By: The Rev’d Dr. Daniel Tatarnic, (Christ’s Church Cathedral)
Every week, and we cross ourselves saying it.
Words so meaning-full we can’t say them without invoking a silent prayer: I believe (Latin, expecto et) in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come; thus we conclude the Nicene Creed and express our Christian hope. We live our lives, our bodied lives, looking forward-in-expectation to that day when God will fill all in all.
The body matters, Tertullian says, because “the flesh is the hinge of salvation”.
The sanctity of the body was a doctrine that early councils of the Church were quick to affirm. Why do we cross ourselves as we conclude the Creed? I suppose we wouldn’t cross ourselves if our self, our bodied-self didn’t matter.
In spite of the proliferation of questions, theologies of the body have been almost exclusively the purview of Roman Catholic and Evangelical authors, who haven’t been (how to say) very well received by Anglicans. Frankly, Anglicans find the voice of magisterial teaching difficult to reconcile with the ‘Anglican way’. Notwithstanding, dismissing Catholic and Evangelical theologians without offering an intelligible presentation of one’s own theology isn’t any better a position than saying it, even magisterially.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled over human sexuality recently; maybe you’ve noticed?
Throughout the Church, painful questions have been publicly debated. But decades of debate have become a scandal, and scandal need not be the legacy. It is time for Anglicans to articulate to the world what they’ve learned. It’s time to say something deep, comprehensive, and theologically intelligible about what personhood means. What does my / your / our bodily existence mean in God’s plan of salvation? What exactly does it mean to be a bodied-person?
How / why is it an event of grace?
A recent book by Antonia Fitzpatick, Thomas Aquinas: On Bodily Identity (Oxford University Press, 2017), is a fine example of a non-polemical, non-partisan, non-political (gasp!) contribution to body theology. It’s a dense read, but a worthwhile challenge.
The introduction is a standalone piece and worthy of consideration. What Fitzpatrick achieves is remarkable: a fresh re-presentation of the work of Aquinas (and his interlocutors) on the body; what does it mean to be a bodied-person.
You cannot call medieval theology dull: the issues are colourful, the debates passionate, the outcomes wide-ranging. But still, why Aquinas? What practical advice does a medieval theologian, long dead, offer the Church today? Consider these questions: In a world where gender reassignment is possible, what is the relationship between the body and personal identity over time? When does life begin, and how does that inform reproductive ethics? When does life end, and how does that inform doctor assisted dying? What is consciousness, and do I (or some part of me) survive bodily death? Does my DNA define me?
These are today’s questions. Yet they swing on the hinges of medieval theologians, and disputed questions about the relationship between body (what I am), and identity (who I am)! This is what Fitzpatrick does in her book and it’s refreshing; it’s also what we should strive to achieve in Anglican theology. If (and I mean if) Anglicans are planning on remaining actors on the world stage, offering the world a theological vision of what it means to be a bodied-person isn’t a bad place to begin. Until then, because it’ll take time, let’s at least continue crossing these disputed bodies of ours.
The Reverend Dan Tatarnic is Pastoral Associate at Christ’s Church Cathedral Hamilton.