No, I am not adopting an American accent, I am attempting to coin a new word.
Is it not remarkable that in our English language, we have a word for being concerned with matters of the Spirit (“spiritual/spirituality”) but not a word for being concerned with matters of the Flesh? We could say “fleshly” is the counterpart to “spiritual”, but we don’t have a word like “fleshuality”. We have “sensual” and “physical” and “material” and, of course, “sexual”, but not “fleshual”. I guess we have “carnal” and “carnality”, but that today carries associations that are implicitly negative. If I said said that Person A was very spiritual and Person B was very carnal, you would think better of Person A than Person B.
So I have formed my new word – “sarxual” (and its counterpart “sarxuality”) – from the greek word for “flesh” (ie. sarx). The fact that it sounds like another word common in our languge just makes it easy to say.
Now, with my new word, let’s get down to business.
I was somewhat shocked recently when confronted by someone who thought that the whole business of the Church was to promote and enable people to grow in their spirituality. That was what prompted my post on the Resurrection, “Why I am a Christian”. It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has ever read the New Testament that the principle concern of its authors is to proclaim the Gospel of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, it should be pretty obvious, that when the New Testament speaks of the “resurrection from the dead” (literally, the “standing up from the corpses”) it is talking about a bodily resurrection. The Good News is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, he is the Lord of the whole of Creation, and he is the first born of the New Creation which God is even now bringing into being through the proclamation of his Kingdom.
It is, of course, the Gospel of John that puts the redemption of the flesh front and centre with those famous mind-shattering and spirituality-shattering words “And the Word became Flesh” (John 1:14). Admittedly, Paul is pretty dark about the “flesh” in his letters, and appears to contrast it negatively with the “Spirit”. And yet, Paul’s understanding of “Spirit” is not about “immaterial” or “invisible” or “other worldly” notions (he can, for instance, speak about the resurrected body as a “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44); and on the other hand even he speaks of “the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). Paul tends to use the word “body” (soma) with the value John gives to flesh. This is a very complicated topic, which I can’t go into very deeply here.
But getting back to the resurrection of the dead, this is the way the Early Roman Christians described it in their Creed: “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body / σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν / carnis resurrectionem. ” (Apostle’s Creed). Of course, you can see there that we have (in English) translated the Latin “caro” and the Greek “sarx” with “body”, but literally, it means that we believe in the “resurrection of the flesh”. Modern Christians seem to have a problem with this. I contend that a robust “sarxuality” in the Church would have no problem with this.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says (p 1015):
“The flesh is the hinge of slavation.” (Tertullian)… We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesih, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.
Commenting on this passage, Peter Kreeft says in his book “Catholic Chrisitianity”:
Almost all other religions are religions of spirit only. They identify goodness only with good intentions and good will. But Christianity does not separate spirit as holy from matter as unholy; matter is holy too. God did not confine religion to spirituality or inwardness only. He created bodies as well as spirits; he commanded and forbade certain external actions as well as certain inner intentions; and he redeemed us from sin and death by assuming a human body, shedidng his blood, and rising bodily from death.
Other religions seek “spirituality”. But Christainity seeks holiness.
An excellent point, that last one. No one was ever or will ever be saved through “spirituality”. Being “a spiritual person” is not your entry ticket into heaven. Consider the 10 commandments. They are really more about how one is to “live in the flesh” (to borrow Paul’s phrase) than about how one is to think with the mind. Even the command to worship only the Lord your God literally means that you must not physically bow down before any other image as God. It is in the arena of the flesh, as St Paul knew so well, that the battle for our souls is fought most feircely. We ignore this point at our peril. Meditation, a healthy and developed prayer life, and even a “personal relationship with Jesus”, though they are all good things and central to Christian spirituality and helpful for “living by faith in the Son of God” even while living “in the flesh”, do not of themselves assure our salvation. The sarxual realities of Baptism and Eucharist (and the other Sacraments), and growth in holiness (which has everything to do with what we do “in the flesh”) on the other hand are central.
John Paul II began a “sarxual” revolution in the Church with his great “Theology of the Body”. We need to let this teaching grow and blossom in every facet of our lives of faith, not just our theology of marriage and sexuality. Above all, a complete “sarxual revolution” in the Church would see the proclamation of Resurrection and Lordship of Christ return as the central content of the evangelising mission in the Church.
If we could learn an authentic “sarxuality” which is lived “by faith in the Son of God”, we might just discover that we have stumbled on the only truly authentic “spirituality” worthy of the name “Christian”.