Sunday, June 27, 2010

This past week I've been reflecting quite a bit on the difference between traditional Catholic truth as opposed to enshrined ignorance. It's led me to look at some fundamental assumptions about core doctrine. One of those core doctrines is the doctrine of the soul. The following is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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.

I've read and reread the above and have discerned very little core truth about this notion of soul. It boils down to some ill defined animus that is eternal and will be united with it's body at the Second Coming. Other than this it says very little of practical use about the soul, and yet, it is my duty as a Catholic to save my soul from the ignorance and sin of my earthly body. The soul apparently animates this potential den of iniquity called the body and then becomes totally dependent on the choices of the body for it's eventual judgment.

Not having gotten a great deal of enlightenment from the above I then went to Catholic Answers.

After reading numerous questions I learned the following: Thomas Aquinas felt ensoulment occurred some time after conception--40 days for boys, 80 days for girls, but still believed abortion was homicide. I learned this one numerous times. It seems this teaching of Aquinas is a serious problem for serious Catholic questioners. The answer is that we are to accept the current arbitrary date of conception for Aquinas's arbitrary dates because scientific reason tells us that girls really are as human as boys all through pregnancy and so conception is a better arbitrary date for ensoulment. Or something along these lines.

I learned animals and plants have souls but they are material souls and do not survive death. Material souls are apparently a function of the biological process of life, not a spiritual infusion from God. I learned the difference between material and spiritual souls is the ability of spiritual souls for self reflection, for abstract thinking and for love. I learned that the Buddhist concept of Nirvana and reincarnation are totally wrong, (mostly based on Revelations and a few other biblical passages), that New Agers have basically zero correct about the soul, that contrary to some great fictional literature, it is not possible to sell one's soul to the devil, and that when Jesus spoke about Himself as always existing, that only applied to His soul. Ours has a starting but not an ending point and it most certainly can wind up eternally in hell based on the decisions of it's material representation.

What I learned more than anything is that Catholic teaching on the soul is at best nebulous and at worst purposeful in rejecting any experience of the concept from any other spiritual tradition. Why do I go into all of this? Because I strongly believe it is the obvious holes in this notion of soul/body paradigm which is driving people to search for truth else where. People are experiencing things that just scream for a better understanding of the totality of the human being. Science is discovering more and more about the brain body connection which is not meaningfully addressed by Catholic teaching. Quantum physics is postulating a notion of reality which blows a great deal of this neo platonic postulating out of the water. Jesus's life and teachings seem to affirm there is more to being human that taught in the Old Testament. His Resurrection and Transfiguration showed potentials for a human experience which went far beyond the accepted limits of physical expression.

One of the major assumptions Catholics are asked to accept is that the things Jesus did are reserved to Jesus. The rest of us have to wait for the Second Coming and even then only if we've been good boys and girls. (Apparently when Jesus said we could do what He did, He was just kidding.) What if this is all wrong and Jesus actually came to show us our existing potentials and the way to unlock them? What if when He told us to look within for the Father, He meant go deeper into what self aware human consciousness is capable of because there we will be closer to the Creator's design for creation---and to the truth of ourselves.

What if we turn things around a bit and ask if consciousness created the evolution of the human body in order to have a vehicle in which to experience material existence? What if in fact the conscious and self aware soul somehow creates or directs the body which houses it and the price of that incarnation is being subject to the physical laws of neural and physical development--which would then mean that original ignorance is the price for a material experience. It could be with a different starting point we would come to some very different understandings about material reality and what Jesus was on about.

In the future I will definitely be doing some speculation from this different starting point and this will include looking at the world view of the shamanic tradition. In that vein, I really connected with the NCR article with Fr. Paul F Knitter on 'double belonging'. Buddhism has a great deal of insight, which I have found inspirational even though my own 'double belonging' lies with a different mix of traditions. I suspect getting the whole picture is going to require entertaining the insight of many spiritual paths which is to be expected if the Buddhist and shamanic traditions are correct in stating we are all innerconnnected at the core existential level.
May the comments flow until next time.


  1. That Catholic Answers site is a riot. I found one question about masturbation for which the answer included the assertion that "Nowhere will you find a higher understanding of sexuality than in the Catholic Church." My eyes nearly rolled right out of my head.

