The Body(ies) of Jesus And The Human Body—The New Testament And Current Events

The present article does not aim to outline a “theology of the body.” In other words, we will not attempt to look at the New Testament anthropology that seeks to distinguish between body, soul and spirit. It is other passages that have drawn our attention, not unrelated to concerns expressed today:

  • What happened to Jesus? What does it mean that his body has “risen”?
  • At one time, the analogy of the Church as the “body of Christ” became central to Catholic discourse. What do the passages of the apostle Paul really say about this? Is this discourse still relevant?
  • Some Christians, and even non-Christians, describe the state of the world as they see it as “apocalyptic” and relate it to passages in this book, especially the one that speaks of bodies marked by “the Beast” (Rev 13:16-17. What does this passage mean?

The links that unite these three themes are not simply that they all speak of the body: the first sheds light on the second, and the second reveals the importance of the third.

1. The Glorious Body Of Christ

The most extraordinary thing that the New Testament says about the human body is undoubtedly that which concerns the body of Jesus after he “rose from the dead”—hence the word “resurrected,” which comes from Latin. According to Mt 28:6, angels said to the women who came to the tomb: “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” But where is he then? They say, “Behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.” But that same evening he showed himself to the apostles (who were ten at the time). Their reaction is described as follows: “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37). Then the apparition invited them to touch it: “It is really me,” said Jesus, transformed by the resurrection, and he ate a piece of grilled fish in front of them (Lk 24:43). The numerous testimonies about these manifestations of Jesus during forty days do deserve to be looked at; but let us ask the question that interests us: what happened to his body? How can a material body become present in one place and then disappear just as suddenly?

Less than a year before, three of the apostles, Peter, James and his brother John, had been given a certain insight on the top of a mountain, probably Tabor, when Jesus’ body changed before the eyes of these apostles, and Moses and Elijah appeared at his side—according to Mt 17, Mk 9 and Lk 9:28-36. To describe this body as they saw it, the testimonies collected by Matthew and Mark use the Aramaic verb “altered” (in Greek “metamorphosed”), and a light emanated from the body and clothes of Jesus. The testimony collected by Luke speaks simply of the “glory” that was manifested. This property of “glory” that was manifested at that moment helps us to perceive a little of the reality of what must have happened at the tomb where the body of the crucified Jesus was laid. {See also, “Le mystère du tombeau vide,” and this video on the shroud of Turin, which has had a million views]:

As a quick summary, one could say that the “rising from the dead” is not only a physical phenomenon, affecting the body of Jesus, passing through the linen cloths (shroud and bandages) and leaving them collapsed as a result of a kind of sublimation, but a passage into glory. What John believes is not simply a logical interpretation of what he sees (he was present at the burial; he saw that nothing had been moved), but the fact that the body of Jesus has obviously (in his eyes) entered into glory. Therefore, we must not look for him all around. Jesus had made it clear: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). In fact, the few apostles present end up leaving, certainly taking the shroud with them, without really understanding what has happened (Lk 24:12 insists on Peter’s astonishment), while the holy women remain, wonder where the body is.

In the perspective of the resurrection, Paul will emphasize that men are called to share the glory of Christ by uniting themselves to him—and even the cosmos is involved (Rom 8)—if the material body of Christ has entered into glory, then matter is also called into it; ultimately, at any rate.

It is in this same perspective that we must look at the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, that is to say as a double means divinely invented to come and touch the materiality and the life of the beings that we are on earth, already communicating to them something of the glory of Christ—the Aramaic Christians rightly call the “Mass” “Qurbana;” that is to say, the fact of touching [God], or of being touched [by Him]. Let us note that the Eucharist is not only a reality of body-matter but also of the blood-life of Christ, which is genially anthropological.

The glance here taken at the glorious body of Christ is certainly rapid and very incomplete, but it is sufficient to situate and approach another “body of Christ,” that of the Pauline analogy with the Church. And to glimpse some serious questions.

2. What Does (Or Does Not) The Pauline Analogy Of The “Body Of Christ” Say?

It was the apostle Paul who compared the church to a body—no other New Testament passage uses this analogy. What did he mean?

Three passages from the Pauline writings:

In his first letter to the Corinthians, which dates from about 57 AD and is one of his earliest letters, Paul wants to emphasize the interdependence and mutual support that must exist among all those who follow Christ. To do this, he uses the image of the body applied at that time to the highly organized Roman Empire, where each person is presumed to have his or her own place and thus to contribute to the smooth functioning of the whole:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor 12:12, 27).

