It seems to me that when we Christians, and Orthodox Christians, are reflecting on natural science and particularly the Darwinian revolution with the teaching about evolution and the origin of species and natural selection and the relationship of all beings to each other—the plants and the animals and the birds and the fish and all that comes to be—and then very specifically speaking about the origin of human beings, the distinction of human beings from animals and from plants and from rocks, which are studied by the natural science, and to understand the relationship between them all. Of course, the scientists are doing that all the time, so, scientifically, they would describe human beings as a certain species of mammals whose three-pound brain has evolved to the point where they can have certain qualities that other types of animals do not have because of how evolution occurred, namely, qualities of self-consciousness and freedom and choice and will and language and consciousness of death; that there is anybody with their right mind and observing reality knows that there’s a radical difference between a human being and other beings that are not human.
If we wanted to speak about the other types of animals, there’s a radical difference between a human being and a gnat, as St. Gregory of Nyssa would say somewhere, or a rat or a tiger or a lion or a chimpanzee or a monkey. You have something completely different. Then in the human being you have a different type of reality totally. You might dare say, if you’re using this language of taxonomy, a different species. A human being is a different species from other animals and mammals that we know, and we know that whales are mammals and bats are mammals and human beings are mammals. The way they give birth, the way we give birth, the way the maternal mother feeds the child through milk and so on, this is mammalia. This is what connects us to the rest of the animals.
What I’d like to raise today now, though, for a reflection, is how you describe that distinction, because it seems to me very unfortunately, quite unfortunately, the Christians have come to say that what distinguishes human beings from plants and animals is that we have souls. The others don’t have souls, but we have souls. So we have immortal souls, even, sometimes it’s said, and God Almighty is interested in our souls; he wants to save our souls, and the body and the flesh really doesn’t matter very much, and even the rest of creation doesn’t matter very much. What really matters is our soul, the human soul. Sometimes Scripture is quoted, like Jesus said, “What shall man give in return for his soul? What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world and lose their own soul?”
So we have this distinction, which I actually believe, as I’ll unfold right now here in this meditation, comes more from Platonism than it does from the Bible. I think that this is one of the places where Christianity has to really ask itself the question: What does it mean, what do we mean when we speak about the soul and the immortality of the soul and the human soul? How do we relate all that to the other types of beings that exist? Do we say that they have no souls? Then, if you speak about the issue of salvation, there are some Christians who teach that only the souls are saved: the body’s not saved, the world is not saved, the created order does not participate in the coming kingdom of God, only souls do.
Then they begin to think about God as some super-duper soul, sometimes maybe called a spirit; you say human beings are spiritual. The others are not spiritual, but that then requires much more nuance and much more distinction in language which we’ll get to in a minute, but if some people would use the term “spirit” simply as a synonym of the term “soul,” they’re just not being biblical, that’s for sure, certainly not New Testamental, because the New Testament very clearly makes a distinction between soul and spirit. But the entire holy Scripture and all of the holy Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church in any place claim that God Almighty—and we’ll talk about this in another reflection—should not be imagined as a super-duper soul or as a super-duper spiritual being or even simply as a spirit. God is completely and totally different from all of creation in all of its forms including its human form.
However, it is true, as we’ll see, that the creatures who are not only psychic, who are alive, but who are spiritual, who are noetic, who have minds, who have self-consciousness, who can choose, who can know the truth, who can speak, who can love, who can will, that they are more God-like, that they are the ones who are said to be made in the image and according to the likeness of God in created forms. But you’ve got to underline that—in created forms—because God is totally different. God is holy, God is not like anything else, God is totaliter aliter, as they say in Latin, completely different from human beings in every possible way, different from creatures in every possible way. So we will speak about this another time.
But what we want to do now is just to focus on that issue of soul, and try to see that perhaps if we had a formulation and an understanding of soul and spirit and body and flesh, that is really biblical, that is really according to the holy Scriptures, that we might have fewer difficulties in Christian theology relating to how what the natural scientists say and do, how they look at reality, especially in the issue of evolution and the relationship of the various species and certainly the relationship of human beings to the other types of beings that we know on the planet earth, at least, the plants and the animals.
I do believe, honestly, that this is a place where a lot of the popular Christian understanding and teaching is incorrect. It is simply not right. It’s simply not true. Or, if you want to be more modest: it’s not biblical. So maybe the Bible’s not true. There are people who say the Bible’s not true, but if the holy Scriptures are the truth, then we have to ask ourselves: What are the holy Scriptures really saying about this issue of soul, the issue of spirit, the issue of body, the issue of flesh; and how are we to understand these things?
