Grace as Participation according to St. Thomas Aquinas

New Blackfriars 20, September 2016 (online DOI:10.1111/nbfr.12154) and 98, November 2017: 689-708 (print version)

            It appears that many theologians today either do not have a clear understanding of the metaphysics of participation (leaving that up to the philosophers) or do not see the importance of participation with regard to the bearing that it has on theology, particularly within the realm of Christology and grace. This is unfortunate, because without an understanding of sanctifying grace as an ontological participation in the life of God, Christians are left with the idea of justification as a simple “covering over” of sin,[1] without any real transformation taking place in the soul. Nevertheless, as we will see, the notion of participation is actually operative throughout the thought of St. Thomas and within the Catholic understanding of the creature’s relationship to God—in particular, with regard to sanctifying grace.

Analogy of Being

            Before speaking any further about participation, however, it is important to understand something of St. Thomas’ view of analogy with regard to being, and consequently, with regard to the transcendentals, and to the supernatural life of grace, as well.

            In his Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Aquinas clearly illustrates the three principal ways in which one thing can be predicated of another: univocally, equivocally and analogously.  In explaining the first two ways, he states:

In the case of univocity one term is predicated of different things with absolutely one and the same meaning; for example, the term animal, which is predicated of a horse and of an ox, signifies a living, sensory substance.  In the case of equivocity the same term is predicated of various things with an entirely different meaning.  This is clear in the case of the term dog, inasmuch as it is predicated both of a constellation and of a certain species of animal. [2] 

Before beginning his explanation of the third mode of predication, i.e. by way of analogy, Aquinas refers to Aristotle’s example of the term, “healthy”, which, St. Thomas says, can refer both to one thing, such as urine, which is a sign of health, and to another thing, such as medicine, which causes health:

But…[when] the same term is predicated of various things with a meaning that is partly the same and partly different—different regarding the different modes of relation, and the same regarding that to which it is related; for to be a sign of something and to be the cause of something are different, but health is one. Terms of this kind, then, are predicated analogously, because they have a proportion to one thing.[3]

            Aquinas then goes on to explain that the same holds true with regard to “being” (ens), which, simply speaking, can refer to a substance (“that which has being [i.e. esse] in itself”), but in a less proper way can also refer to an accident, which “belongs to” that which has being through itself, i.e. that which inheres in the substance.

            But what about with regard to God Himself?  How do we predicate “being” both of God and of a creature?  First of all, Aquinas points out in De Veritate that nothing can be predicated univocally of God and a creature, because, he explains,

…for in all univocal things, the definition of a name is common to both of those things concerning which the name is univocally predicated; and thus as pertains to the definition of that name, univocal things are equal in some way (although according to being, one thing may be prior or posterior to another).…[4]

Here Aquinas gives the example of numbers, which all have the nature of a number, even though one may be naturally prior or posterior to another. However, as Aquinas points out, no matter how much a creature may imitate God, it will never reach a point in which something may belong both to it and to God in the same respect.  That is, in the case of creatures, it is possible for them to share a certain formality with regard to substance or essence, though they are distinct with regard to being, but God is His own Act of Being and His essence is the same as His Act of Being.  Therefore, just as one creature cannot communicate his own act of being to another, likewise it is impossible for a creature to possess some attribute in the same way that God possesses it.

Nevertheless, says Thomas, this does not mean that a creature is doomed to a purely equivocal predication with regard to itself and God, otherwise we could not say that there was any real likeness of God in creatures at all, and we would not be able to attain to any real knowledge of God from His effects.  Therefore, there are some attributes which can be predicated analogously of God and creatures, though they must be, as Aquinas explains, “all things in whose definition is not included a defect, nor [things which] depend on matter for being [esse], such as being [ens], good, and other things of this sort.”[5]

A Metaphysical Notion of Participation

            Fr. Cornelio Fabro, an Italian Thomistic philosopher, points out that “participation” can have multiple senses.  It can refer to a participation in the quantitative and material order, as in participating in a pizza, in which the “whole” is divided and distributed in parts (resulting, however, in a diminishing of the whole as pieces are taken from the pizza, for example), or it can refer to a metaphysical notion of participation, which “concerns properly speaking the mode of having and receiving, in the sense that the ‘whole’ remains intact and undivided, while an aspect or form of the object is being participated.”[6]  This would be the case, for example, in which one participates in “goodness” or “whiteness”, without causing any diminishment to the forms of “goodness” or “whiteness” as a result.

Let us begin with a basic understanding, then, of the etymological explanation Aquinas gives of participation.  Aquinas clearly defines participare in De hebdomadibus, where he says, “To participate is, as it were, to take part, and therefore, when something receives partially that which belongs to another universally, it is said to participate in that, just as man is said to participate in animal, because he does not have the notion of animal according to the whole commonality.”[7]  In other words, to participate in something is to have a share in it in some way, as in the case of the essence of man, who is, according to Aristotle, a “rational animal”, whereby man participates in the genus of “animal”, without containing in himself the totality of all animality (since other creatures are also said to belong to this genus). 

However, it is important to note here that in speaking of participation in genus and species, St. Thomas is not adopting a Platonic view that the genus or species have a real existence separate from those that participate in them.  With regard to any ontological content, one must say with Fabro that the genus and species

are present in their respective subjects and must therefore be predicated essentially [i.e. as part of the definition]… and not by participation…. [However,] With regard to the mode of being (and therefore the mode of being actualized in a concrete reality) a genus is differently actualized in the various species according to different degrees of perfection….Thus participation involves no doubt a univocal nature or essence but only insofar as this is raised to a metaphysical level and considered as a “whole”, that is, as a complex of virtual perfections that are being divided into or participated by the various species (for the genus) and the many individuals (for the species)….[8]

Aquinas explains further what he means by participation in his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle.  He writes, “For that which is something in its entirety does not participate in it but is essentially identical with it, whereas that which is not something in its entirety but has this other thing joined to it, is said properly to participate in that thing.”[9]  He then proceeds to give the example of heat, “which if it were heat existing through itself, would not be said to participate in heat, because nothing would be in it but heat,”[10] whereas fire, because it is something other than heat, can be said to participate in heat.  In other words, participation for St. Thomas means to have an act or formality in a limited, imperfect, particular way, which is received from one who has it in an unlimited, perfect and universal way.

In De hebdomadibus, Aquinas presents three types of participation, the first two of which were mentioned above: 1) logical / notional participation, i.e., a species participates in a genus, and an individual in a species (as in our first example of man participating in the genus of animal); 2) a real participation, i.e. a substance participates in an accident, and matter in a form (as in our second example of fire participating in heat); and finally, 3) a causal participation, i.e. the effect participates in its own cause.[11] 

Without getting into the various types of causes, it is important to emphasize this relationship between participation and causality.  As Aquinas points out, “Whatever is found in anything by participation, must be caused in it by that to which it belongs essentially…”[12]  Then, after noting that God is Ipsum Esse per se subsistens, Aquinas adds, “Therefore all beings apart from God are not their own being, but are beings by participation.  Therefore it must be that all things which are diversified by the diverse participation in being,… are caused by one First Being, Who possesses being most perfectly.”[13]  Here we begin to understand something of Divine Causality as the source of participation. 

Fr. Cornelio Fabro also distinguishes another type of grouping of participation in St. Thomas, which he terms predicamentale-univoco and trascendentale-analogo.[14]  He explains that in the univocal-predicamental participation, “All the participants have in themselves the same formality as to the whole of its essential content, and the participated thing does not exist in itself, but only in the participants.”[15]  For example, “humanity” does not exist outside of the human beings in which it is found univocally. 

However, in the case of analogous-transcendental participation, Fabro points out that “the participants have in themselves only a ‘down-graded likeness’ of the participated thing which subsists in itself, outside of these, either as a property of a superior subsistent, or certainly, as a pure and subsistent formality in full possession of itself.” [16] This is the most intense meaning of participation, already found in Plato, and taken up by St. Thomas. This analogous participation, says Fabro, “…is that of the creature from the Creator which, being esse by essence, sums up in Himself all the other perfections, formally if they are pure perfections, virtually if mixed.”[17] 

It is important to recognize the existence of this analogous participation in order to maintain the transcendence of God.  Creatures do not share being with God in a univocal way, nor in a completely equivocal manner.  As Cavanaugh points out,

For Aquinas… it is the rejection of the univocity of being that allows the participation of the human in the divine.  For precisely because God is entirely transcendent to creaturely being, because God is not another being in competition with finite being, God is the only agent who acts immediately—that is, through no medium—in all things (I.8.1, ad 3).[18]

According to Fabro, causality can be understood as predicamental participation (“concerned with fieri, which is the becoming or development of created reality within the order of genera and species”) or transcendental participation (which “extends to both creation and conservation, to form as well as to matter”).[19]  In this latter sense, “the form is the true cause of esse, but only within its order, inasmuch as it is the predicamental mediator between created finite being and the esse per essentiam, which is the First Cause.”[20] 

Participation in Being and Image

It is important to note that Aquinas understands participation within the Aristotelian framework of act and potency.  In the Summa, Aquinas explains, “Everything participated is compared to the participator as its act.”[21]  The Angelic Doctor goes on to explain that every created form must participate in esse, but one’s degree of participation is limited by the capacity of the one participating.  Whence, he says, “…only God, who is His own esse itself, is pure and infinite act,”[22] whereas the intellectual substances (and the rest of creation) are limited in esse according to their capacities to receive it, i.e., they are a composition of act and potency, participating in that esse.  Rziha notes, “Thus, in Thomistic thought, participation is a sharing in the essential act of another, which is limited by the potency of the participating subject.”[23]

In Thomas’ understanding of participation within this Aristotelian framework, Rziha points out that act is to be understood as a perfection.  He explains, “Humans are perfected by that act of esse that takes part in the esse of God.  Yet even here Thomas goes beyond Aristotle by seeing potency as the capacity to receive perfection and seeing act as the perfection of esse.”[24]  Therefore, for Aquinas, the essence of a corporeal creature, although composed of matter and form (which functions as potency to act) is itself also related to esse as potency to act.  This holds true for non-corporeal creatures, as well, which participate in esse (and are not their own esse), and so must be said to be composed of potency and act even though they contain no matter.[25]

Therefore, all creatures participate in God’s esse, “…because God is called a Being [ens] in this way, that He is His own being [esse] itself; a creature, however, is not its own being [esse] itself, but is called a being [ens] as participating in being [esse].”[26]  As Fabro notes, a formality can exist and be predicated either per essenza or per partecipazione.[27]  God, of course, is His own Esse by essence, whereas creatures only receive esse by participation. 

Here, however, we should note the distinction between esse commune and the Divine esse.  As Wippel explains, for St. Thomas, the esse commune “is that intrinsic principle, that act of being, found in every existing entity, that is, every substance, which accounts for the fact that it actually exists.”[28]  In other words, all creatures depend on the esse commune for their existence, whereas the esse commune (i.e., created being) depends on God (Uncreated Subsistent Being Itself) as its cause and principle.  Wippel notes, “In participating in the esse which is efficiently communicated to it by God, the creature may also be said to participate in some way in God, that is, in his likeness.”[29]

However, Aquinas indicates that man shares in a certain likeness to God which is different from that of irrational creatures.  He explains:

The likeness of image is found in human nature, forasmuch as it is capable of God [capax Dei]—viz., by attaining to Him through its own operation of knowledge and love.  But the likeness of trace regards only a representation of the Divine impression, existing in the creature, and does not imply that the irrational creature, in which such a likeness is, can attain to God by its own operation alone.[30]

Cessario describes the three stages of this image as found in man, known as the “imago Dei.”[31]  The first stage is that of the Natural Image, by which man loves God in the natural order “inasmuch as He is the beginning and the end of natural good,”[32] without the help of sanctifying grace.  Man alone has, as St. Thomas puts it, a certain natural capacity for God, because man is created with an openness and potential to attaining to universal truths and to universal goods, taken distributively, and is thereby rendered capable of being elevated to God (the Universal True and the Universal Good par excellence) by means of grace. 

Now the created rational nature alone is immediately subordinate to God, since other creatures do not attain to the universal, but only to something particular, while they partake of the Divine Goodness either in “being” only as inanimate things, or also in “living”, and in “knowing singulars”, as plants and animals; whereas the rational nature, in as much as it apprehends the universal notion of good and being, is immediately related to the universal principle of being.  Consequently the perfection of the rational creature consists not only in what belongs to it in respect of its nature, but also in that which it acquires through a supernatural participation of Divine goodness.[33]

This leads us to the second stage, the Image of Grace, also known as the imago Christi, which is a supernatural participation in God’s goodness and nature that comes to us through Christ.

However, we should first note that man already has a certain natural participation in goodness, because in participating in God’s esse, man also participates in the other transcendentals which are convertible with being and transcend all particular categories of being, being common to all of them.  Goodness is one of the commonly-listed transcendentals, along with truth and oneness.  Aquinas explains in De Veritate, “In this way an essence is called good, inasmuch as it is a being [ens]; whence just as it has being [esse] by participation, thus it is also good by participation.”[34]  In other words, just as God is Esse essentialiter, because only God is subsistent esse, whereas being must be predicated of creatures per participationem, “so also God is called good essentially, because He is goodness itself; however, creatures are called good by participation, because they have goodness….”[35] 

Nonetheless, it is the supernatural “participation of the Divine goodness” that is grace,[36] which in turn, prepares the soul for its final conformity to God in beatitude, known as the Image of Glory.  Here one should point out that for Aquinas, there are two modes of participation in the divine light, of which faith is the imperfect, yet prior participation, and the vision of glory is the perfect participation.[37]  Fabro notes:

The proper and full vision will occur only when, after this life, to whomever dies in grace, will be communicated the light of glory which is, in a certain way, the most proper participation in the vitality itself of God, whence the creature enters into communion with the very object of which God Himself lives. The participation of the “lumen gloriae” tends to complete in an ineffable way this assimilation of the created intellect….[38]

The Image of Glory, therefore, is the highest form of participation possible to a creature, other than that of the hypostatic union itself. In his writings on the Sentences, St. Thomas points out that the “last and most complete participation in His [i.e. God’s] goodness consists in the essential vision of Him [i.e. the Beatific Vision], by which we live together with Him socially as friends, since in that… beatitude consists.”[39]

In participating in the Beatific Vision, Aquinas notes that man will participate in eternity itself, “the simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of unending life,”[40] since in the vision, “all things that are seen through it are seen at once, and in one view.”[41] This participation in eternity consists in a certain unchangeableness in being and operation for those who share in God’s eternal life.[42]

We can sum up these three stages or images in man, therefore, with an explanation from Aquinas:

Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways.  First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.  Secondly, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace.  Thirdly, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory.[43]

Christ as Head

Fabro points out that when St. Thomas answers the question of whether the lack of original justice gives rise to the notion of guilt in Adam’s descendants, he explains original sin as a sin of nature, by using the concept which Fabro refers to as “predicamental participation.”[44]  Aquinas states:

This question is easily solved if we but distinguish between person and nature. As there are many members in one person, so there are many persons in one human nature. Thus, by sharing in the same species, many men may be thought of as one man, as Porphyry remarks… In this way, then, the privation of original justice is a sin of nature, in the sense that it has its origin in the inordinate will of the first principle in human nature, namely, of the first parent. Thus it is voluntary with respect to nature, that is, by the will of the first principle of nature. And so it is transmitted to all who receive human nature from him, for they are all, as it were, his members.[45]

In a similar way, Aquinas uses the idea of predicamental participation in speaking of how Christ could merit for others.  He explains that Christ is the Head of the Church, and even goes so far as to say “Christ and the Church are as one person,”[46] and he later adds, “Christ could therefore merit for the faithful as for His own members….”[47]  Likewise, in speaking of the efficiency of Christ’s passion, Aquinas notes:

Grace was bestowed upon Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as He is the Head of the Church, so that it might overflow into His members; and therefore Christ’s works are referred to Himself and to His members in the same way as the works of any other man in a state of grace are referred to himself.”[48]

In fact, Fabro points out that the Incarnation began a new stage in the economy of salvation.  Whereas the good angels and our First Parents participated in the gratia Dei (i.e., grace directly from God, given before the Fall),

…the grace of the regenerated men, rather, is participated through Christ, who has merited it.  This is, therefore, the “gratia Christi”, and all the gifts which God now effuses into the holy souls are a participation in the fullness of the gifts which is in Him.  Christ, therefore, comes to be considered like a new font of supernatural participations.[49]

However, predicamental participation can only explain the mode of our participation in grace, i.e., through Christ, and not what grace is in itself, which, as Aquinas notes, “is nothing short of a partaking in the Divine Nature.”[50]  Participation in the divine esse, as we have said, is an analogous-transcendental participation, and in this way, grace is a new creation.  Therefore, it would appear that the grace of the Holy Spirit which we receive through Christ is an analogous-transcendental participation in God’s own life, but it remains a sort of predicamental participation in the way that we receive it, which is by being united to Christ as members of His Mystical Body.

