The dignity of the human person includes both body and soul.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
23 May 2017
These days, people are coming up with all kinds of creative ideas. Some of these are morally good and praiseworthy. Others not so much. Still others have to make you wonder what people are thinking. Examples of late include getting creative with dead human bodies.
There are all kinds of “unconventional options” (read “morally questionable”) for what people can do with “their bodies once they’re done with them,” ranging from a burial suit lined with mushroom spores to immersion in chemical sludge-producing compounds that dissolve all but the bones. The bones can be turned into dust and manufactured into a family relic as a keepsake, so it goes. Others might like a “cremation tattoo, which only requires a little bit of ash.” How about launching cremains-impregnated fireworks as a pyrotechnic memories-of-my-loved-one display?
Given the ongoing secularization and spreading relativism we find in culture, spinning ever-further out of control, these attitudes are unsurprising. One has to wonder if anything is held sacred anymore. But is the human body something to be blithely discarded once it’s no longer needed? Is it something to be treated as entertainment, or infused into glittered jewelry and strapped to one’s wrist? Is it correct to think that the body is a mere fleshy tool which we “use” for awhile?
The human body is not a mere tool. It is integral to the human person, who is composed of body and soul, flesh and spirit. In virtue of the human person’s creation in the Imago Dei, the image and likeness of God, he is of infinite human dignity. This dignity is an integral aspect of the entire human person, not simply the soul alone or the body alone. The entire human person is permeated with dignity.
Further, the human person is destined to live as a body/soul composite for all eternity. From the general resurrection—that magnificent moment when, by the unrestricted power of God, our body will be reunified with our soul—onward into an unending future, each person will possess his real, unique and indestructible body as his own. This is a good thing for those who have died in God’s friendship; not so much for those who have not. Nevertheless, the notion that the human body is something of no significance once a person has died betrays a lack of understanding of the origin and destiny of the human person.
To put it simply, the Church teaches that the human body is sacred even in death because the entire human person is sacred—always.
by virtue of man’s creation in the Imago Dei, the immortality of the soul, future resurrection from the dead, and his destiny of assumption into eternal communion with the Tripersonal God, the dignity of the human person is not something that is erased by death. As such, Catholics treat the bodies of the deceased with dignity and respect. They are to be given a proper funeral and burial. Although cremation is permitted, the remains are not to be placed on a mantle, made into jewelry or scattered to the wind.
Treating the human body as something to be discarded or as a keepsake commodity is a reductionist view of the human person.
But why should anyone listen to the teaching of the Church on this point? Because it upholds and promotes the dignity of the human person—something which finds its origin in the infinite and unequaled dignity of God himself. Fully respecting and honoring the human person is in accord with the way things are, with the reality of God’s wise, sublime and creative love. Ultimately, it finds its basis in God’s love for us, for what he has made. Respecting the dead in an integral and complete way: it’s something beneficial to everyone. It’s the fully human way to live.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.