Tomorrow, November 1, the Catholic Church will celebrate the solemnity of All Saints. This will be followed by the commemoration of the faithful departed. Liturgical appointments that make us reflect on the double horizon of humanity: natural and supernatural.
The natural-supernatural binomial is historically used by theological reflection to express the two ordines in man, whose elevation to supernatural life presupposes the existence of a metaphysical principle called nature, as stated by the axiom gratia supponit naturam.
Man’s ability to receive gratia is not something radically alien to his nature, yet at the same time it is completely disproportionate to it. Nature is created by God in such a way that, if he freely chooses to give gratia, it is not opposed to this gratuitous supernatural giving; it does not demand it, nor is it due to it. Yet the Creator constitutes the natural order by inserting in it a passive capacity to receive gratia if given by him.
So, as gratia supponit naturam, so resurrectio supponit immortalitatem. The essential immortality of man
Ratzinger pointed out how the rediscovery of man’s indivisibility leads to a new understanding of the biblical message, which does not promise immortality to a soul separated from the body, but to the whole man. In fact, in the New Testament it does not appear properly as an integrative idea of ​​a previous and autonomous immortality of the soul, but as the essential fundamental affirmation on the destiny of man. If the Greek conception is based on the idea that man is composed of two foreign substances, one of which (the body) is destined to dissolve, while the other (the soul) is imperishable by its nature , and therefore by its nature it continues to exist independently from any other being, indeed only in the separation from the body essentially alien to it, the soul would reach its full perfection,
It appears clear, therefore, that the central nucleus of faith in the resurrection does not lie at all in the idea of ​​restitution of bodies. Rather, the true content of what Sacred Scripture intends to announce to men, as their hope through the figure of the resurrection of the dead, can be highlighted, first of all, in the fact that the idea of ​​immortality, which the Bible expresses when speaking of the resurrection , means an immortality of the “person”, of the only man reality. For the theologian of Tubingen it is a “dialogic” immortality (resurrection, being awakened!), That is to say that immortality does not result simply from the natural not-being able-to die of what is indivisible, but from the saving action of the one who loves us and has the power to do this: man cannot perish totally because he is known and loved by God.
From the considerations made up to now, the biblical formula of immortality is clarified thanks to resurrection which, contrary to the dualistic conception of immortality, as expressed in the Greek body-soul scheme, intends to transmit an integrally human and dialogic idea of ​​’ immortality. At this point, however, a series of questions arise.
In this regard Ratzinger writes: “perhaps immortality is not made to consist in pure grace, although in reality it must belong to the nature of man as such
Or in other words: we do not end here to arrive at an immortality reserved only for pious people, therefore to introduce an unacceptable differentiation of human destiny
Theologically speaking, perhaps the natural immortality of being man is not exchanged here with the supernatural gift of eternal love, which makes man blessed.
It is perhaps not necessary to stick to natural immortality precisely for the love of the humanity of faith, because survival of man conceived in a purely Christological sense would necessarily slip into the miraculous and the mythological
More precisely: what makes man properly man
And what is the specific thing that distinguishes man
There is no doubt, for the teacher from Tubingen, in affirming that due to his dialogical character called “resurrection”, the immortality belongs to man as such, to every single one, and nothing supernatural is added later.
As for the question about man’s proprium, Ratzinger points out that what distinguishes man is: “seen from above, his being questioned by God, that is, the fact that he is an interlocutor in dialogue with God, being to which God has addressed his appeal. Seen from below, this means that man is the creature capable of thinking about God, the being open to transcendence. The question here is not whether he really thinks God, if he really opens up to him, but it is stated that he is fundamentally that creature who is capable of doing so, even if in fact, for the most diverse reasons, perhaps he never succeeds. to translate this capacity into action “.
