Communion of Saints and knowledge of the human mind

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.


We humans gather information around us by our senses. Our amazing brain processes this data and we form thoughts. The human body and the human soul are so very intertwined that they both have effect on each other. So without the body, yes, we probably wouldn’t be able to use our senses or data processing anymore. But God does not have a body and yet he is omniscient. I am not comparing the Saints or Angels to God, as they are incomparable, but it is quite possible that God is sharing this incomprehensible power with those who are in Heaven. I think there’s too much speculation and ignorance on the subject of how the soul works with the body in order to answer this fully, but I definitely think it helps to remember that, just because we gather information and retain memory and all that with our brains while on Earth, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do so. It’s the only way we’ve experienced, and as far as we can test and verify, it’s the only way anyone or anything on Earth has experienced. So it’s reasonable to not understand. How could we understand something we’ve no experience with and cannot empirically test? Remember that the physical is not all that exists, even though the physical is often intwined with the metaphysical! Angels likewise don’t have bodies, they are spirits. Yet they do many things. I’ll repeat what I said above; it’s possible that God is sharing some of his power with those who are in Heaven. It’s possible that, once our physical senses and brains are gone, we will be able to collect and process data in much different ways. I know it might sound like a cop-out, and I don’t intend it that way, but I truly think that we just don’t know, and pehaps we won’t until we all get to Heaven.

That’s what I’ve wondered. By “returning to God” and partaking in the Beatific Vision he shares his supernatural abilities with us in ways that are totally beyond our comprehension. It seems to be the only way.

Could be. :thinking:

Right, that’s what I think. This actually ties in with one of my biggest delays to converting to Catholicism. I used to reject the immortality of the human soul and its abilities.

Why would we lose all our memories of life on earth the minute we left our physical earthly body?
It’s understood that when God judges you after death, you go through the events in your life and you have to account for every big and little sin you did.

if you can’t remember anything about your life, its lessons, the sins you committed, etc you’re not going to be able to participate in this judgment in the way it has been described by just about everybody. You would have absolutely zero understanding of why God is sending you to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Which seems to negate the entire point of even having that interaction with God.

Because the physical brain is what holds memories. Memories are just new nerve connections and familiar nerve pulses. Without our bodies, we won’t have nerves at all.

A soul is not governed by the physical shell that it used as a God-given tool on earth.
Why would it be?

I don’t understand what you mean by “govern.” Our physical state affects our memories. For example, if we get hit too hard in the head we lose some memories and will possibly never get them back. Why? Because some of our nerves were damaged and don’t connect anymore. That is a physical problem that affects our memories. Our physical bodies definitely do govern our souls in the sense that it affects how our mind works and remembers things. So I don’t know what you mean.

When you die, that is the end of the physical everything. Only the non-earthly, non-physical part of you survives (unless you are Mary, and we’ll leave her out).

I do not believe that our thoughts, our emotions and our spirituality is simply a bunch of biochemical dreck stored in brain cell 1523791. We would be mechanical robots with great AI in that case, not humans made in the image and likeness of God.

Tbh, the science makes me lean more towards this. This is my biggest stumblingblock. I trust in what the Church says, but sometimes it’s hard to do so. I just have to trust that my eyes and understanding are deceiving me.

I do believe that most of, if not all of, our mind is either mostly or completely affected by our physical bodies, like chemicals. Which is better when we realize that the body and the soul make the human person, we are a body and soul composite.

The Communion of saints is everyone residing in heaven.
That’s it.
Everything else is just artwork.

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There is not some ghostly ectoplasm floating around our heads that suddenly emerges when we die.

I’m not trying to argue for reductive materialism, as I think it can be demonstrated that this philosophy is thoroughly false. Do I think we’re just a series of electrical pulses? No. But like it or not, that’s exactly what goes on in our brains (where our memories, personality, and everything that makes us unique is stored). Behind everything is a series of biological processes. Our “mind” is not our soul. When we die, we won’t exist like we do right now.

I’m not talking about the artwork. Let’s not be dismissive, please.

You started a thread stating that we depict people a certain way.
I still think you’re making a huge deal out of nothing
I’ll unsubscribe. Have a nice day.

That “composite” is key. We aren’t souls with bodies, nor are we bodies with souls. The two are intertwined. This is why, per Christian theology, the raising of the dead at the end of time is key to the whole “eternal life” bit. We can’t fully exist without our bodies–only as a mere piece of what we were before. As C.S. Lewis said, the image of “reunions on the further shore” is mere wishful thinking.

Of course, this is only my inference, based on my limited knowledge of such things. I find it very difficult to believe abstract claims made by theologians when empirical and metaphysical demonstration suggests otherwise. That’s where trust in God is helpful I guess. It’s confusing.

While I touched on it, the depictions aren’t the object of the thread. The point I was making is that we seem to present these images as truths–maybe that’s “folk theology” more than anything else. I don’t know. We show saints as being fairly similar to how they were on earth, but then also assume they actually have many of the same qualities (capacity to think, remember, communicate, etc), when I believe - per philosophy and neurology - that can’t be the case at all. Maybe it stems from some desire that our loved ones are still much the same as they were before death. I don’t know.

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I totally get that. You’re not alone in your doubts, that’s for sure.

Not to sound new agey, but I don’t feel constrained by my physical body or physical anything. The more one loves and communes with God, the less you feel bound to this world at all to be honest.

At least, to the sins of this world. God made us and this world, so the only thing I’m opposed to is the evil in the workd, not the world itself. The physical is good, just like the metaphysical. Aside from when it’s corrupted by our sin.

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Actually the term “Communion of Saints” includes three different classes of souls. As you state, the souls in heaven is one class. These are called the “Church Triumphant.” The souls on earth are the “Church Militant “ and the souls in Purgatory are the “Church Suffering.”

CCC 946 to 962 has a more in depth explanation.


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Think above the human.

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