Article 13: The War Against the Soul

The War Against the Soul

For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

It is very difficult for a traditional Catholic to comprehend the extraordinary pull which Modernist-gnostic type thinking can exercise over the human mind and heart.

The true Catholic lives in a world in which hard lines are drawn, discernment is absolutely crucial, and difficult decisions must be made – a world perceived as a war between light and darkness, love and hate, goodness and evil, truth and error, holiness and sin, God and the Devil, the life and the death of the soul. It is a world of tension, not without its joys and happiness and yet, for all that, a life of combat in which one’s salvation is worked out with fear and trembling, and yes, love. Such is the true Catholic life which creates holiness and a Catholic civilization.

It is the great temptation of our lives to make all of this simpler – to search for and embrace a spirituality, philosophy, and theology which erases this tension and establishes a unity which brings us to something perceived as peace. However, the fruit of such an embrace is always a falsification of the natures of both God and man, and always brings us closer to that final, world-wide, Gnostic mixing of the divine and human from which the Antichrist will spring forth.

The ultimate victim of Modernist spirituality is, of course, the very nature of God as a truly transcendent, infinite Being. Gnostic-Modernism postulates union with the Divine as an evolving phenomenon – a dynamic, dialectical process of growth in which there are no hard lines defining either the nature of God or the nature of man. It is always integral to such a spirituality that the necessary and absolute distinctions between God and man become blurred, thus somehow (and the variations are many) placing divinity within man and the attributes of creation within God. God, in one way or another, loses both His transcendence and infinitude. He becomes, to one degree or another, pan-theistic, and subject to man’s gnosis and manipulation. As such, He becomes sub-human.

But there is another victim of such spirituality– the philosophical and theological concept of the soul itself. In other words, the war against the substantial nature of God, which I have written about in numerous articles, also necessitates a war against the substantial nature of man. This war against the reality of the human soul has entered deeply into the thought, life, and even liturgy, of the Catholic Church.

The year 1977 saw the publication of the first edition in German of Joseph Ratzinger’s book Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (English translation by Michael Waldstein - translation edited by Aidan Nichols, Catholic University of America Press, 1988). Eschatology is that branch of systematic theology which deals with the last things, and therefore the ultimate destination of the human soul. It is also therefore immediately concerned with the existence and nature of the soul.

One of the facts that emerges from reading this book is the extraordinary naivety of the average layman when it comes to understanding the direction which modern theology was taking during the entire 20th century. The orthodox layman has always taken it completely for granted that his soul will be separated from his body at death, and that it will persist in this state until the Final Judgment, when it will be reunited with the self-same, but glorified (if he died in the state of grace) body. However, Joseph Ratzinger informs us in his book that for several decades before Vatican II there had emerged an increasingly widely accepted view among Catholic (and Protestant) theologians that at the moment of death man perishes in both body and soul, and that “the proper Christian thing, therefore, is to speak, not of the soul’s immortality, but of the resurrection of the complete human being [at the Final Judgment] and of that alone.” (p. 105). Bishop Ratzinger continues:

The idea that to speak of the soul is unbiblical was accepted to such an extent that even the new Roman Missal suppressed the term anima in its liturgy for the dead. It also disappeared from the ritual for burial. ” (Ibid).

What an extraordinary admission! – the Church, in its official liturgy, suppressed the concept of the human soul!

It should also be mentioned that this “war against the soul” extends far beyond the liturgy. It is also, at least in the United States, firmly enshrined in the Vatican-approved translation of the Bible which is used for the readings of the Mass. For instance, the traditional, Douay translation of Genesis 2:7 reads as follows:

And the Lord formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

The same passage in the New American Bible (official translation for the liturgy in the U.S. since Vatican II) reads thus:

" The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.

Our Blessed Mother, sharing our humanity, must of course also share in this suppression of the concept of the human soul. Thus, in the New American Bible, the first line of Mary’s Magnificat runs as follows:

My being [rather than the traditional “My soul”] proclaims the greatness of the Lord….

Finally, we do well to compare the NAB rendition of Matthew 16:26 to the Douay-Rheims version which constitutes the quote at the beginning of this article:

What profit would a man show if he were to gain the whole world and destroy himself in the process? What can a man offer in exchange for his very self?

