The Spiritual Soul and the Role of Philosophy in Eschatology

The Spiritual Soul and the Role of Philosophy in Eschatology April 10, 2012

A Reflection on Matthew Levering’s Jesus and the Demise of Death

By R. Jared Staudt

Matthew Levering has a very important common thread that runs throughout his writing. One of his first books is entitled Scripture and Metaphysics seeks to demonstrate how philosophy in the Aristotelian and Thomistic tradition is crucial for biblical interpretation and theology, especially in affirming the soul’s ability to know the truth of reality or being. Rather than an outside imposition on the Christian tradition, Levering demonstrates how this philosophy actually conforms to the truth of God’s creation and our capacity to receive revealed truth.

This insight on the relation of Scripture and philosophy is a crucial element of his newest book Jesus and the Demise of Death: Resurrection, Afterlife, and the Fate of the Christian. He addresses this in the introduction, where he argues that Thomas Aquinas is the key guide in navigating the proper and essential balance between Scripture and philosophy: “Rooted in Scripture, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Fathers’ insights, and benefiting from a critical appreciation of Greek philosophy, Aquinas’ contemplation of the mysteries of faith generates rich insight into Jesus’ passage and ours” (11). Levering follows Aquinas in his methodology of bringing divergent views into dialogue in order to advance theology speculatively, though always with an eye to the Christian sources (a methodology that Levering calls “Ressourcement Thomism”).

The importance of a proper philosophic grounding in the reality of being shows how Aquinas can help with the recovery of Christian eschatology. In his resurrection and in our own, Jesus restores and elevates our bodily life to a new level. The doctrine of the Resurrection firmly grounds the Christian life in the reality of God’s creation of the human being in a body soul unity. This unity is not overcome in the Resurrection, but strengthened, purified, and transformed.

Aquinas’ role in helping us understand the philosophical importance of the Resurrection is brought out very clearly in chapters 6, which elucidates the Church’s teaching on the spiritual soul that endures death. Levering states that “the doctrine of the soul allows for the New Testament’s rich account of graced participation in the divine life, both now and in the life to come. Christian eschatology is right to affirm the doctrine not only philosophically but also biblically” (107). The enduring life of the spiritual soul is just one example of the way in which Levering uses Aquinas’ thought to provide a rich and compelling vision for eschatology that is at once both Christian and human.

Matthew Levering’s Jesus and the Demise of Death provides yet another compelling case for the ability of Thomas Aquinas to serve as a guide in the renewal of theology today – a renewal that is at once profoundly biblical and philosophical.

Dr. R. Jared Staudt earned his Ph.D. at Ave Maria University in theology, writing his dissertation on the virtue of religion in St. Thomas Aquinas. He currently serves as Professor and Academic Dean at the Augustine Institute.

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