Dear Catholic Exchange:
In the Orthodox tradition (and I would thus assume, Eastern Catholic) the soul is not immortal by nature, as it is in Western Catholicism (i.e. Roman, etc.) I have heard that this is because the East has a different understanding of immortality from the West. In the West it seems to mean “that which does not suffer physical death. And subsists after death.” My impression is that in the East it means much more. For example, those who do not attain conversion are naturally going to die not only physically, but spiritually as well, in the second death. Hence, the soul is NOT immortal by nature, but only by grace, in which infirmity and death is done away with (being the cause of sin in the Eastern theology) and pure union with God is achieved. Is this true? Is my view on this basically correct? And, being a ROMAN Catholic, can I hold this EASTERN view?
Dear Mr. Smith,
Peace in Christ!
We would not so broadly label the writings of some Eastern Orthodox writers as the “Orthodox Tradition.” “The East” is rarely a single entity. There are Eastern Fathers who have acknowledged that the soul is spiritual and immaterial and in its nature immortal. The Russian Orthodox Protopresbyter, Michael Pomazansky, acknowledged that some of the holy Fathers held that the soul was immortal by nature while others said it was immortal by the grace of God. The Ukranian Catholic Casimir Kucharek wrote in his Our Faith: A Byzantine Catechism for Adults:
Our soul by its nature as spirit, not being made up of parts, cannot be destroyed; it is immortal another trait which makes it more like God. The many passages of Scripture (and there are hundreds of them promising eternal reward or punishment to man) are further proof of the soul's immortality.
The matter of what to believe cannot be reduced to the level of differing Eastern or Western theological opinions, but what the Catholic Church has defined and is obliged to hold on the subject. It is an article of Catholic faith that the soul is a spirit that is immaterial and is, therefore immortal by nature. (See: Fifth Lateran Council; Credo of the People of God; and Catechism #366, 382)
Though the soul is immortal by nature (such can in fact, be proven by philosophic reason), the body joined to the soul in the creation of man was, however, not immortal by nature. It was rather miraculously preserved from death and dissolution by the sanctifying grace possessed by the soul (resulting in the “gift of immortality” possessed by our first parents). As St. Augustine noted, this bodily immortality in our first parents resulting from the possession of divine grace involved the possibility of not dying, not the impossibility of dying. With the fall of man, this gift of bodily immortality was lost as a result of the loss of original justice and holiness, and thus resulted in both the physical and spiritual death of man. It is in the Resurrection that bodily immortality will be restored as the body is once again joined to the immortal soul which will enjoy the glory of the blessed in the Kingdom of God.
Catholics, whether Western or Eastern, cannot hold the view that the soul God gives each human is not immortal.
United in the Faith,
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