Where does Paul get the idea that Christians form the body of Christ? Again, from the analogy with the Roman Empire, of which it was said that, as a “body,” the emperor is its “head” or “chief” (these are two words in modern French, but there was only one before, the word “chief” meaning first of all “head”). In the same way, Paul will also say that Christ is the “head” (chief) of the body that is the Church; but he does not say it yet in this letter. It must be said that there is a difficulty to consider: the Roman emperor is in Rome; he is part of the Roman empire; he is its head. The risen Christ, on the other hand, is neither in Rome nor in Jerusalem but in Heaven; he is not part of the whole which he directs. Can he be said to be its “head”? The Pauline analogy is and will remain shaky.

So, we have to wait until the letter to the Colossians, around 61, to see this statement appear: “He (Christ) is the head of the body [that is to say] of the Church; [19-23] Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking[e] in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:18, 24).

The only explanation Paul provides for his statement that “Christ is the head” is suggested by the second sentence: he aspires to unite his own humanity to that of Christ (“if I live, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”, he writes in Galatians 2:20), to the point of continuing for his own time—for the Church—a part of the mystery of redemption by offering himself. As for the idea that the Church continues the incarnation of Christ, it is absent from Paul’s thought; no doubt he would have considered it useless and absurd—in any case, it has had great success in Western theology—that is, “Christus prolongatus.”

The letter to the Ephesians, around 62, does not teach anything more. Paul simply adds a growth perspective, not so much in 1:22-23 which is a rather obscure passage [“he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6)—but in 4:16: “from whom [Christ] the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. through the gospel” (Eph 4:16).

The verses that precede verse 16 prevent the misunderstanding that would consist in imagining “building in love” as a project to be carried out—what Paul wants to say concerns concrete persons, namely, “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). This is the work of the Holy Spirit who, by his power (Rom 15:13), makes us children of God: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14). It would be dangerous to take this verse of Eph 4:16 (and the analogy of the Church with the body of Christ) out of context and to make a project out of it.

The passage continues as follows: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:15-17).

See also these other passages that evoke the power of the Spirit at work:
“for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1Th 1:5).

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

“He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

“God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.” (Heb 2:4).

The Future Of The Pauline Image

It seems that this is precisely what has been done in the West (the verse has been taken out of context and made into a project). If one seeks to exalt the power of the Pope who is in Rome, the Pauline image was bound to serve. Indeed, if the head of the Church is in Heaven, there is at least someone on earth who is part of the Church (as the head is part of the body) and who can play the role of head—the bishop of Rome. It was enough to think about it. Paul’s essentially sociological metaphor then becomes a theological concept that leads to the conception of the Church as a pyramidal construction with a summit.

Jesus, on the other hand, had not thought of this. To evoke the future Church, he uses two analogies. First of all, obviously, that of the bridegroom and the bride, widely prepared in the Old Testament and then used by Paul (Eph 5:32). It is the image of God’s relationship with his people, and the one, alas, very little used afterwards, of the vine (or of the trunk of the vine) and of the branches—this image being much richer than we think. [The vine has roots, which draw their water from the Hebrew-Aramaic tradition, the eighteen centuries of pre-Christian preparation; and its leaves must receive the sunlight, which will transform the sap into food—this is the work of the Holy Spirit]. In the world of the Latin Fathers and theologians, the analogy that emerged was neither that of the bridegroom and the bride, nor that of the vine, but that of the “body of Christ” taken from Paul.

However, other analogies would have been possible, for example that of the Letter to Diognetus (around the year 200), which makes the Church the soul of the body; that is the world: “What the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. The soul is spread throughout the members of the body like Christians in the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet it does not belong to the body, just as Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world.” Too bad, this beautiful analogy was not retained—if Christians form a body (of Christ), they can hardly be at the same time a soul (of the world); the images clash. And if we want to say that the humanity of Christians is called to unite with that of Christ (to live with him, to think with him, to act with him, etc.), it is not necessary to have recourse to a concept such as that of the “body of Christ.”

Let’s jump to 1943 and Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis, in which this concept of the “body of Christ” will reach its peak—unless it is in the writings of the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which we will look at a little later.

