Thought for the Day - Rev Joel Edwards
This week the Queen’s Gallery will begin to host the most comprehensive exhibition of Leonardo Di Vinci’s anatomical studies ever displayed.
By any measure Di Vinci was a genius of the Renaissance period. Sculptor, mathematician, engineer, architect and inventor his works such as Mona Lisa, the Last Supper and the Virgin of the Rocks are also testaments to his enduring gift with the paintbrush.
Leonardo’s anatomical work was not only a sample of his meticulous dedication to detail it was also ahead of its time. No one else would come close to his study on cirrhosis of the liver for another two hundred years.
But in spite of his futuristic brilliance, Leonardo was still a child of his own time. Di Vince was influenced by Aristotle’s idea that the soul was found in the part of the brain known as senso commune: common sense. Influenced by this idea he was convinced that the human soul was physiologically located in the brain: and his work set about to prove it.
Which just goes to show that each of us is also shaped by the prevailing wisdom of our present world. The human soul has always been illusive – even for the best minds.
It’s hard enough to describe the synergy between the idea of a soul and the material world: talk of eternity is even more difficult. How does a person gain the whole world and lose his soul? And how does a soul ‘die’?
Is the soul the phantom me, which floats off to heaven or is it inextricably who we always are?
These are huge questions. It’s so much easier to limit ‘soul’ to a category of music.
But oddly I’m with Da Vinci in one respect. The soul is indeed an intricate part of God’s grand design in our humanity. It's what it means to be made in God’s image and likeness. But the soul, which some believe to be stronger than death itself, is never immune from the limitations, myths and meanings in our physical world.
It can pollute behavior or elevate us to better ways of being human.
Meshed in a coil of intuitions, instincts, emotions and values by which we live, the soul lives in the material world but should never be defined by it. When it does it dies.
Our human capacity for mesmerizing evil and misdemeanor is a dark reminder of what the Christian faith calls ‘sin’ – the death of the soul.
But our propensity for beauty and self-sacrifice is still a reminder of what it means to be made like God.