God the Author of Nature and the Supernatural
Part Two: Creation as a Divine Fact
Section Two: Supernatural Anthropology
In man there is one rational soul, which is immortal and imediately created by God alone.
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The present section is variously called dogmatic or supernatural anthropology.
It is anthropology because its subject matter is man, and to that extent
coincides with rational psychology as a philosophical discipline. But while the object of
inquiry is man, the ambit of investigation is much broader than in philosophy,
and above all the source of evidence is not mere history or speculation but divine revelation, as found in the teaching of the Church and as developed by theology under the Church's guidance.
While there are two ultimate principles in man, a
body and soul, and different authors approach either one first, it seems preferable to begin with a study
of the soul. In this way our progression
is logical, from reflection on the purely spiritual creation of the angels to the substantial and also spiritual
element in man. Also by first disposing
of the spiritual part of man, the field is clear for a thorough analysis of his body, from
his origin in the beginning to his
inheritance of original sin and the consequent effects left in his nature.
We shall examine three principal aspects of man's
soul in the present thesis: how many
souls are there in a human being, prove
there is only one, and show that
this soul is not material but spiritual and rational; see whether this
soul is destined to pass away, by death if that
were possible or otherwise by annihilation;
and finally deal with the origin of the soul, as soul, while proving that it must always be immediately created
by God, and by Him alone, for infusion
into a predisposed human body.
As an extension of the thesis we shall briefly review
the dogmatic position on the nature
of man as composite of body and soul, with special reference to the soul
as essentially the form of the human body.
The concept man is understood metaphysically
as "rational animal." Taken physically it is a being, which consists of a body,
or that substance which requires
inherent quantity and is possessed of certain sensibly perceptible qualities;
and of another substance, called the soul, that is joined to the body to
form a human being.
By the soul we mean that primary principle
of life in a living body which is
not possessed of quantity and essentially different from matter.
One means undivided in itself.
The soul is therefore not triple either numerically or essentially, as though man had three
distinct souls - vegetative, sensitive
and intellectual. There is rather one soul which somehow manifests
itself in three different functions.
Rational is equivalent to being an intellectual substance.
There are various kinds of immortality, which in general means the inability of a living being to lose its life. Immorality is essential when
it pertains to the essence of a thing,
i.e., its essence is to exist, so
that death is a metaphysical impossibility.
Only God enjoys this type of immortality. Or the immortality may be natural, which is proper
to beings that have their existence from
another, but whose natural exigency is always to exist, so that death is
a physical impossibility but might be brought
about by God's absolute power or omnipotence. Finally the immortality may be gratuitous, which is first of all proper
to living things that have existence from another, yet by a free gift of
God they are enabled to remain living forever.
It is therefore immortality de facto
but not de jure, and may be either necessarily
possessed, as with theBodies of
the blessed after the last judgment, or only conditionally, as were the bodies
of our first parents.
As regards the soul, we maintain it has both de
facto and de jure immortality:
the first because it will never die, and the second because it isimmortal by an exigency of its nature,
so that death for the soul is a physical impossibility.
Creation of the soul refers
to all human souls, from those of
our first parents to every person
who comes into this world. It means the production of something without
the use of preexisting material.
Immediate creation means immediate production out of nothing. The soul is
therefore not made only remotely by creation, namely,
from some other thing which itself
was made out of nothing. Rather the production was proximate creation,
i.e., postulating no previous and positive terminus a quo.
God alone is the active agent in creating the human soul, so that He is more than a mere concurrent first cause. He is literally
the principal and indeed unique cause
of the soul's coming into existence. Of course, this does not exclude all created cooperation, so far as disposing
the matter is concerned. But it does
eliminate any creature causality which is strictly creative, whether as
principal or even as instrumental agent operating
under the influence of divine power.
On the unicity of the soul, Plato is often listed as an adversary. But
there is some question whether the charge is correct.
Those who defend him argue that the
critical passage in the Timaeus 69-70, describing how the mortal kind
of soul with its two divisions, was allocated in the body
by inferior deities after the supreme
deity had produced the intellect, should be reinterpreted. They say the Platonic division is of three phases of one
Certainly claiming a plurality of souls
were the ancient Gnostics, who believed that man has a three-fold spirit: pneuma,
psyche, hyle. Also the Manicheans
thought that the two eternal principles of good and evil, which are essentially opposed to each other, met in Adam, when his
soul, which was an emanation from
the good principle, was imprisoned in the body by the evil one. Apollinaris
(310-390) made the trichotomy of nous,
psyche, and sarx the basis of his theological heresy that the Logos supplied reason, which
was lacking in the purely sensitive soul of Christ.
Among the significant trichotomic errors in the Middle
Ages, the most important was that
of the Arabian Averroes and his followers. According to them there is only one intellectual soul common to the
whole human race; but individually
men have their own sensitive spirit which gives them "personality."
Also William of Ockam (1280-1349)
distinguished between the rational soul and the sensitive form of man. The latter is extended and corruptible, and united
immediately with the body.
In recent years, Anton Gunther taught what was equivalently
trichotomy. Though formally adhering
to the Dualist system, Gunther endowed matter, as matter, with a nature-psyche of its own and refused
to consider the spirit as the sole
vital principle, from which the human body derives its "nature life."
The immortality of the soul is widely denied
and has been throughout human history.
Among the ancients were the Atomists, like Democritus (born c.
