A few years ago I cried my way through Aristotle in a Philosophy class I was taking. Philosophy, I thought, what did that have to do with the theology studies upon which I was about to embark? Apparently a lot—even to the point of accepting, embracing, and appreciating God’s mercies through his Church today. As argued by St Thomas Aquinas in the first question of his Summa Theologica, Philosophy is the handmaiden of Theology, and rightfully so, for it is intrinsically knit to the theology one embraces (and therefore how one lives) in today’s modern world.
As Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach us, God created man body and soul. In Aristotelian terms, for the human person, its matter is the body and its form is the soul. This is an essential truth to our faith, and one to be marveled at when we see this reality revealed in God’s divine plan of creation, redemption, sanctification and our eternal communion with him. All of God’s activity, whether with matter and form or between man and the divine, reflects and ministers to both the body and soul of man. Unfortunately, under the influence of post-Reformation theology, Enlightenment philosophy, and secularism this truth has been muddled, lost and forgotten over the last 500 years, even among well-meaning Catholics. Perhaps a brief look at this basic truth imprinted in the Divine Plan will either help some increase their appreciation and love for Christ in his Church, or for others be a gateway toward accepting the fullness of God’s Truth in his Church.
The Church, a Blueprint of Love of the Whole Man
The first paragraph of the Catechism communicates that God, out of his own goodness, created man to partake in his divine life on earth and enjoy eternal communion with him in heaven. The Catechism further teaches that the Church was part of God’s plan at the moment of creation (CCC 759). How so, and what does this have to do with man’s composition as body and soul? In simple terms, God prepared the world for the Church in order that the Church prepare man for (eternal communion with) God.
Death of body and soul entered the world with our first parents’ sin of disobedience. In his love, however, God immediately promised to send a Redeemer, who we know to be his Son, Jesus, True God and True Man. The Person of Christ is the ultimate Sacrament, of the human and the divine, which God sent to save man from eternal death and for Sonship. Anticipating his return to the Father, Jesus founded his Church, which was sealed with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. In other words, God’s presence and activity in the world didn’t come to an end with Christ’s Ascension; rather He continues to bring men into communion with him through the universal Sacrament of the Church, made up of men but guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Tradition of the Church herself is also reflective of the dichotomy of man, being both oral and written. Likewise, men, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, composed Holy Scripture. Furthermore, God, in his wisdom and mercy, instituted the Sacraments made up of form and matter to minister to the whole of man and help him reach his heavenly destination. The Sacraments, by their nature, allow man to partake in the divine life here on earth and prepare and sanctify man to enjoy eternal communion with God. Moreover, when man enters the divine life through Baptism, he takes on the Trinitarian identity and mission of the Church to spread the Gospel through a life in charity rooted in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Finally, the Church teaches us that at the General Resurrection, man will enjoy eternal beatitude in both body and soul.
The Church, God’s Invitation and Man’s Response
Why is all of this important? What does it matter? Through his Church, God invites man into a relationship with him. Man’s response to this invitation impacts the whole of his person, body and soul, here on earth and in eternity. The Catholic Church, with all of her scars and blemishes, is God’s gift to humanity. It is his instrument through which He draws man to himself and bestows blessings on individuals, families, societies and nations. All too often the world blames the Church for its problems, when essentially, if man recognized himself for what he is and for whom he was created, he would embrace these truths and accept the gifts of grace conferred through the Church. Jesus prayed for the unity and protection of those given to him prior to his crucifixion. The answer to his prayer is found in the Church herself, protector and healer of the whole man, body and soul.
Director of Religious Education