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07 Jun

Mortal Soul to Immortal

Who doubts but that our Bodies are naturally Mortal? Yet who does therefore believe them actually Mortal after the Resurrection and the General Judgment? And what can hinder but that the same Divine Power which can and shall then Immortalize the Mortal Body, so as to qualifie it for eternal Punishment of which it had not otherwise been capable, may expose mortal Soul to Immortal never ending punishment, as easily as themselves believe it preformed in the Case of the body?

From Henry Dodwell (1706) An Epistolary Discourse, proving from the Scriptures and the First Fathers, that the soul is principle Naturally Mortal, but Immortalized actually by the Pleasure of God to Punish or Reward, by its union with the Divine Baptismal Spirit, wherein is proved that none have the power of giving this Divine Immortalizing Spirit since the Apostles but only the Bishops, p. 18. Quoted in Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth (2001) “The Sleeping Habits of Matter and Spirit: Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins on the Immortality of the Soul” in Past Imperfect, Vol. 9 (online), p. 3.

The argument above was given by Dodwell to support his thesis that the human soul was naturally mortal. He asks that, if we believe that the body will be immortal after the Day of Judgement (the orthodox belief), why can we not believe that God can make the human soul immortal, even if it is not naturally so?

Dodwell suggested that Adam’s body and soul were immortal at Creation only due to God’s breath of life, which was withdrawn after the Fall. Since that event, souls will only continue to exist after death if God desires it. Dodwell’s book inspired huge debate, including a series of letters on the possibility of matter having consciousness between Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins.

For more on the debate which was influential on Hume see the SEP on the Collins-Clarke correspondence) and Paul Russell (1995) “Hume’s Treatise and the Clarke-Collins Controversy” in Hume Studies Vol. XXI No. 1 (online).

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