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November 09, 2005

Theological discussion

I belong to a "Theological Forum" which our Lord Abbot has set up to promote study and theological debate among the Ministry Team and some other members of the congregation who have a specific interest. Each of us is invited to produce a paper on a theological subject or aspect and to present this to the forum. Debates can, as you would expect, be quite lively as we argue each others points and try to find a common understanding.

We have had papers on "Relics", on "Profiling" on the ethos of Ministry, the principles of Islam and Sacrifice. Mine, which I offer in the extended post below for those with an interest in these matters, is on "Dualism", the concept that there are "parallel" existences of "spirit" and "body", that the two are somehow co-existent, but separate. This is really the Platonic and Gnostic understanding of God and it is in conflict with received understanding from Christ and indeed, from Judaism.

It is a persuasive and beguiling philosophy - all the more so because it seems to offer an explanation of the unexplainable. Read, if you wish too, enjoy, and if you you wish to debate it, let's start a forum!

The supernature of humanity – the dichotomy of the nature of the existence of spirituality and corporeal life.
Non fui, fui, non sum, no curo!*

An exploration of the Dualistic philosophy.

A paper prepared for the Tewkesbury Abbey Theological Forum

1.0 Introduction

When I accepted the challenge to prepare this paper, I little suspected the extent of the material available on the subject of Dualism nor the scope and range of the debate. Dualistic argument extends across a wide spectrum of human studies including psychology, theology and even into sociology. Arguments on the dualistic nature of materials and elements abound and even extend into the study of Quantum theory. It is my intention to focus here on those aspects which relate directly to the theology of the nature of the human “soul”, in particular to the nature of the human state; that is, is the material body by which we are defined as “Homo Sapiens” inhabited by a separate spiritual being in much the same way as the hermit crab inhabits an available shell, or is the body and the spirit one single entity which will continue into the life hereafter?

In selecting references from the plethora of sources a simple search of the world wide web, I have tried to find those which offer a balance between the position of the Catholic/Orthodox traditions on the one hand and the Protestant/Evangelical traditions on the other. Between these two positions, I have selected a few who represent the “anti-church” faction and who are non-Christian, pro-pagan, “wikka”, or simply “New Age” and who prefer to promote the “alternative” versions of the Christian doctrines and literature as being “more valid” than the “official” canon. Several other sources have been useful as they show up the thinking in Islam, Buddhism or other Eastern religions.

My research has identified the fact that such luminaries as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Manes, Origen, Arius, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Wittgenstein, Weber, and a wide range of Eastern philosophers have all addressed various aspects of the Dualist philosophy, either propounding it or refuting it. (Reaction to 17th Century Dualism: Article published on the Internet @serendip.com) To this list should be added the Cathars or “Cathari”, described as the last of the Gnostic adherents, and the modern Christian Scientists who argue that the body is irrelevant and the spirit is the sole “reality”. It has been discussed by the early church fathers and even formed a crucial part of the debates in the Council of Nicea. It forms a key part of the Zoroastrian beliefs and is an element in others including Hinduism, Buddhism and some related faiths. Even Islam has elements of Dualism in some of its teachings, in fact it could be argued that the Islamic concept of purity is Gnostic in origin and therefore entirely dualist. Manes, in particular, founded a Christian based movement combining Zoroastrian dualistic creeds with Christian teaching to found Manichaeism, a variation of the Gnostic heresy. Arius, also followed a form of this dualistic creed and was specifically refuted by the introduction and adoption at Nicea of the Nicean and Athanasian creeds. (History of the first Council of Nice: Dudley D, Peter Eckler Publishing 1925, reprinted 1999) From the 13th Century Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas argued that the Aristotelian view, though subjected to some important modifications, was the correct view.

Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), the French mathematician and philosopher is credited with the revival of Dualistic theology and philosophy in the 17th Century. Known as Cartesian Dualism, his theory of the Human Machine raised the question of the division between metaphysical and physical existence. Put simply, saying that the “soul” was res cogitans, totally independent in existence of the physical body.

Dualism, it seems, has haunted theologians and scientists, an argument raised by Elizabeth Newman, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at St Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, in her paper “Theology and Science without Dualism”. (“Theology and Science without Dualism”, Elizabeth Newman, published in Cross Currents and accessed at http://www.crosscurents.org/newman.htm ) In this she argues that all current theological and scientific thinking is influenced in one way or another by the Gnostic dualist understanding of the spiritual relationship with the material. Yet, ultimately, I find that there is still an element of dualism embedded within her argument as she does not address the question of the difference between “spiritual” and “material” other than to indicate that she sees the two as integral – yet God is seen as standing at the head of creation. In it, but not “corporate”. Perhaps most interesting in this argument is the pointing to the fact that the Hebraic interpretation of the “Word” is that Word is also Deed. Therefore, as pointed out in Newman’s paper, St John’s opening statement can be translated as:

“In the beginning was the Deed, and the Deed was with God from the beginning.”

In this argument, it is necessary for us to return our thinking process to the Abrahamic “Covenant” process in which it is necessary to return to a “creation” and “covenant” in order to create an alternative central mythos in which we can construct a new philosophy free of dualism. I remain to be convinced, as this seems to suggest a return to a fundamentalist vision which may be unsustainable.

2.0 What is Dualism?

Dualism is defined, theologically, as the concept of the existence of two separate entities, equal in power and status, one good, one evil. (http://www.gotquestions.org/dualism.html and Basic Theology: Charles Ryrie, 1992) This theory is most fully developed in the Zoroastrian creed, but it has echoes in Zen, Buddhism and other Eastern pantheistic religions which teach of a balance to be maintained between forces of good and evil in the world. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://web.gc.cuny.edu/cogsci/dualism.htm ) states inter alia;

“Dualism is the view that mental phenomena are, in some respect, non-physical. The best known version is due to Descartes, and holds that the mind is a non-physical substance.”

