Father Michael Hull on an Eschatological Question
NEW YORK, 17 MAY 2003 (ZENIT).
Here is the text of an address Father Michael Hull gave at an April
29 videoconference of theologians, organized by the Vatican Congregation
Father Hull is a professor of Scripture at St. Joseph's Seminary. The
text is slightly adapted here.
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RESURRECTION AND REINCARNATION
By Father Michael Hull
The integrity of the human person—body and soul, in this life and in
the next—has been and continues to be one of the more difficult
aspects of divine revelation to understand. St. Augustine's words remain
relevant: "No doctrine of the Christian faith is so vehemently and
so obstinately opposed as the doctrine of the resurrection of the
flesh" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, Ps. 88, ser. 2, par. 5).
This doctrine, constantly affirmed in Scripture and Tradition, finds its
most sublime exposition in the 15th Chapter of St. Paul's First Letter
to the Corinthians. And it is perennially affirmed by Christians in the
recitation of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of
the body and life everlasting." It is matter of faith in the
promises of God.
Unaided human reason frequently grasps the immortality of the soul, but
fails to grasp the essential unity of the human person who is created in
the "imago Dei." Thus unaided, reason and paganism have often
seen "through a glass darkly" glimmers of the eternal life
revealed by Christ and confirmed in his own bodily resurrection from the
dead but cannot see "the plan of the mystery hidden for all ages in
God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:9).
The misconstrued notion of metempsychosis (Plato and Pythagoras) or
reincarnation (Hinduism and Buddhism) asserts a natural transmigration
of human souls from body to body. Still accepted as true in many Eastern
religions, theosophy and spiritualism, reincarnation is very different
from the resurrection of the Christian faith, wherein the human person
will be reintegrated—body and soul—on the last day unto salvation or
Prior to the parousia, the individual soul, at its particular judgment,
enters immediately into eternal bliss in heaven (or a purgative period
necessary to the delight of heaven) or into eternal torment in hell
(Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus).
With the parousia, the body will be reunited with its soul at the
general judgment. Each resurrected body will be united with its soul,
each will then know identity, entirety and immortality.
The just will continue to enjoy the beatific vision with their souls and
bodies reunited and benefit from the characteristics of impassibility,
glory, agility and [subtlety]. The unjust, without the aforementioned
characteristics, will continue their everlasting punishment as
The resurrection of the body precludes any idea of reincarnation because
Christ's return was neither a return to earthly life nor a migration of
his soul to another body. Rather, the resurrection of the body is the
fulfillment God's promises in the Old and New Testaments.
The resurrection of the Lord's body is the first fruits of the
resurrection. "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also
the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ
all shall be made alive. But each is his own order: Christ first, then
at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).
Reincarnation leaves us encircled in an eternity of bodily homelessness,
with the assurance of nothing more than a renovation of the soul. The
Christian faith promises a resurrection of the human person—body and
soul—through the intervention of the Father, Son and Spirit unto a
perpetuity of paradise.
In his November 1994 apostolic letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente,"
John Paul II writes: "How are we to imagine life beyond death? Some
have considered various forms of reincarnation: Depending on one's
previous life, one would receive a new life in either a higher or lower
form until full purification is attained. This belief, deeply rooted in
some Eastern religions, itself indicates that man rebels against the
finality of death. He is convinced that his nature is essentially
spiritual and immortal. Christian revelation excludes reincarnation and
speaks of a fulfillment which man is called to achieve in the course of
a single earthly existence" (No. 9). ZE03051703