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Some Basics of Christian Anthropology and How They Speak to Moral Issues of our Day (Part 2)

January 9, 2019 3 Comments

Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.

At its root, anthropology considers what human beings are and how they have interacted with one another and the world around them over time. While many think of anthropology as a secular study of cultures from ancient to modern day, I propose that there is also a Christian anthropology, one that considers who and what the human person is based on God’s revelation in His word and through our bodies. Indeed, our body is a revelation from God, and by and through it He teaches us.

This essay (consisting of both today’s and yesterday’s posts) is not a complete discourse on the topic. Rather, I selected certain teachings rooted in Scripture and the nature of our bodies that apply particularly well to moral issues of our day. In yesterday’s post we considered a few basic points; today we conclude with a few more.

Each human being exists because of a sovereign, loving act of God.

It is a biological fact that a unique human being comes into existence at the moment of conception. The DNA in that single-cell embryo contains all the instructions needed for it to develop, over the next twenty years or so, into an adult.

However, Scripture indicates that although we come to exist at a specific moment in time, God has always known and loved us: The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you’ (Jer 1:4-5). Scripture also praises God saying, For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). Hence, each of us is specifically intended by God.

This makes every human life sacred. No form of unjust killing can be justified under any circumstances. Each of us is the result not merely of biological processes or human decisions but a sovereign, loving act of God. Our lives come from God and belong to Him. Therefore, abortion, murder, and suicide (including physician-assisted) are grave evils that we must combat. Even capital punishment must be opposed except in rare cases.

Our body is not our own.

A common assertion today is we can do whatever we like with “our own body.” However, Scripture reminds us, You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God with your body (1 Cor 6:19-20). Yes, Jesus redeemed us; He purchased our salvation at the price of His own blood and His own life!

Hence, our bodies are not tools to simply use as we please. Neither are they canvases on which to display tattoos, cuttings, piercings, and the like. We are not to degrade them by using them for excessive or illicit pleasures or to lure others into sin. I do not wish to divert this post into a debate about tattooing and piercing. While such things are not wholly excluded by Church law or Scripture, anything that deliberately, dramatically alters the appearance of the body we received from God is surely problematic. (The nearly permanent quality of such alterations is also concerning.) Such excesses are far too common today, at least in the U.S.

Because our bodies belong to God, we should ask ourselves, “Is God pleased with the way I regard, treat, and make use of the body He has given me?”

There is a nuptial meaning to the body.

We do not exist by ourselves nor only for ourselves. We are contingent beings and, as such, depend on our parents for our existence. Although we exist for our own sake and thus have intrinsic worth, we also exist for others. Our very body speaks to the most fundamental relationships of marriage and family. Simply put, there is a part of our body that is for another. The male and female reproductive organs are designed for each other. This is biologically evident, though sadly some have lost their way and refuse to acknowledge it.

The denial of the purpose of our body’s reproductive organs is manifest in the approval of homosexual practices that “close the sexual act to the gift of life [and] do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (CCC # 2357). It is also manifest in certain heterosexual practices that close the sexual act to the fruit of life and/or use the sexual organs in disordered ways, ways in which they were not intended to be used.

To restate, there is a nuptial meaning to the body. Our body says to us, “I am for another.” Most of humanity realizes this truth through monogamous marriage. A man leaves his father and mother, seeks a wife, clings to her, and the two become one flesh (cf Gen 2:24). Thus, through the husband and wife, completing and complementing each other, a new member of the human family is created. This is the most common realization of the nuptial meaning of the body.

For priests and for religious brothers and sisters who live celibate lives, the nuptial meaning of the body is realized in a spiritual but real way. Religious sisters are espoused to the Lord, the bridegroom of their souls. Priests and religious brothers take up a spousal relationship with the Church, the bride of their souls. Priests and brothers are not bachelors nor are sisters “single women.” No, each lives in a spousal relationship.

What about members of the laity who never marry? Here, I would argue, a distinction must be made. Because there is a nuptial meaning to the body, there is no vocation to the single life per se. However, those who are currently single (including those who may remain that way permanently), may by that state be available to serve the Lord and the Church or community in a more substantial way. For such individuals, the nuptial meaning of the body is expressed through that vocational service.

