What exactly is a soul?

What exactly is a soul?


The glossary at the back of the U.S. version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “soul” as follows:

The spiritual principle of human beings. The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom; soul and body together form one unique human nature. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body, from which it is separated by death, and with which it will be reunited in the final resurrection.

Here’s more:

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal 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. Man, 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. 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. Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people “wholly,” with “spirit and soul and body” kept sound and blameless at the Lord’s coming. The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. “Spirit” signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God. The spiritual tradition of the Church also emphasizes the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of one’s being, where the person decides for or against God. (CCC 362-368)



  1. Simon Peter Mulima Reply

    if it is immortal does that mean that it existed before the birth of the person just as it will continue to exist after death?

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Well ongoing scientific research is not supporting the concept of a soul or consciousness that survives the body. In fact there are experiments in which it can be shown that the brain makes decisions before the self-aware consciousness is aware of having made the decision. In many cases, this is a short period – 3/4 of a second or so, but in other cases, it can be several seconds.

    For those willing to challenge themselves, read Michael Graziano’s book, “Consciousness and the Social Brain.” He proposes that awareness/consciousness is an “attention schema;” sort of a working blueprint that keeps track of what is contending for the brain’s attention and providing feedback to the brain in a continuous loop. Essentially it is a process for managing attention, and if this is proven true, it will mean that self awareness and consciousness are illusions. The thing about his theory is that it is “falsifiable.” That means it can be proven true of false – something earlier theories about consciousness have not really been able to claim.

    Stay tuned. If consciousness is an illusion that does not survive the body, what would that mean to us? Would we treat each other worse because we have no punishment to fear, or would we act better because this is all we get and there are no second chances?

  3. Aaron Allanigue Reply

    The Church teaches us that the soul is immediately created by God and fused with the fertilized egg at the moment of conception. The soul will now exist for all eternity. It is the soul that gives life to the body. A dead body has no life because the soul has already departed. No human science can possibly “see” a soul. Even today, is there an electron microscope that can take a picture of a single atom? but we believe that an atom exists don’t we? Technology may not reach a point where we can manufacture “spiritual goggles” to see a soul. An ordinary living person does not possess the proper “sense faculty” to see a spirit which is not made up of matter. Can you describe a rainbow to a person who was born blind? That would be impossible because a blind person does not have the sense faculty of sight and yet we know that there is such a thing as a rainbow. Likewise, while living in this material body, we normally “see” things that are only made of matter because it is only through the reflection of light on matter the we see things around us clearly. Therefore, how is it possible to see something that is not made of matter? For those who believe in God, no explanation is NECESSARY. For those who do not, no explanation is POSSIBLE.

  4. Patrick Gannon Reply

    The article starts by mentioning consciousness: “The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom…” OK. Are soul and consciousness the same thing? What is a soul without consciousness – self awareness, memories, knowledge? Is it just another word for “life”? I think not, as most Christians seem to think we will have all our memories, etc. after we die, as well as our sense of self, and these will be part of the soul. Is that correct?

    If we agree that you can’t have a soul without human consciousness, and if science proves that human consciousness is an illusion generated by the brain, (as mounting evidence indicates), then what does that do to the soul? Without consciousness, the soul is some amorphous thing that has nothing to tie who and what we are now, what we think, what we remember, who we love… all of that would not be part of a soul without consciousness. If what “I” am now, is not to survive, but is instead some amorphous soul thing which carries none of that “I,” stuff with it, then what do I care what happens to that soul? “I” won’t be hurt because “I” won’t exist if consciousness turns out to be a product of the brain that goes away when the brain shuts down. If the part of me that is “me” does not survive, then “I” will never know it and will return to the void from whence I came. If science proves that human consciousness is an emergent quality dependent on the brain, then the soul concept is of little value, as far as I can see. Who cares… I think the ideas of soul and consciousness are irretrievably linked in the minds of most people, and if consciousness doesn’t survive death then the soul does not exist, and if it does, who cares?