The specificity of man is so grasped by Ratzinger in the fact that he is endowed with a spiritual, immortal soul; statements that do not contradict each other, but merely express the same thing in different forms of thought. In fact, for the theologian of Tubingen, “having a spiritual soul” really means being wanted in a special way, to be known and loved by God in a particular way; having a spiritual soul means being a creature called by God to an eternal dialogue with him, a creature therefore capable in turn of knowing God and responding to him. What we – using a more substantialistic language – say “have a soul”, with a more historical and current language we indicate as “being interlocutors in dialogue with God”.
Therefore, when we say that the immortality of man is based on dialogue with God, whose love alone gives eternity, we do not intend to affirm a special destiny reserved for pious people, but to highlight the essential immortality of man as such. . Thus, in the last resort, for Ratzinger “it is not possible to make a clear distinction between” natural “and” supernatural “: the fundamental dialogue, which first makes man become man, converges seamlessly in the dialogue of grace , which has the name Jesus Christ. And how could it be otherwise, if Christ is really the “second Adam”, the authentic satisfaction of that infinite yearning that rises from the first Adam, that is, from man simply
“. The Greek concept of immortality of the soul and the biblical concept of resurrection
For Ratzinger, in our society, the relationship with death appears strangely contradictory at first sight. In fact, if on the one hand, death is considered a taboo, as if it were something unseemly that should possibly be kept hidden and banished from conscience, on the other hand, on the contrary, there is an exhibition of death, which corresponds to the demolition of the modesty barrier in other areas of existence.
From this it emerges that “the elimination of metaphysical fear has not been entirely successful; one would like to deal with it by possibly causing death by himself, thus making it disappear completely as a problem that touches the essence of man and that cannot be solved by technology “. The growing importance that euthanasia assumes, for example, is based on the fact that death must be avoided as a phenomenon that affects the person and replaced with technical death that does not involve personally; ultimately, we want to close the door on metaphysics before it can present itself. The price for this suppression of fear is high.
For the Bavarian theologian, in fact, the dehumanization of life necessarily follows from the dehumanization of death: by degrading disease and death, and placing them on the level of the technically feasible, man is simultaneously degraded. In particular, Ratzinger points out, “in tending to reduce the humanum, today we find two oddly opposed attitudes: man is in the way of a positivistic and technocratic vision of the world, as much as integral naturalism, which, seeing in the spirit the real obstacle, he tries more and more to denigrate man as an “unsuccessful animal”. With the choice of the attitude towards death, the attitude towards life is chosen together; so death can act as a key for us to decipher what man really is “.
Even questioning the professionals of the Christian tradition, considering the different tendencies, Ratzinger reaches rather unsatisfactory results. In particular, the works of the German Lutheran theologians (Althaus and Jungel), based on the antithesis between biblical and Greek thought, outline a conclusion that had serious consequences for the questions of the Christian faith and its announcement. Indeed, it is stated that faith in the immortality of the soul was born from the idealistic-dualistic thought hostile to the body of Platonism and has nothing in common with biblical thought, since the latter, on the contrary, considers man in the its wholeness is united undivided as a creature of God, which cannot be divided into body and soul.
This is why not even death is transfigured in an idealistic way, but experienced in its full and raw realism as an enemy that destroys life. Only the resurrection of Christ brings a new hope, which nevertheless takes nothing away from complete death in which not only the body but man dies. There can be no doubt: death is total and devours the whole man. Of course, the whole man will be awakened to a new life. However, biblical hope can only be expressed with the word “resurrection” and presupposes complete death. Consequently, the concept of the immortality of the soul must be abandoned as a concept that contradicts biblical thought.
Trying to examine in depth the historical-philosophical datum in its objective coherence, we note, first of all, that the (Greek-biblical) comparison between civilizations and ways of thinking is meaningless under the historical aspect. For the Bavarian theologian, this examination appears necessary to demonstrate the unsustainability of the usual Platonic schematic, on which the cliche of so many theological theories is based. For Ratzinger, in fact, the true orientation of Platonic thought is completely distorted if it is qualified as an individualistic conception that denies earthly values ​​and induces men to take refuge in the afterlife; the concept of the life force of truth, which includes the concept of immortality, is not the component of a philosophy that postulates escape from the world. Soul and body at the time of death
For Ratzinger, the question raised in the theme of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection, gradually transforming the entire panorama of theology, could not be formulated more succinctly and more dramatically than the German Lutheran theologian Cullmann. For Cullmann, in fact, if one were to ask a Christian, Protestant or Catholic, intellectual or not, what the New Testament teaches about the individual fate of man after death, with very few exceptions, one would always have the same answer: immortality. of the soul.
