Happiness For Body and Soul

Athenagoras of Athens (fl. ca. 177) argues in the closing chapters of On the Resurrection of the Dead that, since a human person consists of a body and a soul, the ultimate happiness of a person must be experienced in both body and soul. Hence, the body must be resurrected and reunited with its soul in the life to come.

Athenagoras states this premise: “Each of those things which are constituted by nature, and of those which are made by art, must have an end peculiar to itself.” For example, consider the intellect. He asserts that freedom from bodily pain cannot be the proper end for the intellect, for an intellect is by nature devoid of bodily sensations. Likewise, he adds that an intellect cannot enjoy “things which nourish or delight the body.” (24)

Getting to the heart of the matter, he says: “We are not inquiring about the life or final cause of either of the parts of which man consists, but of the being who is composed of both; for such is every man who has a share in this present existence, and there must be some appropriate end proposed for this life.”

Therefore, it follows: “The man cannot be said to exist when the body is dissolved, and indeed entirely scattered abroad, even though the soul continue by itself—it is absolutely necessary that the end of a man’s being should appear in some reconstitution of the two together, and of the same living being. And as this follows of necessity, there must by all means be a resurrection of the bodies which are dead, or even entirely dissolved, and the same men must be formed anew. . . . It is impossible for the same men to be reconstituted unless the same bodies are restored to the same souls. But that the same soul should obtain the same body is impossible in any other way, and possible only by the resurrection; for if this takes place, an end befitting the nature of men follows also.” (25)

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

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