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Norris Clarkes Metaphysics of the Person

and the Resurrection of the Dead


Thomas L. Gwozdz, S.D.B., Ph.D

W. Norris Clarke, S. J. has made a major contribution to Thomism by means of his

creative retrieval of certain aspects of Aquinass thought such as the primacy of esse

(existence), the dynamic notion of substance -in-relation, and the notion of person as the fullest

expression of what it means to be as a frontier being living on the edge, on the frontier, between

matter and spirit, time and eternity. . . .

The aim of this paper is to show that the human person as a frontier being can only reach

fulfillment and perfection in the resurrection of the dead as understood by Catholic theologians

such as Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Kung and Joseph Ratzinger. To this end I will

develop Clarkes notion of the human person as grounded in his metaphysics of existential act.

Secondly, I will review the central ideas of Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Kung and Ratzinger as

synthesized in an article by Bernard Prusak entitled Bodily Resurrection in Catholic

Perspectives. Finally, I will argue that these perspectives on the resurrection of the dead are

compatible with Clarkes notion of the human person, and indeed demonstrate how they are a

logical fulfillment and perfection of what it means to be a person.

W. Norris Clarkes Notion of the Human Person

In Living on the Edge: the Human Person as a Frontier Being and Macrocosm,

Clarke traces the development of the notion of person as a frontier being living between matter

and spirit, and time and eternity. The idea gets expressed first by Plato in the Timaeus 35A

where the human soul is described as a middle being situated between the world of pure forms

and the world of body and matter. Clarke points out that the weakness in Platos view is

twofold; first, the person is reduced to the soul only and secondly, the relationship of body and

soul is an extrinsic relationship where the soul is envisioned as a prisoner of the material body.
This Platonic idea of the person as a frontier being is transformed in a positive way when

it enters the Christian theological context of the Greek Fathers of the Church. Given the

goodness of the creation, the assuming of human nature by the Second Person of the Trinity, and

the notion of Jesus bodily resurrection, the human body is no longer looked upon as a prison of

the soul. Rather, the human body has its own value and dignity, and the whole human person,

body and soul, is the frontier being that lives between matter and spirit, and time and eternity.

St. Irenaeus expressed this vision of the grandeur and dignity of the whole person when he said:

The glory of God is the fully alive human being.

This vision of the human person reaches its apex in Aquinass anthropology when he


Man is as though a boundary or border (confinium)

between spiritual and corporeal nature, a kind of medium

between the two, and participates in the goodness proper

to both, corporeal and spiritual.

In saying this, Aquinas incorporates the Christian revaluation of the body and the material

creation introduced by the Greek Fathers, but he also adds a significant anthropology of his

own -- one that overcomes the Platonic dualism and extrinsic relationship of body and soul. For

Aquinas, the relationship of body and soul is an intrinsic one. Clarke sums it up this way:

Far from its being somehow unnatural for a spiritual soul

and material body to come together in one being, the union

of soul and body in us is a natural one; the soul needs

the body for its completion as a human soul.

Not only does the soul need the body for the completion of its nature as a human soul; the
soul needs a particular body. There is a close fit between this soul and this body. Clarke claims

to be following the doctrine of Aquinas that an individual body is an apt fit for this soul and none

other. He argues that the human soul itself in being created by God to be joined with a

particular body is uniquely and individually commensurate by God to this particular body. . . .

So, the spiritual soul . . . is individuated in its very soul by union with the body. In other words,

ones body is ones unique mode of being-in-the-world. It is the only apt vehicle for the souls

expression in matter in this world. As such, the soul joined to a particular body begins a

distinctive history in our world, carving out its own unique place and path in human and world


To sum up, for Aquinas, there is a substantial unity of body and soul, and the human

person as such is a natural unity of both worlds. The human person (body and soul) is the

frontier being in Gods creation one who lives between matter and spirit, and time and eternity.

But how does Clarke view the nature of person in the context of his metaphysics of the primacy

of esse as being?

Clarke sees the primacy of esse as being one of his central retrievals of Aquinas.

