One of the unexplained mystical phenomenon within the Catholic Church is what we call “The Incorruptibles” or the incorrupt bodies of Saints that happened throughout the centuries. This incorruptibility has met widespread skepticism not only within the Church but also throughout the world. But is incorruptibility really a hoax? This special OTWOMD post will examine what “incorruptibility really is. Actually, OTWOMD has already posted in previous years the incorrupt bodies of Padre Pio and Blessed Giorgio Frassati but forgot to tackle what incorruptibility is really all about. We are posting this special series of OTWOMD in honor of the coming feast of Mary Assumption this August 15, 2010.
Incorruptibility is a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that supernatural intervention allows some human bodies to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death. Bodies that reportedly undergo little or no decomposition are sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible.
REFERENCE TO TRADITION
The incorruptible bodies of saints is not new in the Catholic Church. Actually, the first ever documented incorrupt bodies of saints belonged to St. Cecillia (177 AD) and St. Agatha (251 AD) who were both Martyred during the Christian persecution. There bodies were laid in the catacombs and after years of veneration were found incorrupt without any signs of decomposition. Even the wounds that injured their bodies were still fresh and red. Early Christians during those times collect the saints bones and remains and venerate them as relics which performs unexplainable cures and miracles. The council of trent have spoken about this phenomenon:
“The bodies of holy martyrs and others now living with Christ, bodies which were His members and temples of the Holy Spirit, which one day are to be raised up by Him and made glorious in everlasting life, are to be venerated by the faithful; God gives men many benefits through them.”
Th scripture also mentioned such reference that may be directed to the Phenomenon of Incorruptibility. In the book of Psalms, it is mentioned:
“You will not allow your holy one to see corruption” – Ps 15.
In Catholic Tradition, only three persons mentioned in the scriptures were taken (assumed into heaven) body and soul to heaven. They are Enoch, Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Bible says that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11), riding a fiery chariot. Enoch however was mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews (NT) and Genesis (OT): “Enoch was translated that he should not see death” (Hebrews 11:5), and “God took him” (Genesis 5:24), The Virgin Mary, as the Mother of the Living God, deserved to be preserved from corruption as she was both sinless and and full of Grace and due with an honor of being the woman who bore the incarnated God. It is only fitting that God would not permit the mother, who was the vessel of the Son, to be consumed by dust and ashes. The Old and New Testament is also rich in reference to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — John 14:3, Isaiah 60:13, Luke 1:28, Song of Songs 8:5, 1 Corinthians 15:21–26, Psalms 132:8, Psalms 45:9–17, Song of Songs 3:6, 4:8, 6:9, Genesis 3:15, and Revelation 12:1–2
The phenomenon of incorruptibility, if you will analyze it, is not entirely new. Incorruptibility is part and parcel of Christ’s promise of resurrection. According to the Christian Bblief of ressurection, the body of the elect, on the last day will rise from the grave and will share the Glory of Christ’s body, therefore a glorified body, as in the case of the Body of the Blessed Virgin Mary which did not experience incorruptibility.
The Phenomenon of Incorruptibility, in perspective of Christ’s Promise of Resurrection and Mary’s Assumption into heaven, is but a foretaste of that promise. The body of a saint, which is supernaturally gifted with abundant grace and holiness, however escaped the natural law of decomposition. Therefore, the Incorruptibles are bodies awaiting glorification and resurrection in the last day. In layman’s analogy, it is as if these bodies already came in advance in the line of bodies that will be resurrected in the last days.
There are four type of causes of incorruptibility: Artificial, Physical, Environmental and Spiritual.
Artificial causes of preservation refers to incidences wherein the corpse were preserved due to artificial means like for example tightly sealed coffins, coffins made of steel and or bodies preserved in refrigerated caskets. In the Philippines during the 1980′s, a preserved body was found in the cemetery of Calauag, Quezon. The body was that of a woman, clasping a rosary, wearing a white dress and the hair was flowing over the breast. Townspeople thought that the body belongs to a saint. People flock to the cemetery and exposing the body to humidity and air. After just a few days, the body sjhowed signs of decomposition. The authorities that investigated the matter ruled out that the coffin was the cause of the preservation. it turned out that the woman was an aristocrat during her time and good quality of coffin was used in her burial.
