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Silas Langley, “Aquinas, Resurrection, and Material Continuity,” Proceedings of the American

Catholic Philosophical Association 75 (2001):135-


“To be able to go in two different directions on something as elusive as identity is a plus” (p. 136). Thus, begins Silas Langley’s analysis and defense of Aquinas’ theory of material continuity as a plausible explanation of bodily resurrection while maintaining, at the same time, an open mind on the credibility of the other view known as formal continuity. I concede to what Langley said above for I believe that Aquinas’ greatness lies in his ability to synthesize diverse viewpoints. But I do agree that the material continuity theory also risks the danger of being contradicted not by outside critics but by the very philosophy of Aquinas. Nevertheless, this can be overcome according to him if we would subscribe to history as a possible remedy (p. 142).

The two separate views mentioned by the author, should not, in my opinion, be taken separately but as complimenting each other. This stems from my understanding of Aquinassubscription to the Aristotelian hylemorphic doctrine which states that corporeal reality is composed of two distinct principles of matter and form. The person, therefore, is a composite of body as matter and soul as form united in a substantial manner. To posit only one of the components would be an example of seeing the glass either as ‘half empty’ or ‘half full.’

To say that only soul matters in bodily identity at the resurrection contradicts the substantial unity in Aquinas’ teachings. This opens up to the possibility that given sufficient matter, any kind of matter resembling a human, could be inhabited by a soul in the resurrection of the dead. As adherents of this position, as Langley pointed out, are sloppy in stressing the importance of material continuity (p. 138) I am inclined to say that this is because their position is weak. I could not imagine such chaos when souls return to just any kind of body they like. Stretching it a bit far, would it not also be susceptible to such notions as human souls possessing another? Seemingly the movie Emily Rose would give credence to this view when in one scene the soul of Judas Iscariot was mentioned as possessing the body of Emily. Furthermore, based on such formal view, we can therefore assume that adherents of this position would not hesitate to agree with the transhumanist’s view concerning ‘whole brain emulation’ also known as ‘mind-uploading’ or ‘mind copying.’ This theory holds that it is possible to preserve the mental states of persons and store it digitally for future downloading to clones and even AIs (artificial intelligences) provided of course that further supposition is alluded to, i. e., that the soul is material in nature and is believed to be found in the neural structure of the brain (see p.138, last sentence). This is the reason why some

transhumanists who also subscribe to the emerging science of cryonics or the preservation of corpses for future resuscitation most often opt for what cryonicists call ‘neuro- preservation’ or the freezing of the head part which is cheaper compared to the whole body preservation.

On the other hand, if we adhere to the material continuity theory, we would run aground along the shores of Aquinas’ teachings. Langley explained that for material continuity to work, we must prove first that the body before and after death is numerically identical with the resurrected body (p. 139). But this is impossible to consistently hold as Aquinas’ philosophy of nature tells us that elements composing the body when it enters into the composition of the body loses its essence. Now when the body dies, these elements return to its original state. It would seem, therefore, that there is no continuity in the ‘dimensionality of its matter (p. 140) and, thus, no numerical identity either.

Now, the answer, Langley says lies in history. As shown in an important text in Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (p. 142) the ‘material overlap’ that occurs during the transition from corruption to generation is taken to be a simultaneous occurrence because of the view that matter simply defined is “that aspect of a thing that is continuous with what was there before and with what will be there afterward” (p. 142). There may be no numerical identity but the ‘dimensional continuity’ which a ‘single traceable continuous history of transformations’ would be a weak form of material continuity but as Langley pointed out is a sufficient guarantee that the body in the resurrection and the original body is of the same set of matter (p. 143).

The historical aspect that Langley discussed opens to us possibilities of understanding our stewardship of creation (p. 144). Also, what Langley spoke of as a particular story of an element of water undergoing a series of transformations allows us to see the reason behind contemporary thinkers’ placement of primacy of ‘becoming’ over ‘being.’ This can be an avenue for Thomistic philosophy to dialogue with contemporary thought and revitalize Aquinas’ teachings, to make it relevant to modern audiences. Langley’s discussion on Aquinas’ treatment of material continuity and resurrection shows a synthetic approach which for me mirrors the Angelic Doctor’s own agenda.