This indeed constitutes a war against the very concept of the human soul. The real problem is that it is being conducted within the Church, and its officers are the very ones who are appointed by God for the defense of our souls.

It should also be noted here that this suppression of the concept of the human soul as the substantial form of the human body is part of a larger effort to rid philosophical thinking of the whole concept of substance in regard to both God and created natures. As Joseph Ratzinger says in his book Faith and the Future, “the medieval concept of substance has long since become inaccessible to us.” (p. 14 – also see my article The Quintessential Evolutionist published in the Feb, 2009 issue of CO). This “war against substance” has come to roost, for instance, in the Genesis account of creation in the New American Bible and, again, in the liturgy which employs this translation. In describing the creation of all living things – herbs, trees, creatures of the sea, birds, cattle, creeping things, and all the beasts of the earth – the Douay version of Genesis I tells us seven times that God created them “according to their kinds”, and yielding fruit and seed “according to its kind.” The NAB, on the other hand, eliminates this substantial terminology and instead speaks vaguely of God creating trees with “fruit with its seed in it” (it could be the seed of an aardvark), and of creating all “kinds” of sea creatures, birds, living creatures, wild animals, and creeping things. This obviously undermines not only the traditional, Thomistic concept of God creating each living thing with a substantial form, but also opens up the Genesis account to an interpretation which allows that the progeny of all living things do not necessarily always come forth “according to the kind” of their parent species. Thus, the way is open to an evolutionary interpretation of God’s creation. It is my belief that the hearing of scripture read from the NAB week after week for years on end is enough in itself to profoundly undermine one’s Catholic faith.

Joseph Ratzinger does not accept this suppression of the concept of the human soul. As we shall see, however, in accord with his “modified” acceptance of Modernist theology, he profoundly alters its meaning so as to destroy its traditional content.

Of the many books which I have read that are authored by Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology... is the only one in which I have found any serious attention paid to any particular teaching of St. Thomas. The teaching considered here is succinctly stated by the Latin formula: anima forma corporisthe soul is the form of the body. For St. Thomas, of course, this teaching is integrally woven into his cosmology and metaphysics – a cosmology and metaphysics which, as I have clearly shown in numerous articles, Joseph Ratzinger rejects. The problem is, of course, that the phrase anima forma corporis is part of Church dogma. The General Council of Vienne (1311-1312) stated:

In order that all may know the truth of the faith in its purity and all error may be excluded, we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.

This formula has always been understood in relation to Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysics and cosmology, which views all physical substances as coming into being through the union of substantial form and primary matter. It is this view of substantial physical reality which, according to Joseph Ratzinger, is now, “inaccessible” to us. For this reason, we should expect him to apply his agenda of “essentialization” to this doctrine, in order to bring it into some sort of accord with modern positive science.

Joseph Ratzinger begins by extolling St. Thomas’ concept of anima forma corporis as being a revolutionary formula which overcame soul-body dualism inherent in the dominant Platonic philosophy and theology which preceded it. But this is as far as his acceptance of St. Thomas’s teaching on the soul goes. In fact, he flatly states: “the simple repristinization [restoration to an original state; renewal of purity] of a thoroughgoing Thomism is not the way we seek.” (p.181). In other words, out the door goes Thomistic metaphysics and cosmology. And in comes something very different – something which, according to Joseph Ratzinger, retains the essential Thomistic insight concerning the unity of soul and body, while rejecting and bypassing Thomistic metaphysics and natural philosophy.

Thomistic philosophy and theology absolutely require the existence of a human soul, created by God out of nothing, and yet possessing a substantial nature of its own which is in no way in possession of even the slightest element of the divine in its own created nature. Everything which the human soul can or will possess in the way of the divine must be seen as a pure gift of God added, or superadded, to his nature. This is true whether it be the gift of Sanctifying Grace which Adam and Eve possessed before the Fall, the gift of Sanctifying Grace in Baptism, or the Grace of Glory which consists in the Beatific Vision. To in any way compromise the subsistent nature of the human soul inevitably results in a violation of both the created integrity of man and the transcendence of God. Inevitably, it somehow mixes the divine and human in some sort of pantheistic soup.

