Choose a topic from Vol 5:

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

The Faith of Israel

The Faith of Israel

The Importance of Man

The Importance of Man

Origin of the Gospels

Origin of the Gospels

The Divine Redeemer

The Divine Redeemer

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church

The Papacy

The Papacy

The Biblical Tradition

The Biblical Tradition

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Liturgy and Sacraments

Liturgy and Sacraments

Moral Problems

Moral Problems

Final Realities

Final Realities

The Ecumenical Movement

The Problem of Disunity
Reactions Among Non-Catholics
Bewildered Catholics
Combined Unity Services
Mutual Bible Study
Prospects of Reunion

The Importance of Man

59. Psalm 8:4-6 says: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with honour and glory. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." Was belief in angels part of the religion of the Israelites from the very beginning?

An integral part of the divine revelation contained in the Bible from the beginning to the end, including both the Old and New Testaments, concerned the existence of a multitude of celestial beings referred to as angels who were intermediate between God and the whole of material creation. Scripture says little about their nature. The ancient Hebrews, unable to form concepts of purely spiritual realities, thought of the angels in human terms, but as heavenly beings different from men. We owe to later theologians the idea of an order in creation sweeping through from blind inorganic matter to living vegetation, then on to sensitive animal life, then on again to man endowed with reason and nobler spiritual affinities, and finally on to purely spiritual and intelligent creatures called angels. But the ancient Hebrews, thinking of their functions as God's messengers rather than of their nature, undoubtedly regarded them as having personal characteristics and as being deeply involved by their ministry in the history of God's plan for the salvation of mankind. The Authorised Hebrew Daily Prayer Book, in use among Jews today, p. 297, lists among its prayers before retiring to rest at night: "In the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, may Michael be at my right hand; Gabriel at my left; before me, Uriel; behind me, Raphael; and above my head the Divine Presence of God."

60. Are Christians definitely committed to a belief in the existence of angels?

Anyone who believes in the Bible as the Word of God is committed to a belief in the existence of angels. In the New Testament many cases of angelic activities are recorded. The angel Gabriel announced the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk., 1:26); angels notified the shepherds of the birth of Christ (Lk., 2:9); strengthened our Lord during His passion (Lk., 22:43); and appeared at His tomb on the resurretion morning to declare the glad news (Matt., 28:2). Probably one of the most graphic and detailed accounts of an angel's intervention is that connected with the deliverance of St. Peter from prison by an angel "in very deed sent by the Lord" in answer to the unceasing prayers of the Church on his behalf (Acts 12:3-11). Peter, in his prison cell, chained and asleep between two soldiers, was not even thinking of escaping. Other sentries made entry into the prison from outside impossible. Yet suddenly a radiant heavenly being "materialised" within that prison cell and took complete charge of everything, giving orders which Peter had merely to obey. The end result, his actual freedom, alone convinced him that the whole thing had not been a dream! If we turn to the various teachings of Christ we cannot reject belief in angels without repudiating Him as a Teacher of divinely-revealed truth. He spoke of angels as personal spirit-beings belonging to an invisible world with which He was quite familiar. In Matt., 26:53, He said He could if He wished call upon "more than twelve legions of angels"; in Mk., 12:25, stressing the completely different condition of human beings after the general resurrection, He said "they will be like the angels in heaven"; and He demanded special reverence for little children because, He said, in Matt., 18:10, "their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." He was obviously speaking as one with a first-hand knowledge of heaven and of the legions of angels He knew to be there.

61. The famous "Dutch Catechism" (1967) suggests that biblical references to the existence of angels may not be part of God's revelation, but only human suppositions personifying God's own activities

That must be ranked as one of the lapses of the authors of the Catechism you mention, all the more inexplicable in view of the fact that Pope Pius XII, in his Encyclical "Humani Generis" (1950) had expressly warned Catholic theologians against writing in a way opposed to the mind of the Church. He said that some sow doubts, giving as an example: "They even ask: 'Are the angels personal beings?'" A special Commission of Cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI to examine the "Dutch Catechism" published its findings on October 15, 1968, listing among the corrections required in the book: "It is necessary that the Catechism teach that God, besides this sensible world in which we live, had created also a realm of pure spirits whom we call Angels."

