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Christian Anthropology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 2335 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay will explore, from the perspective of Catholic anthropology, the Church’s views on resurrection. The paper begins by looking at Plato’s dualist theory of the soul and its impact on the development of thinking. The views of Aristotle and his influence on the writings of St Thomas Aquinas on the nature of the human soul. It will also explore the notion of the “whole person” and then relate this to different anthropological approaches. The essay will conclude with the teaching of the Catholic Church Magisterium.

Plato Dualism

In the tradition of philosophy there are two main views of human beings; ‘Dualism’ where immaterial soul and material body meet and ‘Materialism’ where we are one being. (Selman 2000, pg13).

The ‘Father of Dualism’ may be said to be Plato who lived in Athens from around 428-347 BC and who was, as far we are aware, the first to write on the subject of the ‘soul’ at any length. Plato presents at least two theories. The best known, because of its enduring influence, was the one he developed in the Phaedo, which describes a dialogue his friend Socrates has with some friends shortly before his death on what happens at death. Selman (2000, pg 12) states that there are two main theories about the human body and its relationship with the soul. One of these is the dualist view, which suggests that there is a total division between the immaterial soul and the material body. The other is the idea that the body and soul of a human being are completely unified.

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In his theory, through the words of Socrates, Plato holds that the soul is separate from the body, is immortal, immaterial and pre exists the body and therefore does not depend on the body for its existence or survival. This concept -that the body and soul are two different entities, which happen to uncomfortably occupy the same space during life -is termed dualism.

Plato’s theory goes further by elevating the role of the soul. The pre existent, immortal soul spends time in the body -a period of punishment -and death releases the soul from its exile in the body.

Not surprisingly, Plato’s concept of dualism produced difficulties for early Christian philosophers and theologians, although his views were not unpopular and his view of the soul remained the dominant one in Christian thinking for the first thousand years (Selman 2000, pg15).


Aristotle was another philosopher who tried to explain the idea of the body and mind. Even though Aristotle was a pupil of Plato, his thoughts on dualism were very different from that of Plato. He still believed that the soul was the part of the body that gives it life and that the soul turned all physical form into a living organism of its particular type. However Aristotle believed that the body and soul were inseparable, the soul still develops people’s skills, character and temper, but it cannot survive death. Once the body dies then the soul dies with it. “The soul is the form of the body, because it is what makes the body be a living body” (Selman 2000, pg17).

Aristotle developed the concept that the soul was the principle of life and life is manifest in activity.

From these activities, he distinguished three types of soul: vegetative, sensitive and rational.

Plants have the basic or vegetative soul allowing them to grow and reproduce. Animals have a sensitive soul enabling them to grow, reproduce, and experience sensation and movement. Humans have a rational soul, which enables them to grow, reproduce, and experience sensation and movement and to think, reason and understand. In all it is the type of soul, which defines the form of the body and thus body and soul are untied as one being. (Selman 2000, pg 19).

For Aristotle then a body without a soul is dead matter. Dead matter no longer acts. It is only acted upon. While Aristotle could see that the body and soul were united he could not make the leap to speak about an immortal soul. This would be left to later philosophers such as Aquinas who would consider this point from a Christian perspective.

Aquinas agreed with Aristotle in the sense that he thought that the soul animated the body and gave it life and he called the soul the ‘anima’. Aquinas believed that that the soul operated independently of the body and that things that are divisible into parts, are destined to decay. As the soul is not divisible, it is able to survive death. However, because of the link with a particular human body, each soul becomes individual so even when the body does die, the soul once departed still retains the individual identity of the body it once occupied. Descartes believed the soul retains its nature in the absence of the body but Aquinas argued that the disembodied soul is in an unnatural state. The human soul is naturally the form of the living body. “Now that the soul is what makes our body live; so the soul is the primary source of all these activities that differentiate levels of life: growth, sensation, movement, understanding mind or soul, it is the form of our body” (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theological).

<è>St Augustine, like most of the Church fathers, was influenced by the teaching of Plato who considered that the body and soul were two substances. (Selman 2000, pg 18), St Augustine held that the soul, like the body, is derived from the parents in the act of creation. According to Augustine, original sin is transmitted from Adam down through the ages in this way. This is the way in which he explains how original sin could exist in a soul created by God because God could only create that which was good. He later renounced his view that the soul is traduced. This heresy was condemned by the Council of Braga in 561 which stated that the soul is not traduced but is directly created by God (Neuner and Dupuis, pg 167).

The title phrase introduces the idea of the ‘whole person’ as opposed to ‘parts of a person’, which requires us to discuss how a person could be understood to be in parts. The most common way to talk about the relationship of the body to soul is Cartesian dualism, of the separateness of the two. Cartesian dualism comes from Descartes, who in fact first argued that the body and mind,soul were separate and distinct so that he would be able to continue making medical advances without the interference of the Church. In saying that the body and soul were separate he made the soul the domain of the Church, leaving secular scientists to look at the body, whereas before secular scientists had been looked at with suspicion or even imprisoned for trying to make discoveries However, dualism has a longer history than this even in the West, with Plato and other classical philosophers discussing ideas about the material world as a shadow world of a pure world of ideas. This could be seen as another way of describing the sinfulness of the material world ‘body’ and the perfection of heaven, which will be the eventual home of the soul, freed from its imperfect trappings (The way of perfection by St Teresa of Avila CH 1 – 17).

