Augustine’s Philosophical Anthropology: Immortality of Human Soul in a Composite Soul-Body

Augustine’s Philosophical Anthropology:

Immortality of Human Soul in a Composite Soul-Body

In The City of God, Saint Augustine presents Varro as his representative who holds his two-substance dualistic anthropology. He defines what constitutes a man to be a whole man. An individual human person is an essential body and soul composite. The soul apart from the body and vice-versa cannot be recognized as the whole man. The man has to have both the degenerative material body and the immortal soul together as a unity.[1] My goal in this paper is to show how Augustine used the Platonic tradition as his philosophical framework to harmonize and shape the Christian philosophical anthropology that is compatible with the teachings of the Christian Scriptures.

His works on philosophical anthropology show that he was under strong influence of Platonism, Neo-Platonist work of Plotinus and Porphyry. Frederick C. Copleston claims that Augustine used much of the neo-Platonic ideas while formulating the Christian world and life view.[2] Despite the fact that he had been a Platonist before his conversion to Christianity, his view on the soul seeks to reinterpret the Platonic and neo-Platonic view of the immortality of the soul.[3] For Augustine, the souls are created but immaterial substance simultaneously that bears the image of God.

Firstly, the Platonism claims the souls to be existed eternally and self-sustaining substance that are not created on contrary to what Augustine believes. Diogenes Allen, the professor of Philosophy, writes that “the care of the soul was the fundamental concern for Socrates, Plato, and Plotinus; they all believed that soul is immortal and is capable of existing without a body.”[4] For Plato, the soul is the real person which has certain entities like inherent potentiality of independent existence and full functionality apart from the body. It escapes from the death; hence it also avoids the obliteration of the material body which is merely “the prison house of the soul.” It is the principle of life that carries the essential property of body. Therefore, soul is the life-force for the body.

Secondly, the body is a matter that is also competent to exist on its own, but the functionality comes to halt by virtue of being inert after death that is followed by decomposition. Socrates thinks this is how “death separates the soul from the body.” If there is such a thing called death, then it is merely the separation of the soul from the body. [5] So, it is safe to say that death of a person does not mean an end of personal existence. Death only provides the escape way for the soul to be liberated from the body that is impure and polluted, according to Platonic view. For that reason, the body is prison house indeed that is made for the soul to live in the certain time and space but not a real person.

Finally, Plato believes that the human soul is a rational and a real person. The real knowledge of the Form is only possible, if the soul is pure and immortal. “Pythagoras himself apparently thinks that what makes the soul divine is the intellect, the power to know the true, unchanging reality,” says Allen, “this is the order, proportion, and harmony in the universe evident to reason and the senses.”[6] Socrates first introduced the soul as the “source of motion” as well as “the intelligence or mind of a person.”[7] In this sense, the soul or the intelligence or mind of a person must pre-exist bodily existence. By means of the virtue of soul, then the real knowledge ought to have independent recognition; it cannot be otherwise.[8] Thus, the soul must have ontologically existed from eternity by means of its eternal characteristics; hence has it bore the basic Ideas or knowledge.

Unlike Platonism, the anthropology of Neo-Platonism does not consider the soul as the principle of life. “Soul is related to Intellect analogously to the way Intellect is related to the One. As the One is virtually what Intellect is, so Intellect is paradigmatically what Soul is.”[9] Having said this, the soul transcends everything except the One, because everything emanates from the One. Therefore, the human is more like God.

Nevertheless, Plotinus views the totality of a human person is only the reflection of the temporal embodied life of the soul that the soul uses the body as the instrument to individualize itself. The distinction between an individual and the soul-body composite is quite plainly explained in terms of the individual human alikeness with “a cognitive agent or subject of cognitive states.”[10] So, the soul is a rational being or a true self in a material body.