Yet this opinion, although widespread, is one of the most serious misunderstandings concerning Christianity. Pioneers of this new attitude were the Protestant theologians Stange and Schlatter, to whose thought Althaus widely adhered. Basically, referring to Sacred Scripture and to Luther, the concept of a separation in death between body and soul, as presupposed in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, was rejected as a Platonic dualism, and it was affirmed that the only teaching biblical and that according to which in man the body and the soul perish, and that only in this way is the character of judgment of death preserved.
Consequently, it would not be Christian to speak of the immortality of the soul, but one should speak only of the resurrection of the whole man, and oppose the current religiosity of dying, and its eschatology of heaven, the only perspective of Christian hope, namely that of the last day.
Althaus himself, however, tried to make some corrections to this thesis, which in the meantime was spreading rapidly, by objecting that even Sacred Scripture knows the dualistic scheme, which also knows not only the wait for the last day, but a kind of individual hope in a future heaven. The idea that speaking of the soul was not a biblical discourse took hold to the point that even the Missale Romanum of 1970 bans the terminus “anima” from the liturgy of the dead, which also ended up disappearing from the ritual of burial.
“But what could have revolutionized a tradition so quickly, which since the times of the ancient Church was firmly rooted and had always been considered central
”, Ratzinger asks himself. Indeed, the apparent evidence of biblical thought alone would certainly not be sufficient for you. It is presumed that the effectiveness of the new arguments derives in large part from the fact that the so-called “biblical” conception of the absolute indivisibility of man coincides with modern naturalistic anthropology, which sees man only as a body and does not want to know nothing of a soul that can be separated from it.
Although the renunciation of the concept of the immortality of the soul eliminates a potential conflict point between faith and modern thought, for Ratzinger, that is, it would still not save Sacred Scripture, since for the modern conscience the biblical path still seems much less viable.
In particular, “the unity of man – that’s fine – but who, given today’s data from natural science, would be able to imagine a resurrection of the body.
Such a resurrection would suppose a radically new materiality, a fundamentally changed cosmos; which completely surpasses the limits of our intellectual capacity. Yet the question of what happens then in the period leading up to the “end times” cannot simply be ignored. The explanation given by Luther, of a “sleep of the soul”, is certainly not a convincing answer. But if there is no soul, if consequently there cannot be a “sleep”, the problem arises, who then could be awakened
How is the identity formed between the previous man and the man who, apparently, it will have to be recreated from nothing
Wanting to dismiss such questions as “philosophical” with disdain would certainly not contribute to giving an explanation to all this “.
Thus we have come to understand that Biblicism alone would not have generated progress, which without hermeneutics, that is, without accompanying biblical data with reason, nothing would have been achieved. At this point, observes the Bavarian theologian, wanting to disregard radical attempts that intend to solve the problem by opposing all objectifying claims and admitting only existential interpretations, two ways have been tried: on the one hand, the formulation of a new concept of time and on the other hand, the interpretation of corporeality in a new way. In particular, with the first conceptual sphere, we try to resolve the question by recalling the fact that the “end of time”, as such, is no longer time.
Therefore, it does not indicate a future date on the calendar, but rather a non-time, so that it is out of time and close to every time in an equal way. From this concept, the easy conclusion was drawn that, since death is also an “out of time”, it leads to temporality. Thus the thesis was imposed that time is a form of physical life; death means leaving time to enter eternity, in its only today. In this regard, for Ratzinger, two considerations emerge.