However, we must not understand this to mean that Christ Himself is merely a participant in God’s life.  In fact, the head or source of a perfection does not itself participate in the perfection of the genus, because it is the cause of that perfection.  Aquinas explains:

So that has life in itself which has an essential, non-participated life, i.e., that which is itself life. Now in every genus of things, that which is something through its essence is the cause of those things that are it by participation, as fire is the cause of all things afire. And so, that which is life through its essence, is the cause and principle of all life in living things. Accordingly, if something is to be a principle of life, it must be life through its essence. And so our Lord fittingly shows that he is the principle of all life by saying that he has life in himself, i.e., through his essence, when he says: just as the Father possesses life in himself, i.e., as he is living through his essence, so does the Son.[51]

Therefore, the primary source of all participation in the life of grace is Christ, as Head of the Church.  Nevertheless, Aquinas also observes that “…the soul of Christ is not Divine by its essence. Whence it is necessary that it be made Divine by participation, which is according to grace.”[52]  Consequently, although in the Person of the Word, Christ is the natural Son of God, His humanity needed to “attain to God by a created act of fruition which indeed cannot be except by grace.”[53]  In other words, in order for Christ, in his human operation, to cooperate with the Divine operation, it was necessary for Christ to have habitual grace.

Participation in the Grace of Christ

In the hypostatic union, Christ’s human nature is made to participate in the life of the Divine Person of the Son, with the result that, as Fabro explains, “This [union] has become the primary source of all participation in grace by believers inasmuch as the human nature of Christ is the close instrument of the divinity.”[54]  This is important, because, as Aquinas notes, “…therefore His actions could be salutary for us.”[55]  In other words, Christ’s humanity serves as an instrumental cause, moved by the principle agent of His Divinity:

The Divine Nature makes use of the operation of the human nature, as of the operation of its instrument; and similarly, the human nature participates in the operation of the Divine nature, just as an instrument participates in the operation of the principle agent.[56]

            St. Thomas also notes that the personal grace by which the soul of Christ was justified is essentially the same as the grace by which He is the Head of the Church, allowing for a distinction of reason.  He observes, “…in the soul of Christ, grace was received in the highest way.  And therefore, from that pre-eminence of grace which He received, it belongs to Him that grace is bestowed on others, which pertains to the nature of Head.”[57]

            It is important to note that the first and most important way in which we can participate in Christ is by means of divine sonship.[58]  Christ is the natural Son of God by the grace of union, and we are called to participate in that divine filiation, and so become the adopted sons of God by means of habitual grace, which is both created and an accident in us.  As Aquinas states, “…the sonship of adoption is a participated likeness of natural sonship….”[59]

            In other words, Christ, as Perfect God and Perfect Man, has become the mediator uniting us to God, “by communicating to men both precepts and gifts, and by offering satisfaction and prayers to God for men.”[60]  The principle gift given to men is grace, which is chiefly bestowed on us through the sacraments.  The Angelic Doctor explains:

As in the person of Christ the humanity causes our salvation by grace, the Divine power being the principal agent, so likewise in the sacraments of the New Law, which are derived from Christ, grace is instrumentally caused by the sacraments, and principally by the power of the Holy Ghost working in the sacraments….[61]

It is through the sacraments, of course, that the soul participates in the divine sonship, with the sacrament of Baptism being “the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.”[62]  Baptism, then, is the primary source of grace, which, “in the very essence of the soul by means of a kind of indwelling, is the root and cause of infused virtue.”[63]  In fact, the theological, as indeed all the infused virtues, are given to the soul at baptism, and not only are original and personal sin removed from the soul, but the person is also incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which incorporation allows each one to participate in the grace of Christ as if it were his own.

However, Aquinas is careful to distinguish the instrumental agency of the sacraments from that of Christ’s humanity, explaining that an instrument can either be united (as one’s hand is united to the body) or separate (as a stick, for example).  The separate instrument is always moved by the principal agent by means of the united instrument.  Therefore, St. Thomas is able to explain the causality of the sacraments:

Now the principal efficient cause of grace is God Himself, in comparison with Whom Christ’s humanity is as a united instrument, whereas the sacrament is as a separate instrument. Consequently, the saving power must needs be derived by the sacraments from Christ’s Godhead through His humanity.[64]

Yet one might ask what makes the sacraments so efficacious.  Aquinas points out that it is Christ’s Passion.  He explains, for example, “The heavens were opened at Christ’s baptism, not for Christ’s sake, to whom heaven was ever open, but in order to signify that heaven is opened to the baptized, through Christ’s baptism, which has its efficacy from His Passion.”[65]  In another place, speaking of Christ’s Passion as the “universal cause for the forgiveness of sins,”[66] Aquinas adds that “this is done by baptism and penance and the other sacraments, which derive their power from Christ’s Passion….”[67]

Of course, the sacraments do not come to us without the Church which Christ founded.  The Mystical Body of Christ is not a merely invisible incorporation, but involves a visible community, which often comes together to participate in the grace given through the various sacraments.  As Levering points out, “For Aquinas, in short, the sacraments create a visible community whose purpose it is to mediate participation in Christ’s passion.”[68]

Justification by Grace

The Council of Trent, in speaking of the causes of our justification, explains that the meritorious cause is Christ, who “merited for us justification by his most holy Passion on the wood of the Cross [can. 10] and made satisfaction for us to God the Father.”[69]  The Council then goes on to name baptism as the instrumental cause.  Therefore, Christ has merited the First Grace of justification for us, inasmuch as we participate in His Passion (particularly in baptism, in which we “die with Christ”—cf. Rm 6:8), but we are also able to merit future graces in union with Christ.  Levering explains, “Cooperating with grace, we become just through the works that grace enables us to perform.  The source of our justification, ultimately, is not our own works but Christ’s meritorious justice, which we share in by grace.”[70]  In fact, the Council of Trent declares that we are justified by the justice of God, in the sense that He makes us formally just, spiritually renewing us:

…not only are we considered just, but we are truly called just and we are just [cf. 1 Jn 3:1], each one receiving within himself his own justice, according to the measure that “the Holy Spirit apportions to each one individually as he wills” [cf. 1 Cor 12:11] and according to each one’s personal disposition and cooperation.[71]

In other words, Catholics believe that the justification of Christ is not a merely outward imputation of justice, but a true, inward inherence of the grace of justification in the soul, which renews and sanctifies it by making it participate in God’s own life. In speaking of grace as the principal effect of the sacraments, Aquinas cites the second letter of St. Peter which states:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.[72]

Aquinas explains that Christ’s suffering and death not only delivers us from original sin, but also “from the personal sins of individuals who share in His Passion by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith.”[73]  It is the theological virtue of charity, in particular, which inspired the saints to desire to participate in Christ’s Passion and through which grace is the principle of merit[74] for us.  In fact, our love for God and neighbor is itself a participation in the Divine charity:

Wherefore just as we are said to be good with the goodness which is God, and wise with the wisdom which is God (since the goodness whereby we are formally good is a participation of Divine goodness, and the wisdom whereby we are formally wise, is a share of Divine wisdom), so too, the charity whereby formally we love our neighbor is a participation of Divine charity.[75]

Of course, the Eucharist is the ultimate sacrament of charity, since by it, we not only participate directly in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but we also receive Love Himself.[76]  Aquinas explains the difference in the way one participates in Christ’s Passion through the sacrament of the Eucharist versus that of baptism, saying:

Baptism is the sacrament of Christ’s death and Passion, according as a man is born anew in Christ in virtue of His Passion; but the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s Passion according as a man is made perfect in union with Christ Who suffered.  Hence, as Baptism is called the sacrament of Faith, which is the foundation of the spiritual life, so the Eucharist is termed the sacrament of Charity, which is the bond of perfection….[77]

It is, indeed, in the holy sacrifice of the Mass where the members of the Mystical Body of Christ participate most fully in Christ’s saving Passion here on earth, which is at the same time a foreshadowing of and an already real participation in the heavenly liturgy.[78]  Aquinas points out that the Eucharistic celebration is “a certain image representative of Christ’s Passion, which is a true immolation,”[79] and the Mass is called a sacrifice “with respect to the effect of His Passion: because, namely, by this sacrament, we are made participants of the fruit of the Lord’s Passion.”[80]

So, then, this sacrament benefits recipients by way both of sacrament and of sacrifice, because it is offered for all who partake of it. For it is said in the Canon of the Mass: May as many of us as, by participation at this Altar, shall receive the most sacred body and blood of Thy Son, be filled with all heavenly benediction and grace.[81]


Esse may be predicated only analogously of God and creatures.  Creatures, which have being by participation, receive their being from God, who is Being by essence.  Distinct from all irrational creatures, man is created in the image and likeness of God, which involves a natural participation in God’s esse, in which man is made capax Dei, because his intellect is ordained to universal truths and his will to universal goods, so that he is capable of being elevated, unlike other corporeal creatures, to a supernatural participation in God’s goodness, which comes to him through Christ.  In fact, Christ Himself becomes the source of grace through the participation of His Humanity in the power of His Divinity, and through our participation in Him as members of a body participate in the Head.

The highest form of participation possible to us is the Beatific Vision.  In order to attain to this glory, however, we are called to first participate in divine sonship and in the gifts of virtue and grace which come to us through the sacraments and which are celebrated within the visible community of the Church.  The power of the sacraments and the possibility of justification and merit are only made possible through a certain participation in the Passion of Christ, informed by the theological virtue of Charity.

In summary, therefore, it is important to note the significant role the metaphysical notion of participation has in Aquinas’ understanding, not only of creation, but also of the Incarnation and of the whole supernatural life of grace, justification and merit. We have said that grace can be understood as an analogous-transcendental participation in God’s own life which is received as a predicamental participation with respect to Christ as members of His Mystical Body. But it is especially essential to the Catholic understanding of justification to have a proper conception of grace as a causal (and not merely moral) participation in the Divine Nature, and as something which inheres in the soul and really transforms it.  Without this appreciation of the true value of grace in the soul, one can easily fall into an extrinsic, forensic view of justification, in which the soul always remains in a helpless state of sin.

[1] The portrayal of man after being justified as a “dunghill of corruption… covered over as it were with a little snow”, although not found in Luther’s works (who appears, however, to have had a similar understanding of justification), can certainly be found in the writings of Rev. George Whitefield (perhaps among others).  See “Letter to Mr. S__”, dated Dec. 13, 1753 in A Select Collection of Letters of the Late Reverend George Whitefield, vol. III (London: Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 47.  In addition, according to Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss, the supporters of the Augsburg Confession (1530) held the view “that the sinner, by a ‘fiduciary apprehension’ of God’s mercy… ‘apprehends’ the extrinsic justice of Christ, and with it covers his sins, which are thereupon no longer ‘imputed’ to him.  In other words, he is outwardly accounted and declared righteous in the sight of God, though inwardly he remains a sinner.” Grace, Actual and Habitual: A Dogmatic Treatise, Dogmatic Theology (Toronto: W.E. Blake & Son, 1919), 310-313.

[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, L. XI, lect. 3, n. 2197, transl. by Richard Blackwell et al. (Notre Dame, IN: Dumb Ox Books, 1995; original copyright by Henry Regnery Company, 1961).  “In univocis enim nomen unum praedicatur de diversis secundum rationem totaliter eamdem; sicut animal de equo et de bove dictum, significat substantiam animatam sensibilem. In aequivocis vero idem nomen praedicatur de diversis secundum rationem totaliter diversam. Sicut patet de hoc nomine, canis, prout dicitur de stella, et quadam specie animalis.” Latin text from In Metaphysicam Aristotelis Commentaria, ed. Fr. M. R. Cathala (Taurina, Italy: Marietti, 1926).

[3] Ibidem. “… idem nomen de diversis praedicatur secundum rationem partim eamdem, partim diversam. Diversam quidem quantum ad diversos modos relationis. Eamdem vero quantum ad id ad quod fit relatio. Esse enim significativum, et esse effectivum, diversum est. Sed sanitas una est. Et propter hoc huiusmodi dicuntur analoga, quia proportionantur ad unum.”

[4] St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, in Quaestiones Disputatae, vol. 1, ed. Fr. Raymundi Spiazzi (Rome, Italy: Marietti, 1949), q.2, a.11, resp. “In omnibus enim univocis communis est ratio nominis utrique eorum de quibus nomen univoce praedicatur; et sic quantum ad illius nominis rationem univoca in aliquo aequalia sunt, quamvis secundum esse unum altero possit esse prius vel posterius….” (English transl. mine.)

[5] Ibid., “sunt omnia in quorum definitione non clauditur defectus, nec dependent a materia secundum esse, ut ens, bonum, et alia huiusmodi.” (English transl. mine.)

[6] Fr. Cornelio Fabro, “The Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy: The Notion of Participation,” The Review of Metaphysics, (transl. by B. M. Bonansea) vol. 27, no. 3 (March 1974), 453.

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, An Exposition of the “On the Hebdomads” of Boethius (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of American Press, 2001), Lect.2, n.70.  “…est autem participare quasi partem capere; et ideo, quando aliquid particulariter recepit id quod ad alterum pertinent, universaliter dicitur participare illud; sicut homo dicitur participare animal, quia non habet rationem animalis secundum totam communitatem.” (English transl. mine.)

[8] Fabro, “Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy”, 471-472. (Brackets mine.)

[9] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, L.1, lect. 10, n. 154.  “Quod enim totaliter est aliquid, non participat illud, sed est per essentiam idem illi. Quod vero non totaliter est aliquid habens aliquid aliud adiunctum, proprie participare dicitur”. Latin text from In Metaphysicam Aristotelis Commentaria

[10] Aquinas, In Metaphysicam Aristotelis Commentaria. “Sicut si calor esset calor per se existens, non diceretur participare calorem, quia nihil esset in eo nisi calor.” (English transl. mine.)

[11] Rudi A. Te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (New York, NY: E.J. Brill, 1995), 11-14.

[12] St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. I (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace; NovAntiqua, 2008), I, q.44, a.1, resp.  “Si enim aliquid invenitur in aliquo per participationem, necesse est quod causetur in ipso ab eo cui essentialiter convenit…”

[13] Ibidem, “Relinquitur ergo quod omnia alia a Deo non sint suum esse, sed participant esse.  Necesse est igitur omnia quae diversificantur secundum diversam participationem essendi,… causari ab uno primo ente, quod perfectissime est.”

[14] Fr. Cornelio Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione [Segni (RM), Italy: Editrice del Verbo Incarnato, 2005], 305.