It is precisely this philosophical concept of the subsistent human soul which Modernism seeks to erase. Fully believing that the concept of substantial being {soul} is inaccessible to us as moderns, Joseph Ratzinger now formulates a new understanding of the soul as “dialogic” and “relational”, rather than substantial. In Eschatology..., He offers us the following “new” definition of the human soul:

The soul” is our term for that in us which offers a foothold for this relation [with the eternal]. Soul is nothing other than man’s capacity for relatedness with truth, with love eternal. (p.259).

In other words, as analyzed in a broader context in my article Heart of Betrayal, relationship replaces being as the fundamental concept regarding the human soul. This, in turn, allows us to conceive of the soul not in terms of the hard lines associated with the concepts of being, substance, and specific nature, but rather as an evolutionary, dynamic relationship, Thus, Joseph Ratzinger writes:

"The challenge to traditional theology today lies in the negation of an autonomous, “substantial” soul with a built-in immortality in favor of that positive view which regards God’s decision and activity as the real foundation of a continuing human existence.” (p.150).

We should be very careful here to note the false dichotomy which Joseph Ratzinger attempts to establish in the above passage. In Thomistic metaphysics and theology there is an absolute connection between the substantial nature of the immortal human soul on the one hand, and the creative activity of God on the other. The human soul and body depend every moment upon God’s creative activity for their existence – the same creative activity which called them into existence out of nothingness in the beginning. Thomism posits the most profound and real relationship between God and man, without this in any way violating the integrity of the human soul. Such cannot be said of the concept of relationship embraced by Joseph Ratzinger, which demands the sacrifice of substantiality in order to establish this relationship.

It is extremely important for us to realize what is at stake here. If we suppress the idea of a substantial soul, then the Catholic concept of Sanctifying Grace, and everything that is associated with it, is lost. The very essence of the whole Catholic spiritual and moral system of belief demands that there be a substantial human soul which may either be in possession of this Grace, or not. If there is no human soul with a substantial nature, then this nature cannot be “Fallen” after the committing of something called “original sin.” If there is no substantial soul, dependent upon sanctifying grace added to its nature, then there is no loss of that state of grace through something called mortal sin, and the consequent need to restore this state of the soul through confession.

It should now be eminently clear to us why Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book In the Beginning…A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, describes the traditional concept of original sin as a “certainly misleading and imprecise term" (see my article Point of Departure); and also why, in his 2002 work God and the World (p.401-402), he characterizes the teaching of “earlier ages” that baptism “endows us by means of sanctifying grace, with the capacity to gaze upon God” as “unenlightened.” In my reading of over a dozen books by Joseph Ratzinger, I have never encountered his taking seriously the concept of Sanctifying Grace.

One of the most terrible consequence of the loss of the Thomistic concept of an immortal, subsistent substantial soul is its effects upon the corresponding concept of the sacredness of all human life. There has been an unending flow of teachings concerning the sacredness of all life from conception until natural death emanating from the Pope and the Vatican over the past several decades – pronouncements which appear to have had a startlingly minimal effect on the world’s conscience. This is not surprising. If, as Joseph Ratzinger has written, we can no longer conceive the soul as possessing a substantial nature and immortality, but rather must conceive of it only in terms of becoming, and therefore an evolutionary process of growth, then the philosophical foundation for such a teaching is simply an ever-shifting, ever descending pile of sand. The sacredness of human life can only be founded upon being, and not becoming.

The War Against the Soul’s Companion :

The human soul is not only a substance in itself, but also the substantial form of a specific human body. The soul, although subsistent (capable of existing by itself without the body), is yet an incomplete substance. Its completeness demands union with its own proper body. For this reason, this selfsame body must also be seen as integral to who we are as individual substances or persons. This is why the Church has always condemned any notion that detracts from the fact that we are both body and soul, and that our destiny will not be fully realized until the Final Judgment, when our selfsame bodies will be reunited to our souls. St. Thomas writes:

And since it behooves the end to be obtained by the selfsame thing that was made for that end, lest it appear to be made without purpose, it is necessary for the selfsame man to rise again; and this is effected by the selfsame soul being united to the selfsame body. For otherwise there would be no resurrection properly speaking, if the same man were not reformed. Hence to maintain that he who rises again is not the selfsame man is heretical, since it is contrary to the truth of Scripture which proclaims the resurrection.” (Suppl., Q. 79, A.2).

