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The Resurrection of Christ (hê anastasis), mosaic to the right of the passage from the western vestibule to the large church room in the large church of the Monastery of Hosios Lukas, 11th century.
In this depiction, Christ first appears in the realm of the dead, awaited by Old Testament kings, presumably David and Solomon, overcomes death, shatters the gate to the realm of the dead beneath his feet and grasps the arm of the kneeling old Adam, behind whom Eve can be seen in a posture of prayer.

The resurrection (Greekαναστασις anastasis ; Latinresurrectio; GermanAuferstehung) of the body or the resurrection of the dead (Latinresurrectio mortuorum) means the reunion of the immortal spirit or the immortal part of the soul, previously separated from the body by death, with the now restored but no longer decomposed body. Through the resurrection, the incorruptibility or regeneration of the bodily form and thus the bodily, mental and spiritual integrity of the human being is guaranteed. This is also referred to in the famous quote by Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782): "Corporeality is the end of the works of God".


For the Hellenistic world, the immortality of the soul was predominantly the focus of interest, mainly in connection with Plato, and similarly for Gnosticism, which saw corporeality as the source of all evil. The idea of resurrection, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in Zoroastrianism and in the great monotheistic Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). For example, Isaiah states:

„19 Your dead shall live, the dead bodies shall rise again; he who lies in the earth shall awake and rejoice. For the dew you send is a dew of light; the earth gives up the dead.“

And in the last revelation to Daniel:

„1 In those days Michael, the great prince of angels, will arise to intercede for the sons of your people. Then comes a time of trouble, such as has not been since there were nations, until that time. But thy people shall be saved in that time, every one that is written in the book. 2 Of those who sleep in the land of dust, many will awake, some to eternal life, others to shame, to everlasting abhorrence. 3 The wise will shine as the heavens shine; and the men who have led many to do right will shine forever and ever like the stars [...] 13 But you now go to the end! You will rest, and at the end of days you will rise to receive your inheritance.“

Ezekiel gives a very detailed account:

„1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me forth in the spirit of the LORD, and set me in the midst of a broad field, which was full of dead men's bones. 2 And he led me through it all. And, behold, there were very many bones lying over the field, and, behold, they were all withered. 3 And he said unto me, Son of man, thinkest thou that these bones shall live again? And I said, Lord my God, thou knowest. 4 And he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them: Ye bones that are withered, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones, Behold, I will put breath in you, and ye shall live again. 6 I will give you sinews, and will make flesh grow upon you, and cover you with skin, and will give you breath, and ye shall live again: and ye shall know that I am the LORD. 7 And I prophesied as I was commanded. And, behold, there was a noise as I prophesied, and, lo, there was a stirring, and the bones moved together, bone to bone. 8 And I looked, and, behold, sinews and flesh grew upon them, and they were covered with skin; but there was no breath in them yet. 9 And he said unto me, Prophesy unto the breath; prophesy, thou child of man, and say unto the breath, Thus saith the LORD God, Breath, come hither from the four winds, and blow upon these that are slain, that they may live again. 10 And I prophesied as he commanded me. And the breath came into them, and they revived, and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great host. 11 And he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Behold, now they say, Our bones are withered, and our hope is lost, and it is finished with us. 12 Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will open your graves, and bring you up out of your graves, my people, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up out of your graves, my people. 14 And I will put my breath into you, and ye shall live again; and I will set you in your land, and ye shall know that I am the LORD. I speak it, and I do it, saith the LORD.“

The Jewish Sadducees, however, who persistently denied the resurrection, sought to refute the Christ's proclamations of bodily resurrection with their pointed Sadducee question, which is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels:

„18 Then the Sadducees came to him, who teach that there is no resurrection; who asked him, saying, 19 Master, Moses has prescribed for us (Deuteronomy 25:5–6), "If anyone dies and leaves a wife but no children, his brother shall take her as his wife and raise up offspring for his brother."" 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; he died and left no children. 21 And the second took her, and died, and left no children either. And the third likewise. 22 And all seven left no children. Last of all after all the woman also died. 23 Now in the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife shall she be among them? For all the seven have had her to wife. 24 Then said Jesus unto them: Is it not so? You are wrong, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 25 When they shall rise from the dead, they shall neither marry, nor be given in marriage; but they shall be as angels in heaven. 26 But of the dead, that they rise, have ye not read in the book of Moses, at the thorn-bush, how God said unto him, saying (Exodus 3:6), I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27 God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. You are very much mistaken.“

