According to Catholicism, when a person dies, is that person's spirit and/or soul limited as to where it can be present?

  • I’m assuming you’re looking for the Catholic perspective? Are you asking if a dead Saint’s soul or spirit is able to leave heaven and if so, how far/where can it go? Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 15:47
  • Walter, I've edited your question to make it better fit our format – it's important to specify which Christian tradition's viewpoint you are interested in. Since you included the "catholicism" tag, I'm assuming that you'd like the viewpoint of Roman Catholicism. Thanks! Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 0:49
  • Are you asking about ghosts and hauntings, or the matter of "where in the afterlife do you end up?" Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 18:21

2 Answers 2


What St. Thomas Aquinas discusses in his question "Whether an angel is in a place?" (Summa Theologica I q. 52 a. 1) can also be applied to human souls, which are immaterial, like angels:

It is befitting an angel to be in a place; yet an angel and a body are said to be in a place in quite a different sense. A body is said to be in a place in such a way that it is applied to such place according to the contact of dimensive quantity; but there is no such quantity in the angels, for theirs is a virtual one. Consequently an angel is said to be in a corporeal place by application of the angelic power in any manner whatever to any place.

Accordingly there is no need for saying that an angel can be deemed commensurate with a place, or that he occupies a space in the continuous; for this is proper to a located body which is endowed with dimensive quantity. In similar fashion it is not necessary on this account for the angel to be contained by a place; because an incorporeal substance virtually contains the thing with which it comes into contact, and is not contained by it: for the soul is in the body as containing it, not as contained by it. In the same way an angel is said to be in a place which is corporeal, not as the thing contained, but as somehow containing it.


The official teaching is pretty clear: the limit is three (or two ) dispositions

From the Catechism, articles 1051-1060, where a soul goes after leaving the body is one of three places. Put concisely, those who are in communion and friendship with God will go to Heaven, either directly1 or via purgatory/cleansing and thence to Heaven. Those who are not will go to hell (more or less damned by their own choice to turn their back on God). There are not any other options. (The teaching on Limbo has lost support recently, so I won't digress towards that). The purification/cleansing (see article 1054) is commonly referred to as Purgatory.

In some ways, the question has made an assumption of location once the body is left behind and the spirit reaches its final destination, an unwarranted assumption that is easy to make since we are, in our fleshy being, bound in so many ways to the physical. A different way to understand this is to see it through this lens: being with God is more a condition than a location (in the physical sense) since one has transcended the physical and the material at that point.

One can argue, from the same teachings, that the options are two rather than three: the spirit/soul is either with God, or not with God. (The point being that even those who undergo purification end up in the "with God" condition).

Specifically in re the teaching on Hell:


1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":621

1 There is a teaching that I have encountered that goes like this: a martyr for the faith will go directly to Heaven, some saints may have so perfectly aligned themselves with God's will that they may go directly, but most believers who are saved will spend "some amount of time" in cleansing of any residual stain of sin (venial) before proceeding forth to where the martyrs and saints arrive. That may be outside the scope of the question. (I'll find an article on this when I get to my notes later on).

The relevant articles.

1051 Every man receives his eternal recompense in his immortal soul from the moment of his death in a particular judgment by Christ, the judge of the living and the dead.
1052 "We believe that the souls of all who die in Christ's grace . . . are the People of God beyond death. On the day of resurrection, death will be definitively conquered, when these souls will be reunited with their bodies" (Paul VI, CPG § 28).

1053 "We believe that the multitude of those gathered around Jesus and Mary in Paradise forms the Church of heaven, where in eternal blessedness they see God as he is and where they are also, to various degrees, associated with the holy angels in the divine governance exercised by Christ in glory, by interceding for us and helping our weakness by their fraternal concern" (Paul VI, CPG § 29).

1054 Those who die in God's grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.

1055 By virtue of the "communion of saints," the Church commends the dead to God's mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.

1056 Following the example of Christ, the Church warns the faithful of the "sad and lamentable reality of eternal death" (GCD 69), also called "hell."

1057 Hell's principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

1058 The Church prays that no one should be lost: "Lord, let me never be parted from you." If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God "desires all men to be saved" (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him "all things are possible" (Mt 19:26).

1059 "The holy Roman Church firmly believes and confesses that on the Day of Judgment all men will appear in their own bodies before Christ's tribunal to render an account of their own deeds" (Council of Lyons II [1274]:DS 859; cf. DS 1549).

1060 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Then the just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be "all in all" (1 Cor 15:28), in eternal life.

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