Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On Immortality

The human soul, like the human body, is not immortal by nature, but only by grace. Why is this important? Because the alternative is that the human soul is immortal in itself, by nature. If this were so, it would mean, by definition, that nothing and nobody could kill us. The only exception would be almighty God, if He were to retaliate against us on account of our having offended Him. This is exactly what many heterodoxies tell us happened, and it is a huge and hideous slur upon our all-good Creator, Who alone has life in Himself and is Life and the Life-giver.

What happened is simply that our first parents thoroughly trashed their relationship with God, rejected and walked away from the Life-giver. They pulled their straws out of the Fountain of Immortality and tore them up. They died, as it were, from thirst. They did it to themselves, without any help whatsoever, unless from the devil, but certainly not from God.

For those of you with an academic turn of mind, here is part of what Fr. John Romanides has to say about it in his book, The Ancestral Sin:

According to the Apostle Paul, God is ‘the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Who alone hath immortality.” Theophilus writes that God is “changeless because he is immortal.” The basic presupposition in patristic teaching on the Holy Trinity, on Christology, and on grace is the fact that God alone is self-existence and, therefore, is immortal. The souls of men and angels are immortal not by nature but by grace. According to St. John of Damascus, the angels “are not immortal by nature but by grace because everything that has a beginning has by nature and end also.” Similarly, Justin writes, “Those things that exist after God or will ever come to exist, have a corruptible nature and may disappear and cease to exist. For God alone is uncreated and incorruptible, and therefore He is God. But all other things other than God are created and corruptible.” Against those who believe that the soul is ingenerate and by nature immortal, Tatian emphasizes, “O Greeks the soul is not immortal in itself.” St. Irenaeus argues that the teaching about the soul being immortal by nature is from the devil.

Some of Christianity’s first theologians insisted that the soul is by nature mortal and others that the soul is immortal. At first glance, it would seem that they contradict each other. Careful study, however, shows this to be only the appearance of contradiction. Against the philosophers and Gnostics who taught that the soul is ingenerate and by nature immortal, Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus insisted that the soul is by nature mortal. But it seems that Athenagoras had other opponents before him, and he repeatedly emphasized, together with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, the immortality of the soul. Irenaeus, however, presents both aspects of the same truth: the soul is mortal by nature but immortal by grace.