[15] Ibidem.  “…tutti i partecipanti hanno in sè la stessa formalità secondo tutto il suo contenuto essenziale, ed il partecipato non esiste in sè, ma solo nei partecipanti” (English transl. mine).

[16] Ibidem. “…i partecipanti non hanno in sè che una ‘similitudine degradata’ del partecipato che sussiste in sè, al di fuori di essi, o come proprietà di un sussistente superiore, o senz’altro come formalità pura e sussistente nella piena possessione di sè.” (English transl. mine).

[17] Ibid., 306. “…è quella della creatura dal Creatore che, essendo l’essere per essenza, in sè riassume… tutte le altre perfezioni, formalmente se sono perfezioni pure, virtualmente se miste.” (English transl. mine).

[18] William T. Cavanaugh, “A Joint Declaration? Justification as Theosis in Aquinas and Luther,” The Heythrop Journal, vol. 41, Issue 3, (July 2000), 270.

[19] Fabro, “Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy”, 474.

[20] Ibid., 475.

[21] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. II (Ypsilanti, MI: NovAntiqua, 2009) I, q.75, a.5, ad 4, “…omne participatum comparatur ad participans ut actus eius.”

[22] Ibidem, “solus Deus, qui est ipsum suum esse, est actus purus et infinitus” (English transl. mine).

[23] John Rziha, Perfecting Human Actions: St. Thomas Aquinas on Human Participation in Eternal Law (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 10.

[24] Rziha, Perfecting Human Actions: St. Thomas Aquinas on Human Participation in Eternal Law, 10.

[25] Cf. Aquinas, De Substantiis Separatis, chpt. VIII-IX.

[26] St. Thomas Aquinas, Comm. super Libros IV Sententiarum, lib.2, d.16, q.1, a.1, ad 3., in Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione, 306.  “…quia Deus dicitur ens hoc modo quod est ipsum suum esse; creatura vero non est ipsum suum esse, sed dicitur ens, quasi esse participans….” (English transl. mine).

[27] Ibid., 307.

[28] John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 115.

[29] Ibidem, 116.

[30] St Thomas Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, pt. III, transl. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 2nd ed. (London, England: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1913), q.4, a.1, ad 2. (Brackets mine.) “…similitudo imaginis attenditur in natura humana secundum quod est capax Dei, scilicet ipsum attingendo propria operatione cognitionis et amoris.  Similitudo autem vestigii attenditur solum secundum repraesentationem aliquam ex impressione divina in creatura existentem: non autem ex eo quod creatura irrationalis, in qua est sola talis similitudo, possit ad Deum attingere per solam suam operationem”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae, vol IV, Tertia Pars, 3rd ed. (Madrid, Spain: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1964).

[31] Romanus Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology, rev. ed. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001, 2013), 28-29.

[32] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol IV, (NovAntiqua, 2010) I-II, q.109, a.3, ad 1.  “prout est principium et finis naturalis boni….”

[33] Ibid., vol. V, (NovAntiqua, 2011) II-II, q.2, a.3, “Sola autem natura rationalis creata habet immediatum ordinem ad Deum.  Quia ceterae creaturae non attingunt ad aliquid universale, sed solum ad aliquid particulare participantes divinam bonitatem vel in essendo tantum, sicut inanimata, vel etiam in vivendo et cognoscendo singularia, sicut plantae et animalia, natura autem rationalis, inquantum cognoscit universalem boni et entis rationem, habet immediatum ordinem ad universale essendi principium.  Perfectio ergo rationalis creaturae non solum consistit in eo quod ei competit secundum suam naturam, sed etiam in eo quod ei attribuitur ex quadam supernaturali participatione divinae bonitatis.”

[34] St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, in Quaestiones Disputatae, vol. 1, ed. Fr. Raymundi Spiazzi (Rome, Italy: Marietti, 1949), q.21, a.5, ad 6.  “…hoc modo essentia denominator bona sicut et ens; unde, sicut habet esse per participationem, ita et bona est per participationem.” (English transl. mine.)

[35] St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones Quodlibetales, ed. Fr. Raymundi Spiazzi (Rome, Italy: Marietti, 1949) lib.2, q.2, a.1, resp. (English transl. mine.)  “Sic et Deus dicitur bonus essentialiter, quia est ipsa bonitas; creaturae autem dicuntur bonae per participationem, quia habent bonitatem….”

[36] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, I-II, q.110, a.2, ad 2. “…participatio divinae bonitatis quae est gratia….”

[37] St. Thomas Aquinas, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis, c.I, lect. 4 (  “…est duplex participatio divini luminis. Una scilicet perfecta, quae est in gloria, … alia est imperfecta, quae scilicet habetur per fidem, quia venit in testimonium. … Istorum autem modorum prior est modus participationis per fidem; quia per ipsam pervenitur ad speciem.”

[38] Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione, 290.  “La visione propria e piena avverrà soltanto quando, dopo questa vita, a chi muore in grazia, sarà comunicato il lume della gloria che è, in certo qual modo, la partecipazione più propria della vitalità stessa di Dio, onde la creatura entra in comunione dello stesso oggetto di cui vive Dio stesso.  La partecipazione del “lumen gloriae” tende a compiere in modo ineffabile quest’assimilazione dell’intelletto creato….” (English transl. mine). 

[39] St. Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum super Sententiis Magistri Petri Lombardi, vol. III, ed. R. P. Maria Fabianus Moos (Paris, France: P. Lethielleux, 1933), d.19, a.5, q.1, sol.1, p. 602.  “Ultima autem participatio suae bonitatis et completissima consistit in visione essentiae ipsius, secundum quam ei convivimus socialiter, quasi amici, cum in ea… beatitudo consistat.”  (English transl. mine.)

[40] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, I, q.10, a.1, obj.1, “…interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio.” (English transl. mine.)

[41] Saint Thomas Aquinas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith: Summa Contra Gentiles, “Book Three: Providence” pt. 1, transl. by Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1956), c.61, no. 2.  “…omnia quae per illam videntur, simul et uno intuitu videntur”—Latin text from

[42] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. I, I, q.10, a.3, resp.

[43] Ibid., vol. II, q.93, a.4, resp. “Unde imago Dei tripliciter potest considerari in homine.  Uno quidem modo, secundum quod homo habet aptitudinem naturalem ad intelligendum et amandum Deum, et haec aptitudo consistit in ipsa natura mentis, quae est communis omnibus hominibus.  Alio modo, secundum quod homo actu vel habitu Deum cognoscit et amat, sed tamen imperfecte, et haec est imago per conformitatem gratiae.  Tertio modo, secundum quod homo Deum actu cognoscit et amat perfecte, et sic attenditur imago secundum similitudinem gloriae.”

[44] Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione, 294-295.

[45] St. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae, c. 196, “Sed haec quaestio de facili solvitur, si distinguatur inter personam et naturam. Sicut enim in una persona multa sunt membra, ita in una humana natura multae sunt personae, ut participatione speciei multi homines intelligantur quasi unus homo, ut Porphyrius dicit… Per hunc igitur modum defectus originalis iustitiae est peccatum naturae, inquantum derivatur ex inordinata voluntate primi principii in natura humana, scilicet primi parentis, et sic est voluntarium habito respectu ad naturam, voluntate scilicet primi principii naturae, et sic transit in omnes qui ab ipso naturam humanam accipiunt, quasi in quaedam membra ipsius….”

[46] De Veritate, in Quaestiones Disputatae, q. 29, a.7, sed contra 3, “…Christus et Ecclesia sunt quasi una persona.” (English transl. mine.)

[47]Aquinas, Truth, vol. III, ed. Robert Schmidt, (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994) q.29, a.7, ad 3. “…unde Christus pro fidelibus tamquam pro suis membris mereri potuit….”—Latin text from De Veritate, in Quaestiones Disputatae.

[48] Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, III, q.48, a.1 resp. “Christo data est gratia non solum sicut singulari personae, sed inquantum est caput Ecclesiae, ut scilicet ab ipso redundaret ad membra.  Et ideo opera Christi hoc modo se habent tam ad se quam ad sua membra, sicut se habent opera alterius hominis in gratia constituti ad ipsum”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[49] Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione, 295.  “…la grazia invece degli uomini rigenerati viene participata a traverso il Cristo che l’ha meritata; essa è quindi “gratia Christi”, e tutti i doni che Dio ora effonde nelle anime sante, sono partecipazione della pienezza dei doni che è in lui.  Il Cristo va adunque considerato come una nuova fonte di partecipazioni soprannaturali.” (English transl. mine.)

[50] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, I-II, q.112, a.1, resp. “cum nihil aliud sit quam quaedam participation divinae naturae.”

[51] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, lect. 5, n. 782,, “Illud ergo in semetipso vitam habet, quod habet vitam essentialem non participatam, idest quod ipsum est vita. In quolibet autem genere rerum, quod est per essentiam, est causa eorum quae sunt per participationem, sicut ignis est causa omnium ignitorum. Quod ergo est per essentiam vita, est causa et principium omnis vitae in viventibus. Et ideo ad hoc quod aliquod sit principium vitae requiritur quod sit per essentiam vita. Et ideo congrue manifestat dominus se totius vitae principium, dicens se habere vitam in semetipso, idest per essentiam, cum dicit sicut pater habet vitam in semetipso, idest sicut est vivens per essentiam, ita et filius.”

[52] Summa Theologiae, III, q.7, a.1, ad 1. “…anima Christi non est per suam essentiam divina.  Unde oportet quod fiat divina per participationem, quae est secundum gratiam.” (English transl. mine.)

[53] Ibid., III, q.7, a.1, ad 2., “…oportebat quod attingeret ad Deum per actum fruitionis creatum.  Qui quidem esse non potest nisi per gratiam.” (English transl. mine.)

[54] Fabro, “Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy”, 481.

[55] Aquinas, De Veritate, in Quaestiones Disputatae, q. 29, a.5, resp.  “…quasi instrumentum divinitatis fuit; et ideo actions eius nobis poterant esse salubres.” (English transl. mine.)

[56] Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q.19, a.1, resp., “…divina natura utitur operatione naturae humanae sicut operatione sui instrumenti: et similiter humana natura participat operationem divinae naturae, sicut instrumentum participat operationem principalis agentis.” (English transl. mine.)

[57] Ibid., III, q.8, a.5, resp.  “…in anima Christi recepta est gratia secundum maximum eminentiam.  Et ideo ex eminentia gratiae quam accepit, competit sibi quod gratia illa ad alios derivetur.  Quod pertinet ad rationem capitis.” (English transl. mine.)

[58] Cf. Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Participazione, 296.

[59] Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, III, q.23, a.4, resp., “…filiatio adoptionis est participata similitude filiationis naturalis”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[60] Ibid., III, q.26, a.2, resp.  “…competit ei coniungere homines Deo, praecepta et dona homines exhibendo, et pro hominibus ad Deum satisfaciendo et interpellando”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[61] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, I-II, q.112, a.1, ad 2.  “…sicut in ipsa persona Christi humanitas causat salute nostrum per gratiam, virtute divina principaliter operante; ita etiam in sacramentis novae legis, quae derivantur a Christo, causatur gratia instrumentaliter quidem per ipsa sacramenta, sed principaliter per virtutem spiritus sancti in sacramentis operantis….”

[62] Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, NY: Doubleday, 199), #1213

[63] Vincent de Castro Novo supplied responses to unanswered objections in Disputed Question on the Virtues in General, by St. Thomas Aquinas ( a.2, ad 21.

[64] Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, III, q.62, a.5, resp. “Principalis autem causa efficiens gratiae est ipse Deus, ad quem comparator humanitas Christi sicut instrumentum coniunctum, sacramentum autem sicut instrumentum separatum. Et ideo oportet quod virtus salutifera derivetur a divinitate Christi per eius humanitatem in ipsa sacramenta”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[65] Ibid., III, q.49, a.5, ad 3.  “…Christo baptizato aperti sunt caeli, non propter ipsum Christum, cui semper caelum patuit:sed ad significandum quod caelum aperitur baptizatis baptism Christi, qui habet efficaciam ex passion ipsius.”

[66] Ibid., III, q.49, a.1, ad 4.  “…ut causa quaedam universalis remissionis peccatorum…”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[67] Ibidem. “Hoc autem fit per baptismum et poenitentiam et alia sacramenta, quae habent virtutem ex passione Christi….”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[68] Matthew Levering, Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation according to Thomas Aquinas, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002) 124.

[69] Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, as found in Heinrich Denzinger, 43rd ed., ed. Peter Hunermann, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012) #1529, “…qui…sua sanctissima passione in ligno crucis nobis iustificationem meruit [can. 10], et pro nobis Deo Patri satisfecit….”

[70] Levering, Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation according to Thomas Aquinas, 120.

[71] Ibidem, “…et non modo reputamur, sed vere iusti nominamur et sumus [cf. 1 Io 3:1], iustitiam in nobis recipientes unusquisque suam, secundum mensuram, quam Spiritus Sanctus partitur singulis prout vult [cf. 1 Cor 12:11], et secundum propriam cuiusque dispositionem et cooperationem.”

[72] The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic ed., (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006), 2Pt 1:4. Italics added. Cited by Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, III, q.62, a.1, resp.

[73] Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, III, q.49, a.5, resp.  “…sed etiam a peccatis propriis singulorum qui communicant eius passioni per fidem et caritatem et fidem sacramenta”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[74] Cf. Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol IV, I-II, q.114, a.4, resp., Whether Grace is the Principle of Merit through Charity. Here Aquinas explains that “merit chiefly rest[s] with charity,” both on the part of the Divine ordination and on the part of man’s free-will. He states, “For we must bear in mind that everlasting life consists in the enjoyment of God. Now the human mind’s movement to the fruition of the Divine good is the proper act of charity, whereby all the acts of the other virtues are ordained to this end, since all the other virtues are commanded by charity. Hence the merit of life everlasting pertains first to charity, and secondly, to the other virtues, inasmuch as their acts are commanded by charity. So, likewise, is it manifest that what we do out of love we do most willingly. Hence, even inasmuch as merit depends on voluntariness, merit is chiefly attributed to charity.” In the Latin, “Primo enim considerandum est quod vita aeterna in Dei fruitione consistit. Motus autem humanae mentis ad fruitionem divini boni, est proprius actus caritatis, per quem omnes actus aliarum virtutum ordinantur in hunc finem, secundum quod aliae virtutes imperantur a caritate. Et ideo meritum vitae aeternae primo pertinet ad caritatem, ad alias autem virtutes secundario, secundum quod eorum actus a caritate imperantur. Similiter etiam manifestum est quod id quod ex amore facimus, maxime voluntarie facimus. Unde etiam secundum quod ad rationem meriti requiritur quod sit voluntarium, principaliter meritum caritati attribuitur.”

[75] Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. V, II-II, q.23, a.2, ad 1. “Unde sicut dicimur boni bonitate quae Deus est, et sapientes sapientia quae Deus est, quia bonitas qua formaliter boni sumus est participatio quaedam divinae bonitatis, et sapientia qua formaliter sapientes sumus est participatio quaedam divinae sapientiae; ita etiam caritas qua formaliter diligimus proximum est quaedam participatio divinae caritatis.”

[76] Cf. 1Jn 4:8.

[77] Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, III, q.73, a.3, ad 3. “…baptismus est sacramentum mortis et passionis Christi prout homo regenerator in Christo virtute passionis eius.  Sed Eucharistia est sacramentum passionis Christi prout homo perficitur in unione ad Christum passum. Unde, sicut Baptismus dicitur sacramentum fidei, quae est fundamentum spiritualis vitae; ita Eucharistia dicitur sacramentum caritatis, quae est vinculum perfectionis….”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

[78] Cf. Pope St. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, dated April 17, 2003, #18-19.  In #18, the Holy Father explains, “The Eucharist is a straining toward the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ (cf. Jn 15:11); it is in some way the anticipation of heaven, ‘the pledge of future glory.’”  Then in #19, he says, “…in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lamb, we are united to the ‘heavenly liturgy’ and become part of that great multitude….The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth” (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2003).

