Truth About Death

The origin of the immortality of the soul in Christianity

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul in Christianity traces its way back through Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, and the Orphics.

The Immortal Soul in Greek Mythology
According to Orphic cosmogony, Dionysus, the son of Zeus, was killed and eaten by the Titans in order to achieve immortality. The Titans then were destroyed by Zeus with a thunderbolt and then out of their ashes arose the human race, partly divine and partly earthly, thus forming the body-soul dichotomy in Greek Philosophy. The body became considered as a prison and the source of evil and corruption. At death, it was believed that the soul was freed to achieve its true life.

Source: Search for the Immortal Soul by Daniel Knauft

Possible Origin of the Immortal Soul in Greek Philosophy
According to Greek historian, Herodotus, the Egyptians were the first to advance the idea of an immortal soul and that it reincarnates into other animals. It is said that after the soul spends about three thousand years reincarnating as other animals, it returns to a human body and then the soul repeats the cycle again. The Greeks promoted these ideas as their own, they became known as metempsychosis and the transmigration of the soul.

Xenopanes, a peripatetic poet from Colopon in Ionia, travelled around Greece reciting his own works and those of others. According to him, Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, gained many followers and was well known for claiming that the soul is immortal, that it turns into other animals, then after certain periods, everything repeats itself.  It appears to have been Pythagoras who introduced these doctrines into Greece, in fact, he claimed to have reincarnated himself.

Empedocles, a Pre-Socratic philosopher adopted this idea, theorizing that souls reincarnate because they're being punished in the physical world, but at some point could break this cycle. He also says the souls of the wise can become gods.

Source: Early Greek Philosophy. by Jonathan Barnes

The Soul Re-Defined
According to E. R. Dodds, an Irish scholar, Orphic and Pythagorean doctrines of the immortality of the soul originate from Greek contact with Shaman cultures around the seventh century B.C.. Orphic and Pythagorian shamanism began to associate extraconscious experiences such as dreams, visions, and soul flight with an occult power in human nature itself, thus evolving the concept of self-conciousness which gathered around the term "psyche" and created ad distinction between the soul and the external world. The psyche became seen as divine in that the duality of God and man became a human duality of soul and body. This mental-physical dichotomy had a direct effect on philosophical developments and was greatly facilitated by what can be called "Greek Shamanism".

Pythagorreanism, as mentioned earlier, is a prime example of "Greek Shamanism". Pythagora formed a cult which practiced abstinence, contemplation, and secret rituals. This cult formed radically new ideas concerning the soul, which Dodds refers to as "Puritan Psychology". This psychology used shamanistic beliefs to generate moral, psychological, and intellectual paradigms. Such paradigms had a great influence on Plato, the dialogue writer for Socrates, the Philosopher.

Source: Myth and Philosophy. by Lawrence J. Hatab 

In passages from Meno and Paedo, Socrates suggests that learning one's owns opinions and ideal concepts pressuposes they formed them in former lives. In Paedrus, the soul is considered immortal because it said to move itself rather than moved by external forces. It's also interesting to note that in the Republic, two senses of the soul become confused. In one sense the soul is the principle of life and in the other it's the person.

Source: Body, Mind, and Death. by Anthony Flew

Plato in Phedo records a conversation in which Crito asks Socrates how he would like to be buried, the response was "any way you like, this is if you can catch me and I don't slip from between your fingers". Socrates tells the Athenians in Apology to live primarily for the soul and not the body Plato was encouraged to welcome death and live primarily for the soul's mental fuction by apprehending immortal truths. The soul was believed to be an "immortal substance", an argument derived from Plato, who reasoned that only things consisting of parts could fall to pieces and that the soul has no parts, which would mean that the soul couldn't be destroyed.

Alexander the Great was a student of Aristotle (Aristotle himself being a former student of Plato). Alexander established various universities and founded some seventy cities, through which the ancient legacy of Greece has been preserved. Much of this story would be unknown if it weren't for Pausanias.

Sources: Search for the Immortal Soul by Daniel Knauft
               Myth and Philosophy. by Lawrence J. Hatab 

The Soul According to Early Christianity
Now let's fast forward to early Christianity around the second century A.D. Justin Martyr says of those who call themselves Christians actually blaspheme God when they say there is no resurrection of the dead and that their souls are taken to heaven to heaven when they die, in fact, Justin Martyr says we aren't even to imagine that they are Christians (see original quote here).

His belief in conditional and future immortality (at the resurrection) was shared by many apostolic ante-Nicean church fathers. Among them were Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Theophilius of Antioch,  Melito of Sardis, Polycrates of Ephesus, and Irenaeus of Lyons.

The philosophical dotrine that regards the soul as inherently immortal was seen as completely foreign to the early church which believed in the resurrection of the dead. Early Christians, like the ancient Hebrews, understood the soul to be a psychophysical unity, a body brought to life and kept alive by the breath of God. The Resurrection was viewed as the body's restoration to Edenic life and full personhood.

Source: Search for the Immortal Soul by Daniel Knauft

Greek Philosophy enters the Church
The writings of Athenagoras of athens is the first clue that a departure from the Christian's wholistic view of the man. Born in Athens, he was taught the philosophy of Plato before becoming a Christian, yet he didn't invalidate his former views. Athenagoras frequently blended the beliefs of philosophers such as Plato with Christianity and was the first ecclestiatical writer to publically embrace the immortality of the soul.Athenagoras argued that God created man to exist eternally and that his purpose can't be defeated.. In essence, man is arbritrarily forced to live forever and as for the lost, they get eternal misery.

While Athenagoras publically promoted his ideas, Tertullian amplified them. He was the first to affirm that the torments of the lost to be co-existent and co-equal with that of the happiness of the saved. The punishment of hell came to be viewed as perpetually dying, but never actually dying. Tertullian directly quoted Plato who said "every soul is immortal", which is to say that the soul that sins "shall not surely die".

The final step in securing the doctrine of the immortality of the soul within Christianity along with eternal torment was Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He gained recognition and influence with his concept of the supremacy of the church as a mediator between God and man. It was through this system that "Orthodox" doctrine and practice would be enforced. Augustine's influence caused rival voices to fade out, thus the doctrine of an immortal soul became the accepted belief in midieval Christianity.

Source: Search for the Immortal Soul by Daniel Knauft

Necromancy and Idolatry enters the Church
The church's reception of anti-physical and dualistic philosophies of Plato eventually led to asceticism, devotion to life in seclusion, celibacy, the veneration of dead saints, and the belief that the dead saints intercede for man (in spite of the fact that such idolatrous necromancy is explicitly forbidden in the bible). The terrors of eternal torment by Tertullian were eventually mitigated by the teaching of purgatory, which eventually led to objectionable practices (such as Indulgences) much to the enrichment of the church, which then soon led to the cause of the Protestan Reformation.

Note: The concept of an immortal soul opens a door to necromancy, especially in so called "near death experiences" (NDEs). This is because necromancy presupposes the belief that the soul survives after death.

The Council of Lateran (1517)
It was at the Catholic Church Council of Lateran that the concept of an immortal soul became official church doctrine. The council decided that everyone possesses an immortal soul and that when it is united with the body is forms an autonomous individual.

John Calvin promotes the idea of an Immortal Soul
Calvin believed that "after the death of the body, the soul truly lives, being endued with both sense and understanding". Fascinating, so like psychics, he believed that the dead somehow know more than the living, which of course is a contradiction to what the bible which says: "the dead know not anything" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Calvin, like Plato, believed the body to be the prison of the soul from which it is to be set free at death.

Source: Search for the Immortal Soul by Daniel Knauft