Given the essence-existence distinction in real beings, Clarke sees Aquinass achievement as

applying the Aristotelian act and potency to an ontological participation theory. Hence, all

beings participate in an act of existence, (esse) on the horizontal level, namely, in so far as they

are finite creatures. In terms of the essence-existence distinction in things, Aquinas sees the

essence as a limiting potency to the perfection of an act of existence. Hence, the act of existence

is the primary perfection of a being, and the whole created order of the material universe is like a

vast symphony on the created theme of the act of existence. There is a radical shift of the

metaphysical center of gravity from form and essence where it was in classical Greek philosophy

to the supraformal act or dynamism of existence.

From the notion of existential act as the primary perfection of real beings, Clarke

retrieves the Thomistic notion of substance as dynamic act, i.e., as an abiding center of activity

and being acted upon. In the Summa Contra Gentiles Aquinas claims that Each and everything

shows forth that it exists for the sake of its operation. Indeed, operation is the ultimate perfection

of each thing. In the De Potentia we read: It is the nature of every actuality to communicate

itself insofar as it is possible. Hence, every agent acts according as it exists in actuality. Finally,

in the Summa Theologica we read:

Natural things have a natural inclination not only toward

their own proper good, to acquire it if not possessed,

to rest therein; but also to spread aboard their own good

amongst others, so far as possible. Hence, we see that every

agent, in so far as it is perfect and in act, produces its like.

Hence, Clarke sees Aquinass substance as highly dynamic, a substance-in-relation. Each

being as a substance with an act of existence as its primary perfection is by virtue of the act of

existence a center of action: to be is to be in action. Consequently, every being in the universe

has an intrinsic dynamic orientation toward self-expression and communication with other

beings. In addition to this tendency to act upon others, every being in the universe has the need

to be acted upon. He sees this as a manifestation of the both the richness and poverty of being:

poor because it lacks the fullness of existence, and so strives to enrich itself as much as its

nature allows from the richness of those around it and rich because endowed with its own

richness of existence, however slight this may be, which it tends naturally to communicate and

share with others.

Some Thomists would object to Clarkes notion of substance-in-relation on the basis of

the kinds of relations that appear in traditional thomistic texts on metaphysics. Celestine Bittle,
for example, distinguishes kinds of relations as logical and real (metaphysical). Real or

metaphysical relations are of two kinds, essential or transcendental and accidental or

predicamental. Accidental relations may be mutual or non-mutual. Mutual accidental relations

exist where the relation abides in both terms of the relationship as for example a son related to

his father whereas a non-mutual accidental relation is one in which the relation abides in only

one term of the relation as for example when a person comes to know some piece of information

which he did not previously know. The relation abides in the knower, not in the object known.

It is obvious that for a Thomist like Bittle relations, following the Aristotelian categories, are

essentially accidental. They are accidents existing in a substance. It would seem that Thomists

like Bittle are inheritors of a distorted notion of substance that has come down to them from

modernity. First, the Cartesian self-enclosed substance; second, the Lockean inert substance as

an unknowable substratum; and third, the Humean separable substance rejected as unintelligible.

With these distortions the in-itself aspect of being was overstressed and relations became

secondary and unimportant. Secondly and more importantly, substance was viewed in a static

way instead of in its dynamic act. Consequently, Aquinass notion of being as essentially

ordered toward action and self-communication was lost. It is precisely this aspect of the inner

active dynamism of being that Clarke wants to retrieve in his notion of substance-in-relation. In

short, because being is active, it is self-communicative, hence, related. So, to be is to be in

relation. In fact the universe of being is a web of relations communicating over the bridge of

action. It should be obvious that Aquinas was not a Thomist.

