May 1, 2007

The Spiritual and the Material Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Commonly heard is the false distinction between "spirit" and "matter." This leads to a false understanding of Sacraments, particularly the Lord's Supper. “Spiritual” does not mean something only immaterial, non-physical. In the stream of Scriptural (and orthodox Lutheran) teaching, “spiritual” in the positive sense means something that comes from, is done, or seen by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The opposite of spiritual is not physical but "fleshly." “Flesh” is that which pertains to man’s condition of inherited sin. Spiritual and physical are not, strictly speaking, theological opposites, though Spirit and flesh often are. In the words of Luther, “[t]he Spirit cannot be with us except in material and physical things such as the Word, water, and Christ’s body and in His saints on earth” (AE 37:94).


Eric Phillips said...

It might help to differentiate two modes of speech. If we're speaking ontologically, "spiritual" is the opposite of "material," but if we're speaking of relation, it is possible for matter to be joined to spirit and hence be "spiritual."

The connection between "fleshly" and "physical" is that the former describes a moral orientation towards the physical as opposed to the spiritual. The one who is fleshly gives in to the flesh, satisfying the desires of the body instead of subjecting it to the law of God, and views his body as his own bailiwick--the place where he gets to call the shots and be the center of attention--instead of as God's property and a shrine to HIM.

So "fleshly" (not "physical") is the opposite of "spiritual" when we're speaking morally, and "physical" (not "fleshly") is the opposite of "spiritual" when we're speaking ontologically.

Christopher Esget said...

That is a helpful way to speak, and what I was driving at by speaking of them not being theological opposites. Missing that distinction is what drives one to a Zwinglian view of the Supper, I believe.