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CHAPTER LXXIX: THAT THE HUMAN SOUL IS NOT CORRUPTED WHEN THE BODY IS CORRUPTED

FROM the foregoing, then, we can clearly show that the human soul is not corrupted when the body is corrupted.


For it was proved above[1] that every intellectual substance is incorruptible. Now man's soul is an intellectual substance, as we have proved.[2] Therefore it follows that the human soul is incorruptible.


Again. Nothing is corrupted on account of that wherein its perfection consists: for these changes are contrary to one another, those namely which tend to perfection and corruption. Now the perfection of the human soul consists in a certain abstraction from the body: for the soul is perfected by knowledge and virtue; and as to knowledge it is perfected the more it considers immaterial things, while the perfection of virtue consists in man not following the passions of the body, but tempering and curbing them according to reason. Therefore the soul is not corrupted through being separated from the body.


If, however, it be said that the soul's perfection consists in its being separated from the body as regards operation; and its corruption, in its being separated as regards being, this reply is not to the point. Because a thing's operation points to its substance and being, since a thing acts according as it is a being, and a thing's proper operation follows its proper nature. Wherefore the operation of a thing cannot be perfected except in so far as that thing's substance is perfected. Hence if the soul is perfected, as to its operation, in quitting the body, its incorporeal substance will not fail in its being, through being separated from the body.


Again. That which properly perfects man in his soul is something incorruptible: because the proper operation of man, as man, is to understand; since it is in this that he differs from brutes, plants, and inanimate things. Now the object of the act of understanding is properly the universal and the incorruptible as such: and perfection should be proportionate to the perfectible. Therefore the human soul is incorruptible.


Moreover. The natural appetite cannot possibly be frustrated. Now man naturally desires to exist always: which is evidenced by the fact that being is that which all things desire; and man by his intellect apprehends being not merely as now, as dumb animals do, but simply.[3]


Therefore man acquires perpetuity in regard to his soul, which apprehends being simply and for all time.


Again. Whatever is received in a thing is received therein according to the mode of that in which it is. Now the forms of things are received in the possible intellect according as they are actually intelligible. And they are actually intelligible according as they are immaterial, universal, and consequently incorruptible. Therefore the possible intellect is incorruptible. But, as we proved above,[4] the possible intellect is part of the human soul. Therefore the human soul is incorruptible.


Again. Intelligible being is more lasting than sensible being. Now insensible things that which is by way of first recipient, namely primary matter, is incorruptible as to its substance. Much more so therefore is the possible intellect which is the recipient of intelligible forms. Therefore the human soul also, whereof the intellect is a part, is incorruptible.


Moreover. The maker is more noble than the thing made, as also Aristotle says.[5] But the active intellect makes things actually intelligible, as shown above.[6] Since, then, things actually intelligible, as such, are incorruptible, much more will the active intellect be incorruptible. Therefore such is also the soul, the light of which is the active intellect, as appears from what has been already stated.[7]


Again. No form is corrupted except either by the action of its contrary, or by the corruption of its subject, or by the failing of its cause: by the action of its contrary, as heat is destroyed by the action of cold; by the corruption of its subject, as the faculty of sight is destroyed through the destruction of the eye: and by the failing of its cause, as the light of the air fails through the sun, which was its cause, failing to be present. But the human soul cannot be destroyed by the action of a contrary, for nothing is contrary thereto, since by the possible intellect it is cognizant and receptive of all contraries. Likewise it cannot be corrupted through the corruption of its subject; for it has been proved above[8] that the human soul is a form independent of the body as to its being. Moreover it cannot be destroyed through the failing of its cause, since it can have none but an eternal cause, as we shall show further on.[9] Therefore the human soul can nowise be corrupted.


Again. If the soul be corrupted through the corruption of the body, it follows that its being is weakened through the body being weakened. Now if a power of the soul is weakened through the weakening of the body, this is only accidental, in so far, to wit, as the power of the soul needs a bodily organ; thus the sight is weakened, accidentally however, through the weakening of the organ. This is made clear as follows. If some weakness were essentially attached to the power, the latter would never be repaired through the organ being repaired: yet we see that, however much the power of sight may seem to be weakened, if the organ be repaired, the sight is repaired: wherefore Aristotle says (1 De Anima)[10] that if an old man were to be given the eye of a young man, he would certainly see as well as a young man does. Accordingly, since the intellect is a power of the soul that needs no organ, as shown above,[11] it is not weakened, either essentially or accidentally, by old age or any other bodily weakness. If, on the other hand, the operation of the intellect happen to be affected by fatigue or some hindrance on account of the weakness of the body, this is owing not to weakness of the intellect itself, but to the weakness of the powers which the intellect needs, namely of the imagination, memory, and cogitative power. It is therefore clear that the intellect is incorruptible. Consequently the human soul is also, since it is an intellective substance.


This is also proved from the authority of Aristotle. For he says (1 De Anima)[12] that the intellect is clearly a substance and incorruptible: and it may be gathered from what has been already said[13] that this cannot refer to a separate substance that is either the possible or the active intellect.


It also follows from the very words of Aristotle (11 Metaph.),[14] where he says, speaking against Plato, that moving causes pre-exist, whereas formal causes are simultaneous with the things whereof they are causes: for when a man is healed, then is there health, and not before; against Plato's statement that the forms of things exist before the things themselves. And, after saying this, he goes on to say: As to whether anything remains afterwards, this must be inquired into. For in some this is not impossible: for example, if the soul be of a certain kind, not of any kind, but if it be intellectual. From which it is clear, since he is speaking of forms, that he means that the intellect which is the form of man, remains after the matter, namely after the body.


It is also clear from the foregoing words of Aristotle that, although he states the soul to be a form, he does not assert it to be non-subsistent and therefore corruptible, as Gregory of Nyssa [15] would have him mean: since he excludes the intellective soul from the generality of other forms, by saying that it remains after the soul, and that it is a substance.


The teaching of the Catholic Faith is in keeping with the foregoing. For it is said in the book De Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus:[16] We believe that man alone has a subsistent soul, which survives even after it has put off the body, and is the life-giving source of the senses and faculties; neither does it die when the body dies, as the Arabian asserts, nor after a short interval of time, as Zeno pretends, because it is a living substance.


Hereby is set aside the error of the ungodly in whose person Solomon says (Wis. ii. 2): We are born of nothing, and after this we shall be as if we had not been; and in whose person Solomon says (Eccles. iii. 19): The death of man and of beasts is one, and the condition of them both is equal: as man dieth, so they also die: all things breathe alike, and man hath nothing more than beast. For it is clear that he speaks not in his own person but in that of the ungodly, since at the end of the book[17] he says as though deciding the point: Before . . . the dust return into its earth from whence it was, and the spirit return to Him (Vulg.,--to God) Who gave it. Moreover there are innumerable passages of Holy Writ that declare the immortality of the soul.



  1. Ch. lv.
  2. Ch. lvi. seqq.
  3. Cf. Sum. Th., P. I., Q. lxxv., A. 6.
  4. Ch. lix.
  5. De Anima v. 2.
  6. Ch. lxxvi.
  7. Ch. lxxviii.
  8. Ch. lxviii.
  9. Ch. lxxxvii.
  10. iv. 13.
  11. Ch. lxviii.
  12. Loc. cit.
  13. Chs. lxi., lxxviii.
  14. D. 11, iii. 5.
  15. De Anima, serm. i. (Migne, P. G. xlv., p. 200; cf. xl., p. 560).
  16. xvi.
  17. xii. 6, 7.




Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. by The English Dominican Fathers from the latest Leonine Edition, Benzinger Brothers: New York, 1924.

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