The first: “It is perhaps not a question here of a veiled restoration of the doctrine of immortality which, from a philosophical point of view, is based on somewhat rash assumptions
In fact, here the resurrection is already assumed for the man who has just died, for the man who is about to be taken to the tomb ”. In fact, the indivisibility of man and his link with his physical life that has just been extinguished, that is, that indivisibility that had been the starting point of the thesis, now seems to no longer have any importance.
Although such thoughts may make sense, Ratzinger still wonders: “by what right can one still speak of” corporeality “when one explicitly denies any relationship with matter, to which it is allowed to participate in eternity only in so far as it was a” ecstatic moment of a human exercise of freedom “. In any case, even in this model the body is abandoned to death, while at the same time a survival of man is affirmed. Therefore, the refutation of the concept of the soul loses its credibility, since it implicitly admits the existence of a personal “reality”, separate from the body, which is exactly what the concept of the soul had wanted to express. Regarding the problem of corporeality and the existence of the soul, therefore, there remains a strange mixture of conceptions,
The second consideration concerns the philosophy of time and history, which, for the Bavarian theologian, represents the lever of everything: “it is really only in this way that there exists that alternative to physical time and non-time that is identified with eternity
It is logically possible to place man, who has lived the decisive period of his existence in time, in the structure of pure timelessness
. Therefore, an eternity that has a beginning is eternity
It is not, something that has a beginning necessarily not -eternal, temporal
But how can we deny that the resurrection of man has a beginning, that is, that takes place after his death
It is clear, for Ratzinger, that if we denied it, logic would force us to conceive man as already risen in the sphere of eternity that has no beginning; which would mean contradicting any serious anthropology and practically falling into the very Platonism we intend to fight. Even the reference to the medieval concept of the aevum of the German theologian Lohfink, supporter of the thesis of the resurrection in death itself does not eliminate the previous questions, rather “it is necessary here to denounce once again a Platonism accentuated under a double aspect: first of all, in similar models the body is definitively deprived of the hope of salvation and, secondly, with the aevum the setting of history is less than the doctrine of Plato, above all because it lacks logic ”. The _indestructibility of life that opens up in faith
In order to be able to judge the real importance of the Greek influence on Christian thought, and to be able to formulate some sensible affirmation on the development of the latter, it is indispensable, for Ratzinger, to reflect on which the Greek attitude towards our problem. The legacy of antiquity did not convey any clear conception about the fate of man after death; from here, the ancient Church could not draw its answers in this regard. Rather, the conceptions developed in the ancient Church on the origin of man between death and resurrection, are based on Jewish traditions, on the existence of man in the sheol, traditions that the New Testament has transmitted and centered on Christology.
No other conception can stand up in the face of historical facts. Which means that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, as taught by the ancient Church, has two aspects. On the one hand, in fact, “it is determined by the Christological center, which guarantees the believer the indestructibility of the life which opens up for him in faith; it bases this theological affirmation on the concept of sheol as its anthropological substratum and therefore rests on a basic universal-human conception, which however, although in the meantime it has developed further with respect to the archaic conceptions, had not been sufficiently deepened as regards its anthropological implications. This is why it did not even have a single terminology. As in the Jewish tradition, the vehicle of “being with Christ”,
On the other hand, both terms were influenced by the widespread Gnostic systems, in which the psyche (soul) was considered to be of a lower degree than the spirit of the “tires”. At this point, as Ratzinger points out, it is clear that precisely when it was a question of maintaining the central certainty of existence with Christ that lasts beyond death, and of the expectation of the definitive resurrection of the flesh, there was a need to give this affirmation an anthropological basis.
Equally evident is that the Christian faith required from anthropology reasons that none of the existing anthropologies could give it, but whose concepts it could have used adequately reworked. In fact, it was necessary to develop an anthropology which on the one hand recognized man as the work of God, created and willed by God as a whole, but which, on the other hand, distinguished in this man between what is perishable and what is remains. In turn, this distinction had to be made in such a way as to leave the way open to the resurrection, that is, to the definitive unity of man and creation.
