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Ratzinger understanding of intermediate state of the soul by borgjie distura


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Ratzinger understanding of intermediate state of the soul by borgjie distura

  1. 1. Distura 3Introduction Pierre Benoit question about the state of the soul after death in his article ‗Resurrection:At the End of Time or immediately after Death?‘ is what propelled me to inquire about theintermediate state. Let me begin with two of the things that are certain and that we earnestly profess.Thefirst and most immediate and empirically certain of last things is physical death. As the Wisdomliterature of the Old Testament emphasizes, death comes alike to all, rich and poor, wise andfoolish. ―Who can live and never see death?‖1 For us Catholics, however, death is never simplya natural event. Death is a consequence of sin.2 As Paul says: ―The wages of sin is death‖(Rom. 6:23). Central to this message of hope is the conviction that death is not final: ―O death,where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?‖3 In God‘s Kingdom, ―death shall be nomore‖4 And this leads us to second point which is certain of the last things i.e. the resurrection ofthe body which we Christians profess. There is a difficulty, however, for the believer who believes in the resurrection of thebody which, like the soul, will be delivered from the yoke of sin by returning to life which iswon for us by Jesus Christ himself.5 This difficulty is found in the delay of the promisedresurrection of the body. The basis for this resurrection of the body is Christ‘s resurrection, andthis resurrection of Christ ought to set free the men it hold captive and not take any othersprisoner. But that does not happen. The dead of the past ages still lie in their graves, the livingstill die, the resurrection promised to both is still postponed from one age to another, and this has 1 Ps. 89:48 2 De Fide 3 1 Cor. 15:55 4 Rev. 21:4 5 Pierre Benoit, Resurrection: At the End of Time or immediately after Death?, Concilium 10 (1970): 103.Hereafter Benoit, Resurrection.
  2. 2. Distura 4been going on for ages. He further posed another problem wherein he said: ―But there stillremains a difficulty whose solution is rather less easy to find in revealed truth. What are we tounderstand by this intermediate state in which the Christian is placed between his death and hisresurrection? How are we to regard man‘s state during this long period of waiting?6 Herein lies the question of ―intermediate state‖: What is the status of the self betweendeath and resurrection? Although the question is not a new one, for there are clear indication ofit right at the beginning of Christianity.7 Recently, the question of intermediate states has beendebated and that makes this problem worthy of examination. Joseph Ratzinger has written aboutit and it is my goal in writing this article to present the idea of one of the foremost theologians ofour time, the idea of a theologian who became Benedict XVI. I. Traditional Belief The debates about the resurrection of Jesus found their counterparts in theologicaldiscussions about the nature of our own resurrections. Traditional doctrine long had it that at deaththe immortal soul, now separated from the body, enjoyed the vision of God, or suffered the loss of it,and the resurrection of the body had to wait until the final judgment at the end of time. Therefore,there was an intermediate state in which the soul lived on without the body until the time ofjudgment. 6 Benoit, Resurrection, 103-104. 7 Benoit, Resurrection, 104
  3. 3. Distura 5 II. After Vatican II But in the aftermath of the Council this separation of body and soul seemed too dualistic bothin regard to the unity of human beings expressed in the Scriptures, as well as found in modernthought. Why not say that our human unity is preserved in death, and therefore our resurrection takesplace at the time of our death? Hints of such an approach appeared right after the Council in theDutch Catechism8 and were expressed in a theory in which the whole person is raised at the momentof death, that is, there is a ―resurrection in death,‖9 by Gisbert Greshake in 1969. But since our bodiescontinue to lie in their graves, Greshake must advance another view of the body beyond thecommon-sense one. ―Matter will be perfected, not in itself or by itself, but rather in ‗the other,‘namely, in the spirit, or the person.‖10 ―Matter as such (as atom, molecule, organ...) cannot beperfected... This being so, then if human freedom is finalised in death, the body, the world and thehistory of this freedom are permanently preserved in the definitive concrete form which that freedomhas taken.‖11 Greshake tells us that many Christians believe more in the immortality of the soul than in theresurrection of the body, but the ―real perfection and completion lie in resurrection of the body. Doesthis mean the actual resuscitation of dead bodies and the opening of graves? Surely not.‖12 But hisalternative to a resuscitation remains rather not clear. Our personalities and the world are not totallyseparable. We hope not in the immortality of the soul ―but for the renewed life of the person indelibly 8 Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 1988. p. 108. Hereafter, Ratzinger, Eschatology. 9 Cf. Gisbert Greshake, Death and Resurrection. Theology Digest 26 (1978): 16-18. Hereafter Greshake, Death andResurrection. 10 Greshake, Death and Resurrection, 17. 11 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 108-109. 12 Greshake, Death and Resurrection, 17.
