Fall 2008

The Embodied Person as Gift and the Cultural Task in America: Status Quaestionis

David L. Schindler


First principle. The soul is “the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole—corpore et anima unus—as a person” (Veritatis splendor, 48). “It is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his . . . acts” (VS, 48). “The human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure” (VS, 48).

These statements, first of all, affirm the unity of the human being as a dual, or differentiated, unity of body and soul.

But, secondly, in light of the teaching of St. Thomas (following Aristotle), this unity, rightly understood, presupposes the primacy of the soul within the mutual relation of body and soul. The soul gives the body its first meaning as a body, although, given the unity of soul and body, the causal relationship between them is always mutually internal, albeit asymmetrical.4

The body accordingly is never, after the manner of Descartes, simply physicalist “stuff” that somehow has its own “organization” prior to and independent of the order provided by the soul.Thus the body, in its very bodiliness, can participate in the imago Dei. The body in its distinctness as a body indicates a new way of being in the world, a distinct way of imaging God and love.6

In sum: the soul as it were lends its spiritual meaning to the body as body, even as the body simultaneously contributes to what now becomes, in man, a distinct kind of spirit: a spirit whose nature it is to be embodied.7

. . . . . . . . . .
To read this article in its entirety, please download the free PDF or buy this issue.

4Note, then, the statement by Edith Stein in her Self Portrait in Letters, 1916–1942 (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1994), 98–99 (Letter of 8 August 1931): “The insistence that sexual differences are ‘stipulated by the body alone’ is questionable from various points of view. 1) If anima = forma corporis, then bodily differentiation constitutes an index of differentiation in the spirit. 2) Matter serves form, not the reverse. That strongly suggests that the difference in the psyche is the primary one.” An important truth is affirmed here which nevertheless demands further qualification. Given the unity coincident with distinctness between soul and body, each contributes to the meaning of the other, in their respective differences as soul and as body: the soul contributes to the meaning of the body qua body, even as the body, in a subordinate sense, contributes to the meaning of soul qua soul. The important truth affirmed by Stein is that the soul as form has an absolute priority over matter; nevertheless, for the reason given, it is the case that matter at the same time, within the absolute priority of form, maintains a relative priority over form. The “service” between form and matter, therefore, while thus radically asymmetrical, is nonetheless mutual. Cf. in this connection my “Agere Sequitur Esse: What Does It Mean? A Reply to Fr. Austriaco,” Communio: International Catholic Review 32 (Winter, 2005): 795–824, at 809f.

Apropos of the above, see the argument of Adrian Walker regarding Aquinas’s understanding of the soul as the substantial form of the body, which he integrates into a larger context via John Paul II’s theology of the body. Thus Walker states: “the substantial unity of the intellectual soul and the body, grounded in the actus essendi that encompasses both but is identifiable with neither, includes a kind of reciprocal though asymmetrical interpenetration of the two components without separation or confusion. In other words, the unity of the human composite includes a circumincessive communicatio idiomatum thanks to which the body and the intellectual soul can each enter into the inmost core of the other without destruction or mingling” (“‘Sown Psychic, Raised Spiritual’: The Lived Body as the Organ of Theology,” Communio: International Catholic Review 33 [Summer 2006], 203–15, at 207, footnote 8). Further, citing 1 Cor 15:44 (“it is sown a soul-body [soma psychikon] and raised up a spirit-body [soma pneumatikon]”), Walker recalls what Henri de Lubac called the “tripartite anthropology” of “body, soul, and spirit,” which Walker says expresses the sense of spirit he wishes to defend (210). He says, however, quite rightly in my opinion, that “it is a mistake to draw too sharp a contrast between a ‘Hebrew’ tripartite anthropology and a ‘Greek’ dual one. Aristotle, for example, makes a sort of tripartition between the body, the soul-as-form-of-the-body (roughly Paul’s psyche), and the soul-as-intellect-transcending-the- body (roughly Paul’s pneuma). . . . This ‘tripartition’ in Aristotle’s account of body-soul-intellect passes over into Aquinas’s attempted reconciliation of Aristotelian anthropology with the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection” (ibid., 211–12). The point here, relative to my argument, is simply that, in the human soul, the spiritual takes on a corporeal meaning, even as the corporeal in its very distinctness as such thereby gives new meaning to the spiritual.

5Cf. Veritatis splendor’s rejection of such a “premoral” conception of the body, which implies that the body is simply “matter” with respect to the exercise of human freedom and intentionality (paragraph 48), and does not embed what Benedict XVI calls “moral reasons” already in its nature as a body.

6For a discussion of how the body images God in its own distinct and proper way, that is, qua body and not merely as that which enables the revelation of the light (soul) behind it, see José Granados, “Embodied Light, Incarnate Image: The Mystery of Jesus Transfigured,” Communio: International Catholic Review 35 (Spring 2008): 6–45, at 19ff.

7The implications here for the resurrection of the body and the nature of the beatific vision—and of theology—are discussed in Walker, “‘Sown Psychic, Raised Spiritual.’”