“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” –C. S. Lewis
The human being as a reflection of God is certainly the primary and fundamental identity of being human. Last time, we discussed the human being as the image of the divine in the center of the temple. This time, I wish to tackle how early Christians understood the human being. During the fourth century, Basil the Great was asked to write a treatise on the origin of humanity. He said, “The human is a rational creature of God, having come into being according to the image of his Creator. According to the image of God the human came into being” (Basil the Great – On the Origin of Humanity XI). There are, however, distinctions between God, the archetype, and the human being, the image. For example, God is wholly invisible. Man, however, is both visible and invisible. As such, we have a double identity. We share visibility with the rest of the created order while we share invisibility with God. Basil elaborates,
“I recognize two human beings, one the sense-perceptible, and one hidden under the sense-perceptible, invisible, the inner human. Therefore we have an inner human being, and we are somehow double, and it is truly said that we are that which is within. For I am what concerns the inner human being, the outer things are not me but mine… Therefore the body is an instrument of the human being, an instrument of the soul, and the human being is principally the soul in itself” (Basil the Great – On the Origin of Humanity VII).
Therefore, humanity is to be the mediator between God and the rest of creation. Evidently, the soul is of extreme importance as the prime mover of the human being. The body is the instrument by which the soul affects this mediation between God and man. This understanding makes it no surprise that many Christian theologians called the human being, the priest of the world. To be the priest of the world is to offer the world an understanding of God through our merciful heart toward creation. As Isaac the Syrian puts it, “a pure heart is a heart merciful toward all created beings.” Likewise, humans are to offer the world to God through their constant thanksgiving for the created order that they are to use and enjoy.
Such sublime calling suggests that humanity ought to exercise rulership over the world by serving it and being served by it in a mutual loving relationship. Due to the fall (which we will deal with later), humanity ceased to accomplish its intended role and began to rather abuse the world having it serve its ill desires. Basil comments on this tragedy saying,
“First the power to rule was conferred on you. O human, you are a ruling being. And why do you serve the passions as a slave? Why do you throw away your own dignity and become a slave of sin? For what reason do you make yourself a prisoner of the devil? You were appointed ruler of creation, and you have renounced the nobility of your own nature” (Basil the Great – On the Origin of Humanity VIII).
Humans are either masters or slaves. As masters, we are to serve the world and offer it to God in thanksgiving. As slaves, we have the world serve the passions of our flesh who becomes our masters. Let us become self-aware mediators! We must come to balance the relationship between our body and soul. We must come to serve the world and be served by it as loving masters of it and as servants of God.