[79] Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q.83, a.1, resp. “…imago est quaedam repraesentativa passionis Christi, quae est vera immolatio.” (English transl. mine.)

[80] Ibid., “…quantum ad effectum passionis: quia scilicet per hoc sacramentum participes efficimur fructus Dominicae passionis.” (English transl. mine.)

[81] Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, III, q.79, a.7, resp. “…Sic igitur hoc sacramentum sumentibus quidem prodest per modum sacramenti et per modum sacrificii, quia pro omnibus sumentibus offertur: dicitur enim in canone Missae: Quotquot ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum corpus et sanguinem filii tui sumpserimus, omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur”—Latin text from S. Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Theologiae.

On the Separated Soul according to St. Thomas Aquinas

By Melissa (Sr. Magdalene) Eitenmiller, O. P.

Published by Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2019): 57-91


            There is an on-going debate between two, predominantly analytic[1], groups of Thomists, in which one group holds what is termed the “survivalist” [2] view with regard to the human person after death, and the other, the “corruptionist” [3] view. Those who defend the survivalist view wish to claim that the human person does not cease to exist at death, and although, according to Mark Spencer, the survivalist camp does not identify the human person with the separated soul, it nevertheless “contends that, in the separated state, a person is constituted by a soul, while remaining an individual rational animal and individual substance of a rational nature.”[4]

The corruptionist view, on the other hand, will be represented in this paper by Patrick Toner[5] in his article, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Death and the Separated Soul”, where he argues that St. Thomas held “that human beings cease to exist at their deaths,”[6] at least until the resurrection of the body. Toner presents this in the following manner: (1) “human beings” are composites of body and soul (therefore, as he quotes Aquinas, “my soul is not me”[7]); (2) death is a substantial corruption of the composite, and (3) “hence, humans stop existing at their deaths.”[8]

In this paper, I would like to propose that Aquinas’ view is more nuanced than either side appears ready to acknowledge.[9] It seems to me important to emphasize that, although death truly involves a separation of body and soul (thus constituting a corruption of the human person as such), nevertheless, the soul remains the “essential part” of the person, and still maintains a certain identity with that person as a subject of attribution,[10] which is already capable of enjoying the absolute bliss of the Beatific Vision (or the suffering of temporal or eternal punishment in purgatory or hell, respectively), even before the General Resurrection.[11] Consequently, it would be wrong, and even spiritually dangerous, to ignore the importance of the intermediate state. It is not at all clear to me that Toner means to do this, but emphasizing the destruction of the human person at death, he and other corruptionists do appear to leave themselves open to that sort of interpretation. In fact, Serge-Thomas Bonino, who calls these two camps[12] the “minimalists” (i.e., corruptionists), and the “maximalists” (i.e., survivalists), points out that

according to the minimalists, the refusal to attribute personhood to the separated soul not only means that St. Thomas calls into question the identity between the current ‘me’ and the separated soul, but also implies a minimal conception of the activity of the separated soul, reduced to a comatose state of prolonged vigil. The separated soul would have… an existence similar to that… which the Ancients would concede to the shadows which haunt Sheol.[13]

As an example of this, Bonino cites B. Carlos Bazán, who declares, “A soul without its ontological correlate [i.e., matter] cannot operate, and consequently does not live.”[14] This statement shall be shown to be false when we speak of the operations of the separated soul. First, however, I would like to review each of Toner’s three points mentioned above.

The Composite Human Person

            With regard to Toner’s first point, it is certainly true that according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the human person, “an individual substance of a rational nature,”[15] is a composite of both body and rational soul, together with a human esse. Gilles Emery explains that “since the person is an individual substance, it is a reality that possesses its proper being in a complete manner, in itself and through itself, and which exercises on its own the act of existing…. [Therefore,] what accounts for my uniqueness is not only my concrete individual essence (my own humanity), but my proper act of existing in the human nature common to all human beings.”[16]

In other words, other than in the case of Christ, the union of body and a rational soul necessarily implies the act of existence proper to a human person (since the act of being comes to the composite through the soul). Therefore, Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologiae, “The body is not of the essence of the soul; but the soul by the nature of its essence can be united to the body, so that, properly speaking, not the soul alone, but the ‘composite,’ is the species.”[17] He also notes in Contra Gentiles that “body and soul are not two actually existing substances, but one actually existing substance is made from them.”[18] Additionally, in asking the question of “whether the soul is man,” Aquinas affirms that “man is not a soul only, but something composed of soul and body.”[19]

But what sort of composite are we speaking of here? In what manner does it come about? St. Thomas explains that the human soul is the form of the body: “For that whereby primarily anything acts is a form of the thing to which the act is to be attributed,”[20] and that whereby the body lives is the soul. The soul, in fact, is the principle of all bodily operations. Aquinas clarifies, “For the soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and likewise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand, whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form of the body.”[21]

Consequently, it is the soul which gives being to the composite. In De principiis naturae, Aquinas points out that there are two kinds of esse, essential or substantial (as in “man exists”) and accidental (“man is white”).[22] That which is in potency to each is a kind of matter (prime matter in the case of substantial being, and the subject in the case of accidental being.) The substantial form gives esse to prime matter (which has an incomplete being),[23] whereas the subject (which has complete being in itself) gives being to the accidental form, rather than vice versa. Therefore, there are two kinds of generation (with two corresponding kinds of corruption), i.e., generation and corruption simpliciter, which “are only in the genus of substance,… [and] generation and corruption secundum quid, [which] are in all the other genera.”[24] Since death involves the separation of the substantial form (i.e., the soul) from matter, the composite is corrupted simpliciter. Nevertheless, in the case of the human person, the soul (which has being of itself) is not corrupted, although it lacks the completeness due to its nature (which is to be the form of a body).[25]

Death as a Substantial Corruption of the Composite

            From what has been said, therefore, we can see that Toner’s second point, i.e. that death is a substantial corruption of the composite, is undoubtedly true. So then, how can we say that the soul remains once it has separated from the body, and in what state does it remain? Is it something like Joe’s old hat, which is laid aside in the corner until it is time to put it on again?

At this point, I would like to look, step by step, at Aquinas’s explanations of the incorporeality, subsistence, incorruptibility, immortality, and, even when separated, individuality, of the human soul. With regard to the incorporeality of the soul, St. Thomas points out:

It is indeed clear that by means of the intellect man can know the natures of all corporeal things.  However, it is necessary that whatever can know some things must not have any of them in its own nature; because that which inheres in it naturally would impede the knowledge of other things…. Therefore, if the intellectual principle were to have in itself the nature of some body, it would be unable to know all bodies. Moreover, every body has some determinate nature. Therefore, it is impossible for the intellectual principle to be a body.[26]

            In other words, the intellect is open to understanding many different kinds of corporeal objects and is not determined to one. It would not be able to transcend corporeal things, however, if it were itself corporeal.[27] Likewise, says Aquinas, it is “impossible for it [i.e. the soul] to understand by means of a bodily organ; since the determinate nature of that organ would impede knowledge of all bodies,”[28] just as looking through colored glass determines the color of everything one sees. Consequently, the soul must be incorporeal, and because it is incorporeal, and is an intellectual principle, the soul “has an operation through itself, in which the body does not communicate. Nothing, however, can operate through itself, except that which subsists through itself.”[29]

            An important aspect to this argument of subsistence through itself is explained by St. Thomas in the phrase, “For nothing operates, except it be a being in act, thus, something operates, according to the mode by which it is.”[30] In this, Aquinas shows that a thing operates insofar as it is in act, i.e., insofar as it has being. In other words, it can only act as it is. It is the soul which gives being to the composite,[31] as noted above. Consequently, the fact that a soul can operate per se without the body indicates that it is not dependent on the body, but rather, is subsistent through itself.

            Someone might object at this point that the soul clearly needs the senses in order to understand, which it does by means of phantasms.  It would seem, consequently, that the soul cannot act apart from the body.  To this objection, Aquinas replies that although it is true that the body is necessary for the intellect to act, this is “not as the organ by which such action is exercised, but by reason of the object; for the phantasm is compared to the intellect as color is to the sight.”[32] He goes on to explain that this does not mean the soul is not subsistent, because if that were true, a living animal, as such, would be non-subsistent, “since it requires external objects of the senses in order to perform its act of perception.”[33] However, the souls of nonrational animals are not subsistent, i.e., they do not continue to subsist once the animal dies.  This is because of the above-mentioned principle, commonly referred to by the scholastics as operari sequitur esse (acting follows upon being), and the kind of act possible to one depends upon the kind of thing one is. The soul of a non-rational animal is not able to operate apart from the body (since the non-rational animal has only a sensitive, rather than intellective, soul), and so is not subsistent.[34]

            This argument is also important with regard to our understanding of the condition of the separated soul, which we will speak more about later. As noted above, phantasms are necessary as objects by which the soul understands, but, as Bonino points out, “cerebral activity is not the cause of thought.”[35] In other words, Aquinas believes that the soul is not dependent on the corporeal organ of the brain. Rather, the soul exercises a kind of autonomy with regard to its understanding. Therefore, Bonino notes, “This noetic autonomy of the human intellective soul at the level of acting is the sign of its ontological autonomy in virtue of which it subsists post mortem, despite the corruption of the composite.”[36]

            However, although the soul is subsistent, this does not mean it is a complete substance. It is still naturally part of the body-soul composite referred to as “man.” St. Thomas differentiates between a particular thing [hoc aliquid] that is subsistent and a particular thing [hoc aliquid] that is both subsistent “and is complete in a specific nature.”[37] He explains,

The former sense excludes the inherence of an accident or of a material form; the latter excludes also the imperfection of a part, so that a hand can be called “this particular thing” [hoc aliquid] in the first sense, but not in the second. Therefore, as the human soul is a part of human nature, it can indeed be called “this particular thing” [hoc aliquid] in the first sense, as being something subsistent; but not in the second, for in this sense, what is composed of body and soul is said to be “this particular thing” [hoc aliquid].[38]

            From the fact that Aquinas lumps together the human soul and the hand as both subsisting in the first sense, it is evident that, although they are both very different in other ways, nevertheless, the human soul and the hand have something in common, i.e., they are parts. Yet the hand is obviously not incorruptible. Consequently, something more than simple subsistence in the first sense is required in order to be able to claim that the soul is, in fact, incorruptible.

A few articles later, St. Thomas notes that a thing can be corrupted in two ways: per se (i.e., through itself) or per accidens (accidentally, i.e., through something else). However, no substance can be generated or corrupted per accidens (through something else), because a thing is generated or corrupted in accordance with its esse. (Recall our discussion of substantial being above.) “Therefore, whatever has esse per se can only be generated or corrupted per se, whereas those things which do not subsist, such as accidents or material forms, are said to become and be corrupted through the generation and corruption of the composite things.”[39] On the contrary, from the fact that the human soul subsists through itself [i.e., per se], it could not be corrupted except through itself, which is impossible, since the soul is a form only, without any matter.

For it is clear that what belongs to a thing by virtue of itself is inseparable from it; but existence belongs to a form which is an act, by virtue of itself. Wherefore matter acquires actual existence as it acquires the form; while it is corrupted so far as the form is separated from it. But it is impossible for a form to be separated from itself; and therefore it is impossible for a subsistent form to cease to exist.[40]

In other words, being (esse) belongs to the form (which is act) and comes to the composite through the form. Therefore, matter receives its being through the form, and for this reason, is corrupted when separated from the form. But the form which is subsistent cannot naturally be separated from its own act of being, and so, is not corruptible.

In the Disputed Questions on the Soul, St. Thomas points out two additional reasons for saying that the soul is incorruptible. One is from the fact that the intellect can understand things (which are corruptible in themselves) in a universal way (with the result that those things become incorruptible insofar as they are understood by the intellect). A second argument for the incorruptibility of the soul stems from the natural appetite. Aquinas elaborates,

Natural appetite [desire springing from the nature of man] cannot be frustrated. Now we observe in men the desire for perpetual existence. This desire is grounded in reason. For to exist (esse) being desirable in itself, an intelligent being who apprehends existence in the absolute sense, and not merely the here and now, must desire existence in the absolute sense and for all time. Hence it is clear that this desire is not vain, but that man, in virtue of his intellective soul, is incorruptible.[41]

For Aquinas, since the soul is incorruptible, it simply follows that it is immortal. For example, he notes in the Contra gentiles, “Now the corruption of the body does not cause the soul to cease to exist, for the latter is immortal, as we have proved above [referring to chapter 79, on the incorruptibility of the soul].”[42] However, elsewhere, St. Thomas also explains that “a thing ordained to an eternal end must be capable of enduring forever. That is why the soul’s immortality can be proved from the eternity of intelligible truth.”[43] And at the end of chapter 78, he offers another proof for the immortality of the soul, saying,

The Philosopher thereupon adds: That alone is separate which truly is. This remark cannot apply to the agent intellect, since it alone is not separate, for he had already spoken of the possible intellect as being separate. Nor can that statement be understood to refer to the possible intellect, since Aristotle had already said the same thing concerning the agent intellect. It remains that the above remark applies to that which includes both intellects, namely, to the intellect in act, of which he was speaking; because that alone in our soul which belongs to the intellect in act is separate and uses no organ; I mean that part of the soul whereby we understand actually and which includes the possible and agent intellect. And that is why Aristotle goes on to say that this part of the soul alone is immortal and everlasting, as being independent of the body in virtue of its separateness.[44]

In saying that “this part of the soul alone is immortal,” St. Thomas does not mean that the soul can be divided, which is impossible, since it is a form, but rather, that it is the rational soul that is immortal, whereas the vegetative and sensitive powers do not actually remain in the soul, but only virtually,[45] or “in root,” and cannot be activated without the senses, which require corporeal organs.

Yet one might ask, if the soul was created to be part of a composite, the form of the body, how is it that the soul does not lose its individuation once it has separated from the body? It would appear, in fact, that if the soul, as form, is individuated by matter (i.e., the body), once it leaves the body, it would lose its individuation, and therefore, would no longer subsist as this particular thing. On the other hand, if it were individuated in itself, it would either need to be a simple form, which is its own species, as in the case of the angels, or it would itself have to be composed of matter and form.

Aquinas answers this objection by explaining that, even though the soul has a relationship to the body, its act of being does not come from the body, but from God. For this reason, “the soul’s act of existing does not cease when the body corrupts, nor does the soul’s individuation cease when the body corrupts.”[46] This is because, he notes, “The act of existing (esse) and individuation (individuatio) of a thing are always found together. For universals do not exist in reality inasmuch as they are universals, but only inasmuch as they are individuated.”[47] Consequently, since the soul has its own act of being, it also retains its individuation. In summary, then, we can say that the soul, which is the substantial form of the body, is incorporeal, subsistent, incorruptible, and thereby, immortal, and, even when separated, individual.

What It Means to Say That a Human Person Ceases to Exist at Death

This brings us to Toner’s third point. Is it true that human beings stop existing when they die? Yes, if you mean as composites of body and soul, but no, if you mean there is nothing personal left after death, i.e., the soul remains personal in the sense of retaining the individuality of the person (even to the point of being judged in place of the person), and, as a subject of attribution, it continues to be the first principle of the act of existence and of the operations of the person. Toner stresses that “the soul which survives my death, is not me,”[48] re-iterating Aquinas. Yet unlike St. Thomas, there is a danger that one may stop at this point and fail to clarify what it is that remains between death and the final resurrection, i.e., the soul is not like the old hat we mentioned earlier.

