Chapter III – The Soul
The material and scientific developments realized since the advent of the modern period, have contributed to the adoption of the empirical world view that conceives reality solely in terms of nature and, as matter of fact, in terms of matter and energy, a condition that has led to the relegation of the common patrimony of wisdom of humanity to the status of obsolescence. This situation is peculiar since empiricism despite its certain explanatory capacity and its notable predictive ability is essentially reductionist, that is, it reduces spiritual qualities and moral forces to material phenomena and biological processes. Hence, the advances of human science in the medical discoveries that prolong life and ameliorate human health continually direct towards the denial of a central truth that has formed the heritage of humanity for millennia throughout time: at the center of the human person, resides a principle that is the foundation of the human person’s inherent natural dignity – the soul.
Since the Scientific Revolution and particularly, the 19th century, scientific empiricism has certainly elaborated the dominant understanding of reality in contraposition to the worldview of religion, in its elegant simplicity and its innocent reverence. It appears that the post-modern mental attitude towards the central truths of existence is that of skepticism, and of doubt. Specially, the common fellow visibly demonstrates uncertainty concerning the existence of the soul and decidedly evidences confusion regarding its reality, and its character; as matter of fact, it is a truth that is accepted as a mere and possible belief in contradistinction to the concreteness of the senses and of the natural world which the man of science in seriousness interacts with regularly. In its essence, the question of the existence of the soul, in similar fashion to the question of the existence of God, is a qualitative matter with moral and ethical implications. To state that man is a possessor of a human soul, is to ground his dignity in a principle and in a reality that is incorporeal, immaterial, qualitative, and ultimately, transcendent. Thence, human dignity is guaranteed in its special worth and its eminent value.
The historical, the religious and the intellectual divorce between faith and reason, religion and science, is at the chief origin of the contemporary situation. The marriage between faith and reason, religion and science, that was the achievement of the Thomistic Scholastic intellectual synthesis was considered into question due to the Galileo affair. The events surrounding the theory of Galileo were themselves determinant in realizing the momentous abandonment of the belief of the centrality of the Earth, which had been a philosophical position inherited from the Ancient Greek philosophers and a theological doctrine that was part of the Christian faith, in favor of the Heliocentric theory that placed the sun at the center of the Earth’s star system. It was a cosmological displacement that directly contradicted centuries of human philosophical thought, astronomical observations, and theological tradition. The Heliocentric theory propounded by Galileo, was not, in fact, a novel one, since it was already taught at the universities in Europe as a possible hypothesis. The novelty of Galileo’s thought resided in his affirmation that the sun truly was at the center of the world, and that Heliocentrism was more than a mathematical system, but rather, represented the physical universe as it was in reality. Within Catholic theology, Geocentrism was the teaching inherited from Christian tradition and founded on Holy Scripture that, God, had created the Earth and had placed it immovable at the center of the world.
“He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved” – Psalms 104:5 ESV
Geocentrism safeguarded the eminence of the Earth as the celestial body, which was the site of the Incarnation of the God-Man, the Reason and the Cause for the being of Creation and of the Cause of Grace. The originality of Galileo resided in attaining the foundations of Roman Catholic belief, found in Sacred Scripture. For Galileo, a man of science, the accounts of Holy Writ contained truths pertaining to faith and morals, and not science, nor astronomy, and in this case, not Geocentrism. The repercussions of the affair within Western culture were notable since they resulted in the elaboration of a new exegesis, a new method of lecture of Holy Writ that increasingly viewed the scientific, astronomic, and historical truths found therein as affected by the language of sense, of the appearances, and of poetry.
Throughout the centuries, this dramatic affair has been revealed in common parlance as a testament to the obscurantist influence that religion necessarily exerts on the humanistic quest for knowledge that is part of the great scientific endeavor. Since the Galileo affair, has come the habitual understanding that both provinces of knowledge, faith and reason, ought to act with separation in order for human science to contribute to the cause of knowledge in objectivity and integrity.
