Immortality of the Soul and The Reformers
The Catholic View
Lateran Council of 1513
"Whereas some have dared to assert concerning the nature of the
reasonable soul that it is mortal, we, with the approbation of the sacred
council do condemn and reprobate all those who assert that the intellectual
soul is mortal, seeing, according to the canon of Pope Clement V, that the
soul is [...] immortal [...] and we decree that all who adhere to like
erroneous assertions shall be shunned and punished as heretics."
William Tyndale (1484-1536),
English Bible translator and Martyr
In 1530 responding to Sir Thomas More's objection to his belief that
"all souls lie and sleep till doomsday" he vigorously replyed.
"And ye, in putting them [the departed souls] in heaven, hell and
purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the
resurection...And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in
as good a case as the angels be ? And then what cause is there of the
resurrection ?" - William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More's
Dialogue (Parker's 1850 reprint), bk.4, ch.4, pp.180,181
Tyndale went to the heart of the issue in pointing out the papacy's draft upon
the teachings of "heathen philosophers" in seeking to establish its
contention of innante immortality. Thus
"The true faith puteth forth the resurrection, which we be warned to look
for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put that the souls
did ever live. And the pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the
fleshy doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they cannot
agree, no more than the Spirit and the flesh do in a Christian man. And
becuase the fleshy-minded pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine, therefore he
corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it. If the soul be in heaven, tell me
what cause is there for the resurrection?" - ibid., p.180
In yet another section of the same treatise, dealing with the
"invocation of saints," Tyndale uses the same reasoning, pointing out
that the doctrine of departed saints being in heaven had not yet been introduced
in Christ's day:
"And when he [More] proveth that the saints be in heaven in glory with
Christ already, saying, 'If God be their God, they be in heaven, for he is not
the God of the dead;' there he stealeth away Christ's argument wherewith he
proveth the resurrection: that Abraham and all saints would rise again, and
not that their souls were in heaven; which doctrine was not yet in the world.
And with that doctrine he taketh away the resurrection quite, and maketh
Christ's argument of none effect." - ibid., p.118
Tyndale presses his contention still further by showing the conflict of papal
teaching with St. Paul, as he says is slightly sarcastic vein :
" 'Nay Paul, thou art unlearned; go to Master More, and learn a new way.
We be not most miserable, though we rise not again; for our souls go to heaven
as soon as we be dead, and are there in as great joy as Christ that is risen
again.' And I marvel that Paul had not conforted the Thessalonians with that
doctrine, if he had wist it, that the souls of their dead had been in joy; as
he did with the resurrection, that their dead should rise again. If the souls
be in heaven, in as great glory as the angels, after your doctrine, shew me
what should be of the resurrection?" - ibid. p.118
John Frith (1503-33),
associate of Tyndale and fellow martyr writes
"Notwithstanding, let me grant it him that some are already in hell and
some in heaven, which thing he shall never be able to prove by the Scriptures,
yea, and which plainly destroy the resurrection, and taketh away the arguments
wherewith Christ and Paul do prove that we shall rise;..and as touching this
point where they rest, I dare be bold to say that they are in the hand of
God." - An Answer to John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester
Martin Luther (1493-1546)
German reformer and Bible Translator.
Regarding Luther's position Archdeacon Francis Blackburne of Cleveland;
rector of Richmond states in his "Short Historical View of the
Controversy Concerning an Intermediate State" of 1765 :
"Luther espoused the doctrine of the sleep of the soul, upon a Scripture
foundation, and then made use of it as a confutation of purgatory and saint
worship, and continued in that belief to the last moment in his life."
Martin Luther declared that it was the Pope, not the bible, who taught that
"the soul is immortal" Martin Luther, Defence,
"Luther held that the soul died with the body, and that God would
hereafter raise both the one and the other." Catholic Cardinal Du Perron,
Historical View, p344
Here are some sample Luther citations. The first one is from a 1573 translation.
"Salomon judgeth that the dead are a sleepe, and feele nothing at all.
For the dead lye there accompting neyther dayes nor yeares, but when they are
awaked, they shall seeme to haue slept scarce one minute." - An
Exposition of Salomon's Booke, called Ecclesiastes or the Preacher,
1573, folio 151v.
