The Teaching of Tradition that support the Council of Trent interpretation on death penalty cited the reflections or teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine:

"They will never be beasts, but they can behave like beasts. "And if they behave like beasts, their dignity will suffer loss", while their personhood remains. Therefore we destroy the body, and leave the soul in God's hands, it is an appeal to the Highest Court. There is a difference between the dignity we have being made in God's image and the dignity of our bodies which are NOT made in God's image, and aka Catholic underlines it." – (St. Thomas Aquinas himself and St. Augustine himself quoted from comment of other user)

From above teachings, I found a lot of reflections not yet certain or are open for better understanding like:

  1. They will never be beasts, but they can behave like beasts. (Is an admission of conditional behavior).

  2. "And if they behave like beasts, their dignity will suffer loss,” while their personhood remains. (The words "will suffer loss" again is not certain and will have difficulty to guarantee that a soul really has lost its dignity in the absence of human faculties as we are commanded not to judge in Matthew7:1).

  3. Therefore we destroy the body, and leave the soul in God's hands, it is an appeal to the Highest Court. (The wordings can be clearly seen "as an appeal a prayer only subject to the Wisdom & Providence of God", so they are recognizing that Tradition does not have a Final Say on ending one's life).

But, the most troubling one is the teaching separating the dignity of man soul to the dignity of the his body.

“There is a difference between the dignity we have being made in God's image and the dignity of our bodies which are not made in God's image,"

This particular phrase on Tradition seems emphasizing the physical body is not made in God's image only the soul.

My understanding is the soul animates our body and while it is our soul that will be judge in the end by God,the Church teaches the resurrection of our bodies.So, our judged soul will be reunited to our resurrected bodies.

My question, what is the scriptural basis of the teaching that the dignity of the soul is separate from his body?

I'm looking for Catholic Church Teaching that will expound and put clarity on the issue of the inherent dignity of man (body & soul), which the Council of Trent said "will suffer loss" that is put now to better understanding under Pope Francis "that man's dignity is not lost even after committing a very serious crimes."

  • 3
    Man is a body+soul composite; thus, "dignity of man" must apply to the body+soul composite.
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 0:27
  • thanks, hope you post an expounded answer for clarity on Tradition, based on quoted above, as it appears to me Tradition is willing to sacrifice the death of the physical body and leave separated soul judgement on God. But these poor souls need his physical body to redeemed himself and come to knowledge of Truth.So, a good answer will clarifies the confusions. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 0:30

3 Answers 3


This is only speculation, but they may have been drawing their ideas from Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 5, when he was addressing the issue of a serious sin among the congregation that was being glossed over:

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Apparently there is debate on the precise meaning (or, for that matter, the proper translation) of the Greek that here appears as "destruction of the flesh." The 2011 NIV supplies these notes on the text:

a. 1 Corinthians 5:5 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit.

b. 1 Corinthians 5:5 Or of his body

Regardless of that question, in v.5 Paul is clearly drawing a line between "the flesh" and "the spirit" -- and just as plainly declaring that it's "the spirit" which is of paramount importance, so much so that "the flesh" may, and even should, be "destroyed" if need be to save the spirit. In this regard his priorities were in line with Jesus' words from Matthew 5:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Looking to a modern RC commentary on the 1 Corinthians 5 passage, the current interpretation looks to be a command of excommunication merely, and not the inflicting of any kind of physical punishment. This still makes sense, in that by ejecting this young man from the protection of the church (spiritual as well as physical), he would be exposed to both human and demonic threats.


Deliver this man to Satan: once the sinner is expelled from the church, the sphere of Jesus’ lordship and victory over sin, he will be in the region outside over which Satan is still master. For the destruction of his flesh: the purpose of the penalty is medicinal: through affliction, sin’s grip over him may be destroyed and the path to repentance and reunion laid open. With Paul’s instructions for an excommunication ceremony here, contrast his recommendations for the reconciliation of a sinner in 2 Cor 2:5–11.

But in ancient times, the standards and interpretations may have differed. It'll need someone with a deeper knowledge of church history and tradition to respond on that point.

