A Sarxual Revolution for the Church?

No, I am not adopting an American accent, I am attempting to coin a new word.

Is it not remarkable that in our English language, we have a word for being concerned with matters of the Spirit (“spiritual/spirituality”) but not a word for being concerned with matters of the Flesh? We could say “fleshly” is the counterpart to “spiritual”, but we don’t have a word like “fleshuality”. We have “sensual” and “physical” and “material” and, of course, “sexual”, but not “fleshual”. I guess we have “carnal” and “carnality”, but that today carries associations that are implicitly negative. If I said said that Person A was very spiritual and Person B was very carnal, you would think better of Person A than Person B.

So I have formed my new word – “sarxual” (and its counterpart “sarxuality”) – from the greek word for “flesh” (ie. sarx). The fact that it sounds like another word common in our languge just makes it easy to say.

Now, with my new word, let’s get down to business.

I was somewhat shocked recently when confronted by someone who thought that the whole business of the Church was to promote and enable people to grow in their spirituality. That was what prompted my post on the Resurrection, “Why I am a Christian”. It should be pretty obvious to anyone who has ever read the New Testament that the principle concern of its authors is to proclaim the Gospel of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, it should be pretty obvious, that when the New Testament speaks of the “resurrection from the dead” (literally, the “standing up from the corpses”) it is talking about a bodily resurrection. The Good News is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, he is the Lord of the whole of Creation, and he is the first born of the New Creation which God is even now bringing into being through the proclamation of his Kingdom.

It is, of course, the Gospel of John that puts the redemption of the flesh front and centre with those famous mind-shattering and spirituality-shattering words “And the Word became Flesh” (John 1:14). Admittedly, Paul is pretty dark about the “flesh” in his letters, and appears to contrast it negatively with the “Spirit”. And yet, Paul’s understanding of “Spirit” is not about “immaterial” or “invisible” or “other worldly” notions (he can, for instance, speak about the resurrected body as a “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44); and on the other hand even he speaks of “the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). Paul tends to use the word “body” (soma) with the value John gives to flesh. This is a very complicated topic, which I can’t go into very deeply here.

But getting back to the resurrection of the dead, this is the way the Early Roman Christians described it in their Creed: “I believe in the Resurrection of the Body / ?????? ????????? / carnis resurrectionem. ” (Apostle’s Creed). Of course, you can see there that we have (in English) translated the Latin “caro” and the Greek “sarx” with “body”, but literally, it means that we believe in the “resurrection of the flesh”. Modern Christians seem to have a problem with this. I contend that a robust “sarxuality” in the Church would have no problem with this.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says (p 1015):

“The flesh is the hinge of slavation.” (Tertullian)… We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesih, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.

Commenting on this passage, Peter Kreeft says in his book “Catholic Chrisitianity”:

Almost all other religions are religions of spirit only. They identify goodness only with good intentions and good will. But Christianity does not separate spirit as holy from matter as unholy; matter is holy too. God did not confine religion to spirituality or inwardness only. He created bodies as well as spirits; he commanded and forbade certain external actions as well as certain inner intentions; and he redeemed us from sin and death by assuming a human body, shedidng his blood, and rising bodily from death.

Other religions seek “spirituality”. But Christainity seeks holiness.

An excellent point, that last one. No one was ever or will ever be saved through “spirituality”. Being “a spiritual person” is not your entry ticket into heaven. Consider the 10 commandments. They are really more about how one is to “live in the flesh” (to borrow Paul’s phrase) than about how one is to think with the mind. Even the command to worship only the Lord your God literally means that you must not physically bow down before any other image as God. It is in the arena of the flesh, as St Paul knew so well, that the battle for our souls is fought most feircely. We ignore this point at our peril. Meditation, a healthy and developed prayer life, and even a “personal relationship with Jesus”, though they are all good things and central to Christian spirituality and helpful for “living by faith in the Son of God” even while living “in the flesh”, do not of themselves assure our salvation. The sarxual realities of Baptism and Eucharist (and the other Sacraments), and growth in holiness (which has everything to do with what we do “in the flesh”) on the other hand are central.

John Paul II began a “sarxual” revolution in the Church with his great “Theology of the Body”. We need to let this teaching grow and blossom in every facet of our lives of faith, not just our theology of marriage and sexuality. Above all, a complete “sarxual revolution” in the Church would see the proclamation of Resurrection and Lordship of Christ return as the central content of the evangelising mission in the Church.

If we could learn an authentic “sarxuality” which is lived “by faith in the Son of God”, we might just discover that we have stumbled on the only truly authentic “spirituality” worthy of the name “Christian”.

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16 Responses to A Sarxual Revolution for the Church?

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Brilliant stuff, David.

