The doctrine that the human soul is immortal and will continue to exist after man's death and the dissolution of his body is one of the cornerstones of Christian philosophy and theology. Because of its importance, it is treated here from four different points of view: first the history of the problem in ancient and medieval thought is sketched; then a philosophical analysis is given that relates the doctrine to modern thought; thirdly, the place the teaching holds in the Bible is indicated; and finally revelational data pertinent to the doctrine are presented and analyzed.
1. History of the Problem
When the Apologists and early Fathers presented Christianity to the Greeks, the Last Judgment formed part of their message. Since this doctrine implied the survival and immortality of the soul, they appealed to the poets and philosophers and general tradition of Greek thought in support of belief in immortality. Later, the scholastics preferred to make use of Plato or principles from Aristotle.
Ancient Thought. Despite a generally materialist concept of soul, all ancient peoples seem to have had some belief that a part of man survives the death of the body and is subjected to reward or punishment in another world. An exception may be found in those pantheistic religions which taught an absorption at death, at least for the virtuous, into some higher entity—e.g., Brahmanism, daoism, perhaps ancient buddhism, and certainly more
than one Greek tradition, as in Euripides. In Egypt, the myth of Osiris and the 42 judges, together with the care lavished upon the dead (because the survival depended on the preservation of the body); in Persia, the cult of Mithra as judge of the dead; and in Greece, the myths of Homer, such as the descent of Ulysses into Hades (Odyssey 11), orphism and the cult of Dionysos, the theme of escape to the Isles of the Blessed, and the myths of transmigration related by Plato are all tenuous examples sometimes advanced of more...