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Doctrine of the Resurrection according to St. Paul

70 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 27 January 1982 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. During the preceding audiences we reflected on Christ's words about the other world, which will emerge together with the resurrection of bodies.

Those words had an extraordinarily intense resonance in the teaching of St. Paul. Between the answer given to the Sadducees, transmitted by the synoptic Gospels (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35-36), and Paul's apostolate there took place first of all the fact of the resurrection of Christ himself and a series of meetings with the risen Christ. Among these must be included, as the last link, the event that occurred in the neighborhood of Damascus. Saul or Paul of Tarsus who, on his conversion, became the Apostle of the Gentiles, also had his own post-paschal experience, similar to that of the other apostles. At the basis of his faith in the resurrection, which he expresses above all in the First Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 15), there is certainly that meeting with the risen Christ, which became the beginning and foundation of his apostolate.

2. It is difficult to sum up here and comment adequately on the stupendous and ample argumentation of the fifteenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians in all its details. It is significant that, while Christ replied to the Sadducees, who "say that there is no resurrection" (Lk 20:27), with the words reported by the synoptic Gospels, Paul, on his part, replied or rather engaged in polemics (in conformity with his temperament) with those who contested it.(1) In his (pre-paschal) answer, Christ did not refer to his own resurrection, but appealed to the fundamental reality of the Old Testament covenant, to the reality of the living God. The conviction of the possibility of the resurrection is based on this: the living God "is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:27). Paul's post-paschal argumentation on the future resurrection referred above all to the reality and the truth of the resurrection of Christ. In fact, he defends this truth even as the foundation of the faith in its integrity: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.... But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead" (1 Cor 15:14, 20).

3. Here we are on the same line as revelation. The resurrection of Christ is the last and the fullest word of the self-revelation of the living God as "not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:27). It is the last and fullest confirmation of the truth about God which is expressed right from the beginning through this revelation. Furthermore, the resurrection is the reply of the God of life to the historical inevitability of death, to which man was subjected from the moment of breaking the first covenant and which, together with sin, entered his history. This answer about the victory won over death is illustrated by the First Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 15) with extraordinary perspicacity. It presents the resurrection of Christ as the beginning of that eschatological fulfillment, in which, through him and in him, everything will return to the Father, everything will be subjected to him, that is, handed back definitively, "that God may be everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:28). And then—in this definitive victory over sin, over what opposed the creature to the Creator—death also will be vanquished: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:26).

4. The words that can be considered the synthesis of Pauline anthropology concerning the resurrection take their place in this context. It will be opportune to dwell longer here on these words. We read in the First Letter to the Corinthians 15:42-46 about the resurrection of the dead: "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual."

5. Between this Pauline anthropology of the resurrection and the one that emerges from the text of the synoptic Gospels (Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35-36), there exists an essential consistency, only the text of First Letter to the Corinthians is more developed. Paul studies in depth what Christ had proclaimed. At the same time, he penetrates the various aspects of that truth which had been expressed concisely and substantially in the words written in the synoptic Gospels. It is also significant for the Pauline text that man's eschatological perspective, based on faith in the resurrection of the dead, is united with reference to the beginning as well as with deep awareness of man's historical situation. The man whom Paul addressed in the First Letter to the Corinthians and who (like the Sadducees) is contrary to the possibility of the resurrection, has also his (historical) experience of the body. From this experience it emerges quite clearly that the body is perishable, weak, physical, in dishonor.

6. Paul confronts such a man, to whom his words are addressed—either in the community of Corinth or also, I would say, in all times—with the risen Christ, the last Adam. Doing so, Paul invites him, in a way, to follow in the footsteps of his own post-paschal experience. At the same time he recalls to him the first Adam. That is, he induces him to turn to the beginning, to that first truth about man and the world which is at the basis of the revelation of the mystery of the living God. In this way, Paul reproduces in his synthesis all that Christ had announced when he had referred, at three different moments, to the beginning in the conversation with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-8; Mk 10:2-9); to the human heart, as the place of struggle with lusts within man, during the Sermon on the Mount (Cf. Mt 5:27); and to the resurrection as the reality of the "other world," in the conversation with the Sadducees (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35-36).

