Now back to Carolyn Bynum’s discussion of the history of thought about the resurrection of the body.
She moves from the years around 400 C.E. to the century before and after 1200. She skips over the intervening centuries. Apparently thought about the resurrection of the body was stagnant during that time. Augustine’s views were just reiterated in the Latin-reading Church. Origen had more influence in the Greek-speaking Church, but Bynum concentrates on thinking in Western Christianity.
A lot had changed, though. In the North Africa of Origen and Augustine, Islam had come to dominate. In Europe, the Great Schism between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Church had occurred. Councils had more rigidly defined heresy. The power of the papacy had grown.
But in terms of eschatology, the delay of the return of Christ for more than a thousand years made the resurrection less of an immediate concern. Paul thought the resurrection might occur in his own life-time. Many of the early fathers held fairly immediate millenarian hopes. Some took up the idea that the fall of Rome (Babylon was code for Rome in the Book of Revelation) would usher in the last things. In some circles, hope for the appearance of Christ and the resurrection revived around the year 1000.
But by 1100 or 1200? Pastors comforted the grieving by picturing a vivid life in the intermediate state between death and a far-off resurrection. Or, some of them seem to say that the resurrection happens for the blessed directly upon death. Bynum has a long section on Peter Lombard (1095-1169). He held close to Augustine’s ideas and argued that when the resurrection occurred it would be a reassembling of the scattered body. She displays and discusses some of the art of the time, which pictured the resurrection with animals regurgitating eaten parts and birds gathering scattered parts. The grave was sometimes pictured as an animal or monster vomiting up the dead, like Jonah’s fish spewing him out.
Since the Visio Dei (the Vision of God when the pure in heart will see God just as Christ promised) occurred for the blessed immediately upon death, some asked what the resurrection could add to that. Some of the Cistertian monks argued that the body was needed for the Visio Dei. Without the body we are not whole persons, they argued. Even while maintaining a body-soul dualism, they saw the body as necessary to enhance the experience of the soul.
I like the emphasis of these writers more than Bynum does. They seem to get what C. S. Lewis (Letters to Malcolm, Letter 22) saw: that whatever else resurrection of the body means, it surely means the resurrection of the senses. Sensory experience renders eternal life something more than a perpetual sensory deprivation chamber.
Bynum, however, seems disturbed that this might imply the retention of this body “with all its specificity”.