Today’s post serves as a backdrop of, and provides background for, several posts that I will be writing in the near future. All of the posts will rely on the theological principles laid out in this post. Originally I was intending to do only a single comprehensive post, but it was starting to become too unwieldy. So I decided to split it up into several posts, each of which will be far more focused in their intended purpose. Hopefully this won’t stifle the discussion too much. Since this is a background post, I would ask that the discussion here focus on the theological points involved, rather than the eventual topics to be discussed.
Just to warn folks, this post and the attendant series will be heavily Catholic/Apostolic in nature. It relies heavily on Eastern Church (Eastern Catholic) theology as well as some Thomasist theology from the Western Church. A few other odds and ends may be noticeable as well. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments.
II. Human Nature
Human beings are unique among God’s creation in that we possess three distinct features: A Body, Soul and Spirit. No other creature shares these three like Man does.
A. The Body
Our Body is our physical representation on the material plane. It is what human beings have in common with the animals. It encompasses all of our physical presence in this world. There are two key features that come of possessing a Body: Senses and Appetites.
Senses includes all of the five physical senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Again, these are all things that we share in common with the animals. Senses are how we gauge the material world around us. We use them to know what is real in a physical sense.
Appetites include all of our bodily desires and urges: to eat, to drink, to sleep, to procreate. Again, all things that we share in common with the animals. Our appetites are what keep us alive on a daily basis, as well as provide for the continuation of the species. We use them to determine what purely material things we may want.
Our Senses provide information on the world around us, as well as the state of our Body, and our Appetites respond to this information by generating impulses for us to act upon. Feelings and Emotions are matters of the Body, as they are controlled by both our Senses and our Appetites [they also can have a connection with the Soul as well].
Blood ties as well as material desires are all inherently tied to our Body. They are almost always short-sighted, focusing on continuation or propagation.
Our Body is the foundation of our existence as human beings, in that it is the first part of us that develops. Long before we achieve free will or can build a spiritual life we possess senses and appetites. Sadly, many human beings never rise above material concerns. They focus purely on matters of the body, letting the soul and spirit anguish. One very important thing about the Body is that because it is material, it is also inherently mortal. Our physical form will eventually end. We die. As the Psalmist once wrote: “Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish.” Our body may be our beginning, but unlike our soul or spirit, it will also end.
B. The Soul
Our Soul is our mind and the attendant abilities that comes with it. It is what separates us from and elevates us above the animals. Possessing a soul is what human beings have in common with the Angels. They too have souls. However, human beings are different from the Angels because in order to use our Soul, we must have a functioning body. If our body shuts down (such as in sleep or death- which is just another type of sleep), then our soul shuts down as well. There are two key features that come of possessing a Body: Reason and Free Will.
Reason is our intellect, our ability to logically understand matters both physical and metaphysical. It is our Soul’s counterpart to our Body’s Senses. We use our Reason to understand Truth. Science is what happens when Reason and our Senses combine- it is an attempt to fully measure the physical world and come to a complete understanding of it. Theology is what happens when our Reason and Spirit combine- we try to discern the nature of God, and come to an understanding of Him.
Free Will is our ability to choose what actions we will and won’t take. In Summa Theologica St. Thomas Aquinas explained that “[t]he will is the name of the rational appetite,” hence it is the Soul’s counterpart to our Body’s Appetites. It is through our Free Will that we decide what kind of life to live. In other words, Free Will is what we use to decide what is Good.
Essentially, our Reason determines what our options happen to be, and our Will determines which option we will actually take. Truth + Good= the life we live.
Abstract matters of mind, not matter, are of the Soul. Those who devote themselves to “higher” pursuits (for example, Philosophy) are seeking matters of the Soul. Matters of the Soul can be short-term or long term. Devotion to friends or country (outside of immediate blood interest), for example, are matters in which the Soul dominates.
Unlike our Body, our Soul must develop over time. It is effectively dormant until we reach the age of Reason. Unlike our Body, the Soul is eternal and Immortal. Yet, as noted before, we human beings require a Body to actually use our Soul. The Angels are not so limited. Those who truly develop their soul can live a much deeper and more fulfilling life than those who are guided by mere material pursuits.
C. The Spirit
Our Spirit represents the highest form of life that we can live- the divine life. It is the potential that we human beings have to partake of the divine nature, to become like and become one with God. It is not so much that we share a Spirit with God, but rather He shares His Spirit with us. It is the highest form of life that Man can live. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). That image is the life of the Spirit- that which God shares with us.
