The Phenomenology of Christ in Flesh and Bones

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
—1 Corinthians 15:35

“Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”
—Luke 24:39

The mystery of the resurrection in flesh and bones is in these words, difficult both to believe and to think. Indeed, we have a hard time adhering to this mystery, and yet the Christian is supposed to put faith in it. Moreover, one must at least partially conceptualize it, at risk of letting it go up in smoke. The most innocent questions concerning the “carnal consistency” of the Resurrected One today indeed are omitted (corpulence, resistance, digestion, restoration, integrality, functionality . . . ) for want of a suitable and contemporary anthropology for us to ask them. There where the Resurrected One’s “becoming body,” including the material, once filled the pages of the Treatises of the Church Fathers, as well as the Commentaries on the Sentences and the Theological Summas of the medievals, today nothing more is discussed, save to reduce the apparition accounts to a magic difficult even for children to accept, much less for adults to conceive.

Everyone can agree that the mystery of the Incarnation is difficult to believe and to understand, and yet it is precisely what Christians do not cease to profess: “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” (the Apostles’ Creed). But that one must believe and even understand the mystery of the resurrection of the dead, when it is a matter of our own resurrection on the one hand and of the resurrection of the body on the other, seems just as “un-believable” (difficult to confess) as “un-thinkable” (impossible to think): “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the [flesh], and life in the world to come, Amen.” Philosophy too must try to render comprehensible this mystery of a God made body, even material, for us “from one end to the other,” a materiality of the body that must first be assumed in order then to be transformed.

Whence comes the apt remark of John Damascene—this time amidst the debate over iconoclasm (8th century)—in a formula which definitively enjoins one to take up corporeality, but also to recapitulate materiality:

I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! . . . Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible.

1. The Fright of the Body

The words pronounced on the day of the resurrection—“a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39)—even today are as inaudible as inconceivable. Whence the understandable “distress” provoked by the apparition of the One who indeed seems to be the same as the one who was incarnate: “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost [or a phantom]. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself’” (Luke 24:37-39). To be sure, we will always be able to avoid the question and argue that it is a matter only of recognizing him in his stigmatized body, rather than of doing right by our doubts with respect to the materiality and consistency of this resurrected body. To be sure, it is entirely a matter of recognition—“it is I myself” (egô eimi autos)—and not of knowledge, i.e., what are “these hands which are his” (idete tas cheïras mou) and “these feet which are his” (kaï tous podas mou)? But by casting doubt on these doubts, by not mulling over or showing their merits, we end by falsely imposing certitudes.

We too would be “terrified” (ptoêthentes) with the disciples, “afraid” (emphoboï), “frightened” (tetaragmenoï), even full of “objections” (dialogismoï) if this happened to us. If Christ had appeared as a “ghost” or a “phantom” (pneuma), to which we will return, we in fact would have been less frightened, and probably the disciples would have been less frightened as well, inasmuch as their possibility does not destroy the horizon of what can manifest itself. Bodies which are not really bodies haunt all traditions (from Gnosticism to the angels even); we have simply grown used to it. But that a body made of “flesh and bones” (sarxa kai ostea) can indeed now claim to appear and reappear in what we ordinarily call a horizon of reality or objectivity, this especially goes against our faculties of thought and even imagination. Whence comes the necessity of approaching through a quasi-animal touch, or in any case one stripped of every consciousness, in order to be truly persuaded of it: “touch me”—literally, “palpate me” (psêlaphésate me)—and “look” (idete), “a ghost (pneuma) does not have flesh and bones (sarxa kai ostea ouk ekeï) as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The body-to-body contact with the Resurrected One is sketched here more on the model of “seeing,” too abstract and universalizing to truly penetrate, or better to resist. But this contact is expressed only in touching or by the “touching-touched,” which this time is no longer content with feeling or experiencing in a subjective body (the lived body, Leib), nor with being held there in front in an objective body (the extended body, Körper). Here this contact resists the one with the other in an impenetrability that also constitutes our own common aim (the spread body, seen as human or divine and which remains no less animal or even biological). Whence the not insignificant question: Quid or what is this “flesh” (sarxa) and these “bones” (ostea) to which the Gospel of Luke bears witness? We cannot hastily avoid this question if it sufficed to recognize this flesh and these bones by the stigmata, and therefore by the body’s lived experience of what it was.

Le Caravage L Incr Dulit De Saint Thomas

2. Of Flesh and Bones        

Perhaps we can or could resurrect in flesh and bones, that is to say, “with” the “flesh” (sarksa) and “bones” (ostea) in the sense with which we use those terms today. Such would be the literal reading of the expression: “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The common formula en chair et en os or in flesh and bones, at least in French, seems to convince us of it, whatever else the philosophical diversity of the expression’s interpretations may be, to which we will return. Whoever is present there—de visu, de tactu, or even better, in concreto—truly does stand before me “in flesh and bones,” “with” his or her true body made “of flesh and bones,” even of “veins and blood” or “organs and limbs.” Neither virtual nor reduced to the purely emotional, the other is at my side or with me as the one whom I can definitively touch and embrace. For the screen of the possible is finally substituted the backdrop of the real—even what we had forgotten returns or resurfaces: “to seize” or embrace each other, to take hold of or feel, to hold in each other’s arms and console—so that the resurrection of bodies will cease realizing for the screen alone what “flesh” and “bones” have themselves staged (but in what sense?) if not in reality (Realität), then at least in effectivity (Wiklichkeit).

But is it, then, in this sense—that is to say, this purely and exclusively realist sense—that Christ resurrected in flesh and bones, as the immediate interpretation of Caravaggio’s painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, might suggest, where the apostle seems to study the open side of Christ like a surgeon examines a wound in order to ascertain its thickness and seriousness? In short, this is not very believable (to give it an act of faith), or at least not very credible (to give reasons for it), insofar as it shocks consciences and even does not necessarily make sense. We will then have to quickly “pass” over the formula in flesh and bones, charging quickly towards the “flesh” or the lived experience of the lived body (Leib) to realize what the physical body (Körper) cannot. In phenomenology (apparition or auto-affection) as in theology (resurrection), it is easier to treat the manner than it is to treat the matter, the lived experience than the substance, and therefore it is easier to treat the “flesh” than the “body.”

