That Natural Man…


The Readings for Tuesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quae sunt Spiritus Dei : stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere : quia spiritualiter examinatur.
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 

The Latin is “Animalis” or animal. The RSV rendered it as “Unspiritual”. The Greek, however, is ψυχικός psychikos or “natural”.  It’s usually contrasted to πνευματικός pneumatikos which does mean “spiritual”… however we miss something here if we’re not careful.

In Christian athropology, there are two types of life: Soma and Zoe. The Soma life is something shared by all animals. The Zoe life is shared by all spiritual beings. Since the human being is a hybrid between spirit and flesh, between pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh), we have a choice: we can continue to live the Somatic life until we just consume ourself and die; or we can live Zoetic life forever.

Soma and Zoe are contrasted all through the New Testament. Sarx and Pneuma (Parts of the person) each have their own sort of wisdom, their own sort of teaching. Soma only comes from God in the sense that God gives all breath. But the Zoe is the very life of God. Humans can’t destroy the sarx (for we are created as sarx and pneuma together) but we are called to the action of self control: to submit the sarx to the pneuma, to control the flesh with the spirit. We are called to be Pneumatikos instead of Psychikos.

Have you ever gone to a Zoo and seen an Alpha male orangutan engage in sex acts in the monkey house? I make this point this way because orangutans seem to do this all that time… every time I’ve been in a monkey house (Bronx Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, San Diego Zoo) the orangutans have been sexually busy. And if they can’t get what they want, they’ll engage in autoeroticism. It’s so odd to see: because there’s no pr0n in the monkey world. They just do this thing. It’s 100% natural.

And so that makes it ok, right?

That’s the argument that we hear in the modern world. To this the Church says it’s possible to take a higher path than simply “natural”.

It’s fine to eat meat all the time or to go vegan, it’s find to eat dairy or sweets… but the Church says food is only there for one purpose: to help you serve God.  There are times when it would be spiritually better to not eat. The Church doesn’t stop with food or sex: the teachings are that sometimes perfectly natural things can be harmful to the spiritual growth of the human. 

As we are to act in a godly way, and God’s first action is self-giving, anything that counters that motion of self-sacrifice is harmful. This draws boundaries around certain actions in the world. And even some things that would be ok out of love and self-sacrifice are rendered evil by doing them out of selfishness and/or fear.  

The Zoetic life is one of charity, forgiveness, and constant connection to God. God is love and so those who follow him live in love. The Somatic life is one of self-reference: I can forgive if I feel like it. I can love it I want or feel you deserve it.

Truth be told, most of us flicker back and forth between these two modes. Even the most worldly of persons might be struck by divine beauty or perform an act of selfless giving. Even the most spiritual of persons might wake up grumpy. A friend reported meeting Pope (now Saint) John Paul II at a general audience. When the Holy Father entered the room, someone in the press of people trod on his foot. (This was before the assassination attempt, and before the extra security.) The Pope grimaced and “gave a look”. My friend said that from that moment he loved the Pope fully because he could see in that look a sign of hope for the rest of us. We dance along the Mason Dixon line between liberty and slavery always. It’s hard not to give in to the old ways that should be gone with a Spiritual Wind. But they can seem so refined, so worldly, so stately. So natural. 

And the world cannot understand why we would ever want to do anything else. Why not just stay in this place, in this natural state, in this warm, comforting sleep? Why trouble with waking up? The red clay under our nails is a sign that we are from the earth, yes. But we can rise on the Spiritual Wind far above our past, to our rightful place.

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Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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