7. It belongs to the style of Paul's synthesis that it plunges its roots into the revealed mystery of creation and redemption as a whole, from which it is developed and in the light of which alone it can be explained. According to the biblical narrative, the creation of man is an enlivening of matter by means of the spirit, thanks to which "the first man Adam became a living being" (1 Cor 15:45). The Pauline text repeats here the words of Genesis (2:7), that is, of the second narrative of the creation of man (the so-called Yahwist narrative). From the same source it is known that this original "animation of the body" underwent corruption because of sin. At this point of the First Letter to the Corinthians the author does not speak directly of original sin. Yet the series of definitions which he attributes to the body of historical man, writing that it is " dishonor..." indicates sufficiently what the consequence of sin is, according to revelation. Paul himself will call it elsewhere "bondage to decay" (Rom 8:21). The whole of creation is subjected indirectly to this "bondage to decay" owing to the sin of man, who was placed by the Creator in the midst of the visible world in order to subdue it (cf. Gn 1:28). So man's sin has a dimension that is not only interior, but also cosmic. According to this dimension, the body—which Paul (in conformity with his experience) characterizes as " dishonor..."—expresses in itself the state of creation after sin. This creation "has been groaning in travail together until now" (Rom 8:22). However, just as labor pains are united with the desire for birth, with the hope of a new child, so, too, the whole of creation "waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God..." and cherishes the hope to "be set free from its bondage to decay, and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:19-21).

8. Through this cosmic context of the affirmation contained in the Letter to the Romans—in a way, through the "body of all creatures"—let us try to understand completely the Pauline interpretation of the resurrection. According to Paul, this image of the body of historical man, so deeply realistic and adapted to the universal experience of men, conceals within itself not only the "bondage of decay," but also hope, like the hope that accompanies labor pains. That happens because the Apostle grasps in this image also the presence of the mystery of redemption. Awareness of that mystery comes precisely from all man's experiences which can be defined as the "bondage of decay." It comes because redemption operates in man's soul by means of the gifts of the Spirit: "We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23). Redemption is the way to the resurrection. The resurrection constitutes the definitive accomplishment of the redemption of the body. We will come back to the analysis of the Pauline text in the First Letter to the Corinthians in our further reflections."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Dans mon discours en italien, j’ai commencé à analyser la doctrine de l’Apôtre Paul sur la résurrection des corps d’après la seconde épitre aux Corinthiens. J’ai noté que Saint Paul s’appuie sur la réalité de la résurrection du Christ, dont les Apôtres ont eu l’expérience et qui a révélé, pleinement et de façon définitive, “le Dieu des vivants”. J’ai évoqué comment Paul suppose la situation historique due au péché originel, lorsqu’il décrit notre corps comme corruptible, faible, “psychique”, par contraste avec le corps incorruptible, fort et spirituel de 1’“autre monde”. La perspective est à la fois personnelle et cosmique, et, avec l’image des douleurs de l’enfantement, le climat est celui de l’espérance ouverte par la pleine rédemption du corps.

* * *

C’est ave joie que je salue tous les pèlerins de langue française et, en particulier, un groupe de séminaristes et de laïcs venus de Belgique. A vous tous, à vos familles, et surtout aux malades, aux handicapés j’accorde bien volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear brothers and sisters,

My greetings go to all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Denmark, Australia and the United States. Today we have been speaking about the human body as it will exist at the time of the resurrection. Christ’s teaching on this is faithfully reflected in the teaching of Saint Paul, whose faith in the resurrection was based on his personal meeting with the risen Christ. Indeed, Saint Paul envisions the whole meaning of the future resurrection in terms of the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is the ultimate revelation of God and the beginning of the eschatological fulfilment. The risen Christ is the synthesis of what Christ himself preached and what Paul explained in detail.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Ich grüße euch alle sehr herzlich. Besonders den Jugendlichen unter euch wünsche ich einen erlebnisreichen und fruchtbaren Romaufenthalt.

Der Gegenstand unserer heutigen Überlegungen ist wiederum die Offenbarungswahrheit von der künftigen Auferstehung. Die Worte Jesu über die eschatologische Neuschöpfung finden besonders in den Briefen des hl. Paulus einen tiefen Widerhall. Für ihn wird die Auferstehung Christi selbst zur Grundwahrheit unseres Glaubens. Er sagt im 1. Korintherbrief: ”Ist aber Christus nicht auferweckt worden, dann ist unsere Verkündigung nichts, und nichts ist euer Glaube“. Der auferstandene Herr selbst ist der Beginn der neuen Schöpfung und der endzeitlichen Vollendung. Die gesamte Schöpfung, die durch die Sünde der ”Knechtschaft der Vergänglichkeit“ unterworfen wurde, liegt in Geburtswehen und harrt der kommenden Welt. ”Mehr noch: obwohl wir die Erstlingsgabe des Geistes haben, seufzen auch wir in unseren Herzen und warten darauf, daß wir mit der Erlösung unseres Leibes als Söhne offenbar werden“. Die uns allen verheißene Auferstehung wird die endgültige Vollendung der Erlösung unseres Leibes sein. Gott bestärke euch alle in dieser frohen Glaubenszuversicht mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli spagnoli

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

A todos os saludo con afecto y os agradezco esta visita, con la que deseáis testimoniar ante el Vicario de Cristo cómo, aun en medio de vuestra vida de trabajo, os sentís más familiarmente cristianos, en cuanto hijos fieles de la Iglesia.

