God did not make death. On the contrary, he created the rational soul to dwell in indissoluble union with the human body. When the psalmist sang, “A body hast thou prepared for me”, it was as if he had said to the Creator:
O Lord, you have made my soul of a nature different from that of my body, for, after having formed this body from mud, that is, from moist earth, it was neither from earth, nor water, nor from a mixture of the moist and the dry, nor finally from any matter at all that you drew forth the soul that you have mixed into this mass to give it life. It was from yourself, from your mouth that you brought it forth; you breathed the “breath of life” (Gen. 2:7), and the man was animated, not by the arrangement of his organs, not by the harmony of the elements, but by a principle of life that you brought forth from within yourself, by a new creation, entirely different from the one by which you had drawn forth the material world from nothingness.This is why when you wanted to make man, you began a new order of things, a new creation. “Let us make man” (Gen. 1:26); it was another work, another method, different from the one that preceded it and entirely unlike it.
God made this soul with an immortal nature. Setting aside the other arguments that show us this truth, it suffices to consider the one given to us by sacred Scripture. This is that God made man in his image, and his soul is a participation in the life of God. In a certain way the soul lives like him, because it lives by reason and intelligence, and God has made it capable of loving and knowing him as he loves and knows himself. This is why, being made in his image and bound to his immortal truth, the soul does not take her being from matter and is not subject to its laws. For this reason, the soul does not die, regardless of what change happens to the matter beneath her, unless the one who drew it forth and made it in his image were suddenly to loosen his grip and let it fall into the abyss.
Nevertheless, as the soul belongs to the lowest order of intelligent substances, it is the one to form the bond between spirits and bodies. God has made spiritual substances in different degrees of perfection; the lowest is so imperfect that its nature is to be united to a body. For everything is disposed in order, and the first Being gives being and diffuses himself according to that order. Thus the rational soul finds itself united to a body by its nature.
Yet the words “a body hast thou prepared for me” have a still more particular significance. For we can imagine the rational soul speaking to its Creator, saying: “At the same time as you made me to be immortal by creating me according to your image, you also prepared a body that suits me so well that our peace and our union would have been eternal and unbreakable had not sin, coming between us, troubled the heavenly harmony.” How did sin disunite two things so well adjusted to one another? It may be understood by this teaching of St. Augustine: “It is an unchanging law of divine justice that the evil we choose should be punished by an evil we hate. It is, therefore, just that having chosen sin, death should follow, contrary to our will, and that our souls should be constrained to leave our bodies by the punishment of the one who abandoned God voluntarily.”
It is in this way that “as sin came into the world,” death, as the apostle says, came by the same means (Rom. 5:12). This is why the Son of God destroyed death only after having destroyed sin. And before speaking the word of resurrection to the dead at the end of time, he speaks the word of repentance to sinners now. Listen, you who are dead in spirit, Jesus Christ calls you to be reborn with him: “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). Come forth from your tombs. Leave your bad habits behind.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, both those dead in body and those dead in spirit. For as St. Augustine teaches us: “The soul is the life of the body, and God is the life of the soul.” Just as the body dies when it loses its soul, so does the spirit die when it loses its God.
This death is one that cannot be sensed, and yet, if we knew how to see into things, if only we could understand how much more to be feared is the death of the soul due to sin, we would then willingly suffer the death of our bodies instead, even though that death seems so cruel to us. For if it is a great evil for the body to lose its soul, how much worse it is for the soul to lose its God! If we are seized with horror to see the cold and senseless body struck down, without power or movement, how much more horrible it is to contemplate the rational soul when separated from God: it is a spiritual cadaver that lives now only to make its death eternal. It is to those who are dead in spirit, to the souls of sinners, that Jesus Christ speaks, calling them to repent: “The hour is coming, and now is.”
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Bp Bossuet’s Meditations for Lent and is available from Sophia Institute Press.