Theology of the Body: Part two of a nine part series
“It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.” (Pope Francis, “Laudato Si’,” pa. 155) Although man possesses a freedom from necessity, he aspires to a liberation from all constraints, those posed by the body, with its diseases and death, and spiritual maladies such as political strife in war or economic oppression in a world which often places more value on technology than on the dignity of the person who labors therein. This spiritual freedom, then, is not inherent to man’s being; rather, it is a freedom which he must construct by means of his acts of choice, that is, by free-will. In a word, spiritual liberty refers to the status of one who has been liberated from those constraints which hinder the full realization of personalization. Man’s spiritual freedom is shaped by the dialogue between his free-will and affectivity. He possesses two kinds of aff e c t i v i t y. T h e first is “psycho-organic,” which is related to matter and refers to the realm of the sensible, in which the carnal instincts are operative; yet the sensible can and should be integrated into the second kind of affectivity which is “spiritual.” This refers to those “feelings” which stem from spiritual instincts. What is crucial to remember is that both affectivities constitute the two “selves” which are often in a state of confli c t i n t h e essence of the soul. In the present order, the sensible affectivity predominantly adheres to the realm of the egoistic self. By contrast, the spiritual pertains to the generous self. Although the two selves co-exist in the one person, man must choose which self is to be the dominant inclination of his existence. By a creative act of choice, which is an act of the whole person, man chooses this “self” of preference. Thereafter, man’s subsequent acts of choice normally conform to or, better, prolong his fundamental adhesion to that particular self, whether it is egoistic or generous. The weight
of the affective movement, however, is such that man can only change his fundamental adhesion or option by another creative choice; for the way in which man is habitually inclined is the way in which he sees reality and exercises his free-will.
Man’s one freedom can be viewed from two different perspectives. From the fi rst perspective, which is a static vision, man possesses a voluntary dynamism which orients him to God as the Good, the existential possibility for all choice. In this view, the intellect is distinct from the will. Here the intellect is conceived as an abstractive power. Man’s freedom of choice is concerned with the means to attaining the Good, the end of spiritual freedom, but can only seek the Good through fi n i t e g o o d s . T h e s e g o o d s d o n o t compel the will insofar as these are fin i t e and the will is orientated toward the infinite Good which alone can determine it. In the act of freedom, the intellect offers to the will the various possibilities for choice. All of these may not be equally good, and the will is not forced by any of these insofar as they are finite; yet, the choice is not arbitrary because the intellect gives the will a reason for choosing. None of the reasons given, however, can compel the will since the reasons too are fi nite. Hence, there is a certain arbitrariness to the static view of freedom.
From the second perspective of freedom, man is portrayed as having an intellectual-voluntary dynamism. Here there is a unity between the faculties, the acts of which come together in the unity of the driving force (in French, élan) of the spirit, in the profound essence or apex of the soul. Because of this unity in the driving force of the spirit, and since the spirit is synonymous with “person,” one can assert that it is the man who thinks, wills and chooses. In this dynamic vision of freedom, the dynamism is moving off toward God. Thus, man is going toward the True as his Good. This dynamism is determined by its end;
therefore, in every choice, man must choose God. Insofar as the intellectual-voluntary dynamism is always orientated toward the concrete, there is no distance between the faculties of the intellect and the will; they are pulled naturally toward God. According to this dynamic understanding of freedom, knowledge influences man’s willing and volition sways intellection. Thus, this is an engaged freedom inasmuch as man is either for or against God. At the same time, since the dynamism is not one with God, there is distance, potency, which could be otherwise. In short, dynamic freedom can miss its mark. Man, however, is not just a voluntary dynamism or an intellectual-voluntary dynamism, he is both; consequently, because of the static dimension of freedom, man’s free-will, which is a mechanistic power inherent in him, gives the distance needed to step back and judge the dynamism. By the free act of choice, which is the act of the whole person, man can move away from his dynamism so as to judge it and actuate it.
As man enters the realm of immanent activity, he becomes aware of the tension between time and eternity, being and becoming. Because man is matter, the existential measure of his spiritual becoming is time; yet, because he is spirit, he is polarized by a call to the eternal, which now points to a tension between nature and the supernatural. Immanent activity explains neither itself nor the supernatural to man. In order for him to comprehend this synthesis, he must ascend to the realm of religious activity, the highest point of unity, that is, he must refer himself to God.
Father Comandini is advisor to The Catholic Spirit.