Then that brings into the discussion also, into the debate the issue of angels, because sometimes in the Christian popular teaching we speak about angels, and even in the theological teaching, as asomatoi; that’s the technical name for angels in church: bodiless powers, or pure minds, nouses, intellect, you see. Nous means “mind” or “intellect.” I don’t like “intellect,” actually, because I don’t think “intellect” is the better translation in English. I think the best translation for the term nous in English is simply “mind” or “rational soul” or “spirit.” “Noetic” is simply “spiritual”; it’s mental, but in the sense… not “mental” like “mental illness” or “psychic-mental,” but having a mind, having self-consciousness, being able to understand, being able to know, being able to will. That’s what it seems to me that that term, nous, means.
Now, the angels are capable of doing all those things, according to the Christian understanding, certainly according to the ancient Eastern Orthodox Christian understanding, but they have no bodies. They are bodiless. What we’ll see now is, according to the Scripture and according to the Church Fathers, the human nature is superior to that of the angels because we have everything that the angels have—we are spiritual, we are noetic—but we are also embodied; we are also enfleshed. We can also express our reality through material energetic forms, and we know even from science that matter is ultimately energies. So sometimes I like to think that when we contemplate God, what is the coefficient to our bodies on earth are the divine energies, the way we actualize ourselves as human beings, and as human beings we are not a combination of a ghost and a corpse, as Fr. Florovsky said and St. Macarius of Egypt said, actually, too, but we are in fact incarnate spirits, or we are vivified and ensouled bodies, but the souls are rational; the souls are noetic souls. That’s what distinguishes human beings from animals.
So let’s go back and try to do this in a little bit more orderly fashion, which I’m not too good at, which you may have noticed. I mentioned last time how one of my respondents said that my reflections are kind of musings of a stream of consciousness, stream-of-consciousness musings. So I’m going to muse a little more in a stream of consciousness, but I’m going to try very hard right now to do it in a little bit more orderly manner so that we can try to understand or at least that you could better understand what I’m trying to say and what I think as a matter of fact that the holy Scripture’s teaching us. When you understand properly the Church hymns in the liturgy, it’s totally biblical. It’s biblical in what the Bible is teaching.
What is that? I think it’s important that we try to understand what that is if we’re going to have a proper dialogue with natural science. Here again I make a plea; I make a plea: When Christians are dealing with natural science, it’s important that our Christianity is correct. It’s important that our theology is correct, because if we do not have the correct and accurate theological vision, then when we engage anything else, and certainly when we engage natural science, the dialogue is doomed. Because if our premises are incorrect, if we’re wrong from the beginning, then the whole thing is incorrect; the whole thing is skewed. It cannot possibly lead to a proper, right, true understanding.
So what is the theological vision here about soul, body, and how would this relate to the natural order, and therefore how might there be a fruitful dialogue between natural science and Christian theology? Well, these are the points that I would offer for your consideration, for your reflection. Again, I am offering them. You can decide and do with them as you will, but I am here to try to stir up a proper dialogue, a proper reflection, and, of course, could be very wrong, so you have to decide.
First of all, in the holy Scripture, in Hebrew you have the teaching that human beings are flesh, sarx, and that sarx or flesh matter, so to speak, belongs to all the creatures that we know about excluding the angels. Plants and animals are fleshly; they have matter, and so do human beings. But there is also nefesh. Nefesh is a Hebrew word which means breath or life. So you could say, certainly, that plants and animals and human beings, according to Scripture, are a combination or a commingling of nefesh and sarx, the breath of life and flesh, or matter.
Nefesh, in the translation of the Scriptures into Greek, becomes psyche or psychē in Greek, which is normally translated in English as “soul.” Then sarx is translated as “flesh.” There’s another word for “body” in Hebrew, but it is not too commonly used. It’s mostly “flesh,” sarx, and nefesh: flesh and life. Or the breath of life in a fleshly manner.
In Latin, that term, nefesh, life, in Greek psyche, is anima. It’s the word for “soul.” In the Slavic languages, that would be dusha, soul, or life. In the Bible and in the liturgy, the term “soul” or the term “flesh”—not the term “body,” though—are often called linguistically as pars pro toto: you speak about a part of a reality in the sense of speaking of it all. So when the Scripture would say, “Let all mortal flesh be quiet” or “All flesh shall see the glory of God” or “God pours his spirit out on all flesh,” it means “all living things.” It means that all reality is there, and it certainly means human beings. But when the Scripture and the liturgy speaks about “the Savior of our souls” and “to save our soul” and “how many souls are in your church?” or “My soul shall magnify the Lord,” as the Theotokos sings in the Magnificat, it doesn’t mean just that one part of the person; it stands for the whole person.
