Does the Catholic Church hold that the embodied state after the final judgment is better than heaven before being embodied, or from an individual perspective is there really no difference qualitatively in the two states?
The short answer is: YES, embodied state is better, and we will definitely notice the difference qualitatively!
The Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body
First, let's consider the certainty of the resurrection of the body. This is the undisputed opinion of the unified church since the Apostolic Father era (i.e. the church fathers who knew the apostles personally), shown by a quote from Pope Clement I who was consecrated by St. Peter the Apostle himself. Then as early as AD 125 this doctrine has been included in The Apostles' Creed. Important quotes from the early church can be read in a Catholic Answers website Tract What the Early Church Believed: Resurrection of the Body.
Opposition to the Resurrection of the Body
Next, let's consider the opposite position which taught that the soul is better without the body, coming against the Early Church Fathers who were in the process of defining the orthodox faith in greater detail. This position came through multiple streams:
- Platonism which taught that the body is a hindrance to the pursuit of wisdom and that "the philosophical life involves the attempt to free oneself (or soul) from the body, and so the philosophical life is a preparation for death."
- Gnosticism which taught that the mortal body belongs to the world of inferior, worldly powers, and only the spirit or soul could be saved.
- Manichaeism, a descendant of Gnosticism, which taught the soul came from the World of Light and became trapped in a human body. St. Augustine, having been a Manichaean devotee before becoming Christian, was very familiar with this and was later instrumental in refuting this religion.
Christianity continued the Israelite vision of the body as created "Good"
Even though many early church fathers were influenced by the philosophical vocabulary at the time (Platonism), they strenuously argued against their pagan critics that the Israelite vision of the ideal human being as recorded in the Book of Genesis is correct one: that God created human being as a material body infused with immortal soul and that the whole unified human being is made in His image and pronounced good (Gen 1:27, 1:31, 2:7):
²⁷ So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
³¹ Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
⁷ Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed
the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.
In contrast, modern theologians today need to defend not only the existence, but also the immortality of the human soul, against modern philosophical materialism which views the soul as merely an emergent property of the body.
Because of the fidelity to Genesis as well as to the full humanity of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, all mainstream Christian denominations for 2,000 years have been teaching that God will give the righteous a glorified body in heaven so that God's original purpose for human being, which was marred by death because of Adam's fall, will finally be fully realized. Of course, due to the insufficient data from Scriptures, the conception of how the soul relates to the body has changed over time, and until today there is no dogma about it, BUT I believe the teaching that 1) the soul is UNNATURAL without the body and that 2) the glorified body in heaven is BETTER, has remained constant. If God doesn't consider the embodied person as better than just the soul, why would God resurrect our bodies?
Catechism of the Council of Trent on The Qualities of a Glorified Body
In the Catechism of the Council of Trent published 1566 under Pope Pius V, of which the PDF of the 1923 English translation based on the 4th Roman edition of 1907 can be found here) under Article XI ("The Resurrection of the Body") there is a section titled "The Qualities of a Glorified Body", which Catholic Apologist Tim Staples commented in his Catholic Answers article What is Heaven?:
... the Catechism of the Council of Trent, referencing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, lists these four “characteristics” or “gifts” that will be communicated to the blessed in heaven:
1) Subtility – This gift entails the absolute subordination of the body to the soul. So radical is this subordination that it will empower us to be able to pass through a wall as Jesus did in the Upper Room in John 20:19-20, while possessing flesh and bone just as he did as well. Remember: the disciples were gathered together in fear behind locked doors, after the resurrection of Christ, and before they had seen the risen Lord. Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, though the doors remained locked. He passed right through the doors! Yet, as is revealed in Luke 24:39, in a parallel account of this same event, also after the resurrection, Jesus said to the apostles, “… handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
2) Agility – In Acts 1:9, Jesus ascended up to heaven right before the very eyes of the apostles. And he didn’t even need rockets like R2D2! In fact, according to St. Thomas, the blessed in heaven, even after receiving their bodies in the resurrection, will be able to travel at the speed of thought, or in the “wink of an eye,” as St. Thomas says it, to any distance. Star Wars ain’t got nothin’ that can even compare with what awaits those who are faithful to Christ!
3) Impassibility – In simple terms, this means the blessed in heaven cannot suffer and cannot die (see Rev. 21:4). Indeed the bodies of the blessed will not only be immortal, but no sickness or any imperfection will be possible. We will not even so much as be able to stub a toe, even if we wanted to! Not that we would want to! But you get my drift!
4) Glory (or as the Roman Catechism calls it: “Brightness”) – The blessed in heaven will be glorified like Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Rooted in Jesus’ own words, “… the righteous will shine like the sun,” in Matthew 13:43, the Church teaches the blessed will shine with the glory of God so brilliant that it is believed by some that we on earth could not stand to even behold one of the blessed in heaven if he were revealed in all of his glory!
Modern Catholic restatement of the teaching that embodied state after final judgment is BETTER
The latest affirmation of the proper balance that Christians need to give to our bodies and our souls come from Pope John Paul II lecture series known as Theology of the Body with one sentence summary of each of the 129 lectures can be read at the EWTN website library.
Katrina J. Zeno, MTS who is endorsed by the Bishop of Phoenix to present talk, give workshop and teach courses on the Theology of the Body, wrote a web article It is the whole embodied person who is destined for salvation, not a soul separated from the body expounding on TOB Audience #67: The Resurrection Perfects the Person and John 15.
Several quotes from the article:
Only when both dimensions – body and soul are united forever in an eternal embrace of love – will you reach your full authenticity, your full stature and perfection. This is why every Sunday we profess, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen!” Do you realize that when those words escape your lips, you are professing belief in the resurrection of your body?
The resurrection of the body is not an abstract concept, like saying “I believe the color blue exists.” This latter statement is impersonal. It exists as true apart from you (unless, of course, you are a Smurf). On the contrary, the resurrection of the body is a statement about your personhood, about the fulfillment of your human nature. You are a unified creature of both body and soul, which means your eternal happiness must include the resurrection of your body. Put briefly, your body has an eternal relationship with your soul that will not be discarded in eternity, but recovered and perfected.
... Sin and death introduced an unnatural separation into our human nature, into our personal selfhood. Death, we could say, divorces the two lovers of soul and body from each other and thrusts the soul into an artificial state of separation from the body. ...
... Embodiment matters. Masculinity and femininity matter all the way into eternity. If the deepest cry of the human heart is to be loved, and if eternity is where we are loved in the absolute fullness of our personhood, and if human nature is by its very nature a unity of body and soul, then our eternal happiness can’t be a state of the soul alone, divorced from the body. We must have a glorified body in order to experience the fullness of love, the fullness of total self-giving of our embodied person [our selfhood] toward which we have been maturing, laboring, straining our whole life long. It is the whole embodied person who is destined for salvation, not a soul separated from the body.