Marriage has its structure because children both need and deserve the stable presence of their father and mother in their lives.

God did not design marriage arbitrarily. He set it forth as one man for one woman till death do them part, bearing fruit in their children (see Genesis 2:24-25). He did this because that is what is necessary and best for children. Marriage by its nature is oriented to having children. The Lord’s first command to Adam and Eve was, Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28).

Obviously, there must be a father and a mother for a child to exist at all, but beyond the conception of children there is the necessary work of raising them. Children need to have their parents reliably present in their everyday lives so that they can depend on them and trust them. Further, a child needs a father to learn the masculine genius of being human and a mother to learn the feminine genius of being human. This is necessary for the proper and best human formation—psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally. Even an unbeliever should be able to see this. The structure of marriage is not an arbitrary arrangement by God for us to toy with at will.

Sadly, we have done just that. We casually separate what God has joined. God intends for children to be conceived in the sexual union of a husband and wife pledged to each other for life. Having sex and having children are inextricably linked to Holy Matrimony, yet today we have largely separated them. As a result of minimizing the relationship between sex and marriage, there are many marriages without children (by choice) and many children without parents married to each other. We do this through sins and misbehavior such as fornication, adultery, divorce and “remarriage.” The current practice of refusing to favor a married heterosexual couple over a single mother, a single father, or a same-sex couple when placing a child for adoption also severs what God has joined. As a result of all these things, fewer than half of children today grow up in a traditional family.

While children might lose their mother or father through death, to intentionally subject them to anything other than being raised by their own parents is a grave injustice.

The common objection to this teaching is this: “Are you saying that a single mother, a single father, or a homosexual couple cannot raise a child just as well as a married (heterosexual) couple?” The answer is, “Yes, that is exactly what we are saying,” for all the reasons stated above. Some will respond with horror stories that occurred with this or that traditional couple, but atypical occurrences do not alter general norms, and “hard cases make bad law.”

God intends sex, marriage, and children to go together. Having sex naturally leads to having children; this is biologically demonstrable.

Sex, intimacy, and procreation belong together and should not be separated.

Contraception, the artificial prevention of conception that naturally results from human sexual intercourse, is an attempt to sever the connection between sexual relations and having children. Even if not every act of sexual intercourse can result in a child, the bodily truth is that sexual intercourse is directed toward having children. That sex is also pleasurable and may be a sign of love and intimacy does not set aside this point. God joins pleasures to the things that are most necessary for us so that we do not neglect them. For example, the purpose of eating food is to nourish the body. It is also true that eating is pleasurable and sharing meals promotes camaraderie. This does not, however, mean that the primary purpose of food is something other than bodily nourishment. God joins pleasure to food because eating is necessary for our survival, thus they are to be together, not separated.

As an analogy, consider a person who was not particularly interested in the nutritional aspect of food, but rather just liked the pleasure of eating and/or keeping company at feasts. As a result, he would eat and drink to excess, vomit it all up, and then return for more. We all wince at such a horror. This is because eating has a purpose that is being trampled upon in favor of lesser aspects. The proper end, bodily nourishment, is subverted when a person eats to excess and merely for pleasure.

This is precisely what contraception does when it severs the relationship between sex, intimacy, and procreation. We would be similarly aghast at a couple who had sex without any love between them, merely for the purpose of making babies for profit (e.g. selling them for adoption or for use as laborers). This makes the same point: sex, intimacy, and procreation belong together and should not be divided as separate pursuits. Every child deserves to be the fruit of the intimacy and shared love of a stably married father and mother.