In Mystici Corporis, a concern for conceptual clarity leads to the addition of the adjective “mystical” to the expression “Body of Christ” because, obviously, there is no question of denying that the physical body of Christ is in the glory of Heaven. Jesus has two bodies, one mystical-ecclesial and the other glorious. It is simple. But is it so clear? We must first understand what the purpose of the encyclical was. Like Leo XIII, Pius XII wanted to oppose a conception of the Church “which would be only ‘spiritual’ (pneumaticum), in which the many Christian communities, although divided among themselves by faith, would nevertheless be united by an invisible bond,” the text states. In fact, the concern is to explain that the bond that must unite Christians is above all obedience to the Pope. The argument flows naturally:
“Christ… without ceasing to govern the Church mysteriously by himself, nevertheless directs it visibly through him who holds his place on earth [the Pope], for since his glorious Ascension into heaven, it no longer rests on him alone, but also on Peter as on a foundation visible to all. That Christ and his Vicar together form but one Head.” QED..

For the sake of form, Mystici Corporis says a few brief words about the Holy Spirit: “Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Letter Divinum illud, expresses this presence and this operation of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in these concise and nervous words: ‘Let it suffice to affirm that, if Christ is the Head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is its soul’.” But how does one go about listening to a soul?

Logically, this text conceives of the Pope as an intermediary of holiness, a kind of funnel receiving this holiness from Christ and transmitting it to the ecclesial pyramid of which he is the summit, so that it drips down to reach the simple faithful who are below. Tt says here: “[Christ] divinely enriches with supernatural gifts of science, intelligence and wisdom his Pastors and Doctors, first and foremost his Vicar on earth.” We would like to believe that…

Impasses Of The Abusive Use Of The Pauline Image

Our analyses may seem severe, but they will be even more so with regard to what becomes of the doctrine of the “Body of Christ” in Teilhard de Chardin. There, the very imperfect Pauline analogy of the Church-body is mixed with faith in the Eucharistic body, which is not an analogy—Teilhard not being the first to operate this dubious mixture. In 2016, Jean-Marc Moschetta reminded us of his objective: “Teilhard thus proposes a modernized Christian reading of the universe that integrates the intimate scientific knowledge of matter with the Pauline vision of the Body of the Universal Christ: a cosmic body in a phase of sublimation under the transforming action of the energies of love.”

Thus, we slip from “the Church, the body of Christ” to “the world, the body of Christ”: “There is only one Mass in the world, in all times: the true host, the total host, is the Universe which, always a little more intimately, Christ penetrates and vivifies… the whole of Nature undergoes, slowly and irresistibly, the great Consecration. Only one thing is being done, basically, since always and forever in Creation: the Body of Christ” (Teilhard, Le Milieu Divin, 1957). And if one has not yet understood, Moschetta quotes Moltmann (Jésus le Messie de Dieu), who explains in other words: “It is from the experience of the Eucharist of the Church that his [Teilhard’s] vision of the ‘eucharization’ of the cosmos is born; that is to say, of the change of the cosmos in the Body of Christ. In the end, his evolutionary Christology is nothing less than the vision of the cosmic Eucharist by which God is worldized and the world is divinized.”

How will the texts of Vatican II get out of these traps and very ideological confusions?

In no less than 9 conciliar documents, we find the expression “Body of Christ” nearly 50 times, with or without the adjective “mystical,” and that is without counting all the times when the term “body” mentioned alone also designates the Church. On rare occasions, the expressions “Body of Christ” or “Body of the Lord” designate the Eucharist, and this among passages where “Body of Christ” designates the Church. By the way, which Church do the documents refer to: the one on earth? This is most often the case. More rarely the expression designates the one in heavenly glory, and even more rarely both at the same time—depending on what one wants to say in the context. It should also be noted that the glorious body of Christ appears very little, so that the question of how many bodies He has is avoided. In such a vague context, speaking of the Eucharist as the “Body of Christ” (even though there is also blood) can still give the impression of a third body, a “Eucharistic” or “sacramental” body. Confusion is not far; it does not take much then to take the step of making Jesus a myth with N bodies—Teilhard had done it and he is not the only one. The idea of separating the Jesus of history from a mythical and universal Christ-Logos is also at the heart of the “theology of religions” that Cardinal Ratzinger denounced in Dominus Iesus in 2000.