The fact remains that we will not quickly flee the reality of the Resurrected One’s body, for such is precisely what produces the fright of the body and also makes the resurrection an “impossibility” to be sidestepped, especially by thought. The apt remark by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa contra Gentiles, according to which we will resurrect with our stomachs or with our sexual organs but without having to use these organs, because we will no longer nourish ourselves after the resurrection, is certainly something to smile at, today perhaps more than in times past. But this is to confuse the aim of restoration (to return in the same way, but without the usefulness) and that of integration (to omit nothing in the act of resurrection): the risen “will, therefore, have all the members of this sort, even though there be no use for them, to re-establish the integrity of the natural body.” In short, if nothing expresses that in flesh and bones means “with” flesh and “with” bones, at the very least in the sense of their employability or their usefulness, then nothing indicates either that they should be necessarily and integrally suppressed. Besides, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says nothing else than this, according to a “principle of continuity” and a “law of transformation” of the resurrected body that we must not forget:

The risen body in which he appears to them is the same (idem) body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm.

What Thomas Aquinas did in his day for hylomorphism we must do today for phenomenology, though on a smaller scale: namely, to consider the resurrected body anew for our culture as well (which is no longer solely that of hylomorphism). But the difficulty is redoubled with respect to precisely what is “of our time,” for a certain danger of Gnosticism menaces phenomenology, just as it haunted theology in the epoch of the early Fathers of the Church. It is not certain that by dint of insisting upon the lived experience of the lived body (Leib) we have not lost everything or nearly as much of its materiality as of its organicity, even here below. If we seek an “expansion of the body,” or a certain form of the spread body between the “extended body” of Descartes and the “lived flesh” of Husserl, it is not in this alone that we would somehow need to “compensate for the flesh by the body” in the hereafter; it is rather that the possibility of a “body without flesh” in death (the cadaver or corpse) must no longer lead to a total “flesh without body” in the resurrection (ethereal body). Everything therefore depends on what we understand by in flesh and bones, at least in philosophy but also for theology, in order to determine what truly is this “ghost [which] does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). With Christ’s apparition “in flesh and bones” to the Eleven or to the apostle Thomas, to whom we will return, we have a true “expression,” in every sense of the term: a manifestation of a body and a linguistic formula. It is by examining this expression that we will better know what can be trusted.

3. Phenomenology of the Flesh

To be sure, the equivalence between sarxa kai ostea in the Greek of Luke’s Gospel (“with flesh and with bones”) and leibhaftig in the German of phenomenology (“in flesh and bones”) is not self-evident, though it is the least we can say. One could object that cultures are different and that the scriptures were recorded in Greek, spoken in Aramaic, and have nothing to do with the phenomenological tradition composed in German or French or in any other language. But this is to forget yet again what Thomas Aquinas, for example, accomplished in his time. For there is no more equivalence between hylomorphism and resurrection (accomplished form of the body) than there is between phenomenology and resurrection (in flesh and bones). Rather than fearing passages—from one culture to another—we will claim them as our own instead. At least in Catholic theology, there is no more an overcoming of metaphysics than there is the creation of another culture, even a counter-culture. Quite the contrary, it is through and by a tradition, be it transformed from within, that the reading of scripture will be renewed and will make sense for us today.

In the two cases of theology (sarxa kai ostea) and phenomenology (leibhaftig), it is therefore a question of what we name the apparitions described as “in person”—whether it is in Husserl (“the presence of the incarnate person [leibhaftigen Selbstgegenwart] to an individual object” [Ideas I, §39])[1] or in the Gospel of Luke (“Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself” [egô eimi autos], in person [Luke 24:39]). There is an equivalence if not in terms, then at least in the fields of manifestation. To know what is here of these “flesh” and “bones,” or of the givenness in what we are in person, is certainly worth considering for phenomenology (the status of corporeity and perception), but also and perhaps more yet for theology (substantiality of the resurrected body, even our own, in via to be sure, but also in patria).

a. In Flesh and Bones, or “In Person”

What Edmund Husserl in fact first teaches us in the Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology (1913) is that “leibhaftig” or presence “in flesh and bones” constitutes the heart of phenomenology. Thus the famous principle of principles in §24 of Ideas I, where the “effectivité en chair en os—effectivity in flesh and bones” as translated by J.-F. Lavigne, or even the “réalité corporelle—corporeal reality” as translated by P. Ricœur, constitutes the very content of the originarily giving intuition:

That every originarily giving intuition is a source of legitimacy for knowledge, that everything which is offered to us originarily in intuition (that is to say, in its effectivity “in flesh and bones”—leibhaften Wiklichkeit) is to be taken simply as it is given, but also within the limits in which it is given there.[2]

What is important here, at least in our interpretation, is less the limits of that by which the thing is given than what gives itself. And what gives itself, and in all cases in phenomenology, is a form of “effectivity” (Wirchlichkeit). But this effectivity, far from being a form of reality, even dialectically engendered (Hegel), is a form of the corporeity of what gives itself (leibhaften), even though it would be here less a question of a “real body” [corps réel] than of a “genuine body” [corps réal], less a question of what is given than of the lived or hyletic material of what is “impressed” upon me: “The German expression ‘leibhaftigen Selbstgegenwart’ (presence in incarnate person),” the French translator of Husserl notes,