The paradigm instance of what it means to be a substance-in-relation, what it means to be

in the fullest meaning of being as dynamic act of existence is for Clarke the human person. He

writes: the full dimension of what it means to be can be found only in personal being in its

interpersonal manifestation. Person, then, is not something other than the act of existence of a
human nature. Rather, it is the fullest expression of what it means to be and to exist. Clarke

explains that being naturally turns into person wherever its restricting level of essence allows it

to be intensely enough [in order to transcend] the dispersal of matter. In other words, person is

act of existence that transcends the matter which is its body and becomes not only a substance-

in-relation like rocks and trees, but an act of presence that becomes presence to and for itself

(self-consciousness), and master of its own actions (freedom) In short, the perfection of being

is esse and as esse being is dynamic relation to other beings forming a vast web of material

cosmic relationships. But when being as esse transcends its dispersion over matter, it becomes

human person as the fullest expression and perfection of what it means to be on this side of the

frontier: living between matter and spirit, time and eternity. The human person as a frontier

being, then, is a substantial unity of body and soul, matter and spirit that expresses

himself/herself as a person-in-relation by means of love, namely, by means of conscious and free

choice. Clarke claims that the human person expresses himself/herself by loving, in the

broadest sense of the term, to make itself the center of the widest possible web of relationships to

all things and especially to all persons through knowledge and love. But in addition to

expressing oneself in active communication with other persons the human person receives the

active communication of other persons on oneself. Clarke argues that self donation would be

incomplete without welcoming receptivity on the other side of the personal relation. Authentic

love is not complete unless it is both actively given and actively - - gracefully - - received. . . . .

The perfection of being -- and therefore of the person -- is essentially dyadic, culminating in


To sum up, human persons as substantial unities of body and soul are essentially acting

persons giving of themselves and receiving from others as real incarnate agents being-in-the-

world. Human persons, then, form a community of active presence of being to one another in
and through the communicative language of the body. That is what it means for the person to be

a frontier being.

The Resurrection the Dead in Catholic Theology

Karl Rahner, Hans Kung and Joseph Ratzinger all maintain that what Catholic theology

means by the resurrection of the dead is twofold: first and foremost it is a resurrection of the

human person, namely, the whole man; secondly, it is the resurrection of human corporeality.

Regarding the resurrection of the person, Rahner argues that Resurrection means . . .

the termination and perfection of the whole man before God, which gives eternal life. And

although death crashes in on a person from outside and one passively undergoes it, nevertheless,

it is simultaneously an inner choice and the self actualization of the person. He argues:

. . . as the end of man as a spiritual person [death]

must be an active consummation from within brought

about by the person himself, a maturing self-realization

which embodies the result of what man has made

of himself during life, the achievement of total self-possession,

a real effectuation of self, the fullness of freely produced

personal identity.

Hence, Rahner sees ones death as the fulfillment and continuity of ones personal identity.

Likewise Hans Kung sees the resurrection of the dead as the new creation, the

transformation of the whole person by Gods life-creating Spirit. He sees that this notion of the

resurrection of the dead is preeminently Biblical and consequently overcomes the Platonic

dualism of body and soul. It is the raising up understood in the New Testament sense of the

body as soma, i.e., an identical personal reality, the same self with its entire history. Kung

claims that what matters is the identity of the person.

Ratzinger also considers the New Testament notion of body (soma) when discussing the

resurrection of the dead. The New Testament knows no word denoting only the body as

distinguished from the soul. Rather it presupposes the undivided unity of the human person. He,

therefore, argues that the real content of Biblical hope symbolized as the resurrection of the dead

is immortality of the person, of the one creation man. He further explains as opposed to any

Greek dualism of body and soul that the awakening of the dead (not of bodies!) of which

Scripture speaks is thus conceived with the salvation of the one, undivided man, not just with the

fate of one (so far as possible secondary half of man). Schillebeeckx following along the same

line of thought argues that what is called the resurrection of the body is the resurrection of the

human person including his or her human corporeality.

Having established that the resurrection of the dead is primarily the resurrection of the

human person, it now remains to delineate what exactly Schillebeeckx and the others mean by

corporeality as included in the resurrection of the dead. Schillebeeckx makes it clear that by

corporeality one does not mean the chemico-physical body left behind in death, but that

corporeality has to do with the personal corporeality in which I lived on earth. However, he

does not give us a positive account of what corporeality consists in. Joseph Ratzinger likewise

expresses the view that by corporeality one does not mean a chemico-physical body of atoms and

molecules. He argues that both John (6.53) and Paul (1 Cor 15.50) state with all possible

emphasis that the resurrection of the flesh, the resurrection of the body is not a resurrection

of physical bodies.