Such an anthropology should have reconciled in itself precisely what Plato and Aristotle diverged on. If, on the one hand, it was necessary to welcome the inseparable unity between the body and the psyche taught by Aristotle, on the other hand it was necessary to avoid interpreting the psyche in the sense of a ἐντελέχεια. Furthermore, it was necessary to highlight the particular spiritual character of the psyche without dissolving it in a universalistic conception of the spirit.
Faced with the difficulty of such an undertaking, it is not surprising that this synthesis has matured only slowly; it will find its definitive form only in Thomas Aquinas. With Aquinas, in fact, as Ratzinger points out, an extremely important affirmation was reached: in man, the spirit is so one with the body that the term “form” can be fully attributed to it. And, conversely, the shape of the body is such as to be spirit, and as such it makes man a person.
With this, what seemed impossible from the philosophical point of view has been achieved, and justice is done to the apparently even contradictory demands of the doctrine of creation and the now crystallized concept of sheol: the soul is part of the body as a form, but what it forms the body and spirit at the same time and makes man a person by opening up to him the reality of immortality. Being a central principle here, the Bavarian theologian reaffirms how the concept of the soul, as it was used in the liturgy and in theology up to the Second Vatican Council, has as little in common with antiquity as the concept of the resurrection; in fact, it is a specifically Christian concept and only for this reason could it be formulated on the ground of the Christian faith, of which it expresses the vision of God, of the world and of man in the field of anthropology. In reality, the poignant Greek desire for vision, the Greek concept that to contemplate and live, that knowledge, the assimilation of truth and life – this great conquest of the Greek spirit – is welcomed here and is confirmed here.
And referring to a homily by Gregory of Nyssa, Ratzinger observes that “the Platonic thought of life that springs from the truth is deepened here in its Christological version and transformed into a dialogic conception of the existence of man, which at the same time contains affirmations of the whole concrete on what leads man on the path of immortality and therefore transforms the apparently speculative theory into a practical indication: that “purification” of the heart that is accomplished in the patience of faith and in the love that is born from it, finds support in the Lord, who alone makes the paradoxical journey on the water possible and thereby confers a sense of the absurd existence of man ”.
This fundamental conception, characteristic for the tradition of Christian thought, appears in Aquinas inserted in an interpretation of the dynamics of the whole creation towards God. In fact, in the soul which belongs, on the one hand, entirely to the material world, but from the on the other hand it transcends this world, the material world acquires awareness of itself, and that is precisely because in man it tends to God; which is why the dialogic conception, born from the Christological vision of man and at the same time connected to the problem of matter, of the dynamic unity of the whole created world, is accepted. The creatural destination of man to immortalityIf it is affirmed that the life of man, beyond death, is determined dialogically and dialogue is concretized on the basis of Christology, at this point, for the Bavarian theologian, we cannot but ask ourselves if we do not abandon ourselves to a supernaturalism, that either it no longer answers the questions common to all men, or it extends Christology to the point of making it lose what is specific to it. In fact, if immortality is conceived only as gratia, or even as the privilege of the devotees only, it adapts itself to the miraculous and loses its rational basis; for Ratzinger, rather, it delineates that the search for God is not just any intellectual whim for man; if understood on the basis of the formula anima forma corporis, it touches the center of his being.
Man, as a creature, is made in a way which, by its nature, entails indestructibility. Thus, “it is not in being himself and in incommunication that man achieves immortality, but precisely in his relationship, in the ability to communicate with God, we must now add that this openness is not an” extra “in the existence, which could also be lived independently of it, but that this opening represents what is most profound in man, namely what we call “soul”. One can also arrive at the same knowledge from another direction and say for example: a being is all the more himself the more he is open, the more he communicates. Which, in turn, leads to the knowledge that man is “himself”, that is, he is a “person” insofar as he is open to the whole and to the deepest being “.