Clearly indicates the twofold essential determination of every perception conferred by an essence in the mode of its object’s presence: it is present “in person” (selbst), that is to say, it itself is present in its singular identity; moreover, this identity is given as unsurpassable, because it is ultimately manifested—beyond any representation, symbol, or signifier: it is the at once direct, total, and ultimate character of this presence that Husserl intends by the expression “Leibhaftigkeit,” presence “in flesh and bones” or “incarnate” (leibhaft)—even when the object so given cannot in any case be sensible or given to sensibility.[3]

We must admit, at least for the uninitiated, that this is full of phenomenological technicalities and complexities. But passing through this perhaps narrow way will allow us to say what it eventually affords theology, with its Christ who moreover is resurrected or, in other words, who is “in flesh and bones.” The whole of the analyses of leibhaftig in the Ideas I (1913) in reality only determines the possibility and even effectivity of this full and complete presence “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig) of the phenomenon, taking into account the content of its datum, but extending it also beyond sensibility alone. We will thus be able to speak of a perception “in flesh and bones,” but also of an imagination “in flesh and bones,” and even of an idea “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig)—according to the celebrated Husserlian principle of a broadening of intuition relative to Kant.[4] It is precisely because some thing or some quid is intuited that it is given “in person” or “in its person.” But what remains, or rather what is “in flesh and bones” is not the thing as such, obviously reduced here, but the lived experience of the thing which first makes sense. Paradoxically, at least to confront this thesis with the weight of the “thing” in Karl Marx, to whom we will return, the thing (das Ding) can be not given, at least in phenomenology, but the same cannot be said of the lived experience of the thing (die Sache). If something is “effectively given” when it gives itself “in flesh and bones,” this quid is less the thingliness of the thing, as it were, than the lived experience by which it is felt or undergone. There is no thingliness without lived experience, but there can be lived experience once thingliness, at least understood as exteriority, is reduced: “every thingly element given in flesh and bones can equally not be; no lived experience given in flesh and bones cannot equally be not given.”

b. The Bridge of Weidenhausen

Heidegger will then take this up, or rather (and it is worth saying) “will give body” to the Husserlian “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig), recognizing as he does the value or the addition of the “perceived” in the mode of incarnate givenness on the one hand (it is not the same, and in fact it is even more, to perceive than to imagine), and giving a descriptive form to the apparition in flesh and bones on the other hand (the Weidenhausen bridge), which his teacher, Husserl, had not yet been able to accomplish. This advance will require the theological apparition to be enriched with its more to come (this time “of flesh and bones,” sarxa kai ostea), or the necessity of the mode of the perceived for phenomenological apparition (this time “in flesh and bones,” leibhaftig).

Such is the meaning of the 1925 course delivered in Fribourg entitled History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, where the phenomenologist sees clearly and precisely in the “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig) a form of “self-givenness,” but also of an “incarnate self-givenness”:

The perceived as such has the character of incarnation (Leibhaftigkeit), which signifies that that being which is presented as perceived has the character of being there in the flesh (Leibhaft dalà-en-chair). It is not only given as itself, but as itself in its flesh (in selbst in seiner Leibhaftigkeitdans sa chair). There is a difference between being given-in-flesh and being self-given.[5]

This analysis is complex, and it is obviously not the objective of the present essay to develop it. It will suffice for us to note (and this is already to say a lot) that it is not enough to “be given” in order to be “given in flesh and bones.” In other words, every incarnation is a mode of givenness, but every givenness does not take place in the mode of incarnation. The perception of the phenomenon brings something else, even something more, to the simple representation or imagination. In order to perceive one must stand there, with or before what is perceived. For Martin Heidegger it is a matter of practically and almost physically moving in person, and of recognizing that there is a genuine place for intercorporeity, which is precisely what gives meaning to perception as “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig). This is not because the thing exists there independently from me, but because by its independent existence from me I am engaged there in a certain mode called “perception,” which confers upon the phenomenon the character of a “full presence in the present” that neither imagination, representation, memory, nor anticipation possess: “What is essential is the notion of ‘Leibhaftig’ . . . of presence there ‘in flesh and bones’: in perception what enters into presence affects my lived body in flesh and bones (in der Wahrnehmung ist das Anwesende ‘leibhaftig’).”[6]

Such is the example of the bridge of Weidenhausen, to continue Martin Heidegger’s analysis. According to this example, one must distinguish between the representation of the bridge in which it is for me truly “given” (the image of the bridge is only a mere copy of bridge called real), and the perception of the bridge by which it is for me “given in flesh and bones,” that is to say, with all the richness of the perceived that can only be delivered by the “now” of the perceived in the sensible profusion of the corporeity of the object, according to the philosopher of Fribourg:

I can now re-present the bridge of Weidenhausen to myself. I place myself before the bridge. In this re-presentation, the bridge is itself given, I aim at or intend the bridge itself and not at an image of the bridge or a fantasy, but it itself. Yet it is not given in flesh [and bones] (leibhaftig). It would be given in flesh and bones if I went down to place myself before the bridge itself. This is to say that what is itself given (selbst gegeben) has no need of being given in flesh [and bones] (leibhaftig), but, conversely, that every being given in flesh [and bones] (leibhaftig) is itself given (selbst geben). Incarnation is an exemplary mode of a being’s self-givenness.

c. The Richness of the Perceived

The richness of the perceived over the imagined, and so the presence there in flesh and bones in moving oneself around and standing physically “before the thing,” such is the authority and contribution of Jean-Paul Sartre, at least in his phenomenological period (The Imaginary, 1940). In the tradition of Husserl, but especially of Heidegger, there is in Sartre more in perceiving than in imagining, and this moreover makes it so that an apparition in the mode of perception will be more rich than an apparition in the mode of imagination:

In perception, a knowledge (savoir) is formed slowly; in the image, knowledge is immediate . . . But I can keep an image in view as long as I want: I will never find anything there but what I put there . . . In the world of perception [to the contrary], no “thing” can appear without maintaining an infinity of relations . . . If I perceived this patch of grass, I should study it for some time to know where it comes from. In the case of the image, I know it immediately: it is the grass of such-and-such a meadow, at such-and-such a place.[7]