Underlying this concept is the view that the functioning of individuals is of two fundamentally different means – those functions associated with the autonomous and physical, and those functions which are on a “higher” order. In short, the two are in different categories and must therefore be centred on different “physical” existences. As, according to Descartes concept, the mind has neither spatial properties, nor physical reality it is a separate entity. The Cathars, whom some authorities consider to be lineal descendents of the Manichǽans, were rigid Dualists, perceiving all material things – and by definition, the human body – as being the creation of the “evil” spirit and the spiritual realm being the creation of the “good” spirit. In this sense they argued that the believer had to mortify the flesh in order to achieve purity and thus prepare for reception into perfection or heaven. (www.newadvent.org/cathen/03435a.htm Catholic Encyclopedia: Cathari.)

3.0 The Origins of Dualism

Zoroastrianism has existed for 3,500 years and embraces a wide range of thought. Only once, from 250 – 650 AD, when it was the “state” religion under the Sassanian Persian Empire, has it had a centralised control of its doctrines. From the first, Zoroastrianism has embraced a form of dualism, but, while little of Zarathustra’s original writing survives, some fragments are preserved in later texts which indicate his position. To quote Zarathustra himself from one such source,

“Now when the two mentalities first got together, they created “life” and “not living”. Until the end of existence, the worst mind shall be the wrongful, and the best mind shall be for the righteous.” (Deism: God and reason without Revelation; Dualism: Shapero, Hannah M G. extract from http://sullivan-county.com/z/dualism.htm )

Further examination of the teachings of this religious movement show that there are similarities with the “Yin/Yan” concept found in many Eastern religions, the “Good” mind being portrayed as “progressive” and the “retarding” one as holding back or even degrading the efforts of progress. Thus the two cannot agree or be compatible.

Classical dualism

In Greece, the Eleatic School, led by Parmenides, propounded a concept of a universality of being. In their view, everything exists in the singular, changes and plurality of beings are merely superficial. Plato proposed a dualistic vision in which he propounded a concept of “God” – and “un-produced matter”. The two existing side by side, the “un-produced matter” being chaotic, indeterminate and subject to fluctuation, but existing for eternity side by side with God. Order is due to God’s intervention and control, while disorder and chaos is due to the resistance of matter which God has not altogether vanquished. (Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

A further book, The Jewish Roman World of Jesus by Dr James D Tabor, (Extract found at http://www.religousstudies.uncc.edu/jdtabor/dualism.html ) describes “Hellenistic dualism” as

“a dualistic view of the cosmos and the human person so that salvation is seen as “getting away” from the world and the body.”

He points to the tomb inscriptions and prayers on tombs of the period and their evidence of belief in an “underworld” in which the dead reside in a non-corporeal state. Indeed, Plato’s allegory of the cave is said to be an example of the dualistic view of the world as a shadow of heavenly reality. (The allegory of the Cave, The Republic; Book 7: Plato) This concept is continued in Cicero’s “Immortal Soul” in which he describes the dream of Scipio Africanus in which he encounters his dead father in heaven and is given the secrets of the afterlife.

In Phaedo Plato postulates that true substances are not physical bodies, which are ephemeral, but the eternal “Forms” of which bodies are but imperfect copies. In his view, these “Forms” make the world possible and intelligible. Frege refers to these Platonic Forms as “concepts”. It is, in Plato’s thinking, the connection between intelligibility and the philosophy of mind that is relevant. He also argues for the immortality of the soul, but again it is the immaterial existence of thought that is relevant here as this he relates to the immaterial existence of Forms.

In the Platonic philosophy the immortal soul exists independently of the body, an entity it is imprisoned within, and which it strives to leave in order to live in the “realms of the Forms”. Interestingly he also argues that it may take many reincarnations to achieve this ambition! The major problem with this philosophy is that although he describes the body as imprisoning the soul, he has no clear concept of what it is that “imprisons” the soul. (History of Dualism: Stanford encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Accessed at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/)

Aristotle did not accept the concept of the Platonic “Forms” having an independent existence, apart from their entity. Instead he argued for a vision of “forms” as the “natures” and “properties” of things and as existing embodied in those things. Many philosophers have interpreted this as a “materialistic” view, based on the apparent concept of the soul being a “property” of the body. This would be wrong, because what Aristotle is in fact implying is that the “intellect”, though a part of the “soul”, is different from other functions or properties of the body because it is not tied to a specific organ. His argument is therefore, that the intellect must be “immaterial” because if it were “material” it would be limited in the same way that the eye “sees”, but cannot “hear” and the ear “hears” but cannot “see”. Augustine preferred the Platonic vision of “matter” and “non-matter” Dualist approach in his theology which also supported his ideas on Pre-destination. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand preferred the Aristotelian concept and developed his theology on that arguing that the soul, the intellect and the body are all one.

Later philosophers, notably Ryle (1949) and Kenny (1989) have argued that Aristotle is making a case for the soul being equivalent to dispositions found in a human body – but this is the anti-Cartesian approach. In fact Aristotelian thinking makes the “form” the substance. This is also the basis of the arguments put forward by Thomas Aquinas for the treatment of the soul, intellect and form as one – the substance of a living person.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also venture into the debate, a typical example being the references in the Scroll designated 1QM (also called the “War Scroll”) to the struggle between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness” which are not found in the Hebrew Bible, the Pseudepigraphica or the Apocrypha. Further references to “two spirits” are to be found in 1QS and are frequently referred to as evidence of the sect’s view of dualism, with the only similar passages to be found in Daniel 10:20 – 21 and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and the book of Jubilees. (Found at: http://deliriumsrealm.com/religion/dualism_1qs.asp ) The Scrolls are also concerned with the origins of evil, with the author attributing all evil actions to an “Angel of Darkness”. This does not solve the problem of the origin of evil precisely because the author of the scroll asserts that the Angel of Darkness is subordinate to God. Thus, it suggests that God is ultimately responsible for the creation of evil.

