Here’s something that I’ve been pondering for a few days now.
The Communion of Saints is depicted as a bunch of angels and holy people with halos surrounding the throne of God. They look and behave like people, in spite of the fact that their bodies are long gone from this life (with the exception of Mary, per Church teaching… hmm). I assume this common icon is mostly based on the Book of Revelation. Is there literally a big throne, etc in the “spiritual realm,” i.e. outside this universe, within the Beatific Vision? Maybe not. But for sake of imagination, I suppose this image holds. Not a total deal-breaker. Fair enough.
The Church teaches that the saints can and do intercede for us, their prayers rising like incense before God. I think that this is where things start to fall apart.
Personality, memory, life experience, all of these things are rooted deeply in the brain. My interpretation is that consciousness—the ability to reason, form abstract thoughts and experience reality in the first rather than third person—pulls these faculties together to make a whole, or “us.”
This demonstrably immaterial “thing,” which continues to stump neurologists and philosophers alike, is part of the soul, per the Greeks and Scholastics. It seems that this is the extent to which reason alone can help us discern whether or not an immortal soul exists.
If one strips away all of the additional stuff I described above, we’re left with just the form of a human. What would necessarily distinguish one from another? Without the brain-dependent memories and behavioral traits that we describe as personality, where is the distinction? We can’t think, we can’t remember, we can’t do anything at all. It’s gone.
It seems that we attribute worldly things to the saints in Heaven. They’re given patronage over earthly entities and called upon to pray for various things that pertained to them in their lives. Various purported visitations and apparitions involve the saints speaking (!) of things that either God wishes to communicate or they know from their past experience. We make them out to be knowledgeable, caring, alive.
There seems to be a contradiction here. The Aristotelian metaphysics, which naturally extend to philosophy of mind, apparently refutes our conceptions of the saints. Perhaps they are like God, vastly incomprehensible, and we should simply settle for that. But I’m not so sure.
IMHO, since the bodily resurrection of the dead is so central to Christian theology, it would make sense if the immaterial soul simply “existed” but didn’t really “do anything” until reunited with the body (when its faculties are restored). But that’s dangerously close to the idea of a dormant soul a la Adventism, and doesn’t sound anything like what the Church teaches regarding Paradise.
I’m just curious as to whether anyone else has thought of this before.
What do you think? It’s really got me in a pickle.