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October 22, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – ​​I was reading an interesting book recently by Antoine Arjakovsky on the historical development of the notion of Christian orthodoxy, and I came across a quotation from a French patrologist, Jerome Alexandre, that made me pause and think:

The flesh, like language, acts as a sign. It signifies a reality that only trust can attain. This is why the substantial difference between soul and flesh is so important: the soul knows that the flesh attached to it is other than itself, that it can neither take full possession of it nor separate itself from it. It must hence resolve to trust it, respect it, and love it.

My flesh is part of who I am—it is not an appendage or a machine or a piece of property, but myself in matter. At the same time, my consciousness of myself is not the same as the flesh; we know there is a distinction between my thoughts and my body. As a result, my flesh, like the language I speak with my lips, is itself a sign of me and of my intentions and my priorities. What I do in the flesh and to it and with it signifies what I think and desire. It is not only not irrelevant to my personhood, it is the primary language through which my person speaks, even before a particular word is uttered.

Therefore the flesh is also a reality that must be respected. I do not absolutely “own” it nor can I live without it (at least, in a natural way; how we live after death is mysterious and certainly no longer simply “natural”). I have to acknowledge the reality and goodness of the flesh, “trusting” it as I go through life, trusting that my embodiment is part of my perfection, and that the body’s limitations, as regards both pleasure and pain, are also for my benefit, if I have learned to respect and love it for what it is (and not for what it is not).

Then I began to ponder how contraception and abortion contradict Alexandre’s insight. What are you saying about your own flesh when you impede what is the most normal and natural functioning of your body—namely, to give rise to other human beings, and to nurture them into existence, to maturity? What are you saying about your self when you treat your flesh, which is part of yourself, as a locus of threat, danger, antagonism, competition? What this says is that a person is profoundly sick, divided from himself or herself, internally at war. Or it might say that the soul would treat the body as an industrialist treats raw materials, stripping them from nature, exploiting them and extracting every last benefit without regard to the health of the “body politic.”

Take one step further. What is the person who thus divides himself from himself (or herself from herself) saying to a partner, a spouse, about the other’s flesh? Your flesh is also the enemy of my soul, my desire, my self-conception; there is something in you that I do not trust, respect, or love. I will take your appetite, I will take the comfort of your matter, but I will not take you yourself in your wholeness. I will do violence to your materiality, as I do (or am willing to do) violence to mine, so that we can be disembodied and embodied together. Is there not in all this a hatred of the flesh mixed in with the love of it?

The language such a couple speaks to one another is a language of desperate half-truths and evasions, politely covered over with conventions, but reducible to self-interest—and as we have seen, not even the interest of one’s entire self. 

It gets worse with abortion, for here, the hatred of one’s own flesh is magnified to include the flesh (and soul) of another. To seek to rid oneself of the flesh of a child is to hate the child himself or herself, since the body is the person in his or her material aspect. Thus the civil war that began in the person in whom disordered desire has created self-hatred extends to encompass the person with whom he or she lies (in both senses of the term) and all the persons implicit in this relationship, which is naturally fruitful and must be violently attacked to preclude or excise the fruit.

If the flesh, then, is a language, what are contracepting and aborting couples saying to themselves? What are they saying to each other? What are they saying to their potential or actual offspring? “I do not trust you. I do not respect you. I do not love you.”

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,