If, therefore, there is “in the image . . . a kind of essential poverty,” what appeared as an asset from the point of view of modality—a single sheet of white paper (or a single body) given “in person” whether it be perceived or imagined—reveals in reality a weakness from the point of view of materiality. There is always more in the perceived (the surprising richness of the grass that I will never have finished observing once I dive into it) than in the imagined (the grass integrally given by the imagination, whose effort to scrutinize will bring nothing more than what was initially deposited there). No one can be content with the imagination in this sense. Not only does it deceive us, but in that way it also remains rich exclusively by what it has produced (and therefore in the unique richness of itself or of what one has put there oneself), and so remains the place of the greatest poverty: “Hence a kind of overflowing in the world of ‘things’: there is, at every moment, always infinitely more than we can see; to exhaust the richness of my current perception would take an infinite time.”

4. The Phenomenology of Christ in Flesh and Bone

a. The Eleven

With Jean-Paul Sartre as phenomenologist, but also with Martin Heidegger before him (the bridge of Weidenhausen), the apparition “in flesh and bones” expresses the given “in person,” but with this particularity that the “here in person”—which one indeed finds in the “It is I myself” (ego eimi autos) of the apparitions of Christ (Luke 24:39)—will also have to pass through the richness of perception in order not to remain in the poverty of imagining it alone. If Christ is there in the Cenacle of the Last Supper “in flesh and bones,” or better “of flesh and bones” according to the Greek (sarka kai ostea), it will then be ineluctably necessary, at least in the first instance, that there was then something perceived which overflowed the act of imagining—whence the “fright of the body” experienced by the disciples, precisely because it was unimaginable. As we had indicated in the “fright of the body,” if the Eleven in the Cenacle “were disbelieving” while they were “in their joy” of seeing him again (Luke 24:41), perhaps it is precisely in this that the genuine enjoyment of aiming at him “in the mode of the perceived” consists (he therefore was not a ghost or phantom [Luke 24:39]), nonetheless accompanied at the same time by a greater strangeness yet. For it most likely would have been less frightening or horrifying to see a ghost or phantom (a double of the one that they knew) than what strictly speaking we call in French a revenant, or one who returns from the dead and gives her- or himself to be seen or perceived in their body. Paradoxically, the fright of the body is redoubled when it is seen in the mode of the perceived and not in the mode of the imagined alone, which greatly distances us now from the simple “itself in the flesh” of the Husserlian Leibhaftig. An “of” flesh in “in flesh and bones” is necessary, just as there was “flesh,” or rather “body,” in the incarnation according to Tertullian—precisely in order “to carry the flesh” (carnem gestare) and not only “to carry the cross” (crucem gestare).

b. Thomas the Apostle

We could then believe all too quickly that it suffices to pass from the apparition to the Eleven (Luke 24:36-53) to the apparition to the apostle Thomas (John 20:24-29), so as to bring along this element of corporeity and even exteriority and objectivity, which supposedly would be missing from the one resurrected: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). But this would be premature, and for two reasons. First, because a pure objectivity of the resurrected body as “in itself” or as that with which I myself would not be involved will be difficult to maintain in philosophy as well as in theology; second, because a return to the “thing” understood no longer simply as “what concerns me” (Sache), but as “what involves me in my existence or praxis” (Ding), first demands a complete phenomenological analysis where the “flesh” or the “lived body” (corps propre, Leib) is first spread out. We will return to this second point. If it is necessary or will be necessary for us to pass if not from the “flesh” (Leib) to the “body” (Körper) in the resurrection, at least from the “lived body” to what we have elsewhere named the “spread body,” it is first in this that we will have pushed the subjective or subjectivist analysis of the apparitions of the Resurrected One to its limit—including the apparition to the apostle Thomas, which seems, however, to lead everything in the opposite direction.

When Thomas doubted the apparition of the Son of God to the Eleven during his absence—“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25)—he did not first question the reality of the body itself, but more importantly he saw and felt in the mode of the anticipated and the imagined what he never thought he could one day experience in the mode of the present and the perceived. In other words, the anticipation of the imagination is without perceived intuitive fulfillment even though something is given in the Husserlian sense (the imagination of Christ appearing), but not “in flesh and bones” in the Heideggerian or Sartrean sense of the words (the perception of Christ appearing). Thomas’s doubt certainly bears upon the aforementioned “reality” of the resurrected body (to which we will return), but first it bears upon the impossible passage from the imagination to perception that he must, however, one day carry out. Where the other apostles already perceived the Resurrected One without actually having imagined him except by a “fabulation function” or a “miraculous hallucination” in order to defend themselves from it or to not realize it, Thomas conversely imagines him in the aftermath, since someone told him about it and he doubts being able, like them, to perceive him.[8] The path is reversed, or rather different: from perception to reproductive imagination for the disciples (we have truly seen him), from the imagination to the impossible productive perception for Thomas (I will not see him).

And when “a week later,” while “Thomas was with them” and “Jesus came and stood among them” though “the doors were shut” (John 20:26), something “new,” or rather something different then occurred. For what “enters into presence” (Anwesende)—to take up Heidegger’s formula, though this time by making it pass from the bridge of Weidenhausen to the resurrected Christ—first affects Thomas “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig) or in his own body, when Christ appears to him this time after he had doubted. In his flesh or his lived body by way of the body-subject, Thomas is changed by another body, or better, another flesh; he is changed less by the body-object independent of him than by the body-subject that is like him. Body-to-body, or rather flesh-to-flesh, which makes it so that the movements of the body are addressed to him by the gestures or kinesthetic movements which are precisely the chiasm or intersubjectivity of two “lived bodies”: “Put your finger here and see my hands; reach out your hand and put it in my side” (John 20:27). If nothing explicitly says that Thomas touched or penetrated this body with its stigmata, the possibility of accomplishing or effecting this, for him at least, puts him in face of a veritable intercorporeity before which to present himself.

