Flesh (theology)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
flesh, the world, the flesh, and the Devil

In Christianity, the word "flesh" is used in English as a metaphor to describe sinful tendencies. A related turn of phrase identifies certain sins as "carnal" sins, from Latin caro, carnis, meaning "flesh." Saint Paul makes this connection in Romans 7:18, in which he says:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (KJV)

In religious language, the "flesh" took on specific connotations of sexual sins. It was in this sense that the nineteenth century critic Robert Buchanan condemned a Fleshly School of Poetry, accusing Swinburne, Rossetti, and Morris with preoccupation with sex and sensual matters.

A traditional turn of phrase condemns "the world, the flesh, and the Devil" as the sources of temptation to sin. This specific phrase does not appear in that King James Bible, but the same sense appears in passages such as 1 John 2:16:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (KJV)

The phrase definitely appears in the writings of Abelard, who writes that "there are three things that tempt us: the world, the flesh, and the devil." The litany of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer contains the petition:

From fornication, and all other deadly sin; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
   Spare us, good Lord.

and the English translations of Roman Catholic litanies often contain a similar petition.

This traditional turn of phrase gave rise to the title of The World, the Flesh and the Devil, a 1959 apocalyptic science fiction film.

By contrast, the way of all flesh is also a religious phrase that in its original sense meant death, the fate of all living things. This phrase does not appear verbatim in the King James Bible either, but is clearly prefigured in that translation:

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:13)

Samuel Butler, by contrast, used The Way of All Flesh as the title of a semi-autobiographical family saga, using the phrase to refer ambiguously to either the religious or to a sexual sense. Butler's book was made into a motion picture twice, in 1927 and 1940.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Flesh (theology)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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