Anima Forma Corporis

On my principles, can one say “anima forma corporis” (the soul is the form of the body)? Doesn’t that require a kind of dualism of soul from body that I’m trying to abjure? I don’t think so. “Form” is equivalent to “actuality,” and I very much want to say that “soul” is the way to pick out the existent as actual, as active, as a knowing and willing agent. On the other hand, insofar as the existent is finite, passive, patient of and vulnerable to the world, it is body — the two, as Berkeley emphasizes in Siris — are opposing concepts, not distinct substances.

But isn’t one point of the “anima forma corporis” line to insist that the soul can exist in separation from the body? Distinguo. My soul can exist in separation from the sensible form in which it appears now, but the act of that separation (death) reconstitutes that sensible form as something other than a human body (it becomes, as the Thomists rightly insist, a mere trace of a body). I deny, however, that any soul can exist without body at all — a soul without any trace of passivity or finitude would simply be the LORD. As Dante rightly saw, souls in the intermediate state have bodies, of a sort, which make them available in certain ways (to the stones the proud carry, to the thread that draws shut the eyes of the envious), but not in others (they cannot embrace one another, they aren’t opaque to sunlight).

Berkeley, of course, simply denied the existence of the intermediate state, taking the resurrection to follow immediately upon death — but even if doctrinal commitments preclude some Christians from affirming that thesis, they needn’t reject the inseparability of soul and body as such (as Griffiths’s Decreation demonstrates).

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