460 B.C.), for whom the soul could be nothing
but corporeal. They said it was
composed of the finest atoms, perfectly
smooth and round, like the atoms of fire. The only "immortality" therefore which the soul could have
would be the perdurance of matter.
All Materialists, whether
ancient or modern, deny the immortality of the soul. While crude materialism is a rarity in thinking circles, its
equivalent in some form of naturalism
is widespread. A typical, fairly clear statement on human mortality is a recent one by Roy Wood Sellars:
"Holding an organic view of life,
Humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected. This
thesis is no simple matter either
in its theory or its implications. The chief implication for religion is the exclusion of personal immortality.
Far Eastern religions have laid far
less stress upon personal immortality than has Christianity, for which it has been central. Christianity was,
along with so much else, a salvation-immortality
and philosophy, increasingly,
are redefining both terms. Mind has become largely adverbial, a
term for activities and processes.
The body is the living organism with
its high-level structure and capacities. Shall we not speak of the living
organism as minded and adaptive?" Religion in the Twentieth Century,
More often than simply denying immortality,
modern philosophers and even religionists are simply sceptical about an after
life. For Kant immortality was a postulate
of the practical reason; for many of his followers it is a debatable
question which has only minor relevance in the quest for tangible, this worldly
happiness. Among existentialist theologians in the Kantian tradition, none
stands higher or is more respected in Protestant
thought than Paul Tillich. In view of his importance in contemporary America,
the following answer he gave to a
critic of his naturalism (Nels F.S. Ferre) is worth quoting at length:
"Mr. Ferre is aware that I have fought supranaturalism
from my early writings on...(He) is
afraid that this attitude makes my idea of God transcendental instead of transcendent, that it prevents
a genuine doctrine of incarnation,
that it implies the negation of personal immortality, that it evaporates the independent character of the Church,
that it denies a realistic
eschatology. He is right if transcendent means
the establishment of a world' beyond
the world, if incarnation means the descent of a divine being from the heavenly place and its metamorphosis
into a human being, if 'immortality
is understood as the continuation of temporal existence after death, if the latent church within
cultures and religions is denied,
if a dramatic end-catastrophe some time in the future is affirmed. All this is a supranaturalism against which
my theology stands.
I believe that this kind of thought is a rationalization
of the Biblical symbols into an objectifying
description of physical-supraphysical processes. I believe that not those who understand
the mythical character of these concepts
but those who take them literally are the rationalists of our time. This is the reason I must continue my fight against any supranaturalistic theology." The Theology of Paul Tillich, pp. 341-342.
Among Fundamentalist churches, there is a fairly
common strain that immortality of
soul and body is a free gift of God through the merits of Christ. Thus
without distinction, the Confession of Faith of the Seventh-Day Adventists says that, "God alone hath immortality. Mortal man
possesses a nature inherently sinful
and dying. Eternal life is the gift of God through faith in Christ. Immortality is bestowed upon the righteous at the
second coming of Christ." To make
sure this is not misunderstood, the Adventist Creed further declares that,
"The condition of man in death is one
of unconsciousness...There shall
be a resurrection both of the just
and of the unjust. The resurrection of the just will take place at the second coming of Christ. The resurrection of the unjust will take place a thousand years later, at the close
of the millenium...The finally impenitent,
including Satan, the author of sin, will, by the fires of the last day be reduced to a state of non-existence,
becoming as though they had not been,
thus purging Gods universe of sin and sinners." Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook, p. 4.
On the origin of the soul, three positions
may be distinguished. The theory of
pre-existence claims that all souls prior to the origin of their
respective bodies existed as unembodied
entities; they become enclosed in the bodies as in a kind of prison. Generationism, which in
its cruder form is called Traducianism, says that the souls of children no less than their bodies are produced by their parents. Finally Creationism, which we defend, teaches that each
human soul is created by God and immediately united with the material
product of parental generation.
The Origenistic doctrine of
pre-existence was condemned by the Church as incompatible with revelation. A Council of Constantinople
(543 A.D.) anathematized those who "assert the fabulous pre-existence of
souls, and the doctrine of the Apocatastasis, which logically flows therefrom." Later on
the Council of Braga condemned the
Priscillianists for saying that "the souls of men sinned in their celestial habitations, and in punishment were cast into human bodies
on earth." (DB 236).
form of Pre-existence, taught by
some of the ancients like Bishop Nemesius in Phoenecia around 400 A.D.,
claimed that human souls existed in a state of moral innocence before union
with the flesh.
Metempsychosis is a derivative from the theory of pre-existence, at least in so-called Christian circles. It holds that souls
migrate from one body into another
until complete purification is achieved. The belief is widespread, especially in India, where it forms an integral part
of Brahmanism and Buddhism; but it is also found in the later Jewish
writing of the Cabbala and among many savage races.
In pre-Christian Europe the outstanding advocates of Metempsychosis
were Plato and Pythagoras, both of whom were probably influenced by
Orphism, and the doctrine was generally held by the later Platonists
by whom the word metempsychosis was in current use. In modern times
the theory was revived by Giordano Bruno, Lessing and Fourier, and recently
it has come to the fore through the spread
of Spiritualism and Theosophy. Its attraction lies partly in its claim
to provide a morally satisfying explanation of the
inequalities of fortune and character among mankind, which it ascribes
to deeds done in former lives.
Generationism in its crude form is called Traducianism,
from tradux, a "cutting" or slip. It holds that the soul
is produced immediately from the male sperm, semen corporale, and that
children are in a sense cuttings or slips detached from the souls
of their parents. In the East the theory was propounded by Apollinaris, and
in the West, apparently, by Tertullian. The difficulty in Tertullian is that he uses body
in a peculiar sense which makes it hard to say definitely what he means
in a given context.
