There is a kind of spiritual perception by which the spirit can see beyond the limits of the body and its form, and by which it can also see God, as a spirit without form, in a vision that cannot be expressed as the Bible tells us: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “ (Matt. 5:8) and as Job said: “now my eyes have seen You.” (Job. 42:5).
St Anthony saw the soul of Anba Amun being conducted to heaven by angels, and told this to his disciples. But what did he actually see?!
The rich man saw Abraham and Lazarus, but what exactly did he see, and in what form did he see them? Was it in the same way as St Anthony saw the soul of Anba Amun, and in the same form? I wonder whether the spirit can take on the shape of a body, without it being material or substantial!
We know that the angels of the Lord encamp around those that fear Him and deliver them, but we don’t see the angels with the physical, bodily eye because they are spirits, and we can only see them by our own spirits. In his revelation, St John the Beloved, when he was “in the Spirit”, “on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), saw an angel directing him, and also saw other angels. But what did he actually see? Was it a spiritual vision beyond the level of form? Or did the angels also have a discernible shape?
There are angels who have taken on certain forms and been visible.
There were, for example, the angels of the Resurrection: on one occasion two angels appeared who were like, “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning. ” (Luke 24:4), and on another occasion the angel of the Lord appeared and, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. ” (Matt. 28:3)
In the face of all this, St Augustine stood in wonder thinking over an important question, ‘Does a spirit have a form? Or can it take on a form?’, and he replied quite frankly, ‘I do not know’.
Nevertheless we hear that the Cherubim and Seraphim have six wings, that with two of them they cover their faces, with another two their feet and with the remaining two they fly. Are all these just symbolical or metaphorical? Or do they actually have this shape, by which they can be distinguished, albeit in non-material form?
In regard to the eyes of the earthly body, the spirit obviously cannot be seen at all unless it takes on the kind of shape which the angels usually take on. But spirits see spirits, and often see them in definite form. I must add, though, that this is my personal view.
But we still have no answer to the question put by St Augustine.
As far as we know, at the Resurrection, bodies will rise and be united with spirits, and obviously these bodies will have shapes, and the same ones as they had before, but they will be ‘spiritual’ and ‘imperishable’ (1 Cor. 15) and will have no defects…
Are we to understand from this that the spirit has the same shape as the body? Or is it without a shape but then assumes the shape of the body?
There are things which the Bible does not explain, but which have been left for individual interpretation and conclusion.
I think it is most probable that spirits have shapes by which they can recognise one another and be distinguished from each other.
Even with these forms, though, they would still, in their spirituality, be far removed from physical, material forms.