On the contrary, St. Thomas calls the soul the “chief part” of man,[49] and Cardinal Cajetan does not hesitate to call the separated soul a “semi-persona, and not only a semi-natura,”[50] when commenting on Aquinas’ article regarding whether the soul of Christ was assumed to the Divine Person before his flesh. After noting St. Thomas’ reply that it would not be fitting for Christ’s soul to be created from the beginning and assumed later by the Word (which would either result in the corruption of its subsistence, or would mean that it were not united according to its subsistence), Cajetan goes on to say “that the Author is speaking here concerning the subsisting thing [i.e., the soul] just as if he were speaking of personhood [personalitate][51]: because the separated soul differs from a person only by the fact that it is incomplete in its species; because it is not the species, but a part of the species.”[52]

Cajetan then explains, in a second note, that if the soul of Christ pre-existed its being assumed by the Word, it would be corrupted, which could be understood in two ways: “First, as to the act of subsisting…. In another way, not only as to the act of subsisting, but as to that which underlies the act of subsisting.”[53] That is, the subject of the act of subsisting would also be corrupted. He declares,

And thus it seems that this text should be understood in keeping with what has already been determined with respect to personhood [personalitate]. Indeed, it should be imagined that the separated soul is a semi-person, and not merely a semi-nature. For united to flesh it is a semi-nature, since it is the essential part of human nature. But it does not subsist through itself as such, but through the hypostasis, to which as soul, as the defining principle [ratio] of subsisting according to its proper genus, namely, the immaterial order, it conveys the act of being and subsisting. But as soon as it is separated from the body, from this very fact by which it is constituted in separate being, it is constituted in a certain totality and completeness, so that it be that which subsists (inadequately, however, with respect to its being, in which even the body has been born, and <in which> the whole man subsists). For it has already been said that the separation gives a certain totality and completeness. And therefore, once separated, the soul is a semi-person, and as such is delimited by its own limit—though, while existing in the body, it was delimited by the limit of the whole man.[54]

Cajetan seems to be saying St. Thomas’ point is that, just as, if the Word had assumed a pre-existing angel, the personhood of that angel would have been corrupted, so also, if the Word had assumed a pre-existing soul, the terminus of that soul would have been corrupted, “by which it is constituted in being that which it is: both of a semi-person and of a subsisting thing,”[55] whereas if, on the contrary, the Word assumed a soul that was not pre-existing, “only then would it be assumed and united as a semi-nature.”[56] This view of the soul as a semi-person would seem to accord well with Aquinas’ answer to an objection which states that “each man is his intellect,”[57] to which St. Thomas replies, “Man is said to be his own intellect, not because the intellect is the entire man, but because the intellect is the chief part of man, in which man’s whole disposition lies virtually; just as the ruler of the city may be called the whole city, since its entire disposal is vested in him.”[58]

In other words, as Steven A. Long points out, even though the soul is not the person as such, it “is the noblest and most formal subsistent principle, root of the noblest operations of the ‘I’.”[59] In addition, as shall be explained below, the soul continues to understand, continues to remember (with its intellectual memory), and continues to love (as a simple act of willing), even after it is separated from the body. That is, granted that the soul can no longer perform the operations proper to its sensitive powers (which, although the soul is their origin, belong to the composite as such), it is still able to perform other operations which do not require the body, as Aquinas explains,

The proposition advanced…, namely, that no operation can remain in the soul when separated from the body, we declare to be false, in view of the fact that those operations do remain which are not exercised through organs. Such are the operations of understanding and willing. Those operations, however, do not endure which are carried out by means of bodily organs, and of such a kind are the operations of the nutritive and sensitive powers.[60]

In other words, the separated soul continues to act, though in a way much different from the way it did when it was in the body. We will now discuss more in detail some of its operations.

The Understanding of the Separated Soul

In speaking of the knowledge of the separated soul, Aquinas presents the difficulty in this way: In the Platonist understanding of the soul as being only accidentally tied to the body (which would mean that death would be a release for the soul from the impediment of the body, so that it “would at once return to its own nature, and would understand intelligible things simply, without turning to the phantasms”[61]), it would appear that there is no real difficulty with explaining how the separated soul understands, i.e., it would understand in a way similar to the angels. However, that view of the soul would seem to require all who held it to also hold that “the union of soul and body would not be for the soul’s good, for evidently it would understand worse in the body than out of it; but for the good of the body, which would be unreasonable, since matter exists on account of the form, and not the form for the sake of the matter.”[62]

St. Thomas continues with the dilemma, “But if we admit that the nature of the soul requires it to understand by turning to phantasms, it will seem, since death does not change its nature, that it can then naturally understand nothing; as the phantasms are wanting to which it may turn.”[63] In short, then, if we do not wish to hold that the soul is only accidentally tied to the body, it would appear that once the composite is corrupted, the soul is no longer able to understand anything, since the senses and imagination, which belong to the sensitive part of the soul, make use of corporeal organs to produce the phantasms the soul uses to understand. Nevertheless, Aquinas resolves this problem by returning once again to the axiom of operari sequitur esse. He declares,

To solve this difficulty, we must consider that nothing acts except so far as it is actual, the mode of action in every agent follows from its mode of existence [modus operandi uniuscuiusque rei sequitur modum essendi ipsius]. Now the soul has one mode of being when in the body, and another when apart from it, its nature remaining always the same; but this does not mean its union with the body is an accidental thing, for, on the contrary, such union belongs to its very nature…. The soul, therefore, when united to the body, consistently with that mode of existence, has a mode of understanding, by turning to corporeal phantasms, which are in corporeal organs; but when it is separated from the body, it has a mode of understanding, by turning to simply intelligible objects, as is proper to other separate substances.[64]

            One might ask here why it is not better, then, for the soul to simply remain separated from the body, as the Platonists would have it, rather than be reunited to the body in the final resurrection. Aquinas explains that this mode of understanding (i.e., turning directly to intelligible objects, rather than to corporeal phantasms) is not really suited to the nature of the soul. He declares, “[W]hile it is true that it is nobler in itself to understand by turning to something higher than to understand by turning to phantasms, nevertheless such a mode of understanding was not so perfect as regards what was possible to the soul.”[65] The reason for this, he says, is that every separated intellectual substance understands by means of the Divine light, and the further away one is from the First Principle, “the more this light is divided and diversified,”[66] and so, the greater the number and the less universal are the species which can be possessed by the intellect. The result is that the degree of comprehension is also less. “If, therefore,” adds St. Thomas, “the inferior substances received species in the same degree of universality as the superior substances, since they are not so strong in understanding, the knowledge which they would derive through them would be imperfect, and of a general and confused nature.”[67]

Aquinas likens this to human understanding in this life, where more universal concepts are less easily understood by those of a “weaker intellect,” who need these things explained to them in greater detail. The same is true of the human soul, which is the lowest of the intellectual substances. If it were meant to understand in the same way as the angels, it could only possess a more confused and general knowledge, rather than perfect. St. Thomas continues,

Therefore to make it possible for human souls to possess perfect and proper knowledge, they were so made that their nature required them to be joined to bodies, and thus to receive the proper and adequate knowledge of sensible things from the sensible things themselves; thus we see in the case of uneducated men that they have to be taught by sensible examples.

It is clear then that it was for the soul’s good that it was united to a body, and that it understands by turning to the phantasms. Nevertheless it is possible for it to exist apart from the body, and also to understand in another way.[68]

            Consequently, it is through a certain participation in the species given by means of the divine light that the separated soul is able to understand, although not in a perfect way, but in a way which is rather “confused and general,” since the soul was created to naturally turn to phantasms for its understanding. Yet Aquinas insists that this way of knowledge (i.e. turning directly to the species given through the divine light) is not, in itself, unnatural, “for God is the author of the influx both of the light of grace and of the light of nature [i.e. the light of reason].”[69] These new realities, however, although they have God for their cause, are known by the separated soul “directly through its essence.”[70] In other words, as Bonino explains, “The separated substance knows other realities by way of introspection, that is to say, in knowing itself.”[71] The separated soul knows in a similar way, although more imperfectly than the angel.

The Intellectual Memory

            But will the soul continue to remember the things it knew in this life? Yes, Aquinas states that the habit of knowledge acquired in this life remains in the separated soul, not with regard to the sensitive powers, but with regard to the intellect itself.  He explains,

Because, as it is said in the book, On the Length and Shortness of Life [Aristotle], some form may be corrupted in two ways; in one way, per se, when it is corrupted by its contrary, as heat, by cold; and another way, per accidens, namely, through the corruption of its subject. Now it is clear that knowledge which is in the human intellect cannot be corrupted through corruption of the subject, since the intellect is incorruptible…. Similarly, neither can the intelligible species which are in the passive intellect be corrupted by their contrary, because nothing is contrary to intelligible intentions, and especially with regard to the simple intelligence by which is understood that which is.[72]

St. Thomas goes on to explain that although knowledge can be corrupted directly by forgetfulness or deception, neither of these can take place in the separated soul.[73] Therefore, the soul retains its habit of knowledge, insofar as this habit of knowledge is in the intellect. This only applies, however, to the intelligible species the soul knew in this life, not to sensitive memory, which relies on phantasms. Therefore, as Bonino puts it, “[T]he separated soul continues to know by means of the ideas acquired during the course of this life and conserved in the intellectual memory,”[74] whereas new knowledge, as noted above, is received by the soul in a way analogous to the angels, i.e., by means of intelligible species infused by God.

The Will in the Soul

As has been mentioned, although all the powers have the soul as their principle, some powers inhere in the soul alone[75] (as the intellect and will), whereas others have the whole composite for their subject (the sensitive and nutritive powers). Once the composite is corrupted, only the intellect and will remain. (The intellectual memory also remains in the mind, but not the sensitive memory, as we have said.)[76] Aquinas explains,

All the powers of the soul belong to the soul alone as their principle. But some powers belong to the soul alone as their subject; as the intelligence and the will. These powers must remain in the soul, after the destruction of the body. But other powers are subjected in the composite; as all the powers of the sensitive and nutritive parts. Now accidents cannot remain after the destruction of the subject. Wherefore, the composite being destroyed, such powers do not remain actually; but they remain virtually in the soul, as in their principle or root.[77]

One of the objections in the article then asks, how is it that the blessed soul, without the body, can experience joy, and the condemned soul, sorrow? Interestingly enough, Aquinas replies, “In the separate soul, sorrow and joy are not in the sensitive, but in the intellectual appetite, as in the angels.”[78] He explains further in the Contra gentiles that with regard to operations of the soul such as loving and rejoicing, a distinction must be made here between passions of the soul (which are acts of the sensitive appetite) and the simple act of willing.

Because sometimes they [i.e. these types of operations] are taken for passions of the soul: and thus they are acts of the sensible appetite in respect of the irascible and the concupiscible faculties, together with a certain bodily transmutation. And thus they cannot remain in the soul after death…. But sometimes they are taken for a simple act of the will, that is without any passion. Wherefore Aristotle says in the seventh book of Ethics that God rejoices by one simple operation; and in the tenth book that in the contemplation of wisdom there is wonderful pleasure; and in the eighth book, he distinguishes the love of friendship from the love that is a passion. Now since the will is a power that uses no organ, as neither does the intellect, it is clear that these things in so far as they are acts of the will, remain in the separated soul.[79]

It is important to note, however, that the soul, upon being separated from the body, immediately has its will either fixed in good, or in evil. That is, unlike in this life, where the will is changeable, upon death, the will can no longer change from good to evil, or from evil to good. The reason why this is so, says Aquinas, is that

so long as the soul is united to the body, it is in a changeable state; but not after its separation from the body. For a disposition of the soul is accidentally [per accidens] subject to change in accordance with some change in the body: because, since the body serves the soul in the soul’s proper operations, it is natural that while the soul is in the body, it should be perfected by being moved to perfection. Hence, when it departs from the body, it will no longer be in a state of mobility towards the end, but of quiescence in the end. Consequently the will, as regards the desire for the ultimate end, will be immovable.[80]

            In other words, whatever ultimate end the soul had chosen, at the moment of death, whether it be God or something else, is the ultimate end upon which the will of the soul is fixed for all eternity, just as the angels, “as soon as they adhere to an end, due or undue, they abide therein immovably.”[81] Aquinas also warns that the adherence of the will to the object chosen as its ultimate end does not alter even once the soul has been reunited to the body at the resurrection. “On the contrary,” he states, “it will remain thus, because… at the resurrection, the body will be disposed according to the exigencies of the soul, and the soul will not be influenced by the body, but will remain unchangeable.”[82] That is, it will remain unchangeable with regard to the ultimate end, although, according to Aquinas, there will still be a kind of changeability in the soul with regard to the desire of lesser things which are ordered to whichever ultimate end the soul had previously chosen. “Therefore,” he notes, “the will of the separated soul is not changeable from good to evil, although it is changeable from the desire for one thing to the desire for another, provided the order to the [same] ultimate end be observed.”[83]

Consequently, adds St. Thomas, the will of the separated soul remains free. He declares, “It is now apparent that such immutability is not in conflict with the power of free will whose act it is to choose, for choice is of the things for the end; choice is not of the ultimate end.”[84]

On the Particular Judgment of the Soul

According to Aquinas (and the teaching of the Catholic Church), the soul, upon its separation from the body, will be immediately judged by God and will receive “the recompense he has deserved.”[85] In other words, it does not have to wait until it is rejoined to the body before being judged. Rather, as noted above, the souls of the just “immediately after death and, in the case of those who need purification, after the purification… already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are, and will be with Christ in heaven…. [and] enjoy the divine essence [by means of the Beatific Vision].”[86] On the other hand, the souls of the wicked, “go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell.”[87]

One might think it strange, however, that the separated soul is immediately judged, since one would normally think of judgment as being a judgment of the person.[88] Therefore, it is evident that the soul is so personal that it “stands in” or “takes the place of” the person who is judged in the particular judgment. Nevertheless, there is a certain fittingness to the fact that the soul is judged even before the resurrection. Aquinas explains why this is so:

As soon as the soul is separated from the body, it is made capable of the divine vision, which it could not arrive at while it was united to a corruptible body. And moreover, man’s ultimate happiness, which is the reward of virtue…, consists in the vision of God. Now there is no reason why a punishment or reward should be deferred, after the moment in which the soul can be a participant [in these]. Therefore, as soon as the soul is separated from the body, it receives its punishment or reward, for those things which it did in the body.[89]

St. Thomas clarifies further why it is appropriate for the soul to be judged first:

The order in punishment and reward should correspond to the order in fault and merit. Now merit and fault are not ascribed to the body except through the soul: since nothing is deserving of praise or blame, except in so far as it is voluntary. Consequently both reward and punishment are awarded to the body through the soul: but it does not belong to souls on account of the body. Hence there is no reason why the punishment or reward of souls should await the resumption of their bodies: indeed it would seem more fitting that souls, in which there was first fault or merit, should also be first in being punished or rewarded.[90]

However, with regard to the souls of the just who are not yet completely purified in this life, Aquinas notes that they will not immediately receive their reward, which consists in the Beatific Vision (i.e. the vision of God Himself), until after their purification is complete. He elaborates,

The rational creature cannot be raised to that vision, unless it be wholly purified,…. Now the soul is defiled by sin, whereby it adheres inordinately to things beneath it: and in this life it is cleansed from this defilement by Penance and the other sacraments…. Sometimes, however, it happens that this cleansing is not entirely completed in this life, but the soul still owes a debt of punishment, through either neglect, or occupations, or because it has been surprised by death. Nevertheless, it does not for this reason deserve to be wholly deprived of its reward, since these things may happen without mortal sin, which alone takes away charity, to which the reward of eternal life is due…. Consequently, after this life, the soul will need to be cleansed before it can receive its final reward. Now this cleansing [purgatio] is effected by means of punishment…. Therefore, the souls of the just, who have something that could have been cleansed in this world, are debarred from receiving their reward, until they have suffered a purgatorial punishment: and this is why we hold that there is a Purgatory.[91]

            It is clear, then, that the separated soul is so personal that it is even held accountable for the sins of the person, and made to atone for whatever it did not atone for while still in the body, before it is allowed to participate in the Beatific Vision.