Material Generationism is, of course, also taught by modern
materialists who make no essential distinction between matter and spirit. But where
Mechanist Materialism tries to explain all the phenomena in the universe
by purely quantitative changes,
Dialectical Materialsm admits
the presence of qualitative differences, as between inorganic matter,
life and consciousness. But because it is committed
to an evolutionary concept of reality, Dialectical Materialism claims
that the higher emerges genetically from the lower
- which here would mean that the human
soul does not have to be immediately created by God. It is entitatively
material and therefore derivable by natural generation.
Spiritual Generationism recognizes
the spirituality of the soul by postulating a kind of spiritual semen,
semen spirituale, by which parents transmit the soul to their offspring.
From the time of Pelagianism, in the early fifth century, to
the seventh century, a variety of Fathers
and some writers to the
time of Peter Lombard, were in doubt about the spiritual type of
Generationism. The problem was largely created by the position of St. Augustine,
whose main reason for hesitating to place himself squarely on Creationist ground
was that this system had been arrogantly defended by the Pelagians in attacking the doctrine of original
The Pelagians argued that nothing unclean can come
from the hand of God; therefore the souls of children, created by Him
directly out of nothing, cannot be tainted
with original sin.Uunable to solve this subtle objection, Augustine inclined to the theory that the souls of children
are not immediately created by God,
but generated by their parents. He admitted the possibility of a semen incorporeum, from which the soul in some incomprehensible way
originates in the act
of parental generation - which then accounts for the transmission of original
However, Augustine was not decided in favor of Generationism. In
fact he always doubted its validity.
More than once he confessed his ignorance of the true solution of the problem. In his letters to St. Jerome, who was a forthright
Creationist, he frankly said he would like
to adopt Creationism if he could only make sure it was compatible with the dogma of original
Augustine's authority was enough to keep his misgivings alive for centuries.
The Venerable Moneta Cremonensis (died
1235), a Dominican writer, seems to have been the first to break the spell. St. Thomas did
not hesitate to brand Generationism
as "heretical," - "Haereticum est dicere, quod anima intellectiva
traducatur cum semine," Summa, 1, 118, 2.
In modern times sporadic efforts have been made to revive the defunct
system of Generationism. Hermes, Klee,
and Oischinger wanted to restore it to the rank of a probable opinion. Rosmini, in one of his condemned
propositions, said the Creator transforms
the sensitive soul, which the child received from his parents through generation, into an intellectual soul
by permitting it to "catch a glimpse of the idea of being"
Frohschammer thought the soul is created by the parents "in virtue
of a secondary power of creation,
which is immanent to human nature and was conferred by God with the first origin of things...Consequently generation is an act of
creation out of nothing, through a
secondary power which God has bestowed on
humanity" Ursprung der Menschlichen Seelen, 1854.
Each of the three parts of the thesis has its own set of dogmatic notes,
with varying nuances.
- Rationality and Unicity of the Soul
- The doctrine that man has
a rational soul or spirit is De
Fide Definita in the IV Lateran Council, DB 428. The same is repeated in Vatican,
Moreover the same is implicitly defined in all the Councils which
teach that Christ, as a perfect man, had a body and a rational soul,
e.g., the Council of Chalcedon, DB 148.
- It is also De Fide Definita that
man has only one soul which is rational, in the IV Council
of Constantinople, DB 338.
- Immortality of the Soul
- The immortality of the soul, de facto, is De Fide Definita in the V
Lateran, DB 738. Some
would say the same document declares the de jure immortality
- Immortality de jure is either implicitly defined in V Lateran,
or, more conservatively, is Theologically Certain, arguing from the fact that the Lateran document begins with the observation that
it is treating de natura praesertim
animae rationalis." Hence the subsequent definition deals with more
than a factual statement of immortality.
- Immediate Creation of the Soul by God
- It is De Fide Definita that spiritual substances, and therefore
the soul, do not emanate from the substance of God.
This from the condemnation of Pantheism in the Vatican Council, DB
- Though not defined, it is
De Fide ex Jugi Magisterio that material Traducianism is wrong. Thus St. Thomas' statement, quoted above, indicates
the ordinary teaching of the Church.
- Positively stated, it is
De Fide ex Jugi that
human souls are immediately created
by God. Apart from the constant position of the Church since the time of St. Thomas, we have the recent declaration
of Pius XII in Humani Generis to be quoted in the body
of the proof.
- It is Theologically Certain that souls are created at the moment they
are joined with the body.
Part One: "In Man there is One Rational Soul."
- Ecclesiastical Documents
- The IV Lateran defined against
the Albigenses that God is the Creator of all things visible and inivisible, the spiritual or
angelic world and the corporeal or visible universe. And afterwards He formed the creature
man, who in a way belongs to both
orders, as he is composed of spirit and body" DB 428.
- Likewise a series of solemnly
defined doctrines teach that Christ is a perfect man, composed simply of body and a rational soul. Thus Chalcedon
(DB 148), Constantinople III (DB 290) and
IV Lateran (DB 429). The implication
is that men in general must be composed
of body and rational soul, since otherwise Christ would not have been
a true human being.
