Theological Anthropology: Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies

I am continuing our look at recent theological anthropolog texts with another post on Marc Cortez. We addressed his intro text to theological anthropology in the “Guide for the Perplexed” series, and now turn to his dissertation turned monograph, Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate. This volume appears in the T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology series, which has continued to pump out really well-crafted dissertation/monographs.

After addressing some introductory matters, Cortez jumps into Barth’s exposition of a Christological anthropology with specific focus on CD III/2. Cortez offers six criteria which, for Barth, are necessary conditions for true humanity:

(1) being constituted by the ontological priority of Jesus in his relationship with God; (2) being conditioned by the salvation enacted by Jesus; (3) having its ‘true determination’ in the glory of God; (4) existing under the Lordship of God; (5) freely corresponding in its proper action to the divine deliverance; and (6) freely rendering service to God as a being who is for God” (38).

Furthermore, these six criteria are the standard by which Barth engages and criticises other approaches to anthropology – three are highlighted: the biological, ethical and existential. In contrast, Barth wields a Christological approach to anthropology which gives rise to, in Barth’s terms, “a definite anthropology” (CD III/2, 552). The three options which Barth addresses, each provides various resources to a general anthropological discussion, but fail, in the end, to provide a depiction of “real man.” This does not make these approaches pointless for theological enquiry, but it does push them underneath a more appropriately theological rendering of anthropology. Cortez, from here, turns his attention to building on Barth’s model.

Christ, Spirit, and Covenant: A Model for Human Ontology

Cortez turns his attention to the body-soul relationship, seeking to develop Barth’s understanding of human ontology. Barth holds to something of a mediating position between a hard dualism and a hard monism – which Cortez holds against updated theories on human ontology which avoids the sharp contrasts (which is why I used the term “hard” in reference to both views). Barth employs the classical (biblical) terminology of body, soul and spirit, but does so through his exegetical analysis which led him to use the concepts of whole, dual and ordered as a framework for which to interpret the biblical terminology. The narratives of Jesus portray him as whole – without a clear break in his inner and outer life. The biblical texts, in other words, do not allow for a separation of Jesus into body and soul – but instead focuses on the unity of his person. Importantly, Barth refuses to be overly-reductionistic, and emphasizes the duality of Christ as well. Body and soul are neither identical nor able to be reduced into each other. This duality does not digress into a dualism, soul and body are not two separate components which just happen to function together as the human person. They can, in other words, be distinguished but not divided (85-86). Last, the human person has a proper ordering. The soul has an hierarchical priority which does not dissolve the inherent unity of body and soul. As Cortez summarizes:

The order among the two moments, then, is that the soul leads, commands, and controls while the body follows, obeys, and is controlled” (87).

Moving beyond the body and soul dichotomy, we turn to the term “spirit.” Again, as the previous material, the spirit is read through his Christology, where he delineates the special relation between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the ontological distinction in human persons demarcated as “spirit” is related to the work of the Spirit. The Spirit takes part in the creation of the human person, the preservation of persons and their subsequent regeneration.

To provide a quick summary, since we are working rather rapidly over vast tracks of land, the who question of ontology is primarily Jesus; the what question is body, soul and spirit read through their unity (whole), duality and proper ordering; the how question is by the Holy Spirit; which leads us to the question of why. For Barth, people are constituted in this way so that they can be God’s covenantal co-partners. “Barth contends that a purely material or spiritual account of the human person is inadequate for dealing with this reality-defining relationship” (97). Therefore, Barth’s Christological anthropology orders human ontology based upon his exegetical work (always in relation to Christology) as well as his trinitarian theology. This, therefore, gives us a picture of humanity – understood in relation to their covenantal ends. Cortez provides a summary statement:

From this brief survey we can see that the theological framework of Barth’s anthropological ontology commits him to viewing the human person in a way that requires: (1) a strong concept of selfhood emphasizing humans as subjects constituted by particular relationships, (2) an inner life comprising self-conscious experiences, (3) an understanding of continuous personal identity that involves both the body and the soul but is ultimately dependent on divine faithfulness, (4) an appreciation of humans as capable of initiating intentional actions, (5) some view of mentality that allows a causal relationship with extra-mental realities, (6) an awareness of humanity’s determination and freedom, (7) a strong appreciation for the role of the body in every facet of human experience, and (8) a recognition that all aspects of human life and nature are contingent realities” (106).

