Thursday, May 08, 2008

More on the Body as the Image of God

In our previous discussion on the same topic or more properly: reconciling theistic evolution with the body as the image of God, we didn't fully arrive at any definite conclusions but I think interesting points were brought up on both sides. Since then, I've had a little time to think of it and my perspective is shifting.

My thoughts were still formulating (not yet ready for a post) when I ran across this article:

CONCORD, N.H.(AP) Since they first walked the planet, humans have either buried or burned their dead. Now a new option is generating interest _ dissolving bodies in lye and flushing the brownish, syrupy residue down the drain.
If the human body loses its dignity at the departure of the soul, then why does that paragraph strike me as an affront to the image of God? And not surprisingly:
"We believe this process, which enables a portion of human remains to be flushed down a drain, to be undignified," said Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester.
But if on the other hand, the body retains some sort of partial dignity not because of what it is (a dead human body) but because of what it was (the matter of a human soul - or in other words, it has dignity by the simple fact that a human soul once dwelt in it though no longer does and thus it can no longer be called a human body) then I suppose we could make some sense out of our negative reaction to this technology. I still have a gut feeling though that my reasoning is inadequate here and I'm not sure why. So why is this technology offensive to us given our previous discussion?

On further reflection (since the last post on the topic), I realized that the word "body" wasn't used in Genesis as I had been using it. In fact, God said let's make "man" in Our image not "man's body". The first time the word "body" even appears is much later. It doesn't seem that the Scriptures ever refer to the "body" by itself as wholly containing the image of God.

Still have more reflection to do but any insight in the mean time is welcome and encouraged!


Rob said...

Renee said:

I think that this post explains the relationship of the body and and the Image of God well.

This post is from the Vatican Document titled:


Human Persons Created in the Image of God*

The central dogmas of the Christian faith imply that the body is an intrinsic part of the human person and thus participates in his being created in the image of God. The Christian doctrine of creation utterly excludes a metaphysical or cosmic dualism since it teaches that everything in the universe, spiritual and material, was created by God and thus stems from the perfect Good. Within the framework of the doctrine of the incarnation, the body also appears as an intrinsic part of the person. The Gospel of John affirms that "the Word became flesh (sarx)," in order to stress, against Docetism, that Jesus had a real physical body and not a phantom-body. Furthermore, Jesus redeems us through every act he performs in his body. His Body which is given up for us and His Blood which is poured out for us mean the gift of his Person for our salvation. Christ's work of redemption is carried on in the Church, his mystical body, and is made visible and tangible through the sacraments. The effects of the sacraments, though in themselves primarily spiritual, are accomplished by means of perceptible material signs, which can only be received in and through the body. This shows that not only man's mind but also his body is redeemed. The body becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. Finally, that the body belongs essentially to the human person is inherent to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the end of time, which implies that man exists in eternity as a complete physical and spiritual person.

30. In order to maintain the unity of body and soul clearly taught in revelation, the Magisterium adopted the definition of the human soul as forma substantialis (cf. Council of Vienne and the Fifth Lateran Council). Here the Magisterium relied on Thomistic anthropology which, drawing upon the philosophy of Aristotle, understands body and soul as the material and spiritual principles of a single human being. It may be noted that this account is not incompatible with present-day scientific insights. Modern physics has demonstrated that matter in its most elementary particles is purely potential and possesses no tendency toward organization. But the level of organization in the universe, which contains highly organized forms of living and non-living entities, implies the presence of some "information." This line of reasoning suggests a partial analogy between the Aristotelian concept of substantial form and the modern scientific notion of "information." Thus, for example, the DNA of the chromosomes contains the information necessary for matter to be organized according to what is typical of a certain species or individual. Analogically, the substantial form provides to prime matter the information it needs to be organized in a particular way. This analogy should be taken with due caution because metaphysical and spiritual concepts cannot be simply compared with material, biological dates.

Rob said...

Renee said:

Sorry Tim, the last word on the post should say data, not dates.

If you would like to read the entire document you can find it here:

Gretchen said...

Tim, can you give us an idea of how the word 'image' is interpreted in Genesis? The dictionary: has a number of definitions that may or may not be useful.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Renee - thanks for the document that was helpful.

