Thursday, March 20, 2014

A quick theological argument that we do not cease to exist at death

On materialist reconstitution views of the resurrection, we cease to exist at death, but then we are reconstituted at the resurrection. On Thomas Aquinas's view, we cease to exist at death, though our soul continues to exist, and then at the resurrection we come back to life.

On these views, we should view the badness of death as primarily constituted by a cessation of existence. But Christ did not cease to exist when he died. The Trinity did not become a Binity between Good Friday and Easter Sunday! So if the badness of death is primarily constituted by a cessation of existence, Christ either did not die or at least did not undergo the primary badness of death. And both options do serious damage to the doctrine of atonement.

(The view of death that seems right to me is that death is the destruction of the body. And Christ underwent that.)


Heath White said...

One might reply that Christ qua man ceased to exist, but qua God continued in existence, so that the Trinity was unaffected.

One might object that this is impossible, things either exist or not, no qua's about it. However, certain views of the Trinity are willing to embrace other seeming contradictions with the help of "qua" (qua-lified contradictions) so maybe they could swallow this one too.

Alexander R Pruss said...

One might, but it's not clear that ceasing to exist qua man would have been a sacrifice. After all, it was no benefit to the second person of the Trinity to become human. So would it have been a loss to cease to be human?

davidus said...

Hi prof Pruss, is your reading of Aquinas as proponent of 'death-as-cessation-of-existence' view based on any particular textual passage, or a metaphysical assumption he is well known to hold?
I always took it that Aquinas (and Aristotle) would have held that death is simply destruction of the body, given that both hold that (a) souls cannot exist apart from substances, (b) a substance informed by a soul cannot become a different substance so long as it remains informed by that same soul, (c) we only cease to exist (as persons) when our matter ceases to be informed by the same substantial form.

Alexander R Pruss said...

See the references at the beginning of Section II here.