KALLISTOS, Bishop of Diokleia|
The unity of the human person: The body-soul relationship in Orthodox Theology
From: [Proceedings] Πρακτικά του Συνεδρίου «Επιστήμες, Τεχνολογίες αιχμής και Ορθοδοξία». Εκδ. Ιερά Σύνοδος της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος, Αθήνα 2002.
3. «It is raised a spiritual body»
In this way the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Fifth Ecumenical Council bring us back to our central theme. Alike in the sphere of human personhood and in the cosmos as a whole, spirit and matter are not opposed, not mutually exclusive, but complementary and interdependent. They interpenetrate. Let us briefly review the outstanding examples of such interpenetration, first as expressed in Scripture, and second as affirmed in the Tradition of the Church(12).
1. At His Incarnation, Christ the divine Logos assumes into Himself the totality of our human nature; He has a genuinely human body and a genuinely human soul (for the soul of Christ, see above all Matthew 26:38 and Mark 14:34). His divine glory permeates both aspects of his humanness -not only His soul but equally His body- as can be seen supremely at His Transfiguration upon Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). When the three disciples behold Christ's face shine as the sun and His vesture become dazzling white, what they see is human nature, our physical nature, rendered godlike and deified. To quote from the liturgical texts for Orthros: «You have put on Adam in his entirety, Ο Christ, and changing the nature that had previously grown dark, You have filled it with glory and deified it by the alteration of Your form»(13). At the moment of Christ's Transfiguration, the materiality of His body is not abolished but it is rendered spiritual, becoming totally a vehicle of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit: «You were revealed as a non-material fire that does not burn up the materiality of the body»(14). What is more, it is not only Christ's face but His body foreshadows the transformation of all material things at the Last Day(15).
2. The interaction between spirit and matter, revealed by the Saviour on Tabor, is evident also in His appearances after the Resurrection. Christ has still a physical body, bearing the wounds of His Passion (John 20:20-28); returning from the dead. He has the same material body as he had when He suffered on the Cross(16). The risen Lord is not a ghost, not a disembodied phantom, but He has flesh and bones, and He eats and drinks in the presence of His disciples (Luke 24:39-43). Yet at the same time His body has changed. It passes through closed doors (John 20:19); He has «another form» (Mark 16:12), so that He is not immediately recognized by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:16) or by the apostles beside the Lake of Tiberias (John 21:4). In the forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension, Jesus is not continuously present in a visible manner to His followers, but from time to time He appears suddenly and then once more withdraws. His resurrection body continues to be genuinely physical, but it has been released from the limitations of materiality as we normally experience it, dwelling as we do in a fallen world. It has become a spiritual body - spiritual, yet still material.
3. The condition of Christ's body after His resurrection helps us to understand what will be the condition of the bodies of the redeemed at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. We shall be changed in our physicality, just as He was changed when He rose on the third day: «Jesus Christ will transfigure the body of our humiliation, so as to conform it to His own glorious body» (Philippians 3:21). The risen Christ is in this way our model and forerunner; He is the «first fruits» and we are the harvest (1 Corinthians 15: 20-24). What has already happened to Him -and to the Mother of God- will happen by God's grace and mercy (so we pray) to all of us at the Second Coming. In this connection St Paul uses exactly the phrase that we have already had occasion to employ, «spiritual body» (soma pnevmatikon): «What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural (psychikon) body, it is raised a spiritual (pnevmatikon) body» (1 Corinthians 15: 42-44). Here as always we should remember that «spiritual» does not signify «dematerialised» but «filled with the power of the Holy Spirit». Our «spiritual body» at the Final Resurrection will not be a non-material or metaphorical body, but a body that, while still remaining physical, is totally interpenetrated by the glory of God.
There are, needless to say, many questions about the resurrection body which in the present state of our knowledge we cannot answer. With good reason St Paul, when speaking of the Final Resurrection, employs the word «mystery»: «Behold, I speak to you of a mystery» (1 Corinthians 15:51). We have to admit frankly that we do not understand the exact connection between the human body as it now is and the human body as it will be in the Age to come. What will happen, we are often asked, to those who are born with defective bodies (or minds), or who die before they have grown to maturity? With what kind of body will they rise from the dead? We cannot claim to give a precise answere, for «at the present moment we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror» (1 Corinthians 13:12). But concerning two things we may be confident. First, like the risen Christ, we shall have what is in some sense the same physical body -the same and yet different: for it will be transformed and glorified (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Second, in the Age to Come all our pain will be healed, all our defects made good, all our brokenness repaired; every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and there will be no more mourning and crying and pain, for Christ will make all things new (Revelation 21: 4-5)(17).
The interpenetration of spirit and matter -and likewise the transfiguration of our physical bodies and of all material things by the uncreated energies of God- are clearly affirmed not only in Scripture but in the continuing experience of the Church.
1.ln the sacraments or «mysteries» of the Christian life -preeminently in Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, and the Anointing of the Sick- we bless material things such as water, bread, wine and oil; and through this blessing they are transformed into effective signs that confer spiritual grace. Sacraments are thus precisely an example of matter rendered spiritual, and in each of them the saving power of the Spirit is transmitted to us in and through our physical bodies. The Christian East continues to resist any diminution in the materiality of these sacramental signs. Baptism is conferred by immersion, except in case of emergency; leavened bread is used at the Eucharist, not wafers; the wine at Holy Communion is always red, and its material character is emphasised by the addition of hot water.