Sometimes the term “flesh” stands for the whole person, and sometimes the term “soul” stands for the whole person, but they’re not divided, and you can’t think of them as separated ever when you’re thinking about human beings and when you’re thinking about plants and animals and fish and birds either. All of these realities are combinations of life and flesh. Rocks are not, because they’re not alive. Angels are not, because they’re not sarkic; they have no flesh, they have no bodies. Sometimes the holy Fathers will speak about the spiritual body of the angels in order to have a kind of circumscription of the angel, to say that there’s a sort of a spiritual reality together which is not infinite; it’s not God, basically. It’s limited, it’s finite, it’s circumscribed. So sometimes they speak about kind of the bodiless bodies of the angels, and there were big disputes about that in early Christianity in the desert tradition.
Among the Egyptians, for example, this whole issue of the corporality or the quasi-corporality of angels and so on, and then they appear in human form and so on—it was a theological debate, but technically here, all the angels are not limitless; they’re not infinite. They’re not all-powerful, they’re not almighty; in a word, they are not God. God is completely different. God is not like any of these realities. So it would become a terrific error to think of God as a super-spirit or a super-angel or a super-soul. God is completely different. God is not any of those kind of things. You can speak about God being spiritual as anthropomorphic, as speaking about God having hands or eyes. It’s equally anthropomorphic. God is completely different.
From that point of view, God is not even being. Only creatures are being. God gives being to creatures, but God is beyond being. He’s super-non-being. As Gregory Palamas will say, “If God is, I am not; if I am, God is not. If God is being, I am not being. God is beyond being.” St. Dionysios the Areopagite, in the writings attributed to Dionysios in the sixth century, he will even say that God is beyond divinity. Even divinity is a human concept. God is supra-divine, super-non-divine, super-essential, super-substantial. He even begins his treatise on the divinity on the mystical theology, “Ho triada,” he says, “O Trinity—hyper-ousia, hyper-agia The’e, hyper The’e—O Trinity who is beyond being, beyond holiness, beyond divinity, super-divine, supra-holy, supra-being, supra-substantial.” That’s ABCs of ancient Christian teaching, and it’s the Bible, because the Bible says God is not comparable to anything.
When you look at beings, however, created beings—and now we’re going to exclude the angels and only focus on human beings and plants and animals—it is certainly a biblical teaching and a patristic teaching that plants and animals are ensouled, that they have souls, they’re alive. In biblical terms, they have the “breath of life” in them. “He breathed the breath of life in them.” They become living beings. So you have in the Genesis story: “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and God created the great sea monsters and every living creature, saw that it was good.” With the birds of the air: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures, ensouled creatures, and it was good.”
So this breath of life which [is] in all these creatures, in the plants and in the animals, it’s the breath of life that God puts in them, and that allows us to say that they have souls, that they’re living. That’s all that that means. In the later Scholastic theology in Christianity, we would speak about vegetative souls and animal souls, but to say animal souls is a redundant expression. It’s like saying animal animals, because anima means soul.
When you get to the second creation story in Genesis—and we know that there are two of them—when the Lord God forms man from the dust of the earth, he breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, and man becomes a living being. In the New Testament, St. Paul will say that the first man, the man from the earth, was psychic; he was psychike, psychikos, and the second man, the man who comes from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ is pnevmatikos. So that the first man was psychic, earthly, and the second man is heavenly and spiritual. Read 1 Corinthians 15, and this is what you will discover. Then in that same story, when God parades all of the living beings, all the animals, every living creature in whom is the breath of life, and man names all these cattle, because man is unique among all of these animals with the living breath, because he’s made in God’s image and likeness. He is created with the spiritual qualities. He’s made in God’s image and likeness.
In the New Testament, the image and likeness of God according to which all human beings are created, male and female, will be the Lord Jesus Christ himself. St. Paul says it twice, in 2 Corinthians 4 and in Colossians 1, that Jesus Christ is the eikon tou Theou; Jesus Christ is the likeness or image of God according to which we are made. He is the exact image of God the Father, and then we are made to be what Christ is from all eternity and what he shows himself to be as a man when he’s born on earth of the Virgin Mary.
But man, in Adam, the earthling, the earth creature in the Genesis story, calls all the living creatures and gives them their names, but none of them as an eser kenegdo; none of them is found as a voithos kath’ afton, as it says in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture; none of them is found as a helper fit for him. By the way, again we have to stress that term “helper” in that text is not a derogatory term. I mean, God is our helper, according to Scripture. To be a helper is not derogatory, especially if that helper is necessary for that other being to be what it is, and that’s what we understand according to holy Scripture. In other words, the earthling alone, without the Eve, the ish without the isha, cannot be human. Humanity has to be male and female. You have to have both forms, and a proper relation to them.
