(This post was written by Robert P. George and Patrick Lee.)
We have been following with interest and pleasure the exchange between Claire V. McCusker and Robert T. Miller concerning Bodies: The Exhibition . It is heartening to listen in to a debate between two such intellectually gifted and morally serious young scholars. It is not our intention to pronounce on the exhibit or the morality of viewing it. We are content to leave those matters in the capable hands of McCusker and Miller. We would, however, like to offer some comments on the metaphysical issue that has arisen in the debate.
We are happy that McCusker and Miller both firmly reject any kind of body-self dualism, and that both recognize that, in a living human being, bodily life is an intrinsic good, not just an extrinsic tool for generating enjoyable or interesting experiences. We think, however, that McCusker articulates more accurately the position that a human being is a composite of body and soul. Miller, however, does raise legitimate concerns, and we wish to make four brief comments about the constitution of the human person.
First, since (as both McCusker and Miller quite clearly affirm) a human being is a rational animal, what is referred to as "the body" after death¯that is, the physical remains of a person who has died¯is not actually a unitary substance at all but a mass of cells. Many of these cells continue to interact for some time after death, but without the unifying principle that constitutes them as an organism, they can only constitute an aggregate of cells, not a unitary substance. So, as McCusker points out, these particles (for, eventually, the cells themselves die) are no longer part of a human being.
Second, since they are no longer part of a human being, they can no longer possess the kind of dignity that is proper to a human being. The corpse or cadaver does merit a type of respect¯but whatever the ground for that, or however one explains that, this dignity or worthiness of respect is in a fundamentally different category than that belonging to human beings. (It also differs categorically from the respect due a separated soul, such as a soul in heaven or purgatory, since such souls are rational entities, even though¯as Robert Miller rightly points out¯they are not, strictly speaking, persons, since having a complete nature is part of what is meant by "person," and a separated soul is in its nature incomplete.) One may, in certain circumstances, legitimately dissect a human corpse or cadaver, or cremate it, but one may never rightly treat a human being in these ways. Moreover, the dignity of a person does not come in degrees, and so one should be careful not to speak (as Professor Miller, no doubt inadvertently, seems to at one point) as if the dignity due a corpse were somehow intermediate between that due to nonpersonal entities and that due persons or rational beings.
Third, Miller’s argument regarding Christ strikes us as mistaken. It is common to say that "Smith will be buried on Wednesday," even though, properly speaking, it is only the remains of Smith that will then be buried. So not too much can be inferred from the language of the Nicene Creed’s affirmation that Christ suffered, died, and was buried.
Moreover, unlike the rest of us, Christ is a divine person who assumed a concrete human nature. Christ is a divine person with a divine nature and a human nature. The union of Christ’s human nature to the second person of the Divine Trinity is not a union constituting a third nature (a union in nature), nor an accidental union, but a union in the person¯a hypostatic union. The divine person¯the distinct, incommunicable, rational substance¯acts with his divine nature or with his human nature. There are different views of how to acquire some understanding by analogy of just what a hypostatic union is, and we will not enter that theological inquiry here. However, when Christ died, this meant, of course, that his human soul was separated from his body (or his matter); but, according to traditional Catholic theology, during those three days while his body was in the tomb, his body still retained a hypostatic union to Christ the divine person. So our bodies cease to be unitary substances at all at death, although this was not true¯because of the hypostatic union¯of Christ’s body.
Nevertheless, our resurrection¯as St. Paul clearly teaches¯is patterned on Christ’s Resurrection. In our view (defended in some detail in our forthcoming book, Body-Self Dualism and Contemporary Ethical Issues ), the reassembly view of the resurrection is probably the correct one. That is, we think the resurrection involves God’s reassembling at least some of the numerically same particles that once were in our living bodies (us) when we were alive¯and thus it is a true resurrection, that is, a re- arising. (We also hold, however, that the view that the persistence of the human soul between death and resurrection is sufficient continuity for the real identity of the person who rises with the person who died might be true, for it is not self-contradictory.)
Fourth, we think the assertion by Miller that the final end or purpose of the human being is to know and love God should be filled out with what is explained by St. Thomas when he speaks about the "well-being of beatitude" (so, beatitude in the fullest sense) and (more important) by what Vatican II says in Gaudium et Spes (#34 and #39) about God’s re-creating the fruit of all our human acts, purged of their imperfection. That is, the completion of the kingdom of God, heaven, will include not just the supernatural union with God, and not just a spiritual fulfillment, but fulfillment of every aspect of human nature, the bodily as well as the spiritual, the communal as well as the individual.
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