Thursday, 7 February 2019
Adam Rasmussen: “A Vessel Divinely Molded”: Basil of Caesarea on the Goodness of Human Bodies
Basil of Caesarea throughout his works constructs a theological anthropology affirming the goodness of human bodies. Although he prioritizes the soul, his anthropology is holistic and not strictly dualistic. The human being is not merely a soul using a body, but the harmonious union of body and soul. That being said, the soul is the better part, it alone having been made in the image of God. The body, far from being bad, is the soul’s useful and necessary “co-worker.” Although made of crude matter, it was “formed” by God’s own hands—a notion he draws from Origen. As such, the human body is beautiful. Its purpose is to serve the soul rather than its own desires and emotions. The spiritual person (ascetic) will thus be content with only the basic necessities. Adapting Origen’s view of the fall, Basil uses the metaphors of “flesh” and “heaviness” to warn against being drawn down from heavenly things through carnal desires. Basil’s negative view of “the flesh” does not mean that the bodily needs of the poor may be ignored. Rather the reverse: it is precisely by taking care of suffering bodies that one stores up heavenly rewards. God will punish in hell those who fail to share. Basil both maintains the superiority of the soul over the body and insists upon the goodness and significance of human bodies, especially hungry ones.