As he neared the end of his life, American patriot and deist Thomas Paine turned his attention to the possibility of postmortem survival.
In a posthumously published essay, he conjectured that humans who had been exceptionally righteous would likely experience bliss and those who had been exceptionally wicked would suffer. But the rest of us, having done nothing in our lives to merit either eternal reward or punishment, would simply cease to be.
By his own admission, Paine wasnt much of a reader. So I suspect he didnt know that his defense of conditional immortality bears some resemblance to a position defended by the 2nd-century Christian theologian Theophilus of Antioch.
Before his conversion to Christianity, Theophilus had been a pagan philosopher steeped in the writings of Plato, who lived 6 centuries earlier. Plato taught that humans are born with immortal souls, a doctrine which gained widespread currency in the Greek-speaking ancient world before Christ. These souls, trapped in physical bodies, yearn to return to the blissfully immaterial realm whence they originated.
Theophilus embraced Platos belief in inherent or unconditional immortality before he became a Christian. But after converting, his study of Hebrew scripture and early Christian writings convinced him that the doctrine was incompatible with both. Instead, Theophilus argued, soul-immortality isnt a given. The soul has the potential for immortality if certain conditions are met, but also for utter dissolution. Immortality, in other words, isnt an essential or inherent characteristic of human nature.
His argument is ingenious. Everyone, Theophilus asserted, acknowledges death to be an evil. God, therefore, couldnt have created humans as mere mortals doomed to die, because doing so makes God the author of deathwhich means that God, the supreme source of all goodness, is responsible for evil. This is logically impossible and morally repugnant.
On the other hand, if God had endowed humans with inherently immortal souls, freedom and self-direction, essential conditions for moral behavior, would be jeopardized. Theophilus reasoning is a bit murky here. But his point seems to be that a carte blanche bestowal of immortality on humans would somehow weaken our moral fiber, perhaps because we would take the gift for granted. If Im confident I can never die, why bother to do much of anything? Its our awareness of the fragile brevity of life that motivates us to make the most of the time we have.
In order to avoid both of these undesirable possibilities, concluded Theophilus, God created humans in neutral mode, as it were, when it comes to mortality and immortality.
If a person freely and conscientiously chooses to keep the commandments of God, those efforts will be rewarded with the emergence of soul immortality.
If, however, a person should incline towards those things which relate to death by disobeying God, then the consequence of this free choice is, literally, ceasing to be. No eternity in heaven or hell, no possibility of redemption, and no resurrection on Judgment Day, because no soul has emerged.
Today, Theophilus is largely forgotten except by church historians. But his better remembered contemporary, St. Irenaeus, was so impressed by the doctrine of conditional immortality that he defended a similar theory. He argued that humans are created as imperfect (mortal) creatures, but that we can grow souls and acquire immortality by how we deal with lifes adversities.
When faced with suffering, said Irenaeus, we can allow it to crush us spiritually, diminishing our capacity for soul-growth, or we can respond by cultivating soul-growing virtues such as patience, trust, humility, and fortitude. Irenaeus intuition is a religious version of the contemporary slogan, No pain, no gain.
Although conditional immortality remains a minority opinion in the Christian worldit was, in fact, condemned as heretical in 1513 by the Lateran Councilit has been defended by learned theologians such as Origen in the 3rd century, Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th, and John Hick in our own day.
But perhaps the best-known defense of conditional immortality is found in an 1819 letter by the poet John Keats, written when he was already suffering from the tuberculosis that killed him 2 years later. Life, he declared, with all its joys and vicissitudes, is a vale of soul-making capable of igniting the divine spark within each of us into a full-fledged soul.
Kerry Walters pastors Holy Spirit American National Catholic Church in Montandon. http://www.ancclewisburgpa.org. His video-essays may be found on the YouTube channel Holy Spirit Moments with Fr. Kerry Walters.
Read more from the original source:
Conditional immortality – Sunbury Daily Item
Recommendation and review posted by Guinevere Smith