Between Beast and Angel
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A Neoplatonic concept embracing the whole of existence, which had an enthusiastic following during the Renaissance, was the idea of a hierarchy or scale of being from the least to the supreme, from the lifeless to the divine. In this inclusive theory the human soul was seen neatly to fill the gap between two ontological spheres, the visible and the invisible, the material world and the separated intelligences, a universe extending “from the Mushrome to the Angels”.1 Humanity, in its physico-spiritual existence, was considered as constituting a microcosm of the created order.2 In this notion were to be found the seeds both of a pessimistic and an optimistic conception of human nature and destiny. The down-side of this pivotal place in the chain of being was found in an affinity with the beasts, to the extreme point where the human shares the same moral fate as the animals. The potential for optimism in the microcosm theory was achieved by emphasising human dignity in the proximity to those other neighbours on the ladder of being, the angels. Many seventeenth century apologists exploited this latter emphasis, teaching that, with the pure spirits, the human soul enjoys a natural immortality, while the human body experiences the fate of the mortal beasts3
KeywordsHuman Mind Human Soul Real Distinction Christian Teaching Brute Animal
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