By proposing a sort of definition: “Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, the Head and his members” (mystico Iesu Christi Corpore, Capite nempe eiusque membris), the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, undoubtedly wanted to bring about a clarification. But in so doing, it makes the glorified Christ part of His “mystical body.” Another dubious clarification: to speak of the Eucharist (twice), this same document replaces “Christ” by “Lord” in the expression “body of Christ” and uses it only to speak of the Church and with the adjective “mystical.” This is commendable but perhaps derisory. There is nothing to prevent one from playing with words and saying that “the body of Christ feeds the body of Christ,” which then invites Christian assemblies to feed themselves in self-centered and self-made celebrations—which have indeed flourished in great numbers after the Council! If one wants to look at the Eucharistic mystery and speak about it, one must do so in relation to the glorious body of Christ (and with the heavenly liturgy, as the Orientals say), as we have seen above. Otherwise, it is perhaps better to say nothing about it.

And this is not the only problem. What is the meaning of the statement in Presbyterorum Ordinis (on the ministry and life of priests, December 1965): Christ builds the body of Christ? The two passages: “the ministry [of Christ]… constantly builds up the Church here below so that it may be the People of God, the Body of Christ” (cuius ministerium, quo Ecclesia in Populum Dei, Corpus Christi et Templum Spiritus Sancti, hic in terris, indesinenter aedificatur); and: “Christ himself builds, sanctifies and governs his Body” (Christus Ipse Corpus suum exstruit, sanctificat et regit). Let us pass over the challenge to the logical mind. Isn’t building one’s own body a mythical piece of language, far removed from the rich simplicity of the New Testament, and above all one that opens ideological doors that should remain closed? Is the Church a building site under construction, preparing for a beautiful and kind world to come? Or is it a people of God’s children animated by the Holy Spirit and organized by the apostles in the struggle against the forces of evil, in view of the Second Coming of Christ?

The widespread misuse of the expression “body of Christ” has created a smokescreen that prevents us from seeing and formulating the problem of the future of the Church and the world in the face of evil. Confronting the power of evil is a recurring theme in the book of Revelation. This book often speaks to us of the bodies over which this power is exercised, particularly in the famous passage where the “number” of the beast is mentioned. This passage interests us, not because of the 666, but because it brings us back to reality, far from the elucidations made about the Church-body.

3. The Body Confronted By The Hold Of Evil

“Also it [the Beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

Let us note that John cannot specify what will be or where exactly the mark will be, which he imagines to be a kind of anti-mark compared to what he sees among Christians: some indeed wore a sign of the cross marked on the forehead according to the prescription of Ezek 9:4.6—because of the day of extermination as the text of Revelation reminds us in 9:4—while others wore it on the hand or rather on the wrist, as the Coptic Christians of Egypt still courageously do today. [Tertullian (±157- ±220) indicates it in this passage: “This letter Tau of the Greeks is indeed our T, the shape of the Cross which it prefigured as it would be [one day] on our forehead” (Adversus Marcionem, III, 22,6).] In fact, John tries to say as best he can what he perceives; we can think that the “mark of the Beast” that he sees is not located on a precise place of the body, but, which is very confusing for him, in the body.

In any case, this is what those who compare this passage to the “vaccine” obligations that are or have been imposed as Green Pass in many countries under the pretext of “covid” are thinking. In fact, the “mark” left by gene therapies (fraudulently called “vaccines”) is in the body, in its cells, with consequences that we can hardly measure yet, except that we can already see that many children are dying from them. But let’s remember that according to the US legislation, genetically modified living organisms belong to the firm that has registered the patent of their modification. Will humans belong to the owners of such firms? Will Christians still belong to Christ (1Co 15,23; Jn 10,3.12)?

This violence against the body reaches every cell: this has never been seen before—and on a global scale! But one must be able to see. If one professes that Evil does not exist, one cannot perceive anything of its evil action, and even less of its objective which is twofold: to destroy souls (in relation to their eternal salvation), and to destroy bodies (i.e., to eradicate humanity, which would already be done if Evil could have done it by itself). These are the two aspects of this project and the influence evil exerts. Corrupting souls, this influence pushes to large-scale killings; and to corrupt souls—to which evil does not have direct access—it has to go through the bodies, or more exactly through their psychology, their emotional or cultural links, their vital needs, etc. And the most effective angle of attack will always be the fear of inevitable death. Precisely, “that through death he [Christ] might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:14-15).

