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).
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?