Proverbs 4:23;

“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

What does this in fact mean? According to the hebrew concordance found at the Blue Letter Bible, “heart” has many different meanings, including “inner man,” “mind,” “will,” “understanding,” “soul,” “mind,” “knowledge,” “thinking,” “reflection,” “memory,” “conscience,” etc. In this text I will consentrate on the “soul” and on the “inner man.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “I do not have a soul. I am a soul, I have a body.” This I agree with, but I would like to clarify. When we say that we are a soul, this does not mean that the body is not worth anything. God created us with a body, and he looked upon his creation, and saw that it “indeed… was very good.” (Gen 1:31)

In order to explain this properly, I would like to draw upon the words of St. Paul, Romans 8:6:

“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Over the last couple of years, I have held the position that Christianity, in comparison to other religions, especially New Age religions, is somewhat “materialistic.” I still hold that belief to a certain point, but I have come to think about materialism as sin, that the materialist is “carnally minded,” to paraphrase St. Paul. I have always believed that man is an integral unity of soul (or spirit and soul) and body, but lately I have come to see this integrity as hierarchal, spirit ruling soul and body, or “the head [ruling] the belly through the chest,” to quote “Men Without Chests,” the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. I thus believe that materialism — making the material part the king; ruling soul and spirit — is sinful, and “carnally minded.” But how do you explain this? C.S. Lewis used Plato, and so will I.

In The Republic and in the Timaeus, Plato points out that man is threefold; Reason, spirit and passions/desires. Most Christians would disagree with this “line-up,” arguing that reason is not the highest faculty, and that spirit is. And in the modern usage of these words, this is quite right. In The Orthodox Way, Eastern Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware points out that man is “composed” of body, soul and spirit (pp. 47-48).

First, he explains, we have the body, the “dust from the ground” (Gen, 2:7), our physical or material aspect. Secondly, we have the soul, which is “the life-force that vivifies and animates the body, causing it to be not just a lump of matter, but something that grows and moves, that feels and perceives.” Further on, it is “endowed with consciousness,” and it is “a rational soul, possessing the capacity for abstract thought, and the ability to advance by discursive argumant from premises to a conclusion.” Thirdly we have the spirit, that wit which man “apprehends God and enters into communion with him.” With this faculty, Ware explains, man “understands eternal truth about God or about the logoi or inner essences of created things, not through deductive reasoning, but by direct apprehension or spiritual perception—by a kind of intuition that St. Isaac the Syrian calls “simple cognition”.”

Plato’s usage is a little different. When he talks about reason, he talks about the knowlegde —or reasoning — of the highest, and of the forms, what (I reckon) Ware would call “God.” Therefore, in an attempt to “sneak past” the misunderstandings, I will use C.S. Lewis’s distinction of “head” (reason/spirit), “chest” (spirit/soul) and “belly” (passions and desires, body). Lewis writes:

As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

According to Desmond Lee, this usage is in fact partly borrowed from Plato, which used the distinction between head, breast/heart and belly in the Timaeus (Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee, p. 141). But it is also borrowed from Plato, who used the belly as an image of those who did not “live spiritually,” and caused divisions and offenses:

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:18)

“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)

So, when we are told to “keep [our] heart with all diligence,” we should obey.

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