By the time of Augustine, the philosophical problem of the relationship between the body and soul was still continuing in the marketplace of philosophy schools. He obviously acknowledges the fact that man is the apex of creation and is created with the soul and the body. Nevertheless, he makes distinction between two as the soul-body unity. Copleston presents Augustine’s position on the soul-body, as he views “a soul is a possession of a body does not constitute two persons but one man.”[11] The body and the soul should be taken into account in relation to both, because the soul, as he perceives, ought to be identified with the body too. The soul alone cannot be counted as a whole person or otherwise.

Augustine reasons his arguments for the immortality of soul, first, in the human mind and secondly, in the Scriptures of Christian God and its teachings. Augustine argues that the soul must be a reality because of its capacity to reason. O’Connor summarizes Augustine’s argument as follows: “Truth so exists in the soul that it is inseparable from it, but Truth is immortal, there, the soul is immortal.”[12] He applies the Truth to the soul and argues back to the truth again to imply the undividable correlation between two.

In other words, the soul is a rational being actualizing its essence into the material and corporeal body in order to be a fully human being. “Since the truth can only exist in an incorporeal substance that is alive, and is inseparably connected with it as with its subject, this incorporeal substance, i.e. the soul, must everlastingly live.”[13] In view of the fact that only living substances can reason and the soul is living. Therefore, the soul must be necessarily an incorporeal substance in order to do reason. Thus, the soul is immortal.

The human soul once identified as incorporeal is now a living substance that is the axiom which animates the body. The living soul directs and guides the body. Augustine insists that if the truth to be immortal, then he reasons, unquestionably on Platonic basis, that the human soul must be immortal, since the truth can only exist in the incorporeal soul.[14] In this very sense, that the soul is superior and manipulates the body for sensory experiences but not the other way. “Consequently, if, as we said above, the soul is a subject in which reason is inseparably (by that necessity also by with it is shown to be in the subject) neither can there be any soul except a living soul, nor can reason be in a soul without life, and reason is immortal; hence, the soul is immortal.”[15] By applying the same logic that the reason resides in the mind, Augustine analyzes why the soul is immortal.

The first reason for the immortality of the soul, for Augustine, is the nature of science which is believed to be eternal. According to his writing, science exists everywhere and can never ceases to exist into human mind. It is eternal and the nature and the truth it has cannot be invalidated. The reason is that the equilateral triangle always has three equal angles and three equal sides. The form of the equilateral triangle exists in our human mind without seeing it once we know its basic characteristics. It is rooted in the absolute truth and the science.

He further maintains that science needs lives for its own existence. And science is only possessed by the living, so it cannot dwell in anything that cannot reason. “If we exist who reason, that is, if our mind does, and if our mind cannot reason rightly without science, and if without science no mind can exist except as a mind without science, then science is in the mind of man.”[16] Obviously, the point here is, if science is unchangeable, surely the unchangeable must also be the same eternal property that holds another eternal property. By applying the same logic, we can say that the mind in which eternal science exists ought to be eternal in terms of its nature that eternal cannot exist in non-eternal.

Likewise, reason comes from the mind. In the process of reasoning, the soul performs solely devoid of any assistance from the body.  Our thought or reason comes to exist independently through thinking. As Augustine contends that science is the synonym for all knowledge of any type and kinds; science exists and dwells in the human mind.[17] And whatever comes to exist independently through our thought is thus eternal. Therefore, the human mind is eternal and it always lives. O’Connor puts the argument very succinctly:

The human soul contains knowledge, but all knowledge pertains to some science, and science is immortal, therefore the soul is immortal. This argument is followed by another which also appealed strongly to the mind of Augustine at the time it was formulated. The soul of man is immortal because it is the seat of Reason which is immortal. Reason is another of those things which exists in the soul in an inseparable manner, but Reason can exist only in a living subject, and since it must exist always, its subject must be immortal, therefore the human soul is immortal.[18]

The second reason for the immortality of the soul is the Reason itself which is immutable. Our reason originates from the mind. Now, it is lawful to say that Reason is in the mind or reason itself is a mind giving the qualifications of the soul as inseparable with the Reason. We have already talked about Reason that it is also, in the same manner like science and mind, must be necessarily inseparable from the subject (referring to the body), since the Reason needs the living subject according to its nature to function as a complete unit.