What, then, is meant by Schillebeeckxs personal corporeality if by this we must

exclude the chemico-physical bodies we live in? First of all, it must be said that the body we

live in is ones mode of being-in-the world. It is the means by which we establish many

relationships, take the world into ourselves, and thereby give shape to ourselves as persons. It is
the body which is open to the giving and the receiving of the active presence of human persons

in interpersonal relationships. As frontier beings, persons interact in the world and actualize

themselves in and through their physical bodies. And yet in the resurrection of the dead it is not

this chemico-physical body that is included in the resurrection and the final actualization of the

person (the whole man). Nevertheless, human corporeality and personal corporeality is essential

as a component of the resurrected self/person.

Karl Rahner gives insight into what might be meant by corporeality by distinguishing

between body and flesh. Body is what a person has: flesh is what a person is. The resurrection

of the dead is, therefore, the destiny of the one and total person who is as such flesh. It is not the

resurrection of the body, if by that one means that some material fragment of the earthly body is

found again in the glorified body. For this kind of identity cannot even be found in the earthly

body, because of its radical metabolic processes. Secondly, what corporeality or the

resurrection of the flesh means is that what comes before God in death is ones personal history

fashioned by means of free decisions made as incarnate spirit in and through the physical body.

The human person as incarnate spirit is bodily being-in-the-world. Hence, Rahner can hold that

Resurrection of the flesh which man is does not mean resurrection of the body which man has

as part of himself. Rahner claims that:

. . . the resurrection in its theologically valid sense

refers primarily to the acquiring of a final and ultimate

form by the whole, individual person in his own history

of freedom; it applies to his body only in a secondary

and derived sense.

Hence, the most we can speculate about the corporeality of the resurrection of the dead is that

what is raised and transformed is in continuity with ones identical personal reality, the same self
with its whole history as lived out in the flesh. In other words, what is important here is not a

question of ones body as an empirical entity, but the one and total person who as such is flesh.

Joseph Ratzinger makes an interesting distinction that may help us understand this mystery more

deeply. He distinguishes between physical unit and bodiliness. Bodiliness is more than a

physical unit -- a sum of corpuscles. It is matter as drawn into the souls power of expression.

I take him to mean that bodiliness is the souls expression of itself insofar as the human person is

incarnate spirit, and the soul as form of the body can never be separated from material

expression. I think we can see what Ratzinger means by bodiliness as the souls power of

expression when we look at peoples body language or the expressions on their faces. Their

whole personality and history are written there. The face of an old embittered person looks

different than the face of a person grown old gracefully. That bodiliness, that material

expression of the soul as a result of ones history as being-in-the-world is a necessary component

of the resurrected person. It is ones unique bodiliness because as Clarke argued ones individual

body is the only apt vehicle for the souls expression. Aquinas claims that such adaptabilities

remain in the soul even after the bodies have perished. Consequently, the bodiliness we bring

into eternal life as the necessary aspect of our personal identity must be in continuity with the

physical body that was the only apt vehicle for the souls expression in matter in the world.

Hence, the resurrection of the body would mean the resurrection of ones unique bodiliness. In

short, we will all bring into eternal life that aspect of our personal identity which cannot be

separated from matter and our history of free decisions made in and through the communicate

language of our physical bodies as being-in-the-world.

So far we have seen that for Catholic theologians the meaning of the resurrection of the

dead is essentially the resurrection of the individual human person together with the material

component called corporeality which is essentially the souls expression as the form of a body,
namely, its bodiliness. However, the destiny of each human person becomes fully actualized

and perfected only in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. In other words, the destiny of

each person is necessarily bound up with the fulfillment of humanity as such, namely, the whole

human community. This is the universal eschatological dimension of the resurrection of the

dead. Ratzinger claims that the goal of the Christian is not private bliss but the whole. She or

he believes not just in her or his own future but in the future of the world. And this future is

Gods doing not the persons. Rahner expresses a similar idea when he claims that the glorified

body enters into free and unhampered relations with everything. In this way, the glorified body

seems to become the perfect expression of the enduring relations of the glorified person to the

cosmos as a whole. In other words, mans being-in-the-world which is constitutive of the

person is fully realized and perfected only when human persons enter into active relationship and

communication with everybody and everything. Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy

