A Catholic Field Guide to the Undead
Halloween costumes offer an imaginary, temporary, denial of one’s condition in life. Some try on the uniform of another profession or sport. Some try on the skirts or mustaches of the other gender. Other costumes pull at the threads in the fabric of what it is to be human.
What, then, is it to be human?
C.S. Lewis says this:
"Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time." The Screwtape Letters.
The Catechism says this about the nature of man:
"God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them." Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is "in the image of God"; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created "male and female"; (IV) God established him in his friendship. CCC 355.
Pope Leo XIII says in an encyclical:
"...the natural law, which is written and engraved in the mind of every man; and this is nothing but our reason, commanding us to do right and forbidding sin. Nevertheless, all prescriptions of human reason can have force of law only inasmuch as they are the voice and the interpreters of some higher power on which our reason and liberty necessarily depend." On the Nature of Human Liberty.
The Catechism, again, on free will:
God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. "God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him." CCC 1730.
St. Irenaeus in Against Heresies:
"Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts."
This quickie review of Church teaching on the nature of man gets me to these key attributes of the human:
- possessing a spirit,
- having a material body,
- under the natural law,
- endowed with free will,
- made in God’s image.
It seems to me that culture, perhaps unwittingly, agrees with the Church in this matter because so many of it’s horror stories begin with a deviation from the recipe. Which allows us to compile:
A Catholic Field Guide to the UndeadThe undead are products of death gone wrong, disorders which damage the soul but not the body, or the unnatural processes of man making man in his own image. Human in appearance but inhuman in body and or soul the undead lack both the hope of Heaven and fear of hell. Zombies are re-animated corpses with no sense of right and wrong. Easily identifiable by their decomposing flesh and stiff legged gait. Lacking free will and conscience, they eat human brains. Zombies do not naturally reproduce, but can be created from cadavers or possibly by a contagion spread among the living. Notable examples are seen in the “Living Dead” movies and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Vulnerable to: Beheading.
Vampires are undead humans, like their zombie cousins. These former-humans retain their rational capabilities. These charming villains might have some access to a damaged sense of right and wrong. Vampires are notoriously difficult to kill in a manner such that they will stay dead. Native to Transylvania and Washington State, these shape-shifters subsist on human blood, and are identifiable by their elongated canine teeth and sparkly skin. Notable examples are Nosferatu a.k.a. Count Dracula, and someone named Edward. Vampirism is spread to bitten humans as if by a virus. Vampires do not naturally reproduce. Vulnerable to: Crucifixes, holy water, garlic, wooden stakes through the heart in combination with beheading.
Werewolves are mortal men transformed into shape-shifting wolf-men by sorcery involving wolf skins, the full moon, and sometimes beer.* In wolf-form werewolves are super-human in strength and speed but lack remorse, free will, and higher thinking. Notable werewolves are J.K Rowling’s Professor Lupin and someone named Jacob. Werewolves do not naturally reproduce. Vulnerable to: Weapons of silver. (J.K. Rowling’s werewolves are created by infection via werewolf bites. This is atypical to legend.)Like Werewolves, Dr. Jekyll’s counterpart Mr. Hyde is a complete human, but one damaged by chemicals so as to be intermittently separated from his conscience and his free will. Mr. Hyde is incapable of moral judgment, and all remorse and contrition for Hyde’s actions are left to Dr. Jekyll. Ghosts are spirit-being remnants of humans. Their chief identifying characteristic besides being departed from their flesh and blood is a profound sense of remorse. In death they have failed to attain either heaven or hell. Notable ghosts are Dickens’ A Christmas Carol ghosts. Ghosts do not naturally reproduce. Vulnerable to: Exorcism.
Man-Made Monsters such as Dr. Frankenstein’s monster are the result of human genius gone astray. These are assembled from cadaver parts and sparked to biological life or cloned en masse in the style of Saruman’s Uruk-hai orc-men from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings series or the Stormtroopers from George Lucas’ Star Wars series. These soulless bipeds are made by men in man’s image for obedience and service to their human creators. They possess modest cognitive abilities, but no poetry, no sense of right and wrong, no hope of Heaven or fear of hell.
- What is man with no body? a monster.
- What is man with no soul? a monster.
- What is man without free will? a monster.
- What is man made in man's image? a monster.
- What is man without natural law written on his heart? a monster.
When the costumed parade by your place this month, ask yourself which fundamental truth of human nature each costume is designed to hide.
* A sorry use of beer, that.