Then it’s interesting: when the man and the woman are made, the Scripture says that they become one flesh, basarh achad, one flesh. Basarh is “flesh” in Hebrew. I’m sorry. I kept saying sarx. Sarx is the Greek term. It’s nefesh and basarh in Hebrew. It’s psyche and sarx in Greek. Forgive me that.
So you have life and you have flesh, basarh. These are what are characteristic of animals that are paraded before Adam, and none of them can be the one that completes him as a person made in God’s image and likeness. So then the woman is necessary, and then the two become one flesh. One flesh means one reality. It doesn’t mean one person, by the way, because persons are unique. The two persons become one flesh. They become one reality, one nature. They have what they are together. They will even become one soul. St. Paul will say that those who cleave to a prostitute become with them one flesh, but those who cleave to the Lord become with him one spirit. We become one spirit with God when we cleave to God the way Adam and Eve cleaved to each other. We have to cleave together, and that is what we are created to do.
So what we want to see here is that, both in the animals and in the plants, you have souls, you have nefesh, you have life, you have breath. That’s not unique to human beings. Then they all also have basarh: they also have matter; they have flesh. Certainly the animals have flesh, and they act, they live, they move, they breathe—but they are not rational, they are not noetic, they are not pneumatic, in using Greek terms. They are not spiritual. In Hebrew it would mean that they don’t have the ruah; they have the nefesh but not the ruah. There’s a difference between nefesh and ruah. Nefesh is life and living; it’s, in Greek, soul, and ruah is spirit. Only the human beings are spiritual, who have the Holy Spirit in them so that they can become spiritual.
This is how we have to read these texts. Why is that so important? That is so important because what we find here is, first of all, that there is no dualism. Well, first of all I think we should say we have to see that the term nefesh or psyche doesn’t just belong to human beings. It belongs to animals, too. What distinguishes the human being from the animal is that the human being has a rational soul. The human being is logikos, igumenikos. It’s self-governing. It is noetikos. It is pnevmatikos, the human being, which distinguishes the human being from the animal, but the human being still is psychic: it has a soul, just like the animal does.
Then the human being is also flesh, just like the animal is. You cannot say here that soul is good and flesh is bad. You cannot say that spirit is good and body is bad. Read the Apostle Paul. Now, the Apostle Paul creates some difficulties here on this issue because St. Paul, unlike St. John in the Bible… And St. John Chrysostom, by the way, he says: Let’s be careful that we understand the words of Scripture, not to give a handle to heretics; he says, because the Scriptures use different words in different ways. Here I would say, when I used to teach theology, I always used to say to the students—I hope I was right—that in this area, where you speak of soul and spirit and mind and will and intellect and body and flesh and passions and emotions and heart and mind, you have the greatest variety of languages and the different usages, and there’s no consistency in the usage. You can only determine the usage from the context of how that term is used.
In St. John’s gospel and in the letters of St. John, where St. John wants to insist about the Incarnation of the Logos in human flesh, he uses the term sarx—kai ho Logos sarx egeneto; and the Word became flesh. In the first letters of John, it says, “Anyone who does not confess that Christ has come en sarke, in the basarh, in flesh, is anti-Christ,” and that flesh is good; the flesh is not bad. Joel says that God will pour his Holy Spirit on all flesh. That’s quoted by Peter in the Book of Acts on Pentecost: “All flesh shall see the glory of God.” Flesh is not bad; it’s good. The flesh of animals, the flesh of human beings, the flesh of plants is good; it’s not bad.
Of course, the soul is good, the spirit is good. Here we have to say, biblically, that everything that God creates is good. Everything [is] good. According to the holy Fathers, even the natural passions are good—anger, desire: these are all good things. They become evil when they are misused, when they are abused, when they are misdirected. St. Maximus the Confessor will say it very clearly, and he’s a spokesperson for all of the holy Fathers: Sin and evil is the misuse and abuse of what is created good, and everything is created good. In the first chapter of Genesis, seven, eight, nine times, God says, “This is good, very good.” Male and female together is very good. The body is very good. St. Paul will insist on that: Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit from God? They’re good things; they’re not bad things.
But a crypto-dualism has crept into Christianity, where lots of Christians think matter is bad, spirit is good, and that comes from Platonism directly. Spirit is good, flesh is bad—that’s not Christian teaching at all. It’s not biblical teaching at all.
