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Posted by on Jun 30, 2016 | 0 comments

The Nicene Creed:”…on the third day he rose again…”

**This post is part of a series reflecting on the Nicene Creed**

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And on the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.

The resurrected and ascended body of Christ are some of the most perplexing and difficult theological motifs to navigate. To give a thorough treatment of these themes is to deal with all the various relations of eternity and finite bodies, which include how Christ as the God-man inherently represents all human bodies and the implications of our own eschatological body. Questions of freedom, time, and divine sovereignty come to mind, as well as questions regarding the trinitarian dimensions of Jesus as the Son of the Father eternally and incarnate.

I lack both the time and cleverness to thoroughly (and perhaps even briefly) deal with these themes. At the very least, this section of the creed beckons questions about what is happening to Christ’s glorified resurrected and ascended body, and what some of the implications are for our bodies.

What is important to state from the outset is that the patristic theologians engaged critically with the philosophies of their ages; while many of those philosophies would take issue with the affirming the goodness of the body, Christian theology went the other direction.[1] The Son’s taking on flesh is the most radical reaffirmation of this. It is the ultimate reaffirmation of God declaring his creation “good” in Genesis.

And yet, despite its goodness, our finite flesh is an oddly transitory thing. It is weak and dies, and while it is alive, it is unable to withstand the glory of God (Deut 5:25f). Thus, we see a clear distinction between creation and Creator. But God uniting himself with this flesh not only affirms it as good; it also shows that it subsists, in some way, in God’s very nature.[2] We notice that upon his resurrection, Jesus’ body undergoes changes. He is human in a different way that we are used to experiencing. Christ could be touched, he still bore his wounds, and he could eat and have conversations (Matt 28:9, John 20:19ff, John 21:9ff, Luke 24:36ff). His disciples had trouble recognizing him in the middle of some of these interactions—only to have him disappear once or walk through walls. (Luke 24:13-25).

The question has been raised a million times over, I am sure. Just what is happening here? Two things become clear from the post resurrection narrative: First, Christ is assuredly resurrected as a physical body. He is not a ghost (Luke 24:29). Second, it means the resurrected body, which we will one day inherit, has a very different set of rules than we are used to. It is material and temporal; finitude is still an essential part of its nature. What our bodies will lack, just like Christ’s body, is the corruption of sin and death. Gregory of Nyssa states quite plainly that the “resurrection is the restoration of our nature to its original condition. In the first life…there was presumably neither old age, nor infancy, nor the suffering caused by the many kinds of diseases, nor any other type of bodily misery.”[3] We see, then, that our resurrected bodies will be glorified in such a way that it changes its constitution, perhaps radiating and engaging with other matter differently.

In the ascension of the Son to the Father, the change to the constitution of the body is even more radical. A difficult philosophical question arises: how is finitude located within the eternal? As one might imagine, different traditions have a variety of ways to talk about the ascended body. Many Protestant sects would say that the incarnate Son is located at the right hand of the Father, and that he is located only there, in his full transcendent glory; but Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran schools would have their own construal of Christ’s body as ubiquitous, a fundamental theme for eucharistic theology. Lutheran dogmatics would assert that the Son’s divine attributes would be communicated to the human, allowing for the incarnation to be omnipresent in different modes.

I must admit to my ignorance on this issue; I have for some time wanted to read more on this subject because I find it baffling. My own theological categories have been shifting over these past few years, and I have yet to really catch up to myself.

Are the divine attributes communicated to the Son, allowing for a ‘real presence?’ If Christ is an ontological representative of humanity are we to understand the ultimate resurrection of our bodies in light of his ascension? Is a redeemed creation so totally different from what we experience now that perhaps Christ can be present in flesh simultaneously in different ways?

I lack the space and cleverness to tackle these questions now. These are question I cannot answer for myself, so perhaps I will return in a few months with some comments. For myself, I am returning to a few works to find some answers: Nyssa’s On the Soul and the Resurrection, Augustine’s Enchiridion, Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, 57, Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theo-Drama V: The Last Act, and the recently published book by Aaron Riches, Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ.

I will see you on the other side of all of this!


[1] Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation is a really accessible resource to explore the greater metaphysical and Christological frameworks of a number of the church fathers. He provides a helpful apology for their own philosophical claims, but carefully notes how Christ came first in these theologians’ paradigms.

[2] There is a big ol’ debate on the topic of how we understand creation existing with/within/outside/beyond/differently than God. To see different approaches, Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall and Lubac’s Mystery of the Supernatural.

[3] Nyssa, On The Soul and the Resurrection, 113. Nyssa goes onto say that we will become passionless, and that intercourse, conception, childbearing, and even nourishment will be necessary, but there is much debate about the state of our resurrected body in their full glory. There has never been consensus on the issue.

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Freedom is found in the mountains or on a bicycle- combining the two creates a holy sacrament. I love depressing music and beer as libation. It is my contention that theology is queen of the sciences.