  • Sorry, I don't see how your answer addressed the question, it looks pointing to excommunication as you said, meaning the subject is the behavior of a member in the Church who does not heed to discipline. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 20:31
  • "My question, what is the scriptural basis of the teaching that the dignity of the soul is separate from his body?" My (speculative) answer is the 1 Corinthians 5 passage. However (as the balance of my answer notes), the ancient interpretation and the modern interpretation of this passage may diverge.
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 20:35
  • 1
    @marianagustin, of course, no matter how you interpret it -- and whether or not my speculation is correct -- Paul's words do indicate a sentiment that "the flesh" is something that may, or should be, destroyed if needed for the sake of a person's eternal soul. In this respect he was in line with Our Lord's words from Matthew 5:29-30. (i.e. gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand, rather than risking eternal damnation).
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 20:46
  • Include that in your answer Matthew5:29-30, that is not a literal arm or eyes it's a metaphor.But, your reasoning seems have a good connection now.If you want to amend your answer much better. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 21:00
  • @marianagustin, gladly done.
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 21:07

Since Christ, in the Christian dispensation is seen as both a hypostasis of God in Man; likewise, but also unlike in degree, man is a hypostasis of soul in flesh.

When God created man in his image; it was both spiritual and physical image.


Is the dignity of man pertains to his soul only or to the wholeness of his being meaning body & soul?

Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour. - Psalm 8:5

The short answer is that the human person is composed of a soul and body, thus the dignity of the human person applies to both man’s soul and body.

"God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he has created all things that they might exist ... God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it" (Wis 1:13-14; 2:23-24).

42So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption. 43It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory. It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power. 44It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body. If there be a natural body, there is also a spiritual body, as it is written: 45The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit. 46Yet that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual. 47The first man was of the earth, earthly: the second man, from heaven, heavenly. 48Such as is the earthly, such also are the earthly: and such as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly. 49Therefore as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly. - 1 Corinthians 15 42-49

Separating man’s body from his soul man him a living being other than man? This is what happens to each and everyone of us at the moment of death, until our bodies are reunited with our souls at the Last Judgement.

Does the Catholic Church believe that we become just souls after we die?

This is why the Church technically refers to souls in Heaven as saints and not as persons. For the human person is technically composed as having a soul united with an earthly body! This will all change at the end of times!

Nevertheless, many refer to the saints in Heaven as saints. The souls in purgatory are interestingly enough referred to as the Souls in Purgatory!

Man is made in the image of God and God is Spirit. The second person of the Holy Trinity in the person of the Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ is both truly man and truly God. Truly man because he is in his human nature composed of a human body and an immortal human soul.

  1. Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).

52 Man, as the living image of God, is willed by his Creator to be ruler and lord. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes that "God made man capable of carrying out his role as king of the earth ... Man was created in the image of the One who governs the universe. Everything demonstrates that from the beginning man's nature was marked by royalty... Man is a king. Created to exercise dominion over the world, he was given a likeness to the king of the universe; he is the living image who participates by his dignity in the perfection of the divine archetype".38 Called to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over other lesser creatures (cf. Gen 1:28), man is ruler and lord not only over things but especially over himself, 39 and in a certain sense, over the life which he has received and which he is able to transmit through procreation, carried out with love and respect for God's plan. Man's lordship however is not absolute, but ministerial: it is a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship of God. Hence man must exercise it with wisdom and love, sharing in the boundless wisdom and love of God. And this comes about through obedience to God's holy Law: a free and joyful obedience (cf. Ps 119), born of and fostered by an awareness that the precepts of the Lord are a gift of grace entrusted to man always and solely for his good, for the preservation of his personal dignity and the pursuit of his happiness. - Evangelium Vitae

John J. Coughlin Goes on to give us many insights in the following:

The mystery of the human being's creation in the image of God means that the human person has been endowed with creativity. The definitive creation of the human being is incomplete until the creation of Eve. When Adam recognizes Eve•as. a32 human being like himself, "flesh of my flesh," he is filled with joy. They are embodied spirits for whom thinking, acting, and expressing depends on the body, which is not accidental but integral to human nature.33 The divine command to the first parents-to "[b]e fruitful and multiply" - Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being

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