AskDefine | Define incorruptible

Dictionary Definition

incorruptible adj : incapable of being morally corrupted; "incorruptible judges are the backbone of the society"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. not possible to corrupt

Extensive Definition

Incorruptibility is the property of a body — usually a human body — that does not decompose after death. Such a body is sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible (adjective) or as an incorruptible (noun).
Incorruptibility is seen as distinct from the good preservation of a body, or mummification. Incorruptible bodies are often said to have the Odour of Sanctity, exuding a sweet aroma.

Incorruptibility in Christianity

In Catholic and Orthodox Christian cultures, if a body remains incorruptible after death, this is generally seen to be a sign that the individual is a saint although not every saint is expected to have an incorruptible corpse.
According to the Roman Catholic Church, a body is not deemed incorruptible if it has undergone an embalming process or other means of preserving the dead, or if it has become stiff, as do all normal corpses, even when the best preservation techniques are used. Incorruptible saints remain completely flexible, as if they were only sleeping. (See the book, The Incorruptibles, referenced below.) As such, although the body of Pope John XXIII remains in a remarkably intact state, after its discovery, Church officials quickly pointed out that the pope's body had been embalmed and that there was a lack of oxygen in his sealed triple coffin.
In the Orthodox Church, incorruptibility continues to be an important element in the process of canonization (q.v.). An important distinction is made between natural mummification and supernatural incorruptibility. In The Brothers Karamazov, a novel by Dostoyevsky, the body of the newly-deceased Starets (monastic elder) Zossima began to decay noticeably even during his funeral wake, which caused a great scandal in his monastery and among the townsfolk, who fully expected that he would be incorrupt.

Incorruptibility in other cultures

Although incorruptibility in the west is seen as a primarily Christian phenomenon, other cultures have examples of revered, incorrupt dead. The followers of Paramahansa Yogananda maintain that his body was incorruptible. While the death certificate clearly shows the body was embalmed, his followers claim that such a corpse would normally show signs of mold developing from the pores if a pore-blocking cream is not used, and that no such cream was used in this case.
In Islam, many scholars hold the belief that the bodies of Prophets are incorruptible, because of the statement of the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad
The body of Hindi guru Paramahansa Yogananda was also reported to be incorruptible. As reported in Time Magazine on August 4, 1952, Harry T. Rowe, Los Angeles Mortuary Director of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California where Yogananda's body is interred, stated in a notarized letter:
Another possible candidate is that of a Tibetan monk (reported by AFP, quoting the Hindustan Times, 2004). This body has been revered by the local villagers since its discovery in 1975. However, this case may be more appropriately considered a case of natural mummification.
Within Buddhism there is a process known in Japanese as sokushinbutsu, which consisted of a specific regimen for self-mummification over nearly a decade of time. This differs from the Christian understanding of incorruptibility in that it was willingly sought after and labored for, as opposed to being a gift given from God to a Saint.
In other cultures, however, an incorrupted body is a sign that the corpse is a vampire.


The causes of incorruptibility are disputed. The two main positions can be summarized as an argument for a spiritual cause, or an argument for a physical or environmental cause.
The argument for a spiritual cause may include a belief that the pious nature of the individual in some way permeated the flesh (a metaphysical cause having a physical effect), or a belief that decomposition was prevented by the intervention of a deity as the body will be resurrected later.
The argument for a physical cause includes a belief that the corpse has been subjected to environmental conditions such that decomposition is significantly slowed. There are a number of ways of retarding decomposition, but the mechanism commonly stated is that of saponification. Another environmental condition that can be the cause of retarding decomposition is a burial ground that is cool and dry. The retardation of decomposition also occurs if the ground is composed of soil that is high in certain compounds that bring the bodies' moisture to the surface of the skin. It is believed that, under the correct circumstances, the moisture from the skin will be removed from the body, retarding decomposition. It is also suggested that bodies with low amounts of muscle and body fat tend to resist decomposition better.
The Japanese Buddhist process of sokushinbutsu entails a method for self-mummification.
See Also: Bog body.

Incidence of incorruptibility

Incorruptibility is seen almost exclusively in Catholic or Orthodox Christian cultures. However, it is argued by some that this is more due to the cultural phenomenon of exhuming the bodies of pious people to discover if they are incorrupt or not, a practice that is uncommon in other cultures, even other Christian cultures. Still, this theory can also be argued, because some saints were accidentally discovered in a state of incorruption when they had already been buried many years, and their tombs were being prepared for re-use. (This is discussed in the referenced book "The Incorruptibles.") Other people were never found incorrupt when their tombs were excavated for re-use.

Instances of incorruptibility

Among the Saints and holy men and women whose bodies are said to be or have been incorrupt are (also see list in The Incorruptibles):


Priests, monastics and laypersons

Popes, Bishops and Patriarchs

Christian kings and queens

Other Religions


incorruptible in Spanish: Incorruptibilidad cadavérica
incorruptible in Portuguese: Corpo incorrupto
incorruptible in Ukrainian: Нетлінні мощі

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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