The Standing of the Soul
This thesis is intended as a complement to Fr. Ernest Fortin’s Christianisme et culture philosophique. In that work, he examined the De statu animae of Claudianus Mamertus and its affinity to the thought of the Neoplatonic philosophers (especially Porphyry) in order to make its doctrine more clear. But he also looked at it to see the greatness of philosophical spirit that its author possessed, a remarkable spirit considering the time in which he wrote. Though Fr. Fortin’s work is quite thorough, there are some aspects of the De statu animae that are treated only slightly or not at all. This thesis aims at filling out some of them. The thesis first considers the difficulty of the philosophical question discussed in the work: the incorporeality of the human soul. Among the many difficulties which this question raises is one raised by Faustus of Riez, against whom Claudianus is writing, namely, that of conceiving an incorporeal creature without confounding it with God. It then considers the historical context, both political and philosophical, in which Claudianus lived and wrote. In particular, it brings out the influence of the Emperor Julian in his efforts to replace Christianity with pagan philosophy (especially as influenced by Porphyry and Iamblichus), and his connection with the intellectual life in Gaul. This it does to put into relief the magnanimity of a Christian writer who could look to the philosophy that most influenced the most ardent opponents of Christianity and see in it an ally rather than an enemy. Faustus regarded the philosophers as enemies because he thought them, in their reasonings, to have raised the soul to the dignity of its Creator. Of the philosophers open to this charge of impiety, it is, perhaps, most aptly laid upon the Platonists. A tendency in this direction appears in Plato, and reaches something of an apex in the thought of Plotinus. In Plato’s writings, it appears especially in the Phaedo, which Claudinaus quotes at length in the Second Book. The thesis looks at this dialogue to bring into relief this tendency in the work, and then compares it to Ennead V.1 to show that Plotinus takes the considerations in that dialogue and follows them out to show the kinship between the soul and the divine. Against this background, there are a couple of aspects of De statu animae that emerge. The first is the importance of seeing the soul as a middle being between God and bodily creatures. The second is the importance of seeing the soul as the imago Dei. Claudianus, in spite of his rhetoric, saw the seriousness of the difficulty raised by Faustus, and his work can be read, especially in the First Book, as an attempt to raise the mind of the reader from the fleshy world of sensation to the more beautiful, true, and good world of the spirit. The thesis argues that though the work is polemical, and so formed somewhat in the order of Faustus’s own arguments, Claudianus has worked that order to his own end; this can be seen in his use of the word status. This word is taken from Faustus, who uses it in his letter to name the nature of the soul. Claudianus, without leaving behind that sense, uses it to bring out the importance of understanding the soul’s nature through understanding its standing in the order of beings. His arguments are meant to help the reader to do just that. He first establishes that the world would be more perfect if there were an incorporeal creature, then he argues that there is in fact such a creature, and finally how it is possible for there to be such a creature. In doing so, he relies on ideas of the Neoplatonists, and especially Iamblichus, who looked at the soul as a middle being in order to see it as, one the one hand, less than the beings of the intelligible order, and yet superior to those of the sensible order. It is in this notion of the soul as a middle being that Claudianus finds an account for the changeableness of the soul without relying on matter. To show this, he invokes a distinction among motions: stable, in time, and in time and place. The first belongs to God, the second to the soul, and the last to bodies. This distinction arises from the fact that God is above all the categories of Aristotle, bodies are subject to them all, but the soul is subject only to some. In this way, the soul can be seen to undergo qualitative change, or changes in its affections, without suffering change in place. Thus, though not a body, it is nevertheless subject to change of some sort. And so, though superior to bodies, it falls short of the perfection of its Creator. But running throughout this discussion is the notion of image. And at the end of the book, its importance emerges. When Claudianus turns to a consideration of our act of knowing, the nature of the soul becomes more clear. When the soul turns its attention from bodies to look at itself, what it sees is an image of God, Who is incorporeal. And so, it sees, if it can free itself from the seductions of the images of bodies it has drawn in through the senses, that it is incorporeal. Here he reveals to the reader more fully what he has been trying to do. He has been working to turn the eye of the mind from the world of sensation to look at itself in itself, for if it does this, it will see itself as the imago Dei, and thus incorporeal. In this last aspect of the work especially, we can see the influence of Iamblichus, who, as Carlos Steel has shown, came to conceive of the soul as the image of Intellect precisely to establish it as a middle being between Intellect and the material world. It is an image so that it can be both like and unlike its exemplar. It understands (or more precisely, reasons) and so is like Intellect. But it does so by introducing order into its thoughts so that though always thinking (like Intellect), it moves from one thought to the next. Thus, it introduces time into the world. In this way, it departs from Intellect and becomes subject to change, though not in place. Claudianus recognizes in this a way of conceiving of the soul as incorporeal, therefore like God, and yet subject to change in time, therefore unlike Him, and so a creature. And so he comes to see the soul, in its essence to be the image of its Creator. Claudianus, in his refutation of Faustus, has raised the minds of his readers to lofty heights. Following the teachings of the Platonists, to whom his friend Sidonius likens him in everything except his garb, he has purged his mind from the entrapments of the corporeal world, has raised it to the pure world of being, and found himself a part of it. But those he has followed had been, either directly or indirectly, ardent foes of the faith which he professed and to which he had given his life. Porphyry had composed a work attacking Christianity; and Iamblichus, through his disciples, had inspired Julian with a devotion to the pagan gods that led him to attack the Church both in his writings and in his political endeavors. But unlike Faustus and others like him, he saw a harmony between his faith and his philosophy that gave him confidence that the natural light of reason and the light of revelation could work together to unite his soul to its Beginning, which is also his End.