The Scientific Revolution of the 17th century furthered the separation between faith and reason. Deism, the belief in an omnipotent Creator divorced from the world of man and the world of nature, became the central but amorphous belief of the scientists and the philosophers. The philosophers of nature of the period viewed the natural world as the product of the reason of the Creator who designed it like a clock and abandoned it to its own systems of laws and of forces. In rationalism, the deistic religious position found its intellectual lever in the operation of its scientific discoveries and its philosophical conclusions. The definite emphasis on reason as the sole criterion of truth and the exclusive source of knowledge was itself a consequence of the divorce between faith and reason inherited from the Protestant Reformation and the theological and the political crisis from the Galileo affair, inclining towards a new form of epistemology based on a possible Cartesian doubt. From the time of Martin Luther, came the consistent re-evaluation and revolt of human reason against the dictates of religious authority, the teaching of the Magisterium and the deposit of the faith in Tradition and Holy Writ. The matter of employing reason apart from faith in the quest for knowledge and truth had unfortunate consequences for Roman Catholicism, and for Christianity in general: the Reformation resulted in the affirmation of the individual rights of conscience before the authority of the Magisterium, and led to the divorce between the interpretation of the sense of Scripture and of the authority of Tradition and of the Magisterium; the Galileo affair contributed in putting into doubt the deposit of the faith and the scientific truths found in Sacred Scripture thence elaborating the foundations of a new method of exegesis that would influence Catholicism and Christianity itself; the Scientific Revolution with its importance on reason and on finding scientific truth apart from faith in order to ensure objectivity furthered the separation between philosophical metaphysics and the science of nature. The occurrences led to the birth of rationalism during the 18th century, the Enlightenment period, also termed the Age of Reason.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment retained as an inheritance of their Christian past, a belief in the rationality and in the perfectibility of the human nature. It was a belief, in many respects, rooted in the belief in the particularity of man, and thus, of his soul.
The divorce between faith and reason that is at the origin of the contemporary situation, had oriented towards the emergence also, of scientific empiricism, the philosophical position that sense experience is the sole reliable source of knowledge and that through experimentation only is it possible to apprehend reality as it is in actuality. As a consequence, empirical science came to be regarded as the guarantor of truth and elaborated the view of the world of the average fellow. The divorce between faith and reason involved a separation between philosophy and science and resulted in some questionable understandings of philosophical principles and of their application in the realm of science. During the period of the 19th century, vitalism was the scientific position that living organisms were governed by a principle other than physical and chemical laws that rendered their constitution quantitatively different from non-living substances. It was a difficult transposition to the domain of empirical science of the comprehension of the existence of the soul, as life’s vital principle present within the biological organism. This position was discredited in 1828 by an experiment made by scientist Friedrich Wohler. Upon a chemical reaction, Wohler was able to synthesize the organic molecule urea from the non-living molecule ammonium cyanate. The experiment was a remarkable demonstration of the regularity of the laws present within nature governing matter and seemed to invalidate the need to appeal to the existence of the soul in order to account for living processes and molecules. Vitalism was founded on a misguided conception that the soul was a principle that could be quantitatively detected by the senses and operate according to a law that was other than the physical and the chemical laws.
The emergence of naturalism during the 19th century symbolized the triumph of empirical science over religious metaphysics. Charles Darwin, scientist, is credited to be the founder of metaphysical naturalism. The universe is an autonomous cosmos expanding in the void of space at superluminal rates and governed by intrinsic and logical physical laws governed by necessity, determinism and randomness, whose origin is not owed to any transcendent and supernatural cause in the chain of being, and whose finality is not directed to any rational purpose, a philosophical view encapsulated in the position of metaphysical naturalism. As a view of the world, naturalism is the comprehension that reality is nature itself, apprehended by the five senses and constituted of physical matter. Metaphysical naturalism deprives causality of any supernatural, and rational for that fact, agency, in the great chain of being and ascribes all real phenomena to natural processes within the confines of space and of time, of matter and of energy, and in essence, the universe. In effect, nature in its amorality, its indifference, and its imposing power is its own reason and cause for being; in fact, nature has not a Creator, it creates without reason.