  4. 4. Distura 6stamped by his interaction with the world.‖13 What this could mean when it is a question ofresurrection in death, besides the immortal soul without the body, is unclear. III. Joseph Ratzinger The main opponent of the idea of Greshake about resurrection in death is the prominentGerman theologian who later became Pope Benedict XVI. In 1977, Benedict XVI, then JosephCardinal Ratzinger in his Eschatology, subjected both the idea of a resurrection at the time of deathand the context from which it had emerged to a series of well-targeted criticisms. It had becomepopular, he felt, to imagine that speaking of the soul was unbiblical. Instead, the idea of the ―absoluteindivisibility‖14 of the human being was the message found in the scriptures and happily confirmedby modern anthropology. His own position was sharply opposed to what he saw as a post-conciliarconsensus in which ―a resurrection in death and a consequent rejection of the concept of the soul hadmade considerable inroads.‖15 Was a theory like Greshake‘s, he asked, really about some corporealresurrection, or was it simply a camouflaged way to talk about the immortality of the soul becausewasn‘t what actually perdured after death in such a theory what had traditionally been called thesoul? Did this view of the resurrection actually do justice to the church‘s teaching of the resurrectionon the last day, and ―in the self-same flesh in which we live, exist, and move,‖ as the Council ofToledo in 675 had put it?16 But what is most striking in Ratzinger‘s analysis, and important for our goal to present hisunderstanding of the intermediate state, is his assertion that while the church took ideas about bodyand soul from the Greeks, it had transformed them in a long process that found ―its final and 13 Greshake, Death and Resurrection, 18. 14 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 106. 15 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 261. 16 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 135.
  5. 5. Distura 7definitive form only in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.‖17 He is saying this not because he is aThomist18 but because he realized that the view of the soul that is found in St. Thomas is a product ofChristian faith. St. Thomas, working within the nurturing atmosphere of faith, had fused Aristotleand Plato together to create a philosophical doctrine of the relationship between body and soul thatwould be in harmony with Christian doctrine. This Thomistic view, Ratzinger thought, meant that thesoul as the form of the body could never leave behind its relationship with matter, as Greshake‘stheory appears to make it do.19 And Thomas‘ view allows us to make a distinction between matter asa ―physiological unit‖ and ―bodiliness‖ because ―the material elements from out of which humanphysiology is constructed receive their character of being ‗body‘ only in virtue of being organizedand formed by the expressive power of the soul.‖20 This was a view of the relationship between bodyand soul found its full expression in St. Thomas: ―The individual atoms and molecules do not as such add up to the human being. The identity of the living body does not depend upon them, but upon the fact that matter is drawn into the soul‘s power of expression. Just as the soul is defined in terms of matter, so the living body is wholly defined by reference to the soul. The soul builds itself a living body, a self-identical living body, as its corporeal expression. And since the living body belongs so inseparably to the being of man, the identity of that body is defined not in terms of matter but in terms of soul.‖21In May, 1979 a statement by the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith, on certain questions oneschatology expressed the traditional doctrine in response to new theories and the unrest they couldcause among the faithful. The resurrection of the dead, it emphasized, deals with the whole humanbeing, and between death and resurrection the church affirms ―the continuity and independent 17 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 148. 18 He is not because his own training and theological inclinations were more on Augustine. 19 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 179. 20 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 179. 21 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 179
  6. 6. Distura 8existence of the spiritual element in man after death,‖22 which can be called the soul. In commentingon this document, Ratzinger mentions the kind of dynamics we have been seeing. When Ratzinger wrote an Afterword to the English edition of Eschatology in 1987 he noticedsome movement in the controversy with Greshake, for example, modifying his position about thevalue of the notion of the soul.23 Ratzinger commented: ―As this debate proceeds, it becomes everclearer that the true function of the idea of the soul‘s immortality is to preserve a real hold on that ofthe resurrection of the flesh. The thesis of resurrection in death dematerializes the resurrection.‖24 22 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 245. 23 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 266. 24 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 267.
