Humans don’t become angels when we die

Plenty of people seem to have the idea that humans die and then they are an angel in heaven. Then someone comes along and says that is wrong; humans are humans and angels are angels, which are something else. This made sense for a long time to me. But then I wondered. The soul is a spirit with intellect and will… Angels are a spirit with intellect and will… What differentiates them?

(The differences I can think of seem only relative: the fact that one has existed longer than the other, the fact that one once had a body while the other did not, the fact that one has a higher degree of intelligence and has never sinned, etc.)

Ontology is the philosophy of what something IS - the nature of the thing.

Humans have a human nature. We share many characteristics with other mammals, but no other mammal has a human nature.

In heaven we will share many characteristics with angels, but those angels do not have (and will never have) a human nature.

Similarity is not sameness.

Here’s an interesting ontological puzzle, called the Ship of Theseus, presented by the philosopher Plutarch:

Suppose a merchant ship was built - the Ship of Theseus. It was meticulously maintained, so whenever a part showed signs of wear it was replaced, until eventually no original parts remained.

Is it still the same ship? Is it still the Ship of Theseus?

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes expanded upon the paradox: suppose, as each part was replaced, the original part was stored in a warehouse, until, eventually, the warehouse contained all of the original parts. Somebody then builds a ship from them. Is this also the (somewhat less seaworthy) Ship of Theseus? Are the two ships really the same ship?

Ontology. It can drive you mad.

My answer is that it ceased to be THE Ship of Theseus the moment the first part was replaced (even though it was still called the Ship of Theseus), and only the rebuilt ship can rightfully be THE Ship of Theseus. This is comparable to the way theologians look at the Church.

We will get our (glorified) bodies back after the resurrection.

Angels will not receive bodies.


Dang! I really wanted wings! :frowning:

David, those are both such great answers!:slight_smile:

Honestly, I think the idea of humans becoming angels when we die is simply a misunderstanding of Jesus Himself, who, when discussing the resurrection of the dead, told the Sadduccees that the deceased become like the angels in Heaven.


One of the principal differences between a soul and a spirit is that the soul is designed to “interface” with a body. It gets its information through the senses. (That we can learn things after death, e.g., at one’s particular judgment, is due to divine intervention, which supplements that limitation of our soul. Such a state of affairs is not meant to continue indefinitely.)

Another difference is that the human intellect goes from thought to thought, whereas angels “just know” things. They look at something and understand it instantly, without having to take it apart or build logical arguments.

Consequently the angelic will is also different insofar as their choices are fixed and irrevocable. Their will is not thereby less free than ours. The judgment with which they judge based on their infused knowledge is in fact superior to the judgment with which we judge based on reason–though in the fallen angels the intellect is darkened and unaided by grace.

I would very much like to see a comprehensive definition of just WHAT is human nature? I asked it many times, and no one was able to give a definitive and precise answer.

Not so simple. The human body consists of all sorts of chemicals, molecules and atoms. As we keep on living all of those parts are replaced by identical others. One carbon atom is exactly the same as another carbon atom. At every breath some atoms and molecules depart from our bodies, and other ones get incorporated. (Approximately every seven years all the parts in our body get “refreshed”.) Does it mean that at every breath we “cease” to exist, and a new “someone” takes our place?

Ontology is not simple, as you correctly observed. Personally, I would call it totally nonsensical - but of course this is my personal opinion. The actual building blocks do not matter, only the pattern or the arrangement is what matters. If you take a diamond crystal and replace each carbon atom with an identical one, there is no difference between the “original” one and the “new” one. Or to put it into a slightly different form: “what is the difference between an original and a perfect replica”?

The point is that if there is no way to tell which is the “original one” and which is the “replaced one”, then this question cannot be answered - IN PRINCIPLE! - and as such it is an irrelevant question. Only philosophers would posit it as a relevant problem.

This reminds me of an elderly lady who visited the zoo. When looking at a hippopotamus she asked the keeper: “Is that a male or female hippo”? The zookeeper replied: “Ma’am, this is a question which can only concern another hippopotamus”! Not all questions are worthy to contemplate, even if they can be expressed in a syntactically correct form. :slight_smile:

I believe that is when our Lord was explaining that there is no marriage or giving in marriage for humans in heaven…in that sense we will be like the angels.

Yes, some could have misunderstood when Jesus said that. I guess we have to read more carefully. :slight_smile:

I’d heard something similar in a joke. This fellow had an axe that his grandfather had made a hundred years previous. Since then it’s only had one new head and three new handles.

I’d like to see such a definition for ANY nature.

It’s like trying to define “substance” when talking about Eucharist. Accidents are easily defined and described. But there’s that substance of the Host - the “breadness” that evades definition. We know it when we encounter it. There is a close relationship between substance and nature. They might be the same thing.

Even great physicists wonder about these things:

Imagine that I give you a chair, while explaining that the legs are still missing, and that the seat, back and armrest will perhaps be delivered soon; whatever I did give you, can I still call it a chair? [Prof. Gerard 't Hooft, 1999 Nobel laureate in physics]

One thing we know about nature - it is immutable.

Thank you, I think this answers my question. Though the other posts are interesting too, and I’d like to see where this goes.

How right you are! I have a simple conclusion. This is yet another one of those useless concepts, invented by some philosophers who have nothing better to do than gazing at their own navel. I would urge to deprive them of their tenure and send them to McDonalds to flip burgers. That would be a useful way of spending their time.

Which reminds me: “What is the most frequent sentence a philosophy major says in his first job”?
Answer: “You want fries with that”?

What good is to call something “immutable” if we have no idea what it is? :wink:

This is true, but angels can know what human nature is like, example would be the numerous times they have taken on human form, they have eaten food, drank liquids, been beat up, experienced joy, etc etc. Yet NO human knows what angelic nature is like, there is never a time when a human has the chance to experience this either.

Modern Catholic Dictionary:

HUMAN NATURE. The nature of humankind considered abstractly and apart from its elevation by grace to a supernatural state with a heavenly destiny. It is the human as such, having a body and soul, capable of rational thought and voluntary decision. Actually human nature has never existed independent either of a supernatural destiny or of free acceptance or rejection of the supernatural invitation of God’s grace.

I don’t agree. Taking on human form does not endow them with a human nature.
Animals eat, drink, get beaten up, experience joy etc but they do not have a human nature.

Sure your name isn’t “Clarence”? :smiley:

Thank you.

Well, that is a definition, all right. But unfortunately there are many meaningless words in it, like: “grace, supernatural state, heavenly destiny, soul or supernatural invitation”. I have no idea what these mean. On the other hand “capable of rational thought and voluntary decision” I can understand very well. The trouble is that these attributes do not necessarily belong exclusively to biological humans.

Maybe it would be easier to start with something simpler. What is the “nature” or “essence” of a chair? Or maybe a “cow”? But only if you are so inclined. Don’t want to deviate from the topic too far. :slight_smile:

Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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