c. Body-to-Body or Flesh-to-Flesh

We will have understood it, then, at least as long as we keep to phenomenology alone. The fecundity of the analysis at this point of our itinerary has less and perhaps even nothing to do here with the thickness or the materiality of corporeity than it does with the empathic possibility of encountering or even penetrating it. The “body-to-body,” or better the “flesh-to-flesh” takes precedence over the “body of flesh,” or rather over the “flesh of the body” (in the usual sense of the term), in that the question of the solidity of the body’s vitality and organicity has been evaded for the moment. The resurrected body is given “in flesh and bones” because it is fully given according to the great richness of what can be given—that is, the perceived rather than the imagined—but the perception still remains a mode of subjectivity or interiority, so that it itself is what must first be transformed. Leibhaftig: God is given “in flesh and bones” or “in person,” as himself and in the greatest profusion of himself—such is what makes his givenness truly a “givenness of himself,” but also an “incarnate self-givenness,” since he is perceived in the mode of corporeity. But that there is “flesh” (sarxa) and “bones” (ostea) in the sense of materiality matters little; what alone matters is the lived experience of the body by which the thing is given, and especially by which it is identified and recognized in an event of intercorporeity.

And yet the question remains, and is now posed: is what we gain on the one hand (manifestation by the flesh) not entirely or nearly lost on the other (the thickness of the body)? In other words, if now it is not a matter of substituting, in a pure and too simple inversion, a “body without flesh” for the “flesh without body” (which would be at the very least an all too facile solution to which the “spread body” as an intermediary body, or rather as a frontier zone has already responded), shouldn’t we nevertheless draw from the side of the body an apparition of the Resurrected One that we have as yet thought only from the side of the flesh, or from the recognition through the lived experience of the flesh (the voice with Mary-Magdalene, the manner of eating with the apostles by the shore of the lake, the shared meal with the disciples in Emmaus, etc.)?

5. Metamorphosis of the Body

Phenomenologically speaking, the apprehension of the object in “flesh and bones” (the bridge of Weidenhausen, for example) does not therefore presuppose an “exteriority” of the object as such, including in the mode of perception. What is essential, we have said, is not that the bridge (or the Resurrected One) be objectively there before or in front of me, but that I be phenomenologically there before it in my capacity to receive it in all its richness and amplitude (to stand before it, to go round it, to constitute it, or to be constituted by it). Everything is always a matter of subjectivity in the apparition of the phenomenon “in flesh” (Leiblichkeit), and what counts is first the mode of receiving it. But a supplementary step could and should be taken from the point of view of philosophy, but also from that of theology.

If the lectio facilior of the resurrected Christ “in flesh and bones” as “in person” (Husserl) is already complicated by its lectio difficilior as before or in front of . . . , being “perceived” and not only imagined (Heidegger, Sartre), the lectio maxime difficile or the most difficult this time will come down to saying and thinking and even experiencing that there is truly “some thing” or “some one” there in the order of a certain objectivity or exteriority. Not that we must go back to an “in itself” or a form of naïve realism unwelcome in philosophy and even more so here in theology as soon as it is a matter of apparitions in the mystery of the resurrection. For only a vital praxis could truly transform me, even if only to both exist and subsist, without reducing me (or reducing him) to the sole mode of immanence or interiority.

a. A Praxis of the Body

Curiously, but quite certainly, one then must appeal to Karl Marx and his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in order to see and express (and philosophically at that) what becomes of presence in flesh and bones, so as not or (this time) no longer to forget the materiality of the body, even in the resurrection. We should take care here, however, and be clear. In referring to Karl Marx, which might surprise a number of established phenomenologists, it is not a matter here of Marxism—far from it—but rather of so-called Marxian thought. As if in advance, and due to his concern for a certain relation to matter, the young Marx sees a certain pitfall for us that we will only later discover at the very heart of phenomenological thought: an excess of interiority, or even subjectivity, which lacks all or nearly all of exteriority or even everything of a certain sense of objectivity. With Marx it is no longer only a matter of an apparition in flesh and bones within some intercorporeity, but of an existing in flesh and bones in its materiality.

If nothing says that it is necessary to possess a “flesh” (sarxa) and some “bones” (ostea) in order to appear (phenomenal flesh), even here in Marx, nevertheless we must now possess it in order to exist, or at least in order to accomplish the visceral desire which is not only that of seeing, but also that of touching, penetrating, even assimilating and eating (praxical flesh). Here it is not a matter of denying the flesh (Leib) to the sole profit of the body (Körper), nor of extending the notion of the flesh to the whole of the world ( the “flesh of the world” in Merleau-Ponty), but rather of understanding that the relation of one person to another is always mediated, or better, always immediately given in the relation of the person to nature in general. Nature, and not the subject exclusively, is the “lived body” (Leib) of the human person according to Karl Marx, for every individual must “constantly remain in contact” with it in order not to die, and therefore quite simply to live (e.g., to eat, drink, reproduce). In flesh and bones will no longer be a mode of manifestation, but the existential and even material means of subsistence:

The human person is a generic being . . . Nature, that is to say, the nature which is not itself the human body, is the non-organic “lived body” (Leib) of the human person. That the human person lives from nature means: nature is his lived body (Natur ist sein Leib) with which he must necessarily remain in contact in order to not die. To say that the physical and intellectual life of the human person is inextricably linked with nature means nothing else if not that nature is linked to itself, for the human person is a part of nature.[9]