- On the unicity of the soul,
the most explicit solemn document is IV Constantinople, which condemned the error of Photius and his followers
who denied that man has only one
soul. Hence the definition:
"The Old and New Testament both teach
that man has one rational, intellectual soul. All the Fathers and the teachers
of the Church emphatically affirm
this same opinion in their theological discourses. Nevertheless there are some men, zealous in the pursuit of evil,
who have come to such a state of
godlessness that they boldly teach that man has two souls
This council loudly declares anathema both those
who originate and those who propagate this godlessness and all those who hold
similar opinions" DB 338.
- Sacred Scripture
The Scriptural argument is cumulative. As often as either the Old or
New Testament has occasion to speak of the
making or death of man, only two component
factors are mentioned, namely body and soul or spirit. Given the significance
of the doctrine in view of prevalent errors to the contrary, we must
conclude that only these two parts are components
of man. Correspondingly the whole
of mans activity and dynamism are attributed in Scripture to this one
soul, with no possibility of misunderstanding or
suspicion that more than one principle of operation were present in man.
Illustrative texts are Genesis 2:7, which, although
written in popular style, mentions
only the one spirit; in Ezechiel 37:1-14, where dry bones are
described as dead because "there was
no spirit in them"; in Luke 8:49-55,
where the daughter of Jairus is raised from the dead, "and her spirit returned,
and she rose up immediately.
- Patristic Evidence
Although not a few of the Fathers were well disposed
towards Platonism with its tendency
to trichotomy, yet in their writings they had no doubt that man is composed of only two principles, a body
and a rational soul. If they did
not spell out the doctrine in explicit terms before Apollina rism, it was
only because there was not the same occasion
for doing so.
St. Gregory of Nyssaa, for example, says that, "Although
we distinguish a triple form of life,
one which nourishes, another which nourishes and feels, and still another which uses reason, is perfect and diffused through all the other faculties; yet no one thinks that there
are three souls in a human being,
as though we should say that mens nature is composed of many souls. For the perfect soul is really only one, intelligent
and immaterial, but permeated through the senses of material nature"
- Theological Reason
Invoking revelation we see in theological sources
that man is everywhere described as
simply composed of body and spirit, so that death means precisely the separation of these two. This therefore
supposes that the whole of life is
dogmatically to be attributed to the one principle of life, namely, the
Revelation aside, we can also reason from experience.
Self reflection tells us that we are
one subject of feeling and intelligence, so that with equal correctness we can say, "I think...I hear
walk." This argues to a single
basic principle of life, and therefore of both intellection and sensation. Going a step further we argue that the principle
of sensation is the same as that
of vegetation, for instance, from the complete interdependence
of the one operations on those of the other.
Part Two: "The Human Soul is Immortal."
- Ecclesiastical Documents
- The most explicit and solemn document on the
subject is the condemnation of the Neo-Aristotelians by the V Lateran
Council in 1513. "We condemn and reject
all those who claim that the intellectual soul is mortal or that there is a single soul for all men
immortal and, corresponding to the
number of bodies into which it is infused, is capable of being multiplied
in individuals, is actually multiplied, and
must be multiplied" (DB 738).
While the foregoing document clearly establishes the immortality
of the soul as a fact, it also declares
that the soul is immortal by intrinsic necessity,
or de jure, for in introducing the condemnation, the Council
says that 'These errors concern
the nature of the rational soul, which
means that the subsequent anathema
is not only against those who hold that the soul will die but also against those who say that its nature
Because of its cardinal importance, this document
should be briefly examined in its
historical context. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, paganizing writers of the type of Pietro Pomponazzi,
claimed that the soul is by nature
necessarily mortal. Pomponazzi himself seems to have admitted that faith teaches the immortality of the soul, but arguing
from Aristotle (according to his interpretation);
he said immortality could not be proved from reason. But
the Neo-Aristotelians as a body had no such scruples; for them the soul was
mortal, and demonstrably so from reason,
the Christian faith to the contrary notwithstanding.
Along with the new followers of Aristotle in the
Christian camp were Muslim philosophers,
like Abul Ibn Roschd (commonly called Averroes), who reached the same conclusion from their premise that
there is no individual rational soul.
They taught there is one universal impersonal and objective over-soul
(intellectus universalis), which illumines the inferior souls of individual men and thereby enables them to participate for ever in the great eternal truths. This doctrine involved the extinction of
the individual consciousness and asserted the impersonality of life
after death. In other words, human individuals
die, but humanity is immortal in the eternity of the objective, universal
intelligence. It was against both these
errors, the Aristotelian and Arabian, that
the Council of the Lateran made its declaration.
Consequently two heresies were condemned: that the
spiritual soul is mortal and that
there exists but one universal soul in all men. Therefore the converse, immortality and individuality, is an
article of faith. We should further
note that the individuality of the soul is a necessary condition of personal immortality, and is therefore specially
emphasized by the Council, e.g., by
reference to the individual origin of each human soul in the process of
- Sacred Scripture
In the Old Testament, the Israelites as a religious people firmly
believed that when the soul is separated
from the body it does not cease to exist.
The soul of the deceased was commonly consigned to the netherworld or
Sheol. Evidence for belief in an after-life is conclusive.
First was the fact that the body was given burial, which argued
to some kind of existence after death. It was always
lawful to kill animals, but not man;
which again showed faith in an essential difference between men and
the brute beasts. The patriarchs believed that after death they would be
gathered to their fathers and kinsmen, which meant more than merely being
interred in a family grave. Abraham, for example, received the promise he would
go unto his fathers in peace. His
ancestors were buried in Mesopotomaia, while he "was gathered unto his people," although interred in the cave
at Machpelah. And the same with Isaac,
where the same phrase occurs though he was not buried in the family tomb.
