In two previous posts, I observed that what is true of a husband and wife—what God has joined man must not put asunder—holds to for others important ideas and unions in the modern world. It was not only the marriage of a man and his wife that was to be permanent, but the marriage of other things as well. Yet, all often, man does break asunder those things that God joined. He puts apart what should never have been separated and breaks to pieces what ought to be united. For this reason, not only the divorce of husband and wife is common in the modern world, but also the divorce between love and responsibility, between faith and reason, and between the body and soul.
Like the divorce between love and responsibility and faith and reason, the divorce between body and soul is not unique to the modern world. The ancient Greek philosophers professed the uselessness of religion, while the Christian Tertullian asked "what accord has Athens with Jerusalem or Christ with Baliol." Likewise, others in history separated the body soul, some by giving primacy to one over the other and some by denying one all together. This was not necessarily divided along purely religious lines. Plato, student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, taught that the body was the prison of the soul, which lay captive in its dark dungeon until freed by death (1).
Others in the ancient word went the other way, denying the soul and giving primacy to the body. Such was the case with the Lucretius who, in The Nature of Things, ridiculed the idea of any sort of soul or afterlife and the Epicureans who denying the soul, decided the best man could hope for was to orient his life around pursuit of pleasure (2). It is to this attitude that St. Paul seems to have referred when he wrote to the Corinthians that if Christ has not been raised, "let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
The modern world is the same way. Some give primacy to the soul denying the body. N.T. Wright refers to some of these in his important book, Surprised by Hope (3). These include even the modern Christian who thinks that the final Christian hope is nothing more than leaving the body behind and going to heaven or the Eastern religion where the soul tries to escape from the cycle of this world.
More common, though, is the materialism of a modern world that denies man a soul. In this world without God man is only matter, an animal, who though perhaps cleverer than other animals has the same fate. The author of Ecclesiastes depressingly put it, "the fate of men and beasts is the same." Lacking a soul, moderns believe, man has no soul to feed, it is enough to feed his body. It is the error of the Marxist's heir, the modern secular liberal who thinks it enough to feed man's body, but do no more. It is the error of those who claim the Church should sell its art and Church decorations to feed the poor. As if the poor do not need beauty and spiritual food as much as physical! It is the error of the West when they think that supplying corn and condoms to Africa will solve its problems. It suffices, so the West thinks, to provide for man's two main appetites, food and sex. It is the error of a pagan West when thy ridicule the Pope for calling on Africa to experience a renewal of faith, friendship, and spiritual awakening. Nonsense, says the West, Enlightened persons know that Africans, like all modern man, are only animals. Feed their bellies and leave the souls, which they do not possess, alone.
One need not be a Christian to recognize the absurdity of this view. Matthew Paris, in his article, "As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God"(4), showed that Christian aid organizations do good that purely secular ones cannot. When two such different people as the Twentieth century atheist Matthew Paris and the medieval Dominican Thomas Aquinas agree, the world should pay attention. For Aquinas, man was not his body, nor did he "have" a soul. Instead, he was body and soul. C.S. Lewis, I think, wrote that a corpse is not a man, but then neither is a ghost. Another writer observed that a body without a soul is a zombie; a soul without a body is a ghost, but neither of these is a man.
Just as when love and responsibility or faith and reason are divorced, they lose all meaning, so too the body and the soul. God has joined them for a reason, for when one side of a coin is separated from another, the coin loses all value, so the body and soul when divided are the same. God has joined them, but man puts them asunder only at his own peril.
(1) The Manicheans too, who counted St. Augustine among their adherents for a time, professed the body, along with the whole physical world, to be the work of the devil. The body was not a necessary part of man; it was not a part of man at all.
(2) By pleasure, they largely meant not a gross hedonism, but the absence of pain, a somewhat depressing view.
(3). N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven and the Resurrection.