One of the earliest enemies of Christianity was Gnosticism, a heresy which held to a spirit/body (immaterial vs. material) dualism. “Spirit” (the immaterial) was “good” or “more real,” while “body” (the material) was “evil” or “less real.” The former was to be desired and sought, while the latter was to be eschewed and avoided. A later form of this error was known as Docetism, which believed that the material was illusory, and spirit was real. Thus, Docetists held that Jesus only appeared to be a physical being, but was actually only divinity. The Catholic Church has consistently rejected such a view as a denial of the Incarnational Principle, the idea that the created order (the material world) has been sanctified through the incarnation of Christ, is therefore inherently good (Genesis: “And God saw that it was good”), and is no less real or good than immaterial realities.
Here’s my question: This appears to conflict with the Catholic ideal of m*onasticism *(monastic spirituality), in which one seeks to draw nearer to God (the immaterial or spiritual) through a denial or rejection of the things of the temporal world (the material or bodily). Thomas a’Kempis’s Imitation of Christ is a famous example of this:
"Learn to despise this world of outward things, and devote yourself to what lies within; there, within you, you will see the coming of God’s kingdom."
Here is the immaterial/material dualism mentioned above. The implication here is that “the world” (= “things of the physical world”) is “bad” in relation to “spiritual things,” that material realities are less desirable or less substantial than immaterial realities, that the “soul” is to be valued far above external, bodily concerns. So, spiritual (internal) things are virtuous and desirable, while material (external) things are dubious and detract from spiritual realities, which we are do seek above such mundane “unspiritual” pursuits.
So, in light of this, is not the monastic ideal a form of neo-gnosticism? Is this popular Catholic approach to spirituality (immaterial vs. material/spirit vs. body) essentially a Docetic view of reality? If so, how can we Catholics justify such an approach?