62. Has the Church ever defined infallibility as an article of Faith that personal beings called angels do exist?

Implicitly, yes. In 1215 A.D. the Fourth Lateran Council had to deal with the doctrine of the Albigensian heretics who held that men's material bodies were evil of their very nature and were in fact created by the devil. In condemning that doctrine, the Council combined in one Definition of Faith that God is the Author of "both orders of creation, the spiritual and the material, that is, the angelic order and the earthly; and then the order of humanity, as it were common to both, being composed of both of a spiritual and of a bodily nature." But even apart from this official declaration, the doctrine of the existence of the angels is so clearly contained in the Bible, in the writings of the Fathers, in the liturgical rites of the Church, and in the ordinary and universal convictions of the faithful through all the centuries, that no Catholic could claim to be speaking as a Catholic if he denied angels to exist and to be personal on their own purely spiritual level, even as we are existent persons on our own human level.

63. Do angel visitations occur in our own lives? If so, in what way?

In the lives of the Saints there are some instances recorded of visible manifestations of angels to them, Saints who have been far too matter-of-fact and well-balanced for us to rank them as victims of illusion or hallucination. But such cases are comparatively rare, for it is much more in accordance with the invisible spirit-nature of an angel to act upon us invisibly, inspiring new ideals, awakening conscience by interior warnings, and stimulating impulses towards fulfilling what God wants us to do. These angelic visitations may come to us in our waking moments or when we are asleep. During the trial of Jesus, Pilate's wife, Claudia Procula, sent him a message even as he was sitting in judgment: "Have nothing to do with this just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him" (Matt., 27:19). She knew that her uneasy premonitions were not of her own making. We are told also in the Gospel that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in his sleep and that Joseph "rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him." (Matt., 1:20, 24). We must not, of course, be too ready to attribute all good thoughts or impulses that we experience to angelic visitations. The action of God's grace within us can quite well be without the ministry of angels. But if the poet Thomas Campbell speaks of "angel visits few and far between", it can be that their visits are not so rare as we might think. George Eliot was probably nearer the truth in saying: "The golden moments in the stream of life rush past and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone."

64. Genesis 1:26 tells us that God made man in His own image and likeness. But would not that apply rather to the angels who existed as purely spirit-beings and exercised various ministries among men on God's behalf?

Were the writer of Genesis discussing the nature of men as contrasted with the nature of angels, his words would apply rather to angels than to men. But he was not concerned with making such a comparison. He was intent of stressing the dignity of man as contrasted with all other living things on this earth. Man was indeed a living being like other animals, but he differed from them by having something of the divine within himself which enabled him to have personal relationships with God by conscious reliance upon Him and by being called by Him to a life of righteousness. Secondly, man had a dominion conferred upon him over all lesser things on earth, being made God's partner as it were in ruling over them even as God Himself has dominion over the whole universe. So Psalm 8:6 says: "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." They are in these two senses that Genesis depicts man as made in God's image and likeness. According to later biblical writings and in our modern way of thinking man consists of both a material body and a spiritual soul, this latter giving a resemblance to the spiritual nature of God. But one cannot find that idea clearly expressed in the Book of Genesis which provided only initial and rudimentary steps in the progressive development of revealed truth.

65. Did not Moses himself know that a human being consists of both a material body and of a spiritual and immortal soul?

Genesis 2:7 shows that Moses was at least aware that man's formation differed from that of merely animal creatures, being due to a twofold action on God's part, man's body being formed first and then the breath of life being breathed into that body so that man became a "living soul". Our English translations however, can mislead us here, for the Hebrew word "nephesh", translated as "soul", does not really mean what we understand by the word "soul". No single English word can translate the Hebrew word "nephesh". It could refer to so many different aspects of a living human being that it can best be summed up as denoting a man's psycho-physical totality - the whole living man. Whatever happened to a man was thought of as happening to his "nephesh". His "nephesh" suffered and was distressed; his "nephesh" prospered and was overjoyed. What of death? Here we have a paradox. At death, the whole living man died; and yet he did not wholly die. The ancient Hebrews did not think of death as total extinction, a notion found nowhere in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. They thought of the dead as gone from this life but as continuing to exist in "sheol", or the netherworld of half-material shades or replicas of the living people who had previously existed on earth. At the time of Moses, for example, Abraham had been dead for some seven centuries. But not for a moment did the Israelites think of him as simply non-existent. Genesis 25:8 says of his death that he was "gathered to his people". This did not mean merely that his body was buried in a kind of common family grave. His people were buried in far-off Mesopotamia; his own body at Mambre, near Hebron, in Palestine. In some way, his conscious personality was reunited with his ancestors, still existing in "sheol". Jacob, Genesis 37:35, thinking his son Joseph had been killed, said: "I shall go down mourning to my son in sheol". Deeply mysterious as this doctrine was, the ancient Hebrews firmly believed in the fact of such a survival after death; and Moses, who lived about 1300 B.C., shared their conviction.