The body is mutable due to its alteration in its mode of existence. On the other hand, the Reason is immutable and undeniable in the sense that it applies the same mode consistently in its reasoning.[19] Nothing can influence the mode. Two and two always are four and their existing mode does not change at all. The mode of these numerical values does not change but always exist in the same mode. Therefore, the Reason then is immutable.

Augustine writes that the soul is immortal because God created them and intended them to be immortal. It bears the very image of God. As a result, the soul is superior to the body, says Cooper. Also he argues that God created the soul as a “simple spiritual substance” that does not decompose.[20] This is obvious whatever does not decompose lives. The soul escapes the bodily death, because God bestowed immortality while he created in his image.

Augustine knows the Platonic ideas of reincarnation of the soul. In the City of God, he states that “Plato said that souls could not exist eternally without bodies; for it was on this account, he said, that the souls even of wise men must some time or other return to their bodies.”[21] For Plato, the eternal soul does return to live in another body to become a reincarnated being. That kind of soul shall return to the Father after death of the body. In their reincarnated state, they will escape the misery of the ill world and suffer no more.

Once we evaluate these two views of Plato and Porphyry, we come to know that these views are contrast with the Christian view of the resurrection of the body and the soul. The opposing both views deny the bodily resurrection. Porphyry says that the pure soul belongs to the wise and righteous that should only return to the incorruptible bodies in the world to live a blessed and immortal life.[22] He knows that the cycle of this life, reincarnation should come to an end for the deliverance of these righteous soul, but he thinks that any philosophical school of thoughts has not discovered yet.

If we put these two views together, we can find the missing link that Augustine found to formulate Christian life and worldview about the soul-body eternal life in harmony with the Scripture. That missing link is the grace of Christ that Porphyry did not find because he did not seek rightly for the universal way of the deliverance of the soul.[23] He writes, “We (Christians) say that the separation of the soul from the body is to be held as part of man’s punishment. For they (concerning other philosophers) suppose that the blessedness of the soul then only is complete, when it is quite denuded of the body, and returns to God as a pure and simple, and, as it were, naked soul.”[24] And Augustine does not buy this argument due to its inconsistency in its logic which contradicts with their doctrine of reincarnation.

On the contrary, if we put Plato and Porphyry’s views together, what we find here is the closest resemblance of the Christian doctrine of resurrection of the saints in the end days. Porphyry believes that the holy or the purified soul will never return to live again in the misery. “Let Porphyry then say with Plato, they shall return to the body; let Plato say with Porphyry, they shall not return to their old misery: and they will agree that they return to bodies in which they shall suffer no more.”[25] These views from Plato and Porphyry echoes Christian thought as Augustine himself had suspected them to be Christian.[26]

After examining Augustine’s position on the immortality of the soul and the soul-body composite as a union, we can easily assume how much Greek Philosophy and individual philosophers had influenced his thought. The Platonic traditions and the Neo-Platonic thought can be easily traced in his writing, as sometimes he expressly declares and deliberates their thoughts into his works. His philosophical theology of original sin, free will, and the nature of human soul was very influenced by Neo-platonic. For example, Augustine praises Porphyry for substituting Plato’s view that the human soul will not return to beast rather than human bodies.

In the history of Christianity, the Neo-platonic influenced always did not prove to be disadvantage. Augustine used much of their materials to shape the Christian philosophical thought without losing originality of the orthodox theology of the Church Fathers who lived before him.

In addition to his contribution in the early church, Augustine’s philosophical theology played a major role in the development of the Reformation theology. His philosophical theology can be seen in the works of Thomas Aquinas. Later, Reformers like Luther, and especially John Calvin were much influenced. The theology of Total Depravity and the Irresistible Grace of Augustine had a huge impact on Calvin.

