“Psychosomatic Persons and Reclothed Skeletons: Images of Resurrection in Spiritual Writing and Iconography” From:
Bynum, Caroline W. The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-
1336. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
In chapter four of her scholarly work on the resurrection belief in the Middle Ages, Caroline Walker Bynum mainly focusses on the scholastic, monastic, and iconographic representations of death, redemption and the resurrection (of the body) in the High Middle Ages. By referring to popular medieval spiritual writers and by explaining their predominant images and literary devices, she tries to clarify the general resurrection belief around 1200 AD. The chapter has a fairly clear cut structure and, for reasons of plainness, I am going to stick to that structure.
Bynum starts her argumentation by initially explaining a few general ideas on that time´s resurrection belief: she indicates (and later says) that there was a distinction made between the first and the second resurrection, the resurrection of the soul immediately after the death and the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Unlike today, when many theologians do not believe in this resurrection of the body in the literal sense, this article of faith was totally normal and commonly approved in the Middle Ages. It seemed unlogical (since the soul was seen as incomplete without the body) and (according to God´s justice) unfair/unjust that the body should not be part of the soul´s eternal joy or punishment, although it was “the partner” in the soul´s earthly actions – whether good or evil.
After that the author continues her argumentation by exemplifying the ways with which resurrection and the resurrected body were described in medieval spiritual literature.
On account of this, Caroline W. Bynum refers to a very famous Benedictine abbess, natural philosopher, theologian, dramatist, and visionary: Hildegard of Bingen. She makes clear that in Hildegard´s literary works, there are two distinguishable “directions” of visualising the resurrection: on the one hand, Hildegard uses images of (positive) transformation to illustrate resurrection as for instance the flowering of plants into blossoms and seeds; and on the other hand she depicts resurrection as a reassemblage of scattered bones that would rise from the dead, be covered with flesh to form the body a person had in his or her life on earth, that could then join the soul in blessedness or punishment.
Here it becomes clear that Hildegard sees the person as an impartible whole, a psychosomatic unity.
Nevertheless, the body tends toward a neagtive transformation, i.e. toward decay and partition. To be worthy to join the soul in eternal joy and happiness, it has to gain a better condition and appearance: it has to become subtle, crystalline, perfect and (above all) impassible. As it should be obvious now, Hildegard frequently uses organic as well as inorganic images to picture the resurrected person – organic ones mainly for the transformative progress of the soul and inorganic ones mainly for stasis and the reassemblage of the decayed body.
In the following, Bynum, after having shown methods of Benedictine depicting of the resurrection, tries to contrast these methods with those used by Cistercians. In this context she mentions four well-known Cistercians of the 12th century: Bernard of Clairvaux, Hreman of Reun, William of St. Thierry and Guerric of Igny.
In the following exploration she emphasizes the Cistercians´ view of the body in the resurrection – they (e.g. Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St. Thierry) saw the body as absolutely necessary for the soul to become entirely happy at the end of time. Moreover, it is here that the distinction between first and second resurrection is explicitly mentioned, but apart from that, there is another distinction made: namely between general (human) resurrection and the resurrection of Jesus Christ (and the Blessed Virgin Mary), the latter being marked by the fact that neither Mary nor her on experienced any body change in the grave, i.e. putrefaction and decay.