Mind/Body Debates

Cortez weilds his reconstruction of Barth’s Christological anthropology in an attempt to sift through the barrage of proposals in the mind/body debate which have appeared in recent years. This is necessary for several reasons, not the least of which is that any conclusion Barth made about these debates would have to be seen as void in light of recent proposals. Cortez really hits his stride here, and you can see his deep interest in a philosophical-theological approach to the mind/body question (grounded in a more dogmatic construal). It has been many years since I’ve taken a philosophy of mind course or a philosophy of consciousness course, but as far as I can tell, Cortez provides one of the most robust analyses of the various positions, issues and debates. If you want a good grasp of the major issues and players in this kind of conversation, this would probably be the best place to start.

On the physicalist side, Cortez focuses his attention on a non-reductive physicalism, and on the dualist side a holistic dualism. Each of these theories seek to address the criticisms of their more radical construals – hard physicalism on the one side and a form of Cartesian dualism on the other. We can see each of these theories moving towards the other from a different starting point and emphasis. I will let Cortez speak for himself to explain his conclusions and approach with these two schools:

Throughout this study, then, we were able to point to some specific challenges faced by NRP and HD if they are going to offer theories of human ontology that we might consider to be christologically viable. It is important to realize, though, that it is not the task of a christological anthropology to determine that either of these approaches is irredeemably beyond the pale of christological adequacy. It would seem that for it to do so it would need to generate its own particular theory of human nature, and then argue that one or both is incompatible with its own theory. We have argued, however, that this is precisely what a christological anthropology should not do” (195).

I would love some thoughts about this kind of account. I have no doubt that some of you out there have some thoughts on which human ontology is more adequate – a kind of physicalism or a kind of dualism – would love your thoughts on that as well. Marc, I know you are floating about, anything you want to add?

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11 thoughts on “Theological Anthropology: Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies

  1. Hey Kyle, thanks for taking the time to provide a very nice summary of what I was trying to accomplish in this study. I particularly liked it when you said, “you can see his deep interest in a philosophical-theological approach to the mind/body question (grounded in a more dogmatic construal).” The grounding of philosophical-theological issues in dogmatic (Christological) considerations really was central to the entire project.

    I can’t say I have anything specific to add to your summary, especially since you made it clear that you were summarizing what was already an attempt on my part to summarize a lot of information. But, I’d be happy to respond to or interaction with any questions/thoughts people might have on the basis of your post.

    • Thanks Marc, I appreciate it. I wouldn’t mind hearing a bit about your inclinations in the mind-body debates. I remember from your last book that you seem to lean more towards the physicalist side of the equation (of the non-reductive variety). Is that still the case?

  2. I haven’t read much on this stuff. All I’ve read, years ago, is Moreland’s and Rae’s “Body and Soul”; and we know which side that is slanted from (on the philosophy/theology divide).

    Otherwise I would like to interact.

    But along with Kyle, I’d like to know which direction you lean, Marc?

  3. As with most things, that’s not an easy question to answer. I’ve always described myself as a theologian in search of an ontology. As I lay out in the book, I don’t think dogmatic considerations require us to hold any particular theory of human ontology, though they do allow us to rule some out. The problem for me is that all of the theories that I’ve seen so far have significant weaknesses. I’m not at all convinced that nonreductive forms of physicalism have yet addressed issues of mental causation and moral responsibility in ways that do not slide toward either reductive physicalism or dualism. Their strongest arguments press toward reductive physicalism, but their rhetoric continually suggests a more dualist approach. So, until I’m convinced that NRP is coherent, I can’t go there. Dualism, on the other hand, even in its more holistic forms, still runs into significant difficulties with respect to mind/body interaction and affirming the importance of physicality for human identity (rather than making it largely secondary).

    So, to make a long comment longer, I remain strongly committed to the Christological framework that I developed in the book and the idea that this must serve as the starting point for developing a theory of human ontology. But, no particular theory that I’ve seen so far is fully satisfying. The search continues.

  4. Pingback: Christology and anthropology – a very nice summary of my book « scientia et sapientia

  5. Is so much emphasis on “spirit,” really BIblical? To the point of making spirit at least half of the universe? And the hierarchically-superior half, at that?

    The OT spoke mainly about a rather concrete “God” or “Lord.” Jesus himself was a physical man. Only parts of the New Testament began to speak more of “spirit,” a HOly Spirit – and to find anything resembling OT precedent, it had to construe earlier references to the mere “wind” or air in our lungs (“pneuma”), as divine invisible, sustaining spirit … rather than just the air that keeps us alive.

    The OT God was rather visible and material, often; as was JEsus. The HOly Spirit perhaps not even being such major a player, it would seem. Even in a triune god, spirit would seem outweighed 1 to 2.

    Is a hierarchial mind/body, spirit/world dualism, with spirit as the favored term, therefore, really even biblical? And if not, then where did the idea come from?

    Plato? Paul quoted Plato’s Theory of Forms.

  6. Pingback: Christology and anthropology – a very nice summary of my book | Everyday Theology

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