Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Assets of Classical Formation

As most readers know, in high school and college, I took Latin. This was before I became Catholic. I wanted to know Latin because it seemed right up my alley. Well, after my conversion and ordination, Latin has served me well over and over in ways I can scarcely count at this remove.

Case in point, while work with the college students last night, I came across a very provocative word in Benedict's new encyclical. In paragraph 5, he describes the relation of body to soul in the Church's thought as "Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility." It's that word, "compenetrate," which caught my eye. It reminded me of the Church's language surrounding the Trinity (circumincessio in the West and perichoresis in the East) which strives to describe how intimate the bond and how complete the bond is between each of the persons of the Trinity. In the English roots, they, body and soul, penetrate with and through each other. In the course of the evening, someone had asked what the original language for the encyclical would be and I explained how Latin is the typical language, etc. But that led me to a curious question. How had the Latin typical edition (the edition from which all translations must take their cues) rendered this word "compenetrate"?

Well, thanks to Boeciana, I found the link to the Latin edition of DCE and looked up the relevant phrase. Then I hopped up and got my dictionary and proceeded to search. Here's the same sentence from paragraph 5 in Latin: "Ex contrario hominem semper iudicavit christiana fides tamquam ens unum et duplex, in quo spiritus et materies mutuo miscentur, dum ita profecto alterutrum novam experitur nobilitatem." (Emphasis added.) I have highlighted two key phrases for understanding what the Holy Father is getting at. First, "ens" refers to the essence of something, what something is in itself versus its "existens" which is how it makes itself known or presents itself. So, the question of man being composed of body and soul is not secondary in the mind of the Church; it is ESSENTIAL to catch the double dimension of our nature. If you don't you run the risk of completely distorting the essence and identity of the human person. Second, the word "compenetrate" in English represents the phrase "mutuo miscentur" from the Latin. This is where it gets interesting. "Mutuo" means mutually or reciprocially with the possible connotations of borrowed or lent. "Miscentur" is the passive form of the verb "miscere" which means to mix or to combine or to unite. That's very telling. Body and soul in the human are brought together by God -- that's why the phrase passive. The person is always on the receiving end of this uniting. The body comes from a unique interaction of love by the parents and a providentially guided interaction of two half-sets of DNA. The soul is a unique creation from God. But the human person is the outcome of the uniting of BOTH! Hence, the person you are is not just simply a soul in a body; the person you are is soul-body/body-soul composite which constitutes the real frontiers of your particular identity. Written into your nature (ens) is the reciprocial union which finds expression in all sorts of ways, good and bad (existens). But to long to be without a body is to desire the literal sundering of your humanity; you would simply cease to be.

And that takes us to love. If the compenetration of body and soul works this way, then so much eros and agape. Granted that eros needs purifying, it doesn't change the fact that to act as though eros isn't part of the human make-up degrades our humanity. The passion of love (eros) meets in the ecstasy which seeks the ultimate good and the ultimate gift of love, the one who is utterly other (agape), namely God. This love will always reach its perfection in God who is love. It is his nature, his ens, to be love.

Hence, since we are made in the image and likeness of God, the degree to which I cease to love, I cease to be. Frightening prospect, isn't it?

No comments: