1. The soul of man is made in the image of God, since it is a spirit like to God.
Before the creation of man God said, “Let us make man to our own image and likeness and let him have dominion over the beasts and the whole earth” (Gen i. 26). Man is made in the image of God; his likeness to God is to be found in his soul, which possesses reason and free will, and thence has the power of knowing what is beautiful and good, and of loving it. He, moreover, through these two faculties has dominion over the visible world, as God has dominion over the whole universe. In the words spoken before the creation of man, God joined together the likeness of Himself and dominion over the earth. Man attains to a perfect likeness to God only when he is in the grace of God, for in this case he is made a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Pet. i. 4). The just man is truly the lord of the whole earth and of all creatures upon it, whereas the sinner is the slave of creatures. Man, through his likeness to God, has not only the power of knowing the true and the beautiful and the good, but he has also the power of knowing, loving, and enjoying God in His divine majesty. Just as a globe has a feeble resemblance to the earth, so the soul of man has a feeble resemblance to God. The soul is also an image of the Blessed Trinity, in virtue of its three powers, memory, understanding, and will. In its memory it resembles the Father, in its understanding the Son, and in its will the Holy Ghost. As these three powers are united in one soul, so the three persons of the Blessed Trinity are united in one and the same nature. Notice the words used at the creation: “Let us make man,” thereby indicating the plurality of persons in the Blessed Trinity. It is its likeness to the Blessed Trinity that gives to every single soul its priceless value; it is this which explains the Incarnation. The soul of man is worth more than all the stars of heaven. The body of man is not made in the image of God, for God is a pure spirit, but yet the likeness to God stamps itself in some way on the body, as being the instrument of the soul, both in its upright bearing, and in the dominion it exerts over the irrational animals (Cf. Ps. viii. 5, 6). “What is man that Thou art mindful of him? Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, and hast given him dominion over the works of Thy hands.”
2. The soul of man is immortal, i.e., it can never cease to exist.
The soul can never cease to exist, but it becomes spiritually dead when it loses the grace of God by mortal sin. It cannot lose consciousness, but it can lose God. A branch that falls from the tree continues to exist, but is nevertheless dead. Sinners are thus dead, even while they live; the just on the other hand live even after they are dead.
That the soul of man is immortal we know from the words of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord says, “Fear not them who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul” (Matt. x. 28), and to the good thief on the cross He says, “To-day thou shalt be with Me in paradise” (Luke xxiii. 43). He teaches the same truth in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke xvi. 19). “God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; and is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matt. xxii. 32).
We learn the same truth from the numberless appearances of the dead to the living.
At Our Lord’s transfiguration Moses appeared, who had been long dead (Matt. xvii. 3). At the time of Our Lord’s crucifixion many who were dead appeared in Jerusalem (Matt. xxvii. 53). The prophet Jeremias and the priest Onias appeared to Judas Maccabeus before his victory over Nicanor (2 Mach. xv. 11 seq.). Our Lady has constantly appeared to saints and to others, and so have many of the saints as well as those who are suffering in purgatory; sometimes to console and encourage the living, sometimes to warn them, and in the case of the holy souls, to ask for prayers. The lost rarely (and some think never) appear to men, unless it may be in some rare cases to warn the living. It is unlawful to invoke the appearance of the dead, and those who do so are tricked by the devil, who takes the form of the person invoked, or indicates their supposed presence by sounds, raps, etc. All true appearances of the dead are wrought by the instrumentality of the angels. We must be very cautious in accepting such appearances as real, but yet we ought not to reject them altogether. Many reject all such appearances, because they know that, if they acknowledged them to be true, they would have to change their way of living, and this they are not willing to do.
We can also prove from reason that the soul is immortal.
Man has a longing after a perfect and lasting happiness. This longing is common to all men, and is implanted in them by their Creator. Such happiness can never be attained in this world and therefore if man possessed the desire for it, without any hope of its being satisfied, he would be more unfortunate than the brutes who have no such desire, and God, in implanting it in his breast would be, not good, but cruel. If man had no immortal soul, the wicked who do evil all their lives long would go unpunished, and the just, who by self-sacrifice have robbed themselves of the enjoyments of life, would go unrewarded. This would be an injustice impossible to a God of perfect justice. We are also conscious of an individual unity in each one of us, which is independent of our body, which perseveres in spite of all bodily changes, and continues from childhood to old age. It is present during sleep as well as during waking hours, and is active when all our bodily senses are wrapped in repose and inactivity. St. Augustine tells a story of Gennadius, a physician of Carthage, who would not believe in the immortality of the soul. One night he had a dream, in which he saw standing before him a beautiful young man, clothed in white, who said to him: “Dost thou see me?” He answered, “Yes, I see you.” The young man rejoined, “Dost thou see me with thine eyes?” “No,” answered Gennadius, “for they are closed in sleep.” “With what, then, dost thou see me?” “I know not.” The young man continued: “Dost thou hear me?” “Yes.” “With thine ears?” “No, for these too are wrapped in sleep.” “With what then dost thou hear me?” “I know not.” “Are you speaking to me?” was the next question. “Yes.” “With thy mouth?” “No.” “With what then?” “I know not.” Then the young man said: “See now, thou sleepest and yet thou seest, hearest, and speakest. The hour will come when thou wilt sleep in death, and yet thou wilt see and hear and speak and feel.” Gennadius woke, and knew that God had sent an angel to teach him the immortality of the soul. No particle of matter is ever lost. Matter takes different forms, but the same amount of matter remains throughout. If matter never perishes, is it possible that the soul, which belongs to a far higher order, is destined to perish?
All nations of the earth believe in the immortality of the soul.
When Jacob heard of the death of his son Joseph, he expressed a wish to go and join him in the nether world (Gen. xxxvii. 35). The Jews were forbidden to call up the dead or hold intercourse with them (Deut. xviii. 11). The Greeks and Romans believed in Tartarus and Elysium. The Egyptians believed that the soul wandered about for three thousand years before finding rest. In other nations the offerings for the dead, and the cultus of the departed spirits or Manes, testify to the same belief. There are only a few, and those men who are in mortal sin, who declare that they think that death is the end of our existence. Most of those who put an end to their lives do so, not with the idea that after death they will cease to be, but because they imagine life is intolerable not realizing the consequences of their act.
This article, 10. THE SOUL OF MAN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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