The Resurrection of the Flesh

The quote in the title comes from the ‘The Reality of Life after Death’, written by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1979 and published amongst the Vatican II writings in 1982. It refers to the teaching of the Catholic Church of the resurrection of the flesh, in which it is not just the soul, which survives after death, but the body as well. This can be related to other Catholic teachings, such as its tradition about Mary, who ascended bodily into heaven (LG 58), and teachings about the role of the flesh and denial of the flesh in salvation.

Tertullian, talks extensively about the role of the body in salvation, making a claim for the potential purity of the flesh by pointing out that man was made of flesh before the fall: ‘the clay, therefore, was obliterated and absorbed into flesh. When did this happen? At the time that man became a living soul by the inbreathing of God’ (Tertullian 2004, pg 49). He also shows the link between the actions of the flesh and the state of salvation of the soul: ‘the flesh, indeed is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed, the flesh is signed with the cross, that the soul too may be fortified the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God’. (Tertullian 2004, pg 63) His intention is to show the relationship between body and soul, to assert that resurrection at the end of days will be bodily, and to extol the mortification of the flesh in the name of Christ, but in talking so extensively of the differences between the two.

Selman (2000, pg 60) states that the human body can be raised up on the last day because it will be joined once again to its soul which has remained in existence since they were separated at death. Furthermore, if the soul is not immortal then there can be no Resurrection (Selman 2000, pg 60).

For Aquinas, when God raises the dead on the last day, souls will be ‘reunited with what is materially continuous with what came from the mother’s womb’ Selman (2000, pg 59) states that the ‘same person can be raised up because the body will be restored to the same form’ as it originally had in this life.

The above views contrast very differently to, for example, the attitude of the Mormon church, as studied by Fanella Cannell (2005, pg 335- 51 ) . In her article ‘The Christianity of Anthropology’, she looks at the assumptions in anthropology, which are descended from its Christian background a particular sort of Christian background though. The Mormon Church show how the same teachings can be interpreted in different ways and that dualism is not necessarily, what Christianity has to result in. Not only do Mormons believe in full, literal resurrection, but also they believe that heaven is going to be exactly like earth, but perfected. In particular, they believe that people will continue to have children and families into eternity, and it is legitimate to ask questions like ‘will there be chocolate in heaven?’ a question that most other denominations of Christianity would view to be frivolous or inappropriate

Church Teaching Magisterium

The Catechism (365) declares that ‘the unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the form of the body’. The Council of Vienne (1312) refuted all other doctrines, which were not consistent with this declaration (CCCC 365). The Lateran Council (1513) also condemned any philosophies, which denied that the soul is ‘essentially the form of the human body’ (CCC 366). The The Second Vatican Council (GS 14) declared that ‘man made of body and soul is a unity’. Furthermore, the human body is not to be despised as it is part of God’s Creation (Gen 2:7) and will be raised up on the last day. St Paul said that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). As a result it should never be undermined, or seen as something that separates humanity from God.

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Vatican II teaching of the soul as a very separate entity to the soul: ‘we believe that the souls of all those who die in the grace of Christ, whether they must still make expiation in the fire of Purgatory, or whether from the moment they leave their bodies they are received by Jesus into Paradise like the good thief, go to form that People of God. ‘ (Austin Flannery 1982, 394). By using the phrase ‘leave their bodies’, Vatican II demonstrates that they see the soul and body as detachable. Even if the body is to be resurrected eventually, it is still the soul that gets to heaven first, after leaving the body behind (Teaching notes Perth).


In considering the question, I have looked at the nature of the soul from main philosophies of the soul as put forward by Plato and Aristotle. I have shown how Augustine, Tertullian, and Thomas Aquinas to present a Christian anthropology. I have contrasted this view with the Mormon Church and their belief of the resurrection. I have found that the Magisterium, in seeking to hold true to revelation and Biblical tradition, has preferred to use the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas, which holds that the soul is the form of the body. The soul is with the body now and will be again after the resurrection from the dead


  • Wansbrough, Henry. 1994.(gen ed) The New Jerusalem Bible. London: Darton, Longman & Todd

    Flannery Austin, O. P. 1982. Vatican Council II Vol 2. New York: Costello Publishing Co.

    Neuner J. and Dupuis J. 2001. The Christian Faith. New York: St. Paul’s/Alba House

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1994 London: G. Chapman

    Aquinas, St Thomas. Summa Theologica Part Ia q.75 articles 2 and 6; and q.76 art1.

    Tertullian, 2004. On the Resurrection of the Flesh. Kessinger Publishers.

    Cannell, F. 2005. The Christianity of Anthropology Anthropology Today 43: 335-51

    Selman, Francis. et al.2002. Christian Anthropology. Birmingham: Maryvale Inst


  • International Theological Commission. (2002) Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God. (online) Available from: Vatican web (April 2008)

    Saint Teresa of Avila. The way of perfection. (1995) (online) Available from:

    http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/saints/wayperf.htm. (April 2008)


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