Thursday, June 2, 2011

Where is Jesus' body after the Ascension?

Having already discussed whither Mary was assumed, we turn now to the Ascension of our Savior. Where is the physical body of Jesus? Must we believe that he is “up there” in space somewhere? Can his body be in heaven, if heaven is not “a physical place in the clouds” (as Bl. John Paul II stated)?
In this brief article, we will reformulate the essential position already established in our discussion of Mary’s Assumption and, then, we will turn to particular questions and clarifications regarding the current location of our Lord’s glorified body.
The Scriptural witness to the Ascension
And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19)
And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them, and was carried up to heaven. (Luke 24:51)
And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments. (Acts of the Apostles 1:9-10)
If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? (John 6:63)
Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. (John 20:17)
Wherefore he saith: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men. Now that he ascended, what is it, but because he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:8-10)
Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
There are, of course, many more references than these (especially in the writings of St. Paul), but what we have reproduced here suffices to show several things about the Scriptural accounts of the Ascension of the Lord: First, it is clear that this is spoken of as a real, historical event. Christ was really taken up at a particular time in human history and from a particular place (the time was forty days after his Resurrection, the place was most likely Mount Olivet near Jerusalem). This was not simply a spiritual event, but occurred within history. The Catechism calls speaks of “the historical and transcendent event of the Acension.” (CCC 660)
Second, we see that his physical and glorified body departed from earth and was taken up – he ascends to the Father’s right hand, to heaven, and even above all the heavens. The glorified body of Christ is very clearly presented as physical and not a ghost, it is not immaterial but is material. Thus, he is able to be touch and to touch, to eat, to move about, etc. This physical body was taken up and is no longer on earth. Indeed, it is not anywhere in the universe but is above all the heavens.
St. John Damascene (De fide orth. 4,2), quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, speaks of heaven as a “there” and a “where”, he also states that Christ is seated in a bodily manner: “Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: ‘By “the Father's right hand” we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified.’” (CCC 663)
Is heaven a place?
Granting that the Scriptures speak of Christ as Ascending to heaven, we must ask whether it is proper to speak of heaven as a place. And, if it is a place, we must further question where this place is, since that is where the body of Christ must now be located.
Bl. John Paul II stated that heaven “is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.” (21 July 1999) Pope Benedict XVI has spoken similarly, “All of us today are well aware that by the term ‘Heaven’ we are not referring to somewhere in the universe, to a star or such like; no. […] It is his Love that triumphs over death and gives us eternity and it is this love that we call ‘Heaven’.” (15 August 2010)
What the two Pontiffs wished to stress, and what is especially important to consider today, is that heaven is not to be understood in terrestrial terms. Heaven is primarily a state of being and is certainly not a “place” in the worldly sense of the term.
The words of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (who taught Bl. John Paul II and oversaw his doctoral work) are most helpful: “Heaven means this place, and especially this condition, of supreme beatitude. Had God created no bodies, but only pure spirits, heaven would not need to be a place; it would signify merely the state of the angels who rejoice in the possession of God. But in fact heaven is also a place. There we find the humanity of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, and the souls of the saints. Though we cannot say with certitude where this place is to be found, or what its relation is to the whole universe, revelation does not allow us to doubt of its existence.” (From Life Everlasting)
Heaven is first and foremost union with God; secondarily, heaven is the place where the bodies of Jesus and Mary abide, but this “place” is not like every other place we think of – its relation to our universe is not clear. The glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary are somewhere, but this “somewhere” will necessarily be a “place” which is “glorified” – just as the glorified body is different from non-glorified body, it resides in a “glorified place” which is different from a non-glorified place.
Where is heaven?
The simple answer is: This has not yet been revealed to us. However, we can say that it is certainly not on earth, since Christ was taken up. Neither is it within the earth. It is not in clouds either. Indeed, we ought to conclude that heaven is nowhere within the physical universe, since Christ has ascended above all the heavens.
