In the context of Christian theology, Christian anthropology is the study of the human ("anthropology") as it relates to God. It differs from the social science of anthropology, which primarily deals with the comparative study of the physical and social characteristics of humanity across times and places.
One aspect studies the innate nature or constitution of the human, known as the nature of humankind. It is concerned with the relationship between notions such as body, soul and spirit which together form a person, based on their descriptions in the Bible. There are three traditional views of the human constitution – trichotomism, dichotomism and monism (in the sense of anthropology).
The reference source for Gregory's anthropology is his treatise De opificio hominis. His concept of man is founded on the ontological distinction between the created and uncreated. Man is a material creation, and thus limited, but infinite in that his immortal soul has an indefinite capacity to grow closer to the divine. Gregory believed that the soul is created simultaneous to the creation of the body (in opposition to Origen, who speculated on the soul's preexistence), and that embryos were thus persons. To Gregory, the human being is exceptional being created in the image of God. Humanity is theomorphic both in having self-awareness and free will, the latter which gives each individual existential power, because to Gregory, in disregarding God one negates one's own existence. In the Song of Songs, Gregory metaphorically describes human lives as paintings created by apprentices to a master: the apprentices (the human wills) imitate their master's work (the life of Christ) with beautiful colors (virtues), and thus man strives to be a reflection of Christ. Gregory, in stark contrast to most thinkers of his age, saw great beauty in the Fall: from Adam's sin from two perfect humans would eventually arise myriad.
Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christian ancient Latin authors with very clear anthropological vision. He saw the human being as a perfect unity of two substances: soul and body. He was much closer in this anthropological view to Aristotle than to Plato. In his late treatise On Care to Be Had for the Dead sec. 5 (420 AD) he insisted that the body pertains to the essence of the human person:
In no wise are the bodies themselves to be spurned. (...) For these pertain not to ornament or aid which is applied from without, but to the very nature of man.
Augustine's favourite figure to describe body-soul unity is marriage: caro tua, coniunx tua – your body is your wife. Initially, the two elements were in perfect harmony. After the fall of humanity they are now experiencing dramatic combat between one another.
They are two categorically different things. The body is a three-dimensional object composed of the four elements, whereas the soul has no spatial dimensions. Soul is a kind of substance, participating in reason, fit for ruling the body. Augustine was not preoccupied, as Plato and Descartes were, with going too much into details in efforts to explain the metaphysics of the soul-body union. It sufficed for him to admit that they were metaphysically distinct. To be a human is to be a composite of soul and body, and that the soul is superior to the body. The latter statement is grounded in his hierarchical classification of things into those that merely exist, those that exist and live, and those that exist, live, and have intelligence or reason.
According to N. Blasquez, Augustine's dualism of substances of the body and soul doesn't stop him from seeing the unity of body and soul as a substance itself. Following ancient philosophers he defined man as a rational mortal animal – animal rationale mortale.
The semantic domain of biblical soul is based on the Hebrew word nepes, which presumably means “breath” or “breathing being”. This word never means an immortal soul or an incorporeal part of the human being that can survive death of the body as the spirit of dead. This word usually designates the person as a whole or its physical life. In the Septuagint nepes is mostly translated as psyche (ψυχή) and, exceptionally, in the Book of Joshua as empneon (ἔνμπεον), that is "breathing being".
The New Testament follows the terminology of the Septuagint, and thus uses the word psyche in a manner performatively similar to that of the Hebrew semantic domain, that is, as an invisible power (or ever more, for Platonists, immortal and immaterial) that gives life and motion to the body and is responsible for its attributes.
In Patristic thought, towards the end of the 2nd century psyche was understood in more a Greek than a Hebrew way, and it was contrasted with the body. In the 3rd century, with the influence of Origen, there was the establishing of the doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul and its divine nature. Origen also taught the transmigration of the souls and their preexistence, but these views were officially rejected in 553 in the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Inherent immortality of the soul was accepted among western and eastern theologians throughout the middle ages, and after the Reformation, as evidenced by the Westminster Confession.
On the other hand, a number of modern Protestant scholars have adopted views similar to conditional immortality, including Edward Fudge and Clark Pinnock; however the majority of adherents hold the traditional doctrine.> In the last six decades, conditional immortality, or better "immortality by grace" (κατὰ χάριν ἀθανασία, kata charin athanasia), of the soul has also been widely accepted among Eastern Orthodox theologians, by returning to the views of the late 2nd century, where immortality was still considered as a gift granted with the value of Jesus' death and resurrection. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has held to conditional immortality since the mid-19th century.
The spirit (Hebrew ruach, Greek πνεῦμα, pneuma, which can also mean "breath") is likewise an immaterial component. It is often used interchangeably with "soul", psyche, although trichotomists believe that the spirit is distinct from the soul.
Charles Taylor has argued in Sources of the Self: Making of Modern Identity that the attempt to reduce spirit or soul to the "self" is an anachronistic project claiming historical precedence, when in reality it is a modern, Western, secular reading of the Scriptures.