66. Is it not true that the ancient Hebrews had no idea of departed human souls as disembodied spirits?

Such an idea would have been quite foreign to their ways of thinking. Necromancy, or seeking knowledge from the dead, was condemned as offensive in God's sight (Deut., 18:10), but this was not on the ground that the dead no longer existed. In 1 Samuel, 28:15, we have the instance of the apparition of the deceased Samuel in the form of an old man wrapped in a cloak, called up by the witch of Endor in defiance of God's law to confront Saul. The eighth-century prophet Isaiah (14:9-12) describes the shades of the departed in sheol as taunting the king of Babylon whom death had thrust into their midst. Psalm 149:8 speaks of the impossibility of escaping God's presence and power whether one ascends into heaven or descends into the depths of sheol. The thought was always that after death man continues to exist in sheol or the netherworld, the abode of the departed, much as he was known in this life, still as a single living being but in an ethereal state which was only a shadowy and pale reflection of earthly conditions; a kind of half-life scarcely worth calling a life, although not to be equated with non-existence or annihilation.

67. Was not the idea of man as consisting of two parts, body and soul, the soul at death leaving the body and living on in a disembodied state, a Greek, and not a Hebrew idea?

An acknowledged outstanding Old Testament biblical scholar, the Baptist Professor H. H. Rowley, writes in his book "The Faith of Israel", p. 155: "It is sometimes maintained that a belief in the immortality of the soul reflects Greek thought and that it is alien to the thought of the Hebrews. While there are important differences between Greek and Hebrew thought, a belief in immortality is to be found in the Old Testament." Naturally if, as the ancient Hebrews believed, the whole man as such survived death (in however mysterious a way), then the soul necessarily survived although not as disembodied. But we need to study the inevitable influence of Greek philosophy upon writers of the later Old Testament books in their way of putting things. The philosophical schools among the pagan Greeks began to develop about the time of the eighth-century prophets of Israel, such as Isaiah. Unaided by any divine revelation, they constructed a purely rational psychology based on considerations of man's intelligence and moral aspirations. Their highest and most influential representatives were Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). The way was prepared for the diffusion of the teachings of these two outstanding thinkers by Alexander the Great, who had been a pupil of Aristotle. Alexander conquered nearly the whole of the Near East, ranging from Persia to Egypt. In 331 B.C. he founded the city of Alexandria which became a centre of Greek language and civilisation. Thousands of dispersed Jewish colonists settled there, as in many other Greek centres, and their descendants grew up without a knowledge of Hebrew, but speaking only Greek. It became necessary to provide for them a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and, about the third century B.C., the work was undertaken by Jewish scholars in Alexandria. In this translation, called the Septuagint, the Hebrew word "nephesh", meaning the whole man as a "living being" or "animated body", was rendered by the Greek word "psyche" or "soul" - which the Greeks thought of as having a distinct existence of its own and as able to survive the death of the body. Plato had thought of it as an immortal spirit imprisoned in a material body as a kind of punishment, from which death would provide it with a merciful escape. Aristotle improved on Plato as regards the reciprocal relationship of body and soul. Where Plato held that a spiritual soul ought not to be in a material body, Aristotle said that it ought to be; that body and soul are made for each other to form a single body-soul unify; and that the embodied soul should not be thought of as in an alien environment. Still, according to Aristotle, the soul has powers of intelligence which go beyond the range of all sense-perceptions and on the death of the body these powers of intelligence must live on imperishably in what seems to us as a curious kind of impersonal immortality. Now the ancient Hebrews had not been philosophically-minded. They took man as they saw him, without any profund psychological analysis of his nature. Later Hebrew writers, to whom the body-soul unity idea was already familiar, saw grounds for the distinction by the Greek philosophers between the perishable material body and the imperishable spiritual soul, and they adopted it. This did not mean a departure from divinely-revealed truth, which logically claimed all fundamental truth. After all, the Greek philosophers, despite their ignorance of divinely-revealed truth, said much that is profoundly true of our human nature. Not all their teachings can be dismissed as undiluted error. St. Augustine, in his book "On Christian Doctrine", says that Moses was willingly taught by Jethro, the Midianite (Exodus 18:24) and explains: "Moses, to whom God Himself had spoken, knew that a wise idea, in whatever mind it might originate, was to be Itself, the unchangeable God." So earlier Old Testament teachings became more explicit, under Greek influences, in later Old Testament books. Ecclesiastes, written in Hebrew in the 3rd century B.C., says of man's death, in 12:7: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it." The still later Old Testament book Wisdom, written in Greek in the 2nd century B.C., also made use of Greek philosophical ideas (but only to the extent in which they were true and excluding all erroneous elements) saying, in 3:1-4: "The souls of the just . . . in the eyes of the unwise seemed to die . . . but their hope was rich with immortality."

