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The conception of life and death at both levels, physical and spiritual, is typical, not only of Origen, but also of Bardesanes Bardaisan. For this reason he was accused of denying the resurrection, the same accusation that was leveled against Origen: in the case of Origen, this charge is unfounded; I sus- pect that the same may be the case with Bardesanes, who probably intended resurrection both in the physical sense as the restoration of the perfect body before the fall and in the spiritual sense as the salvation of the soul, its resurrection from the death of sin. Bardesanes in his antignostic polemic parallel to that of Origen distinguished, not human beings in general into different classes, but each human being into 1 body and animate soul, both mortal and subject respectively to nature and fate, and 2 the rationalintellectual soul or spirit, immortal and endowed with free will.
In Prose Refutations II p. 158, 20ff. Ephrem attests that Bardesanes attributed to the human being a body, a soul and a spirit, and that the soul clearly understood here as the animate soul, not as intellectual soul does not possess knowledge, which belongs only to the spirit, i.e., the intellect or logos, the rational or intellectual soul, which is the divine component in the human being. The logos, they say, is the unknown leaven hidden in the soul, which is deprived of knowledge and is extraneous both to the body and to the logos.
If this be the case, the body cannot adhere to the soul, nor can the soul adhere to the logos, which is divine. It is again Ephrem who attests that Bardesanes thought that, just as Adam introduced spiritual death, in addition to physical, so Christ has made it again possible to have access to salvation, which was previously prevented by Adam’s sin. The death of our present, corruptible body, in that it paves the way to its restoration to the perfect, incorruptible body, was defined by Bardesanes as an advantage, as attested by Ephrem in Carmina Nisibena 51: Bardesanes called the damage produced by the serpent ˜an advantage.’ It is evident that the damage produced by the serpent can be considered to be an advantage only if one understands it as physical death, certainly not as spiritual death, which can by no means be deemed a benefit.
This confirms that, according to Bardesanes, the original sin caused, not only spiritual death, but also physical death. This gives the lie to Ephrem’s assertion that in Bardesanes’s opinion Adam’s sin produced only spiritual death, not physical death; that, even without this sin, the human body would have been corruptible and with no hope for resurrection, and that the life brought about by Christ is exclusively spiritual life, the salvation of the soul, and not also the resurrection of the bodies. Such an idea is not confirmed by any fragment of Bardesanes: none contains an explicit denial of the resurrection. I rather suspect that Bardesanes, Chad Subway Map like Origen, understood the death caused by Adam and the life brought about by Christ on both planes: 1 the death and the resurrection of the body; 2 the death of the soul, spiritual death, sin, and spiritual life, i.e., salvation. My suggestion seems to me to be further supported by Beck’s investigation E. Beck, Bardaisan und seine Schule bei Ephr¤m, Le Muson 91 1978 271-333: 300-307 into the gradation that, according to Bardesanes, leads from a heavy and corruptible corporeality to a lighter and lighter one, typical of the spiritual elements. The spiritual body is fine, light and incorruptible; it characterized human nature before the fall and will characterize it again in the resurrection, which Origen maintains as well.
That Bardesanes conceived of an incorruptible body, different from the heavy, corruptible and mortal body of present human life, is proved with certainty by a fragment from his De India, quoted by Porphyry, in which the cosmic Adam-Christ is characterized by a living but incorruptible body, material but of a different matter from those constituting this world: it seems to be the incorruptible body of the origin, before the fall, and of the resurrection, presumably composed by pure elements without commixture of darkness.
Our present, corruptible body, instead, just like the whole of the present world, according to Bardesanes is constituted not only by pure elements, but also by some particles of darkness, which is pure negativity and a symbol of evil. However, our present body is far from being entirely composed by the nature of evil mentioned by Ephrem Prose Refutations I, p. 147, 18ff.. After death, our body returns to dust ibid., II, p. 143, 1-24, but this is perfectly consistent with the Bible. Bardesanes does not deem our body evil as though he were a Manichean although Ephrem tends to assimilate him to a Manichean: evil is the fruit of a choice of our free will, as for Origen. The body per se is neither evil nor good; its death is not a punishment for it being evil, nor a sign of its evil nature.
In Prose Refutations II p. 153 Ephrem accuses Bardesanes of evacuating both Adam’s sin and Christ’s work, in that neither of them brings, respectively, the death and resurrection of the body. Now, according to Bardesanes what depends on Adam is first of all but not necessarily exclusively the spiritual death that comes from sin, and what depends on Christ is spiritual resurrection and eternal salvation, as is clear from the following fragment coming from a section of Prose Refutations II, 143-169 generally known as Against Bardesanes: According to Bardesanes, the death initiated by Adam was an impediment to souls, in that they were impeded in the place where they had to cross, because Adam’s sin impeded them. And the life he says that our Lord has brought about consists in the fact that he taught the Truth and was lifted up, and had them cross over and enter the kingdom. Thus he says our Lord taught us that ˜Whoever observes my word will not taste death forever,’ because he says hisher soul is not impeded when it crosses in the crossing place, unlike the old impediment by which the souls were impeded before the coming of our Savior. Bardesanes here intends life and death in a spiritual sense, just like Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.
Now, this does not entail that Origen or Gregory denied the resurrection of the body the latter even devoted his De Anima et Resurrectione in support of it, and this per se does not mean that Bardesanes denied it either. The notion that Adam caused spiritual death and Christ brought spiritual life does not imply the denial of the resurrection of the body. What is clear is that for Bardesanes, just as for many other Fathers, the worse death is the death of sin, and what Christ has brought is first of all spiritual life. The fragment in Prose Refutations II, 164, 18-26, death is sin, precisely corresponds to the main and most serious meaning of death indicated by Origen in Dialogus cum Heraclide 25ff.: this is the only death in respect to which our soul is mortal. In Comm. in Io. 20.25.221 Origen observes that Adam and Eve died the very same day in which they transgressed, and they were killed by no other than the devil, who kills the human beings. This is not physical, but spiritual death, and yet Origen did not deny that Adam introduced also the death of the body, and that there the resurrection of all bodies will occur. Neither did Bardesanes necessarily deny this. Ephrem, who in the 4th c., as I have mentioned, polemicized with Bardesanes in his Hymni contra Haereses and Prose Refutations, emphasized Christ’s victory over death, Sheol and the devil. He thus situates himself within an important Christian tradition that meditated upon Christ’s descensus ad inferos = sheol after his death and before his resurrection and upon the universally salvific meaning of this event, which assumes an esp. important weight in both Origen’s thought and Gregory of Nyssa’s De tridui spatio. Now, just as in Gregory, in Ephrem, the emptying of sheol immediately takes on an eschatological meaning as well: it is the announcement of the universal resurrection of all the dead. For this descensus takes place in a sacred place and time; therefore, it does not belong to a specific historical moment, but has its fulfillment only in the telos. That sheol, which is the place of death, will be completely emptied in the end, is grounded in the unity of the whole of humanity, realized in Christ and deeply felt also by Gregory of Nyssa.