The three virtues of Faith, Charity/Love and Hope mark our Spirit. All three are the key features of our Spirit. “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:3).
It is important to understand that the Spiritual Life is not possible through either our Senses or Reason alone. Revelation was necessary for us to perceive this higher form of life. Hence, even the greatest of philosophers were not able to know of it.
Our Spirit is our connection and union with God. It is a life not connected with our physical body, or even the physical world. It is a life that transcends the material world- “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). Since it comes from God, it is also immortal and eternal. Our Spirit endures forever, and from what I understand, does not “shut down” like our Soul does (I’m not certain about this and may correct it later if I should be wrong).
As Christians we understand that we cannot achieve this life on our own. Rather, it is only accessible through the aid of God. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
It is only through a life of Christian discipline that we can build a Spiritual life for ourselves. It is notable that neither Adam nor Eve had to do so- they were created with a full spiritual life. Which brings us to the next section.
III. The Fall
The Fall dramatically reshaped how human beings were. What we were like before the Fall was very different from how we are now. Here are some ways we changed-
A. Spiritual Death
Prior to the Fall both Adam and Eve possessed full Spiritual lives. But then Death came into the picture.
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Death that is referred to in the Garden of Eden re: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is not a purely physical death (in fact, it may not have been physical death at all). What God warned about was much worse: Spiritual Death. By eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve rebelled against the Lord. The price for that rebellion, the price of Sin, was to be cut off from the Lord. To be cast out of the Garden. Since God is the source of all Spiritual Life, by cutting off union with God they cut off the source of their Spiritual Life. Thus, it died within them. And so it was for all human beings afterwards until the time of Jesus- they all had dead Spiritual lives. Only the Sacrifice of the Cross allowed for human beings to be reunited with God again, and through it to be able to live a Spiritual Life.
It should be noted that the Serpent lied about many things there. Not the least of which is that eating of the fruit would make human beings like God. In fact, the opposite occurred- because we died Spiritually we became unlike God, in Whose image we were originally made.
B. Disorder and Weakness
Prior to the Fall, our Spiritual life was our dominant life. Our Body and our Soul existed to serve our Spirit. The Order in priority was Spirit, then Soul, and then finally Body. The Fall changed all of that.
Because human beings died spiritually as a result of the Fall, part of our being became Disordered. Our Body, which used to occupy the least dominant position in the hierarchy of our nature, assumed the dominant position. Our Soul, which used to serve our Spirit, came instead to serve our Body. And since it was dominant, the desires and weaknesses of the Flesh (Body) came to dominate mankind. The goal of living out a Spiritual life is to restore the right order, and elevate our Spiritual Life to the dominant position. That way we can become primarily divine beings again, and be able to, as it were, walk with God as we did in the beginning.
Speaking of the weaknesses of the flesh, that was another consequence of the Fall. Our bodily appetites, which used to properly serve us, essentially ran rampant. Our appetites became contrary to reason. Instead of craving natural things in their proper place, human beings developed cravings for unnatural things or natural things outside their proper place. This is known by many names, among them Concupiscence. Now, this doesn’t mean that our Bodies are totally corrupt. Rather, it means that our body is weakened, vulnerable. This weakness was a punishment imposed upon us by God as a consequence of our rebellion. As a result, we are vulnerable to temptation and sin because our body is inclined towards disorder. This inclination, which St. Thomas Aquinas referred to as the Fomes of Sin, persists as long as we shall live. No matter how Holy we may become, we will still struggle with sin.
C. A Choice Must be Made
Because of all of this, every human being must make a choice. He or she must choose to either live out a material life, or a Spiritual life. Our Savior explained it to us: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24). Mammon refer to the world and the things of the world. We must choose whether to serve God, which means letting the Spirit dominate, or to serve Mammon, and let the Flesh dominate. “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Those are the two paths available to us. There are no others. The Flesh and the Spirit are opposed, they do constant battle with one another. Neutrality is not possible. We have to choose a side. Either we are with God, or against Him. Not choosing isn’t possible- the default position, thanks to the Fall, is to choose the Life in the Flesh.
This choice is made by our Soul, which acts as the fulcrum point in this battle. Specifically, our Will (which is part of our Soul) must choose to partake of the Divine nature, or to partake of the base pleasures of the body. Now, Reason helps us decide what is True, but it is our Will which chooses what is Good. Both the Spirit and the Flesh have very different ideas on what is True and what is Good. As Christians we understand that the Flesh misleads us, and that what Mammon offers is an illusion. When we speak of “saving souls”, we mean that we help incline a Soul towards choosing to serve God, and not Mammon.