68. If the idea of the soul's essential immortality is derived from Greek philosophy, then surely it cannot be regarded as biblical teaching?

The more fully developed doctrine of later Old Testament books, safeguarded by Hebrew religious convictions and divine guidance, had long been prevalent among the Jews at the time of Christ. They accepted as divinely-inspired, not only the Palestinian Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but also the Alexandrian Greek Septuagint version of it. St. Paul, born and brought up at Tarsus in Cilicia, spoke both Hebrew and Greek, was familiar with both the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old Testament, and to the exent in which the Septuagint had made Greek thought-forms its own these for him had by the very fact become biblical. The idea of the survival of the soul after the death of the body was certainly not foreign to him before his conversion when, as Saul, he stood watching Stephen being stoned to death and heard his dying prayer: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Acts, 7:58. He well understood the significance of that. And after his conversion he spoke in the same terms of himself when he said that he would rather be absent from the body and present with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8); and, again, that he desired to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better (Phil., 1:23). Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that when Christ Himself said: "Fear not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul" (Matt., 10:28), His reference was to the soul as imperishable or immortal. Some scripture scholars have said that such a contrast between the body and the soul was impossible to a semite; but they themselves fail to distinguish between earlier and later Judaism, to allow for the progressive development of Jewish doctrines, and to pay sufficient attention to the three highly significant centuries immediately preceding the Christian era.

69. Does not the new Christian thinking begin by rejecting the Greek dualism of body and soul?

The famous "Dutch Catechism" claims to represent the new Christian thinking, but on this subject its thinking doesn't happen to be Christian. It calmly says, on p. 470: "The whole earthly man dies. Here the deniers of immortality are right." What of the Saints? It suggests that they live on in the good influence of their example which lives after them on earth. It says, on p. 475, that when "St. Therese of Lisieux said her heaven would be to let a rain of roses fall upon earth, she spoke in the sentimental terms of the nineteenth century." No wonder the Commission of Cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI to examine the "Dutch Catechism" insisted that "Open reference be made to the souls of the just which, having been thoroughly purified, already rejoice in the immediate vision of God!" What Christian thinking has always rejected is the dualism taught by the Greek philosopher Plato, namely, that man's soul and body are alien to one another, the imprisoned immortal soul seeking to escape from the material body and to discard it forever. But Christians have always accepted dualism in the sense that man consists of two principal elements, a material mortal body and a spiritual immortal soul. The problem concerns the essential relationship of these two elements to each other. The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle had no idea of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body and of the soul's eventual reunion with it to form man's complete human nature and personality once more. Christians hold that neither the soul alone nor the body alone constitutes man's full "self" or "personality". While the disembodied soul continues to exist after the death of the material body, it lacks that fulness of "humanity" to which it was ordained in the first place and retains an innate tendency towards reunion with the body in the resurrection. Ultimately, man in his totality, the complete man in his body-soul unity, will inherit his eternal destiny; and this will be true of good and evil people alike. So Christ said: "The hour comes when all in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that have done good things shall come forth to the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." Jn., 5:28.

70. When Paul preached in Athens (Acts, 17) he made no mention of the immortality of the soul, but spoke of the resurrection of the body.