These and other related questions continued to exercise the minds of the Early Church fathers and gave rise to a number of “heretical” movements including Arianism, Manichaeism, Gnosticism and Docetism. It is suggested by many scholars that the interchange and adoption, of ideas and philosophic concepts was inevitable away from the “purity” of the Mosaic Law as interpreted by the Temple priests in the vast melting pot that was Hellenic Asia Minor.
The teaching of the Greek philosophic schools would have been a familiar source to all living in Asia Minor and the early church seems to have adopted a number of Aristotelian and Platonic theories from quite early. Under Thomas Aquinas the concept of this dualistic existence of God and “matter” was rejected, the concept of the separate existence of the human soul did receive further development. In this, the concept of an eternal world existing side by side with God is rejected. The concept of the Spiritual world, however, was given further definition and development. The soul was seen as “animating” the body and their separability was emphasised. (The Catholic Encyclopaedia: Accessed at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05169a.htm ).

The Cathars, possibly the most well known medieval Dualists, based their philosophy on an interpretation of St John’s Gospel which suggested that there were two equal forces struggling for domination, the one, worldly and material, evil, the other spiritual and pure, good. Their following was divided into Croyants (believers) and Parfaits (Priests). The Parfaits led an aesthetic lifestyle, eschewing meat (but consuming fish!) and presiding at the ritual meals. Both men and women were elevated to this status and celebrated the sacraments equally. Central to their belief was the understanding that “evil” had imprisoned “good” inside the bodies of humans. Under their teaching the entry to heaven was through the soul and the “spirit” had to first enter the soul to ascend to heaven. To do this, devotees had first to detach themselves from the material world, perhaps explaining the willingness of the captured Cathari in the purges of the 1200’s, to willingly submit to the pyres! (Mysteries of the Cathars: Cathar Doctrine: Southern France Guide. http://www.le-guide.com/catharindex.html )

The problem of dualism was raised to a new position however, by the postulation of Rene Descartes, and his concepts have underpinned a number of scientific and religious debates since his time, even spilling over into the field of psychology. In Descartes thinking (Cartesian dualism), the mind stands in a “cognitive” relationship with the world, and in a “causal” relationship with the body. According to Descartes, the soul is the thinking part, the res cognito, a temporary resident in the body, which is little more than a complex machine under its control. (The Catholic Encyclopaedia) The mind has nothing in common with the body, but is, according to Descartes, connected to it at a single point which he decided was the pineal gland, right at the centre of the brain. Thus, soul (the mind) and body are two completely disparate and merely allied beings.

It is the Cartesian Dualistic philosophy which has fuelled much of the debate on the subject of dualism throughout the 18th and 19th Century – and to an extent still fuels the debate with the scientific community of the nature of God and of the immortal and eternal element of life.

Cartesian dualism

Descartes certainly rocked the world view with his separation of mind and body. In his thinking, bodies are like machines. They function well and in accordance with a set of “laws” which govern them. As a “mechanist”, his view was that matter would proceed in a deterministic fashion unless a mind interfered with it. In this view, the “mind/soul” is the machine operator pulling the levers that make the machine deviate from its deterministic path. The principle problem with this view (and one which exercised Descartes and his fellows for some time) is not so much where the interactions take place, but how two such different things interact at all. Yet, his arguments seem to me to be more a development of Plato and perhaps Zarathustra.

Arnold Geulincx and Nicholas Malebranche argued that all mind-body interaction required the direct intervention of God. This is a causal view and is founded on the concept that the mind-body interaction depends on occasions for intervention and thus all causation is dependent on God.

A much more enduring attempt to overcome this impasse came from the work of Benedictus de Spinoza a Jewish lens grinder who was expelled from his synagogue for his radical ideas on metaphysics. Published posthumously as De ethica he attempts to maintain God as the one and only “true” cause without actually dropping the idea of causality as being operative in mental and physical activities. He abandoned Decartes “two substances” view and promoted what has become known as the “Double aspect” theory. In his theory, God is the only substance, the universal essence of all that is in existence. (The 17th Century: Reaction to dualism of mind and body: Accessed at http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/Mind/17th.html )

This theory would later be developed into a further vision called “parallel-dualism” but which I do not intend to address here!

Varieties of Dualism

The dualistic view of humanity (and a few related matters of time, space and eternity!) is pervasive. An example is the “Dark Matter” theory postulated in Astrophysics to explain the fact that the universe is heavier and has higher gravitational forces than can be accounted for by the amount of visible matter. Careless use of language often suggests a dualistic approach in our worship as well, examples abound of hymns, particularly from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries which use the phraseology “body and soul” as if they were two entities.

The best known “modern” “Christian” version of Dualism is the “Christian Science” movement, or “First Church of Christ Scientist” which has some interesting teachings on this subject. The website “Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry” in an item entitled “What does Christian Science teach” (http://www.carm.org/christian_science/doctrine.htm ), raises several points of doctrine among which are:

• Christ is the spiritual idea of sonship
• Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared
• Jesus did not reflect the fullness of God
• Jesus did not die,
• The Holy Spirit is divine science,
• There is no devil,
• There is no sin,
• Evil and good are not real,
• Matter, sin, and sickness are not real, but only illusions,
• Life is not material or organic,
• The sacrifice of Jesus was not sufficient to cleanse from sin.

Most interesting for this debate are the last three items, which seem to set out a singularly un-Christian position in the context of accepted teaching. Certainly the position that matter, sin and sickness are “not real”, but only illusions seems to reflect the position of both the Cathars and some of the earlier philosophers! I find myself unable to identify with any of their principle teachings, certainly the statement “God is infinite...and there is no other power or source” would seem to suggest a “Monoist” position, but this cannot be sustained in view of their position that “material” and “Spiritual” are separate, if illusory!