Perhaps it is most likely that heaven is outside the universe in what some Thomists have called “uncontained place”. In ST III, q.57, a.4, ad 2 (which is not in the oldest and best manuscripts) we read: “A place implies the notion of containing; hence the first container has the formality of first place, and such is the first heaven. Therefore, bodies need themselves to be in a place, insofar as they are contained by a heavenly body. But glorified bodies, Christ’s especially, do not stand in need of being so contained, because they draw nothing from the heavenly bodies, but from God through the soul. So there is nothing to prevent Christ’s body from being beyond the containing radius of the heavenly bodies, and not in a containing place. Nor is there need for a vacuum to exist outside heaven, since there is no place there, nor is there any potentiality susceptive of a body, but the potentiality of reaching thither lies in Christ.”
This argument from the Summa Theologica claims that, because the glorified body in no way relies upon the non-glorified world, neither does it need to be contained in the universe. Thus, the bodies of Jesus and Mary may in fact be outside of the universe, outside of space and time, no longer contained by place. There is no space or place outside of the universe, excepting the bodies of Christ and Mary. Since they need not be contained by physical place, there is no need for there to be some pre-existing place outside of the universe to which these bodies go; by their exiting from the universe, they are that place where heaven is, and there is no place beyond or around these two bodies.
Therefore, heaven is not a “place” as we usually think of “place”, but is a “non-containing place”, a “glorified place”. Heaven is not some star or planet in our universe, it is not even really some place “up there” or “out there”. It is where the glorified physical bodies of Jesus and Mary reside.
[In particular, we point our readers to the third objection and reply, below]
Objections and replies
I. It would seem that Jesus’ body could have just disappeared. This is untenable for many reasons. First, a body (in order to be a body) must be physical. Therefore, even a glorified body, if it is truly a body, will be material and will take up space. The glorified and risen body of Christ is the pattern for our own glorified bodies, and though the mortal is raised immortal it is not raised immaterial.
II. It would seem that Jesus’ body does not have to be anywhere, for he is present in all places. Again, if the body of Christ is still a body (and surely it must be), then it must be somewhere. The Lord is present in all places by virtue of his divinity, not by virtue of his humanity. Hence, we do not say that the humanity of Christ is present in its proper species in all places. Rather, the humanity of Christ (in particular, his body) is ascended to heaven – outside the containing radius of the universe and into uncontained, glorified space.
III. It would seem that, since Jesus’ body is glorified, it no longer needs to be in a place. This objection is partially true. A glorified body does not need to be “somewhere” in the same way that a non-glorified body does. For this reason, we have argued that the bodies of Jesus and of Mary are not in a containing place. Still, the glorified body remains a body and, therefore, must have dimensive quantity (i.e. it has some size and form, which are the principle qualities of any body). Therefore, we affirm that the body of Jesus need not be “somewhere”, excepting insofar as it itself is that “somewhere”. The heaven where Christ and Mary now dwell in their bodies is not a place which contains them, but is the very bodies themselves. These bodies are the only sense in which heaven is a place – there is no other space in which these bodies dwell, for they are outside of and beyond all containing space.
IV. It would seem that Jesus’ body could be somewhere in the earth. This directly contradicts the witness of the Scriptures which state that Christ’s body ascended, and was taken up. His body is in heaven, not on earth.
V. It would seem that Jesus’ body could be somewhere in the universe, perhaps among the stars. Again, this is contrary to the witness of the Scriptures which state that the Lord ascended above the heavens and even above the highest heavens. Moreover, the very logic of the Ascension is that Christ’s physical body has passed beyond the limits of the natural universe. What good would it be for Christ’s body to reside on Pluto or in a distant star? At that point he may as well be within the earth.
VI. It would seem that the notion of the Ascension is based on an out-of-date view of the universe, namely that of Ptolemy. While it is true that we must understand the words of the sacred authors according to their time in history, we must also affirm that whatsoever the human authors desired to affirm (and not merely what they spoke of in passing and in accord with the custom of the time) must be true and without error. Therefore, while it is not necessary to think that Christ was taken “up” from the earth in the strict and absolute sense (since the earth is round, and “up” for one is “down” for another), but rather we affirm that he was taken “up” from the relative position of the apostles. The very notion of the Ascension presumes that the Lord’s body went out and away from the earth and above the clouds and above the heavens (i.e. out from within the limits of the universe). This is what we affirm when we affirm the Ascension: Christ ascended beyond the limits of all contains space, beyond the limits of the universe; and this affirmation does not rely on the Ptolemaic world-view.