According to Paul, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the prerequisite for the later resurrection of the dead, as described for example in the Revelation of John (Revelation 20:1–15), is the central event of Christianity:

„13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, neither is Christ risen. 14 But if Christ is not risen, our preaching is in vain, so is your faith.“

How the resurrection of the flesh is to be understood is explained by the apocryphal Valentinian Gospel of Philip thus:

„Some are afraid that they will rise naked. Therefore they want to be resurrected in the flesh. And they do not know that those who bear the flesh are precisely those who are naked. It is these who unclothe themselves who are not naked. Not flesh and blood will inherit the kingdom of God. Which is this that will not inherit? That which is upon us. But which is the one that will inherit? It is that which belongs to Jesus and his blood. That is why he said: Whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood does not have life in him. His flesh is the Word, and his blood is the Holy Spirit. He who has received these has food and drink and clothing. I also rebuke the others who say: "It, the flesh shall not rise." Then both parties are wrong. You say: "The flesh shall not rise." But tell me: What shall rise that we may honour thee? You say: "The spirit in the flesh, and also this light in the flesh it is." But this also is a word that is in the flesh. For whatever you say, you do not say it outside the flesh. It is necessary to rise in this flesh, since all things are in it.“

Gospel of Philip: Proverbs 23

In his "Sum of Theology" (III, Supplement 83,1), Thomas Aquinas speaks of the penetrability or fineness of the "glorious body". This, however, is neither conditioned by the fact that the resurrection body is a purely spiritual one, for firstly, no body can become a spirit as water becomes vapour, and secondly, the whole human being would not then be resurrected, which according to Thomas consists of soul and body. But neither would the resurrection body be fine through the admixture of heavenly star substance, i.e. the fifth element, the ether, for then the Lord would not have been able to have his body palpated by the apostle Thomas after the resurrection. Nor would flesh and bones tolerate such dilution and the body would not rise in the same form and size that it had in earthly existence. Thomas regards both views as heretical. Rather, the resurrection body would consist of the same four elements as the mortal earthly body. Rather, the resurrection body is fine because of the complete perfection of the body and because the glorious soul that beholds God now gains perfect dominion over the body, thereby making it the perfect expression of its own being, and it follows every impulse of will unhindered when the soul sets the body in motion. Already Gregory the Great (~540 - 604) had therefore written: "The glorious body is called fine because of the effect of spiritual power." (14. moral. 19.)

In Christian theology, however, there is no generally accepted, concrete idea of what the state of the resurrection will be like, but this is not necessary in faithful trust in God, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), for example, emphatically emphasises in his "Eschatology":

„There is no imaginability of the new world. There are also no statements that can be concretised in any way and reach into the imagination about the nature of the material relationship of human beings in the new world and about the 'resurrection body'. But there is the certainty that the dynamics of the cosmos are leading towards a goal, towards a situation in which matter and spirit will be newly and finally assigned to each other. This certainty remains the concrete content of the confession of the resurrection of the flesh even today, precisely today.“

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: Eschatology - Death and Eternal Life, p. 156

Immortality, rebirth and resurrection

Resurrection is more than the mere immortality of the soul, but is also more than rebirth in repeated earth lives. Immortality means the conscious continuation of the spiritual core of man, the I, in purely spiritual life after death. Rebirth in the sense of reincarnation means the repeated reappearance of this spiritual core of being in a mortal earthly body. Even the raising of the dead, in which the dead person is brought back into his mortal body within a period of about three days after death, is not to be equated with resurrection.

Resurrection means the rebirth of the whole human being in the spiritual. But what is the whole human being? The whole human being comprises the I and the three lower members of the human being, namely the astral body, the etheric body and the physical body, which envelop the I. The I is indeed our spiritual being. The I is indeed the spiritual core of our being, but it is not yet the whole human being - and the members of the being alone even less so, of course.

In earthly life, the material body creates a firm boundary for us and offers us an inner space that belongs only to us and which thereby preserves our identity and prevents us from losing ourselves in our environment. This boundary experience is decisive for the development of our I-consciousness. The boundary experience we have in physical life must be transferred to the spiritual if we do not want to lose our full self-awareness.

Romano Guardini (1885-1968)

Romano Guardini, probably one of the most important representatives of the Catholic world view in the 20th century, had therefore also considered whether the body was not "in the soul" after death, namely as the undetachable fruit of life on Earth, and thus the continuity of the whole human being beyond death was, as it were, provisionally guaranteed and the full bodily resurrection at the end of time prepared.