Thus, Augustine’s philosophical theology and especially the Christian philosophical anthropology have great impact throughout the church history. Apostle Paul’s teaching was the guidance for Augustine to keep the orthodox theology of the Church from syncretism and philosophical pluralism of the time. Through his anthropological philosophy, we can now understand what makes us as a complete human person and implication of our soul living in the eternity with God.

Works Cited

Allen, Diogenes. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox, 1985. Print.

Augustine. Basic Writings of Saint Augustine: On the Immortality of the Soul. Trans. Whitney Jennings Oates. Vol. 1. New York: Random House, 1948. Print.

Augustine. The City of God. Trans. Marcus Dods. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006. Print.

Augustine. “The Immortality of the Soul.” Trans. Ludwig Schopp. The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Vol. 4. [New York]: Catholic University of America, 1947. 10-15. Print.

Cahn, Steven M. “Plato.” Classics of Western Philosophy. 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2006. 49-113. Print.

Cooper, John W. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-dualism Debate. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989. Print.

O’Connor, William P. The Concept of the Human Soul According to Saint Augustine. Thesis. Catholic University of America., 1921. Milwaukee: Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 1921. Print.

“Plotinus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 19 Apr. 2010. <;.


“Plotinus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 30 June 2003. Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University. 26 Apr. 2010 <;.

[1] Augustine, The City of God, XIX,3 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006), 805.

[2] Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Augustine to Scotus (Tunbridge Wells: Burns & Oates, 1999), 15.

[3] John W. Cooper, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and Monism-Dualism Debate, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 10.

[4] Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985), 118.

[5] Cahn, Classics of Western Philosophy: Phaedo (64c), (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006), 53.

[6] Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985), 32.

[7] Cahn, Classics of Western Philosophy: Republica (1,353d.), (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 7th ed., 2006), 129. Socrates asks Thrasymachus if he could perform anything without assistance of soul.

[8] Cahn, Classics of Western Philosophy: Phaedo (76c,e), (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 7th ed., 2006), 60.

[10] “Plotinus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 30 June 2003. Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University. 26 Apr. 2010 <;.

[11] Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Augustine to Scotus (Tunbridge Wells: Burns & Oates, 1999), 78.

[12] William Patrick O’Connor, The Concept of the Human Soul according to Augustine: Immortality of the Human Soul, (Milwaukee: Archdiocese, 1921), 59.

[13] Ludwig Schopp, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Saint Augustine: Immortality of Soul, Vol. 4 (New York, 1947), 10-15.

[14] William Patrick O’Connor, The Concept of the Human Soul according to Saint Augustine: Sources, (Milwaukee: Archdiocese, 1921), 12. This is taken from his published dissertation for his PhD program.

[15] Basic Writings of Saint Augustine: Augustine on the Immortality of the Soul, Vol. 1, Part One (New York: Random House, 2006), 306.

[16] Ibid, 301.

[17] Ibid, 301.

[18] O’Connor, The Concept of the Human Soul according to Saint Augustine: Sources, (Milwaukee: Archdiocese, 1921), 60. This is taken from his published dissertation for his PhD program.

[19] Augustine, Basic Writings of Saint Augustine. Trans. Whitney Jennings Oates. Vol. 1, (New York: Random House, 1948), 302.

[20] Cooper, Body, Soul, and Everlasting Life: Biblical Anthropology and Monism-Dualism Debate, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 1989), 11.

[21] Augustine, The City of God: Book XXII, Ch. 27 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006), 1021.

[22] Ibid, 1021.

[23] Augustine, City of God: Book X, Ch. 32 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006), 409.

[24] Augustine, City of God: Book XIII, Ch. 16 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006), 507.

[25] Augustine, City of God: Book XXII, Ch. 27 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006), 1021.

[26] Ibid, 1021.


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