Even here the technical nature of this discussion could throw us off track. Indeed, we will ask ourselves why it could do so in our departing from and coming back to Karl Marx in order to understand the presence in flesh and bones of the Resurrected One, when the sole intercorporeity of phenomenology to date should have been sufficient for us to do so. But it is necessary for us at least to admit it, at the risk of an ultimately little justified hegemony: phenomenology does not say everything, and cannot say everything. Perhaps its nobility would be precisely in recognizing the pitfalls by and in which it will eventually be renewed. Even better, the young Marx did not cease to remind us of a sense of exteriority and objectivity, namely, that of the body in an immediately given relation to nature, from which I could never deliver or extract myself. Exteriorly and physically, I have need of another corporeity in order live, whether that of food (biological), of work (economic), or of others (social). Here the expression of being “in flesh and bones” bears upon the “physical,” which the “phenomenological” sense of the expression had somewhat obscured.

b. The Real Man “In Flesh and Bones”

We thus come now to the use of this expression “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig) by Karl Marx himself, but this time in an entirely different sense than the one given it in phenomenology, whether that of Husserl or Heidegger. So it is with the German Ideology (1846), which already, and as if in advance, reverses every form of “interior phenomenalism.” The recourse to the formula “en chair et en os” or “in flesh and bones” in French to translate anew (but in Karl Marx this time) leibhaftig and later leiblich will not or will no longer express “in person” alone, even if it is by the flesh (Leib) and in the mode of incarnate self-givenness of what “enters into presence” (Wahrnehmung). Rather, it will express what becomes “physically,” even “biologically” living and appearing, and this in a quasi-animal body or in any case a body joined to the whole of nature (Körper).

What seems but a quarrel of words or of translation will in fact be of considerable importance, even for theology. Suffice it say that one need only refer to Luther’s German translation of the Bible (1522), and specifically the translation of the famous passage of the apparition to the Eleven, in order to face the facts: “ein Geist hat nicht Flesch und Bein, wie hir sheet, daß ich habe—a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Indeed, it seems that here in this translation it is a matter of a “true flesh” (Flesch) and “true bone” (Bein), far from mere phenomenological considerations of the being “in person” or the being recognized “by its flesh” (Leib) alone. But “flesh” and “bones” cold not wholly define an individual person, nor even man itself in the broad sense of the term. There is in surgery, according to French usage, the words mou or “soft” and dur or “hard,” from which we would be incorrect to judge that they could return in the same way in the resurrection according to theology—the hardness of bones, joints, the skull or skeleton on the one hand, the softness of the flesh, the stomach and intestines on the other. But is it in fact enough to be or to have the “soft” (the “flesh”) and the “hard” (the “bones”) in order to be human? Nothing is less sure. In other words, if we are truly human—“in flesh and bones”—are we not also and moreover but a simple labile form of “flesh” upon a skeleton made first and also of “bones” (in flesh and bones)? Maurice Merleau-Ponty has already taught us as much in a phenomenological vein, and we must not forget this. It is not enough for us to have “flesh and bones” in order to recognize ourselves in our plasticity (Fleisch). We must still introduce there life itself or the living flesh (Leib/leben) to express our particular way of existing or inhabiting our body: “everyone recognizes his own silhouette or a filmed version of his own gait,” the Phenomenology of Perception points out, but “we do not recognize our own hand in a photograph.”[10]

We will therefore not hasten to accuse Karl Marx of being a “materialist” adversary of “idealists.” For if brusquely and in no uncertain terms the author of the German Ideology challenges the “idealists,” and in particular the figure of Ludwig Feuerbach, it is less in order to establish the existence “in itself” of matter than to reproach him for having omitted the intercourse, the conflict, and the interaction that we always have with matter—such that this praxis or this action of being “always already engaged in nature” properly constitutes us. Against Feuerbach to be sure, but in critiques that would just as well apply with respect to Husserl or Heidegger, “in flesh and bones” means not only to aim at or intend “in person,” be it in the mode of the perceived and no longer the imagined, but also to stand “on earth,” with “real men” and in their real life process—a question, to be sure, that we will not be able not to address in turn to the status of the body of the Resurrected One. To return to the real man “in flesh and bones”—leibhaftig, to take up the very term used later by Husserl—is therefore in the young Marx to return to the effective man, and not only the thought or even aimed at or intuited man. This is no longer to go from heaven to earth (or from thought to the world), but from the earth to heaven (or from the world to thought):

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth (von Himmel auf die Erde), here it is a matter of ascending from earth to heaven (von der Erde zum Himmel). That is to say, not of setting out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in flesh and bones (aus bei den leibhaftigen Menschen anzukommen); but setting out from real, active men (wirklich tätigen Menschen), and on the basis of their real life process (aus ihrem wirklichen Lebenprozeß) demonstrating the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.[11]

c. Against the Idealism of the Flesh

This is what we have been saying. Karl Marx’s lively invective towards Ludwig Feuerbach in The German Ideology would equally apply to Husserl and the whole of phenomenology. When praxis prevails over theoria it is not a matter only of the primacy of the practical over the theoretical, but also of a possible “transformation of the self” by the world and in the world. Far from remaining in the unique and singular sensation, which will also be the whole phenomenological perspective as well, Marx invites Feuerbach to return to the real and active man. It is not enough to be ‘in person” (leibhaftig) in order to be in flesh and bones, nor even to be “perceived” with what “enters into presence” (Wahrnemung); one must also be inserted in the “real” or “effective” (wirklich) world, made of activity and not only passivity, of body and not only of flesh, of chaos and not only of meaning or sense. Feuerbach, though we could probably also say it of Husserl and the whole of phenomenology,

Never arrives at the actually existing, active men (wirklich existirenden), but stops at the abstraction “man,” and gets no further than recognizing [in sensation] “the actual, individual man [in flesh and bones]” (wirklichen individuellen, leibhaftigen menschen), i.e., he knows no other “human relations” “of man to man” than love and friendship, and even then idealized . . . Thus he never manages to conceive the sensuous world as the total living sensuous activity (lebendiche sinnliche Tätigkeit) of the individuals composing it.