    I would highly recommend Paul Knitter's book to anyone interested in this notion of "double belonging," whether they're interested in Buddhism or some other tradition.

    (BTW, Knitter left the priesthood quite some time ago, so he is no longer "Fr.")

  2. Prickliest had I read your blog before I wrote this, I would have known Knitter left the priesthood. For those interested here's a link to PrickliestPear's review of Knitter's book referenced in the NCR article:

    I will give Catholic Answers this much credit, they do give very Catholic answers--even if they are just a trifle self serving.

  3. Ah Ha!

    From Catholic Answers: Masturbation

    Being a "grave moral disorder" and "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" the Church teaches that even a single act of masturbation can theoretically send a person to Hell, if two additional factors are present:

    The person must commit the act with full knowledge of the sin and of its seriousness.
    "It must be committed with deliberate and complete consent." 5

    No wonder all this child abuse stuff isn't so important. It is no worse than masturbation!

    Thanks for the tip PrickliestPear.


  4. Hmmm.... boys get a soul at 40 days and girls at 80 days, according to St. Thomas (as told by Colleen, not that I'm doubting her). But science now tells us that the basic sex is female - that everything turns out female unless male hormones are added. So... how to put that together with St. Thomas (who of course knew nothing of modern science, and heaven knows how he got the 40 days and the 80 days idea).

    So I'm trying to think how to even formulate what a "good Catholic" would do with the two pieces of information I just laid side by side. Would the good Catholic risk rejecting St. Thomas? At the risk of then having to doubt other "doctrines" there? Or would they somehow explain that at 40 days male hormones somehow "demand" a "sooner soul" - whereas the girl baby, perhaps more patient (as I suppose doctrinal girls should be) is content to wait for God to act.. though can you be patient without a soul yet? Oh, dear... this is getting very confusing... I'm beginning to feel like Alice in Wonderland.

    Perhaps others can elucidate...

    P.S. I like this idea of "double belonging" - heck, why not triple belonging? After all, God has that - so to speak!

  5. TheraP the hypothesis is that Thomas came up with those particular notions on the basis of observing miscarried fetuses. This is probably where he got the idea that females were misbegotten males. I've always found it wonderfully ironic that it's really the other way around.

    I say it's a good thing to have as many 'belongings' as one can entertain as long as this leads to the notion we all belong.

    Actually I read some time back that Tibetan Budhists seem to have historical written records that a wandering Jewish Rabbi named Jesu visited them around our years of 20-27 AD.

    It may be that Jesus was a mulitple 'belonger' or at least a wandering seeker.

  6. Aquinas got the idea that women are misgotten males from Aristotle, the source for virtually all of his "scientific" knowledge.

    The relevant passage is here:

    As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). (Summa Theologiae 1.q92.a1.r1)

    Damn those south winds!

    (BTW, Anyone interested in learning more about the wacky origins of official Catholic sexual morality MUST read Uta Ranke-Heinemann's Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven)

  7. Enlightened Ones,

    No mention of JP2's "Theology of the Body"? (1979...) It is supposed to address the human person as body, soul and spirit. I wouldn't know because I haven't read it, but I would appreciate your thoughts if you care to comment.


    This is a hoot. The word verification is "emicks".

    From now on I'm going to thing of the group here as my e-micks.

  8. Actually I read some time back that Tibetan Budhists seem to have historical written records that a wandering Jewish Rabbi named Jesu visited them around our years of 20-27 AD.

    There were no Buddhists in Tibet until several centuries after that (seventh or eighth century, if memory serves), so that's not possible.

  9. I'm trying to read and understand Kitaro Nishida, the first and most influential Japanese philosopher, ( as defined by Western standards).

    Somewhere, I forgot exactly where, he argues that the body and material reality, is really an expression of consciousness. Consciousness here is not "individual" but global.

    In other words, each of us is an expression, bodily and materially, individually and specifically, a manifestation of consciousness.
    It's not only us but the entire cosmos.

    Nishida states this in a far more nuanced way of course.

    The way I've stated it sounds like pantheism which is not what Nishida argues.

    But, if anyone is interested, please read about this very interesting, profound and stimulating thinker.

    As for the Tibetan legends, they are related to legends about Padmasambhava, a legendary founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Many of the legends surrounding him are similar to stories about Christ so the confusion between the two, among Tibetans and others, is easy to see.