The medical field, particularly the field of psychology, has made use of the concept of duality to explain certain attitudes or mental anomalies as well. Some examples of Dualistic Theories are given below: -

Predicate Dualism – the theory that psychological predicates are essential to a full description of the world and that these are not reducible to physical predicates.

Property dualism – where “Predicate Dualism” deals with attributes or qualities, this theory states that there are two different kinds of property in the world. This theory steps in where physics is inadequate to describe what is there or what is happening; ie: the introduction of a “vital force” for an event to occur.

Substance dualism – postulates that there are two important elements, both a substance and the dualism of the substance, in short that it may have both a physical and a non-physical existence. Not so much the properties possessed as the thing which possesses.

To these can be added:

Epiphenominism, and

Other explorations in the realms of dualism include “Are Quantum Physics and Spirituality related” (Thompson Ian, Physics Department, University of Surrey. UK: Accessed at http://www.newdualism.org/papers/I.Thompson/qps.htm) which looks at the Quantum Physics and Wave Particle Duality and seeks to explain apparent anomalies in the behaviour of particles by exploring New Age assertions that quantum physics tells us about spirituality. Another paper by the same author explores “The Consistency of Physical Law with Divine Immanence” the abstract of which states:

“A model to show how the existence of physical law could be a reasonable consequence of Divine Immanence in the world of natural phenomena. Divine Immanence is seen as the continual production of the principal causes or dispositions which enable created things to act and change. It is argued that this is a physically consistent, philosophically coherent, and theologically sound.”

Perhaps the modern position on Dualism is best summed up by the Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati who says:

“We may believe in one or other philosophies of Dualism or Non-dualism. We may see these as contradictory or complimentary. However, when we want food or sex, or feel threatened, we automatically respond from Dualism, not Non-Dualism. If we watch a person die, or look at a corpse, are we not all struck by the mystery of apparent matter and consciousness? The higher truth quickly goes out of the window in such moments and we find we are faced squarely with dualistic, conditioned response of the stuff of our mind.”
(http://swamij.com/dualism.htm )

4.0 Soul and body? One being or two?

The modern view of the “soul” is flavoured by the secularisation which has seen steady growth over the last century or more. It has become a generic term for that “invisible essence” of the human being frequently regarded as a religious indulgence – or as Marx put it – something to deaden the oppressed peoples sense of pain and alienation. It is, in fact, in discussing the nature of the soul that most religions diverge! If one accepts that there is a spiritual nature to our lives, then it raises the question of whence it comes and where it goes at death. The atheist does not, of course, acknowledge the existence of any spiritual being at all and maintains that once the chemical processes that constitute a living body cease to function in “vital” way, the individual ceases to exist. No believer can accept this position, so the question of the existence of the soul, and what precisely it is and how constituted arises.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia has this to say:

The question of the reality of the soul and its distinction from the body is among the most important problems of philosophy, for with it is bound up the doctrine of a future life. Various theories as to the nature of the soul have claimed to be reconcilable with the tenet of immortality, but it is a sure instinct that leads us to suspect every attack on the substantiality or spirituality of the soul as an assault on the belief in existence after death. The soul may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. The term "mind" usually denotes this principle as the subject of our conscious states, while "soul" denotes the source of our vegetative activities as well. That our vital activities proceed from a principle capable of subsisting in itself, is the thesis of the substantiality of the soul: that this principle is not itself composite, extended, corporeal, or essentially and intrinsically dependent on the body, is the doctrine of spirituality. If there be a life after death, clearly the agent or subject of our vital activities must be capable of an existence separate from the body. The belief in an animating principle in some sense distinct from the body is an almost inevitable inference from the observed facts of life. Even uncivilized peoples arrive at the concept of the soul almost without reflection, certainly without any severe mental effort. The mysteries of birth and death, the lapse of conscious life during sleep and in swooning, even the commonest operations of imagination and memory, which abstract a man from his bodily presence even while awake-all such facts invincibly suggest the existence of something besides the visible organism, internal to it, but to a large extent independent of it, and leading a life of its own.

The many philosophers who have looked at the nature of matter versus the nature of the spirit all find themselves at a loss at some point to explain the link between spirit and body, or put another way between consciousness and reason and the all to mortal flesh that houses it. Philo of Alexandria developed the Platonic Dualist theory, teaching the Divine origin of the soul, its pre-existence and transmigration. In doing so he contrasts the pneuma or spiritual existence with the soul proper, making it responsible for the occurrence of certain phenomena and giving it a “home” in the blood. He also attributed original sin and transgression to the union between material and non-material. It was left to Christianity to sift through the various strands of German, Greek, Roman and other writings to see if anything in particular gave rise to further thought on this matter. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and others of the medieval church around the early Middle Ages wrestled with this strenuously and finally agreed the present dogma. Descartes on the other hand, postulated on the separation of mind and body and those of Plato and his followers that the soul is somehow “imprisoned” in a body from which it seeks to escape do not address either the issue of what the spirit is, nor how it functions in relation to the supposedly independent material body.

It was this dichotomy which gave rise to Monism, particularly among German philosophers following on from the work of Weber. In this view, the mind or “intellectual coherence” is firmly rooted in the real world, tied to the flesh and body in which it has its supposed origins. (Immanent dualism as an alternative to Dualism and Monism: The world of Max Weber; Aeschlimann S S, Eastern University. Pennsylvania, USA: Accessed through http://www.asa3.org?ASA/topics/worldview/Worldviews4-00Steiner.html ).

Returning now to the thinking of the early Church and to the work of Thomas Aquinas, we find that for the Christian Church at large there is clearly a view within Theological circles that the soul and the body are one and the same. As I remarked earlier in this paper this is not always the suggested view in some hymns which reflect the Body/Soul divide postulated by Plato and Cartesian Dualist thinking. Clearly, among the majority of the laity, this is not given a great deal of thought and perhaps the question should be “what is the soul?”

Here again we come up against several diverging arguments.

