In the online philosophy class I took last year, there was a concept, a great achievement of classical philosophy, that really struck me and drilled into my mind. Throughout these last few days of Easter, the idea has come up to the surface so I thought I’d write about it (and it’s about time that I write about something in this blog). It has to do with human nature and the importance of the soul–specifically, as it applies to life and death. According to Aristotle, body and soul are two principles of one thing, forming a composite unity. He was onto something for sure. The philosopher reasoned that something that is alive has a soul animating it, causing it to live. In other words, the soul is the animating principle of every living creature. The soul is the form or “whatness” of a creature… it makes a creature what it is. For example, the form or soul of a pig is what makes a pig a pig. (My philosophy teacher raises pigs and has a blog called baconfromaco ). Now, the separation of soul from the body of the creature–death––causes the creature to cease being what it is. A dead pig is no pig at all. It’s just a clump of dead cells, a rotting mass.
This is where it gets particularly interesting. Amazingly, some ancient philosophers were able to reason that the human soul is immortal, because of its unique powers of reasoning. Pythagoras, for whom the is named said that the human soul must be immortal because it can understand immaterial, unchanging mathematics. Herein lies the problem: the human soul can’t prevent body and soul from being ripped apart in death. But if it (the soul) were immortal, and it is, you would think that it could prevent this from happening or at least go on existing somewhere until it could be somehow reunited to the body, now decomposing, which it left. How is it that soul lives forever while the body doesn’t? Aristotle, although he believed that the soul had immaterial powers, couldn’t understand the immortality of soul–when the body ceases, so does the soul. A disembodied soul doesn’t make sense. The necessity of the resurrection of the body then is something that can be arrived at through good philosophy. But there is no evidence of this happening (or is there?) so philosophy (temporarily) comes to a screeching halt–or more accurately, a dead end (see what I just did there?).
Now this is where the divine revelation of Christianity comes in. The problem is solved because someone has indeed risen, his body reunited with his soul never to be separated again: Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, as attested to by witnesses who saw him alive. Because of this historical reality, St. Thomas Aquinas and others are able to pick up where Aristotle left off! The immaterial soul of a human is immortal because it is possible for it to be reunited with the body, resurrected. Soon after the Resurrection of Christ, the good news reached the land of the philosophers who unknowingly longed to hear it. On one of his missionary journeys, the Apostle St. Paul found himself in Athens, Greece at the Areopagus, a renowned stomping ground and place of discussion for philosophers and seekers of knowledge. Being well educated in the rich Hellenistic culture of the Greco-Roman civilization in which he lived, St. Paul would have been acquainted with the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and the writings of other such learned men, so he knew exactly how to tell them about the Resurrection.
While there, he observed the shrine dedicated to a whole pantheon of gods included one in particular to an unknown God. This unknown God was the one that St. Paul proclaimed to the Areopagus. Interestingly, Socrates had been labeled an atheist because he reasoned that there could only be one God rather than a plethora of gods locked in constant rivalry. Within the non-Christian Mediterranean world then, it was not a totally novel idea to believe in one God. St. Paul brought the attention of his hearers to this monument to the unknown, invisible God and made known to them that he was real, known by those to whom he revealed himself. And this God, St. Paul informed the Athenians, was ultimately the one the poet Epimenides actually referred to when he wrote the words “in him we live and move and have our being.” it turned out that he wasn’t talking about Zeus. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, the principle of reintegration of body and soul, Who animates the soul. In his power, the power of Jesus Christ and God the Father, Christ was raised from the dead. And he causes Christ to live in us, thereby making us to be offspring of God (as another Greek writer, Aratus, wrote unknowingly) that we too may rise! God is the one who can answer the philosophical dilemma of death with the bestowal of eternal life, the permanent restoration of body and soul.