  10. Discoveries of science on brain body connections? Quantum physics? Japanese and Buddhist philosophy?

    Sadly, the institutional church is simply totally incapable of considering any evidence from the real world. Notwithstanding the repeated lipservice to the importance of science and reason as well as faith, notwithstanding the impressive contributions of many notable priests to many academic disciplines in science, the second any of them attempts to connect scientific discovery to theological thinking, they are immediately treated with grave suspicion.

    The only scientific "evidence" or ideas the authorised theologians
    are interested in are those that accord with their own abstract conclusions, totally unsupported by any connection to the real world.

  11. That does seem to be the general trend Terrence. How in the world can a static religion which still believes humanity is God's one and only concern, and teaches that, deal with say string theory or M theory and the implied necessity of unlimited parallel universes?

    You can't unless you can conceive of Jesus as the material expression of a universal force, and by extension humanity as the material representation of the same force.

    If that force is Divine creative consciousness then the laws of physics are driven by consciousness and consciosness is not limited by those laws. Shamanic theory is essentially based in that notion. Everything shares that consciusness on some level. Self reflective consciousness is just one vibrational harmonic of the consciousness string--or Membrane of M theory.

    There are other harmonic--or disharmonic--strings of consciousness vibrating around us. We just can't 'see' them with our current sense perception apparatus.

    Spiritual advancement of one's consciousness starts a different vibrational frequency. Even time moves differently for these people. That's why it can feel as if time is moving so much faster around you. Sometimes your car even gets you places faster than the laws of physics should allow because for the driver time is moving slower but everything else is moving normally. The laws don't change but their expression with in the individual does.

    That car thing does freak out the passengers though. :)

  12. Here's my attempt to clean up a few things I mentioned off the top of my head. The Jesus in Tibet thing revolves around a teacher named Issa, who spent time in India learning from the Hindu masters before wandering to Tibet. This first came to attention in the West-late 1800's- from a Russian nobleman named Nicholas Notivich. This link gives a pretty decent overview and has other links:

    Two things struck about Issa, and is probably why this story stuck in my memory. Issa's view of women is vastly different than the Judeo/Christian traditional view, and Issa was supposedly driven out of a learning center in India because of his attacks on the Hindu caste system.

    This link is to a translation of Notovich's book:

    Chapter 12 is worth reading for Issa is teaching his male followers about women.

  13. Seems to me the Vatican must be panicking. They are upset over the civil authorities treating the church as "within the law" in Belgium. And now they're smacking down Schoenbrun for wanting a discussion of celibacy:

    This is interesting to watch. Even if O/T. Though I gather Colleen is simply posting ideas and wanting discussion, but not limiting the topics.

  14. Since I have been waiting since the end of April to see how the Vatican handled Cardinal Schonborn I was compelled to publish a new post for the front page. Thanks TheraP.

  15. As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). (Summa Theologiae 1.q92.a1.r1)
    Isn't this heresy? Doesn't scripture say GOD created man and woman in the image of GOD? Is God defective and misbegotten???? I'm so confused.

  16. The quote about the soul in the Catechism is very confusing.

    From F.J. Sheed's book, Theology for Beginners, he writes about soul & spirit:

    "They are not two words for the same thing. Spirit is a partless, spaceless, immortal being, which can know and love. Soul means principle of life in a living body. Man has the only soul that is a spirit, the only spirit that is a soul. "

    "Our soul has no parts, for it is a spirit. There is no element in our soul which is not the whole soul. It does a remarkable variety of things-knowing, loving, animating a body-but each of them is done by the whole soul; it has no parts among which to divide them up."

    "Spirit is the element in us by which we know and love, by which therefore we decide. Our body knows nothing; it loves nothing (bodily pleasures are not enjoyed by the body; it reacts to them physically, with heightened pulse, for instance, or acid stomach; but it is the knowing mind that enjoys the reactions or dislikes them); the body decides nothing (though our will may decide in favor of things that give us bodily pleasure).

    "Spirit knows and loves. A slightly longer look at ourselves reveals that spirit has power, too. It is the mind of man that splits the atom; the atom cannot split the mind, it cannot even split itself, it does not know about its own electrons."

