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The Catholic Church has traditionally affirmed the unconditional "immortality of the soul", with its final destination either to the blessedness of Heaven or to the eternal torments of Hell. Purgatory was meant to be for the souls of the elect, still in need of some "cleansing" or "purging".

On the other hand, there is the position of some theologians who, following suit from some theologians in the Protestant world, put the biblical faith in the resurrection in stark contrast with the traditional belief in the "immortality of the soul" (e.g. see Summary of Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?, Oscar Cullmann, 1955, @religion-online.org).

An authoritative document from the CDF, Letter on certain questions regarding Eschatology (Rome, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on 17 May 1979, Franjo Cardinal Seper, Prefect) tries to "forestall the dangers that could threaten this faith in the minds of the faithful", regarding the "article of the Creed concerning life everlasting and so everything in general after death".

The document is worth reading in its entirely, in spite of its ambiguities. A simple, immediate statistic confirms the impression, that the CDF's main concern is to reaffirm the faith in the resurrection (6 times), whereas it uses the word soul (2 times) with full awareness of its having become problematic for the faithful ("the question is put of what happens between the death of the Christian and the general resurrection") and that the Catholic Church still uses it mainly because of pastoral and liturgical reasons ("the Church thinks that there is no valid reason for rejecting it; moreover, she considers that the use of some word as a vehicle is absolutely indispensable in order to support the faith of Christians").

It is worth noting that the expressions "immortality of the soul", or "immortal soul", are never used throughout the whole document ...

A more recent document, Some Current Questions in Eschatology (1992, International Theological Commission, under the leadership of Rev. Candido Pozo, S.J., with the approval of His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, President of the Commission) seems to resume a more traditional approach (in a "post-modern way, we may say ...), and a more balanced (albeit exorbitant) recourse to the words resurrection (151 times) and soul (68 times). Unnlike in the previous document, we see reappear the expressions "immortality of the soul" (1 time), and "immortal soul" (3 times).

In this document we can see the effort of skirting the pitfalls of Platonism ("Christian anthropology has characteristics proper to itself and quite different from the anthropology of the Platonic philosophers").


All the above being premised ...

Is there an element of ambiguity in the Catholic Church's position on eschatology?

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  • As far as I understand it, paganism believed that the soul is immortal by nature, whereas Christianity believes that it is so by grace.
    – Lucian
    May 27 at 23:19
  • The obvious consequence of Christianity’s alleged belief in the immortality of the soul “by grace” is that it applies only to the elect. Are you ready to accept (and defend) the consequences? May 27 at 23:29
  • (I am not a Calvinist).
    – Lucian
    May 28 at 0:13
  • Good, then you should also have no problem with Hell not existing ... May 28 at 0:36
  • I'm testing the waters before attempting to answer. The Catholic Church base her teachings primarily on revealed truths, and secondarily on derived teachings which necessarily contain some speculations, resulting in the ambiguity perceived in various documents. The exact nature of the human soul belongs to the latter category, I think, but Resurrection of the Body, New Heaven and Earth, and Day of Judgment for the saved and unsaved belong to the former. Would an answer saying "yes, there is ambiguity on the latter category" and then listing the contents of both categories be acceptable? May 28 at 2:45

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