Thomas Aquinas wrote a treatise on Aristotle’s De Anima explaining his views, and incidentally, the views of the Church since, on this important topic. Thomas postulated that the Aristotelian position was close to the truth – that the intellect is a property of the soul. Ergo, the soul is an integral part of the body to which it gives “anima”. The dogma of the Catholic Church declares that the soul will, after death, be re-united with the body at the resurrection of the dead. However, for much of the 20th Century the ideas of Werner Jaeger have re-opened this debate with a revisionist view of the interpretation of Aristotle’s views on the work of Plato. To quote Jaeger’s own assertion:

“One might indeed raise the question whether first philosophy is universal, or deals with one genus, i.e. some one kind of being; for not even the mathematical sciences are all alike in this respect, — geometry and astronomy deal with a certain particular kind of thing, while universal mathematics applies alike to all. We answer that if there is no substance other than those which are formed by nature, natural science will be the first science; but if there is an immovable substance, the science of this must be prior and must be first philosophy, and universal in this way, because it is first. And it will belong to this to consider being qua being — both what it is and the attributes which belong to it qua being.”
( Stanford encyclopedia of Philosophy: St Thomas Aquinas – Beyond physics)

Further reading of the texts I have been able to access suggest that even the great Aquinas experienced some difficulty in explaining this, before finally settling on the exposition we have today.

If we adopt the position of pure Cartesian Dualism we are in effect saying that the body is nothing other than a Homunculus, a shell totally without a mind of its own; capable of living but only in the animistic sense, that is; incapable of independent or “higher order” thought. Yet here too, we run into the question of what precisely is meant by “higher order” thinking. What do we mean by sentience? For, if the measure of what has and has not a soul is sentience and higher order thoughts we have to reconsider our measurements of these things in the light of modern medical discoveries and the work of men such as Pavlov.

On the other hand, if we adopt a strict Monist approach we are in effect saying there is no separate spiritual existence and the mind, the intellect which is the essence of who we are, dies when the body ceases to live.

A further question which needs to be addressed is the question of when exactly the soul begins to be the person. Many now argue that it is the moment of conception, while the legalistic position is that a person has no legal existence until birth. The position of the Church is quite clear, the soul and the body are one whole. The soul may leave the body after death, but will, at some point be re-united with a new and perfect body in the life to come. In essence the Cartesian debate on the division between “non-material” and “material” is not entertained.

I find that my own position on this is quite clear; I believe that my intellectual being is one and the same as my physical being.

5.0 Is God responsible for the creation of evil?

It follows that if God is the single Creator of all things in the Universe, then He is also the creator of evil. If one follows the Dualistic approach, saying that God represents the ultimate “good” and this is balanced by the ultimate evil, thus God = Good and Satan = Evil, with good balanced by evil. Thus the universe is in balance, an echo perhaps of the Yin and Yang beliefs of Zen, Confucianism and other Eastern religions. However, this is not what Dualism is suggesting, since there is a tension between good and evil and Biblically there must be a triumph of good. Ergo, theological Dualism argues for a situation in which the soul, the divine “intellect”, is free to choose between the Good or the Evil. Thus it is the Creator’s permitting the freedom to choose that allows evil to flourish.

Many authors have struggled with this concept, some more successfully than others. Papers I have accessed in studying this topic include “Immanentism in Modern Dualism as the root of Western Secularisation” by Dae Ryeong Kim and “Dualism” by Lisa K Stors. Both they and several others do not even attempt to go beyond mentioning the difficulty this presents and then do not address it. Many other authors arguing for a Dualist approach seem to consider that it is the result of human or divine choice.

It is an uncomfortable thought for many that God may well, as the Creator of all, be the creator of evil as well. To argue for any other position is to argue that Evil is a parallel creation – one that is created by itself as a counterpoise to “Good”. Such an argument is supportable only in Dualistic terms.

6.0 Life beyond life?

The accepted Christian view is that the body and the soul are one entity, the soul, whether labelled the “mind” or the “intellect” arises within a particular body and is the person. At death, we, as Christians, are taught to believe that the soul continues and will at some point be reunited with the body in a renewed and incorruptible form. Dualism suggests that the soul, which is a separate entity to the material body it has just escaped, continues – but as a separate entity with new properties, characteristics and form.

Here again, we run into a suggestion of an element of Dualism, in the question what becomes of the “soul” after death and before the resurrection of the body in the life to come? Certainly the ancient Egyptians believed in a physical body being required for the after-life, hence the extensive and comprehensive attempts to preserve the corpse after the death of an individual. Judaic teaching suggested that the body, once buried, need not survive in any great degree for the deceased to be brought back to life from even dried bones (See Ezekiel 37: 1) – if God willed it. Their concept of a life beyond the grave was restricted to a vision of an existence in an underworld supported by the Pillars of Faith. This “afterlife” was limited to a very selective band of those who had fully complied with Mosaic Law in every particular and by the first century AD, the factions of Sadducees and Pharisees had polarised on the question of life beyond death.

Christian Dogma states that the soul leaves the body at the point of death and then remains “in waiting” for the resurrection of the body at the end of the ages. This is open to interpretation as a form of “Dualism” in its own way, since this again suggests that the soul (Descartes “Mind”) can exist separated from the physical body it was formerly a part of. Interestingly the Catholic Encyclopaedia has this statement as part of a longer argument on whether or not a soul goes directly to heaven or hell:

Even as in bodies there is gravity or levity whereby they are borne to their own place which is the end of their movement, so in souls there is merit or demerit whereby they reach their reward or punishment, which are the ends of their deeds. Wherefore just as a body is conveyed at once to its place, by its gravity or levity, unless there be an obstacle, so too the soul, the bonds of the flesh being broken, whereby it was detained in the state of the way, receives at once its reward or punishment, unless there be an obstacle. (Catholic Encyclopaedia: Summa Theologica; Are souls conveyed there immediately after death? Accessed via http://www.newadvent.org/summa/506902.htm )

Again there seems to be an element of Dualism in the thinking underpinning this, as again the suggestion is that the soul may have a separate existence away from the body in which it “lived”, or as Thomas Aquinas described it, to which it gave “anima”.