Now, the Apostle Paul does create a little bit of difficulty because he says when you put your mind, your nous on your sarx, on your flesh, then you become a sinner. So he says don’t put the mind on the flesh, and the flesh is passing and so on. He says put your mind on—and he doesn’t say soul; he says spirit—put your mind on spirit and live. So to put the mind on flesh or to become fleshly is death, but to put your mind on the spirit—which comes from God, which is different from soul. It’s not simply the breath of life in you; it’s not the ruah. The soul is not the Holy Spirit, but the human beings are created breathed in by the spirit of God. That’s what makes them in God’s image and likeness. I think you could actually say about a human being, unlike an animal, that to be a real human being you have to be body, soul, and Holy Spirit. You have to be body, soul, and spirit.
St. Paul says that specifically in the letter to the Thessalonians: our bodies, our souls, and our spirits. But the Spirit which comes to us from God, which makes us the God-like being, the noetic quality, that has to control the soul and the body. So that’s what St. Paul is driving at if you read him carefully and understand his words—the meaning, not just the words. I love that sentence of St. Hilary of Poitiers: When we read Scriptures and Fathers and any text, it’s not in legendo: non in legendo sed in intelligendo, he says: not in the reading but in the understanding, lest we give a handle to heretics, as St. John Chrysostom said, by messing up the words.
What St. Paul is saying is this: When a human being, made in God’s image and likeness, who is Christ himself, puts their mind on the things of the spirit that come to them from God, then their very bodies become spiritual. They have spiritual bodies. But when the mind is put on the flesh and not on the things of the spirit, then their very minds become sarkic; the mind becomes fleshly. So the paradox or the antinomy in the language of St. Paul is that we could have a carnal mind—and carne is the Latin term for flesh—we could have a fleshly mind, a carnal mind, or we could have a spiritual body. We can sanctify and hallow our flesh, our bodily being, our material being. But still we’re holistic; there’s no dualism here. It is not at all that the soul is good and the body is bad, the spirit is good and the flesh is bad. That’s not the teaching at all.
If that were the teaching, the Incarnation would be total madness, and of course the Hellenistic people like Celsus who fought with Origen and Justin the Martyr when they were making apologia, the Christian apology, the defense of Christianity was the defending of the goodness of matter. St. John of Damascus will do this when he defends the holy icons. He says God can be revealed in matter. God has become flesh. He has taken a body. He has lived on earth. We eat and drink his body and his blood, which are very fleshly realities. All of this is very, very good, and that’s how we’re sanctified, that’s how we’re glorified, that’s how we’re deified.
Then the Christians teach that if our spirit is not put on God’s spirit, we die, and not only our bodies die, but our souls die. The Scripture speaks many different ways about dying. It speaks about people who are still existing and living in a biological sense, but they’re dead. Then the Scripture also speaks about people who are biologically dead, but who are in fact alive because they’re in the hands of God, which leads to another point. I do not believe that the Scripture teaches that the souls of animals and plants and human beings even are naturally immortal. They’re created never to die, and here I think there is a distinction between animals and plants and human beings. Animals and plants may be in a kind of cyclical relationship that maybe the cosmos itself requires death in the vegetable and animal world for the world to be the way it is that God created it and intended it to be, and that may include the origin of species through natural selections and all that kind of stuff.
It’s very possible, certainly a struggle of the fittest and all those kind of things, but one thing is certain, for sure, theologically, and that is that the human beings were not made to die. We were created in incorruption for incorruption. We were created to govern and rule over the plants and the animals and even the angels. We’re to sit on thrones judging angels, according to the Christian teaching. We’re to have powers over the bodiless powers, the angels and the demons. According to the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, the angels are God’s spiritual servants for the sake of our salvation.
By the way, here is another issue with language. When the holy Fathers, like Gregory of Nyssa and others, speak about our living as spiritual realities, sometimes they use—sadly, I think—the adjective “angelic.” So they would say that, for example, if human beings had not sinned and rebelled against God, our reproduction through sexual intercourse would be like the angels. Well, they don’t mean like angels reproduce—angels don’t reproduce—but what it meant would be that our souls and our bodies would not be filled with carnal passion and lewdness and lasciviousness and impurity but would be directed by the spirit and therefore would be holy. And it’s very clear according to holy Scripture that sexual intercourse is meant to be holy.
If we use a kind of popular jargon of patristics, it would say: was meant to be angelic, to be like angels, because in the coming kingdom we’re going to be like angels, when there’s no reproduction, there’s no sexual intercourse, but there will be bodies, because the Christian faith teaches the resurrection of the body, which was a scandal to Hellenists, scandal to the philosophers: Why would you want a body? Plotinus was ashamed of his body, couldn’t wait to get out of his body. Plato said the body was a prison. That’s not biblical, that’s not Christian, that’s not New Testamental, that is not the teaching of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as they interpret Isaiah and Exodus and all the books of the old covenant; that is simply not the teaching.