(Genesis 15:15, 25:8, 35:29).
Believing that a wild beast had devoured his son Joseph, Jacob wished to descend in sorrow to him in the underworld
(Genesis 37:35). David, Amri,
Manasses were all "gathered to their fathers," yet they did not rest
in a single family sepulchre. Attempts were occasionally made to contact the
souls of dead persons by necromancy.
The spirit of Samuel, called up by the witch of Endor, told Saul that
"tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me," which had
no reference to their burial (occurring
much later) but to their meeting in
Sheol (I Samuel 28:19, 31:8sqq.).
A Psalmist (104:29) and the author of Job (38:14-15) believed in
after-life. Gods power extends into Sheol,
as is shown by the instances where the
dead through His power are recalled to life. Sheol hides no secrets from
Him. Everyone there knows God's power (Psalm
139:8; Amos 9:2).
The sapiential books are particularly rich in evidence of the immortality of the soul. Thus the classic passage in Wisdom, that in the
sight of the unwise, the souls of
the just seemed to die, but "they are at peace...Their hope is full
of immortality" (Wisdom 3:2sqq.).
In the New Testament, faith in immortality is so plain that not
even the Rationalists question it. The de
facto aspect, therefore, is presupposed or formally stated as a New Testament theme - man is destined to
live into life after death, either in reward if during his mortal life he had served
God well or in punishment if he had repudiated God by sin.
To establish de jure immortality several approaches are possible.
It would be against the justice of God to
render a human soul immortal (if it were not naturally so) just for the sake of inflicting
punishment; if for no other reason
than because then man's nature would be essentially changed and the penalty would be inflicted beyond a person's
natural exigency. Moreover nowhere is there any sign that the immortality of
the soul is a gift, but simply stated
as a fact; whereas bodily immortality is expressly said to be gratuitous,
since it was lost by sin and restored by
Christ. But if it is not gratuitous, than
it must be natural for the soul to live on after the death of the body.
- Patristic Evidence
Since the immortality of the soul is the keystone of morality and the
foundation of the supernatural order, we
should expect the Fathers unanimously to
teach it, and, as occasion arose, to investigate, defend and explain the
implications of the doctrine.
Among the earliest witnesses was the author of the Epistle to Diognetus,
who declared that "The immortal soul
dwells in a mortal body." St. Ireneus laid the rational basis for immortality, in his treatise
against the Gnostics. "The spirit (soul)," he said, "is simple and not composite, and therefore
it cannot be resolved" (Adversus Haereses 5:7).
Besides writing a whole work De Immortalitate Animae,
St. Augustine has left us with the best developed theology on the subject. Arguing from reason
in support of revelation, he declared,
"All of us would not have a natural human instinct to be immortal and happy, unless we were
able to become such (Contra Julianum,
Running as a theme through patristic
writing is an emphasis on man's immortality and a preoccupation with its importance that are consistent with
the teaching of revelation. The following
are the principal areas of concern among the Fathers as regards this
- As indicated above in St.
Augustine, the Fathers speak of the desire for immortality as a natural instinct. They therefore
look upon it as a God-given appetite
which indicates an objective basis in fact. The universality of this
desire argues to God's intention to
fulfill it, in virtue of man's nature.
- More than once they speak
of the doctrine of immortality as the teaching of nature. We are
immortal because we are human beings, endowed with a vital principle
that will never die.
- When speaking of the resurrection
of the body, they compare this with the property of the soul. According to them, the bodies will become
by grace what the soul is by its very
nature. Consequently we have an analogy between the gratuitous immortality of the material part of our being and
the natural immortality of the spiritual.
- In order
to show that immortality of spirit is not only a matter of faith, the Fathers often invoke the authority of pagan writers like Plato. They conclude that reason alone, without
the aid of revelation, can come to the knowledge
of perduring conscious existence after bodily death.
- Without elaborating their proofs as in later
scholasticism, they establish the immortality of the soul by arguments from reason, notably from the absence of quantity in the soul.
- Though at times, some Fathers
speak of human immortality as a gift of God and not something natural, this is seen
in context to mean that only God is essentially immortal, even as only
He is self-sufficient being. In other
words all creation is a kind of grace, since God was not constrained to bring anything
out of nothing into existence.
The dogmatic truth of revelation,
that the human soul will continue to live for eternity, is
not only explicitly taught (as seen in the
body of the proof) but implicitly assumed
in the whole panorama of God's dealings
with men, as found in the Scriptures
and sacred tradition. Everything has meaning once this fact is established, as nothing in revelation
has pertinence to our life on earth, unless the fact of immortality be
However, we know that immortality of the soul is
one of those basic religious principles
that may be known by the light of unaided reason and without the help of revelation. Unless this were true,
we should not be able to establish
the objective credibility of the Christian faith, which begins with the existence of God and some concept of immortality
as rational premises for accepting divine revelation.
Several approaches are possible, to
prove that the soul is immortal, without appealing to the revealed word of God. Some
are more reflexive and others more
instinctive, but cumulatively they represent the cross-section of human philosophy on the continued existence of mans spirit after separation from the
We must distinguish two stages in the rational proof for immortality of
the soul, one to prove that the soul is
not mortal from a study of its intrinsic
nature, and the other to prove that immortality is to be
affirmed not only de jure but also de facto, namely, that the soul
is also extrinsically immortal. God will not exercise His omnipotent
power to annihilate what by its nature is destined not to die.