    Let’s go a little further. Let’s say that it turns out that consciousness does not emerge from the brain, but is some other sort of phenomenon that can survive death – basically the soul as most of us understand it is proven by science.. Science could prove that it exists, although the evidence is not leaning in that direction. So a soul irretrievably linked with consciousness is said to exist: Let’s say I’m a good person and I believe, say and do the right things when it comes to Jesus, and far more importantly whatever the RCC insists on. It’s my understanding that if all goes well, I will be “saved,” spend a little time under a blowtorch in Purgatory, and then get promoted to heaven where I will lose my free will (assuming we actually have free will to lose). The prayer says, “..thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That tells me that my free will goes away when I get to heaven. Not my will, but God’s will. What am “I” without my free will? All I can imagine is some sort of drugged out, magic mushroom zombie dude with a perpetual smile on his face who walks into walls because God amuses Himself in this way. That won’t be “me.” I don’t know who or what that will be, but without my free will, it won’t be “me.” What should I care about that new “me”? It will be doing whatever God wants and whatever it is that was “me” will be gone or disabled.

    Note that this is quite possibly what we have now. If consciousness is a product of the brain, then so is free will. The brain actually makes decisions and then informs the “I” it has created of the decision it has made. Evidence supports this idea. So in a way, it could be that we don’t have free will now. We think we do, but our brains could really control our will just as God would. In this sense, going from where we are to heaven is no change since the “I” part of us is an illusion and doesn’t really exist in the first place.

    The RCC stresses a lot of the “stick” part of the “carrot and stick” sales pitch for Christianity. The stick is all about fear; and it’s partially justified as the NT spends a lot more time on Hell (Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus) than it does on heaven. The carrot of Heaven, the reward, has very little allure for me. I won’t be “me” anymore, assuming the “I” part of me exists in the first place, so I really don’t see the attraction. Who or whatever I am now, won’t be that new thing in heaven that is high on happiness. “I” will be gone, if “I” ever truly existed in the first place. Mind melting, isn’t it?

    Fortunately the stick of Hell is dissolving as we learn what the original words were before being translated to “Hell,” and come to understand the use of allegory in telling a story. I figure when it comes down to it, if it turns out that there is a God, He will reward us for using our talents; whatever we were given, even if this means using our intelligence, logic and reasoning to determine that He is highly unlikely in the first place. That might actually be rewarded. Wouldn’t that be a trip! All we know for sure is that we don’t know.

  5. wacoi Reply

    All you know is that you don’t know and have convinced yourself that you wouldn’t coz probably too clever to acknowledge God without all facts falling into place? It’s not the Rcc that only talks about God, we even have Islam and other Christians with the same view.Scientology is the new religion of those who perceive themselves above mere belief in God. J

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Islam, like Christianity, comes from the same place – the Abrahamic god first described by the Israelites. Yahweh is based on events that have all been debunked:
      – No six day creation. (Why would it take six days and why would an all-powerful being need to rest?). We know the universe is billions of years old, and the earth about 4.5 billion years old.

      – No global flood. We know that his story came from the Epic of Gilgamesh that came from another, that came from another earlier story – many, many centuries before the Israelites began telling it – and of course we know it could only apply to a local flood. There is zero evidence to support a global flood.
      – No mass Exodus from Egypt. 600,000 fighting men and their families were not held as captives by the Egyptian superpower with the largest army in history at the time – about 100,000 fighting men; and those 2-3 million people along with foreigners and livestock did not travel across the desert staying in some places for extended periods of time unless the pillar of smoke and fire that led them was a giant vacuum cleaner. After exhaustive search, archaeologists have concluded that this event did not occur as written. There isn’t a shard of pottery, a spear, an arrow head, a sword or a wagon wheel to show the trash that would have been left behind by a couple million people. Even leading Jewish archaeologists have given the search up as futile.
      – No Conquest of Canaan. Without the Exodus there was nobody to commit the genocide, pillaging and rape that Yahweh ordered. There is archaeological evidence of Persian invasions – but no Israeli conquest. Scholars almost universally agree that it didn’t happen as written. There may have been small bands of immigrants, (and perhaps they imbibed magic mushrooms on the way!), but no mass Exodus as described in the Bronze Age story.

      – No original sin. The diversity of our DNA confirms that a) we didn’t all descend from the people on Noah’s ark, and b) we didn’t descend from a single breeding pair a couple hundred thousand years ago. There was no fall from grace, there was no original sin; nobody did anything to get an invisible god’s panties in a twist. The DNA confirms that we evolved from a pool of about 100,000 primates, not two, and although the Church continues to deny this, the science is pretty well established and being made known on a wider scale, just like other science the Church tried to squash in the past. We all finally agreed that the sun does not go around the earth. In time it will be accepted that there was no Adam and Eve – and at that time, this original sin guilt/shame/fear thing, can only be allegorical and not something real that people need to fear.

  6. Dagmar Reply

    What happens when they bodies are cremated, or dismantled or “not found”?

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