Y os recibo con agrado porque sé cuánta dedicación ponéis en vuestra actividad profesional, que ya de por sí tiende a fomentar esa cercanía entre los hombres y los pueblos.

Estáis al servicio de las comunicaciones, las cuales, si humanamente significan en general promoción y extensión de los valores culturales, para un cristiano alcanzan su culmen en la comunión de la fe y del amor cristiano. Vuestra experiencia os dice cuán noble es vuestro trabajo, realizado en esta perspectiva de comunión cristiana. Además de las virtudes que os pueden dar prestigio social, como la honradez y la delicadeza de trato personal, os pide también en todo momento una disponibilidad y un talante espiritual, cuya expresión más genuina es la conciencia y la voluntad de servir a los hermanos. Que con la ayuda de la gracia divina sea la vocación cristiana el distintivo de vuestra vida personal, familiar y profesional.

Con mi Bendición Apostólica para vosotros, vuestros compañeros y seres queridos.

* * *

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

A todos vosotros, procedentes de diversos países de lengua española, saludo con afecto y doy mi más cordial bienvenida a esta Audiencia, deseándoos que vuestra visita a la tumba de San Pedro sirva para afirmar vuestra fe.

Hoy empezamos el análisis de algunos textos paulinos sobre la resurrección de los muertos. San Pablo tuvo la propia experiencia post-pascual, que marcó el comienzo y el fundamento de su acción apostólica. El basa la argumentación sobre la futura resurrección, apoyándose en la realidad y la verdad de la resurrección de Cristo; llegando a afirmar: “si Cristo no resucitó, vana es nuestra predicación. Vana nuestra fe” (1 Cor. 15, 14). De aquí arranca la síntesis de la antropología paulina sobre la resurrección, que convendrá analizar más profundamente.

* * *

Quiero saludar de modo especial al grupo de jóvenes profesionales, procedentes de los países del Pacto Andino. Estáis concluyendo un curso que os prepara para ser funcionarios de Organismos Internacionales y Regionales para el Desarrollo. En la tarea que os espera, procurad entregaros con generosidad cristiana al servicio integral de la persona humana.

* * *

También saludo al nuevo grupo de estudiantes de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Al agradeceros vuestra visita, os exhorto a dedicaros con responsabilidad a vuestra formación y preparación intelectual, para, el día de mañana, poderos dedicar enteramente al bien de vuestros conciudadanos.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

A minha saudação afectuosa aos que me escutam de língua portuguesa.

Continuamos, neste encontro, as reflexões sobre o corpo humano, destinado a ressuscitar; hoje, à luz do ensino que nos foi transmitido por São Paulo, em continuidade com Cristo, mas a partir da Páscoa e daquela experiência do Senhor ressuscitado, que o mesmo Apóstolo fizera na estrada de Damasco.

A ressurreição de Cristo é a última palavra da auto-revelação de Deus, que “não é Deus de mortos, mas de vivos”; é resposta ao inevitável da morte do corpo, em relação com o “princípio” e com toda a realidade “cósmica”, abrangida pelo mistério da criação e redenção. Para o Apóstolo, a ressurreição é o fundamento da fé cristã na sua integridade.

Que a vossa fé na ressurreição ilumine sempre o entendimento do sentido de vossa peregrinação num corpo frágil e corruptível, a caminho da vida eterna. Isto vos desejo com a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai gruppi arrivati da diverse parti d’Italia.

Mi è caro rivolgere un saluto cordiale ai molti gruppi di lingua italiana qui presenti.

Ricordo anzitutto i partecipanti al “Corso Ignaziano” per Direttori e Promotori di Esercizi, per Formatori e Direttori Spirituali; come pure tutti i partecipanti alla “Settimana di Spiritualità Salesiana”. In consonanza con la Liturgia della scorsa domenica, il Signore Gesù sia centro di una vita conforme alle attese di Dio. Imploriamo dal Padre la grazia di vivere “nel nome del suo diletto Figlio”, cioè sotto il suo impulso, nella sua luce, per recare “frutti generosi di opere buone”.

Tale invito all’unione di sentimenti con Cristo Signore (cf. Fil 2, 5), lo rivolgo anche ai fedeli delle parrocchie romane di san Marco evangelista in Agro Laurentino, e del santissimo Nome di Maria. I primi commemorano il trentesimo anniversario della loro parrocchia; gli altri vogliono concludere col Vicario di Cristo le giornate di riflessione organizzate dai Padri Marianisti, a cui è affidata la loro cura spirituale. Cari fedeli, nella gioia di una autentica testimonianza cristiana, crescete come comunità di fede e di scambievole amore, per il bene dell’intera famiglia parrocchiale.

