The teachings of Arnobius of Sicca (d. 330), an apologist, are often interpreted as the first to defend annihilationism explicitly. One quote in particular stands out in Arnobius’ second book of Against the Pagans: “Your interests are in jeopardy,-the salvation, I mean, of your souls; and unless you give yourselves to seek to know the Supreme God, a cruel death awaits you when freed from the bonds of body, not bringing sudden annihilation, but destroying by the bitterness of its grievous and long-protracted punishment.” Then, because of the questions brought about against the orthodoxy of Christian doctrine concerning the immortality of soul, the Holy Catholic Church, through the 16th-century great Lateran Council, decreed that “the soul is immortal and we decree that all who adhere to like erroneous assertions shall be shunned and punished as heretics.” However, what did the early Christians really believe about the nature of human soul?
Below are the testimonies of the early witness of the genuine Christian faith:
Justin Martyr, apologist
“Well, they say, but the soul is incorruptible, being a part of God and inspired by Him, and therefore He desires to save what is peculiarly His own and akin to Himself; but the flesh is corruptible, and not from Him, as the soul is. Then what thanks are due to Him, and what manifestation of His power and goodness is it, if He purposed to save what is by nature saved and exists as a part of Himself? For it had its salvation from itself; so that in saving the soul, God does no great thing. For to be saved is its natural destiny, because it is a part of Himself, being His inspiration. But no thanks are due to one who saves what is his own; for this is to save himself. For he who saves a part himself, saves himself by his own means, lest he become defective in that part; and this is not the act of a good man. For not even when a man does good to his children and offspring, does one call him a good man; for even the most savage of the wild beasts do so, and indeed willingly endure death, if need be, for the sake of their cubs” (Fragments on the Resurrection, ch 8 [A.D. 100-165]).
Tatian the Assyrian, theologian
“The bond of the flesh is the soul; that which encloses the soul is the flesh. Such is the form of man’s constitution: and if it be like a temple, God desires to dwell in it through the Spirit…” (Address to the Greeks 15 [A.D. 165]).
Athenagoras of Athens, apologist
“…every example of human nature is made up jointly of an immortal soul and the body with which it is united at creation…” (Resurrection of the Dead 15 [A.D. 177]).
Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul
“When, then, is there left to call the mortal body, except that which was shaped, that is, the flesh, of which it is also said that God will make it to live? It is this which dies and is decomposed, but not the soul nor the spirit” (Against Heresies 5:7:1 [A.D. 180]).
Clement of Alexandria, theologian
“Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal. “I,” says He, “have said that ye are gods, and all sons of the Highest.” This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing: washing, by which we cleanse away our sins; grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted; and illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly. Now we call that perfect which wants nothing” (The instructor, book 1, ch 6 [A.D. 150-215]).
“But if this be the case, they must needs be also mortal, according to the condition of animated nature; for although the soul is evidentlyimmortal, this attribute is limited to it alone: it is not extended to that with which it is associated, that is, the body” (Ad Nationes, Book 2, ch 3 [A.D. 160-240]).
“We define the soul as born of the breath of God, immortal, corporal, having form, simple in substance, acquiring knowledge by its own operation, showing itself in various ways, free to choose, subject to misfortunes, changeable according to natural inclinations, rational, the mistress, she who divines, descended from a single source” (The Soul 22:2 [A.D. 208]).
Hyppolytus, presbyter of Rome
“The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the layer he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all ye kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany, par 10 [A.D. 170-236]).
“And thou shalt possess an immortal body, even one placed beyond the possibility of corruption, just like the soul” (Refutation of All Heresies, book 10, ch 30 [A.D. 170-236]).
“Whence we are of opinion that, seeing the soul, as we have frequently said, is immortal and eternal” (De Principiis, book 3, ch 1.18 [A.D. 185- 254]).
“. . . by striving to show that the providence of God, which equitably administers all things, governs also immortal souls on the justest principles, (conferring rewards) according to the merits and motives of each individual” (De Principiis, book 3, ch 1.17 [A.D. 185- 254]).
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea and historian
“Who has instructed barbarians and peasants, yea, feeble women, slaves, and children, in short, unnumbered multitudes of all nations, to live in the contempt of death; persuaded of theimmortality of their souls” (Oration in Praise of Constantine [A.D. 265-340]).
“All these indeed are perishable, and consumed by the lapse of time, being representations of the corruptible body, and not expressing the image of the immortal soul” (Life of Constantine, book 1, ch 3 [A.D. 265-340]).
Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria
“The soul immortal. Proved by (I) its being distinct from the body, (2) its being the source of motion, (3) its power to go beyond the body in imagination and thought. But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church’s teaching which you must know” (Against the Heathen, par 33 [A.D. 296-373]).
Methodius, bishop of Olympos in Lycia
“But it is the flesh which dies; the soul is immortal” (Discourse on the Resurrection, par 12 [d. A.D. 300]).
John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople
“Things irrational only are useful for the present life; but we have an immortal soul, that we may use every means to prepare ourselves for that other life” (Homily 31 on John’s Gospel [A.D. 347-407]).
Augustine, bishop of Hippo
“What is it for thee to have a soul? It is not much, for a beast has a soul” (Tractate 15 on the Gospel of John [A.D. 354-430]).
“And while man consists of these three elements: spirit, soul, and body — which sometimes are reckoned as two, for often soul is included in the designation of spirit (for it is that certain rational part, which beasts do not have, that is called spirit) — our chief element is the spirit.” (Faith and the Creed 10:23, [A.D. 393]).
“Now, however, about the soul, which God breathed into man by blowing on his face, I affirm nothing, except that it is not the substance of God; and it is incorporeal, which is to say, it is not a body, but a spirit; not begotten of the substance of God, nor proceeding from the substance of God, but created by God; nor was it so created that any other nature of body or irrational soul might be changed into its nature; and consequently it was created out of nothing, and is immortal according to a certain mode of life, which it can in no way lose; but in accord with a certain mutability, by which it is able to become better or worse, it can also rightly be understood to be mortal; for He alone has true immortality, of whom the words were properly spoken: ‘Who alone has immortality’ [1 Tim 6:16].” (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 7:28:43 [A.D. 401-415]).
Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus
“Orth. — And when we read in the Acts how Herod slew James the brother of John with a sword, we are not likely to hold that his soul died. [+] Eran. –No; how could we? We remember the Lord’s warning “Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul.” [R] [+] Orth. — But does it not seem to you impious and monstrous in the case of mere men to avoid the invariable connexion of soul and body, and in the case of scriptural references to death and burial, to distinguish in thought the soul from the body and connect them only with the body, while in trust in the teaching of the Lord you hold the sold to be immortal” (Dialogue 3 [A.D. 393-457]).
FURTHERMORE, just in case the proponents of the “Soul Sleeping” doctrine won’t accept the testimonies of the early Christians, then let the prominent figures of Protestant Reformation provide their testimonies:
Martin Luther, former Augustinian friar
“In the interim [between death and resurrection], the soul does not sleep but is awake and enjoys the vision of angels and of God, and has converse with them” (Commentary on Genesis [A.D. 1535–1545]).
John Calvin, Protestant pastor and humanist lawyer
“This verse [commenting on Acts 7:59] clearly testifies that the soul of man is not a vanishing breath, according to the ravings of some madmen, but that it is an essential spirit, and survives death.” (Commentary on Acts [A.D. 1564])
THE TRUE Church of Christ, from her foundation to the present times, never changes her God-entrusted doctrine. In her Catechism, it reads: “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not ‘produced’ by the parents — and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (CCC 366).
St. Paul admonished the true Christians: “The Church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).