A scientific comparison: As the universe is not contained in something larger than itself or within some place, but rather is that very place; so too, the bodies of Jesus and of Mary. They are, as it were, a glorified quasi-universe unto themselves. They are not contained in heaven (as in some greater place), they are heaven insofar as heaven is a place! These two bodies are the very place in which they rest.  Neither ought we to think that these bodies are next to or beside our universe, as this would imply that both the universe and the glorified bodies are all contained in a single larger place. Rather, since neither the universe nor the glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary are contained in a place greater than themselves, it is impossible to think of any physical or local relation between heaven and our universe.

How far we are from an antiquated world-view. Indeed, we have taken into account the modern discoveries of science and developed a sophisticated theory of the Ascension, all the while remaining faithful to the Scriptural witness and firmly planted within the Thomistic tradition.



Stacy Trasancos said...

This is interesting, but I don't see the comparison to modern science. Science has to measure things and really has no business with Biblical or philosophical propositions that cannot be measured. I realize you said "A scientific comparison" and did not say that it was in fact scientific. I would just appreciate a bit more explanation about what you mean in the comparison. What discoveries of modern science have been taken into account to explain the Ascension?

Thank you...nice reading for today!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The scientific comparison was meant to be an analogy between the modern scientific notion of the universe (as opposed to the antiquated Ptolemaic vision) and the glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary.

As our universe is not contained in a space larger than itself but is the very place it occupies (and this is what modern science speculates as well -- no "abyss" below or "heavens" above); so too, by an certain analogy, the bodies of Jesus and Mary are a glorified quasi-universe.
They are not contained in any larger place, but are the very place (i.e. Heaven) in which they rest.

It is in this sense -- that we have completely abandoned the Ptolemaic understanding of the universe in our explanation of the Ascension -- that I say that the account is "scientific".

Thanks for the question! I hope it is clearer now.
Peace and blessings! +

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am too simplistic, but who would trouble their brains about this?

If Jesus Christ is God (and He IS), then I am sure He has it all under control.

Isn't He outside of time as we know it?


Adoro said...

Isn't Enoch and Elijah also with Jesus and Mary as they were also assumed?

Anonymous said...

So, when the end comes and there is a new heaven and a new earth... what then? (Maybe that't another article.) -Mike

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

For you (and for many other believers) it will not be necessary to think about these things ... but there are many people who think that the dogma of the Ascension is tied to a Ptolemaic world-view.

I have tried to show that the faith is compatible with modern scientific discoveries about the universe -- i.e. that heaven is not "up there" or "out there".

Peace and blessings! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Great question about Enoch and Elijah ... I have discussed this before (if you search "Enoch", you will find the articles) -- it's been at least 7 or 8 months.

Briefly: Enoch and Elijah were not taken into "heaven" proper, but into the "heavens" as in the upper regions. Their bodies on not yet glorified and they still await the general resurrection.

Their souls are "in heaven" -- i.e. the enjoy perfect beatitude -- but their bodies still wait (even though they are still alive and united to the soul).
I would suspect that Enoch and Elijah are somewhere within our universe ... perhaps in a paradise billions of miles away on a distant planet. They are still alive. But they are not properly in "heaven" per se.

Great question! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is indeed a great mystery, the new heavens and the new earth!

It seems that this universe will be glorified ... and all will change ... yet it will still remain material, physical, and a place (but not a containing place as it is now).

Very mysterious! I will think about it for a while and, perhaps, will write something in the summer ...

Anonymous said...

I find all of this totally speculative and interesting to ponder but not something I tend to believe as fact or truth. I agree that heaven is 'outside' of our known universe but not that it necessarily has to be outside of some kind of space or even time, just different than what we know on earth. God is outside of time and space though and everything, including Heaven and Earth, is contained in Him. I think Hell is also in God, but very isolated from His Essence.

I tend to think that we are surrounded by heaven right now but it is simply beyond our perception, but those who are outside the universe can perceive us, including those who are evil. I think the idea of a veil that will be lifted is an important metaphor. We know that Mary and angels (good and bad) can physically penetrate our world, but we are prevented from penetrating heaven or hell. The closest we can come are those thin spaces so many have written about.

There is a reason that our physical bodies are to be resurrected and glorified and to me that means some kind physical place will be required for our eternal existence - a new glorified Earth and a new Heaven where the 'barrier' between the earth and heaven will no longer exist, and the barrier between the physical and spiritual will be gone as well. I think we will be able to 'see' and interact with angels. It could well be that it will be the original Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve communed with God but had bodies that walked about and spoke and ate and drank and interacted with each other, just as Christ did all those things after His resurrection. Otherwise, what purpose is there for a body in the afterlife?

Andrew Soukup said...

All analogies limp, but the "scientific" analogy proposed here is particularly crippled.

Without being part of a larger whole--since they represent the totality of reality upon themselves--this suggestion seriously inhibits an accurate understanding of the union and communion of life everlasting.

It would be nice to see some citation to back this up: I think there might be something relevant in SGC II.72.

Papa Puttss said...

I've only been lurking in the margins for quite a while, but I have to admit that this one moved me. Thanks, Reginaldus

Joe said...

very interesting, and very interesting blog. I am glad to have found it.
If the bodies of Jesus and Mary are their own space, so to speak, how is Mary "in Christ" as part of His body, which all the saved are? And if not, how are they related?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have no idea where you are coming from here ...

Are you really suggesting that there are other glorified bodies in heaven right now? Or do you simply not understand that, before the general resurrection, the communion of saints in heaven is an exclusively spiritual communion (excepting that of Jesus and his Mother who, as I said, are a qlorified quasi-universe and are the only sense in which heaven is a place right now)?

In any case, the relevant citation from St. Thomas is not SCG ii,72 (on how the soul is in the whole body), but the one I have given from ST III, q.57, a.4, ad 2 [why don't you re-read this portion of the Summa and then see whether I have presented the Thomistic tradition].