* * *

Un pensiero dirigo ora ai giovani ed in particolare al Gruppo del “Movimento GEN 2” dei Focolari, riunito a Rocca di Papa per un Congresso. Con loro saluto i duemila studenti qui presenti, che frequentano scuole di ogni ordine e grado. Cari giovani, siate fieri della vostra appartenenza a Cristo che comporta anche una grave responsabilità: personale, per la vostra vita ed il vostro futuro; sociale, per la giustizia, per la pace, e soprattutto per la difesa dei più alti valori morali e per l’autentico bene comune. Vi raccomando all’intercessione di sant’Angela Merici, che oggi festeggiamo e che nell’Italia del Rinascimento tanto si adoperò per la gioventù, con atteggiamento di “carità sapiente e coraggiosa” (Liturgia).

* * *

Ed ora un saluto cordialissimo al Gruppo Sportivo “GIS”, che vanta una bella tradizione nel ciclismo professionistico, con un complesso di maestranze sparse in tutta Italia. Cari giovani sportivi, mediante il sano esercizio sportivo, coltivate l’integrazione delle forze fisiche con quelle spirituali, perché è lo spirito che dà luce e “sprint” alla vita, e vi fa essere bravi sportivi, bravi cittadini e bravi cristiani.

* * *

Infine saluto affettuosamente gli ammalati, e, come sempre, li invito alla fiducia amorosa nel Signore, mentre assicuro loro il mio costante ricordo nella preghiera. Ai novelli Sposi porgo i più fervidi auguri di serena prosperità nel Signore, mentre a tutti imparto la mia benedizione.

La preghiera alla Vergine di Jasna Góra

Come ogni mercoledì, il Santo Padre rivolge una preghiera alla Vergine di Czstochowa la cui immagine si venera a Jasna Góra. Queste le parole della preghiera.

“Bądź z nami, jak my jesteśmy z Tobą”.

Otrzymałem list z Polski pisany przed Bożym Narodzeniem. List od osób internowanych w wyniku dekretu o stanie wojennym.

Odczytałem ten list z głeboką uwagą i wzruszeniem. Tak bardzo był pełen treści: ludziej - chrześcijańskiej - polskiej treści.

A na końcu - jakby zaproszenie do wigilii - te słowa: “Bądź z nami, jak my jesteśmy z Tobą”.

Przyjąłem całym sercem to zaproszenie, te słowa - i zwracam je zarazem w Twoją stronę, Pani Jasnogórska i Matko mojego Narodu. Jakże inaczej mogę odpowiedzieć na list - ten jeden i tyle, tyle innych, nie napisanych.

Bądź z nami!

Bądź z nimi! Z uwięzionymi, skazanymi na przymusowe odosobnienie bez sądu. Z wszystkimi, którzy cierpią z powodu uwięzienia swych najbliższych.

O Matko! Wszak pamiętasz, że Ty sama również byłaś “uwięziona”. Został kiedyś uwięziony Twój jasnogórski obraz na szlaku nawiedzenia po Polsce - ale wyszedł na wolność!

Matko, błagam Cię, aby wyszli na wolność wszyscy, którym tę wolność niesłusznie odebrano.

Błogosławię również z całego serca grupie obecnych tutaj moich Rodaków.

Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Ed ecco una nostra traduzione italiana del discorso del Santo Padre.

“Sii con noi come noi siamo con te”.

Ho ricevuto dalla Polonia una lettera scritta prima di Natale; una lettera di persone internate a causa del decreto di “stato di guerra”.

Ho letto questa lettera con profonda attenzione e commozione, perché era tanto piena di contenuto umano, cristiano, polacco.

E alla fine - quasi un invito a partecipare alla comune veglia natalizia - vi erano le parole “sii con noi, come noi siamo con te”.

Ho accolto questo invito, queste parole, con tutto il cuore e, al tempo stesso, le indirizzo a te, Signora di Jasna Góra e Madre della nazione polacca.

Come potrei altrimenti rispondere a questa lettera e a tante, tante altre non scritte?

Sii con noi!

Sii con loro! Con i detenuti condannati all’isolamento forzato, senza processo. Con tutti coloro che soffrono a causa dell’imprigionamento dei loro cari.

Oh Madre! Ben ricordi che anche tu sei stata “imprigionata”: un tempo è stata imprigionata la tua immagine di Jasna Góra durante l’itinerario della peregrinazione in tutta la Polonia, ma è poi tornata in libertà.

Madre, ti supplico affinché tornino in libertà tutti coloro ai quali è stata ingiustamente tolta.

Benedico con tutto il cuore anche il gruppo dei miei connazionali qui presenti.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo.


1. Among the Corinthians there were probably movements of thought marked by Platonic dualism and neo-Pythagoreanism of a religious shade, Stoicism and Epicureanism. All Greek philosophies, moreover, denied the resurrection of the body. Paul had already experienced in Athens the reaction of the Greeks to the doctrine of the resurrection, during his address at the Areopagus (cf. Acts 17:32).

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