Longing has an interesting interpretation of Jesus claim in Luke 20:27-40 that in the resurrection

of the dead we will no longer marry or be given in marriage. Rather we will embrace everyone

and everything in a single embrace of love. He writes about this in terms of human sexuality:

Because our sexuality is ultimately geared to embrace

everyone does not mean that we can be promiscuous and,

already here in this life, try to live that out. In fact,

paradoxically, it means the opposite. Only God can sleep

with everyone, and, thus, only in God can we sleep with

everyone. In this life, even though our sexuality has us geared

up for universal embrace, we only have two options that are

life-giving: Either we embrace the many through the one

(by sleeping with one person within a monogamous marriage)

or we embrace the one through the many (by sleeping with no one,

in celibacy). Both of these are ways that will eventually open our

sexuality up so as to embrace everyone.

Hence, the final resurrection of the dead is a final embrace of all persons in the body of Christ. It

is a communal act of the giving and receiving in love of all of humanity. It is the universal

embrace of everything and everybody. There is a twofold relationship of persons to one another

and to the material cosmos.

At the moment of death, ones personal history made in self-awareness and freedom

comes to an end. This personal identity together with ones bodiliness enters into God.

However, one is not yet complete because as Bernard Prusak argues only at the End will I

realize how I was affected by all those who came before me and how I affected, positively and

negatively, all those who came after me. Free human actions and choices made in ones

personal history have far reaching consequences and effects in the community of persons in the

ongoing process of history. Ones influence does not end at the moment of death. Rather, we

retain in death a relationship to the process of becoming in the world -- an ongoing relationship

to the history of the world. Consequently, only when the history of the world and the history of

other persons is fulfilled will our personal histories be fully actualized and consummated. For

example, St. Benedict with his teaching of the importance of lectio divina is still having his

influence on the world in every Benedictine monastery formed into Christ by means of lectio

divina and on every lay person who buys a book on lectio divina and practices it daily. The full

actualization of the person of St. Benedict, then, will be complete only when those he has

influenced have completed their personal histories because their personal histories form part of

Benedicts own ongoing history. Ratzinger writes about this mutual interdependence between

the individual and humanity: What happens in one individual has an effect upon the whole of
humanity, and what happens in humanity happens in the individual.

There is then an ongoing inter-relationship between the person, society and the worlds

ongoing history that can only be completed at the end of time in the general resurrection of the

dead when all persons become fully actualized and complete. Only then will each person

become fully complete because only then will he/she realize his/her fullest personal history and

story, namely, his/her ongoing effects, for good or for ill, on the ongoing history of the world one

left behind at ones personal death, but not without ongoing influence. My death may not have

much ongoing influence in history, but the deaths of people like St. Benedict, and I may add

Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Edith Stein, Mother Theresa, and yes, Joseph Stalin and

Adolph Hitler certainly have.

Bernard Prusak suggests that upon ones personal death one begins a process

with a particular resurrection of the dead in which

our bodiliness and our relationship to history are

already integrated into our identity, to the degree that

our direct, active impact upon history has ended in death.

But an individuals particular resurrection in death

is not the last day, and a human does not become

absolutely timeless at death. The reverberations of our

decisions, for good or ill, continue to affect the human, animal,

vegetative, and physical world, and the ongoing history we

have left behind. Only in the universal resurrection,

when the material world and its history will have achieved

the fullness of finality, will our contributions and relationship

to that world be finalized and fully realized, and integrated

into our identity, which will thereby have achieved wholeness.

A Synthesis with Norris Clarkes Metaphysics of the Person

One may sum up Clarkes philosophy of the human person by the following axioms:

1. The human person is the fullest expression of what it means to be.

2. To be is to be a substance-in-relation, namely, an active center of existence

communicating over the bridge of action with other centers of existence,

inanimate, animate and human.

3. As persons, the active center of existence becomes self-conscious and master

of its own actions in freedom.

