Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Resurrection: An Overlooked Advent Doctrine

We lament the rejection of many Church doctrines. The Canadian bishops de facto denied a traceable nineteen century long position on procreation in 1968. South American bishops recently ignored all received understanding of the diaconate and a study this year underlined that most American Catholics do not knowingly accept the teaching of Transubstantiation. Denials abound in our secular age.

What, however, of a doctrine that is not so much denied as much as it is forgotten and overlooked? That of the General Resurrection.

The last Sunday after Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent, the end and beginning of the liturgical year, jointly consider this teaching. The former reads the Gospel of the Abomination of Desolation, the trials that will arise when the End is nigh. Last Sunday compliments that text with Luke 21, telling of the suddenness and fully visible return of Christ which no one shall miss.

Why, then, do we speak so often now of "going to heaven" as the end goal? Is not the real goal to "save one's soul"?

I have always liked Saint Thomas's definition of the soul as the "form" of the human being rather than as a phantom third aspect of the person, in addition to body and mind, hiding in the pituitary gland as some Baroque figures believed. The soul is the potential behind every act and is yet tied to the body which shall rise again and be judged on the Last Day.

We are sheepish about the idea of the General Resurrection if only because of the joint fear of Evangelical Protestants who always think the end if nigh and secularists who could tolerate us privately to think God exists, but refuse to let us adumbrate our nonsense over the rest of society. It has been conditioned out of us.

The earliest Christians believed the End was near, but then the Roman world converted. During the Reformation, both sides entertained apocalyptic ideas—the orthodox because of the collapse of Christianity and heretics because they viewed the Church as having defected from near the start. American fundamentalists have predicted doom since the '70s while those who read too much about Pope Francis start to plot their own End Times timeline. It all seems too much to handle, but do any of these, aside from Saint Paul's letters to the Christian communities in his care, really consider the General Resurrection?

The General Resurrection became a popular trope of art in the 12th-15th centuries, often in altar pieces and reredros hangings more than stand alone paintings. Why, in an age of the Latin Church triumphant and generally safe from outsiders, did the Last Judgement and the General Resurrection figure so prominently? Perhaps for that very reason. Christian life was simply life, a tangible, fleshly, real fact much like Christ's return in the flesh and our own rising up in the flesh. It was not a furtive struggle, as it was for those avoiding Diocletian, nor a private idea, as it is for us today. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the hymn Dies irae originated during that time as the sequence for Advent long before it migrated to the Reqiuem Mass.


  1. Optime, it is an urban legend that the Dies Irae was originally used in Advent. Guido Dreve's entry on the Dies irae in the Analecta hymnica (vol. 54, no. 178; pp. 269-75) cites dozens of Missals in which text is attested, the oldest being a fragmentary Italian Missal of the 13th century, and makes no mention of any use of it other than in the Requiem Mass.


  2. Why, then, do we speak so often now of "going to heaven" as the end goal? Is not the real goal to "save one's soul"?

    Made this particular comment to the missus quite recently.