‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’: Narcissism and spiritual worldliness

Issue 1902

31 January 2019

The end of the seventh chapter of the Letter to the Romans contains an exclamation in which Saint Paul gives voice to a deep pain that permeates his entire existence: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24).

At first glance, it seems that the apostle is making a very severe judgment about his own body, as if he almost preferred to do away with it so as to live serenely the spiritual life. But this is not so. In reality, if we pay attention to the preceding verses, we see that he is not rejecting his body but rather lamenting the tension between the body and the spirit: “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom 7:22-23).

This tension manifests itself in a logic of contrast deriving from the complex composition of the human person, that is, from the fact that we are both body and spirit: “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other” (Gal 5:17).

”This