To speak to the Greeks in Athens of the immortality of the soul would be carrying coals to Newcastle. They were quite familiar with that idea. The outcry came when the preposterous thought of their perishable bodies being restored to life was put before them. St. Paul told them that he spoke to them in the name of One whom they themselves called "the unknown God". He said that a one and only true God really existed, who had appointed a day for the judgment of all mankind by a man of His own choosing (Christ), whom as a guarantee to us all He had already raised bodily from the dead. This idea of bodily resurrection was greeted by many of the Athenians with mockery, although some were hesitant and a few converted (Acts, 17:32-34).

71. The Apostles' Creed itself does not teach the immortality of the soul, but makes us say: "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

The striking thing to be included in the Apostles' Creed as an Article of Faith was belief in the resurrection of the body, the perishable part of our being which with the immortal soul formed our complete human personality. Resurrection would in fact be meaningless if at death we go completely out of existence, both body and soul. If nothing of one's "self" continued to exist after death, but both body and soul lapsed into complete non-existence, there could be no resurrection of one's "self". At most there could be merely the creation of somebody else resembling one's "self"; another body with another soul altogether; certainly not a personality continuous with one's present personality, nor responsible in any way for the kind of life one happened to have lived in this world. The judgment of the new human being could not possibly be based on any conduct on the part of some other human being than one now happens to be!

72. Does not the Bible say that immortality is the gift of God, not the survival of our old nature whether in whole or in part?

The Bible speaks of two kinds of immortality, one of which is the inevitable consequence of the natural immortality of the soul and which will mean a continued and endless existence for the body when reunited with it in the general resurrection of the dead on the last day. The immortality which is the gift of God, however, although presupposing the natural immortality of the soul, is based on the grace of Christ which enables us to participate in His risen life, sharing as complete human beings, body and soul, in His own eternal glory and heavenly happiness, rather than encounter the "living death" which mere survival without Him will mean. So our Lord spoke of the "resurrection of life" and also of the "resurrection of judgment." We'll be saved or lost ultimately in the way God made us, as complete human beings consisting of both body and soul; the body necessarily being raised from the dead, as St. Paul pointed out in 1 Cor., 15:35-44, with different qualities adapting it to new conditions of an incorruptible existence.

73. Concerning the creation of the human soul, an article in "Majellan" magazine, July, 1967, referring to abortion, said: "The truth is, no one can say exactly when human life begins."

Equally, no one can say that human life is not present from the first moment of conception. There are two possibilities. The human soul may be created the moment conception occurs, the soul's latent higher powers becoming operative gradually as the embryo develops into a distinctively human organism. On the other hand, since soul and body form the one human composite, the soul may not be created until a recognisably human embryonic body had been formed, fit to receive it - requiring anything up to about three months. There is no way of settling this speculative problem. Much is made of the genetic uniqueness of the fertilised human ovum, the characteristics of which are said to distinguish it from any other. But it is not distinguished by any genetic factor which makes it actually rational. It is a potentially rational being, but there is no genetic evidence that a fertilised ovum is immediately endowed with a rational soul. One big problem is that if the soul is created at the moment of conception, that is, with the fusion of chromosomes belonging to the male and female germ-cells, what happens to an already created soul in the case of identical twins which result from a fertilised cell dividing later into two foetuses? No difficulty arises in this case if the creation of souls is reserved for later stages of development. But if a soul was created at the very first moment of conception, another soul would have to be created for one of the twins after the originally fertilised ovum had divided into two sections. No satisfactory solution of this problem has been devised.

74. In the "Reader's Digest", for the same month of July, 1967, the Rev. Dr. Murray, of the Catholic Information Bureau, said definitely that human life must be regarded as beginning at the moment of conception.

From a practical point of view that is the only position which may lawfully be adopted, and the Church insists upon this. Since all theorists admit that there is no absolute certainty that the human soul is not created at the first moment of conception, the deliberate destruction of a human embryo at any stage manifests the will to destroy a living human being even should the soul be present. One might argue theoretically that if the soul had not yet been created, no human being would in fact be killed and that, objectively, the abortion could not technically be ranked as homicide. But even in that case there would still be a serious violation of God's right to the future human being who would otherwise result from the ordinary laws of nature appointed by Him. Tertullian called abortion in such a case an "anticipated homicide". However, as already mentioned, a truly human life must in practice be presumed to begin at the moment of conception.