2. Among the «mysteries» there is one in particular which involves the interdependence of spirit and matter, and that is the sacrament of marriage. Adopting a unitary view of human nature, in the wedding service we ask that the couple may be granted «concord of soul and body». The body, with its sexuality that is expressed at many different levels, is blessed by God in its entirety and made holy. «Among those who are sanctified», states Clement of Alexandria, «even the seed is holy»(18).
3. The Holy Icons, although on a different level from the consecrated elements at the Eucharist, are also an instance of matter rendered spiritual. In his defence of the icons, what St John of Damascus (ca. 675-759) emphasises is above all the spirit-bearing potentialities of material things:
I do not worship matter, but I worship the Creator of matter, Who has been pleased to enter matter and has through matter effected my salvation. I shall not cease to venerate matter, for it was through matter that my salvation came to pass. ...Do not insult matter, for it is in no way despicable; nothing that God has made is to be despised. ...Matter is filled with divine grace(19).
4. A further example of the interaction between matter and spirit is provided by the discipline of fasting. Ascetic fasting does not signify a repudiation of the goodness of material objects; on the contrary, food and drink are a gift from God, to be received with joy and thanksgiving. We fast, not in order to express our disdain for material things, but so as to raise those things to the level of the Spirit. Through fasting, our food and drink -instead of being merely a way of satisfying physical hunger- become a means of communion with God. Eating and drinking are through fasting rendered personal.
5. If fasting brings about the spiritualization of the body, so also in another way does the gift of tears. Through grace-given weeping the bodily senses are made spiritual, and our human physicality is purged and refined, although not rejected. Tears signify not the mortification of the body but its transfiguration.
6. The interplay and reciprocity of spirit and matter, of soul and body, are evident also in the physical technique employed by the Hesychasts in combination with the recitation of the Jesus Prayer. By adopting a particular bodily posture and by regulating the rhythm of their breathing, the monks of 14th century Athos were seeking in a positive manner to harness their physical energies to the task of prayer. There are obvious dangers here, but St Gregory Palamas rightly defends the physical technique by appealing to a holistic view of human personhood. «Glorify God in your body» (1 Corinthians 6:20); through such methods the body is treated, not as a lump of inert matter to be ignored and repressed, but as the messenger and friend of the soul, the temple of the Holy Spirit.
7. The spiritualization of the body is evident above all in the vision of the divine Light granted to the saints in prayer. Here once more we may take St Gregory Palamas as our sure guide. At the Transfiguration of Christ on Tabor, the light which shone from His face was not a created light of the senses but the uncreated energies of God; yet the three disciples saw this uncreated Ligth through their bodily eyes. They saw it, that is to say, not by virtue of the normal power of sense-perception, but by virtue of the power of the indwelling Spirit which had transformed their senses. This Taboric mystery, according to Palamas, has continued in the life of the Church. The saints of God do not merely contemplate the divine light inwardly within their soul, but their bodies also shine in an outward and physical fashion with the uncreated glory that they contemplate; and this glory may sometimes be seen by others through their bodily eyes, as the light of Tabor was seen by Peter, James and John upon the mountain. In this way the transfigured bodies of the saints, even in this present life, manifest the final glory of the resurrection body in the Age to come. The eschatology of Palamas is thus not a futurist but an inaugurated eschatology. «If in the Age to come», he writes, «the body will share with the soul in ineffable blessings, it must certainly share in them, so far as possible, here and now»(20).
In all these examples, then, alike from the New Testament and from the life of the Church, it is fully evident that spirit and matter are not to be set in opposition, nor yet to be juxtaposed in a purely external manner, but they are to be seen as interpenetrating and interactive. There is between the two a constant perichoresis, a mutual coinherence that brings healing and salvation. The glory of God's Holy Spirit is not only an invisible but a physical glory. Matter, when taken up into Christ, is not merely dead particles but living presence. This conviction that matter is not inert «stuff» but dynamic energy is something that the natural sciences share with the mystical theology of the Orthodox Church. On the basis of this common conviction, we have everything to gain from listening to each other. Whether we are theologians or scientists, can we not pursue together in creative co-operation our continuing exploration of the human mystery, about which at present we both of us have such a partial and imperfect understanding?
12. In speaking thus of Scripture and Tradition, I do not intend to separate and contrast them as two «sources»; for they form together a single and undivided whole.
13. First Canon, Canticle 3:1.
14. Second Canon, Canticle 4:3. Compare the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:2).
15. On the ecological significance of Christ's Transfiguration, see the collective volume Metamorphosi, edited by Kostis Kyriakidis (Akritas: Athens, 1984).
16. Indeed, His body will still bear the marks of His Passion when He returns to earth at His Second Coming (see Zechariah 12:10; John 19:37). Although glorified, His human flesh still bears witness to His suffering and death. As Leon Bloy has well said, «Souffrir passe, avoir souffert ne passe jamais»; suffering passes, but the fact of having suffered remains always with us. That is true even of God Incarnate.
17. For further discussion of the resurrection body, see my book The Inner Kingdom (St Vladimir's Seminary Press: Crestwood, 2000), pp. 37-41.
18. Stromateis 2:6.
19. On Icons 1:16 and 1:36.
20. The Tome of the Holy Mountain 6.