Here in theology we will therefore not stay with Karl Marx’s “in flesh and bones” alone, understood as leibhaftig or “in person.” Or rather, if there is “flesh and bones,” in German as in the French translations, we will express it this time by “living in flesh” (leilbich) rather than by “lived experience in flesh” (leibhaftig), by man in his body (Körper) rather than in his flesh (Leib), upon earth (Erde) rather than in heaven (Himmel), exercising his force or strength (Kraft) rather than remaining in passivity (Passivität). Whence the celebrated formula from the Manuscripts of 1844, which already announced the turn: “when real man, in flesh and bones [or ‘the man of flesh’ (leibliche)], stood firmly on the solid and round earth, the man who inhales and exhales all the forces of nature (alle Naturkräfte), establishes his essential forces.”

Everything happens, then, as if man “in flesh and bones” (leibhaftig), or rather the “man of flesh” (leiblich), has taken in advance and as by an indirect consequence the opposite view from that of the lived experience of the flesh. If the interpretation of Michel Henry’s Marx: A Philosophy of Human Reality certainly has the merit of showing that praxis is accomplished in interiority and in the transformation of the self by the self, it probably lost some of the weight of exteriority and of the thing as such in Nature itself. Facing the subjective, we will rediscover the objective, at least in praxis; against the reduction to sensibility, we will rediscover the sensible; against the sole return towards interiority, we will rediscover exteriority. “In flesh and bones” to be sure, but not only understood here as “in person” or recognized by its flesh (leibhaftig); rather, living from its flesh and by its flesh (lebendig), now in the quasi-physical and even biological sense of the term (leiblich):

[A]s a natural being, in flesh and bones (leibhaftig), sensible, objective, man is a suffering being, dependent and limited like the plant and animal . . . To say that man is a being in flesh and bones (leibliches), endowed with natural, living, real, sensible, objective forces, is to say that he has for the object of his being, for the manifestation of his life, real, sensible objects; and that he can manifest his life only in real, sensible objects. To be objective, natural, sensible; to have an object, a nature, a being outside or in front of oneself; to be oneself an object, nature, to be sensible, outside of oneself; to be oneself an object, to be sensible for a third, everything is the one and the same thing.

6. The Praxis of Christ in Flesh and Bones

With the praxis of Karl Marx, since it designates a relation wherein the body is always already engaged with matter, something is therefore immediately given that the new sense of Leibhaftig (joined to the engagement with matter) comes to innervate—including for its effects, in view of an eventual interpretation of the resurrected body. Everything proceeded or will indeed proceed for the better, as much for the Eleven gathered in the Cenacle (Luke 24:36-53) as for the apostle Thomas (John 20:24-29), so long as it was enough to recognize the Christ “in flesh and bones,” that is to say here “in person,” whether in order to remove the “distress” or to reduce the “doubt” that such an apparition can provoke: “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself” (egô eimi autos) (Luke 24:39). Here, everything then would only be a matter if not of identity, at least of personality. He whom we met yesterday is the same as he whom we see today—whence the presence of the stigmata as the absolute and distinguishing criterion in the two scenes. The question is not first one of having or being a body in order to be resurrected, but above all of carrying and recognizing the “pathic traces” of what happened (the stigmata). What is true for the Eleven—“And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet” (Luke 24:40)—is also true for Thomas: “put your finger here and see my hands . . . Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Manner always takes precedence over matter, lived experience over the organic, or flesh over the body.

But everything becomes complicated (and severely so) from the moment that this body, which for the time being only seemed to appear in order to be recognized, invokes the biological requisites to share and to make shared its reality, this time by the shore of Lake Tiberias: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’”—literally, “something edible” (ti brôsimon). “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence”—literally, “before their eyes” (enôpion autôn) (Luke 24:41-43). We must therefore once again “drink” and “eat,” and this surprisingly applies just as much to the Resurrected One: “Hunger,” Karl Marx highlights and adds on the same page of the Manuscripts of 1844, “is a natural need to be satisfied, to be appeased; it needs a nature, an exterior object . . . A being which does not have nature outside of itself is not a natural being, it does not participate in the being of nature.”

If nothing says with certainty that this body returned from the dead truly has need of drink and food in order to live (we must indeed after all keep his intestines or his genital organs without keeping their usefulness, as we read in Thomas Aquinas above), it is nonetheless on this that every body first lives: in eating and in drinking, joined and in touch with a true nature and exteriority. Even in his resurrection the Son of God assumes the part of our vital praxis without which we would not exist. Because one must drink and eat in order to live, drinking and eating are assumed no longer only in their modality, but also in their materiality. This does not mean that there is an identity of matter, at least in the sense of a return to the exact same of all bodies, but that there is a recapitulation of matter in a transformation and a cosmic recovery or elevation of all bodies. To the question of Thomas Aquinas and his followers, in the supplement of the Summa theologica, “Whether in the resurrection the soul will be reunited to the same identical body?,” the Aquinian responds forthrightly that “the matter that will be brought back to restore the human body will be the same (eadem materia) as that body’s previous matter” (q. 79 a. 1, ad. 3). But this is so only inasmuch as he adds: “the body in rising again differs, not in identity (aliud corpus numero resurgat), but in condition (sed alio modo se habens), so that a difference of bodies corresponds proportionally to the difference of souls” (ad. 2). Integrity and transformation therefore make the resurrected body in its constitution, but do not effect a return to the identical according to numeration, if for Thomas number means the exact same in its entirety; this does not mean that each member returns as identical to what it constituted for us previously (such was the problem of the missing limb or the amputee in the Middle Ages).