The intrinsic immortality of the soul corresponds to the de jure
immortality previously established
from the sources of revelation, as may be seen from the following:
Only three possible ways
are conceivable for the soul to disintegrate ab intra or intrinsically: either by dissolution per se, or per accidens, or by the loss of its principle
of life. Since none of these is
possible, therefore the soul is immortal by nature.
Dissolution per se, that is, by the disintegration
of its parts, is out of the question
because a soul is absolutely simple with no composition in its
makeup, whether essential (as man is composed of matter and form) or integral
(as are material things, composed of quantitative, divisible parts).
Dissolution per accidens, that is,
by the destruction of the subject in
which it exists, i.e., a body - is impossible because the soul is a spiritual
substance which subsists in its existence
independently of a body.
Finally dissolution cannot take place through loss
of its vital principle because the
soul, unlike the body, does not depend as does the body on another principle which is intrinsic to it. By its
nature the soul is its own principle
of life - its nature is to be alive; and it will therefore continue to
live as long as it continues to exist.
- The human soul by a natural
desire is drawn to want continued and perpetual life, which the mind can easily conceive and to which the will
is instinctively attracted. Such a
desire cannot be vain, but being founded on something deeply imbedded in the nature of man indicates an
objective reality and authentic finality to be attained.
- The morally universal testimony
of mankind argues to a native instinct implanted in the soul by God. "Go where we will, and seek where we will,
and as far back as we will, we invariably
find that men have always and uniformly believed in a state of existence after death. This
conviction is so strong and so universal
that we can only conclude that it is ingrained in man's very nature.
While overlayed with accretions and contorted in
some speculative philosophers, the
belief is too ancient, and widespread and consequential for human society to
be suspect. What the pagan Romans said,
Non omnis moriar
I shall not wholly
die, derives from an inner core
in man's nature and ultimately from an objective fact.
- Moreover we must say the rational soul has a natural aptitude
to live for ever if it has all the requisite
elements necessary for continued living existence, that is, for permanent immanent action
and operation. And it has all these
requisites. True the separated soul retains its vegetative and sensitive
powers only radicaliter. But the intellectual powers remain formally intact and fully operative. Also remaining are the proper and
proportionate objects of the mind,
namely, all things intelligible, which can be known without the concurrence of phantasms. Thus the soul can know itself
through reflection on its operations;
it can know God, naturally speaking, through reflection on itself as an effect and image of God; and it can rethink
at least the ideas which the mind
had acquired and kept in memory from the person's mortal life. Then, given
such knowledge in the mind, the will has a ready
object for desire and love.
The extrinsic immortality of the soul corresponds
to the de facto immortality which revelation so clearly teaches.
It may be proved from reason once the intrinsic
immortality is demonstrated. For if the soul is simple by nature, then
it cannot be disintegrated ab intrinseco, from within, but only by annihilation from without, i.e., ab extrinseco,
through annihilation by God. Only
God could do this, even as only He could bring the soul into
existence in the first place.
It is certain that God will not deny His conservation
to the human soul, once He brings
it into being. True it is not the business of philosophy to inquire what God will or will not do regarding this or that particular
soul, but rather what do the divine
attributes postulate, in so far as these are known in natural theology. On this basis we may say it is physically certain that God will
never reduce the soul to the nothingness
from which it came. This for several reasons:
- According to the principle
laid down by St. Thomas, God, who
is the originator of a nature,
does not remove from things that which is proper to their natures
(Contra Gentiles, 2:55). Now
the rational soul is by nature immortal,
and so in virtue of the natural order
it needs a perpetual conservation-influx from God. There is
also no reason to suspect that God would miraculously deny this concursus. When He works miracles there
is always an end in view which redounds
to the divine glory; whereas if the soul were annihilated, so far from adding
to God's glory, it would mean its cessation.
- Parallel with the foregoing is the principle that God does not
direct His providence against the natures He created but according to them. Since
the souls of men are naturally immortal,
to annihilate them some time after the death
of the body would be a reversal of
the known order of providence and in-consistency with the most devastating
- All that we know about the
natural law argues to the need for adequate sanctions in the lawgiver. In order to make these
sanctions truly adequate, i.e., both
equitable and efficacious, they must be perpetual, which in turn postulates
an immortal soul and not merely immortability.
Part Three: The Human Soul is Immediately Created by God Alone.
The Vatican Council defined
against the pantheists that, If anyone says that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual,
emanated from the divine substance...Let
him be anathemas DB 1801. Thus it is defined that however the soul originates, it is
not by way of emanation from the deity.
Benedict XII in
1341 condemned the errors of certain Orientals, on the occasion of prospects for reuniting the schismatic
Armenians with Rome. "A certain
teacher, wrote the pope, "again
introduced the teaching that the human soul of a son is propagated from the soul of his father, as his body
is from the body of his father. He
taught also that angels are propagated one from another. He gave as his reason for this that, since
a rational existing human soul, and
an angel existing in an intellectual nature are a kind of spiritual light, they propagate other spiritual lights from
themselves" DB 533. The Armenian
who held this doctrine was named Mechitriz, which means paraclete." By
condemning Mechitriz, Benedict XI condemned
generationism, even of a spiritual kind,
since the erroneous teaching referred to both human souls and the angels.
the Bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum
of Alexander VII (1661), the Pope
declared that, "lt is an ancient belief of the faithful of Christ regarding His most blessed Mother the Virgin Mary holding that her soul, in the first moment of its creation and infusion into the
body, by a special grace and privilege
of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ her Son, Redeemer of the
human race, was preserved free from the stain of
original sin DB 1100. Two
centuries later, Pius IX adopted the statement of
Alexander VII almost verbally in
his definition of the Immaculate Conception. Alexander VII, therefore, pre-supposed that human souls are created and infused
into the body by a special creative
act of God.