"But we Christians, who have been redeemed from all this through the
precious blood of God's Son, should train and accustom ourselves in faith to
despise death and regard it as a deep, strong sweet sleep; to consider the
coffin as nothing other than our Lord Jesus' bosom or Paradise, the grave as
nothing other than a soft couch of ease or rest. As verily, before God, it
truely is just this; for he testifies, John 11:11: Lazarus, our friend sleeps;
Matthew 9:24: The maiden is not dead, she sleeps. Thus too, St. Paul in 1
Corinthians 15, removes from sight all hateful aspects of death as related to
our mortal body and brings forward nothing but charming and joyful aspects of
the promised life. He says there [vv.42ff]: It is sown in corruption and will
rise in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour (that is, a hateful, shameful
form) and will rise in glory; it is sown in weakness and will rise in
strength; it is sown in natural body and will rise a spiritual body."- Christian
Song Latin and German, for Use at Funerals," 1542, Works of Luther
(1932), vol. 6, pp.287,288
"Thus after death the soul goes to its bedchamber and to its peace, and
while it is sleeping it does not realise its sleep, and God preserves indeed
the awakening soul. God is able to awake Elijah, Moses, and others, and so
control them, so that they will live. But how can that be ? That we do not
know; we satisfy ourselves with the example of bodily sleep, and with what God
says: it is a sleep, as rest, and a peace. He who sleeps naturally knows
nothing of that which happens in his neighbor's house; and nevertheless he
still is living, even though, contrary to the nature of life, he is
unconscious in his sleep. Exactly the same will happen also in that life, but
in another and a better way." -"Auslegung des ersten Buches
Mose," in Schriften, vol.1, cols. 1759, 1760
George Wishart (1500-1546),
Greek scholar, friend of Latimer, tutor of John Knox, and martyr.
Wishart was charged with attacking auricular confession, transubstatiation,
extreme unction, holy water, invocation of saints and purgatory. Charge
"XVI" was for promulgating the doctrine of the sleep of the soul.
Charge "XVI": Thou false heretic has preached openly saying, that
the soul of man shall sleep to the latter day of judgment and shall not obtain
life immortal until that day." Blackburne, "Historical View",
In his "Institutes of Ecclesiastical History" chancellor of the
University of Gottingen, Johann L. von Mosheim records that the "General
Baptists" where spread in large numbers over many of the provinces of
England As one article of faith they held "that the soul, between death and
the resurrection at the last day, has neither pleasure nor pain, but is in a
state of insensibility."
Samuel Richardson (1633-1658)
Pastor, First Particular Baptist Church, of London wrote a discourse
"A Discourse on the Torments of Hell : The Foundations and Pillars
therof discover'd, serch'd, shaken, and remov'd. With Infallible Proofs that
there is not to be a punishment after this Life, for any to endure that shall
never end" 1658
John Milton (1608-1674),
"Greatest of the Sacred Poets"; Latin secretary to Cromwell.
"Inasmuch then as the whole man is uniformly said to consist of body, and
soul (whatever may be the distinct provinces assigned to these divisions), I
will show, that in death, first, the whole man, and secondly, each component
part, suffers privation of life...The grave is the common guardian of all till
the day of judgment.", "Treatise of Christian Doctine" Vol.1,
And many, many more, Finaly
Dr A.A. Phelps, pastor Congregational Church, Rochester, New York, and editor
of "The Bible Banner", in discussing "Is Man By Nature
Immortal?" (pp.639-650), presents twelve counts against the doctrine of
- It has a bad history; it was introduced by the serpent in Eden, and
springs from a heathen philosophy; it is not found in Jewish belief; is a
compromise with Platonism; adopted and authenticated by the Church of Rome.
- It is at variance with the scriptural account of man's creation.
- It clashes with the Bible statement of man's fall.
- It is opposed to the scriptural doctrine of death.
- It is equally opposed to the physiological facts.
- Immortality is nowhere ascribed to man in his present state of existance.
- Immortality is a blessing to be sought, and not a birthright legacy.
- Inherent immortality is opposed to the scriptural doom of the wicked.
- It supersedes the necessity of the resurrection.
- It reduces the judgment scene to a solemn farce.
- It subverts the bible doctrine of Christ's second coming.
- It is a prolific source of error -Mohammedanism, Shakerism,
Swedenborgianism, Spiritualism, Purgatory, Mariolatry, Universalism,