Body and Soul Partnership

Athenagoras of Athens (fl. ca. 177) explains in his treatise On the Resurrection of the Dead why a person’s body must be reunited with its soul before that person can be judged on the Day of Judgment.

Athenagoras argues that it would be an inequity to judge a soul without its body because “equity is wanting to the judgment, if the being is not preserved in existence who practiced righteousness or lawlessness: for that which practiced each of the things in life on which the judgment is passed was man, not soul by itself.” (20)

“If good deeds are rewarded, the body will clearly be wronged, inasmuch as it has shared with the soul in the toils connected with well-doing, but does not share in the reward of the good deeds, . . . Nor, again, if faults are judged, is the soul dealt fairly with, supposing it alone to pay the penalty for the faults it committed through being solicited by the body and drawn away by it to its own appetites and motions, at one time being seized upon and carried off, at another attracted in some very violent manner. . . . How can it possibly be other than unjust for the soul to be judged by itself in respect of things towards which in its own nature it feels no appetite, no motion, no impulse, such as licentiousness, violence, covetousness, injustice, and the unjust acts arising out of these?” (21)

“How can any one have even the notion of courage or fortitude as existing in the soul alone, when it has no fear of death, or wounds, or maiming, or loss, or maltreatment, or of the pain connected with these, or the suffering resulting from them? And what shall we say of self-control and temperance, when there is no desire drawing it to food or sexual intercourse, or other pleasures and enjoyments, nor any other thing soliciting it from within or exciting it from without?” (22)

Athenagoras seems to be saying that some virtuous acts, which the will chooses to do, are virtuous precisely because they overcome an inclination originating in the body to shrink from virtue or cling to vice. Thus, the body affords its soul opportunities to choose acts of virtue and vice.

He sums it up simply: “If it was man that received the laws, and not the soul by itself, man must also bear the recompense for the sins committed, and not the soul by itself.” (23)

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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