A Pilgrim's Catechism
The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey
Towards the Reign of God
Luca Signorelli: The Resurrection of the Body (detail)
A creature composed of body and soul?
And so, a human being is a creature . . .
The meaning of creature is clear. Not God. Rather made by God. Therefore finite, limited.
Composed of body and soul. Here things are not clear. We are not in the tradition of Hebrew thought as we find it in scripture but rather in that of Aristotle's Lyceum or Plato's Academy and their successors right up to the medieval scholastics at Paris and Oxford.
When the Hebrew spoke of the human being as spirit it was the person in their totality turned towards God. The person living in the flesh was turned in their totality away from God.
Body and soul in the Hellenistic and scholastic traditions suggest instead two principles or composites which make up the human person.
Neo-Platonism, most influential on early Christian and medieval thought, understood the soul as a spiritual reality somehow imprisoned in matter, the body. The goal was for the soul to free itself from the body and return to God from which the soul had come.
The Manicheans also had influence on early Christian thought particularly through St. Augustine. The Manicheans were intellectual descendants of Zoroaster and were dualists. For them the soul as spirit is good and the body as matter is evil. The soul and body are therefore in conflict as good and evil.
The idea of the body as a prison from which to escape (Neo-Platonists) or as something evil in itself (Manichaeans), against the Hebrew scriptural teaching that material things as created by God are intrinsically good, has plagued Christianity from the outset right up to this day.
St. Thomas Aquinas attempted to but all of this right in his teaching that the spiritual soul is the form (act) of the material body (potency). As such soul and body are two principles (not parts) which make up the complete human person. Thus for Thomas the separation of the soul and the body at death is only temporary until they are reunited at the Last Judgment.
The pilgrim leans towards the teaching of Hebrew scripture and has come to understand the human person in both spiritual and material dimension as standing as a unity before God and being called in every moment to grow in God’s life.
Paul’s teaching of the resurrection of the body means that all that we are, body and soul if you will, is saved and nothing is to be left behind.