The priority concern of the Christian tradition is obviously souls, following the words of Christ: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). But at the same time, the concern for bodies, called to be temples of the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), is a constant in this tradition: the works of mercy. Christians see in the suffering bodies that of their Savior on the cross, who accepted to be a victim of the hold of evil over the world. And they are aware of the stakes that are linked to the bodies, as they are revealed in Genesis (Noah), in the apocalyptic speeches of Jesus (Mt 24 and Lk 21), in the Apocalypse, and in a certain number of other minor texts, where it is a question of threats weighing on humanity and/or exterminations.

In fact, today we see very powerful people imagining to eliminate a part of the world’s population, some justifying themselves by an alleged ecological concern: saving the planet. But, as Pope Benedict XVI has written, the real problem is that “the economic and social costs deriving from the use of common natural resources should be established in a transparent way and should be borne entirely by those who enjoy them and not by other populations or by future generations” [Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), n. 50: AAS 101 (2009), 686. This quotation is reproduced in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si at no. 195]. Those who claim to be saving mother earth are the very owners of the companies that pollute and denature it the most.

As Pope Francis writes, “Is it realistic to expect that those who are obsessed with maximum profit will stop to think about the environmental effects they will leave to the next generations?” [Pope Francis, Encyclical Laudato Si, 2015, no. 190.]

Moreover, according to the point of view of demographers, who reason at 50 and 100 years of distance, the phenomenon of depopulation that seems to be generalized is already formidable in itself, because once set in motion, it accelerates of its own accord and becomes almost impossible to curb. And many other causes of death threaten humanity: famines, wars, massive abortions, sterilizations, poisoning by pollution or… by misguided medicine, etc.

The worst moral perversion is the one that presents as good this violence and these crimes—except pollution of course, because the powerful of this world see it as a threat to themselves too. Faced with these people who pose as saviors of the goddess earth—and even as eradicators of, in their eyes, a surplus—(true) Christians can only denounce this diabolical reversal of perspectives: it is the universe and the earth that were made for man and not the other way around. And thanks to redeemed humanity, this universe and this earth are even called to enter into glory (Rom 8; Rev 19-20), by virtue of the entry into glory of the body of Jesus Himself! But this becoming can only take place through a process for which Paul (1 Cor 15:23-28) and Revelation (19:11-21) have described the necessary stages. It is urgent that this be reiterated (and first rediscovered), for such is the great hope for this world, in which we live with our bodies.

4. In Conclusion

Even without addressing its anthropology, the New Testament perspectives on the body are rich and multiple; their key, we believe, is found in what is revealed about the glorious body of the Risen One. Indeed, it is through finality that the human body, despite its sufferings, can be understood in its greatest truth—at the same time as the very reason for our universe can be understood.

The human body is made for glory. This is finally what the theology of the Church as the body of Christ veils, for if it is a body—according to the rather shaky image borrowed by Paul from what was said of the Roman Empire—it is not precisely a very glorious body. And was it necessary to build a theology exalting the Church as a continued Christ-like humanity (no one knows what that means in itself), and exalting its earthly head, the Pope?

Incidentally, in another context or at another time, Paul would probably have used a different image for the Church. Living today, he would have been interested in the global phenomenon of computers and the computer model. All the parts of the computer are necessary for it to function (1 Cor 12), some are less noble (and less expensive) than others, but all the parts work together so that the growth of information is harmonious (Eph 4:16); and the computer’s processor is Christ (Col 1:18). Then, a few years after Paul, in the West, an encyclical entitled Mystici Computeri would be published which would explain: since the processor in Heaven is not very functional in practice, it is necessary to connect to the replacement processor on earth, which is in Rome, so that it can coordinate and control the whole thing—the Holy Spirit simply providing the basic software. Note that these images have an advantage over Paul’s: they include the idea of updates (e.g., Councils), which the body image does not. Obviously, there can be bugs in the updates.

What the New Testament tells us about bodies helps us to see the reality of the appalling dramas that are developing in our world, and of which children are the first victims (the worst being the pedo-criminality of the “elites”). At the same time, it reveals to us a formidable hope–at least if we rediscover the revealed sense of history, apparently very forgotten. Children force us to remain realistic and humble, in the physical reality. Didn’t Christ give children as a model? But He added this warning: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea… So it is not the will of my[b] Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt 18:5-6, 10-14).

Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial  Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. See Roots of Islam and the Great Secret. Father Gallez also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.

Featured image: “Resurrection of Jesus,” Isenheim altarpiece, by Matthias Grünewald, ca. 1515.