In the various letters of St. Paul we encounter the distinction between “flesh” and “spirit.” What does Paul mean by those distinctions? Reading the New Testament, wee see that Paul often writes about desires, or — as one say it in Western Theology — “disordered desired towards sin.” In a discussion I had with a Catholic lay person, he said that desires is not evil in and of themselves — they are created by God — but that they, because of sin, is disordered. We attribute it to Original Sin, but I believe the Jews also have an interesting look on it. In a discussion about good and evil, one of the debators said that they make “a distinction between the yetzer hatov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). They say that in each moment of our life, we have to choose which of these to cleave to.”

I believe that Paul took what we could call “the middle ground.” I believe he interpreted this jewish concept through the idea of Original Sin, but called them spirit and flesh, in stead of yetzer hatov and yetzer hara.

In Romans 8:6 (NKJV), we see Paul distinguishing between them: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”(1) None of these are evil in and of themselves. They are both created good by God (Genesis 1:31). The point I am trying to make, is that we must — as the Jews claim — “choose which of these to cleave to.” Or in other words: choose which of these are to obey the other. Let us call the good inclination “Reason,” and the evil inclination “Nature.”(2) In “Nature and Supernature,” the fourth chapter of Miracles, C.S. Lewis talks about the relationship between Reason and Nature, and (as the title suggests) between Nature and Supernature. He claims that a Naturalist will “get into trouble” with his view, especially in accordance to Reason and Knowledge.

The Naturalist — by virtue of his belief — demands that everything should be explained (or at least explainable) within “the whole system of Nature,” but Lewis argues that Reason necessarily stands — and must stand — outside and above Nature. He writes that “acts of reasoning are not interlocked with the total interlocking system of Nature as all its other items are interlocked with one antother… The knowledge of a thing is not one of the thing’s parts.” (Miracles, p. 29) Both the Christian and the Naturalist agree that man is an animal. The difference lies in that the Christian (and Aristotle) says that man is a “Rational Beat,” while the Naturalist — by virtue of his belief — does not. While the Naturalist claims that man is essentially a mere part of Nature, the Christian claims the man is the king of nature, and that we, by Reason, should rule it.

Lewis writes that “Nature can only raid Reason to kill; but Reason can invade Nature to take prisoners and even colonise.” (Ibid, p. 30) He also says that every thing you see in front of you — your books, your Television Set, your clothes, your car, etc. — “bears witness to the colonisation of Nature by Reason: or none of this matter would have been in these states if Nature had had her way.” (Ibid)

He claims that this is an unsymmetrical relation. Brotherhood is an symmetrical, while father-son is unsymmetrical. If Jack is the brother of John, John is the brother of Jack. If, on the other hand, Jack is the father of John, John is not the father of Jack. “The relation between Reason and Nature is of this kind,” Lewis writes. “Reason is not related to Nature as Nature is related to Reason.” (Ibid)

Back to the Bible. The Bible claims (if not in these exact words) that man is essentially a psychosomatic union.(3) In Genesis 2:7, we read that God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (NKJV) But there is a kind of hierarchy in this union. Man is created “very good” (Gen 1:31), with a harmony between body and soul. But — bacause of the disease we call Sin — we have lost this harmony and must, as the Jews say, “choose which of these to cleave to.” We are to rule the body by Reason. Our urges are our irrational impulses. We share them with the animals, and they are, so to speak, “pure nature.” We are to rule Nature, by Reason, as Lewis claims in “Men Without Chests,” the first chapter of The Abolition of Man (pp. 24-25):

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.

The point is that our bodies is to obey Reason, and that our senses — in obeidience to it — shall rule the body. The ones who does this is the well-nurtured, the ones of full age, “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14, NKJV)

Let me end this by quoting Miracles, p. 36:

[Nature,] by rebelling against Reason, destroys both Reason and itself. (…) The supernatural Reason enters my natural being… like a beam of light which illuminates or a principle of organisation which unifies and develops. Our Whole picture of Nature being “invaded” (as if by a foreign enemy) was wrong. When we actually examine one of these invasions it looks much more like the arrival of a king among his own subjects or a mahout visiting his own elephant. The elephant may run amuck, Nature may be rebellious. But from observing what happens when Nature obeys it is almost impossible not to conclude that it is her very “nature” to be a subject. All happened as if she had been designed for that very role.

Notes:

1. It can be argued whether Paul in this verse meant the Holy Spirit or our spirit. Personally I believe he means both. When he talks about flesh (gr. sarx. lat. carne), I believe he talks about man in disobedience to God, enslaved to his desires, while by spirit, he talks about man in obedience to God, “empowered” by the Holy Spirit.

2. By “Nature” i do not mean “essence,” but the nature “as it is out there.” In other words, the modern, popular, usage of the word.

3. In greek, psyche means soul, while soma means body. Thus a psychosomatic union is a soul-body union.

References:

Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis, 1947, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001

Lewis, C.S., Miracles: A Preliminary Study. G. Bles, 1947; Collins, 1977, 1980

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