Pius XIII, in
the Encyclical Humani Generis,
when speaking on the subject of evolution
of the human body, declared expressly that the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that the human soul is immediately.
created by God (animas a
Deo immediate creari, Catholic fides nos retinere jubet) -
Weston translation, paragraph 37. Though speaking in context of the evolution of
the first man, the incisum on the
creation of the soul is of general import, as indicated by the plural
collective animas creari.
There is no direct, conclusive argument from Scripture
proving that human souls are directly
created by God. True the soul of Adam is said to have been created by God (Genesis 2:7), but Scriptures
are silent about the precise origin of souls after Adam. A suasive argument can be deduced from such
texts as The dust returns to the
earth from whence it came, and the spirit returns to God, who gave it Ecclesiastes 12:7; and the words of the mother of the Maccabees to her sons, I neither gave you breath, nor soul, nor life
but the Creator
of the world" II Maccabees
7:22. Both these texts show that God somehow specially produced the human soul, but not necessarily by immediate
creation, which must be proved against spiritual generationism.
The best argument from Scripture is indirect, reasoning
from the different passages which
say or describe the soul as spiritual and immortal. Then by analyzing the nature of spirituality or immortality
we conclude that only God could produce a spirit.
As noted before, the Patristic position on creationism
labors under special difficulties
because of the ambiguous (or better, hesitating) attitude of St. Augustine who favored immediate creation but
feared its consequences in the Pelagian
crisis. However there is a definite Patristic tradition which should
not be minimized.
As regards the Greek Fathers, it is commonly recognized that they had
no sympathy with generationism but, as a
group, professed immediate creation of the soul by God.
The Latin Fathers before Augustine are most significant here; and
among them we find, e.g., St. Hilary denying
that the soul is propagated by the
parents.(RJ 875); Lactantius declaring that,
"This question may also be asked: whether the soul comes from the father rather than the mother, or
whether it is generated by both. But I am justly delivered from this uncertainty, since
none of these three is true...The power of giving origin
to souls belongs to the one and only
God" De Opificio Dei, 79.
There are two distinct propositions that may be defended by theological reason: 1) that human souls are immediately created
by God alone, and 2) that they are created at the time of their union
with the body.
The first assertum, which is properly our thesis, builds on the
datum of revelation (also proveable by reason)
that the soul is a spiritual substance. Given a substance which is spiritual, and therefore incomposite
or integrally simple by nature, it
cannot be divided to give "part of itself" to someone else, as Traducianism and even spiritual Gene
rationism logically require.
The second assertum answers the further question of when the soul
is created, saying this takes place
at the time of its infusion into the body. This follows logically on the defintion of the Council of Vienne (1311-1312),
"We condemn as erroneous and opposed
to Catholic truth every doctrine and opinion that rashly asserts that the
substance of the rational, intellectual
soul is not truly and by its own nature the form of the human body"
If, therefore, it is defined that the rational soul is truly, per se,
and essentially the form of
the body, then it must be created at the time at which
it is joined with the body. Otherwise it could not be said that the soul
(created by God) is essentially the form of the body; since
then we should have either a pre-existing
soul (minus a body) or an informed human body (minus a soul) - both of which are theologically untenable.
Among the aspects of the soul's nature, undoubtedly the most important
in dealing with the modern mind is
immortality. Confusion and outright denial are so common in some circles that believing Christians need light and
explanation on this subject. However the other aspects also deserve application to
modern problems, notably the creation of the soul immediately by God.
- Unicity of Soul and Responsibility.
It is not immediately obvious how
practically consequential is the doctrine
that we each have only one soul, albeit with three distinct functions of life, feeling and intellection.
If this is true, then there is an intimate personal relation between the rational
part of our being and the lower faculties.
In terms of mastery of feelings, they are meant to be subject to our wills, governed by reason,
and not a small part of man's probation
on earth consists in living out psychologically what ontologically is a datum of his nature, in spite of the tensions
between the lower and higher parts
of our selves, they are meant to work in unison, with each contributing to the benefit of the whole. Moreover we
cannot say, as some psychiatrists
imply, that we are victims of the lower drives; and that when they rebel
we are not free agents with power (along
with grace) to control them.
- Importance of Immortality in Human
Life. A passage in Pascal's
Pensees points up the motivation value of belief in a life
after death. The immortality of
the soul, he says, is a matter which concerns us so strongly, which
touches us so closely, that a man
must have lost all feeling not to care to know about it. All our acts and thoughts must follow such different
lines, according as there is or there
is not eternal bliss to look for, that no step can be taken with sense and judgment unless we keep our eyes steadily
fixed on this point which must be
our final aim. In human relations, therefore, it is well to bear in
mind that no one, unless feeble-minded or perverse,
is oblivious of his final destiny
after death. No matter how weak a man's faith may be, we can still appeal to this spark of concern for the immortal
future to bring those who have strayed
from God back to their moral senses; and for those who are serving God,
to inspire them to greater effort in God's service.
