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Christianity, The Soul Of The World

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By FR. DENIS WILDE, OSA

One of the most concise yet revealing statements identifying Christianity in the ancient pagan Roman world is from the Letter to Diognetus: “A Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body.” All of these four nouns themselves prompt a certain definition, to be sure, but the analogy is rather immediate. The entire letter spells this out with balance, clarity and sensible, metaphoric insight. But whether a Christian looks at that statement to remind oneself, or whether the outsider is just curious amidst a plethora of other competing notions, as did the Athenians, enticed but measuring St Paul’s challenging oration (Acts 17:16-34), the statement defines today as much as ever.
Take workouts, or fasting, or dieting, or almsgiving for examples of challenge. For challenge is what the “soul” presents the body, though at times it too relishes in the celebration of legitimate victory, as well. On a larger time scale, one might trace historically the movement from the Renaissance’s stress of human superseding the medieval divine mindset; next the Reformation restricting the revealed will of God in faith to Scripture minimizing Church authority; then a weakening of scriptural faith to the Enlightenment of reason alone, leading to minimizing factual reality beyond impressing selective statistics, finally to emotional appeal which largely sells world perception today.
The body here pertains not only to physical beings, but cultural and “world” perceptions dominating our media, academia, political and — in as much as they are entangled with such cultural historical changes — the churches, too, and participate in the effect of this perception change. From a culture surrounding the individual, village, or city state with the “mark of the Church” to our present cancel culture driven by emotion, it is incumbent on our reflecting on the “soul” that is meant to transform the world — which St. Paul and the apostles understood in a nascent but quite different worldview than the secular present.
The words of the Ascension: “teach all nations . . . observe all I have commanded…know that I am with you all days…” are the final testimony and marching orders given by the Lord Whose Mission of Salvation was only then grasped with credulity by the same apostles. Ten days later they would receive a Power from on High that urged them out into the streets where just over seven weeks earlier they witnessed their Crucified Jesus spat upon, hissed blasphemies, spiked into a beam, and hoisted to die — slowly and excruciatingly. Or rather, they avoided the scene which they feared might be their own. Now the Holy Spirit, promised Advocate, gave forth what enlightened reason, far less, emotion, could not spur on defense for them. And they went on the offense.
If the emotion of being “offended” came upon the listeners, for some at least it did not end there. The aim of the “soul” (not yet called) Christian in the words of Peter, the acknowledged leader now, was to call forth repentance. Not enlightenment, not statistical thinking, not emotional barraging. It was an appeal to conscience, in Jerusalem, with the additional known Revelation of God to His ever chosen people; in Athens and Rome later to the curiosity of humble mind-seeking intelligence and conscience.
The “soul” message could rely on the bedrock of that entity in each of us that allows an instinctually basic response to or reaction from God’s plan for each one of us — and for the larger society. The Christian was to be the “soul” not out of merit but out of God’s call to the world.
Recapturing for a broken world that is stifled and fettered by the bullying of same-sex, BLM, and contrived would-be “oppressed” or “victim” posturing, rebuilding the unalienable bedrock of true conscience is the work of the “soul,” the Christian influencing the world. It is not the evil “world” as St. John often speaks of the baser part of fallen nature, but rather the God-given society that needs evangelization, even recapturing the most basic elements of Charity, though through the supernatural gift of Faith and the salvific message of hope for eternity.
In that sense, the “soul” (as understood in the letter to Diognetus, that is, the Christian) does not promote truth by democracy, but by God’s plan, His Commandments. Seven out of nine (democratically worked out) Supreme Court justices in 1973 voted that the gouging out (fact here, not emotional play) of the preborn child “made in the image and likeness of God” (“soul” talk here, expression from God’s Revelation and our basic dignity in addition to decency and common sense) was now allowed, redesigned as a “woman’s right.” Note, not “mother’s” which she is. Reclaiming “mother” rather than parading the feminist agenda word “woman” in this instance in any pro-life conversation or writing plays a huge part of the Christian “soul” recapturing the high ground in this debate.
Finally with Pentecost now grace-fully upon us, “Mother” is so meaningful, as Mary, the Apostles’ Mother, and ours, was centered with the Twelve and others on the explosively positive Pentecost event. The Christian as “soul” to the body of the world received its Birthright and marching orders from the Holy Spirit.
Let us take confidence, not in ourselves, but in the Power from on High – to transform the world as the challenging “soul” transforms the body. Without playing into the no-no word “incendiary” here, the Christian “soul” might just be “incendiary” too, thank God, as their tongues of fire (Acts 2) caught on! Fire for truth!

  • + + (Fr. Denis Wilde, OSA, Ph.D., is the associate director of Priests for Life. A concert pianist, he was formerly an associate professor of music at Villanova University.)
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