Here in this integration and metamorphosis which is the resurrection, there is therefore, to speak in contemporary language, a veritable praxis—in the sense where the transformation is no longer that of the ego or “me” alone (phenomenalism of the interior world), but also that of nature and the world, inasmuch as I am directly involved there. The reality of the body, including for the Resurrected One, needs must come from its outside and its exteriority rather than from taking refuge in its pure inside and interiority. It is therefore impossible for praxis (Marx), and probably just as well for the resurrection understood both as recapitulation (Irenaeus) and integration (Thomas Aquinas), to sacrifice objectivity to the sole profit of a pure interiority or subjectivity. I am wrestling with nature and I am in nature by a certain form of materiality. To conserve this link, even this transfigured matter, is what the anti-Gnosticism of theology accomplishes or must accomplish against a certain form of what phenomenology could produce today: “It would therefore be necessary for a theology of matter,” Marie-Dominique Chenu notes in a work by that name, “to envisage, even before matter’s substantial place in man as we did above, the cosmic and ontological density of matter in the total project of creative emanation. It is not possible to fashion a theology of man without a theology of nature, just as it is impossible to fashion a theology of the incarnate Word without a theology of the creator Word.”[12] Such is the unique assurance of not forgetting anything, especially in the resurrected Word, as the celebrated adage of Gregory of Nazianzus does not cease reminding us: “that which He [God] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.”

Editorial Note: This essay was translated by Christopher C. Rios. It was first delivered in French during a conference of the International Network for the Philosophy of Religion (INPR), convened in Paris on Saturday, June 22, 2019. It was then delivered in English in the United States on September 23, 2019, for the systematics colloquium of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. The full version of this essay is now available at Crossing: The INPR Journal.

[1] See J.-F. Lavigne’s new translation of Edmund Husserl’s, Ideen I (1913): Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie pure et une philosophie phénoménologique (Paris: Gallimard, 2018), §39, p. 117: “Toute conscience percevante a cette particularité, qu’elle est conscience de la presence de la personne incarnée (leibhaftigen Selbstgegenwart) d’un objet individual—Any perceiving consciousness has this peculiarity, namely, that it is a consciousness of the presence of the incarnate person (leibhaftigen Selbstgegenwart) of an individual object.” This is translated by Paul Ricœur (Ideen I, Paris: Gallimard, 1950/1991, p. 126) by “conscience de la presence en personne d’un objet individual—consciousness of the presence in person of an individual object.” Whence the surprising relation between “in flesh and bones” (leighaftig) and “in person” (en personne) in the whole of phenomenology. [Trans.: For a current English translation of this text, see: Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book. General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982), 83.]

[2] Husserl, Ideen I, op. cit. §24, s. 43 (“The Principle of All Principles”), trans. Lavigne, p. 71 (cf. Ricœur, p. 78: “dans sa réalité corporelle pour ainsi dire—in its corporeal reality so to speak”). [Trans.: See Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology, 44.]

[3] Note of J.-F. Lavigne, in Husserl, Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie pure (Ideen I), op. cit, 117.

[4] See Jean-Luc Marion, “The Breakthrough and the Broadening,” in Reduction and Givenness (Evanston, IL: Northwestern, 1998), 4-39.

[5] Martin Heidegger, Prolégomènes pour une histoire du concept de temps (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), 71-71, as cited in Didier Franck, Chair et corps, Sur la phénoménologie de Husserl (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1981), 20-21. For a current English translation of Heidegger’s text, see Martin Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, trans. Theodore Kisiel (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 40-41. We are following Franck’s translation here. [Trans.: Because the English translation of Chair et corps employs available English translations of sources rather than translating from Franck’s idiosyncratic French translations, upon which the present author’s conclusions are based, all passages from Chair et corps are here translated from the French. See Didier Franck, Flesh and Body: On the Phenomenology of Husserl, trans. Joseph Rivera and Scott Davidson (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).]

[6] Martin Heidegger, “Protocole du séminaire du Thor” (September 8, 1968), as cited in Franck, Chair et corps, 20, n. 14.

[7] Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination (NY: Routledge, 2004), 9 & 10. Emphasis added. [Trans.: Falque’s brackets.]

[8] See Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1974), 109-110, and in particular the example of a “lady” on the landing of the floor of her hotel who sees the elevator doorman push her back, though the elevator had in fact opened upon a void and the operator was only the object of a fiction or a “fabulation function”: “She had been about to fling herself into the gaping void; a miraculous hallucination had saved her life.” Ibid., 110.

[9] Karl Marx, Manuscrits de 1844 (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion), first manuscript (“Alienated Work and Private Property”), § 24, p. 114. Emphasis original. Which translation we modify, or rather clarify, following Franck Fischbach in: Karl Marx, Manuscrits économico-philosophiques de 1844: Texts et commentaires (Paris: Vrin, 2007), 122. See Ibid., 213, n. 165: “Up to this point, Marx utilized the term Körper. Here he employs the term Leib. We translate der Körper by ‘the body [le corps]’ and der Leib by the ‘lived body [le corps propre].’” [Trans.: Because the author’s thesis relies on the interpretive decisions made by the French translators of Marx’s German text, these passages are here translated from the French. For an English translation of the original passage by Marx, see: Karl Marx, The Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (New York: International, 1964), 112.]

[10] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2014), 150.

[11] Karl Marx, The German Ideology (Moscow: Progress, 1976), 42. [Trans.: Translation modified to read “in flesh and bones” to correspond with the French. See Karl Marx, Idéologie allemande (1845) (Paris: Éditions sociales, 2014), 298-299.]

[12] Marie-Dominique Chenu, Pour une théologie de la matière (Paris: Cerf, 1967), 13.

Featured Image: Mathias Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1516; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Emmanuel Falque

Emmanuel Falque is Honorary Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Paris. He is well known for writings that combine an expertise in medieval philosophy, modern French phenomenology, and theology. His recent publications include Passer le Rubicon [Crossing the Rubicon] (2013), Saint Bonaventure et l'entrée de Dieu en théologie (2000); Dieu, la chair et l'autre [God, the Flesh and the Other] (2008) and the trilogy: Le passseur de Gethsémani (1999), Métamorphose de la finitude [Metamorphosis of Finitude] (2004), and Les Noces de l'Agneau [The Wedding Feast of the Lamb] (2011).

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