This struggle is constant, and far from easy. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14). We cannot do it by ourselves; on our own we haven’t a chance. Thankfully, we have God on our side. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
IV. Of Heart And Love
[In a case of extreme sloppiness on my part I forgot to include this in the original post. Thanks to Deep Strength for pointing that out.]
As some might have (and some clearly have) noticed, my explanations thus far have not addressed two very important topics: Heart and Love. Both matters are intimately connected, and in fact we often use the symbol of a heart to mean love.
From what I understand of the Eastern Church perspective, the Heart is associated with both life and Love. Further, there is no separate “Heart feature.” Instead, there are three different meanings of the word Heart. Each meaning is associated with one of our features. In addition, there are two different ways of looking at each Heart. One centers around the Life component, and the other centers around a form of Love. In this sense we might understand one to be internal (life), and the other external (love).
Also, and not coincidentally, each meaning of Heart is associated with a different form of Love. As many of readers will be aware, ancient Greek had three different words for love that saw general usage: Eros, Philia and Agape. Each one of these loves is associated with a particular feature of human nature, and its respective Heart.
When we speak of Heart in connection with the Body, we refer to the physical organ itself that keeps the body alive. As the pump that moves blood around the body, it is a source of Life. It is no accident that when doctors speak of death, they speak of the heart stopping.
The form of Love that is associated with the Body is Eros, which refers to bodily/sensual wants and desires. When Eros is used it is mostly in connection with sexual desires, but all produces of our Appetites fall here. As hinted at just now, Eros is connected to our Appetites. When we say we “love” a type of food, pizza for example, we refer to the love known as Eros. Unfortunately for us, Eros can overwhelm the other loves and become “inordinate”, which means that our Will serves it and our Spirit dies).
Emotions are something special, in that they mix both bodily desires/Appetites with the product of the Soul as well. When we speak of Emotions, we refer to them as “coming from the heart.” The Jews and Greeks thought that the organ itself was responsible. We know that isn’t the case now, as it is the brain instead. But that is still a function of the Body. This is why animals can have emotions. Yet we also recognize that the Soul also plays a role as well- which explains why emotions are much more developed in human beings. Sometimes when Scripture refers to the Heart, it refers to that connection with emotions- a product of both Soul and Body.
When we speak of Heart in connection with the Soul, we refer to our innermost being- the depths of who and what we are. What keeps our soul alive. This is the form of Heart used most commonly in the New Testament. This Heart is also connected with emotions and feelings.
The form of Love associated with the Soul is Philia. This is the faculty which allows our soul to “desire” immaterial things like friendship, or peace or philosophical ends. Philia is a higher form of Love than Eros, and since it is immaterial can last forever (presumably we can still love our friends in Heaven). Pursuit of this form of Love leads to a more fulfilling life. Philia is associated with our Free Will, and resides in the Heart of our Soul.
When we speak of Heart in connection with the Spirit, we refer to our union of God. The life of the Spirit, that divine life within us which is provided by a connection with God. “12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). When we treasure the things of God, and build up Spiritual treasure, then our Heart resides with Him. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21).
The form of Love associated with the Spirit is Agape, or Caritas (Charity). This Love resides in the Spirit and is the expression of wanting that the Spirit demonstrates. It is a desire for God, to be fully united with him. Agape or Caritas is a self-sacrificial love that gives and asks nothing in return- this makes it the highest form of love, and ultimately the most fulfilling. Naturally enough, this is the Love that God has for us. Caritas is the greatest of the theological virtues, and the first gift of the Holy Spirit. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we cannot help but demonstrate Caritas (think the Evangelizing by the Apostles after the descent of the Holy Spirit- they were punch drunk with Love). Since it is associate with the Spirit, this Love is only possible with Grace- we can’t do it without God.
[This section is still a little light, I need to do some more inquiry here. Expect it to be updated in the future.]
That brings this background post to a finish. The next few major posts of mine should tie back to this one. Hopefully it will soon make sense why I went to the effort to write all of this. In the meantime, any questions about what I’ve written can be left in the comments. I will try and address them as time permits. In addition, I will likely update this post to correct any deficiencies as they come to my attention, or to clarify anything that needs further explanation.