Lately, I have been thinking about my soul – that warm, fuzzy “thing” that is difficult to describe. I wanted to know the what, when, where and more. Exploring the specifics, not vague generalities.
What is the soul?
The Soul is an automobile manufactured by Kia. It is also a style of music, but I digress…
Quite simply, the soul is you. The real you, your mind, spirit and intellect. It is God’s image in you. Your soul is not your brain, your body, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the house you live in, the car you drive or your job.
When are souls created?
God created you / your soul (one and the same). God always was. We on the other hand, had a beginning. Biological “material” contributed by our parents was formed into a human life by God at our conception. Along with most folks, I believe that God created our soul at that same moment although the Church has not spoken on that infallibably.
The Catholic view of ensoulment has a long and complex history. Suffice to say, if ensoulment is not at the moment of conception, it is not very long thereafter. Moreover, unique human life is created at conception and killing that life is always a grave evil. On that point the Church has always been very clear.
Once created, our souls, children of God the Father, are immortal. After our relatively short mortal life, our souls remain for eternity in either heaven (possibly after cleansing in purgatory) or hell. We get to choose, but that choice must be made in our mortal lives.
Where is the soul?
Our souls unite with our physical bodies. Souls are not physical but are present and in control of our actions to the degree that our bodies are functional. Our brains operate the machinery of our bodies but make no “decisions” on their own other than to operate routine bodily functions. Brains are chemical and electrical elements that, together with the whole body, host the presence of the soul. When the soul leaves, the body stops functioning and dies. The beauty of every person is the presence of their soul, without which the object we see is only a (dead) body.
God created everything, but we are his greatest and most loved creation. We are our souls. Our bodies hold a special place as temples / arks / containers for the soul but it is the human soul itself that is unique, special and immortal. Even identical twins have fully distinct souls.
Our bodies can become less functional through damage or disease. Our souls may suffer but can not be harmed by this. Damage to our souls comes only through our free will choices that distance or separate us from God through sin.
A computer analogy.
For a computer to “be alive,” both hardware and software are necessary. The hardware, the physical computer itself, is what we can see, measure and touch. The software is the programming which brings it to life giving it characteristics and purpose. Without the software, the computer does nothing. Our bodies are like the hardware and our souls like the software.
Software, like our soul, is created at some point in time. It may evolve just as we evolve. Unified with its hardware body, software animates it. The computer would appear completely unchanged, but would be “dead” if the software were somehow removed from it. The software when removed from the computer, would still exist.
Near death experiences.
Many of you may disagree with me on this, but I do not believe for a moment that anyone can “die” and come back to life other than in heaven, purgatory or hell. Every now and then I catch a show on the on the Biography Channel called I Survived… Beyond and Back. They describe it as “the extraordinary stories of people who have literally passed on to the other side.” No sale.
The stories recounted are of people who have suffered near death experiences, not *actual* death. I believe that their souls remained firmly united with their bodies throughout their ordeal. They mistake dreams (probably induced by extreme physical circumstances) of hovering above their bodies, dark tunnels ending in bright light or reuniting with grandma for reality.
I can think of only one special exception – private revelation. It is possible, but a huge stretch to fit the square experiences of near death into the round hole of private revelation. This seems very improbable to me.
Animals have souls too.
Concluding on this topic is Richard Geraghty who explains it well, and their relation to human souls, for EWTN:
One principle is that all living things have a soul. Here soul is defined as what makes an organic body live. Now when any living thing dies, its soul is separated from its body. In the case of plants and animals the soul goes out of existence. But in the case of man, the soul remains in existence because it is a spiritual or immaterial thing. Consequently, it differs from the souls of animals in two important respects. First, it is the seat of intelligence or reason. For this reason a man is held responsible for his actions in a way that animals are not. Secondly, the soul is immortal. A thing which has no physical parts cannot fall apart or be poisoned or be crushed or be put out of existence. For this reason the souls of the saved will always be aware of themselves as enjoying the vision of God for all eternity. This enjoyment will be the result of having chosen to act on earth in such a way that one did the will of God rather than one’s own will. And the souls of the damned will be aware of themselves as never attaining this vision of God because they have shown by their lives on earth that they did not wish this vision but instead preferred their own will.
Update: So, what then is the role of our body? See my later piece, The body.