Theology of the body:  Part four of a nine part series


Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. (Pope Francis, “Laudato Si’,” pa. 155)



To penetrate the mystery of his own personhood, man must contemplate the body’s interaction with the soul in organic, immanent and religious activity. Because he is not pure essence or spirit but incarnate spirit, man can only understand his body-soul unity by ascending to the plane of action, where he engages in immanent and religious activity through his relations with the world, the species and God; however, the existential mystery of immanence and alterity, which are only possible by matter’s juncture in form, and man’s nature as subsistent and open, can only find intelligibility in God, which then brings man before the natural-supernatural tension, which only Christ can join. Hence, by uniting himself to Christ, man discovers, “in Christ,” the ultimate significance of corporeality. There is a paradoxical structure to the relation between nature and grace. Even if this structure seems to be contradictory, its perennial truth is imperfectly revealed in the synthesis of unity in diversity, that is, in man, but ultimately and perfectly revealed in Christ. He is at the origin of our being, at the center of our liberty, at the term of our desire.

Man is predestined to a life “in Christ”; however, in his concrete fallen condition, he can only unite himself to Christ by being personally redeemed by him. When seen in the light of salvation history, man’s nobility is defined in terms of his being a living relation to God, an image of God who is called to divine communion through and in Christ, the prototype of what God wills man to be. God created man in, through and for Christ; wherefore, in the plan of divine providence, he has been called to share in divine life in Christ.

Originally, God created man in a state of creative adoption. In other words, he was in full communion with God in Christ. There was harmony between time and eternity, which creation once fully reflected. God created the temporal to be enjoyed and employed by man as a means to glorifying a greater end, namely, the eternal.  In time, however, man was no longer content with the plan of providence. He wanted to do his own will instead of the will of God. By a free act of choice against God, man severed his relation of communion with God. With the ties of grace ruptured, he found himself alienated from God. He effected a disunity between the temporal and the eternal by making his love of the temporal an end in itself.  His previous love of God above all things became an egocentric love.

As a result of original sin, there is a double-lack of being which accounts for the man-God tension and the body-soul tension. With the Fall (original sin), man enters the world separated from Christ. He is, therefore, able to know that God is without knowing who God is. In short, he is barred from the interior life of God in Christ. Just as man was no longer united to God in charity, so the body was no longer united with the soul. The body is no longer fully spiritualized by the soul, nor is the soul made fully incarnate by the body.

With the Fall, man lost the grace which held his metaphysical, psychological and spiritual tensions in check. His unity in diversity became chaotic. Although man still possesses free-will, the faculties have been wounded by original sin. Now the intellect is prone to be misled by error instead of apprehending the true. It is weighed down by an inertia which diminishes man’s interest in God. Tragically, the intellect tends toward a refusal of the divine. As indicated earlier, the will, in man’s concrete condition, is oriented to various goods and not the Good; consequently, inasmuch as there is an interior distance between the will and the end of the will, it is capable of choosing good or evil. In addition, the will is dominated by concupiscence and malice; therefore, man is actually attracted to what is evil. Inasmuch as one can speak of God in terms of Pure Spirit or Being, one then refers to evil as the opposite, that is, non-being.  Mysteriously, matter, too, is a principle which is partly rebellious; from that derives the force of the sensible or carnal affectivity. Moreover, in the on-going battle between God and the devil, it is often through the sensible affectivity that Satan lures man to an end which the latter perceives as promising pleasure, but which, in effect, is an evil end.  Over all, in the movement of human affectivity, the carnal instincts tend to be more powerful than the spiritual; consequently, the life in the flesh, which is a life inclined toward sin or non-being, is more appealing than the life inclined toward God, a life in the spirit.