Friday, December 4, 2009

"My Flesh is Afraid, But I am Not"

I've seen parts of the Ingmar Bergman film, "The Seventh Seal" several times, but I've yet to see the whole thing from start to finish. One of the bits that I have seen is a scene where the knight, Antonius Block, and Death are having a discussion.

Actually, in one sense, I've never seen Ingmar Bergman's film. I don't understand more than a few words of Swedish, the language in which Bergman made "Det sjunde inseglet" (1957). What I've seen is more-or-less-well-dubbed English-language versions of the movie.

Still, this one scene impressed me. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has a pretty good set of information about the movie, including this dialog. It's listed under - I am not making this up - "Fun Stuff."
Antonius Block: I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me.
Death: But He remains silent.
Antonius Block: I call out to Him in the darkness. But it's as if no one was there.
Death: Perhaps there isn't anyone.
Antonius Block: Then life is a preposterous horror. No man can live faced with Death, knowing everything's nothingness.
Death: Most people think neither of death nor nothingness.
Antonius Block: But one day you stand at the edge of life and face darkness.
Death: That day.
Antonius Block: I understand what you mean.
That didn't strike me as particularly "fun" - but then, I'm not a brilliant Swedish movie maker, or someone who has made a detailed study of Bergman's films. IMDB quotes more dialog from the movie, including this exchange:
Antonius Block:Antonius Block: Who are you?
Death: I am Death.
Antonius Block: Have you come for me?
Death: I have long walked by your side.
Antonius Block: So I have noticed.
Death: Are you ready?
Antonius Block: My body is ready, but I am not.
That last line - "My body is ready, but I am not." - is the reverse of what I remembered from the version I watched. My guess is that this, the scene where the old knight, Antonius Block, meets Death, is followed by another: which contains the more familiar dialog.

I found this at another website, The Internet Movie Transcriptions Database. That website has several bits of dialog from The Seventh Seal. An English translation, of course. (Their format isn't the same as IMDB's. I've changed the following, to follow the IMDB format.)
Antonius Block: You have come for me?
Death: I have been at your side for a long time.
Antonius Block: I know.
Death: Are you prepared?
Antonius Block: My flesh is afraid, but I am not.
Now that's what I remember.

I was particularly impressed by the knight's drawing a distinction between himself and 'his flesh' - which I took to mean the physical, and to an extent emotional, part of him that would quite naturally fear death.

Warning: Personal Reflections Ahead

I've been thinking a bit more than usual about death lately. My father's death in late September probably accounts for most of that. That, and my awareness that I'm already eligible for "senior citizen discounts" in some places.

Quite a long time ago, I ran across the assertion that none of us has ever met a mortal person. The author wasn't crazy. He was making the point that our immortal souls are just that: immortal. In one sense, we quite literally can't die. Dante made that point, in the passage about the wood of the suicides, and got into trouble over it when serious churchmen for whom poetry was a closed book - but that's another topic. Sort of.

Now, don't get the idea that I think of myself as an immortal soul driving around in a material body. Catholic teaching is pretty specific on that point. Like this excerpt:
"...The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic LANGUAGE when it affirms that 'then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.'229 Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.

"In Sacred Scripture the term 'soul' often refers to human life or the entire human person.230 But 'soul' also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him,231 that by which he is most especially in God's image: 'soul' signifies the spiritual principle in man....
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 362, 363)

"...The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body:234 i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature...."
(Catechism, 365)
There's more written on the subject, of course: but that's a pretty good place to start.

The point is, I'm not a soul driving a body around. I'm a human person: body and soul. And, not all that long form now, I'll be dead. My body will no longer be in working order. At all.

Depending on how you look at it, this is either good news or bad news: We don't stay dead.
"...The term 'flesh' refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality.536 The 'resurrection of the flesh' (the literal formulation of the Apostles' Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our 'mortal body' will come to life again.537...
(Catechism, 990)
Again, there's more. A lot more. The section of the Catechism that last quote is from, "Article 11, I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body," would be a pretty good place to start.

Well, what could possibly be wrong with living forever?

That depends on how you see God.

If you would rather believe that he doesn't exist, and have been keeping up with physics and cosmology, you might want to consider whether you want to be around when the universe goes cold, or tears itself apart at the sub-atomic level: depending on whose models reflect reality more accurately.

If you think God exists, living forever could seem like one long party: If you assume that God is some sort of senile grandfather, who just wants the kids to have a good time and is absolutely clueless about what they've been doing to each other.

On the other hand, if you think God is somewhat on the ball, and wasn't kidding about there being a sort of final exam for life: living forever after spending the first several decades thumbing your nose at His guidelines might not be all that much fun.

Me? I've always assumed that God was smarter than I was - and was far from clueless. There have been times when I've wondered what He's up to, and why things happen - but that's another topic.

If I keep going, this post is going to get into a discussion of the "last things:" death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. I trust I'll have other opportunities to get back to that.

Getting back to that quote from "The Seventh Seal:" "My flesh is afraid, but I am not." I am really, sincerely, not particularly looking forward to death. Any more than I looked forward to final exams.

But I hope and trust that, when I see death coming, I will be able to say that I am not afraid.

1 comment:

JimBob said...

"There have been times when I've wondered what He's up to, and why things happen - but that's another topic."

No, that's THE topic, at least for anyone who actually believe that God exists. I don't want to hear about how God works in mysterious ways. No. Why things happen that are in complete refutation of the description of're a good writer, but if you're not going to wrestle with that, you're blowing hot air.

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