The Separated Souls of the Damned

The greatest suffering of the souls of the wicked is, of course, the loss of the Beatific Vision, i.e., the forfeiting of their enjoyment of God forever. This is known as the pain of loss. However, the souls of the wicked will also receive the punishment known as the pain of sense. With regard to this, it is interesting to note that, according to Aquinas, the condemned separated soul, even before being reunited to its body, already suffers the corporeal fire of hell (which the devils also suffer). In explaining how this is possible, St. Thomas points out that there are two kinds of suffering in an intellectual being. The first is by being directly acted upon in a way that effects change and corruption. This, however, is impossible for the soul (as well as for the evil spirits), and so it does not suffer sensible pain from the fire in this manner. Aquinas continues:

However, the soul can suffer by corporeal fire according to the second kind of suffering, inasmuch as it is hindered from its inclination or volition by fire of this kind…. For the soul and any incorporeal substance, inasmuch as this belongs to it by nature, is not physically confined in any place, but transcends the whole corporeal order. Consequently it is contrary to its nature and to its natural appetite for it to be fettered to anything and be confined in a place by some necessity; and I maintain that this is the case except inasmuch as the soul is united to the body whose natural form it is, and in which there follows some perfection.[92]

Therefore, the separated soul suffers from the pain of sense, as well as from the pain of loss, inasmuch as it is weighed down by the corporeal fire. And in case anyone should scoff at the possibility of a spiritual substance being hindered by a corporeal one, Aquinas quotes St. Augustine as saying,

If men’s souls, having been created incorporeal, are now in this life incarnate in bodily members, and shall one day be bound thereto forever, then why cannot we truly say, though you may marvel at it, that even incorporeal spirits may be afflicted by corporeal fire? Therefore these spirits, even though incorporeal, shall dwell in tormenting corporeal fires… and, instead of giving life to these fires, they shall receive punishment from them.[93]

Aquinas notes that this corporeal fire acts upon the soul as an instrument of divine justice, by means of divine power. The fire afflicts the condemned soul with great interior sadness. St. Thomas explains that this sadness is “because the soul, which was born to be united to God through possession, meditates on the fact that it occupies a place below the lowest things in existence.”[94] In summary, then, “the greatest affliction of the damned will be caused by the fact that they are separated from God; secondly, by the fact that they are situated below corporeal things, and in the lowest and meanest place.”[95]

The Happiness of the Souls of the Just

            In speaking of the invisible mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit to all those who are in grace, Aquinas points out that this mission continues to be directed toward the blessed “at the very beginning of their beatitude.”[96] He adds, “The invisible mission is made to them subsequently, not by ‘intensity’ of grace, but by the further revelation of mysteries; which goes on till the day of judgment. Such an increase is by the ‘extension’ of grace, because it extends to a greater number of objects.”[97]

In this we see that the separated soul is able to understand and enjoy further revelation even before being united again to the body up until the final judgment. In fact, Aquinas explains elsewhere that the separated soul already enjoys the perfect happiness of the Beatific Vision even before the resurrection of the body.  He elaborates,

But as to perfect Happiness, which consists in the vision of God, some have maintained that it is not possible to the soul separated from the body; and have said that the souls of saints, when separated from their bodies, do not attain to that Happiness until the Day of Judgment, when they will receive their bodies back again. And this is shown to be false, both by authority and by reason. [98]

            With regard to the argument from authority, St. Thomas points to St. Paul’s statement that “While we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:6), and he explains that “the souls of the saints, separated from their bodies, are in God’s presence… Whence it is evident that the souls of the saints, separated from their bodies, ‘walk by sight,’ seeing the Essence of God, wherein is true Happiness.”[99]

As for the argument from reason which he mentions, St. Thomas again points out the fact that the intellect is not dependent on the body for its operation, except with regard to the forming of phantasms, which are unnecessary for the Beatific Vision, in which the soul contemplates the divine essence. “Consequently,” he says, “without the body the soul can be happy.”[100] However, the question remains: does the separated soul’s happiness constitute human happiness? Joseph Trabbic thinks we can designate it only loosely as human happiness, saying, “Indeed, the intellect is perfected in such a state and human happiness consists primarily in the perfection of the intellect. But if, as Aquinas believes, neither the body by itself nor the soul by itself is a human person, then true happiness cannot be had by a disembodied but perfected human intellect.”[101]

Two points must be made in reply to this objection. First, although the mode of being of the soul has changed, as mentioned above, from a mode of being united to the body to the mode of being separated from the body, nevertheless the soul remains “human” in its nature (as it is the soul which causes the composite to be human, since the form gives the species, according to Aquinas),[102] although it is not a person in the metaphysical sense mentioned above. (That is, it is not a complete, individual, rational substance, i.e., a composite of body and rational soul with its own act of being.) In fact, if the soul were no longer “human” in its nature, it would have to have been changed into some other species at death, which is absurd.[103] Therefore, one can and should say that the happiness of the separated soul is human happiness.

The second point regards the meaning of “true happiness.” If “true happiness” means “essential” happiness, then the soul already experiences it even prior to the resurrection of the body. St. Thomas explains that “something may belong to a thing’s perfection in two ways”[104]: First, as constituting its essence; second, as “necessary to the perfection of the thing which pertains to the good of its being.”[105] The Angelic Doctor continues:

Wherefore though the body does not belong in the first way to the perfection of human happiness [ad perfectionem beatitudinis humanae; i.e., to the essence of human happiness], yet it does in the second way. For since operation depends on a thing’s nature, the more perfect is the soul in its nature, the more perfectly it has its proper operation, wherein its happiness consists.[106]

Notice that Aquinas says here that the body does not belong to the essence of the perfection of human happiness (beatitudinis humanae). Therefore, although the essence of the soul’s happiness does not require the body, the fact that the soul is not yet complete in its nature (as the form of the composite) indicates that it still lacks some degree of perfection, and therefore lacks happiness secundum quid. Aquinas further expounds on how the happiness of the soul is affected by the absence of the body in his reply to the fourth objection, where he asserts:

One thing is hindered by another in two ways. First, by way of opposition; thus cold hinders the action of heat: and such a hindrance to operation is repugnant to Happiness. Secondly, by way of some kind of defect, because, to wit, that which is hindered has not all that is necessary to make it perfect in every way: and such a hindrance to operation is not incompatible with Happiness, but prevents it from being perfect in every way. And thus it is that separation from the body is said to hold the soul back from tending with all its might to the vision of the Divine Essence. For the soul desires to enjoy God in such a way that the enjoyment also may overflow into the body, as far as possible. And therefore, as long as it enjoys God, without the fellowship of the body, its appetite is at rest in that which it has, in such a way, that it would still wish the body to attain to its share.[107]

However, Aquinas is quick to add that “[t]he desire of the separated soul is entirely at rest, as regards the thing desired [i.e., it is completely satisfied by God Himself]…., but it is not wholly at rest, as regards the desirer, since it does not possess that good in every way that it would wish to possess it [i.e., it does not yet possess the fullness of its nature until it is reunited to the body.]”[108] For this reason, says Aquinas, “[A]fter the body has been resumed, Happiness increases not in intensity, but in extent.”[109] Consequently, although there seems to be little doubt that the soul can be truly happy simpliciter even apart from the body, it is still apparent, from what we have said, that the soul without the body is incomplete in its specific nature (which is to be the form of a body), and so, lacking this perfection, thereby lacks some happiness secundum quid.

What is a Person?

It would appear from the debate regarding whether or not the soul is a person that there are at least two, equivocal notions of “person” at play here. The first notion is the objective, metaphysical view, the one which is clearly indicated by Aquinas in citing Boethius’ well-known definition of person, as an “individual substance of a rational nature.”[110] The second view, however, is one of the modern notions of person,[111] as a sort of reified center of consciousness, which I would like to call the subjective, “existential” view. St. Thomas’s understanding of “person” is obviously that of the objective, metaphysical sense, which presumes that the individual substance be complete, and not only a part.

Emery points out that Aquinas makes a distinction “between the common notion of person, and the special notion that applies distinctly to God and to humans.”[112] With respect to the common notion, there is the Boethian definition of person, mentioned above, which, Emery notes, “is applied by analogy to the divine Three, to angels, and to human beings.”[113] With regard to human beings, Aquinas explains that

The “individual substance,” which is included in the definition of a person, implies a complete substance subsisting of itself and separate from all else; otherwise, a man’s hand might be called a person, since it is an individual substance; nevertheless, because it is an individual substance existing in something else, it cannot be called a person; nor, for the same reason, can the human nature in Christ, although it may be called something individual and singular.[114]

However, unlike Christ’s human nature or a hand, the separated soul does subsist of itself. Nevertheless, it is not a complete substance in itself, but, as noted above, is a part of a greater whole. This brings us to what Emery regards as the special notion of person, which “is applied distinctly either to human beings, or to God the Trinity.”[115] With regard to the Trinity, it signifies a subsistent relation, but with respect to the human person, Aquinas explains that “formally a term signifies that which it was chiefly intended to signify and this is the definition of the term: thus man signifies something composed of a body and a rational soul.”[116]

One should also note here, with regard to Boethius’ definition of person, an important objection Aquinas raises, which states that “the separated soul is an individual substance of the rational nature; but it is not a person. Therefore person is not properly defined as above.”[117] To this St. Thomas replies, “The soul is a part of the human species; and so, although it may exist in a separate state, yet since it ever retains its nature of unibility, it cannot be called an individual substance, which is the hypostasis or first substance, as neither can the hand nor any other part of man; thus neither the definition nor the name of person belongs to it.”[118] Clearly, then, Aquinas does not consider the separated soul to be a person.

Nevertheless, he clearly believes that the soul has a continued act of existence and operations, even once separated from the body. In fact, in speaking of the knowledge of the separated soul, St. Thomas declares, “When, however, it is separated from the body, it understands no longer by turning to phantasms, but by turning to simply intelligible objects; hence in that state it understands itself through itself,”[119] an obvious reference to a kind of self-consciousness in the soul. In the same place, Aquinas cites Augustine as saying, “our mind acquires the knowledge of incorporeal things by itself,”[120] to which St. Thomas immediately adds, “i.e. by knowing itself. Therefore from the knowledge which the separated soul has of itself, we can judge how it knows other separate things.”[121]

How, then, is the self-consciousness of the soul to be understood? In speaking of the Trinity, St. Thomas also utilizes Richard of St. Victor’s definition of person as an “incommunicable existence of the divine nature.”[122] Generally, corruptionists point to the argument of incommunicability as a reason why the separated soul cannot be a human person, because as an essential part, it is communicated to the whole, and so cannot be termed, “incommunicable,” and therefore, is not a person.[123] This is absolutely true, metaphysically, but might it not also be true that the self-consciousness of the person can be said to be incommunicable? My consciousness is mine, and no one else’s. Even if others experience similar events, their consciousness of the same happenings will be somehow different from mine.

One may reply, however, with Edouard Hugon, that “consciousness and freedom, although they do not essentially constitute the person, are, however, properties of the person.”[124] That is, they are not entities in themselves, but properties. So my soul is conscious and performs incommunicable acts, but is not itself incommunicable, since it remains a part. Therefore, as Hugon also points out, although the soul does retain a degree of individuality, “it lacks that complete individuality which is the totality, autonomy [and] absolute incommunicability. It is not a definitive whole; it demands to be united to another [i.e., to the body.]”[125]

Consequently, in order to balance Aquinas’s metaphysical understanding of “person,” on the one hand, with the self-consciousness of the separated soul, on the other, it seems helpful to follow Bonino’s view, where he states,

[O]ne should not exaggerate the consequences of the thesis of the non-personhood of the separated soul. Saint Thomas gives here a very precise, and so, limited, metaphysical sense of ‘person’: the person is a complete, subsisting whole, of a rational nature, a definition which does not effectively apply to the separated soul, since it is only a subsisting part of a whole, which no longer exists as such. But that does not at all imply that Saint Thomas refuses to the separated soul the properties which define what we today call personhood, that is to say, the cognitive activity, the movements of affectivity, the consciousness of oneself.”[126]

In other words, on the one hand, it is clear that Aquinas was not an anachronized Cartesian, let alone a Platonist. He clearly is not a dualist, and he places a great deal of emphasis on the fact that the soul is the form of the body, not a separate, complete substance. On the other hand, the soul is also not a mere shadow of existence. In some way, it remains a conscious subject of attribution, capable of acting. This is not to say, however, that the continuation of consciousness is sufficient for one’s existence as Descartes might have it. Rather, it is because the separated soul retains its act of existence, with its own proper operations even apart from the body (although less perfectly performed without the body), that it also retains a certain consciousness of itself, of God, and of others, and is still able to experience sorrow or joy.

However, it is important to note here, with Gilles Emery, that unlike in the case of Cartesian anthropology, the soul is not to be identified with thought (or consciousness). It is not simply a res cogitans: First, because it is not a complete substance[127] as Descartes proposes, but secondly, because there is a “real difference between the soul and its powers.”[128] As stated above, the soul is a substantial form. Emery explains,

Since the soul is a form, it is in act, not in potency. To identify the soul and thought would signify that we are always engaged in the act of thinking, which experience clearly disproves. Thus St. Thomas holds that the soul is act and form (first act) as regards its essence. The soul’s operations (second act: to know, to will), for their part, are really distinct from the soul’s essence.[129]

In other words, the separated soul should not be reduced to its act of understanding or willing. It is more than the operations it performs and is really distinct from these. Consequently, it seems that this modern, more subjective account of “person,” (i.e., the individuality and incommunicability of one’s self-consciousness, act of existence, and continued operations, particularly that of understanding) is incomplete. The separated soul should not be thought of as simply a “center of consciousness,” in the Cartesian sense, but as a “conscious quasi-substance,”[130] which is perhaps better called a “semi-person,” to use Cajetan’s term. Any modern, existential sense of “person” must be subordinate to and ordered to the metaphysical notion of the human person found in Aquinas. That is, as Hugon also notes, “the separated soul exists a bit in the manner of a person—it is what lives, that which acts with consciousness and freedom—but it is not the person in the strict sense, because it remains essentially the form of the human body, the essential part of the human composite, and because it necessarily aspires to this reunion, from which will result, once again, the human personhood.”[131]


From all that we have seen, therefore, it should be evident that while it is true that the human person is a composite which is corrupted at death, nevertheless, one should not downplay the fact that the soul which remains is not only incorporeal, subsistent, incorruptible, immortal, but also—even when separated—individual, personal, and remains a subject of attribution. It is the “essential part” of the human person, the noblest principle of the composite, and whose being is the being in which the composite subsists.

The separated soul is not something thrown aside until the resurrection of the body. It continues to understand, remember and love, although in a manner different from the way it did in the body. It is something so personal, that even before the general resurrection, the soul will be judged for the deeds the person did in this life, and will immediately either begin its purification (if still necessary for a just soul), or receive its eternal reward or punishment, for which it will experience either great joy or sorrow, respectively. In fact, the separated soul retains a kind of consciousness, and so can perhaps be termed, a “semi-person,” or a “person” in a wider, existential sense, although it is not a person in the objective, metaphysical sense.

Therefore, it is most fitting for the soul to be reunited to its body again in the final resurrection, since it will only then be complete in its specific nature (as the form of the body), and its then-incorruptible body will also be able to participate in the overflowing joy (or sorrow, in the case of the wicked) experienced by the soul. In this way, the composite will now be perfected in both body and soul, adding to the happiness (or unhappiness) of the human person in extension, though not in intensity.

