Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More on Dualism

“Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility.”

- Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Fr. Ratzinger spent 20 years studying Augustine and is as intimate with the thought of Augustine as anyone. Upon his election as Pope, some people worried that Cardinal Ratzinger was going to be an Augustinian pessimist. Although these observers were not referring specifically to dualism, the quote below, from the encyclical, is distinctly different from the extreme body/spirit dualism of Augustine.

In the encyclical, in an effort to first define what we mean by love, Pope Benedict looks at the various different meanings of the word as it is used in society. Then he asks the question, do each of these different usages mean something distinctly different from each other, or could it be that they share something in common, something that underlies? What is the relationship, if any, between these different meanings of the word love? The approach of the encyclical is to steer away from extreme Augustinian dualism towards a more integrated view of body and spirit.

“…man is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!” Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love —eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.

Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.”
(taken from section 5 of the encyclical)


Blogger marie! said...

hi...I dont speake inglish...so good bye!! and enjoi the chilean wine!!

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Jen Nix said...

Came across your blog today while doing some research. Thanks for documenting your journey. Very moving and inspiring.

2:11 PM  

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