„Soul and body are not purely separable entities. The body is constantly built up from the spiritual soul; indeed, that which is called 'body' contains the soul at every point and in every act of its existence. If it could be taken away altogether, no body would remain, but a mere biological structure, perhaps even only a certain quantity of decomposing chemical compounds. The soul, on the other hand, does not live on its own account, but works in the body and through it, so much so that one may doubt whether there is a "purely spiritual" act in human existence at all, and whether all are not rather spiritual-bodily, that is, precisely human. One says that the soul is "in the body", and by this one means that it is the principle of its life, the content of its appearance, the historical meaning of its standing and moving - but one could just as well say that the body is "in the soul", and by this one means that the soul contains it as a means of its activity, as a revelation of its hiddenness, as the place, situation and substance of its historical existence, form, action. The form and destiny of the body are given to the liveliness of the soul. So when the soul separates from the body at death, it does not simply brush the realm of the body away from itself and out of itself. It does not become an Angel, but remains a human soul. As such, it carries the body within itself. That it was the prerequisite of his life and in turn had an effect on his life, remains in it.“ (Lit.: Guardini, p. 76f)

Without its essential shells, the I also has no possibilities of development, for the I only grows and matures by working on the spiritualisation of its shells and transforming them into spirit self, life spirit and spirit man. It realises itself by effectively penetrating its sheaths. The integrity of the human being's essential shells must be preserved if the I is to develop fully - this is ultimately what the whole earthly development revolves around. Only through the resurrection is it guaranteed that the human being, even later when he will no longer descend to an earthly existence, can also continue his development in purely spiritual existence. Only in this way will the human I be able to survive the downfall of the earthly world, which must necessarily happen one day.

Individuality and personality

„If we go back to the old times, we find that in the earlier centuries people gave less and less to individuality, but personality became more and more powerful and mighty. It is easy today to confuse the concepts of individuality and personality. Individuality is the eternal which passes from earth-life to earth-life. Personality is that which man brings to his formation in one life on earth. If we want to study individuality, we must look at the basis of the human soul; if we want to study personality, we must see how the core of the being lives itself out. The core of the being is born into the people, into the profession. All this determines the inner being, it personalises it. In a human being who is still at a subordinate stage of development, little of the work on his inner being will be noticeable. The manner of expression, the type of gestures and so on are just as they are from his people. But those are the advanced people who give themselves the manner of expression and gestures from within themselves. The more a man's inner being can work on his outer being, the more highly he develops.

One could say that this is how individuality is expressed in the personality. He who has his own gestures, his own physiognomy, even in his actions and in relation to his surroundings a peculiar character, has a distinct personality. Is this all lost at death for later? No, it does not. Christianity knows very well that this is not the case. What is understood by the resurrection of the flesh or of the personality is nothing other than the preservation of the personal into all subsequent incarnations. What man has attained as a personality remains with him because it is incorporated in the individuality and this carries it on into the following incarnations. If we have made something out of our body that has a peculiar character, then this body, this power that has worked there, rises again. As much as we have worked on ourselves, as much as we have made out of ourselves, is undamaged in us.“ (Lit.:GA 54, p. 399f)

The shadow world of the dead

Statue of the dying Achilles in the Achilleion on Corfu

In ancient Greek culture, the horrors of death were first experienced in a very deep inner way. In Greek times, humanity had lived intensively in the beauties of the sensual world and death appeared as the most painful loss of this beautiful outer earthly world, as a passing over into the dark realm of the shadows. Achilles, who dwells in the underworld, expresses this clearly in Homer's Odyssey:

I would rather serve another as a servant for a day's wage,
A meagre man who has no possessions of his own,
Than be ruler here of all secluded souls.

(Homer: Odyssey, 11th canto, verse 489 - 491)

At first, the whole of sensual Greek culture everywhere depicted life flourishing in full youthful vigour, the youth, the virgin, but never the ageing old man. Only in later times did the image of death become more and more prominent, but people were always very afraid of these images. In earlier cultures, death was experienced as a decisive break in life, but people still had a clear experience that with death they crossed over into a spiritual world full of light. The Greek could no longer see it so brightly; at first he could only experience the post-death world in a shadowy way and soon not at all. Death thus became the most terrible life tragedy for him, taking away everything that made life worth living. That was something that shook him deeply inside. That is why the Christian image of the resurrection of the body, which man should also share, fell on such fertile ground in the Greek cultural area. A mere soul-spiritual continuation after death in a shadowy afterlife seemed unbearable to people at that time - and even today to many, if they still believe in the immortality of the human soul at all. But isn't the belief in resurrection mere wishful thinking that mocks all modern understanding of nature?


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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