[1] Although this debate appears to be particularly intense among analytic Thomists (see those cited below), others have also weighed in on the topic, such as Serge-Thomas Bonino, “L’Âme Séparée,” in Revue Thomiste 116 (2016):71-103; Stephen L. Brock, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas: A Sketch (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 51-82; 109-144; Joseph G. Trabbic, “The Human Body and Human Happiness in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, New Blackfriars, vol. 92, Issue 1041 (Sept. 2011), 552-564; and Gilles Emery, “The Unity of Man, Body and Soul, in St. Thomas Aquinas,” chapter 8 in Trinity, Church, and the Human Person: Thomistic Essays (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, 2007), 209-235.

[2] Members of the “survivalist camp” include Lynne Rudder Baker, “Why Constitution is Not Identity,” The Journal of Philosophy 94 (1997):599-621; Eleonore Stump, “Resurrection and the Separated Soul,” in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, ed. Brian Davies & Eleonore Stump (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 458-466; Mark Spencer, “The Personhood of the Separated Soul,” Nova et Vetera, English Edition, vol. 12, no. 3 (2014): 863-912; and Christopher M. Brown, “Souls, Ships, and Substances: A Response to Toner,” in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 81 (4):655-668 (2007).

[3] Some proponents of the corruptionist view are Patrick Toner, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Death and the Separated Soul”, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 91 (2010), 588-599; cf. “Thomas versus Tibbles: A Critical Study of Christopher Brown’s Aquinas and the Ship of Theseus, in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 81 (4):638-653 (2007); Christina Van Dyke, “Not Properly a Person: The Rational Soul and ‘Thomistic Substance Dualism’,” Faith and Philosophy, 26(2): 186-204 (2009); Herbert McCabe, On Aquinas (London: Continuum, 2008), 65, 123; B. Carlos Bazán, “The human soul: form and substance? Thomas Aquinas’ Critique of eclectic Aristotelianism,” in Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Age 64(1997): 95-126; Anthony Kenny, Aquinas on Mind (London: Routledge, 1993), 138-139; Brian Davies, Aquinas (London: Continuum, 2002), 109-114; and Turner C. Nevitt, “Aquinas on the Death of Christ: A New Argument for Corruptionism, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 90, no. 1 (2016): 77-99.

[4] Mark Spencer, “The Personhood of the Separated Soul,” 869.

[5] I chose Toner, not because his version is the most extreme of the corruptionist view, but because he clearly lays out the corruptionist argument in his essay, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Death and the Separated Soul,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 91 (2010): 588-599.

[6] Toner, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Death and the Separated Soul,” 587.

[7] Ibid., 588, quoting from Aquinas’s Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where Aquinas comments on 1 Cor 15:12-19 (particularly verses 17-19), in which St. Paul exclaims, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Since the passage is obviously emphasizing the resurrection of the body, St. Thomas comments: “Therefore, if the dead do not rise, we will be confident only in this life. In another way, because it is clear that man naturally desires his own salvation; but the soul, since it is part of man’s body, is not an entire man, and my soul is not I; hence, although the soul obtains salvation in another life, nevertheless, not I or any man. Furthermore, since man naturally desires salvation even of the body, a natural desire would be frustrated.” (Dominican House of Studies Priory website,, 15-2, 1 Cor 15:12-19, #924.)

Brian Davies explains the above quotation of Aquinas by saying, “Aquinas thinks that I can be there as myself after my death. How? Because God can raise my body from the grave. But if there is only my soul, …[Aquinas] argues, then I do not exist”—Aquinas, 110. Word in brackets added.

[8] Toner, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Death and the Separated Soul”, 594.

[9] Although I have chosen in this essay to focus on the corruptionist view, one should also note the serious metaphysical difficulty involved in the survivalist position, in which a substance (i.e., the human person) once composed of body and soul (matter and form), is said to be “constituted by,” though not identical with (see Rudder Baker’s and Stump’s respective articles above) only its form after death, although at the resurrection, it will again be composed. This raises the question of the type of relationship that exists between body and soul before and after the interim state, with the danger of a kind of Cartesian dualism, due to an apparently merely-accidental union of body and soul, such that, at least during the interim state, the soul “constitutes” the person, as the thinking subject. Spencer states, for example, “On my revision of Thomistic principles, the human person can be said to be ‘essentially’ material in the sense that this is its natural state and is necessary for the human person’s ordinary and perfected life, but not in the sense that actually having matter is necessary to be a human person” (“The Personhood of the Separated Soul,” 908. Emphasis added.) However, Spencer believes that “the survivalist view does not turn Thomistic hylomorphism into substance dualism. There is only one substance and one nature for each human person…. In the state of separation, the one substance is constituted just by the soul. The human person is incomplete without matter, since matter is needed for the complete explication of its nature; matter is substantially, not accidentally, united to the soul” (906; emphasis added).

               Nevertheless, the survivalist view raises at least two questions: First, since Aquinas appears to agree that “in mere men, a person is constituted by the union of the soul to the body” (in puris hominibus ex unione animae ad corpus constituitur persona; ST III, q. 2, a. 5, ad 1; translation my own), would he agree that in the interim state, one can rightly say that the person is constituted by only the soul, especially since he states that “the form does not constitute the species, except inasmuch as it becomes the act of matter” (ST III, q. 2, a. 5, resp.)? Secondly, is it metaphysically possible to hold both that matter is substantially united to the soul and that in the interim state, the soul constitutes the same substance, which is the human person, without being united to matter? It would appear that the latter question could only be resolved by simply admitting an accidental union of body and soul (i.e. Cartesian dualism), reducing the human person to a mere res cogitans.

[10] By “subject of attribution,” I mean that the separated soul remains a hoc aliquid in the first sense of being subsistent, and as such, remains the first principle of its own act of being and of its own operations.

[11] Cf. Pope Benedict XII, Constitution Benedictus Deus, “On the Beatific Vision of God” (1336), as found in Denzinger, 43rd ed., #1000. Benedictus Deus proclaims that the souls of the just “already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment, have been, are and will be with Christ in heaven…. [and] have seen and see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face… and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence.” It continues, with regard to the damned, “We define that… the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell.” The text also explains that those in need of purification will be “purified after death.”

[12] A third option, which proposes to mediate between the preceding two views, has recently been proposed by Jeffrey Brower in Aquinas’s Ontology of the Material World: Change, Hylomorphism, & Material Objects (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014). Brower argues that “insofar as Socrates… retains his human soul as a proper part or constituent after death, he will also retain a natural disposition to be human. Evidently, therefore, Socrates can be said to survive his death as a human person (in my broad sense) [i.e., insofar as he retains the aforesaid disposition]” (295-296). Therefore, continues Brower, “all human beings survive their death along with their souls as human persons (in my broad sense), despite ceasing thereafter to be human beings, precisely because their souls cease to be united to their matter, and hence the substances to which they are identical cease to belong to the kind animal” (297). Consequently, Brower advocates a “non-human survivalism” (Ibid.) In other words, he says, “we can also describe non-human survivalism as the view according to which all human beings survive their death as human persons but not as human beings” (300). However, I would advocate the opposite view, as will be seen below. That is, the soul continues to be essentially human in its nature even after death, although it would be metaphysically incorrect to call it a person as such.

[13] Bonino, “L’Âme Séparée,” 75. Emphasis added. All the following translations of Bonino are my own. “Selon les minimalists, le refus d’attribuer le statut de personne à l’âme séparée non seulement signifie que saint Thomas remet en cause l’identité entre le «moi» actuel et l’âme séparée, mais implique aussi une conception minimale de l’activité de l’âme séparée, réduite à un état comateux de veille prolongée. L’âme séparée aurait,… une existence assez semblable à celle,… que les Anciens concédaient aux ombres qui hantent le shéol.”

[14] Bazán, “The Human Soul,” 125. Another example is Brian Davies, who states that “when it comes to our life after death, Aquinas does not believe in the immortality of the soul” (Aquinas, 114; emphasis added), although Davies does admit that Aquinas thinks the soul is incorruptible.

[15] Aquinas cites this Boethian definition of person in ST I, q. 29, a. 1, ad 1.

[16] Gilles Emery, O.P., “The Dignity of Being a Substance: Person, Subsistence, and Nature,” Nova et Vetera, English edition, vol. 9, no. 4 (2011): 991-1001 at 995.

[17] Thomas Aquinas, ST, I, q. 75 a. 7, ad 3. The texts cited from the Summa theologiae are from the following: The Summa theologiae, vol I, prima pars, Q. 1-64, (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2008); The Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol II, prima pars, Q. 65-119, (Ypsilanti, MI: NovAntiqua, 2009), The Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol III, prima secundae, Q. 1-70 (NovAntiqua, 2010). From now on, I will indicate the Summa theologiae as ST.

[18] Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, (Aeterna Press, 2014), II, ch. 69, n. 2. From now on, I will indicate the Summa contra gentiles as SCG.

[19] ST I q. 75, a. 4, resp.

[20] ST I, q. 76, a.1, resp.

[21] Idem.

[22] St. Thomas Aquinas, De principiis naturae, transl by R. A. Kocourek, on the Dominican House of Studies Priory website,, chpt. 1, #1. “Sed duplex est esse: scilicet esse essentiale rei, sive substantiale ut hominem esse, et hoc est esse simpliciter. Est autem aliud esse accidentale, ut hominem esse album, et hoc est esse aliquid.”

[23] Aquinas, De principiis naturae, #4. “Hence, simply speaking, the form gives existence to matter [forma dat esse materiae].”

[24] Aquinas, De principiis naturae, #7.

[25] Cf. ST I, q. 76, a. 1. In the Supplement, it is stated, “For the soul, even after separation from the body, retains the being which accrues to it when in the body, and the body is made to share that being by the resurrection, since the being of the body and the being of the soul in the body are not distinct from one another, otherwise the union of soul and body would be accidental. Consequently there has been no interruption in the substantial being of man, as would make it impossible for the self-same man to return on account of an interruption in his being, as is the case with other things that are corrupted, the being of which is interrupted altogether, since their form remains not, and their matter remains under another being.” (ST, Suppl. q. 79, a. 2, ad 1. Emphasis added.)

[26] ST I, q. 75, a. 2, resp. Translation my own. “Manifestum est enim quod homo per intellectum cognoscere potest naturas omnium corporum. Quod autem potest cognoscere aliqua, oportet ut nihil eorum habeat in sua natura, quia illud quod inesset ei naturaliter impediret cognitionem aliorum;…. Si igitur principium intellectuale haberet in se naturam alicuius corporis, non posset omnia corpora cognoscere. Omne autem corpus habet aliquam naturam determinatam. Impossibile est igitur quod principium intellectuale sit corpus.”

[27] It is important to note with Emery that there are two senses of corporeity: The first sense is that of “an accidental determination such as quantity” (“The Unity of Man,” 225), which is the sense which Aquinas is denying here when he argues that the soul is not corporeal. However, as Emery points out, “on a deeper level, corporeity can also be considered in terms of substantial determination of this corporeal being, that is, man: Here then, corporeity is that which makes the body to be a body, that which makes man corporeal. In this case, corporeity must be the body’s substantial form, that is, the principle of actuality of the body, from which derive the dimensions of extension” (Ibid.) Based off this explanation, therefore, Emery stresses, “It is on account of the soul that the human body is a human body, and specifically on account of its substantial union with the soul…. Man’s corporeity is his soul” (226). Emery explains that St. Thomas is following the Fourth Lateran Council, which teaches that “All will rise with their own bodies, which they now wear” (Fourth Lateran Council, Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dz n. 801.) But the only way to explain the identity of the earthly and resurrected body is by making the previously mentioned distinction of the two senses of corporeity. For Aquinas, says Emery, “At the deepest level, corporeity is the substantial form of man, since it is from the soul that the human body has all its reality as body…. Since the soul is by nature the form of the body, it is permanently ordered toward this body. The material and quantitative elements that constitute this body today constitute it only in virtue of the soul. In this way, the soul is defined in terms of its relationship to the body, and the body is defined by the soul. Thus the primary raison d’être of corporeal identity is found not in matter, but rather in the soul of the human person. The identity of this subsistent soul sustains our hope in the resurrection” (227.) The last emphasis added.

[28] ST I, q. 75, a. 2, resp.

[29] Idem. Translation my own. “…habet operationem per se, cui non communicat corpus. Nihil autem potest per se operari, nisi quod per se subsistit.”

[30] ST I, q. 75, a. 2, resp. Translation my own. Interestingly, most English versions of the Summa leave the second half of the sentence untranslated.  But see the Latin: “Non enim est operari nisi entis in actu, unde eo modo aliquid operatur, quo est.” Italics added.

[31] Aquinas explains, “The soul communicates that existence in which it subsists to the corporeal matter, out of which and the intellectual soul there results unity of existence; so that the existence of the whole composite is also the existence of the soul…. For this reason the human soul retains its own existence after the dissolution of the body” (ST I, q. 76, a. 1, ad 5.) See also ST I, q. 29, a. 2, ad 5; and q. 75, a. 5, ad 3.

[32] ST I, q. 75, a. 2, ad 3. Translation my own. “non sicut organum quo talis actio exerceatur, sed ratione obiecti, phantasma enim comparatur ad intellectum sicut color ad visum.”

[33] ST I, q. 75, a. 2, ad 3.

[34] Cf. ST I, q. 75, a. 3.

[35] Bonino, “L’âme séparée, ” 73.“l’activité cérébrale n’est la cause de la pensée.”

[36] Idem. “Cette autonomie noétique de l’âme intellective humaine au plan de l’agir est le signe de son autonomie ontologique en vertu de laquelle elle subsiste post mortem, malgré la corruption du composé.”

[37] ST I, q. 75, a. 2 ad 1.

[38] ST I, q. 75, a. 2 ad 1. Words in brackets added.

[39] ST I, q. 75, a. 6, resp. Translation mine. “Unde quod per se habet esse, non potest generari vel corrumpi nisi per se, quae vero non subsistunt, ut accidentia et formae materiales, dicuntur fieri et corrumpi per generationem et corruptionem compositorum.”

[40] Idem.

[41] St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de anima, transl. as The Soul by Patrick Rowan (St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1949), as found on-line:, a. 14, resp. From now on, I will refer to the Quaestiones disputatae de anima as QDA. St. Thomas also points out, “The thing that is properly corrupted is neither the form nor the matter nor the act of existing itself but the composite. Moreover, the body’s act of existing is said to be corruptible inasmuch as the body by corrupting is deprived of the act of existing which it possessed in common with the soul; which act of existing remains in the subsisting soul” (QDA, a. 1, ad 14.)

[42] SCG II, ch. 86, n. 9.

[43] SCG II, ch. 84, n. 4.

[44] SCG II, ch. 78, n. 12.

[45] What Aquinas means by “in root” can be seen in the Supplement, which says, “the sensitive and other like powers do not remain in the separated soul except in a restricted sense, namely radically, in the same way as a result is in its principle: because there remains in the separated soul the ability to produce these powers if it should be reunited to the body; nor is it necessary for this ability to be anything in addition to the essence of the soul” (Supplement, q. 70, a. 1, resp.)

[46] QDA, a. 1, ad 2.

[47] Idem.

[48] Toner, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Death and the Separated Soul”, 593.

[49] ST III, q. 50, a. 4, ad 2.

[50] Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Commentaria Tertia pars Summa theologiae, Leonine Edition, Tomus Undecimus, (Rome, Italy: S. C. de Propaganda Fidei, 1903), III, q. 6, a. 3. All the translations here of Cajetan are my own, with the help of Sr. Tamsin Geach, O.P., and Fr. Timothy Bellamah, O.P., a collaborator of the Leonine Commission. “Imaginandum est enim quod anima separata est semi-persona, et non solum semi-natura.”