75. Can you tell me what the human soul is like, since, being immaterial, it cannot resemble anything we have ever set eyes upon?

We are compelled here to fall back on imagery drawn from things within this material world which are somewhat like, yet radically different from what we are discussing. Take, for example, electricity coming to a house through a solid copper wire. When the current is switched on, we call it a "live" wire. The electricity itself is invisible. Its effects, however, are well known to us, by the lights glowing within the house, or by the shock from touching an exposed wire. Electricity, however, although invisible, is a physical force belonging to the material order of things. Here the soul differs. It is a spiritual reality of which we have experience, not as it is in itself, but only from its effects. It makes the difference between a "live" body and a "dead" body. It is that in us which can think and will, be happy or miserable. A dead body is not capable of such experiences. A human soul can be described, then, as a reality within us which, because it is spiritual, cannot disintegrate or fall to pieces as material things do; and which, on separation from the body, carries with it its own powers of thinking things and willing things, and of being happy or miserable. Whether, when beyond the limits of its union with the body in this world, it will be happy or miserable, will depend on whether within the great Ocean of Being we call God it is in harmony or discord with Him. From all this it should be clear that we can form only a mental concept of the spiritual soul, not a sense-image of the kind possible in picturing the material things around us. We have all heard of the agnostic surgeon who said that, in his many surgical operations, he had never yet with his scalpel or surgical knife come across a human soul. But if he ever did happen to come across anything new in his anatomical explorations, whatever else it might be, it would not be a human soul; for the soul as a spiritual entity does not belong to the material order of reality.

76. Why is the soul called the life-principle of a human being?

Man's material body, as we know, is made up by a multitude of cells which are obviously not just a bundle thrown together anyhow. They are co-ordinated to form the tissues, organs and nervous system; and these latter in turn are directed towards the welfare of the whole organism by an inherent power or vital principle or force. This principle, which we call the human soul, cannot be a mere peculiarity of material structure, for it has power proper to itself, intelligence, and will or the capacity for self-management based on rational decisions which no merely material thing can possess. In its relations with the bodily organism, however, the soul as the vital principle is able to direct its activities only to the extent in which the bodily organism itself is able to function. Now there are three essential physical functions required for bodily survival; that of the heart for the circulation of the blood providing food for the cells; that of the lungs which by respiration provide oxygen for the blood; and that of the brain as the centre of the whole nervous system. Serious injury to any one, or to all three of these, heart, lungs or brain, may render the body wholly unable to fulfil its part in responding to the life-principle within it. Death then occurs. From this angle, Dr. Hans Driesch, in his book "The Science and Philosophy of the Organism", p. 334, points out that death means a change in the very matter of an organic body. By death, what was a living body becomes a corpse. It is no longer an "organism" capable of living behaviour but just a collection of chemical substances subject to merely mechanical laws of change and disintegration. Something, he says, has disappeared which was present and active before, and working with the matter of the body in question. This something, the non-material entity we call the soul, animated the material body as its life-giving principle.

77. In his inaugural lecture at Sydney University on "The Nature of Mind", May 11, 1965, Dr. D. M. Armstrong, Professor of Philosophy, said he favoured the "materialist" or "physicalist" account of man's mind.

A rather strange thing confronts us here. In London, during a B.B.C. talk in 1950 on "The Physical Basis of Mind", the philosophers who spoke assumed that the mind and the physical brain are one and the same thing. On the other hand, the physiologist who spoke denied this and insisted that scientifically a real problem arises concerning the relations between these two very different things. Dr. Armstrong apparently chooses to put his faith in the ability of physical science sooner or later to cover the whole field of the intellectually knowable, an attitude quite popular a century ago, but one not shared by at least the most highly qualified scientists of today. On May 7, 1965, just four days before Professor Armstrong's lecture, "Time" magazine carried an article entitled "The Limitations of Science". In it, Dr. Vannevar Bush, a Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it was a crass misconception to think "scientists can establish a complete set of facts and relations, all neatly proved, and that on this firm foundation men can securely establish their personal philosophy." He said this faith in science is a residue of the naive 18th century belief in man as "merely an automaton." Science, he agreed, has pried into the mechanism which becomes operative in the brain when man thinks, but beyond this science cannot go. It produces no evidence on the two vital realities of man's being, consciousness and freewill. "One who thinks it can," he said, "has simply not understood science properly."