The teaching is that the whole of creation is good, all of the realities are good, and that among the various creatures that exist, you have plants and animals who are living, who have the breath of life in them, who reproduce, who produce offspring, who grow, who develop, and who pass away and who die. But then there are the human creatures made in the image and likeness of God who are not only psychic and sarkic, not only basarh and nefesh, but also ruah and ruah Yahweh, who have the spirit of the Lord in them, the Holy Spirit, that makes them to be alive and to be able to have communion with God and literally never to die.
When we speak about death, we might say death is natural in the vegetable and animal world, but it is certainly not natural in the human world if we are really made in the image and likeness of God and are spiritual and are noetic. Then we should not die. But why do we die? Why do we turn back like the beasts, as it says in Psalms? “You are created gods, all of you; nevertheless, you perish like any beast.” That’s the psalm that’s sung on the Paschal Vigil: “Arise, O Lord, and judge the earth, for to you belong all creation. You are gods, all of you, sons of God; nevertheless, you perish like any beast.” Well, it’s because we’re bestial and not angelic. We’re supposed to be like the angels and not like the beasts. Like the angels we’re supposed to be self-conscious and free and glorify God.
But even the angels can rebel against God and become demons. When the human beings rebel against God, we become demons, too; we become bestial demons. In fact, the Fathers would say we become worse than beasts because the beasts are holy. The beasts do what they’re supposed to do, but human beings are not supposed to be beasts. As the holy Fathers and people like Pascal said: Any human being who will try to be an angel will end up a beast, because we are neither angelic, meaning bodiless, nor are we beasts, meaning not-noetic, not-spiritual.
This is why the holy Fathers say that the human beings have all of the elements of the created order that we know about. We’re noetic like the angels and we’re bodies, corporeal or sarkic or fleshly, like the plants and the animals. We are material like the plants and the animals and the rocks, but we are spiritual like the angels. We are microcosms, but as Gregory of Nyssa would say: Why would we glory in the fact that we have all the nature of gnats—he used that, g-n-a-t-s, gnats, mosquitoes, rats—why would we be so happy about that? We should be more happy that we’re made in the image and likeness of God himself, that we’re noetic, that we have angel-like realities that make us most God-like.
But still, God is not an angel. God not only has no body, God has no soul and no spirit either. By the way, in St. John’s gospel, when it says, “God is spirit,” in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, it doesn’t mean that God is a spirit like a super-duper angel, a super-duper bodiless power. It means God is spirit, meaning he’s not located anywhere, because angels are not located anywhere. That’s why some of the Church Fathers said, when we speak about the limitation of angels we have to give them a quasi-corporeal nature, a kind of corporeal spirituality, because they’re not divine; they’re not infinite. But God is not infinite and divine, but in that sense, as we’ll see later, God is not supreme being—God is completely other. He’s not-being at all, if we’re beings.
But, getting back to the issue of the soul and the body, according to the Scriptures, dualism is bad. It’s not true. It’s simply not right. Human beings are not just souls. It’s not just with human souls that God is concerned. He’s concerned with the whole of the human person and the whole of the human being and the whole of the cosmos. Here you have this marvelous sentence in the letter to the Romans by the Apostle Paul which should definitely be read every day by a Christian, especially those of us who tend to dualism, the dualism that spirit is good and matter is bad and that the creation has no part in the coming kingdom of God: the new heaven and the new earth is purely spiritual. I’m afraid that that was perhaps even taught by some Western Scholastic theology. I have a hunch that Thomas Aquinas actually taught that the bodily world and the sarkic world has no real participation in the kingdom of God; it’s only souls.
But listen to what St. Paul writes. He said in Romans 8, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” But then he starts including in the suffering not just human suffering but the suffering of the whole of creation, the agony of the whole of creation. Would we dare to say that the suffering that the natural scientists see in the natural order when they study how animals and plants relate to each other and how there is this strife and struggle and death and life and predatory behavior and blood in the created order? In any case, what we have to see in the Scripture, leaving natural science to itself right now—it says:
For creation (the whole creation) waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation itself was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope, because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Then he continues. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.” Could that groaning in travail be what the scientists study all the time? It could very well be.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves (the human beings made in God’s image, we ourselves) who have the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit (we’re spiritual, not just psychic and material or sarkic and fleshly) we groan inwardly as we await the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (he says: not our souls, our bodies). For in this hope we were saved.