As a scriptural justification for this teaching, St. Thomas quotes the following:

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth, and I shall be clothed again with my skin.” (Job 19:25-26).

Of course, since the cosmology of Joseph Ratzinger sees all physical things as reducible to quantification (atomic particles, waves, quanta, superstrings, or whatever), and since these are “unsubstantial” and in a constant change, there can be no selfsame resurrected body waiting for man at the Final Judgment. As an alternative to this notion of the resurrection of the selfsame body, Joseph Ratzinger proposes to us the following:

We left the question of the materiality of the resurrection at the point to which Thomas Aquinas had brought it. The fundamental insight to which Thomas broke through [the real unity of soul and body) was given a new twist by Rahner when he noted that in death the soul becomes not acosmic [having nothing to do with the physical world] but all-cosmic. This means that its essential ordination to the material world remains, not in the mode of giving form to an organism as its entelechy [thus, out the window goes the teaching of the Council of Vienne that the soul is the substantial form – the entelechy – of the body], but in that of an ordering to this world as such and as a whole. It is not difficult to connect up this thought to ideas formulated by Teilhard de Chardin. For it might be said in this regard that relation to the cosmos is necessarily also relation to the temporality of the universe, which knows being only in the form of becoming [this is gibberish in light of Thomistic cosmology], has a certain direction, disclosed in the gradual construction of ‘biosphere’ and ‘noosphere’ from out of physical building blocks which it then proceeds to transcend [author’s note – all this is a blatant attempt to unite gnostic-type spiritual evolution with the alleged physical evolution of the universe]. Above all it is a progress to ever more complex unities. This is why it calls for a total complexity: a unity which will embrace all previously existing unities….The search reaches the point of integration of all in all, where each thing becomes completely itself precisely by being completely in the other. In such integration, matter belongs to spirit in a wholly new and different way, and spirit is utterly one with matter. The pancosmic existence, which death opens up would lead, then, to universal exchange and openness, and so to the overcoming of all alienation. Only where creation realizes such unity can it be true that ‘God is all in all.”(Eschatology, p. 191-192).

The above scenario is the only one which Joseph Ratzinger offers us as an alternative to the traditional Thomistic teaching which he has rejected. We are led to presume that he accepts something very much like it. In fact, in his own conclusion expressed two pages later, he appears to embrace just such a union of the soul with a universal cosmic physical body:

In conclusion: the new world cannot be imagined. Nothing concrete or imaginable can be said about the relation of man to matter in the new world, or about the ‘risen body.’ Yet we have the certainty that the dynamism of the cosmos leads towards a goal, a situation in which matter and spirit will belong to each other in a new and definitive fashion. This certainty remains the concrete content of the confession for the resurrection of the flesh even today, and perhaps we should add: especially today.

As I have noted before, it is out of such a philosophy of pantheistic, evolutionary cosmic soup that the Antichrist will arise.

The One Who Holds Him Back :

Possibly the most mysterious passage of the New Testament is to be found in St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, in which he discusses the coming of the Antichrist. It reads as follows:

And now you know what withholdeth [the coming of the Antichrist], that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity already worketh; only that he who now holdeth, do hold, until he be taken out of the way.”(2 Thess 2:6-7).

It has been fashionable in some modern circles to interpret the phrase “he who now holdeth” as applying to Christ in the Eucharist, and that this passage therefore refers somehow to a future suppression of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This, however, is not at all in keeping with the virtual unanimous interpretation of the Early Church Fathers.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Hippolytus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John of Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine of Hippo are unanimous in seeing “he who now holdeth” to be the Roman Empire and the Caesars who ruled this empire. The Roman Empire represented the moral force of law which prevented the “man of lawlessness” from ascending to power.

The pagan Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. The moral force of the Roman Empire, however, did not cease. This principle of continuity in the history of the Roman Empire was delineated with profound perspicuity by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Cum Catholica Ecclesia:

It is therefore, by a particular decree of Divine Providence that, at the fall of the Roman Empire and its partition into separate kingdoms, the Roman Pontiff, whom Christ made the head and center of his entire Church, acquired civil power. Certainly, it was by a most wise design of God Himself that in the midst of so great a multitude and variety of temporal princes, the Sovereign Pontiff enjoyed political liberty, which is so necessary for him to exercise his spiritual power, his authority, and his jurisdiction over the whole world.”