In the naturalist understanding of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, life has its origin and its evolution in the wonderful and unpredictable struggle that is inherent to biological movement. All organisms in their multiple diversity are evidently the product of the will to power, the will to life, that is constitutive of existence’s process of self-assertion, a reality consummately realized in the natural selection, the natural struggle for adaptation that life experiences in its attempt at succeeding in reproduction; in truth, life is guided by conflict and chance, not purpose. From the origin, the laws of conflict and chance are the rule, a principle that continually divests existence of its inherent beauty and of its certain order: existence is harsh and unforgiving and creatures compete with violence for their survival, man is alone in an inhospitable world in struggle with his neighbor and with his surrounding environment; a reality that operates a denial of the moral, rational, and spiritual forces in man – a denial that cancels the pages of history, the dunes of time, the monuments of science, the achievements of art, of music, of engineering, of technology and of literature. To deprive nature of a Creator, is to deprive existence of meaning, and certainly, of Reason. Darwinian evolution, in retrospect, implies a rational contradiction, as it reveals the nature of a process that educes reason out of chaos, and order out of chance; it signifies the abdication of the rational faculty in man, reason, and the annulment of the transcendent, spiritual, immaterial and rational principle in man, which is the soul, before a law that in the end is impersonal, that is, that cancels personality. From rational person, man simply becomes animal man; from homo sapiens, man simply become homo.
Scientific empiricism serves as the foundation for the current epistemological position whose world view is formed by metaphysical naturalism, factually, an offspring is borne whose sole orientation is to reduce all natural forces to the potencies present within matter – materialism. Whereas naturalism limits the radius of reason to nature and prevents it from elevating its rational conclusions beyond the life of the senses, materialism breeds atheism and radically denies the immateriality of being – the act of existence – and particularly, the spiritual impetus in the human being. Thus, materialism denies religion and abrogates philosophy.
Western Philosophy demonstrates its openness to the reality of the existence of the soul, in the writings of Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle. Classical Greek philosophy distinguishes the three different genera of souls: the vegetative soul, the animal soul, and the rational or human soul. In its investigations of the different organisms and of their life, empirical science actually describes the activities of the soul, which can be termed the form of the body, of the organism.
The vegetative soul constitutes the form of micro-organisms such as Archaea and Bacteria, as well as eukaryotic – multi-cellular – organisms such as Plantae. The vegetative soul is exercised in the functions of nutrition, growth, and reproduction. According to the law of the natural order, organisms must constantly provide material sustenance in order to ensure their survival and carry out the activities of living. The soul is the form of the body, such that biological development is purposeful and directed towards a final arrangement, shape, and constitution of the organization of the organism. Escherichia Coli is a bacterium that exhibits the main functions of the vegetative soul. It was discovered in 1885 by German bacteriologist Dr. Theodor Escherich in human colon and has become the most well studied model organism. Escherichia Coli or E. Coli, are gram-negative bacteria that provide nutrition by ingesting nutrients from the host organism, and metabolize these contents through aerobic respiration – a process that uses oxygen in order to produce adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the energy currency of the cell – or anaerobic respiration, or either through mixed-acid fermentation. E. Coli reproduce asexually through the division of the cell cycle by replicating exact copies of their cell and of their genetic material.
