Why is Christianity so negative about the human body?

Posted by Alice L. Camille


August 21, 2020 | Category: Doctrines & Beliefs
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Theology of the Body
Since the body is an expression of our creatureliness, respect for the body is extended to the whole creation.

This perception comes from a limited exposure to church teaching. Actually, the church is very positive about the body. What relates to the body also relates to the spirit, since in biblical understanding body and spirit comprise the human person. “To be holy is to be whole,” as theologian Colleen Griffith expresses it. The human body has a sacramental character to it, as the literal embodiment or incarnation of divine grace. 

Because the church takes this incarnation of divine grace seriously, Catholics take what pertains to the body just as seriously. What we do with our bodies and those of others matters. This is expressed in teachings about sexual morality which get the lion’s share of attention; but also much more. Our positivist stance on the body includes championing the rights to food, shelter, clothing, and protection for all God’s people. The unborn have our allegiance, but also the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the dying, and the unwelcome. Every instance of injustice demands a Catholic response because injustice resides in tangible systems and affects children of God in the here and now. Since the body is an expression of our creatureliness, respect for the body is extended to the whole creation, mandating profound responsibility to the natural world in which we live and move and have our being.

Scripture has no preferred word for the body. In the Old Testament, the literary device of synecdoche is widely used; that is, a part represents the whole, as when a heart is proud, hunger affects many bellies, or flesh is described as grass. Clearly the entire person is intended, but only the part is mentioned. In Daniel the word used for the whole body translates as “that which is palpable.” In Hebrew understanding, the human person is comprised of body/spirit, and to lose either aspect is to lose what is palpably human.

Jesus preserves this integrated sense of the person in his teaching that one who perceives clearly brings light to the whole body. Yet he cautions that we must avoid the one who can kill the spirit at least as much as the one who visits violence on the body.

Paul opposes any purely mystical proposals about resurrection: it’s all or nothing, body and soul together. For this reason, we must regard our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, not spiritualizing matters of religion as if they existed apart from the daily palpable life of every body.

Scripture: Exodus 34:18-23; Psalm 51:12; Isaiah 10:18; Micah 6:14; Daniel 5:21; Matthew 6:25; 10:28-31; Luke 11:34-36; 12:4-7; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:15-20; 12:12-26; 15:1-58

Publication: "Spirituality and the Body," Reading in Moral Theology No. 17: Colleen M. Griffith.  (Paulist Press, 2014)

Books: Spirit, Soul, Body: Toward an Integral Christian Spirituality, Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam. (Liturgical Press, 2015)

A Body for Glory: Theology of the Body in the Papal Collections: the Ancients, Michelangelo, and John Paul II, Elizabeth Lev and José Granados (Paulist Press, 2017)


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