  7. 7. Distura 9 Conclusion Arthur Schopenhauer once quipped that ―every parting gives a foretaste of death, everyreunion a hint of resurrection‖. My goal here is to present that comma, that ―in between‖ inSchopenhauer‘s statement above through the eschatological view of Joseph Ratzinger which Imainly relied from a nine volume series of dogmatic theology which was published in 1977 inGerman and is intended for German readership but which was translated into English in 1988. Iam very much sure that it‘s difficult to grapple with a German writer. And English translationfrom a German original makes it more difficult. I have limited my quest to Ratzinger‘s idea ofintermediate state to his Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. Another difficulty on my part isthe shift of Ratzinger‘s thought. I read somewhere that during the council, he was tagged asamong the liberals. But after the council, Ratzinger is seen as conservative. Another difficultythat I have encountered in treating this question about the intermediate state is the Augustinianbackground and leanings of Ratzinger and hence more on Platonic mindset but as my researchprogressed, I have seen that he employed the ideas of St Thomas Aquinas (Aristotelianinfluenced). I myself am not convinced of this work of mine. I really wanted to go inside. I reallywanted to dive into the thoughts of this great theologian but I really found it difficult especiallywith the subject that still in progress – in debates. To conclude this work of mine, Ratzinger saidthat the Last Day, if taken as a shared ending of all history, would raise the question as to whathappens ―in between.‖ This ―in between‖ is Ratzinger‘s primary concern in the bookEschatology and that is the idea of the intermediate state, whether the dead can be said to existbetween death and general resurrection. For Joseph Ratzinger, the soul is taken and understoodas the fundamental reality of matter, a Thomistic idea. Ratzinger has an illuminating discussionof the development of ideas about the postmortem condition of the dead, from the shadowy
  8. 8. Distura 10existence in Sheol which involved neither reward nor punishment (a nearly universal conceptwhich the Hebrews once shared), through the realization that the nature of God excluded thepossibility that he might allow his beloved to fall into non-existence, even temporarily, and so totheodicy and the expectation of a final resurrection. Ratzinger is very careful of Protestantsensibilities, but he does argue that Luther‘s idea of ―soul sleep‖ is neither coherent norconsistent with Scripture. He states the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and contrasts it with thecorresponding Orthodox ideas by suggesting that the latter are simply less developed. (TheOrthodox pray for the dead, but Orthodox eschatology does not include the idea that theintermediate state is a condition of cleansing.) Regarding the soul, Ratzinger demonstrates that the Christian understanding of it issimply not Platonic. Neither is the specifically Thomist view of the soul really Aristotelian.Aquinas, like Aristotle, said that the soul is the form of the body. However, Aristotle thought of―form‖ as a perishable material quality. For Aquinas, the form, the soul, is spiritual, butimmortality is not intrinsic to it. The immortality of the soul arises from the soul‘s essentialconnection to God; indeed, to judge from the book‘s argument, this relationship is whatgenerates the soul, almost like a kind of induction. When a man is understood in terms of theformula anima forma corporis, that relationship to God can be seen to express the core of hisvery essence. As a created being he is made for a relationship which entails indestructibility. Ifwe take up this thought, we can describe man accordingly as that stage in the creation, thatcreature, then, for whom the vision of God is part and parcel of his very being. Because this isso, because man is capable of grasping truth in its most comprehensive meaning, it also belongsintrinsically to his being to participate in life. This is not to say, however, that the postmortem
  9. 9. Distura 11state is immediately the final state. Salvation is ultimately for the Communion of the Saints, forall the blessed of the human race, and it cannot be perfected until history is over. To put it in a nutshell the intermediate state is no longer seen as the immortal soulreturning to spiritual fellowship with God. Rather, it is God knowing each of us andremembering everything about us in preparation for returning each human being to full bodilylife at the general resurrection. It is God‘s individual love for us that grants each of us temporarylife with Him apart from our bodies. In that memory, those who have loved God and joined toHim through Christ are contemplated in the light of the Savior, and God reshapes us inpreparation for eternal bliss with Him after the resurrection. During that time we are granted apreparatory glance of the beatific vision in eschatological anticipation of our final end in arenewed body. In like manner, the damned are remembered in their rejection of God, and theirmemory invokes the wrath and sorrow of God for their wasted lives. Just as God sends the rainon the just and the unjust alike, He will also reunite His image reflected in men on both the justand the unjust alike. Embodied man was made for immortality from the very beginning and —for good or ill — all men will participate in that immortality, whether in paradise or perdition.
  10. 10. Distura 12 BibliographyBenoit, Pierre. Resurrection: At the End of Time or immediately after Death?, Concilium 10 (1970).Greshake, Gisbert. Death and Resurrection. Theology Digest 26 (1978).Ratzinger, Joseph. Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988.