The Hindu and Buddhist faiths also believe in a “Spiritual” existence outside of the body and the various levels of “Nirvana” and the assent in reincarnation from one state of existence to another as one “progresses” in the acquisition of spiritual knowledge and purity is clearly dualist in its concept. Even in the Muslim faith, the concept that “those who die in defence of the faith” will enjoy the company in heaven of 24 “perpetual virgins” or “houris” smacks of a Dualistic approach, something borne out by the fact that 12th Century Muslim scholars expended a large amount of their energy attacking the Christian Church’s writings and thinking on the Aristotelian model of unity of mind and body. This seems to have been based on the original, misinterpretations of Aristotelian writings then in use in the Church. Once these had been corrected the position became much clearer and Bonaventure and Aquinas were then in a position to refute the Islamic writers. The Catholic Encyclopaedia states on this issue:

The logic of Aristotle had indeed been rendered into Latin by Boethius and had been used in the schools since the end of the sixth century; but the physics and metaphysics of the Stagirite were made known to the Western world only through the Arabian philosophers of the thirteenth century, and then in such a way that Aristotle's doctrine seemed to clash with the Christian religion. This fact explains why his works were prohibited by the Synod of Paris, in 1210, and again by a Bull of Gregory IX in 1231. But after the Scholastics, led by Albert the Great, had gone over the faulty Latin translation once more, had reconstructed the genuine doctrine of Aristotle and recognized the fundamental soundness of his principles, they no longer hesitated to take, with the approval of the Church, the pagan philosopher as their guide in the speculative study of dogma.
(Catholic Encyclopaedia: History of Dogmatic Theology: accessed at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14588a.htm ) Certainly the earlier dogmatic thinkers, such as Anslem of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux were influenced by the Platonic arguments rather than those of Aristotle, suggesting that a certain amount of the Dualist thinking was, at this time, deeply ingrained into Christian theology. (Catholic Encyclopaedia: History of Dogmatic Theology: A First Epoch, Beginning and Progress of Scholasticism (800 – 1200)).

7.0 The Communion of the Saints – physical or metaphysical?

The doctrine expressed in the second clause of the ninth article in the received text of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe . . . the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints".

The doctrine of the Communion of the Saints acknowledges the ongoing communion between all the members of the faithful both living and departed. This “bond” exists for all believers, as a bond between the material existence and the spiritual – suggesting a Dualist approach as it seems to have an element of Platonic “material” and “non-material” about it. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia the Church believes:

The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption (I Cor., i, 2-Greek Text). The damned are thus excluded from the communion of saints. The living, even if they do not belong to the body of the true Church, share in it according to the measure of their union with Christ and with the soul of the Church. St. Thomas teaches (III:8:4) that the angels, though not redeemed, enter the communion of saints because they come under Christ's power and receive of His gratia capitis. The solidarity itself implies a variety of inter-relations: within the Church Militant, not only the participation in the same faith, sacraments, and government, but also a mutual exchange of examples, prayers, merits, and satisfactions; between the Church on earth on the one hand, and purgatory and heaven on the other, suffrages, invocation, intercession, veneration. These connotations belong here only in so far as they integrate the transcendent idea of spiritual solidarity between all the children of God. Thus understood, the communion of saints, though formally defined only in its particular bearings (Council of Trent, Sess. XXV, decrees on purgatory; on the invocation, veneration, and relics of saints and of sacred images; on indulgences), is, nevertheless, dogma commonly taught and accepted in the Church. It is true that the Catechism of the Council of Trent (Pt. I, ch. x) seems at first sight to limit to the living the bearing of the phrase contained in the Creed, but by making the communion of saints an exponent and function, as it were, of the preceding clause, "the Holy Catholic Church", it really extends to what it calls the Church's "constituent parts, one gone before, the other following every day"; the broad principle it enunciates thus: "every pious and holy action done by one belongs and is profitable to all, through charity which seeketh not her own".
(Catholic Encyclopaedia: Communion of Saints accessed at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04171a.htm )
The suggestion here is that the “Body” under which this “communion” is facilitated is the Body of Christ; that is, the Church, but this is not necessarily the only interpretation of this doctrine. Indeed, a Dualist would argue that it is a doctrine which supports entirely the principle of there being a “Duality” of existence, that of the material or corporeal world and that of the spiritual.

The Westminster Confession further muddies the water, speaking of a “fellowship” being bound together with those before and those to come in Christ as their head. Yet this and other similar “Confessions” admit of this link with the “saints” while dismissing the concept of “Purgatory”, which again raises the question, where are the “disembodied” souls with whom we are in “communion”, if not in a spiritual existence? Does this not suggest a “duality” of existence this side of, and through, the grave?

8.0 Summary

Classic Dualism occurs in Zoroastrian literature around 3,000 years ago and permeates almost all Eastern religious thought. Plato developed the concept of “material” and “non-material” in Greek philosophy to describe the world, dividing it between “material” – the world we inhabit – and “non-material” a perfect and ordered dimension of which this world is an imperfect copy. Aristotle refuted this concept, arguing for a unitary system in which “intellect” and “material” were inextricably linked.

The early church favoured the Platonic view with such luminaries as Augustine arguing that it explained the imbalance and the separation between this world and the next. Later scholars refuted this and reverted to the Aristotelian model building on the work of Augustine, Anselm and Bernard until it reached its apogee in the work of Boniface and Aquinas. However, neither of these scholars seems to have confronted the problem still presented by “disembodiment” of the “soul” at the time of death, other than to adopt the position of the Church as reproduced above in extract from the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

The Cathar teachings seem to have been based upon a continuance of the early Gnostic, Arian and Manichǽan movements. There is some evidence too that their teaching may have influenced later thinkers, and seems to be enjoying some popular credence since the publication of the book the “Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. Even before this, as evidenced by the wealth of material available on the internet on this subject, interest in their teaching and philosophy seems to have a wide following. It is possible that it was also an influence upon the thinking of Descartes and his followers.