Gretchen - I'm really not qualified to answer but I know the word "image" here is used of Adam's son (reproduced after Adam's image), of pagan idols and even in Psalms 39:6

"Surely man goes about as a shadow![image]"

The document Renee linked to affirms that the body intrinsically participates in being created in the image of God. It seems like "the image" is of man: body & soul.

In a perfect world, we would not say "body and soul" because there would be no reason to distinguish between them. We distinguish only because of the unnatural effects of sin: death. Talking about body and soul is like talking about bricks and brickness. Brickness is what makes a brick a brick but when we refer to a brick, we don't distinguish between the matter (brick) and the form (brickness).

Often when we talk about ourselves, we instinctively use non-dualistic language (and rightly so) "My hand" (as opposed to, "my body's hand") "My eternal home" (as opposed to "my soul's eternal home").

The issue comes up when we have an unnatural separation of two things that ought not be separable "soul & body". I suppose this is like separating "brickness" from "brick" (which is actually as unnatural and contradictory as death itself). If you separated the two, we couldn't call the "brick" a "brick" anymore since it lost the quality that makes it a brick ("brickness") which is, as I take it, what Andrew was saying about death; when the soul separates from the body, the body loses the quality that made it a human body as opposed to a lump of tissue.

The real question is: why is it still sacred then? Carl Sagan once collected dozens of vials and containers holding all the basic elements in their exact quantities which constitute a human being. He remarked that one couldn't help but be curious what would happen if we mixed all the materials together. Well, of course nothing happens which is what the article Renee posted touched on: the particles themselves do not have a tendency towards organization.

While at the separation of soul and body, since it has lost its "humanness", the body might no longer be a proper "human body" in one sense, we can't bring ourselves to equate the corpse with the sum of Carl Sagan's test tubes full of slime and particles. Why not?

It is because the body did fully participate in being created in the image of God. Therefore, while the body itself may not be the full image of God, it is made in the image of God.

So I think this shows the body has sacredness because (as noted above) it fully participated in being created "in image of God" even without the soul (although the body without the soul is incomprehensible which is part of my overall point). If we have seen (and I think we have) that the body cannot lose its dignity even by unnatural separation of the soul, then we must see that if there ever existed a body before a soul, it must have already have been sacred at least partially.

Since, if removing "humanness" does not make the body the equivalent of the sum total of the mere particles which compose a body, then the body itself must be sacred.

So really what this all boils down to asking is - how about Adam's mom and dad? So if Adam had some lye, when his mom and dad died, he could have dissolved their bodies in it and flushed them down the commode since there was absolutely nothing sacred about them. In fact, their bodies were of no more worth than anything else that had gone down that commode since they didn't have souls(ignoring the fact that they didn't have indoor plumbing of course - I'm making a point).

This is to mention nothing of the problem of how all almost-humans died leaving no descendants except Adam's parents & Eve's parents.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I didn't finish one of my thought processes. I think we have demonstrated that body & soul absolutely belong together. If the soul is the form of the body, and the body is the matter of the soul, they must have been created together and as one thing: man.

The body developing on its own and then having the soul inserted into it is as incomprehensible to me as a brick going along and then having "brickness" inserted into it.

The first objection is that God is all powerful and if He can change the form of the Eucharist, He could change the form of the body.

The second objection is that I'm dealing only with our time frame. Andrew brought this up earlier, what difference does it make if God created the body over a million years or over 24 hours - time was still involved at some level.

I don't think that is necessarily so, the act of man's creation could have literally been instantaneous. (Much of the imagery in Genesis is certainly metaphoric regardless of whether you believe evolution or not).

The creation of man as a whole - body & soul together at one time makes far more sense in my mind. If we admit that these two utterly belong to each other - rejecting dualism completely, it seems to me that their separation before humanity is just as unnatural as death. How can the soul departing from the body at death be such a horrible thing if the body existed and presumably got along just fine before it even had a soul?

