If the soul and the body are one, then it means a few things
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In human beings, soul and body are one. We are not souls trapped in a body, waiting to be liberated. Neither are we just bodies that have developed superior brain functions.
The Church talks about the “profound” unity of soul and body. Spirit and matter “are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”
It is hard to emphasize how important this teaching is and how easily we get it wrong. Here are 16 truths that follow from the unity of soul and body.
- Man is noble.
“What a piece of work is a man!” said Hamlet. “How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!”
That gets it right. We are part animal and part “angel”; we are made of dust and we dream of reaching the stars. The book of Genesis expresses this by having God make us out of clay and breathe our life into us.
If the Church is right, we are noble and beautiful; if the Church is wrong, we are just highly developed autonomous pleasure receptacles.
- Art can be great.
When we create art, we express intangible ideas through matter we can touch, taste hear or see. Art uses our senses to speak to our souls.
If the Church is right about soul and body, art is a channel to a beauty that transcends us. If the Church is wrong, art is just an exercise in ingenuity in which there is less than meets the eye.
- Law matters.
What we actually do with our bodies, often regardless of what our interior intentions are, is what matters. Our bodies are really us and we are responsible for our actions.
But if the Church is wrong, we have no ability to accuse or find guilt in one another because we have no way to judge others’ intentions, or because their bodies are simply responding to forces for which they are not responsible.
- The incarnation of God is possible.
The early Christological heresies were attempts to separate the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ from each other: Was his soul God but not his body? Is he a lesser God because of his body? Did he become God at, say, his baptism? Soul and body unity resolves these heresies: He was always from the beginning who he is: Fully God and fully man.
If the Church is wrong about soul and body Jesus can’t be God and we can’t be redeemed. If the Church is right, our faith is not in vain.
- The way church buildings look is important.
If soul and body are not one, it doesn’t matter how churches look; that’s just your body reacting to something. If soul and body are one, church buildings should be soaring testimonies to God’s grandeur.
- The way we decorate churches is important.
Without this teaching, churches should be empty or focused on geometric shapes to keep our body from distracting us from our soul. With this teaching, they should be filled with icons or statues appealing to our bodied nature.
- Sacraments are necessary.
Without this teaching, it would be useless to look to matter to convey grace.
With this teaching, we can have access to grace through ordinary tactile things transformed by a priest: water, bread, an anointing hand, the spoken word.
- Mary is special.
Without this teaching Mary was just a surrogate mother who carried the body of Jesus only.
With this teaching, she is the Mother of God.
- Saints matter.
Without this teaching, we would celebrate only feasts of mysteries of Christ’s life.
With it, we can celebrate the great men and women who shared Christ’s life in their lives.
- Sex is important.
Without this teaching, sexuality is just a matter of entertainment and the number or kind of partners doesn’t matter.
With it, sexuality is the most intimate spiritual connection possible between a man and a woman, and it needs to be treated with dignity and purpose
- Acts of mercy matter.
Without this teaching, feeding, clothing and giving shelter are matters of public decorum, not acts of mercy.
With it, we aren’t just managing the needs of bodies, we are loving others.
- You should exercise more …
Without this teaching taking care of your body wouldn’t matter; it’s not as important as your soul, after all. The fact that your body is really a part of who you are means you should treat it right.
- … but not too much.
It is a consequence of this teaching that the Church “rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports.”
- Marriage is not a legal construct.
Without this teaching, marriage would just be a matter of a contract between any group of two or more people either linked either by mutual love or by mutual needs.
With it, marriage is the union of a man and a woman with the ultimate purpose of bearing and rearing children.
- “Pro-choice” makes no sense.
Without this teaching, we have a “right to choose” apart from considerations about what that choice entails.
With it, if we say we are pro-choice with regard to abortion, we are saying we are pro-abortion.
- Your genitalia and your chromosomes matter.
If your body and soul are not one, your gender identity is hidden from others. If they are one, then other people can tell what you are.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.