    I like “sarxual”, but the word you are looking for could be “material”, i.e. solid. fleshly, composed of your actual atoms and molecules. Of course, materiality is a quality no possessed by us alone, but shared with animals, plants, rocks, etc, but isn’t that the point? Or at least part of it? The problem with “sarxuality” is that if it is only used of us – and it will be – then it must have connotations of something that is unique, special to humans.

    “Carnal” would do if it wasn’t a bit old-fashioned. As you point out, it has negative connotations, but isn’t this because we are culturally infected with a false dualism, in which we elevate and honour the spiritual while downgrading and despising the material – the very tendency you are fighting against here? Maybe we need, not to try and avoid this dualism, but to confront it, reclaim carnality and assert the inherent goodness and holiness of the carnal. Carnal pride, anyone? (Now there’s an idea for reclaiming Mardi Gras.)

    This is all about the Incarnation, of course. (There’s that “carn-“ word again.) The atoms and molecules of the Body of Christ weren’t – I should say, aren’t – “special” atoms and molecules. Or, at least, they are no more “special” than the atoms and molecules of of the body of David or Peregrinus. Or, to put it another way, they are amazing, wonderful, incredible – imbued with divinity, miraculously elevated from mere creation to be incorporated into the Creator. That’s what the incarnation means for material creation.

    The destiny to which I am called is not to “escape” my body and attain some happy, floaty, cloudy existence free of material concerns (or material anything, for that matter). I am body-and-soul, and a soul without a body is as imperfect as a body without a soul. The destiny to which I am called is to live bodily in a perfect way. Hence, the resurrection. Hence, also, the centrality and significance of my material life –my work, my actions, my health, my well-being, and the work, actions, health and well-being of others. We don’t feed the hungry or heal the sick in order to build up some kind of credit balance in a spiritual bank account somewhere. We feed the hungry and heal the sick because people should be nourished and healthy; we are helping creation to become what it should be.

    • Schütz says:

      Briefly, I am just about to head out, I DON’T mean “material”. “Flesh” is quite different from “material”, just as “soma” is. Material is matter – or molecules and atoms and such. That is not what I have in mind at all. “Flesh” is the living, organic stuff that makes up our bodies. It includes “life”.

      • Peregrinus says:

        Right. I think I see. I’ll for more, though before rushing in with more comments where angels fear etc.

        I’m still going to hold out for “carnal”, though. It comes from carnis, which is how the Vulgate translates sarx and, more to the point, I like the tie-in to “incarnation”. And I think your sarxual (or carnal) revolution has to challenge the negative connotations of “carnal”, not concede them. To the barricades!

  2. Thomas Pietsch says:

    How about somatic?

    • Joshua says:

      Yes, somatic would be a good choice…

      • Schütz says:

        Well, obviously that is what JPII went with – after all, he wrote the “Theology of the Body”, not the “Theology of the Flesh”. But “Flesh” and “Body” are not entirely the same thing – although obviously there is a close, but rather ill defined, association between the two ideas. “Flesh” to me sums up everything it means to be a part of the earthly creation. It is what we share with the rest of the animal world. Eg. the scriptures speak of “all flesh” to include all animal life-forms in their creatureliness. They don’t speak that way about “body”.

  3. Joshua says:

    Wouldn’t “sarkic” (from ????????) be the more appropriate term?

    As Chesterton long ago noted, Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions – it teaches the resurrection of the body.

    I think you are spot on in skewering “spirituality”, which is antinomian.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I think you are right, Josh. “Sarkic” is the right form of the adjective (directly parallel to “psychic” and “pneumatic” – the latin equivalents being “animal” and “spiritual”). You would still need something to equal “spirituality”, and while “carnality” would be the grammatically right equivalent for my proposed “sarxuality” (as “animality” is in relation to the psyche or anima), I just don’t think that is quite right for the purpose. And besides, “sarxuality” has such a nice ring to it!

  4. Louise says:


    I always think of ours as an incarnational religion.

    • Schütz says:

      IN-carnation is precisely about God (the Creator) coming into and becoming a part of his Creation. It has directionality about it. Our own existence cannot be said to be “incarnate”, because we are, by nature, “carnate”. By means of the wonderful exchange of the Incarnation of the Word, our carnal nature – our “sarx” – becomes “in-spirited” (or “in-spired”?) and thus capable of communion with the Holy and Divine Trinity. But it is precisely by means of this “hinge” – the flesh – that spirituality is possible or even meaningful in the pratice of the Christian religion.

  5. Jim says:

    “Sarxual” is perfect, both for its aptness for contemporary use and its theological power, reminding us of the crucial (!) distinction between Christian holiness and so much other do-good-to-feel-good-spirituality. Thanks, Jim

  6. Matthias says:

    I agree with Joshua,the term “spirirtuality” is not only antinomian,but is also the buzzword of the new agers and those who cannot bring themselves to say ‘religion”.

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