Category Archives: The Soul

St. Augustine—The Great Lover of the Soul and Spirit

St. Augustine, also known as Saint Augustine the Bishop of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus, 354-430 CE), caroused in promiscuity at the age of 18 while a student at Carthage. Sex was an overriding obsession. He would later write in his Confessions, “From a perverted act of will, desire had grown, and when desire is given satisfaction, habit is forged; and when habit passes unresisted, a compulsive urge sets in.” Hence, his early life can be likened unto the Prodigal Son, who this time in the person and prayers of his mother, Monica, was inspired to end his carousing ways. He was later officially converted through the sermons of Bishop Ambrose, who was also later to be crowned a Saint. Augustine and his teacher Ambrose are the first Latin Christian writers to maintain that the human soul is incorporeal. read more

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Plotinus—The Man of the One and Unborn

All Platonic notions reached their Zenith in the teachings of Plotinus (205-270 AD). Philosophy for men like Plotinus was a full-time professional occupation and religious vocation that demanded withdrawal from worldly affairs. He disregarded physical hardships, right up to the point of his death by a form of Leprosy-ailment: read more

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Gnostic Notions

An overview of Gnosticism is in order. Etymologically, from Ancient Greek: γνωστικός, romanized: gnōstikós, Koine Greek: [ɣnostiˈkos], ‘having knowledge’ [gnosis]. It’s a composite of mystical and religious ideas which became amalgamated during the latter half of the first century AD, consisting mainly of Jewish and early Christian sects. Their main focus was upon individualized gnosis which sharply contrasted with mainline ecclesiastical institutions. The Gnostics significance is not to be minimized as they were the gate-keepers of the magnificent Library of Alexandria, and as such, they were the guardians of the secret mystery schools of Greece and Egypt. Their main import taught that what was considered to be Supreme Being was in essence a mother-goddess—Sophia—who represented an allegorical function that reflected objective truths that led to the formation of self-realized entities. read more

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Pauline Revelations

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to Greek notions of the soul. In the first chapter of Romans, he narrates his acknowledgment to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks. Even though he notes that salvation is only available through the gospel of Christ, nonetheless the Greeks had contact with the truth. This truth had been made manifest to them by God. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse . . .” (Rom. 1:20).  Also, St. Paul spoke to the men of Athens about their temple that he witnessed being dedicated to an unknown God. Paul then said this “unknown God” is the true God who created the world. read more

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Aristotle was more the scientist than his renowned teacher, Plato, and saw the soul as a mechanism—an animated aspect of lifeforms. read more

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Platonic Formulations

Plato is the father of foundational impressions of the soul up to this very day. Plato’s mouthpiece, Socrates, insisted that not only is the soul immortal, but also that it contemplates truths after its separation from the body at the moment of death. Soon afterwards, for the whole of the West “the soul was identified with our consciousness when it thinks and acts with our reason and with the source of our thinking activity and our ethical activity. In short, for Socrates the soul is the conscious self, it is intellectual and moral personhood.” (Giovanni Reale, A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Origins to Socrates, pg. 202.) read more

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Homer and the Realm of Shadows

The psyche (ψυχή) for Homer was primarily a shadowy-substance, devoid of consciousness or any form of mental proclivity. It meant the difference between the living and the dead. The dead lost all memories of their former life—this was the result of crossing the stream of Lethe, or the river of forgetfulness. Homer referred to these personas as forms of ghostly apparitions still retaining their former human characteristics; yet there is never any passage in Homer’s Epic Poems where ψυχή is utilized as anyone living or what we would refer to as a soul. The only thing that survived one’s demise was his name and recollections by others of one’s former status in life. Modern-day examinations on Homer’s realizations was first published in 1894 by Friedrich Nietzsche’s personal friend and confidant, Erwin Rohde, in his classic book Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in immortality. It’s an immense volume. I’ve been enthralled after purchasing it and reading these early formulations of the Greek Soul. Here’s a little passage to whet your appetite: read more

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Psyche and Pneuma

An old but most reliable source for today’s blog is Ernes De Witt Burton’s book, Spirit, Soul, and Flesh (1918). Burton writes that ψυχή (psyche) connotes life-force and soul; Πνεύμα (pneuma) which premiered much later in Greek literature during the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. Hence, ψυχή is the most ancient connotation, and does indeed signify the Animating Life, or Mind source. Hence, soul is the function of that primordial animating principle and lifeforce, once embodied, feels the ignominious effects of affectual beingness, such as in Homeric formulations. Πνεύμα came into circulation much later and denotes “the most intangible of substances wind, breath, air.” Pneumatic originations occurred in Greek literature and also became the dominant ideation in later scriptural reference such as breath, or a gentle breeze such as the beginning of creation when God’s spirit breathed on the waters; also articulated in Job 12.10, “In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” In this sense, a third term is necessary: να αναπνεύσει to breathe. read more

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The Soul

Joshua Hutchinson Soul Ascending

Few ideations are more abstruse than the notion of “soul”. Within mainline Buddhism it is considered to be anathema—anatman. In other circles its essential meaning designates some form of entity that is in direct contrast to the body. Etymologically, it’s denoted as a principle from which life emanates—the very source of psychical activities of a person. In seminary, we were taught that soul connotes “self”, the essential principle that defines all facets of an individual’s existence. This notion coincides with the Hebrew word “nephesh”, which refers to the authentic self or real person. Paul S. MacDonald, in his monumental study of Soul and Mind in two volumes, History of the Concept of Mind, perhaps gives the best delineation: read more

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