In the 17th Century Descartes again argued for a Dualist concept, arguing that the intellect was independent of the body except that it had to be centred on the pineal gland in the centre of the brain. In his model, the soul or intellect becomes an unwilling prisoner in a body which is little more that an animated machine. A container for the soul which the soul is forced to use until it can escape.

In the 19th Century, Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science movement, adopting many Dualist ideas and adapting these to her philosophy embodied in the treatise (some argue that it is the Christian Science “Bible”) “Science and Health”. Under the thinking embodied in this, the material is an illusion and reality – indeed the only – reality, is God. Thus her world is divided between the “real” and the “unreal”.

9.0 Concluding thoughts

Dualism in one form or another permeates a number of areas of religious thought. It is certainly a central plank for many of the Eastern Religions, and, as already discussed occurs in various guises in elements of Islamic thought. It has been, and still appears to be, a factor in many aspects of Christian thinking, even though it is officially contrary to the accepted doctrines and dogmas of the Church as a whole. It is certainly suggested in some of the language of hymns and prayers, even though this is not what the authors may have intended.

The argument centres on the question: “What is the soul?” and can then be extended to a second question; “Is it capable of existence without a body?”

If one argues that the “soul” is the personality of the person while they are in a living breathing body, the question then arises as to whether the soul is born afresh – that is a “new” soul is created – when a human being is conceived, and further, are human beings the only animate possessors of souls? If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then one must face the possibility that, as argued by the Sadducees and atheists since then, that the soul dies with the body at the moment of death. Ergo, there is no after life. If one argues that the soul can continue in existence after the body has died, and, as Christians, Muslims, Jews and others believe, does, then one must explain how, and if so, does this depend on the body being physically recreated in some form, though now, as promised in scripture, in an “incorruptible” form. Dualism would present an arguable case for the continuance of the soul independent of the body, and argument not inconsistent with elements of the Creed. However, if the soul is dependent on the resurrection of the mortal flesh – even in an immortal state – this suggests that the resurrection must include the material needs and spaces required for billions of the faithful returning to a material existence.

The problem for most believers is a simple one. As Human Beings we tend to think in dualistic terms. Something either is, or it isn’t. This is particularly so when we are touched by the death of a relative or friend. To quote Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati again:

“If we watch a person die, or look at a corpse, are we not all struck by the mystery of apparent matter and consciousness? The higher truth quickly goes out of the window in such moments and we find we are faced squarely with dualistic, conditioned response of the stuff of our mind.”
(http://swamij.com/dualism.htm )

In many ways, Spinoza’s “Parallel dualism” in which the only real substance is God and all of Creation is a part of Him either “in potentia” or “material” is possibly how many would describe their thinking. But, even here, Dualism has the problem of how to explain the links between one state and another. This is the major flaw in Descartes arguments and in all subsequent models, the link becomes ever more tenuous the further one probes.

Thus, one author can sum up the argument thus:

“Just as Materialism is usually associated with Atheism, so Dualism is associated with Theism (or more specifically Monotheism). Theism, from the Greek theos, "God", is the belief that there is a higher personal power, God or whoever, who is running things. This may be thought of in a naive way as a vague "higher power"; in a dogmatic religious way as the Deity of one's particular religion or sect; or in a mystical way as the all-embracing Godhead, conceived of as a personal entity. Existence therefore has a purpose beyond the merely mundane, and the fate of the individual and the universe does not have to be a meaningless existence ending in a total extinction.”
(Found at http://www.kheper.net/topics/worldviews/dualism.htm)

However, in an article entitled “The death of Dualism” Ibrahim bin Isra’il al-Hinjew can write:

“I have always found it ironic that despite his undoubted genius in such varied academic fields as mathematics, science and theology, Rene Descartes never once realized that sipping a glass of wine caused his mood to change.”
(The death of Dualism: Ibrahim bin Isra’il al-Hinjew; accessed at www.geocities.com/freethoughtmecca/dod.html?200512 )

He argues powerfully that the advances in modern medical science, and in particular in the fields of psychological and neurological medicine show conclusively that the “mind is inextricably a function of the body and not independent. He calls this a “new materialism” and argues in his closing statement to this paper that:

“We are all materialists for much the reason that Churchill gave for being a democrat: the alternative seems even worse.”
(The death of Dualism: Ibrahim bin Isra’il al-Hinjew; accessed at www.geocities.com/freethoughtmecca/dod.html?200512 )

Yet the problem remains as stated in the foregoing extract from the Kheper website: if God has no “material” existence in the sense of seeing, touching and feeling, in short in a human shaped form, yet His believers are restricted to a material existence – we are forced to acknowledge a Dualist view of the cosmos and of Creation. Even Wittgenstein’s Tractus keeps metaphysics and the ontological world at arms length, presenting a very monistic vision. Yet Tulley, in the paper Tractarian Dualism, argues that Wittgenstein’s monistic vision is nonetheless Dualistic!

Herein lays the dichotomy. If the Cartesians, neo-Cartesians and other Dualists are right, then we must accept that the whole of creation is a balance between “Good” and “Evil”, the Yin and Yang of the Confucian philosophy. Yet, if “good” – or God – is equal to “evil” – or Satan – then Satan must be a co-equal “Creator”, assuming that Creation is a created thing and not an accidental collection of gravity, matter accretion and chemical accidents which have led to the impromptu emergence of life forms. Patently, if God is a creator of everything good, then Evil (whom I shall call Satan for this exercise) must be the creator of everything that is evil. That raises the question of who created humanity then – capable of both great good and great evil? By this logic we become the joint creation or a hybrid creation trying to exist between to opposing forces! Patently this is absurd and it flies in the face of all that we know of God and creation through the scriptures.