If the Church Fathers and Pope Pius IX are right, then there is only one solution to this mystery concerning the identity of the one who holds back the Antichrist. It is the Papacy. The Pope must, in some sense, be “taken out of the way” in order for the Antichrist to rise to power.

We might be tempted to conclude that such a “taking out of the way” of the Pope should be interpreted physically, but I believe this to be an inadequate explanation. Quite a number of Popes have been taken away from Rome and/or held prisoner by precursors of the Antichrist, and yet the moral force necessary to restrain the ascension of Antichrist remained intact.

Nor can this “taking away” be meant to signify that for a period of time the Chair of Peter is unoccupied. First, we have the assurance of Our Lord that both the Church and the Papacy upon which the Church is founded will endure to the end of the world. Second, the world has already experienced extended Papal interregnums, and during these periods the moral force of the Church and the Papacy has always proved sufficient to prevent the rise of the Antichrist.

All of this should tell us that what we are dealing with here is the possibility of the moral force of the Papacy being eliminated or diminished in such a way as to create a sufficiently pervasive spiritual vacuum into which the Antichrist will be able to gain entrance and ascend to power. It is this spiritual vacuum which I have detailed in all my articles concerning the philosophy and theology of Joseph Ratzinger. I do not intend to rehash it here. My articles are available both at the Christian Order website and my own. But there is one quote from Joseph Ratzinger which I believe epitomizes the extent to which the once absolutely certain moral force of the Church and the Papacy has been reduced to a small, timid, and virtually inconsequential voice:

To say this is to imply that faith must clearly adjust itself to an intellectual pluralism that cannot ever be reversed, and within this intellectual climate must present itself as a comprehensible offer of meaning, even if it can find no prolegomena in a commonly accepted philosophical system. That means, in the end, that the meaning which man needs becomes accessible in any case only through a decision for a meaningful structure. It may not be proved, but can be seen as meaningful." (Faith and the Future, p. 74-75)”

If this be still the position of Pope Benedict XVI, then it gives ample testimony to a Papacy that is very close to being in that position of philosophical, theological, and moral bankruptcy as to constitute its having been “taken out of the way.”

One other thing needs to be noted. It has been often said that the Devil’s most powerful weapon is to convince people that he does not exist. The same may be said of the Antichrist, whom virtually all the Church Fathers determined to be one specific man who would rise upon the world stage at some specific point in history. Joseph Ratzinger does not agree. In Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, he writes the following:

As far as the antichrist is concerned, we have seen that in the New Testament he always assumes the lineaments of contemporary history. He cannot be restricted to any single individual . One and the same, he wears many masks to each generation. Gerhoh of Reichersberg, who lived from 1093 (or 1094) to 1169, was right to regard the antichrist as a sort of Church-historical principle which: ‘is rendered concrete not in one but in many figures….In radical fashion, he sweeps away the traditional image: this image, he insists must be understood allegorically, not in some literal historical way. What the antichrist means is grasped philogically: everyone who is Christo Filio Dei contrarius deserves this name….In other words, anyone who destroys ordo and furthers confusio is an antichrist.’ (quoted from a work in German by W. Beinert). Although the pessimistic Augustinian provost may have overstepped the mark in this final conclusion, he was basically correct in his theory that the antichrist is one only in the multiplicity of his historical appearances , each of which threatens in its own way the period in which it occurs.” (p. 200-201 – bold emphasis mine)

If we couple this denial of the real historical personality of the Antichrist with the myriad ways in which Joseph Ratzinger has undermined the substantive nature of the being of both God and man, then I would suggest we are in the midst of a “taking away” the like of which the Church has never previously experienced.

There have been many periods in the past during which, because of particular historical circumstances, the immanent coming of the Antichrist has been predicted. I have no desire to add to the list. At the same time, however, we are instructed by Our Lord to watch and interpret the signs of the times. We are absolutely obligated, therefore, to keep our lamps lit. And we are equally obligated to shine this light upon the darkness which now surrounds us. This is especially true if this darkness shrouds the Papacy. Catholic charity simply demands such an effort.

Authored by: James Larson © 2009

Continue to Part II: The Philosophy of Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar