Why the soul is Naturally Christian
Among the treasures of our Christian heritage are two doctrinal statements bequeathed to us by Tertullian, the late-second and early-third century Carthaginian Church Father. It was he who provided his Christian heirs with the most precise formulation of the greatest of all mysteries, that of the Divine Trinity, namely: “One God in three Persons.” Thus did the word person–theretofore of little interest outside the context of the Greco-Roman theater–take on a significance that cannot be overestimated, especially today when the concept of the person that came into view with Christianity is widely mistaken to be a synonym for the word self, with which it differs decisively.
It was the same Tertullian who left us a guidepost for recovering the anthropological ramifications of mankind’s trinitarian watermark: “The soul is naturally Christian.” Inasmuch as the word soul and the word person are overlapping terms, it is important to realize that both words acquired new depth and meaning as the early Church grappled with how Christ had both revealed the human predicament and altered the human condition. This he had done in a most amazing way, by offering himself as the way, the truth, and the life, by which fallen creatures made in God’s image might reclaim their birthright: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Arguably the single most salient passage from the last Council declared that “the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Gaudium et spes #22)
Our Current Crisis
Our current civilizational crisis is rooted in a soulless understanding of the self which cuts us off from the spiritual riches of our faith and leaves us vulnerable to idols and seductive ideologies that promise relief from the boredom of not having a real religion. Among those who recognized our current predicament was Romano Guardini. In his mid-twentieth century book, soberingly entitled “The End of the Modern World,” Guardini wrote:
With the coming of Christ man’s existence took on an earnestness which classical antiquity never knew simply because it had no way of knowing it. This earnestness did not spring from a human maturity; it sprang from the call which each person received from God through Christ. With this call the person opened his eyes, he was awakened for the first time in his life.
The Human Soul
The human soul has an ordination; it is not a neutral faculty. It has what Aristotle called an entelechy. It is ordered toward its fulfillment: conformity with, and communion with, the God who endowed mankind with this truth-seeking faculty. The soul is naturally Christian inasmuch as the Christian soul strives to arrange life according to the example of Christ and those paragons of Christian life from whose example he draws inferences regarding his own moral and spiritual responsibilities and how to meet them. Even as early as the late second century, Tertullian had at hand sufficient accumulated experience to conclude that no one but Christ and his exemplars could beckon the soul toward its true fulfillment.
The Church Is A Sanctuary
Far from making the Church irrelevant or ancillary to the soul’s spiritual journey, her role is all the more obvious. For our world is suffused with models competing with Christ and His distinguished followers for the admiration and emulation of others. The prospect of submitting each aspirant for that preeminent distinction as the ultimate model is entirely too worldly and exhausting. The task itself demeans and hardens the heart of the one who undertakes it. It turns a gift that is to be received with gratitude into an acquisition for which the recipient bears the greater responsibility. If the soul is naturally Christian, the Church is the sanctuary wherein one can receive the gift of faith as gift. We who have received that gift thanks to the mediation of the Church herself and those of her members who have personally touched our lives have an obligation to live and love in such a way that others are drawn to Christ and his Church. Our lives should make Christian truth-claims more tangible and credible.
About the Author: Gil Bailie is the founder of The Cornerstone Forum, a founding member of The Colloquium on Violence and Religion, a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the College of Fellows of the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology. As he did in God’s Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love, in this book he brings René Girard’s anthropological contribution to human self-understanding into dialogue with the theological tradition exemplified by Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, and Hans Urs von Balthasar.