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Paul Dion, Great to have you back in the combox! +

Anonymous (12:03pm, June 2),
I think you are quite correct -- heaven will be a place in the general resurrection, since our bodies will be raised material and physical (though immortal and glorified). I think you and I are very much on the same page here.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Joe, Good question ... Mary (and all the saints) are incorporated into Christ's body, not in the physical sense but in the mystical sense.

Hence, the Church is the mystical body of Christ, which is distinct from his physical body. Thus, in the general resurrection, all the saints (indeed all people) will receive their bodies, which are distinct from one another and from the physical body of Jesus; but the saints still make up the mystical body of Christ insofar as their souls are united by perfect charity.

Andrew Soukup said...

I apologize if my critique wasn't clear. I wrote it hastily.

I contention is not with ST III.57, but with the application.

The body does not contain the soul, but rather the soul contains the body (hence the reference to Contra Gentiles). Moreover, rest is the result of achieving act (ST I.18.1 ad 2). But, the soul is to the body as act is to potency. Thus, to say that the glorified body is the place of rest reverses the terms: one ought to say that the body rests in the soul.

I wasn't contending that the communion of saints is anything other than spiritual. I think that introducing Mary into the inquiry obfuscates the subject because the tradition is not clear that her body was glorified.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Ok, now I think I see the problem.

When I say that Jesus body is the place of rest, I do not mean that it is the place of rest for the soul, but rather that it is the very place in which it rests (this was very clear in the article) -- i.e. the body is the place in which the body rests ... the glorified body of Jesus does not rest in a place larger than itself nor is it contained in a place.

Regrading the question of whether Mary's body is glorified ... I can see no room for any doubt on this issue: "Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the GLORIFICATION of her virginal body" (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus 39)
Most certainly, Mary's body is glorified!

Anonymous said...

What I interpret from the Bible is that when I die I become 'like the angels of heaven', then when Heaven and Earth pass away Christ will make all things new (new heaven and earth) by the resurrection. So there are two deaths, one on earth and one in heaven. That is why he is called the Alpha and the Omega, or Lord of the Universe. One thing that I find, is that science can never know the concept of Eternity only infinity. Knowing the difference is knowing what eternal life is, and knowing who the Eternal Father is. Bob

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

THis is only tangentially related but it is interesting to consider that the souls liberated by Jesus remained on Earth with Him until His Ascension - which opened the gates of Heaven

Anonymous said...

At this point in time, I don't know, You don't know, nor does the Pope.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous (12:11pm),
I do know, and so does the pope: Jesus' body is in heaven.

Whether or not you know, this I truly do not know.

A Sinner said...

Wow. A man after my own mind. I reached the same conclusion about the "where" of the bodies of Jesus of Mary (and also your conclusion about Elijah and Enoch; that they are being preserved somewhere in THIS universe) quite a while ago too.

I would just about Elijah and Enoch how they are traditionally thought to die (in order to rise and be glorified) as the "Two Witnesses" during the End Times.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Are you familiar with the scriptural commentaries of Cornelius a' Lapide? He is a great source!

I think you would really love his work (if you haven't already read it)!

Anonymous said...

So, what is heaven?

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Rev 21:1-2)

"He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God." (Rev 21:10)

These verses say that after the Seocond Coming, Resurrection and the Final Judgement the heavenly realm will come down (descend) to the earth. What does it mean? The new heaven will unite, healed with the new earth? There will be no seperate spiritual and material realm? No seperate heaven and earth, but the two overlap and become one?

Is means that most christian people misunderstand the meaning of heaven: they think heaven is a purely spiritual realm, with clouds above and angels with white wings, and leave out the resurrection - which cannot mean that people will "come out" from heaven to return to earth.

It follows that heaven is only a condition of being totally in community with God?

But there is a problem with this interpretation. Our Lord, Jesus referred to the heaven and earth as seperate places in the Lord's Prayer: "your will be done, on earth _as it is_ in heaven."

By the above interpretation, He should say it as: "your will be done, so expand the heaven(ly condition) also to the earth".

What is the solution?

Anonymous said...

In the original Greek the phrase "in earth, as it is in heaven" is ambiguous. Either it can mean that things on Earth should become as they are in heaven, or it could be read as stating that these things should be done in both Earth and heaven. The first interpretation is the most common, and this gives us rare information about heaven, making clear that in that realm God's will is fully enacted. It is uncertain whether this phrase is intended to only modify the last petition, or all three.
Hendriksen, William. The Gospel of Matthew. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous (June 21),
Please use at least some pseudonym.

Yes, this earth will be renewed on the last day so that earth and heaven will be one.
Heaven is not simply a spiritual condition but, as you have said, it includes also the renewal and glorification of the body.

Earth will be united with heaven.

Peace. +

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