Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 14, 2003
What is the Human soul?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
"Whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me."
- Matthew 25:31-46
We are unique creatures in that we can respond to God's initiative and develop a relationship with God. Our creation in the image of a triune God forms the basis of our relationship with others, thus mirroring the relationship of the persons in the Trinity. Both Testaments tell us to love our neighbour as ourselves; even more, Jesus tells us to love others as he has loved us. But without our bodiliness, we would not be able to relate to others and therefore, our bodies are good and necessary. If we consider ourselves and our bodies not good enough, we are diminishing God's handiwork, Jesus' Incarnation and redemption.
Dependent on God and interdependent in relationship with others, we have a responsibility for one another. How we exercise that responsibility will be the basis of our judgment before God "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me" (Matthew 25:31-46). To be able to exercise responsibility, we have to have the ability to choose.
Thus, God has given us intelligence and free will. Free will is at the foundation of Christian morality and points to human uniqueness and dignity, setting us apart from the rest of creation. Our service is not by instinct nor is it a slave-like existence. It is not a service of fear and drudgery but a loving, mature and joyful response to God's gifts of grace and faith.
However, human beings are not always faithful to God and do not exercise their intelligence and free will according to God's will. In the Old Testament, humans are depicted as sinful, thus harming both the individual and creation itself. As the history of salvation unfolds, that consciousness of sin becomes stronger. But, at the same time, there is hope as God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah: "I will make a new covenant. I will be their God and they shall be my people. I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more" (31:31-4).
For Paul, human existence is understood in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ. Although he does not speculate about the nature and properties of the human person, separateness of body and soul does not enter his thinking. The "body" is the whole person, but it does not eliminate the idea of "soul" which is the transcendent dimension of the person. Rather, it emphasizes unity of body and soul. For Paul, our bodies are God's work of art and temples of the Holy Spirit. Truly, we can say: "We do not have, but we are, soul and body."
When Paul speaks of the opposition between spirit and flesh, he is referring, not to body and soul but rather, to the orientation of the whole person towards God and away from God. If "you live according to the flesh (sinful inclinations), you will die; but if by the Spirit (inclination to good), you put to death the evil deeds of the flesh, you will live" (Romans 8:13). Once we die to our sinful inclinations, then we are made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).
In brief, we can say that people (body and soul), created in the image of a triune God, are unique in their ability to know and love God, as well as relate to the rest of creation and other human beings. However, weak and sinful, people do not always exercise their God-given gifts of intelligence and free will as God intended.
The First Epistle of John tells us that the "world" is prone to evil not because it was created this way by God but because human beings who have free will may make evil choices. However, there is hope for God sends the Son to save the world, not to condemn it (1 John 4:9, 14).
The Catholic Catechism deals extensively with who we are as human beings. It begins its treatment of the human person in n. 1700, although it frequently and necessarily includes humanity in previous and later sections on our beliefs, on the sacraments, etc. I would encourage all of us to read it attentively and reflect on it.
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.