4. As such, persons enter into personal dialogue with each other in thought and

love by actively communicating to one another out of the richness of

ones being, and receiving from one another in the poverty of ones being.

5. As frontier beings between matter and spirit, and time and eternity, human

persons grow and become more fully actualized persons in and through

the communicative language of the body. In this sense, the self needs the

human body for its completion.

6. As persons maturing over time in and through the communicative language of

the body, human persons have a history.

In short, for Clarke, to be is to be a substance in dynamic relation, and to be a person is to be a

self-aware and free substance in relation to other persons in and through the body to which it is

substantially united as a single unified self. This person has a history.

Given what has been said about the resurrection of the dead, the self as a whole man can

reach its fullest completion as a self-aware and free person in a community of frontier beings
with a history only in what Catholic theology calls the final resurrection of the dead at the end of

time. Before that final day according to Prusak there begins what he calls a particular

resurrection of the dead a process in which the person reaches a certain self-fulfillment, but one

that is not fully and completely actualized. In this process the person reaches his/her personal

fulfillment as a frontier being actively giving and receiving in a dynamic community of sharing

and receiving being. Nevertheless, only in the universal resurrection at the end of time when the

material world and its history will be achieved in its fullness will our relationships be finally

realized and integrated into our personal identity. Only then will we be fully complete as whole

persons with our bodiliness, namely, with the expression of our soul had in and through the


Some may object that if souls are not fully realized until the final resurrection, wont

they be incomplete beings upon death, still longing for completion? Aquinas himself holds the

position that the soul is naturally the form of the body and, although it can know itself and

spiritual objects in heaven after death, as well as be happy in the beatific vision, the soul is in an

unnatural state, and in this condition of separation from the body it is not strictly a human

person. Hence, it is obvious that for Aquinas the soul in heaven before the final resurrection of

the dead is incomplete. In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas writes:

It is also clear from what was said in book II that the soul

is naturally united to the body, for in its essence it is the

form of the body. It is, then, contrary to the nature of the

soul to be without the body. But nothing which is contrary

to the nature if the soul can be perpetual. Perpetually, then,

the soul will not be without the body. Since, then, it persists

perpetually, it must once again be united to the body; and this

is to rise again. Therefore, immortality of souls seems to

demand a future resurrection of bodies.

Hence, there in no obstacle to the idea that the human person is not a being fully

complete in ones personal death. Moreover, given the fact that ones influence in an ongoing

history of the community of persons continues after ones personal death, a person becomes fully

complete only when that person realizes his/her place in the ongoing history of the world in the

final resurrection of the dead at the end of time. That is to say, when one is in full communion

with all other persons in the final resurrection of humanity. Secondly, one becomes a fully

complete person when one is in full relationship with the cosmos as such. Clarke argues that

without the presence of the human person in the universe, the cosmos would remain totally

unconscious of the great circle of being, namely, that the material universe came from God by

way of efficient causality and is journeying back to its Source by way of God as final cause. In

short, the human person raises the material universe into consciousness and so fulfills it and

takes it back to union with God. In this way the human person becomes full and complete in the

final resurrection when at the same time the whole of the material universe reaches its conscious


Clarke claims that the human person comes into existence enveloped in a web of relations

of dependence on others even before he/she actively engages in relation to the world and other

persons. From then on, a persons whole development will consist in relating itself

appropriately, both actively and responsively, to the world around it and especially to other

persons both human and divine. This process of intercommunication with being that began

without ones awareness and choice can only reach its fulfillment after a life of self-awareness

and choice lived out in the human body in what Prusak calls the resurrection of the dead at the

end of time when the cosmos and its history will have achieved its fullness of finality and the
contributions and relations of the human person to the world are fully integrated into each

persons identity. Only in this way will the human person who is a substantial unity of body and

soul as well as an active center of existence (self-conscious and free) in communication with

other centers of existence, inanimate, animate and human be fully actualized and completed as

frontier beings. Frontier beings living between matter and spirit, and time and eternity can be

fully realized only in a final communion with all of humanity and the whole cosmos. The

resurrection of the dead as understood by Catholic theology is the logical telos to the nature of

the human person as understood by W. Norris Clarke.