What & Where is the Human Soul (Feb 15&16)

What and Where is the Human Soul? (Feb 15 & 16)

You have a body and a soul

For us as Catholics, the soul is an integral part of who we are. You have a body and you have a soul and the two are connected. We believe in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.

But what is a soul, exactly? Is it some kind of immaterial ghostly stuff that is only accidentally attached to the body? Or is it more substantial? And if it is, of what is it made? And where is it in your body?

Christianity did not invent the concept of the soul, but, like many other things, it inherited it from Greek philosophy. For example, Plato the soul was the better half of the two parts of the human person. There was there body, which was cumbersome, temporary, and decaying; and then there was the soul (psyche), the invisible seat of wisdom, which was immortal and effectively trapped by the body until death. Plato was the first to describe the soul as an intangible, incorporeal essence. 

Most ancient philosophers argued that the soul was made up of physical elements. Epicurus, founder of the famous Epicurean school of philosophy, also believed that the soul was made from bits of air and fire, but that it also contained some special, unidentified material that was responsible for sense perception. The Stoics believed the soul was made up of many parts (including air and fire), but that rather than controlling senses, it was the seat of rationality and mentality.


Where is my soul?

For those who thought that the soul was material, this led to another question: where is it located in your body? Ancient philosophers wanted to know. 

What’s most surprising about the search for the soul, is that we keep asking the same questions. We continue to wonder and worry about what makes us who we are, and which parts of our body contribute to that sense of the soul, or me-ness. Today, we spend billions of dollars on research to help explain how the human brain works in a quest to understand what makes us human. On the assumption that our brains and neural pathways make us who we are, Silicon Valley is trying to download consciousness into computers to achieve a sort of virtual immortality. But neither quantum physicists nor cognitive psychologists have definitively answered questions about the existence, composition, location, or even the necessity of the human soul. 

What does our Faith teach us about the Soul?

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once physical and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.

In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “Soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.

The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.

The Human person, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason, man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

Created by God and Immortal  

The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not “produced” by the parents—and 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.

As Catholics, we believe that when a person dies, the soul separates from the body. He or she then stands before God in judgment. Remember that the soul is really "who" we are: while the body lies in death, our soul — who we are — lives on and returns to the Lord for judgment. 

The Catechism clearly teaches, "Each person receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ.”  (No. 1022).

When we die, our soul stands in judgment immediately. We will have to account for our lives, for the good that we have done and for the sins we have committed. We call this the Particular Judgment because it is particular to each person.   At the end of time, our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life" (No. 1039).

Archbishop Fulton Sheen put it well, "For when the curtain goes down on the last day, and we respond to the curtain call of judgment, we will not be asked what part we played, but how well we played the part that was assigned to us" (Moods and Truths, 75).