Apoc., ix, 6).

These three characteristics, identity, entirety, and immortality, will be common to the risen bodies of the just and the wicked. But the bodies of the saints shall be distinguished by four transcendent endowments, often called qualities.

  • The first is "impassibility", which shall place them beyond the reach of pain and inconvenience. "It is sown", says the Apostle, " in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption" (I Cor., xv, 42). The Schoolmen call this quality impassibility', not incorruption, so as to mark it as a peculiarity of the glorified body; the bodies of the damned will be incorruptible indeed, but not impassible; they shall be subject to heat and cold, and all manner of pain.

  • The next quality is "brightness", or "glory", by which the bodies of the saints shall shine like the sun. "It is sown in dishonor," says the Apostle, "it shall rise in glory" (I Cor., xv, 43; cf. Matt., xiii, 43; xvii, 2; Phil., iii, 21). All the bodies of the saints shall be equally impassible, but they shall be endowed with different degrees of glory. According to St. Paul: "One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars. For star differs from star in glory" (I Cor., xv, 41-42).

  • The third quality is that of "agility", by which the body shall be freed from its slowness of motion, and endowed with the capability of moving with the utmost facility and quickness wherever the soul pleases. The Apostle says: "It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power" (I Cor., xv, 43).

  • The fourth quality is "subtility", by which the body becomes subject to the absolute dominion of the soul. This is inferred from the words of the Apostle: "It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body" (I Cor., xv, 44). The body participates in the soul's more perfect and spiritual life to such an extent that it becomes itself like a spirit. We see this quality exemplified in the fact that Christ passed through material objects.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company



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