Equally the Cartesian hypothesis that the “mind” or “intellect” is in some way the independent being that is the individual cannot be sustained for the very reason that it is impossible to explain how such a being would be “imprisoned” within a “machine” that is the body in Descartes rationale. Patently the “mind” of the individual is unique, but it is formed and grown with the individual from the moment of self awareness until the moment of cessation of this body. Neither Descartes nor any of his followers or students has provided an explanation of the point beyond the death of the body, except to say that the “intellect” escapes the prison of its material body.

Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and their related family of religions project a series of reincarnations in which a “soul” may be elevated or demoted according to the spiritual growth achieved during the life just ended. Again this may be attractive as an explanation but it rests at least for some on the assumption that no “new” souls are created in the process of procreation and that all births are the result of a soul transferring upwards or downwards. This form of Dualism also has a problem with explaining the links between old soul and new body.

Protestant and particularly Evangelical Churches also have problems with aspects of theology and some espouse various forms of Dualism even though they are officially and doctrinally monists. An example is the monist treatise written by Wittgenstein which has elements that are distinctly Dualist! Perhaps the Swami Bharati is right – we can believe it or not – but when it comes to the crunch we adopt a dualist solution!

Even in aspects of the received teaching of the branch of the Christian Church to which we belong, I find that there are many aspects which appear to be Dualistic in concept or at least in presentation, though perhaps this is more a case of poor presentation or lack of explanation of some aspects of theological concepts.

For me this is brought into focus by the realisation that, if I accept that God is wholly good and wholly spirit, then his being must be both vast and embodied in every living thing if we are not to wander into the Platonic field seeing God as existing on a plane removed from ours! To accept that Plato is wrong and that the first preposition is correct, I must then ask myself if the sun, moon stars and planets – and all the other suns and planets – are all living beings created by the one Living God. Because if not, then we are back at the position that only animate life has existence and therefore only animate life can be the “Body of God”. Even more difficult is the attempt to ascribe a “material” “body” to God. This would suggest that God is therefore bound and limited by the same physical restrictions that limit us – time, place and gravity. This is why I have difficulty with the Michaelangelo image so many Christians cling too.

Then we have the evidence that evil exists. If God is wholly good and is the single creator of everything, does this mean that He also created evil? Or does He simply permit evil as part of allowing His creation free will? As with the Dualist approach there appear to be a number of unanswerable questions here!

I suspect that the Dualist argument will continue for a very long time despite the Church having a singular Monist doctrine.

10.0 Where do I stand?

I find myself unable to deny that in some aspects of my faith I must accept the label of Dualism, yet in others I find that it does not describe nor even begin to explain my understanding of God. It would be true to say that it is largely in the life to come that I remain close to the Dualist position for I find that while I believe in “the life of the world to come” (Apostles’ Creed) I am uncertain as to the meaning of the “resurrection of the Body” having always understood this to mean the resurrection of Christ’s body from the tomb, and not the rather limiting and limited body I, as a human being, have grown and developed within.

I do not subscribe to the reincarnationist positions of the Hindu and Buddhist family of religions, nor to the Cathari, Cartesian and Platonic understandings of Dualism. Here I am closer to Ambrose, Anselm and Aquinas than to anything else. I suppose I shall just have to wait, with all trust in God, and hope for enlightenment and understanding in the fullness of time.

The more I learn about genetic research and the revelation of the role genes play in our physical and possibly mental make-up, the more I find myself wondering about the possibility that there may even be some aspects of “Pre-destination” which can be explained by “predisposition”. This is certainly true when one examines Myers-Briggs outcomes and human behaviour, addiction and many other areas of human behaviour that are still under research. As understanding in these areas increases it may well be that we begin to understand the questions posed by monism and dualism better.

All in all, in writing this paper I have learned again that I have much to learn. My faith is in God the Father who created us, in His Son Jesus Christ who has given us eternal life in His death and resurrection and in the Holy Spirit who guides and teaches us. I believe too in the life of the world to come and in the resurrection of Christ’s body from the tomb – I have some reservations about my own form post death and the transition to the next life which have yet to be resolved. I can but hope that one day He will provide me with some of the answers these questions need!

As for Dessau’s statement, the alternative title of this paper, I can state categorically that I do not subscribe to his third and forth declarations. I was not, but the Lord created me, I am, because the Lord has given me life, I will be because the Lord has promised me this in the resurrection of His Son, and I do care, because He cares.

*Dessau said: Non fui, Fui, non sumo, no curio! "I was not, I became, I am not, I don't care!"


The Catholic Encyclopedia
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Papers by John Belof on Philosophy
Kheper Website – various papers and religions
The Skeptics Dictionary
Cross Currents Website – Theology and Science without Dualism – Elizabeth Newman
New Dualism Archive Website
Phaidea Website – Metaphysics Tractarian Dualism Robert E. TullySt. Michael’s College, University of Toronto
“About” Website – general papers http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/philosophy/g/dualism.htm
Arthur Custance Library website: The Mysterious Matter of Mind: Chapter Two: Cartesian Dualism: Mind and Brain Interaction
New Dualism Website: Why must homunculi be so stupid? Eliot Sober; Mind, 1982 & Taking consciousness seriously: a defence of Cartesian Dualism; Frank B Tilley 2004
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.
Serendip Website: The 17th Century: Reaction to the Dualism of Mind and Body
The Death of Dualism: Ibrahim bin Isra’il al-Hinjew
The legend of the Cathars: Judith Mann
The Catholic Encyclopedia: Cathari


The perfect heresy: Stephen O’Shea


Mysteries of the Cathars. Languedoc. Southern France Guide: Cathar Doctrine


Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: What does Christian Science teach?


Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: What are the doctrines of Islam?


The New Lion Handbook: The World’s Religions; Editede Partridge C; 3rd Edition 2005

Posted by The Gray Monk at November 9, 2005 07:16 PM

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