Then he says:
Hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes what he sees? But we hope for what we do not see, and we wait for it with patient endurance, and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We should read that again. The sufferings of creation are waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, and the sons of God are only revealed when the Son of God comes on earth, namely, Jesus Christ as incarnate as a real human being. Jesus was a mammal, after all. He never reproduced; he was a virgin like his mother, Mary, but she was a mammal. We have icons of Mary Mlekopitatel’nitsa, they call it in Slavonic. I’m not sure how it’s said in Greek—called the Milk-nourisher, where you have actually an icon of Jesus sucking Mary’s breasts. We’re mammals! Jesus became a mammal if he became human. He became animal; he became anima.
It’s even a dogma of Christianity that Jesus had a human soul. Apollinaris, the heretic, said God didn’t have a human soul or a human mind. He was just a Logos with a body. The holy Fathers rejected that as heresy. St. Gregory the Theologian, in his letter to Cledonius, says specifically; he says, “What is not assumed is not healed,” and Jesus didn’t just become a Logos and take on a human body like a tent. No, he became human. After the Apollinarian heresy, every single ecumenical council of the Eastern Orthodox Church, when it speaks about the Incarnation of Christ, says that he became flesh “with a rational soul, with a noetic psyche, nefesh that was pneumatic,” which makes him human. But he has to have a soul or he’s not human. He has to be a soul, and he has to be enfleshed, and he has to have a body, or else he’s not really human: he hasn’t become man, he hasn’t enanthropisanta, as the Creed will say. He was born of the Virgin Mary, was incarnate, and became human. This is what it is.
So the whole of the cosmos is rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ, who has come not only to save human souls but to save human bodies, and not only human bodies and souls but the souls and bodies of all the plants and animals in ways known to himself. So, for example, on Pascha Eve in the Church, we sing the Canticle of the Three Youths in the fiery furnace, where every possible creature is praising the Lord: birds, animals, fish, plants, trees of the forest, stars of heaven—everything is glorifying God. It’s a cosmic salvation. And we believe that human beings cannot be saved without the cosmos, and the cosmos cannot be saved without human beings, and the cosmos is only saved through the ministrations of human beings, particularly the human being, Jesus Christ, which is the human being that the divine Person, the divine Son of God has become by becoming the Man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.
So there’s no dualism; there’s no dualism. It’s wholeness. It’s body, soul, and spirit. It’s nefesh, it’s life; psyche, anima; it’s basarh, it’s sarx, it’s carne, carnus. In Slavonic, it would be not only dusha, soul, but duh, spirit; but not only soma, body in Greek, telo, in Slavonic, but also sarx in Greek, which is plotz in Slavonic: “And the Word becomes plotz, becomes flesh”: not just body, but flesh. But all of these realities belong to human reality, but not only human reality: they belong to created reality.
The ultimate teaching—and this is patristic, totally; I am convinced, personally—is that there’s no dualism. It’s not “spirit is good, matter is bad.” It’s not “soul is good, body is bad.” It’s not “the nous is good and the sarx is bad; the mind is good and the flesh is evil.” No, everything is good, and they have to be kept together, and they have to be whole together, but there’s an order. There’s an order. The soul is supposed to govern and care for the body, certainly the human soul. And the human soul does it because it’s spiritual; it has contact with God. It’s breathed in the Holy Spirit in human beings to remain alive forever and to care for the rest of creation, the animals and the plants and the fish and the birds, who have their own laws of nature, so to speak, in how they interact, which is what natural science studies.
Now, natural science could also study human beings as if we were just animals, and even natural scientists, when they get beyond science, can claim that human beings are nothing but animals, we’re nothing but protoplasm and DNA and flesh and passions, nothing more than. But that’s where we Christians would part company. We would say, “Oh, no, we’re much more than.” But still we would affirm our solidarity with the physical, material, vegetative and animal worlds. Yeah, we are animal, and we are fleshly, too. And that’s crucial for human beings. And it is through the human being that all the matter and all the flesh is consecrated, beginning with one’s own body, with one’s own flesh, with one’s own blood.
But flesh and blood, by itself, according to St. Paul, cannot enter the kingdom of God. But that doesn’t mean that flesh and blood are not saved. That simply means that if we are only flesh and blood, we have no communion with God, we cannot enter with God, and everything is lost. But we are also spirit. But as the holy Fathers say, you cannot receive spirit unless you give blood. There’s a saying of the Fathers: “Give blood, receive spirit.” And in the Christian faith, as a matter of fact, we receive the Holy Spirit of God so we can offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God which is our spiritual worship. This is the letter [from] St. Paul [to the Romans], twelfth chapter, first verse: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable and well-pleasing to him, which is your logike latreia.
