Theologia Corporum and the Cappadocian Fathers

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Christopher Ben Simpson


Nietzsche levels the charge against Christians that they are “Despisers of life,†of their own material, bodily existence in this world. Christianity is a religion of despisers of the earth, despisers of the body, “world-slanderers.†Having invented an other world “Apart, Beyond, Outside, Above†this one, Christians seek to escape this present life, renouncing it and so become “preachers of death.†How are Christian theologians to answer this charge? Does Christianity affirm this life? Does Christian theology have the ability to love the body and to remain faithful to the earth? This paper seeks to address questions like these as part of a larger project (a work in progress) of a theologia corporum—a theology of bodies. The basic thrust of this project is to trace an orthodox Christian theological reflection upon, and affirmation of, bodies taken in three interrelated senses: the corporeal (regarding the material world as such), the corporal (regarding human bodies), and the corporate (regarding social bodies, their languages, practices and histories). As a corollary, it critiques a perhaps all-too-common kind of Christian thought and practice evident in the past and alive and well today—a Christianity that (1) degrades the physical world in favor the spiritual realm, that (2) devalues the human body as sinful “flesh†in favor of souls worth saving, and that (3) demeans the social as the sinful “world†(seeking to escape entanglements with language, social practices, or history) in favor one’s individual “relationship†with God—such a Christianity is seen to be a distortion of orthodox Christianity. Furthermore, this project explores how many of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity (such as that of the Trinity, Creation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Church, the Sacraments, and so on) entail a robust affirmation of the world, the body, and the social. Thus the affirmation of the material, etc., does not merely “fit†within a Christian view of the world, but it could be that the Christian enables a more affirmative, more profound and coherent affirmation of the corporeal, the corporal and the corporate than that of a mere materialism.

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