[51] As Timothy Bellamah pointed out to me, the term which best expresses the concept, “person,” in an abstract form is “personhood,” rather than “personality,” which is really a concrete term used in the modern age “to designate the external (visible and audible) aspect of a person’s being.” However, it is clear from the context that Cajetan wants to speak of “person” in an abstract, universal way, for which the word, “personhood” is a better fit.

[52] Cajetan, Commentaria on the Summa theologiae, III, q. 6, a. 3. “quod Auctor loquitur hic de subsistentia tanquam si loqueretur de personalitate: quia anima separata differt a persona solum per hoc quod est incompletae speciei; quia non est species, sed pars specie.”

[53] Ibid., “Primo, quoad actum subsistendi…. Alio modo, non solum quoad actum subsistendi, sed quoad id quod subiicitur actui subsistendi….”

[54] Ibid., “Et hoc modo intelligendus videtur hic textus, conformiter ad praedeterminata de personalitate. Imaginandum est enim quod anima separata est semi-persona, et non solum semi-natura. Nam unita carni est semi-natura, cum sit pars essentialis humanae naturae: sed non subsistit per seipsam ut quod, sed per hypostasim, cui ut anima, ut ratio subsistendi ex proprio genere, scilicet immateriali ordine, defert actum essendi et subsistendi. Sed statim ut separata est a corpore, ex hoc ipso quo constituitur in esse separato, constituitur in quadam totalitate et completione, ut scilicet sit quod subsistit (inadaequate tamen ad suum esse, in quo natum est etiam corpus, et totus homo subsistere): iam enim dictum est quod separatio dat quandam totalitatem et completionem. Et ideo statim separata anima est semi-persona, ac per hoc proprio termino terminatur: quae, in corpore existens, terminabatur termino totius hominis.” Emphasis added.

[55] Ibid., “qua constituitur in esse quod est, et semi-personae et subsistentis.”

[56] Ibid., “tunc solum ut semi-natura assumitur et unitur.”

[57] ST III, q. 50, a. 4, obj 2.

[58] ST III, q. 50, a. 4, ad 2.

[59] I thank Steven A. Long, of Ave Maria University, for his comments.

[60] SCG II, ch. 81, n. 11.

[61] ST I,q. 89, a. 1, resp.

[62] Idem.

[63] Idem.

[64] ST I,q. 89, a. 1, resp. Emphasis mine.

[65] Idem.

[66] Idem.

[67] ST I,q. 89, a. 1, resp.

[68] Idem.

[69] ST I,q. 89, a. 1, ad 3. Brackets added. Without getting into the debate of whether or not the state itself of the separated soul can properly be called unnatural, I will simply cite two authors on this point: First, Emery states that “In a certain way, the immortality of the soul implies its union with the body, since a perpetual existence in a state ‘contrary to nature’ is hardly thinkable. The immortality of the soul must be considered in terms of its relation to the resurrection” (“The Unity of Man,” 231). However, Bonino argues that, although Aquinas speaks of the state of the separated soul as unnatural when emphasizing the resurrection of the body, “the expression praeter naturam [preternatural] applied to the state of the separated soul and its knowledge is found in St. Thomas,” citing ST I, q. 89, a. 1; q. 104, a. 6-7; and In II Sent., dist. 18, q. 1, a. 3. (“L’Âme Séparée,” 79, n. 23.) “L’expression praeter naturam appliquée au statut de l’âme séparée et de sa connaissance se trouve chez Thomas.” The use of “preternatural,” for Aquinas, would indicate a state that is neither, strictly speaking, against nature, nor completely natural, but rather, is something above its nature, i.e., “modes of being and knowing which transcend its connatural mode of being and of knowing” (87; “des modes d’être et de connaître qui transcendent son mode connatural d’être et de connaître”). Bonino explains that “From this perspective, human nature, without ever losing its essence or formal identity, enjoys a certain plasticity” (Ibid.; “Dans cette perspective, la nature humaine, sans jamais perdre son essence ou identité formelle, jouit d’une certain plasticité”).

[70] Bonino, “L’Âme Séparée,” 84. “directement par son essence. ”

[71] Idem. “La substance séparée connaît les autres réalités par manière d’introspection, c’est-à-dire en se connaissant elle-même.”

[72] ST I,q. 89, a. 5, resp. Translation my own. Italics and brackets added. “Quia, ut dicitur in libro de longitudine et brevitate vitae, dupliciter corrumpitur aliqua forma, uno modo, per se, quando corrumpitur a suo contrario, ut calidum a frigido; alio modo, per accidens, scilicet per corruptionem subiecti. Manifestum est autem quod per corruptionem subiecti, scientia quae est in intellectu humano, corrumpi non potest, cum intellectus sit incorruptibilis…. Similiter etiam nec per contrarium corrumpi possunt species intelligibiles quae sunt in intellectu possibili, quia intentioni intelligibili nihil est contrarium; et praecipue quantum ad simplicem intelligentiam, qua intelligitur quod quid est.”

[73] ST I,q. 89, a. 5, resp. Cf. SCG II, ch. 81, n. 14. “Now, recollection, being an act performed through a bodily organ,… cannot remain in the soul after the body, unless recollection be taken equivocally for the understanding of things which one knew before. For there must be present in the separate soul even the things that it knew in this life, since the intelligible species are received into the possible intellect inexpugnably.”

[74] Bonino, “L’Âme Séparée,” 83. “l’âme séparée continue de connaître au moyen des idées acquises au cours de cette vie et conservées dans la mémoire intellectuelle.”

[75] Although Aquinas points out that “We may therefore say that the soul understands, as the eye sees; but it is more correct to say that man understands through the soul” (ST I, q. 75, a. 2, ad 2), i.e., when the soul is united to the body, it is really the composite that understands or wills. However, these acts are performed without a direct dependence on the body, as shown above.

[76] Cf. ST I, q. 77, a. 8, ad 4. “The recollection spoken of there is to be taken in the same way as Augustine (De Trin. x, 11; xiv, 7) places memory in the mind; not as a part of the sensitive soul.”

[77] ST I, q. 77, a. 8, resp. Italics added.

[78] ST I, q. 77, a. 8, ad 5.

[79] SCG II, ch. 81, n. 15.

[80] SCG IV, ch. 95, n. 5.

[81] Ibid., n. 8.

[82] Ibid., n. 9.

[83] Ibid., n. 6.

[84] SCG IV, ch. 95, n. 7.

[85] St. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, transl. by Cyril Vollert (St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), as found on-line at, Part One—Faith, chpt. 242, “retribuitur quantum ad animam secundum quod meruit.”

[86] Benedict XII, Constitution Benedictus Deus, Dz. 1000. Words in brackets added.

[87] Benedictus Deus, Dz. 1002.

[88] The two judgments are explained in this way: “Each man is both an individual person and a part of the whole human race: wherefore a twofold judgment is due to him. One, the particular judgment, is that to which he will be subjected after death, when he will receive according as he hath done in the body [Cf. 2 Cor. 5:10], not indeed entirely but only in part since he will receive not in the body but only in the soul. The other judgment will be passed on him as a part of the human race: thus a man is said to be judged according to human justice, even when judgment is pronounced on the community of which he is a part. Hence at the general judgment of the whole human race by the general separation of the good from the wicked, it follows that each one will be judged.” (ST Suppl., q. 88, a. 1, ad 1.)

[89] SCG IV, ch. 91, n. 2. Translation my own. Latin text from Summa Contra Gentiles, Editio Leonina Manualis, “Ex hoc enim quod anima separatur a corpore, fit capax visionis divinae, ad quam, dum esset coniuncta corruptibili corpori, pervenire non poterat. In visione autem Dei ultima hominis beatitudo consistit, quae est virtutis praemium…. Nulla autem ratio esset quare differretur poena et praemium, ex quo utriusque anima particeps esse potest. Statim igitur cum anima separatur a corpore, praemium vel poenam recipit pro his quae in corpore gessit [cf. II Cor. V, 10].”

[90] SCG IV, ch. 91, n. 4. Translation modified.

[91] SCG IV, ch. 91, n. 6. Word in brackets added. The Supplement offers an interesting explanation of the separate purgation of the body versus the soul. “The soul is compared to the body, not only as a worker to the instrument with which he works, but also as form to matter: wherefore the work belongs to the composite and not to the soul alone, as the Philosopher shows (De Anima i, 4). And since to the worker is due the reward of the work, it behooves man himself, who is composed of soul and body, to receive the reward of his work. Now as venial offenses are called sins as being dispositions to sin, and not as having simply and perfectly the character of sin, so the punishment which is awarded to them in purgatory is not a retribution simply, but rather a cleansing, which is wrought separately in the body, by death and by its being reduced to ashes, and in the soul by the fire of purgatory” (ST Suppl., q. 75, a. 1, ad. 3.)

[92] Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de anima, a. 21, resp. Italics mine.

[93] St. Augustine, De civitate Dei [XXI, 10], as found in Aquinas, QDA, a. 21, resp.

[94] QDA a. 21, resp.

[95] Idem.

[96] ST I, q. 43, a. 6, ad 3.

[97] Idem.

[98] ST I-II, q. 4, a. 5, resp. Italics mine.

[99] ST I-II, q. 4, a. 5, resp.

[100] Idem.

[101] Joseph G. Trabbic, “The Human Body and Human Happiness in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, New Blackfriars, vol. 92, Issue 1041 (Sept. 2011), 552-564, at 560. Italics added.

[102] Cf. ST I, q. 76, a. 1, resp. In this article, Aquinas explains that “the nature of each thing is shown by its operation. Now the proper operation of man as man is to understand;… Whence Aristotle concludes (Ethic. x, 7) that the ultimate happiness of man must consist in this operation as properly belonging to him. Man must therefore derive his species from that which is the principle of this operation. But the species of anything is derived from its form. It follows therefore that the intellectual principle is the proper form of man.” But the intellectual principle, to which St. Thomas refers, is the rational soul. Therefore it is the soul which makes the composite human in its nature. However, by saying that the soul remains human at death, I do not mean to imply that only the soul belongs to the human species, something which Aquinas clearly denies: “Some held that the form alone belongs to the species; while matter is part of the individual, and not the species. This cannot be true; for to the nature of the species belongs what the definition signifies; and in natural things the definition does not signify the form only, but the form and the matter” (ST I, q. 75, a. 4, resp.) However, just as the soul, although individuated by matter, retains its individuality at death, together with its act of being, I contend that the soul also retains its humanity, although it is not a complete substance, since the soul is meant to be the form of a body, and therefore is a part. For this reason, although Aquinas declares that “whatever subsists in human nature is a person” (ST III, q. 16, a. 12, resp. and ad 1), one could still argue that the soul is not a person, since it is not complete in its nature.

[103] Bonino points out, “With death, the human soul does not change [its] nature, but it changes [its] state, [its] mode of being” (L’Âme Séparée,” 76.) “Avec la mort, l’âme humaine ne change pas de nature mais elle change d’état, de mode d’être. ”

[104] ST I-II, q. 4, a. 5, resp.

[105] Idem. Translation my own. “requiritur ad perfectionem rei quod pertinet ad bene esse eius.”

[106] Idem. Italics and words in brackets added.

[107] Ibid., ad 4. Italics added.

[108] ST I-II, q. 4, a. 5, ad 5. Emphasis added.

[109] Idem. “corpore resumpto, beatitudo crescit non intensive, sed extensive.” Italics added.

[110] ST I, q. 29, a. 1 ad 1.

[111] Emery points out there are “various conceptions that put the principal accent on the subjective aspects of the person, either in terms of thought (a person is a subject who thinks and who has self-consciousness), or in terms of moral autonomy and freedom (to be a person is to be able to dispose freely of oneself and to be autonomous in one’s action), or in terms of relations (to be a person is then defined by his or her insertion into the network of social relationships, or the person is understood as being constituted by the otherness of other persons… or in terms of forming projects, or again in terms of the capacity to enjoy something, and so on” [“The Dignity of Being a Substance: Person, Subsistence, and Nature,” in Nova et Vetera (English), vol. 9, no. 4 (2011):991-1001, at 993.]

[112] Emery, “The Dignity of Being a Substance,” 998.

[113] Idem.

[114] ST III, q. 16, a. 12, ad 2. Emery also points out, with regard to the second half of Boethius’ definition (i.e., “of a rational nature”): “This is the ultimate determination that makes of an individual substance a person: a nature endowed with a power of understanding the truth and of loving the good.” (“The Dignity of Being a Substance,” 996.)

[115] Emery, “The Dignity of Being a Substance,” 998.

[116] Aquinas, De potentia, q. 9, a. 4, corp. St. Thomas goes on to say, “Materially a term signifies that which is requisite for that definition: thus man signifies something that has a heart, brain and such parts as are required in order that the body be animated with a rational soul.”

[117] ST I, q. 29, a. 1, obj 5.

[118] ST I, q. 29, a. 1, ad 5. Emphasis added.

[119] ST I, q. 89, a. 2, resp.

[120] Idem, citing Augustine’s De Trinitate, ix, 3.

[121] ST I, q. 89, a. 2, resp. Cf. ST I, q. 88, ad 1.

[122] ST I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 4.

[123] Cf. Spencer, “The Personhood of the Separated Soul,” 895-896.

[124] Edouard Hugon, O.P., “Si l’Ame Séparée est une Personne,” in Revue Thomiste 17 (1909):590-596, at 593. Translation my own. “la conscience et la liberté, bien qu’elles ne constituent pas essentiellement la personne, sont cependant des propriétés de la personne.”

[125] Hugon, “Si l’Ame Séparée est une Personne,” 594. Translation my own.“il lui manque cette individualité achevée qui est la totalité, l’autonomie, l’incommunicabilité absolue. Elle n’est pas un tout définitif, elle demande à s’unir à un autre.” Words in brackets added.

[126] Bonino, “L’Âme Séparée,” 75-76. Emphasis added. “qu’il ne faut pas majorer les conséquences de la thèse de la non-personnalité de l’âme séparée. Saint Thomas donne ici à ‘personne’ un sens métaphysique très précis et donc limité: la personne est un tout complet subsistant de nature rationnelle, définition qui ne s’applique effectivement pas à l’âme séparée puisqu’elle n’est qu’une partie subsistante d’un tout qui n’existe plus comme tel. Mais cela n’implique aucunement que saint Thomas refuse à l’âme séparée les propriétés qui définissent ce que nous appelons aujourd’hui la personnalité, c’est-à-dire l’activité cognitive, les mouvements de l’affectivité, la conscience de soi.”

[127] This is my addition, although Emery makes it clear earlier in his article that the soul is not a complete substance, because “[t]he complete substance is the human individual, not the soul; thus we can speak of the soul as a substance only in a derivative sense (per reductionem)” (“The Unity of Man, Body and Soul, in St. Thomas Aquinas”, 222).

[128] Emery, “The Unity of Man, Body and Soul, in St. Thomas Aquinas,” 223.

[129] Idem.

[130] As a form, the soul is in reality a substantial principle, not a complete substance of itself, or, as mentioned above, it is a “hoc aliquid,” only in the first sense. I thank Fr. Raphael Mary Salzillo, O.P., for all his helpful comments.

[131] Hugon, “Si l’Ame Séparée est une Personne,” 594. Translation my own.“l’âme séparée existe un peu à la manière d’une personne, elle est ce qui vit, ce qui agit avec conscience et liberté; mais elle n’est pas la personne au sens strict, parce qu’elle reste essentiellement forme du corps humain, partie essentielle du composé humain et qu’elle aspire nécessairement à cette réunion d’où résultera, une nouvelle fois, la personnalité humaine.”