Today, 7th November, is the feast of all of the Saints of the Dominican Order, many of whom were martyrs. What an amazing list of saints there are attached to this blessed Order! They include three Doctors of the Church, one of whom is one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church (St Thomas Aquinas); the patron of science and scientists (St Albert the Great) and the co-patron saint of Europe (St Catherine of Siena).
November is also the month when we recall the Four Last Things, for on our pilgrim journey on Earth, there is nothing more certain than that we are here but for a short time. It is a fact that when we are young death can often be seen as a frightening or depressing subject, something to be considered later in life when we are old, not now whilst there is so much to discover and enjoy. But there is no guarantee that we shall ever reach old age! “Watch ye therefore, because ye know not what hour your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42). Besides, there is no greater peace of mind, no greater joy for the man, both young and old, who lives at all times in the grace of God. So: “Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands” (Luke 12:35). And then death, when it comes, will have no sting.
Below is an article by Fr. Brian Mullady, OP on “The Theology of Death”, based on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
“The most vital question in any study of the nature of death is this: in what sense can death be said to be the destiny of Man? This will help us to answer further questions about the natural character of death, and help us to understand Christ’s death and our own.
St. Thomas Aquinas is very clear about the nature of death. He says: “The necessity of dying for Man is partly from nature and partly from sin. Death due to nature is caused by the contrary elements of the body. Every material element in the body is composed of both active and passive elements held together in a tenuous connection. From the point of view of these elements, death is natural. Nor is there any power in the material elements themselves or in the soul to keep my body or any body from death. From the point of view of the body, then Man is mortal and doomed to die.
Yet, Man is not only a body, but also a soul. The soul is the spiritual element in Man’s composition. Philosophy and the Catechism call it the form of the body, that element in Man that organizes matter into being, and into the being which is Man. The body and the soul are not two separate principals but complimentary ones, which must exist in union with each other for Man to exist perfectly. Soul, or form exists within matter and organizes it because Man is not an angel. Body could not exist as human without soul. Thus, the destiny of Man could in no sense be determined by only one of these elements. Both are necessary.
Though the body tends to death because of its contrary elements, it tends to life because of the presence of the soul. In fact, from the point of view of the soul, death is not natural to Man. St. Thomas says: “A thing is said to be natural if it proceeds from the principals of nature. Now the essential principles of nature are form and matter. The form of Man is his reasoning soul, which is immortal, wherefore death is not natural to Man from the point of view of this form or this soul.”
Though it is true that, naturally speaking death is the destiny of Man if one considers one part of him: the body, nothing could be further from the Truth if one considers him from the point of view of the spiritual soul. Reason considered the destiny of the soul and realized that there is active in Man intelligence, which goes beyond our body and is not open to death. Some ancient philosophers knew this. According to St. Thomas, Aristotle knew this, and he knew this from reason alone. St. Thomas says: “This conclusion also comes to light thru the authority of Aristotle, for he says in his treatise on the soul, ‘the intellect is evidently a substance and is incapable of being destroyed'” (i.e. immortal).
The first implication of this idea in the discussion of death should be that it is absolutely impossible even from the standpoint of reason to maintain that death is the final destiny of Man, or for that matter that life is absurd. Death is a fact, but it cannot be the destiny of Man for this reduces Man to only the material order. In fact, there is no solution to the problem of death until it is considered from the point of view of the soul.
St. Thomas makes the point many times that the soul, in its act can only be fulfilled in intelligence and understanding. Once the intellect knows one relationship of cause and effect, then the power of the mind cannot be stilled until the first cause, the primary cause, the ultimate Cause (in this case, God) is directly experienced.”
You can read the rest of this interesting article here.