Body and Spirit as One

Father Richard describes how Christianity’s distrust of the body originates not from the Bible, but from Greek philosophy: 

I think my brilliant Franciscan history and liturgy professor, Father Larry Landini (1935–2005), may have given the best explanation for why so many Christians seem to be ashamed and afraid of the body. In 1969, after four years studying church history, Father Larry offered these final words to us: “Just remember, on the practical level, the Christian Church was much more influenced by Plato than it was by Jesus.” He left us laughing, but also stunned and sad, because four years of honest church history had told us how true this actually was.

For Plato, body and soul were incompatible enemies; matter and spirit were at deep odds with one another. Yet for Jesus, there is no animosity between body and soul. In fact, this is the heart of Jesus’ healing message and of the incarnation itself. Jesus, in whom “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), was fully human, even as he was fully divine, with both body and spirit operating as one.

In the Apostles’ Creed, which goes back to the second century, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” The creed doesn’t say we believe in the resurrection of the spirit or the soul—but so many people hear it this way! And, of course, it doesn’t say that because the soul cannot die. Instead, we profess in the creed that human embodiment has an eternal character to it. (Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul tries to communicate this in endlessly mysterious ways.)

Christianity makes a daring and broad claim: God is redeeming matter and spirit, the whole of creation. The Bible speaks of the “new heaven and the new earth” and the descent of the “new Jerusalem from heaven” to “live among us” (Revelation 21:1–3). This physical universe and our own physicality are somehow going to share in the Eternal Mystery. Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation. In fact, it is the new and lasting temple (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 and throughout Paul’s letters).

Many Christians falsely assumed that if they could “die” to their body, their spirit would for some reason miraculously arise. Often the opposite was the case. After centuries of body rejection, and the lack of any positive body theology, the West is now trapped in substance addiction, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery, and an obsession with appearance and preserving these bodies. Our poor bodies, which Jesus affirmed, have become the receptacles of so much negativity and obsession.

The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction, and the fervor for gyms and salons makes one think these are the new cathedrals of worship. The body is rightly reasserting its goodness and importance. Can we somehow honor both body and spirit together? When Christianity is in any way anti-body, it is not authentic Christianity. The incarnation tells us that body and spirit must fully operate and be respected as one.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking(Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2012). Available as CD and MP3 download; and

Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 38–39.

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