…the soul soaks the body like a strong savour, and does not merely inhabit it like a hat in a hat-box.
—G. K. Chesterton, “The Moral Collapse of Modern Germany” (February 17, 1917)
I believe … in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
—The Apostles’ Creed
An anti-racism video came up on my newsfeed:
See, when I drive my car, no one would ever confuse the car for me. Well, when I drive my body, why do you confuse me for my body? It’s my body. Get it. Not me.
Let me break it down. See, our bodies are just cars that we operate and drive around. The dealership we call society decided to label mine the “black edition.” Yours the “Irish” or “white edition.” And with no money down, 0% APR, and no test drive, we were forced to own these cars for the rest of our lives.
Forgive me, but I fail to see the logic or pride in defining myself or judging another by the cars we drive, because who we truly are is found inside.
—Prince Ea, “I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White.”
A nice sentiment, but simply untrue.*
It reminded me of the Carolyn Arends song, I Am a Soul:
“I have a body, but I am a soul
I see a fraction, it’s not the whole
I cannot prove it, but still I know
I have a body… I am a soul.”
This Cartesian dualism can seem really appealing, but it is a rather dangerous wrong-headed neo-Gnostic concept that ultimately denies the beautiful gift of our human nature.
For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul’s manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the “true self” standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self.
—Bishop Robert Barron, “Bruce Jenner, the ‘Shadow Council,’ and St. Irenaeus”
Christians need to be mindful… that they are embodied creatures with the promise of an embodied resurrection. Jesus incarnated in a body and resurrected with a body, so Christians should be careful about minimizing their own.
—Hannah Peckham, “‘You Don’t Have a Soul’: C.S. Lewis Never Said It”
We Are Enfleshed Souls
Why do people who struggle with anorexia, transgenderism or body dysmorphic disorder long so much to modify their bodies to sync with their thoughts and feelings? The body is not simply an expression of oneself, but an integral part of one’s self.
Erroneous dualist thinking has also crept into how people treat their bodies and view the gift of sex. A cousin of mine defended the practice of cohabiting, saying that people ought to be able to “test-drive the car before marriage.” Would you like your beloved to treat you like a car? It is downright insulting and abusive to treat people as objects to be used instead of persons to be loved.
As Ryan Kraeger wrote recently,
…of all the creatures in the universe, we are the only ones who can worship God freely by physical actions. This is why the Church places so much store in physical morality, over and against the Manichean heresies that claimed that what the body does did not matter, because it was mere matter and the spirit was separate from it.
When we die, our bodies are treated with respect because they are part of our selves. They’re not empty vessels to be casually tossed aside or used as fertilizer. They are marvels of Creation, formed carefully in the womb with unique, unrepeatable DNA and ensouled from the moment of conception. They are made by Love and for Love, and will be resurrected in glory.
If humans were really only souls, why do people get so creeped out by ghosts? Just as we know that a body without its soul is incomplete, so do we sense that souls without bodies are lacking. They’re just not right.
Returning to Prince Ea’s contention: racism isn’t combated by pretending our bodies are mere accidents which can be ignored. That cheapens our view of humanity. No—racism is defeated when we are able to love everyone deeply and completely, body and soul united, seeing the goodness and humanity in each particular person as a whole being.
Incarnating Christ in Every Race and Culture
Jesus Christ chose a particular human body and culture in which to be incarnated, humbly undergoing Jewish practices like circumcision, and choosing to be baptized. By humbling Himself to become man, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity not only restored but transfigured human nature, universal and particular. St. Athanasius said, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” We are each called to manifest Christ to the world, without losing our individuality, but rather, performing the paradox of truly fulfilling it while completely identifying with others.
The saints have incarnated Christ in every culture, not brushing aside their visible characteristics as superficial, but incorporating these physical traits into their ministry. Mother Teresa, born Macedonian-Albanian, chose to clothe herself and her order in saris, the cultural dress of the Indians they served in Calcutta. Matteo Ricci and his fellow Jesuit mathematicians and scientists dressed as mandarins when they went to China in the 16th century, having thoroughly studied Chinese philosophy and culture.
Modern-day folk may decry this as cultural appropriation. But cultural appropriation involves taking a tradition and using it without respecting its original meaning and context, like secular celebrations of Christmas, Hallowe’en, and St. Valentine’s Day (or Protestants taking the Bible without caring about its liturgical origins). Cultural appropriation impoverishes a tradition, hollowing and distorting it into a wretched shadow of itself.
Inculturation, on the other hand, is a harmonious blend of previously separate cultures, as in Peranakan culture, where Chinese in the Malay archipelago have combined Chinese, Malay and European customs to form a unique and rich culture of their own. It is not an artificial mix, but a genuine fusion that has developed over time, and continues to develop anew. One now thinks of sipping tea as very British, but it was a Chinese beverage initially frowned upon in England. Through inculturation, traditions are mutually enriched in a happy marriage which creates wonderful offspring. (We Chinese never used to put milk in tea! And now, thanks to Taiwan, there’s boba/bubble tea.)
So let us love everything good in this physical world, neither dismissing it as superficial nor clinging to it as an idol but appreciating all things in their proper place, facets of the glorious Kingdom of God.
The hylomorphic understanding of human nature is founded on the observation that human nature is essentially of a different order from that of a living animal or a non-living thing.
Hylomorphic metaphysics contends that, to account for freedom and rationality, there must be a principle for human activity, a form transcending the physical and having a non-material source. As only the acting person is the agent, this principle does not constitute a separate substance; it is therefore a functional principle of being and acting, bestowing unity and of personhood in which the mental and the physical are perfectly integrated.
Aristotle named this principle of activity as ‘the rational principle’ or ‘the soul.’
—Andrew Mullins, “The Battle to Reclaim Free Will”
How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints!
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
When Fr. Michael Sweeney first came to our parish, a young and brilliant Thomist who was full of ideas and ready to talk High Theology, he came to Fr. Fulton’s room and was going to impress him with something Big Thoughts about Ecclesiology. Before he could get a word out, Fr. Fulton said, “My dear boy, what do you think about cats?” Fr. Michael was flummoxed. Years later, at his funeral, Fr. Michael remarked that he himself had been focused on abstractions, but Fr. Fulton was focused on real things: cats, for instance. And this was the heart of Thomism, the belief that God made and redeemed a real and concrete world though making the Word flesh.
—Mark Shea, “Getting broken has been strangely good”
* boyinaband takes apart Prince Ea’s videos.
Image: Jesuit Resource Page