I think the original act of creation is exactly like our personal creation - we are born as body & soul - not a soul inserted at some point. Thats why we can no more destroy an embryo than a 70 year old man. The world thinks value (whether thats a soul or not is a different subject) is inserted
by exposure to air outside the mother's womb. This sounds something like theistic-evolution to me, value was added to almost-human bodies by insertion of a soul at some point. In summary, almost-human bodies just as smart as you and I walking around soulless is incomprehensible to me (even aside from what I think I've demonstrated in that the bodies seem to have value as the image of God by themselves).

andrew said...

great train of thought. keep it up, chief, keep it up. one small talking point: any (hypothetical, if you like) biological ancestor of Adam would have had a soul, just not a rational soul.

Gretchen said...

"You can drown understanding in facts." Joseph Ratzinger (God and the World).

Facts, in and of themselves, do not denote Truth. Truth is more than the sum of its parts. Metaphysicians often end up in the weeds because they get hung up on certain points that can never be argued to a conclusion, an objective end.

Wasn't it the Dufflepuds in Narnia's "The Dawn Treader" who kept egging on their leader with cries of "You're going stronger than ever today, Chief. Keep it up, keep it up?" :-)

Amy said...

So why is this technology offensive to us given our previous discussion?
The human body does have a dignity of its own, especially after the ontological change at baptism. We become Children of God. Catholics have to be buried in consecrated ground because the body is the former temple of the Holy Spirit. Also, Catholic burials can't do anything that would deny the resurrection of the dead, since the body we get back at the end of time is the same body we inhabit now. How God's going to do that, I have no idea :)

It is possible that other creatures evolved to the point where one of their offspring was raised to a level suitable for union with a human soul. For example, a plant would be unsuitable and lacking in the dignity required to be in union with a human soul, but mammals with bodies closer in form to humans could have been our predecessors.

If the soul is the form of the body, then when God created the first human soul, the body created at that moment would have a higher dignity than its parent. Whether God used dirt from the ground (literal interpretation of Genesis) or an animal (figurative interpretation) we'll never know unless God tells us.

In Genesis, God says "let us make man in our image, after our likeness" which has usually been interpreted as having an intellect and will, as well as sonship. The phrase is found again in Gen 5 when Adam's son Seth is born - Seth who is also a godly man; his 7th generation descendant is Noah, Cain's 7th generation descendant is Lamech (the murderer and polygamist).

Amy said...

Just found this on Amazon:

It's by Cardinal Schoenborn on evolution, intelligent design, and the Catholic faith.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Amy, thanks for the insightful comments. I have run across that book before and it is on my long list of books I'd like to read.

But what you're saying sounds like it's only baptism that makes a difference. That has never crossed my mind before. Then what about non Christians when they die? We can desecrate their bodies however we like since they were never the temple of the Holy Spirit? That doesn't seem right to me. (Doesn't mean that it isn't)

But let me see if I'm hearing you correctly, are you saying that the act of being Created in the Image of God is one where the person (body+soul) was created at Eden - and then we renew that sort of "being created in the image of God" at baptism to the point where those who are not baptized are not in the image of God but in the image of fallen man?

Amy said...

But what you're saying sounds like it's only baptism that makes a difference. That has never crossed my mind before. Then what about non Christians when they die? We can desecrate their bodies however we like since they were never the temple of the Holy Spirit? That doesn't seem right to me.

Doesn't seem right to me, either :)
Even during the Trojan War, it was an outrageous act of contempt when Achilles dragged Hector's dead body behind him in the dust. Even without a full understanding of the human soul, every culture still shows respect for the dead, including the corpse (Except for Klingons, that is :)).

But let me see if I'm hearing you correctly, are you saying that the act of being Created in the Image of God is one where the person (body+soul) was created at Eden - and then we renew that sort of "being created in the image of God" at baptism to the point where those who are not baptized are not in the image of God but in the image of fallen man?

There is definitely an ontological change at baptism, just as there is with Holy Orders. Adam and Eve were created to be children of God; they rejected that, but in Christ that relationship is restored. In the NT, when Jesus teaches us to call God "Father", it's startling. In the Mass, we don't just have the courage to say it, we dare to say "Our Father..." ("dare" is a better translation from the Latin in the Mass than "courage").

We come into the worlds as basically pagan. It's baptism that elevates us and opens the door to heaven for us (Jn 3). Human beings are created to go to heaven, so there is an inherent dignity there. Since all humans have an intellect and will, all humans are created in the image and likeness of God; however, they're not children of God until baptism.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Amy, I think I can agree to all of that.