Christian theologians have historically differed over the issue of how many distinct components constitute the human being.
The most popular view, affirmed by a large number of lay faithful and theologians from many Christian traditions, is that the human being is formed of two components: material (body/flesh) and spiritual (soul/spirit). The soul or spirit departs from the body at death, and will be reunited with the body at the resurrection.
A significant minority of theologians across the denominational and theological spectrum, in both the East and the West, have held that human beings are made up of three distinct components: body or flesh, soul, and spirit. This is known technically as trichotomism. The biblical texts typically used to support this position are and .
Modern theologians increasingly hold to the view that the human being is an indissoluble unity. This is known as holism or monism. The body and soul are not considered separate components of a person, but rather as two facets of a united whole. It is argued that this more accurately represents Hebrew thought, whereas body-soul dualism is more characteristic of classical Greek Platonist and Cartesian thought. Monism is the official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which adheres to the doctrine of "soul sleep". Monism also appears to be more consistent with certain physicalist interpretations of modern neuroscience, which has indicated that the so-called "higher functions" of the mind are dependent upon or emergent from brain structure, not the independent workings of an immaterial soul as was previously thought.
The Bible teaches in the book of Genesis the humans were created by God. Some Christians believe that this must have involved a miraculous creative act, while others are comfortable with the idea that God worked through the evolutionary process.
There are two opposing views about how the soul originates in each human being. Creationism teaches that God creates a "fresh" soul within each human embryo at or some time shortly after conception. Note: This is not to be confused with creationism as a view of the origins of life and the universe.
Most Christian Theology traditionally teaches that human nature originates holy but is corrupted by the fall. Part of the development of church doctrine has historically been concerned with discerning what role the human plays in “redemption" from that fall.
The debate about human nature between Augustine and Pelagius had to do with the nature of sin and its relation to the state of the human. Pelagius believed that man's nature was inherently good and taught that all children are born “as a fresh creation of God and therefore good.” For Pelagius freedom is a constitute part of human nature. Humanity’s capacity to choose is inherited and therefore is untainted. Human are capable of following divine laws (such as the Ten Commandment) and live morally. The inherited ability to choose is itself a grace of creation. Augustine believed that all humans are born into sin because each has inherited a sinful nature due to Adam’s original sin. Without grace from God humanity is incapable of choosing good and therefore of pursuing God. Salvation then, becomes, either a cooperation between human will and divine grace (see Synergism) or an act of divine will apart from human agency (see Monergism.). Pelagius’s position was condemned at the Council of Carthage (418) and the Council of Ephesus and the Second Council of Orange. However the councils did soften Augustine’s position on Predestination.
Within Protestant Circles a debate happened between followers of John Calvin (Calvinists or Reformed Tradition) and Followers of Jacobus Arminius (Arminians) on the nature of grace in the process of salvation. Calvin and Arminius follow Augustine in the doctrine of total depravity. However, Arminians hold that God restores humanity’s free will, concerning the ability to choose salvation where as classic Calvinism holds to a strict monergism.
Synergism and its affirmation of the participation of human will in salvation is the classic Patristic position as well as the position of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Church, as well many Arminian influenced Protestant Churches. Whereas Monergism has become the position of most churches that are a part of the Reformed Tradition.
Christian anthropology has implications for beliefs about death and the afterlife. The Christian church has traditionally taught that the soul of each individual separates from the body at death, to be reunited at the resurrection. This is closely related to the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. For example, the Westminster Confession (chapter XXXII) states:
The question then arises: where exactly does the disembodied soul "go" at death? Theologians refer to this subject as the intermediate state. The Old Testament speaks of a place called sheol where the spirits of the dead reside. In the New Testament, hades, the classical Greek realm of the dead, takes the place of sheol. In particular, Jesus teaches in Luke 16:19–31 (Lazarus and Dives) that hades consists of two separate "sections", one for the righteous and one for the unrighteous. His teaching is consistent with intertestamental Jewish thought on the subject.
Fully developed Christian theology goes a step further; on the basis of such texts as Luke 23:43 and Philippians 1:23, it has traditionally been taught that the souls of the dead are received immediately either into heaven or hell, where they will experience a foretaste of their eternal destiny prior to the resurrection. (Roman Catholicism teaches a third possible location, Purgatory, though this is denied by Protestants and Eastern Orthodox.)
Some Christian groups that stress a monistic anthropology deny that the soul can exist consciously apart from the body. For example, the Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that the intermediate state is an unconscious sleep; this teaching is informally known as "soul sleep".
In Christian belief, both the righteous and the unrighteous will be resurrected at the last judgment. The righteous will receive incorruptible, immortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15), while the unrighteous will be sent to the "Lake of Fire" or "Gehenna". Traditionally, Christians have believed that hell will be a place of eternal physical and psychological punishment. In the last two centuries, annihilationism and universalism have become more popular.