- Time of Infusion of the Soul in the
Body. Though a subordinate question, it is still of practical value to know the common
teaching on the time when a human
soul is created or infused into the body. Three stages of opinion may be
Some writers, following Aristotle, held that the human, i.e., rational soul does not inform the body until the fetus
has been sufficiently developed and
disposed, which meant following the vegetative and sentient soul that
was previously in the fetus. The idea was based
on the essential connection that Aristotelean
metaphysics seemed to postulate between matter and form. According to this principle, once the body has been so changed
as no longer to be fit to retain the
life proper to man, it separates from the intellectual soul and receives these
lower forms which are suitable for the humanly lifeless body. In other words, just as before birth the embryo during
the early history of its existence
passes through a series of transitional
stages - from vegetative to rational - so at death the reverse takes place.
An extreme form of the previous opinion was condemned by Innocent XI
in 1679. The censured proposition read,
It seems probable that every fetus, as
long as it remains in the womb, lacks a rational soul. And it first begins
to have such a soul at the time of birth.
Consequently we should say that murder is never committed in any abortion
Until the last century, the old medieval notion fairly prevailed,
that infusion of the soul occurs some time
between conception and birth. However the
theory was variously proposed. Trichotomistically in the sense that the fetus first had a vegetative, then a senstive soul, both
of which were then supplanted by
the rational spirit with its triple function. Others favored transformism,
to the effect that the vegetative
soul first becomes sentient through the power of the
human semen, and this in turn through divine extrinsic power of illumination
becomes rational. Finally a theory of plurality
of forms held
that first there was a kind of plastic form, giving prerequisite organization to the
matter; this was dissolved to be replaced
by the vegetative form, which in succession
was replaced by the sensitive and then rational souls. The exact time
at which the rational soul entered was undetermined.
St. Thomas and Suarez, and Liberatore appeared to favor this theory.
The common position among Catholic theologians at the present time is
that the human soul is infused into the
body at the moment of conception.
teaching of some ancient Fathers, like Tertullian, Gregory Nyssa, Maximus,
and (probably) St. Augustine, two documents
of the Church (among others) are appealed to.
In his definition of the Immaculate Conception, Pius IX declared,
The doctrine which maintains that the most Blessed Virgin
Mary in the first instant of her
conception...was preserved from all stain of original sin DB 1641. Now
since sin is only in the soul, it follows
that at least the soul of Mary was infused into her body at the moment of conception. A
pari we may
argue that the Church believes all
human souls are infused when the body is conceived.
Canon Law requires that Care must be taken that all abortive fetuses, no matter when delivered, if they are certainly alive, be baptized absolutely;
if they are dubiously alive, then conditionally
Canon 747. The argument
is that Baptism may not be given except
conditionally, if there is a prudent doubt
about its validity; and there would
be such a doubt, unless it were certain that the fetus
was a human being. Yet the Church prescribes absolute Baptism of a fetus,
no matter when delivered (quovis
tempore editi), with only one condition, provided the fetus
- How does dogmatic anthropology differ from rational psychology?
- What do we mean when we say that in man there is one rational soul?
- Briefly describe and distinguish the three types of immortality.
- What does the immediate creation of the soul by God alone
- Give the English equivalents to the terms pneuma, psyche, hyle, nous,
and sarx, as found in the literature of adversaries
of the unicity of the soul.
- What did the ancient Atomists hold regarding the nature
of the soul?
- Name and briefly state the position of two modern adversaries
- What was the Origenistic doctrine on pre-existence; and how did the
Church react to it?
- What is Metempsychosis, and how does it differ from Reincarnation?
- What does Traducianism mean, and how does it differ from spiritual
- Explain the position of St. Augustine on the origin of
the human soul.
- Give the theological notes for 1) the rationality and unicity of the
soul, as distinct concepts; 2) its
immortality; and 3) its immediate creation by God.
- How do we argue from the IV Council of Constantinople to the unicity
of the soul?
- Prove from reason that in man there is only one principle
- Explain the definition of V Lateran Council on
the immortality of the soul.
- In the light of the preceding, explain the position of Averroes on
the intellectus universalis.
- What is the significance of multiplicabilis,
multiplicata, and multiplicanda in the Lateran definition?
- What evidence is there in the Old, and what evidence in the New Testament,
for the perdurance of the human soul after the death of the body?
- Summarize the main points of patristic doctrine on immortality.
- Outline the proof from reason for the intrinsic and
of the soul.
- In proving the immortality of the soul from reason, how does the desire
for beatitude fit into the argument?
- State and briefly comment on the main ecclesiastical documents for
the immediate creation of the soul by God.
- How can we argue indirectly from Scripture to immediate divine creation
of the soul; and what is the value of such
texts as Ecclesiastes 12:7 or II Maccabees 7:22?
- Briefly summarize the Patristic position, and problem, regarding Creationism
to explain the origin of the human soul.
- Prove from theological reason that God must directly infuse the soul
into the body by a creative act.
- What significance should be attached to the Catholic doctrine on the
unicity of the soul in terms of human responsibility?
- How and why should the instinctive belief in life after death be used
in dealing with people in the ministry?
- What was the Medieval position on the exact time of the infusion of
the soul; and how did the theory originate?
- What did Innocent XI condemn
regarding the time of infusion of the rational soul?
- Briefly explain the three (former) theories on the time of infusion
of the soul, namely, the trichotomistic,
transformistic and pluralism
- What is the present common theological position on the time of the
soul's infusion, and what documents
are appealed to in support of this position?
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