Contraception facilitates the violation of the norm Let no one separate what God his joined (see Matt 19:6). The legalization of contraception in the U.S. has led to the explosion of promiscuity and all of the accompanying woes, including sexually transmitted diseases, teenage parents, children raised in single-parent households, and the horror of abortion, which has become the “contraception of last resort.” All of this has gravely harmed or even killed millions of children. Some argue that it is perfectly fine to separate the procreative dimension of sex from its pleasure or its promotion of intimacy, but in separating what God has joined we have reaped a harvest of misery and death. Contraception promotes the exaltation of the pleasure and intimacy of sexual intercourse unmoored from its purpose: the serious business of having and then raising children within a stable marriage. The worship of pleasure and intimacy unmoored from their purpose has led to the unbridled lust we see today.

There will always be more to say about Christian anthropology, but allow the points made in today’s and yesterday’s posts to paint the bigger picture: God has set forth an understanding of the human person both in Scripture and through our very body and soul. We do well to take heed of what He teaches.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Basics of Christian Anthropology (part 2 of 2)

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Comments (3)

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  1. RAY - PORTSMOUTH - UK says:

    Msgr C – whilst wholeheartedly endorsing in practically every respect your very excellent exegesis on the matter of Christian Anthropology, I really must take you to task over your statement relating to the death penalty.
    You write:
    “Even capital punishment must be opposed – except in rare cases.”
    I am awfully sorry, but I have never believed your ‘exception’ to be the legitimate case and never will – and I certainly didn’t need Pope Francis’s amendment to the RCC Catechism No: 2267, of August last year, 2018, which makes the point that it is ‘never’ admissible, to tell me so!
    And for everyone’s benefit, here is the new wording:

    ‘New revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty – Rescriptum “ex Audentia SS.mi”, 02.08.2018
    The Supreme Pontiff Francis, in the audience granted on 11 May 2018 to the undersigned Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has approved the following new draft of no. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, arranging for it to be translated into various languages and inserted in all the editions of the aforementioned Catechism.

    The Death Penalty

    2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
    Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
    Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

    God has already told us, “You shall NOT kill.” – NO EXCEPTIONS!
    Secondly, as the new wording of the Catechism tells us, we must never deprive the guilty of possible redemption taking place.
    I’m sure there will be many here who will disagree with me, but as an extreme example, just supposing the despot Saddam Hussein had not been killed (hanged), but instead had to take his punishment – as he should – of spending the rest of his life, what was left of it, contemplating the awfulness of what he had done . . . . ? Not for me, or you, or anyone else to judge – but as you yourself have written recently, ‘God has a way of writing straight with crooked lines.’
    Additionally – as a result, the rest of humanity deprives itself of ever being able to ‘get inside’ the minds of those who behave so evilly and hopefully finding ways of helping ‘bad’ people to change. Jesus did not come for the righteous – but for sinners – and ALL must have an opportunity to change their way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.
    Happy New Year – God bless all.

    • Stephen Garland says:

      Ray, I don’t support the death penalty but please notice that the last sentence of 2267 starts with ‘Consequently’. Therefore the inadmissibility of the death penalty is contingent upon, for one thing, an effective detention system, as outlined in the preceding sentences to the statement about inadmissibility. So there could very well be exceptions based on the Catechism.

      Stephen

  2. Sarge says:

    As always, good article Monsignor.

    I would like to comment on the tattoo part though. Many people do have tasteful tattoos that are quite meaningful to them. I understand that the definition of tasteful can be somewhat subjective, but I think there are some basic standards and norms most can agree on. Many have tattoos of a religious nature. As with many types of “technology”, tattoos are neutral. It is intent of the individual that makes the difference. For many, tattoos are a way of expressing faith.

    Personally, I do have one tattoo. Prior to shipping out for what I thought would be an extended deployment as a peace keeping force to the former Yugoslavia, I partook of a Marine Corps tradition and had identifying information tattooed on my side. It cannot be seen unless I an at the beach. The theory is that you wear one dogtag around your neck and one in your boot, so if you tattoo your info halfway in between, if you get blown to pieces, they are more likely to find one of them. As an 18 year old infantryman, I wanted my parents to be able to know, and have a funeral, if the unthinkable happened.

    One of the items on the dogtag is your religion. So yes, I am proud to say that I have “Roman Catholic” tattooed just under my heart. Someone once asked me, “What if you change religions?” I answered that that had never occurred to me.

    God bless

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