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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.


  1. 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 soul.

    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."

  2. 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 religion.

    Science, definitely, 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, p. 423.

    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 God’s universe of sin and sinners." Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook, p. 4.

  3. 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).

    A milder 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 sin.

    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 sin.

    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 sin.

    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" (DB 1910).

    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.

Dogmatic Value

Each of the three parts of the thesis has its own set of dogmatic notes, with varying nuances.

  1. Rationality and Unicity of the Soul

    1. 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, DB 1783.

      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.

    2. It is also De Fide Definita that man has only one soul which is rational, in the IV Council of Constantinople, DB 338.

  2. Immortality of the Soul

    1. 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 also.

    2. 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.

  3. Immediate Creation of the Soul by God

    1. 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 1804.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. It is Theologically Certain that souls are created at the moment they are joined with the body.

Theological Proof

Part One: "In Man there is One Rational Soul."

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.
  2. 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 man’s 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.”

  3. 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 men’s 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" (RJ 1021).

  4. 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 rational soul.

    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…I 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."

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    1. 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…The soul…is 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).

    2. 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 is mortal.

      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 generation.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    1. 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. God‘s 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.).

    2. 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.

  3. 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, 4,1).

    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 subject:

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

  4. Theological Reason

    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 granted.

    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 man’s spirit after separation from the body.

    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:

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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:

    1. 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.

    2. 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 consequences.

    3. 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.”

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    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.

  3. Patristic Evidence

    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.

  4. Theological Reason

    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), which declared:

    "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" DB 481.

    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.

Kerygmatic Development

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 traced chronologically.

    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 DB 1185.

    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. Besides the 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 is alive.

Study Questions

  1. How does dogmatic anthropology differ from rational psychology?

  2. What do we mean when we say that in man there is one rational soul?

  3. Briefly describe and distinguish the three types of immortality.

  4. What does the immediate creation of the soul by God alone mean?

  5. 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.

  6. What did the ancient Atomists hold regarding the nature of the soul?

  7. Name and briefly state the position of two modern adversaries of immortality.

  8. What was the Origenistic doctrine on pre-existence; and how did the Church react to it?

  9. What is Metempsychosis, and how does it differ from Reincarnation?

  10. What does Traducianism mean, and how does it differ from spiritual Generationism?

  11. Explain the position of St. Augustine on the origin of the human soul.

  12. 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.

  13. How do we argue from the IV Council of Constantinople to the unicity of the soul?

  14. Prove from reason that in man there is only one principle of life.

  15. Explain the definition of V Lateran Council on the immortality of the soul.

  16. In the light of the preceding, explain the position of Averroes on the intellectus universalis.

  17. What is the significance of multiplicabilis, multiplicata, and multiplicanda in the Lateran definition?

  18. 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?

  19. Summarize the main points of patristic doctrine on immortality.

  20. Outline the proof from reason for the intrinsic and extrinsic immortality of the soul.

  21. In proving the immortality of the soul from reason, how does the desire for beatitude fit into the argument?

  22. State and briefly comment on the main ecclesiastical documents for the immediate creation of the soul by God.

  23. 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?

  24. Briefly summarize the Patristic position, and problem, regarding Creationism to explain the origin of the human soul.

  25. Prove from theological reason that God must directly infuse the soul into the body by a creative act.

  26. What significance should be attached to the Catholic doctrine on the unicity of the soul in terms of human responsibility?

  27. How and why should the instinctive belief in life after death be used in dealing with people in the ministry?

  28. What was the Medieval position on the exact time of the infusion of the soul; and how did the theory originate?

  29. What did Innocent XI condemn regarding the time of infusion of the rational soul?

  30. Briefly explain the three (former) theories on the time of infusion of the soul, namely, the trichotomistic, transformistic and pluralism of forms.

  31. 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?

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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