Physical causes refers to the bodies own tendency to be preserved. Such incidence are rare but may also happen such in the case of a body whose muscle content is low or a body that is lesser in adipose tissues. These type of bodies have a greter risk of not being decomposed quickly. There are also body types whose mineral cna chemical composition were unusually high which led to the deterence of corruption.
Envirnomental causes are common factors which leads to preservation of bodies. Extreme climates and envrionments helps in preservation of bodies. Classic examples of these are in the Andes wherein a body of an incan child was found perfectly preserved in the snow. Another preserved body was found in the Gobi desert of Mongolia wherein a mongolian family where found buried underneath the sand. The bodies had nop coffins, but because of the dry climate, humidity and mosture did not decomposed the tissues and preserved the bodies in its found state. The Mongolian family was dated during the time of the Conquest of Genghis Khan.
Spiritual causes are classified as supernatural and no inclusions of any scientific explanations. Mostly, the incorrupt bodies were subjected to different kinds of conditions that may have caused the bodies to decompose but for unknown reason, the bodies fail to undergo the normal process of corruption such as the case of the incorruptibles. Mostly, the bodies of these persons are deemed candidates to sainthood and known to live a holy life. The Spiritual cause is the nearest cause of their incorruptibility.
INCORRUPTIBILITY VS. ACCIDENTALLY PRESERVED
Accidentally preserved bodies are different from Incorrupt bodies of saints. Bodies preserved accidentally due to various causes are still subjected to decomposition when natural conditions occur. Unlike the incorruptibles, these bodies were preserved accidentally, such as the body of Pope John XXIII wherein a tight coffin which is lined three times with elements such as lead, and zinc help keeps the body oxygen free, thus preserving it. Incorrupt bodies of saints were not accidental but supernatural in nature. From the very instance of its bodily death until its discovery, the body or certain parts of the body are perfectly intact and preserved without the aid of any chemicals, environmental factors or human intervention.
INCORRUPTIBILITY VS. DELIBERATELY PRESERVED
Deliberately preserved bodies are different from the incorrupt body in such a way that there were intervention done to prevent decomposition. In modern embalming, embalmers drain the body of blood and fluids and then internal organs are removed. Formaldehyde would then be injected in different parts of the body to delay decomposition. In the mummification however, there is a slight similarity with tmodern embalming. Bodies to be mummified are embalmed first, then brains are sucked out from the nose by the use of hooks. Internal organs are also removed and preserved in separate jars. For forty days, the body to be mummified is dried outdoors aand then lathered with spices and olils before being wrapped in linens.
In the incorrupt bodies of saints, no human intervention were made. The body died and were excempted from the natural law of bodily decomposition.
INCORRUPTIBILITY VS. SCIENCE
Science has always been side by side with faith when it comes to explaining mystical phenomenons and miracles in the catholic church. Fact is, the more atheist the scientist, the more the Church employ them in various investigations. This is done so that there will be no bias when it comes to results. In cases of miracles, medical scientists are asked to explain any specific and detail explaination of such occurence. Only when science cannot render any rational and valid scientific explanation tdoes the church explain events as supernatural in origin.
With the case of the Incorrupt Bodies, many scientists has already investigated and examined the said bodies. Most if not all, the bodies of the saints’ incorruptibility were documented and declared as “unexp[lainable”. Like in the case of some incorrupt bodies that has been found in moist and flooded grounds, these bodies should have been decomposed immediately but the mysterious thing is, the body’s integrity remains intact and undefiled.
When a human body dies, it undergoes eight verifiable signs and symptoms of death. They are:
- Ceasing breathing
- The body no longer metabolizes
- No pulse
- Pallor mortis (paleness which happens in the 15–120 minutes after death)
- Livor mortis (a settling of the blood in the lower (dependent) portion of the body)
- Algor mortis (the reduction in body temperature following death. This is generally a steady decline until matching ambient temperature)
- Rigor mortis (the limbs of the corpse become stiff (Latin rigor) and difficult to move or manipulate)
- Decomposition (the reduction into simpler forms of matter, accompanied by a strong, unpleasant odor).
From these signs and symptoms, 5 are the most commonly defied laws in the incorrupt bodies
Pallor mortis in the Incorruptible bodies as sometimes absent. In the case of some saints, the bodies appear fresh, rosy and seemingly just sleeping.
