“Erit Ergo Spiritui Subdita Caro Spiritalis” (“The Spiritual Flesh Will Therefore Be Subject to the Spirit”): The Heavenly Pleasures of the Disembodied and Reembodied—An Essay on Augustine and the Problem of Embodiment
This chapter focuses on the problem of embodiment in Augustine’s City of God. It is very well known that one of the aims of Augustine’s meditation on memory in Book Ten of the Confessions is to enable himself to forget the temptations of the flesh. It is not equally well known that some of Augustine’s most sustained reflections on the relationship between the body and the soul are situated in Books 13–14 and 21–22 of the City of God. In these books, Augustine describes in great detail three human conditions with respect to the relationship between the body and the spirit. In the first, that of embodied human beings before the fall, the flesh obeys the spirit without further ado. In the second, that of embodied human beings after the fall and before death, the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit struggles against the flesh. In the third, that of disembodied and reembodied human beings after the resurrection, the flesh that rested in peace after death will be raised to a perfection not enjoyed by the flesh of the first human beings, that is, the resurrected bodies of the saints will be spiritual and yet flesh will not be changed into spirit. According to Augustine, the body that human beings will receive at the resurrection represents both that bodily fullness which they had (or would have had) in the best years of their lives and a spiritual body completely purified of concupiscence, eros, libido, lust, passion, and sexual desire. Yet, as a body that experiences affections, emotions, and feelings, its supreme delight is the beatific vision, a pleasure without any perturbation. Bracketing the hermeneutical question of whether and to what extent Augustine’s description of eschatological reembodiment is scripturally consistent, this paper focuses on the issue of whether and to what extent Augustine’s account is philosophically coherent. The question is whether and to what extent it makes sense to posit a form of embodiment that completely dispenses with psycho-physical orgasms in favor of spiritual ecstasy. An answer also involves an analysis of the Platonic theory of the body, the Manichaean view of matter, and the Stoic account of the emotions, all of which Augustine seeks to exploit as foils for his description of celestial embodiment. A discussion of the Wirkungsgeschichte of Augustine’s account of heavenly pleasure in the literature of Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Milton, Dostoyevsky, Manley Hopkins, and others remains a desideratum.