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Tall and Bearded: Augustine on the Resurrected Male Body

5 March 2010

Early Christian theologians were concerned to maintain a real sense of continuity between this life and the next.  If the resurrection of the flesh meant that the male/female differentiation was erased, then it stood to reason that men and women should downplay their gendered characteristics here in their earthly life.  That was not an option for those trying to preserve a gendered hierarchy.  Patristics scholars have done work on what how the theological argument was addressed toward women.   I want to offer a few ideas on the resurrected male body in Augustine’s City of God.

Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century addressed the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, which was widely held in Christian communities but still considered scandalous by many.  In book 22 of City of God he addresses many of these objections and misconceptions, including the idea that the resurrection would mean an elimination of maleness and femaleness.  Not so, says the bishop.  They retain their bodies, including the genitals and basic bodily features.

One preserved feature of the male body is its size.  Augustine defends the resurrection of infants and children, claiming that God will fulfill their full bodily stature according to the “seminal principle” in them (22.13-15).  They will be raised in the full bloom of youth, around age thirty perhaps, after the model of Christ.  But does that imply that all be raised after the pattern of Christ in a very literal sense, viz., Jesus’ exact size?  Men and women would then all be the same height and weight.  Augustine does not allow this, claiming that the preservation of the fleshly material in the resurrection will not permit men with large mass to be raised without their full stature (22:14).  They will, presumably, be taller than women.  The sheer physical ratio is kept in the eschaton.

Beauty is also valued prized by Augustine, and he mentions male bodies as possessing this beauty in a very ornamental way.  Women’s bodies will be beautiful too, beautiful in a way that “excites praise” rather than lusts (22:17).  Their breasts and vaginas and wombs will be aesthetically pleasing in a pure way, not desired for pleasure or function.  Nevertheless, it seems that Augustine highlights even more strongly men’s bodies as those possessing beauty.  In particular, men are raised with their nipples and beards and rough skin (22.24).  Since these features do not serve any real function, thus unnecessary to the human constitution (as proved by the fact that women’s bodies are different), nipples and beards and rough skin are to be understood as ornamental, as beautiful adjuncts to the resurrection body. 

In short, the male body in Augustine’s vision of the resurrection holds onto key masculine features.  Whether the basic size of the male body or its decorative aspects, it is to be raised powerful and beautiful, and celebrated as distinctly male.

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6 comments

  1. Perhaps it would be feasible to postulate that a glorified body will reflect not only the period of a person’s life when they were at their physical peak (which may or may not be around the 30-something borderline), but above that will also realize the full aesthetic potential that a stained and fallen world denied them.

    I don’t see gender distinctions passing by the wayside, but the pecking order of Christ–> man–> woman mandated by the curse (Gen.3:15) would be necessarily done away with, as God will have brought humanity full circle.


  2. Your view is Augustine’s almost exactly. If you’re interested in reading a shorter summary of his views, see the end of his Enchiridion.

    It has been difficult for theologians to state just strongly enough the distinctions between the sexes in the hereafter. Overplay them, as does Jerome, and the resurrection adds nothing new to our existence; resurrection would simply rehearse our old lives immortally. Underplay them, as was the case with many Origenists, and male and female (and all earthly distinctions) lose significance even in this life. (Origen, you will recall, castrated himself in order to make himself more “angelic”). The scriptures seem to shoot for something in between.


  3. That photograph is pure kitsch.

    Please find a completely different Illuminated Understanding of the body–whatever it is altogether–via these references.

    http://www.dabase.org/2armP1.htm#ch1b

    Plus two references from the same book.

    http://www.dabase.org/tfrbkgil.htm

    http://global.adidam.org/books/hridaya-rosary.html

    Plus on transcending the uninspected binding meanings of the body.

    http://www.dabase.org/meaning.htm


  4. John, I agree that the picture is kitschy. But it still beats much of the spiritualizing iconography of Christian depictions of Jesus’ body. Take for instance the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Peter, which depicts Jesus floating from the tomb as a giant cross. Or more modern images of Jesus all aglow, illumined like a cuddly lightbulb.

    As to your own beliefs, I gather that you stand within a stream of Buddhist or neo-Buddhist belief. Yes? In which case, it seems you can affirm the value of the body as a microcosm of absolute reality in this life, but I have a hard time seeing how you would have any hope for the hereafter of the body. Is there not a simple return of the body to the universe through dissolution? In which case, is there not a return/dissolution of the entire ego into God, according to the transcendental philosophy you hold?


  5. Did you ever read Swedenborg? Granted that his Christology is heretical, yet his description of heaven/resurrected life is to the point. Sex has two purposes: procreation and bonding. While the former is not needed post-resurrection, the latter is. So there will be no marriage in the resurrection? That does not mean that we will become promiscuous whoremongers and whores. There will be something like monogamous marriage, something corresponding to marriage, something which we might approximately but not accurately call marriage. Not necessarily with one of the spouses we had before death, but with the opposite-sex person most suited to us. That’s the answer that satisfies what’s in the Bible and in classical Christian theology, and Swedenborg provided this answer.


    • Mr. Noah, thanks for your response. Swedenborg’s spiritualizing program does actually yield something similar to Augustine in the sense that heaven, not resurrection, becomes the main point, and that relationship takes priority over corporeal functions. I see in Swedenborg the nascent individualism of the modern age, which comes through in his eschatology – a single soul bonded to another single soul. But, Christology aside, what does that leave of orthodox views of the believer and the Church? Christ seems to teach the non-necessity of marriage because we will raised to one another, raised to the whole of the Church: an eternal “fellowship of the saints” (Apostles Creed), being raised as “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed). This ecclesiastical hope Augustine appreciated, in part because he was already living out the everlasting fellowship penultimately in his monastery.



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