What are the possible points of agreement and points of tension between different religious schools of thought on the body, in relation to the Holy Spirit? How might Christians respond to these?
Scripture seems to contradict itself with regard to the human body. Sometimes the body is seen as precious, for instance in 1 Cor 6:19-30, and sometimes as a hinderance to unity with Christ, 2 Cor 5:6-8. This seeming ambiguity within scripture has created distinct and conflicting schools of thought among Christian thinkers regarding the body and spirituality. Some advocate that the body is an essential part of our spirituality and should be embraced; others that the body is a hinderance to it, and should be approached with suspicion and contempt.
The subject of the body and spirituality is vast. Therefore, this essay will focus on two differing schools of thought pertaining to the body: Dualism and Holism. After defining each and giving examples from history, the tensions and agreements between the two theories will be discussed. Finally, I will suggest how Christians might respond in a balanced way.
Dualism: The division of a thing into two contrasting or opposed elements. In terms of body Dualism, the separation of the human being into two opposing parts - body and spirit.
The Greek philosopher Plato viewed the body as something which contaminated the soul with it’s imperfection. It was a hinderance to attaining truth and should be avoided except where absolutely necessary. The pursuit was to become purified from it ‘until God himself gives us deliverance’.1
Early Christian writers, such as Philo of Alexandria, were influenced by Plato’s school of thought and, in his attempt to marry Greek and Jewish philosophy, developed a dualistic interpretation of body-related scripture, advocating that purification occurs in mind, leaving man with no need for the body.2 Philo influenced later writers such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen.3 While not a full proponent of developing Gnosticism movement, which taught that communion with God was only possible apart from the body, Clement taught that Jesus did not inhabit a physical body, ‘but rather a heavenly one that was free of all bodily needs and passions’.4
Dualism can also be seen in monastic history. Anthony of the Desert, who is considered to be the father of Christian monasticism, is said to have experienced overwhelming shame at the prospect of food, rest and other bodily needs, so that he would not be seen taking care of his physical needs by others.5
St Francis of Assisi was equally undermining of his bodily needs. Even when close to death, he feared that accepting necessary treatment was an indulgence. It was only at the last minute that he was successfully persuaded to serve his body by caring for it in the same way that it had cared for him, by which point it was too late.
Dualism continued through the ages in various forms, but was specifically revived during the Age of...