    "The mind is the principal, the body the instrument."

    Re: Jesus in Tibet, read The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, which documents evidence of Jesus' 17-year journey to the East.

  17. p2p -

    Excellent point! When masturbation is on the same level with clerical sex abuse - defined as a mortal sin with no further qualifier - it explains much. To the clergy (as per AW Richard Sipe), they see it as almost 'normal'. Or a fly to be swatted away.

    Ditto for calling abuse a 'crime against customs'....!

    'Theology of the Body' is nothing but an Opus Dei project of indoctrination of gullible young ppl. It is used as a point of entry or contact (similar to ODs 'Theology on Tap'). Young ppl searching for a spiritual understanding of the 'flesh' may be suckered into this.

    ...and for the record, JPII had nothing to do with the authorship of TOTB; it was written for him with his name plastered all over it. Persons in his inner circle who were OD/OD linked (like Ratz....) are responsible for this dreck.

    Personally I ignore Aquinas. First as he was a known occultist, as was his mentor, Albertus Magnus. But secondly & most his words are used as justification for much said & done by the Vatican which is dead wrong.

    Like....positing women as 2nd class citizens, the glorification & elitism of clergy. Aquinas - NOT Christ - is the basis for Canon Law.

    Thus, I refuse to heed his dreck.

    The soul is 'animus' the spark of life in a person; the Divine spark. It is the 'Image of God" referenced in Genesis. It is the eternal in us.

    This does not mean that Man is God; but that part of God is within us. That is one factor which makes our sins so tragic:

    We fail to see that when we sin, we hurt both ourselves AND God. As well as other humans.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  18. Mouse I agree with you about Aquinas, especially the point about Canon Law being based on his theology rather than Christ's actual teachings. I have to admire this though as a wonderful tactic to equate the teachings of a Theologian and by extension the Magesterium with the teachings of Christ.

    The real truth Aquinas saw was the vision he had just before his death when he came to the conclusion his writings were so much straw relative to the vision he was given.

    The soul is much more than just the spark of life with in us. Even defining soul as Divine spark does not begin to describe the soul or it's actions in our lives.
    But that's for another post.

  19. Colleen -

    "I have to admire this though as a wonderful tactic to equate the teachings of a Theologian and by extension the Magesterium with the teachings of Christ.'

    In the field of advertising this is known as the classic 'bait & switch' routine. Presented in masterful style, as somthing of whole cloth. In other words: 'they thought of everything'.

    So called Theologians are known for ranting about Thomism & the like for hundreds & thousands of pages of incomprehensible drivel. All to prove what you stated via complex means. Seemingly irrefutable to the common man, who cannot begin to unravel it.

    Yet Christ used very few words to say much. If you look up & read the actual words of Jesus in the Canonical Gospels, they are relatively few. Look up the non-canonical Gospels, which are collections of His sayings. Ditto - they are very brief, to the point, & easily comprehensible.

    God is of few words - and of concice & coherent message. Satan is the one who requires hundreds of spin a web of deceit.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  20. Anon Y. Mouse says:

    "The soul is 'animus' the spark of life in a person; the Divine spark. It is the 'Image of God" referenced in Genesis. It is the eternal in us."

    Merton termed this the "Virgin Heart" and I think I can illustrate what he's getting at. First Merton:

    Next a dense meditation on that, a further extension:

    Finally a bit of my own experience before I knew any of this:

    Middle one is very, very dense. But they all affirm, in different ways, what Anon Y. Mouse is saying above. IMVHO

    I think in these trying times we need to stay very much with that Spark of the Divine in us - and outside us, of course... but it's really the same thing - as if the inside and the outside are one - and we are part of it, while it is also part of us. (I could illustrate that too - but this is enough for now.)

  21. Actually, Aquinas was aware that Aristotle's account prejudiced the equality of women, so he supplemented with an account from Avicenna to the effect that the male was a defective female.

  22. The question is why does either sex have to be considered defective or less than? If natural law shows anything it's that diversity with balance makes life move forward. Nature always adjusts to insure a healthy balance.

    Sometimes there is a price to be paid and interests vested in the imbalance don't like it. Doesn't matter though because balance will be found.

  23. Luckily, denial of reincarnation is not part of the Nicene Creed.