The animal soul exercises the activities of the vegetative soul and in addition, it operates according to sensation and perception, or sentience. The primary activity of the animal soul is the ability to experience pleasure and pain, and perceive reality as recorded and as experienced by the senses. To describe the animal soul is to describe the material, the emotional, and the mental activity of sentience as expressed through sensation, desire and emotion, imagination, memory, and volition present in rudimentary inclination. In a limited manner, the animal exercises personality as evidenced in temperament and its ability to form relational bonds of friendship and of enmity. In a sense, the animal is a self, an ego existing without a rational soul. There are gradations in the perfection of the animal depending on the form, the habitat, the function, and the intelligence of the organism. A common design is apparent in the different systems of organization that permit for the functions of life to be exercised and are visible in circulation, musculo-skeletal movement, sensation, excretion, and above all, a centralized nervous communication. The brain organ is responsible for the coordination of the central activities of the organism while the heart pulsates with the blood, the connective tissue that extends the material life in the nutrients to the whole organism. Sensation occurs in consequence to the stimuli that are received by the organs from the environment and is directed to perception, the mental interpretation of the physical signals transduced from the sense organs to the brain and the central nervous system. The eye of the lion seeking prey in the savanna receives through light images of the two antelopes on the retina, the animal is surveying; these signals are then sent to the brain which interprets them, the finality is the perception by the lion of the preys and the concomitant attention rendered by the feline through the isolation of the appropriate sensory stimuli – such as focusing on the antelopes’ local movement as opposed to the sounds heard – in order to elect which antelope to hunt. Moreover, although two lions found in the presence of the same prey may receive the images of the animal through light in the same way, their perception of the prey’s color, size, sound, and movement may differ.
The rational soul belongs to the human being, named homo sapiens, or the wise man. The rational soul exercises its activity in the life of reason, evidenced in abstracting, reasoning, understanding, willing, and remembering. The rational soul is an immaterial principle since the intellectual operation by which the reason receives the forms of the real things considered is immaterial itself and is not determined by the activity of the sense organ of the brain, but actually subsists without its matter, a position upheld by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae.
“I answer that, It must necessarily be allowed that the principle of intellectual operation which we call the soul, is a principle both incorporeal and subsistent. For it is clear that by means of the intellect man can have knowledge of all corporeal things. Now whatever knows certain things cannot have any of them in its own nature; because that which is in it naturally would impede the knowledge of anything else. Thus we observe that a sick man’s tongue being vitiated by a feverish and bitter humor, is insensible to anything sweet, and everything seems bitter to it. Therefore, if the intellectual principle contained the nature of a body it would be unable to know all bodies. Now every body has its own determinate nature. Therefore it is impossible for the intellectual principle to be a body. It is likewise impossible for it to understand by means of a bodily organ; since the determinate nature of that organ would impede knowledge of all bodies; as when a certain determinate color is not only in the pupil of the eye, but also in a glass vase, the liquid in the vase seems to be of that same color.
Therefore the intellectual principle which we call the mind or the intellect has an operation “per se” apart from the body. Now only that which subsists can have an operation “per se.” For nothing can operate but what is actual: for which reason we do not say that heat imparts heat, but that what is hot gives heat. We must conclude, therefore, that the human soul, which is called the intellect or the mind, is something incorporeal and subsistent.”
– Summa Theologiae, Ia, 75, 2
The immateriality of the rational soul is the effect of the intellect’s ability to have knowledge of the real, that is, due to the principle of abstraction according to which the knower, in this case the rational intellect, is able to become one with the known, the form of the real object abstracted; and this process of knowledge can be stated as the intellect being in truth, since the intellect, the reason, naturally orients towards truth. A form is an immaterial idea, thus, the rational soul is immaterial, spiritual, and finally, immortal.
“The perfection belonging to one thing is found in another. This is the perfection of a knower insofar as he knows; for something is known by a knower by reason of the fact that the thing known is, in some fashion, in the possession of the knower. Hence it is said in The Soul that the soul is “in some manner, all things,” since its nature is such that it can know all things. In this way, it is possible for the perfection of the entire universe to exist in one thing.”
– Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate 2, 2
The vegetative soul, the animal soul, and the rational soul, all share in the most fundamental character of the common soul in general, which is movement. Life is apparent firstly in the evidence of movement – in contradistinction to motion, which is simply change. Movement implies an inner principle that enables living being to be the cause of its movement; this is particularly demonstrated in local motion and the movement of translation. Organisms at different levels of form, of existence, and of nature all exhibit movement: plants and flowers grow and extend their leaves, fish swim in the seas and in the oceans, birds fly in the air, animals move on their limbs, some crawl, some run, and human beings move in bipedal manner. Inertia appears to be a sign of death or at least of loss or of lack of life in contraposition to movement which reveals dynamic vitality. For the bacterium, it is the flagellum that assists in ensuring movement in the environment in addition to sensory detection of surrounding chemical elements and of external conditions such as temperature. Homo sapiens, the rational person, exercises rational movement through the activity of volition. With his reason, man is able to form concepts, compare ideas, enunciate judgments and through volition elect choices.
The common soul constitutes also the principle of the intelligence of the organism, the principle of its organization, a reality represented in the coordinated organization of the whole being that is derived from the cell, the fundamental unit of life. The cell comprises the form – thus, the soul – according to which the organism develops, and becomes a certain type of organism. The eukaryotic cell operates the chief material functions of the soul through metabolism or nutrition, growth and bio-molecular synthesis, cell division or reproduction, and movement. The eukaryotic cell is a cytoplasm enclosed within a cell membrane that comprises membrane-bound organelles, which are locations of cellular bio-chemical activity. The cell is in continuous work and in constant exchange of matter and of energy with its external environment; it is a semi-permeable system that exists within a medium, for instance, water. […]
The eukaryotic cell comprises of a nucleus, which contains DNA, the deoxyribonucleic acid, a composite of genes – the biological repositories and bearers of inherited physical characteristics. DNA is a helix of two complementary strands constituted of chemically matched hydrogen bonded nucleotide bases that are separated at replication during cell division, termed mitosis. There are four DNA bases: Adenine chemically bonds with Thymine, and Cytosine chemically bonds with Guanine. The sequence of bases that transmit meaningful information that codes for a specific trait is found in the gene, the unit of heredity. The Central Dogma of biology states that the replication of DNA is directed towards the synthesis of biological proteins, according to a language of reason called the genetic code. This language of reason has at its principle, the soul, the logic according to which the genetic material is expressed, which determines the information present in the genetic code according to the form the organism is to assume, and in the genetic code is revealed information that is the material essence of the living being. This material essence is Reason, whose imprint all living being genetically bears.
Reason, is itself, eternal Reason, Creator and First Cause, Prime Mover and Legislator. According to the truths of the Christian religion, man has a divine origin, whose provenance is recounted in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. One passage, relating the central creative act of the sixth day specially, is notable:
“then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7 USCCB
The story of the creation of man, Adam, reveals the fact that the human soul is immediately created by God, and originates for that matter, from His Being. It is a teaching emphasized by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Humani Generis released in 1950.
“For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.” – Humani Generis paragraph 36, Pope Pius XII
The soul is of divine origin and has a supernatural end, which is the intellectual contemplation of the divine Essence of the beatitude of Heaven. The human person, a compound of body and soul, a composite of matter and spirit, is the bond that unites the visible material creation of the universe with the invisible spiritual world of the supernatural sphere of Heaven. A rational animal, as supernatural grace abides in his soul, man is granted a supernatural state that enables him to enter into a filial rapport with the Triune Divinity in the perfect adoration of prayer, lived in the service of faith, and animated by the spiritual law of self-denying love, agape love or charity, that transfigures him and divinizes his rational person. In the communal bonds of the Catholic Church turned towards neighbor, the rational soul is able to love in spirit and in truth. Thence, man is truly the image of Christ, the one Intermediary between God and Man, and the Redeemer of the human race.
The rational human soul is able to distinguish between the instant of time that is, with its awareness, the instant of time that has been, with its memory, and the instant of time that has yet to be, with its hope and its anticipation. Thought is the character of the soul, a mental word that is formed in rational succession, and when the potential of the rational soul is in act, it forms a thought, a mental word, a concept. Being is the act of existence or of existing. As such, the act of existing of man’s being is the thought of his soul. From the soul comes the rational measure of time. Time exists in the physical reality, but also in the reality of the soul. The act of the soul, its thought, is time.