Livor mortis also is defied in the Incorruptibles wherein most of the blood and body fluids that should have been settled on the dependent part of the body is absent. In fact, in some Incorrupt bodies, uncoagulated blood is still flowing from wounds, fluids exudating and oils being excreted from the skin.
Absence of Algor Mortis has also been reported in some incorrupt bodies. The bodies were still warm at the instant of the discovery despite and in spite of several years of being dead.
One of the most extraordinary characteristics of most, if not all Incorruptibles is the absence of Rigor Mortis or the stiffness of the body. When the body dies, muscle contracts because of lack of oxygen. Yet the Incorruptibles has supernaturally maintained the flexibility of limbs after years of being deceased. Most notable examples are the bodies of St. Bernadette Soubirous and St. Catherine Laboure, both visionaries of separate two apparitions in France. Their bodies, up to this day is still soft to the touch and flexible.
And last natural signs of bodily death that is defied by the incorruptibles is the decomposition. In a decomposing body, unpleasant odor often accompanies the body. But in the Incorruptibles, odor of flowers, mostly roses are evident to the sensation as witnessed and testified by some people present during the death, after the death and after the body is exhumed. In fact, some bodies up to this day if not odorless, still manifests a pleasant odor, contrary to the normal rotting odor that a common human body is capable of. This separate Mystical phenomenon which always accompany the incorruptibles is said to be the “Odor of Sanctity” where in the pureness and holiness of the sol of the saint is physically manifested through sweet scents of flowers and unearthly pleasant aroma.
The Phenomenon of the incorruptibles are as mysterious as it is now. The reason and the selection of a privileged saint has no standard or no known common factor. It is usually random or in theological parlance, God’s will to preserve any bodies he chooses. Most number of Incorrupt bodies are mostly Virgins and Consecrated Nuns, yet in the case of St. Therese of Liseux, not a single part of her body was preserved despite the fact that she lived a holy life as a virgin with purity and simplicity
Some of the Incorruptibles does have the privilege of being entirely incorrupt. Instead of the whole body, some significant parts are instead remained incorrupt. St. Padre Pio’s posterior head is partially incorrupt while the entire front part are intact and soft. St. Anthony of Padua’s body were all decomposed except for one… his tongue.
The Mystical Phenomenon of Incorruptibility is a Divine privilege given and determined only by God himself. No one knows the eact reason and the person who will be granted such fantastic gift.
NOT A REASON FOR CANONIZATION
Like in the case of Apparitions, Incorruptibilty is also not an absolute ticket for Canonization. The new criteria for canonizing saints has been the christian life of the candidate and two unexplainable miracles that can occur in behalf of the saint. In fact, the more a candidate is involved in such phenomenon, the more the Church will investigate about his or her life. Living the faith in love and selflessness is still the number one criteria to be named as a saint. Some scholars even attested that the easiest way for a person to be canonized is by being a Martyr for the faith regardless of the previous status of the christian life of the candidate.
In the Greek Orthodox Church or the Greek Rite of the Catholic Church, this incorruptibility however is considered as one reason for canonozation of a saint.
Thogh Incorruptibility is not a requirement or a valid reason for canonozation, yet this Phenomenon helps in confirming significant events involved with them. For example, the supernatural preservation of Jacinta Marto helps confirm the authenticity of the Miracle at Fatima, the incorrupt state of Saint Bernadette Soubirous gives credence to the Miracles at Lourdes, and the incorruptibility of Venerable Mary of Agreda gives credence to her revelations she wrote in the “Mystical City of God”. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque’s revelations about the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is also given credence along with Saint Catherine Laboure’s apparitions of the Virgin Mary, and Pope St. Pius X’s fight against modernism. Other examples are below.
In summary, most notable characteristics of the incorruptibles are the following:
- They are lifelike, mosit, soft to the touch, fleible and accompanies sweet fragrances even years after death.
- Never had human interve\ntion in terms of preservation like embalming or mummification or treated chemically or in other artificial manner.
- They remain decay-free for centuries, despite circumstances which normally cause decay such as being exposed to air, moisture, other decaying bodies, or other variables such as quicklime, which is typically applied to a corpse to accelerate decomposition.
- They exude clear, flowing oils, perspiration, and flowing blood for years after death, where accidental or deliberately preserved bodies have never been recorded to have such characteristics.
- Other partial incorruptibles have been found throughout the centuries where certain parts of the body decay normally, while other parts such as the heart or tongue remain perfectly free of decomposition.
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