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The Natural of Human Person in Saint Thomas Aquinas

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Our Lady of La Salettes College Seminary

Bigaa II, Silang, Cavite


TOPIC:         The Nature of Human Being

In Saint Thomas Aquinas

TITLE:         The Nature of Human Person

Presented to:


Presented by:

Joseph Pham Quang The

The Society of the Divine Saviour


I.        Introduction        3

II.        Human Being        3

1.        The Body        4

2.        The Soul        5

a.        The Nature of Soul        5

b.        The faculties of soul        6

c.        The activity of the soul        9

III.        Intellect and Survival After Death        10

IV.        Resurrection of the Body        12

V.        Conclusion        14


  1. Introduction

Thomas Aquinas constructs his distinct philosophy of the soul by interpreting Aristotelian concepts in light of Catholic doctrine. This paper contends that Aquinas is redefining the human being as a body-soul (matter-form) composite.  

The following explains Aquinas's concept of the nature of the soul, especially how it allows for the interaction of the intellectual soul with the body, and describes the influence of religious doctrine on his viewpoint about the afterlife and resurrection. Aquinas’s account manages to reconsider the relationship of soul to body outside the typical mind-body connection.  By defining the human being as a body-soul (matter-form) composite, Thomas eliminates the idea of a soul “in” a body.[1] 

  1. Human Being

It remains for Thomas to study the third category of creatures, namely, human beings, who are a composite of material body and spiritual soul.

In the Priestly account of creation (Gn 1: 1-2:4a), the author of Genesis sets forth the work of God in six days followed by a Sabbath for rest. Thereupon the author tells the story of creation a second time, drawing upon another ancient source, the Yahwist (Gn 2:4b-25). By this repetition, the author wished to teach his readers that men and women are superior to the other things created by God, being made in the divine image and likeness. In this second account of creation, it is the man who gives names to all the cattle, the birds of the air and to every beast of the field. This is the author’s way of saying that the man is the lord of them all. The author of Genesis also wished to say that the woman shares in the dignity of the man. She is indeed bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.

The Second Vatican Council appealed to these passages in Genesis and in other books of the Bible to substantiate its own teaching about men and women. According to the council, Scripture teaches that men and women were created in the image of God, that they are capable of knowing and loving their creator, that they were appointed by him to be the masters of all earthly creatures (Gn 1:26-27; Ws 2:23), in order that they might subdue them and use them to God’s glory (Si 17:3-10). Hence, all things should be related to men and women as their center and crown. The council went on to say that each individual is one person, even though he or she is composed of body and soul. The body is good and honorable, being a kind of microcosm of the material world. The soul is spiritual and immortal. By their intellects, human beings are free and deflect the divine image in a remarkable way. Human dignity demands that men and women act knowingly and freely. They achieve their dignity when they pursue their end by a spontaneous choice of what is good and employ apt means to that end.[2]

As far as human nature is concerned, human beings are composed of spiritual soul and material body. The body was of interest to Thomas only insofar as it was related to the soul. Therefore, in speaking of human nature Thomas treated of the human soul, its nature, faculties and activity.

  1. The Body

        Humans are animals; the animal genus is body; body is material substance. When embodied, a human person is an “individual substance in the category rational animal.” The body thus belongs to the essence of a human being. This accounts for the material aspect of human nature. While the human soul must necessarily be incorporeal, humans are also natural, which entails being at least partly matter. Thus, it is in the nature of a human to be soul and matter because sensation requires the body, but the senses also provide access to knowledge through perception.  Because humans are composite beings, their essence is of matter and form. Essence is “that through which and in which the thing has existence.” As humans exist in both, so their essence is through both.  Because of this, that the body (the physicality of human existence) “is an integral…part of animal and soul is not included in its meaning but supervenes on it and from the two, body and soul, the animal is constituted as from its parts.”[3]

        When Aquinas says the body is of matter, it means the material body is only potentially a human being without the intellectual soul.  Matter must be understood as the matter of something. For matter to be the thing, some form of the thing must be present in it.  Consequently, what it is for human matter to be living human tissue simply consists in a human soul’s being wholly present in each part of the human?

  1. The Soul
  1. The Nature of Soul

For Thomas, the soul is the first principle of life. It is the difference between a living body and a dead body. A soul vivifies a plant or an animal or a human being. The soul of a person is also the principle of his or her intellectual activity; and it is incorporeal and subsistent. It can exist and operate even when it is separated from the body. The soul of a plant or animal, however, cannot exist and operate independently of its bodily structure. The soul of a plant or animal is not self-subsistent. While the human soul is self-subsistent, it is not a complete human being, as Plato held. A complete human being is composed of body and soul. The human soul is not a composition of matter and form, nor is it corruptible, as plant and animal souls are. Human souls and angels are not of the same species, as Origen held, since each angel differs specifically from every other spiritual substance.



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