Jesus raised the dead. Where were their souls?


Question: Regarding the people Jesus raised from the dead, where were their souls while they were dead? (Location withheld)

Answer: Among the many miracles Jesus performed as part of his public ministry, some of the most remarkable include his raising several recently-deceased people from the dead.

In the Gospels we read of the raising of Jairus’ young daughter, (see Mt 9:18–26; Mk 5:21–43; and Lk 8:40–56), as well as the only son of a widow in the city of Nain (Lk 7:11- 17). Perhaps most famously, chapter 11 of John’s Gospel recounts
the raising of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary.

While each of them were indeed truly raised from the dead in a miraculous way, it would be more appropriate to speak of their “revival” rather than their “resurrection.” That is, Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son, and Lazarus would all eventually die a second time, and definitively.

In contrast to this, when Jesus was “resurrected” in the proper sense of the term, he moved totally beyond death and could never die again (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 646).

To your question, it’s notable that in accounts of Jesus raising these people from the dead, the Gospels give us plenty of what we might call “human interest” details; Jesus tells Jairus to give his newly-raised daughter something to eat (Lk 8:55), and Jesus wept upon hearing of his friend Lazarus’ death ( Jn 11:35).

But they do not tell us clearly where these people’s spirits went or what was experienced in death. Likewise, as far as I have been able to find, the Church doesn’t give us a direct, specific answer to the question.

But we may take into account the Church’s traditional under- standing of what happened on Holy Saturday, namely that Jesus descended into “hell” (understood in this sense as simply the under- world or the realm of the dead, rather than a freely-chosen state of separation from God), in order to triumphally open the gates of heaven to all of God’s faithful who were awaiting their redemption from his sacrifice on the cross.

The Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for Holy Saturday includes an ancient homily which contains an imaginative meditation on Jesus’ descent to the underworld during the time be- tween his death and resurrection:

“He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. … At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’ … Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.’”

So, if we wish to speculate a little, my own guess is that Lazarus and the others would have – for however brief a time – shared in the hope and longing of all the other souls of the dead who were await- ing their salvation in Christ.

Question: I’m reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have a question about CCC 460. Can you please fully explain the lines: “For the son of God became man so that we might become God” and “… might make men gods.” I am to become GOD? That doesn’t seem right.

Answer: No, Catholics do not believe we literally “become” God in the sense of becoming beings with the capacity to create universes out of nothing, by means of pure will; or that we become radically all-powerful or all-knowing; or that we ourselves become worthy of the worship due to God alone.

There is and can only ever be one God. And even in the heavenly life of the world to come, we retain our human nature. We can’t even change our nature to become angels, as is sometimes popularly supposed.

So, how should we understand this line in the catechism? There is helpful clarity by looking at the opening of the very paragraph you cite. CCC 460 begins by telling us that “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature.’”

That is, because we are united to Jesus and become like him through baptism, we “partake” i.e., share in Jesus’ own life as the son of God. Sharing in this divine nature means, among other things, that we are able to enjoy eternal life and that we become God’s children by adoption.

It might also be helpful to note some overall context. Paragraph 460 is situated in the middle of a discussion on the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation – that is, how the “Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14), or how Jesus remained fully God while being born in our human nature.

The specific passage in question here was not actually written by the drafters of the catechism, but is rather a quote from a Church Father, St. Athanasius, from his book “On the Incarnation of the Word.”

This idea that Jesus, the Word of God, took on our human nature in order that humanity might be enabled to have some share in his divine nature is a theme that actually runs throughout our faith tradition.

Even during the Mass, when the priest mixes a drop of water into the wine which is soon to be consecrated, he prays quietly to himself: “By the mystery of this water in wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to [email protected].

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