Saturday, April 10, 2010

One Life: Body and Soul


As we bask in these light-filled days following the Resurrection Feast, let's consider the relationship of the soul and the body at the time of our departure. Way back when, there was a raging debate in the world about whether what a person does with her body has any bearing on her soul, and vice-versa.

Tertullian - writing agianst those who argued that the soul and the body were separate - states,
Come now, let our opponents cut the connection of the flesh with the soul in the affairs of life, that they may be emboldened to sunder it also in the recompense of life. Let them deny their association in acts, that they may be fairly able to deny also their participation in rewards (1).
In other words, they want to divide the relationship between the body and the soul in this life. Why? So they can feel comfortable that even if they do bad stuff with our bodies, the soul will be fine on judgment day. He continues,
The flesh ought not to have any share in the sentence, if it had none in the cause of it. Let the soul alone be called back, if it alone went away. But (nothing of the kind ever happened); for the soul alone no more departed from life, than it ran through alone the course from which it departed— I mean this present life. Indeed, the soul alone is so far from conducting (the affairs of) life, that we do not withdraw from community with the flesh even our thoughts, however isolated they be, however unprecipitated into act by means of the flesh; since whatever is done in man's heart is done by the soul in the flesh, and with the flesh, and through the flesh (2).
The point here is, my soul ran through this life with my body. My soul directs whatever I do in my body, with my body and through my body. So, they will face the afterlife together. Next, he reasons from the Gospels:
The Lord Himself, in short, when rebuking our thoughts, includes in His censures this aspect of the flesh, (man's heart), the citadel of the soul: “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” Matthew 9:4 and again: “Whosoever looks on a woman, to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 So that even the thought, without operation and without effect, is an act of the flesh... (3)
Bottom line is, body and soul do business together and sink or swim together:
The soul is never without the flesh, as long as it is in the flesh. There is nothing which the flesh does not transact in company with the soul, when without it it does not exist (4).
If each of us were honest with ourselves, we'd realize there are times we want to justify being cruel or unholy in our thoughts by being holy in our bodies. Other times, we hope that, so long as we are good, nice, and friendly on the inside, it doesn't matter if we trash our bodies.

We each have a tendency towards one or the other, but thanks be to God who is stronger than our tendencies.
(1)On the Resurrection of the Flesh, ch. 15

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