A similar openness, for Ratzinger, is given to man, and therefore is not a product of his own effort. However, it is given to man as a person, so that he is now part of man’s personality, according to the intention of creation. And referring to the teaching of Thomas, he states: “Thomas refers to this when he says that immortality belongs to man by nature. At the basis of his affirmation we find coherently his concept of creation, which says how such a nature can be communicated only by the Creator, but that man becomes the owner of this gift, becoming a participant in what has been conferred on him. Which actually constitutes an answer to the question: what happens, however, when man lives contrary to his nature, when he is closed instead of open
What if he denies his relationship with God or does not even realize it
Now the significance of the concept of creation is clarified, and the place where the novelty begins, the particularity of Christology, is highlighted. In fact, man, as he is, would like to procure immortality from himself, but in the attempt to procure eternity for himself he can ultimately fail, he sinks into non-being, and even surrenders his life to death.
As for the correlation between sin and death, Ratzinger observes: “such an existence, in which man intends to replace God and wants to affirm his own autonomy, his own independence and therefore be only himself,” like a God ” becomes a sheol existence, a being in non-being, a shadow life that is excluded from true life. But this does not mean that man can revoke or annul God’s creation on his own. What follows is not pure nothingness. Man, like any other creature, can always move only within creation, but he cannot produce it himself, he can precipitate it into pure nothingness. What he obtains in this way is therefore not the annulment of being, but a being in contradiction with itself, a potentiality that denies itself: the “sheol”. The connatural ordination to truth, to God,
Only at this point, for Ratzinger, is the properly Christological affirmation grafted. The Christian event, in fact, means that God cancels this self-contradiction without destroying man’s freedom with an arbitrary act from the outside. More specifically, “in the life and death of Christ it is manifest that God himself goes to sheol, establishes communication in the place of incommunicability, heals the blind (Jn 9) and thus creates the life of death, in the midst of death. And here the Christian teaching on eternal life again becomes an absolutely practical statement. Immortality cannot be produced and, although it is a gift of creation, it is not simply a natural fact. If it is considered as such, it turns, on the contrary, into unhappiness. It is based on a relationship that is offered to us, but that precisely in order to be offered, it involves us personally: it calls to a practice of receiving, to the model of the descent of Jesus (Phil 2: 5-11) against the eritis sicut Deus, against total emancipation, in which it would be vain to want seek salvation. If the ability to know the truth and the ability to love are man’s place in which eternal life opens up for him and where it receives meaning, this eternal life becomes the theme of “today” and the forma corporis as well in the sense that it does not alienate man from the world, but removes him from anarchist informality and makes him a person “.The spiritual man and his relationship with God in time
At this point, for the Bavarian theologian, it is necessary to reflect on which way man has time as man, and if on this basis it is possible to conceive a way of being of the man out of the physical conditions of being. Thus, deepening the question, it emerges that temporality is present in man in different layers, and therefore also in different ways. In this regard, the most valid help for such an analysis can come from Augustine’s Book X of the Confessiones, in which he passes through the various layers of his being and encounters “memory” there.
From the aforementioned analysis, Ratzinger observes that man, as a body “participates in physical time which, according to the rotational speed of bodies, is measured with parameters which, being in turn movement, are both relative. However, man is not only a body, but also a spirit. Since both are inseparable in him, his belonging to the material world necessarily also has repercussions on his spiritual being; however the latter cannot be analyzed on the basis of physical facts alone. Although his participation in physical time stamps the time of his spirit, in his spiritual functions he is nevertheless “temporal” in a different and deeper way than are physical bodies. ”
Therefore, man does not have only one physical time, but also has his own anthropological time or “human time”, connecting to the “time-memory” of the saint of Hippo and although this time-memory is marked by the relationship of man with the physical world, it is not totally linked to the latter and does not merge even totally with it. Which means that when he leaves the βίος mode, memory-time separates from physical time to persist later as pure memory-time, but does not transform into eternity. Ultimately, this means that an eternally unrelated and therefore also static parallelism between the material and the spiritual world contradicts the raison d’etre of history, contradicts God’s creation and contradicts the word of the Bible.

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