Sunday, July 22, 2007

Da Vinci: Corporal Mortification

The second major activity depicted in these first chapters is the practice of corporal mortification, particularly flagellation and the wearing of the cilice. I've referred to it before, but I'll refer to it again because the same errors keep coming up. From The Ten Commandments of Bible Interpretation, we can select The Second Commandment as most applicable in this regard: "Thou shalt not take passages in isolation." Of the errors I read, this is the most common.

It is easy to accept corporal mortification by taking passages by themselves, passages that describe the body as evil and corrupted, and that we should put to death the misdeeds of the body. Or as Christ himself said in Matthew 5:29, "If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." If there were only these verses, corporal mortification would be a universal Christian activity.

However, there is more to Scripture than these. As Matthew 12:43-5 says, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through the arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left." When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first."

A shorter illustration is "If anyone would follow me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." However, the asceticism inherent in Christianity is coupled with the sanctity of the body, for we "carry in our body the death of Christ, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." Christianity is not wholly ascetic, such as Buddhism, in which the body is transcended, nor is it purely material, in which the body is all that is saved.

American Christianity is so filled by the materialism of American life that any asceticism is rare and noteworthy. An ex-coworker of mine refused to eat red meat, which he loved, as a form of spiritual discipline. It is something we have lost, and something that is portrayed only in its extreme forms.

On a side note, it seems to me that the subtle distinctions of Christianity, the seeking of a fine middle ground between extremes, is perhaps the best argument for its reality. As the saying goes, the difference between history and fiction is that fiction has to makes sense.

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Blogger Prof. Roger Kovaciny said...

And nobody that I know of in history ever cut off his hand or gouged out his eye, because you can still sin with the other hand, the other eye, with the ear, especially with the tongue. This stern preaching of the Law about how serious sins actually were would lead to fear and despair of ever getting to heaven or staying out of hell on your own, and open hearts to their need for the Savior.

1:42 PM  

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