This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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St. Paul and multiple dualisms

St. Paul is often oversimplified due primarily to the inadequacy of the English language, at least as we find it in translations. He too easily comes off as a proponent of a superficial dualism, which, if the original terms are examined, is hardly the case. Here we will try to utilize passages that for the most part speak for themselves, with explanatory notes included as needed.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; may your whole spirit [pneuma], and soul [psyche], and body [soma], be kept sound and blameless in the Parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[1]

Next, a passage that makes a very precise distinction between the psychic body and spiritual body, which should be understood as the invisible principles, hierarchically necessary, that permit the corporeal body to be manifest:

“The body is sown a psychic body, it is raised a pneumatic body…Thus it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul [psyche]’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit [pneuma]. But it is not the pneumatic which is first but the psychic and then the pneumatic. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”[2]

The interesting point here is that St. Paul frequently makes use of oppositions, which explains also why he tends not to present a ternary but rather a duality, since oppositions require only two things. But his oppositions are not purely ‘flesh and spirit’, which is to say, the body and all-that-is-not-body, but in this particular case the opposition is between psyche and spirit. In other words, Paul presents his anthropology in pairs, for the sake of opposition, but the terms he opposes are shifting and sometimes he opposes the corporeal to the non-corporeal (where the psychic and the spiritual are merged into the same term) but, as in the case above, he sets aside the corporeal and speaks precisely of the opposition between the ‘soul and the spirit’.

This opposition between soul and spirit will seem preposterous to readers who have never been exposed to the distinction and who take the consolidation of man’s invisible reality into one term to be an absolute, but the same concept is reiterated by other New Testament writers such as St. James and St. Jude, although it would be difficult to understand by seeing only the English translations. “This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, beastly [psychike], devilish”[3] and “It is these who set up divisions, worldly [psychikoi] people, devoid of the spirit.”[4]

Without the bracketed clarification, the precision would be lost and the intention vague, but in this light we can begin to understand that the tendency among Christians to view the primary conflict as one between the material body and the soul, that is to say between the corporeal and the psychic worlds, is actually not quite accurate, and that there is a real opposition in Scripture between the psychic and the spiritual.

This can perhaps finally give clarity to the words of Christ himself, when he brings this opposition to the forefront:

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own soul [psyche] also, he cannot be my disciple.”[5]

And in another famous passage, we see Christ bring this distinction to the forefront in dramatic fashion:

“For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”[6]

What is incredible about this passage is that the pairs are related in such a way that the final pair, “the thoughts and intents of the heart”, accurately refer to the functions attributed to the soul and the spirit. The world of soul, the psychic, is the place of rational thought, hence the ‘rational soul’ attributed to man; the kernel of the spirit, on the other hand, is situated in the heart.

What is the purpose of making these distinctions? Often Paul is presented as a kind of moralist in the narrow sense of preaching against those vices connected to the bodily condition and our appetites or lusts involving material things. This is a result of the fact that he does preach in this way, but also, it is a result of the complete loss of the soul/spirit distinction such that all oppositions presented by Paul, whether between body and soul or between soul and spirit, are reduced to the former while the nature of the latter is left comprehended. And so the ‘variety’ and hierarchical presentations of Paul are lost, and he seems completely fixated on what begins to look like a total hatred of the bodily condition, which robs him of his profundity.

The purpose of a body-soul or body-spirit opposition is to get man to turn away from his inbuilt materialism; the purpose of a soul-spirit opposition is to get man to go much further, however, into what Paul calls the ‘renewal of the mind’ via the spirit, which is to say, he calls man to the possession of gnosis, the knowledge of God, which is not accessible by the exercise of the rational soul, but instead calls for an inner ‘conversion’ through which the spiritual reality that is given, in grace, to man, is permitted to actualize within us the ‘spiritual man’. The spirit in both cases being the in a sense identical, such that Paul can sometimes use the same term to refer to both the spiritual man and the Holy Spirit, hence this conversion is a spiritual unification with God: “he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit [pneuma] with him.”[7]

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:32.

[2] 1 Corinthians 14:44-47.

[3] James 3:15.

[4] Jude 19.

[5] Luke 14:26.

[6] Hebrews 4:12.

[7] 1 Corinthians 6:17.

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