That’s what the Divine Liturgy is all about. The Divine Liturgy is God gracing us and sanctifying us by his Holy Spirit so that we can be how Christ is and what Christ is and offer our bodies to be broken, our blood to be shed, as a living sacrifice to God, in order to be deified and glorified and so that, through us, the whole of the cosmos, with all of the plants and animals, could also be deified and glorified. This is the way that we are called to look at it, it seems to me.
When we think of the relationship of natural science to Christian theology… And we can say that natural science is studying flesh, blood, matter, cells, emotions, natural [scientists] are making conclusions about fish and birds and chimpanzees and monkeys and everything else and how they relate to each other. And then natural science has to ask the question: How does all this relate to us? And then we are included in the study of natural science, rightly so. Our blood can be studied, our flesh can be studied, our cells can be studied, our genes can be studied, our DNA can be studied, our brain, “that three-pound marvelous creation of evolution,” as one scientist called it, it can be studied.
And then they can be corrupted. You could have tumors on your brains. Your brain could be smashed by a hammer, and you can no longer have a spiritual life. And in Christian view, and this is the Orthodox liturgical view, the separation of soul and body is not something good. It’s called death. Even in the priest’s prayerbook, death is the separation of soul and body, which is no good. It’s the last enemy. We don’t want the soul to go away from the body. We want the soul to consecrate the body by receiving the Holy Spirit from God and acting the way a human soul ought to act, and a human soul is rational, whereas the soul of a beast is irrational, although it has certain forms of primitive rationality that we can discover even in animals. But we are connected with all those animals. We are animals ourselves, and there’s nothing embarrassing or shameful about that at all.
In fact, there’s nothing shameful about being a lion, a tiger, or an ape, or a robin or a sparrow, or a trout or a bass, or a shark or a whale or an orchid or a petunia. These are all great and holy, glorious things, but all of that is in travail until the revelation of the sons of God: the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and those who become sons of God in him. And then when you look at this whole reality theologically, through the prism of the crucified, glorified Christ, the incarnate Son of God, then maybe there’s another way to understand all of this, a way quite different from the way it’s understood by a lot of people who claim to be religious and who claim even to be Christians. So this is what we want to do.
Next time we’re going to reflect on: how do we understand not only the relationship between soul and body, spirit and flesh, mind and matter, but how do we understand the relationship between the creation as a whole and the human creatures and God Almighty himself? How does God relate to the created order, and how does the created order relate to God? But that is for next time. But for today, there is just one very modest, humble plea: Let’s get it right when we understand spirit, soul, and body for human beings and for plants and for animals. Let’s get the distinctions right. Let’s get it right to show how, in one sense, we are all the same. Yeah, we are all the same, but let’s also get it right when we show how we are all different and even how the species, if there is such a thing, are different. How do the creatures differ, and what makes a lion differ from a trout or an orchid? But what makes an ape or a chimpanzee or an orangutan different from a human being?
The scientists can study it in their way, which is purely physical, purely natural, but what about the theologian? What about those who believe in Jesus Christ as given to us in the holy Scripture? What about those who believe in the holy Scriptures, in the Bible, and what the Bible actually says?—not what we want it to say, not what we think it says, but what it actually says. That all has to be gotten straight, each in its own place and each in its own order. Then we can understand how they might relate to each other.
But if we don’t understand what natural science is within itself and what theology and spiritual life is within itself and how those two interrelate and therefore how God Almighty, the uncreated, relates to the created and how the different aspects of creatures, like the spiritual aspect, the psychic aspect, the corporeal aspect, the fleshly aspect, the emotional and passional and mental aspects, how they relate to each other—if we don’t get those things straight, then we’re just in a terrible mess. And it seems to me that that’s why we’re in such a terrible mess, because natural science goes beyond what it is capable of speaking of, and theology, which is capable of speaking of things of God, very often doesn’t even know what it’s talking about and hasn’t gotten it straight.
So let’s pray to get it straight. Let’s beg God to help us to understand: to understand scientifically, naturally, and to understand theologically, according to what is given to us and what we can experience in our life as human beings, which is very distinct and different from what animals and plants and fish and birds and water and rock can experience. There is a human experience that takes us beyond what natural science can deal with, and that’s the realm of the supernatural, the metaphysical, the theological, and that belongs to humanity also. Without it, we wouldn’t even have natural science, because we would not be spiritual, intellectual beings. We would not be the kind of beings that we are.
But how [does] the kind of beings that we are, which we would say in theology, made in the image and likeness of God who is Christ, how does that relate to all of the other creatures that are. In some sense, we’re the same, and in some sense we are different. It’s very crucial that we would answer the sameness and the difference accurately.