78. "It is the scientific vision of man," Professor Armstrong declared, "and not the philosophical or religious or artistic or moral vision of man, that is the best clue we have to the nature of man. The mental states are, in fact, nothing but physical states of the central nervous system."

There are no scientific grounds for Professor Armstrong's conclusion. It is the verdict of a materialistic philosophy. The scientific vision of man is limited to the physical bodily nature of man as if, to quote John Grayson in his recent book "Nerves, Brain and Mind", each of us is nothing ultimately except "a mobile, meaningless hunk of assorted chemicals with an inexplicably intelligent radio-valve for a brain." To bypass man's specifically human characteristics, whether philosophical, religious, artistic or moral, is to offer no clue to human nature as it really is. In his lecture in Canberra last year (1964) to a Science Teachers' Conference on this very subject, Sir John Eccles, Professor of Physiology at the Australian National University and thoroughly familiar with the scientific vision of man, described materialist and behaviourist philosophies, which pride themselves on keeping within the framework of empirical science, as leading to "a caricature of man, to robot-man or cybernetic man, not the spiritual being or self that I apprehend myself to be. To many, such philosophies provide satisfactory explanation of man as viewed from the outside, but they fail abysmally when applied to man from the inside." The same Professor Eccles, as Waynflete Lecturer at Oxford in 1952, took as his subject "The Neurophysiological Basis of Mind." He reasonably maintained that to do full justice to man's nature, conscious mental experiences must be regarded as just as valid as any of our physical experiences. Physical science can do no more than study the physical side of things, showing that in the nervous system the cerebral cortex has the key role, directing our bodily movements. But our consciousness makes us aware that many of these are due to decisions of our will to act in one way rather than another. This demands highly sensitive elements in the cortex of the brain which react to meaning or intention rather than to mechanical stimulation, and that the incorporeal energy of mind and will can change physical processes in the brain, shutting one synaptic or connecting outlet from a cortex circuit and opening another. Our infinite variety of willed actions are, therefore, psycho-physical, not merely physical events. To wipe off quite arbitrarily whole areas of conscious mental experience and assume that all man's activities are physical and mechanical only is quite unjustified; and it betokens a philosophy which wrongly ascribes to physical science more than physical science claims to be able to do besides failing to cover all aspects of the problem confronting us. In simple terms, the ordinary person says: "I think" not "My brain thinks." If the wouldbe mechanist replies: "Yes; but strictly speaking I mean that my brain thinks", we are entitled to ask what is meant by "my"? To the question: "Who is it that possesses and uses the brain you call your own?" the physical sciences have no answer.

79. Are there any grounds for believing in the theory of Reincarnation?

One can see how men came to fall back upon that theory for the solution of a problem for which they could find no alternative explanation. The theory is based on the existence of moral evil in this world with all its consequences and man's innate sense of justice. From the principle that all misdeeds will have to be expiated and from the fact that the wicked do not always meet with retribution in this life, the idea arose that the souls of men have to return to further lives in this world in order to expiate bad conduct in previous lives. The Greek philosophers Pythagoras in the 6th century B.C. and Plato in the 5th century B.C. held this idea, possibly deriving it from India where it was already current among the Hindus. It is, of course, a reasonable conviction that men cannot do evil with impunity and that they will eventually have to answer for the way in which they have lived in this life. But the reincarnation theory must be ruled out in the name of science, philosophy and the Judaeo-Christian religion. Scientifically there are no observed facts providing any evidence of a reincarnation ever having occurred. Philosophically, it is against the essential unity of the human person to suppose one and the same soul to be subject to a succession of migrations through different bodies, and it remains quite unexplained how the imagined cycle of re-births began at all, our first life on earth not having been preceded by one the evils of which we are called upon to expiate. Also, the system would be useless since we could not learn from experience, having no recollection of what it is that we are supposed to be expiating from our previous lives. Religiously, the theory is quite irreconcilable with the biblical teaching expressed in Hebrews 9:27 that "it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment"; which obviously excludes our having to die over and over again after each of a series of lives on this earth.

NEXT TOPIC »

MORE FROM VOLUME 5

"QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK
ABOUT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH" - Book Title