The Definition of A Soul

Christ and the Christian Soul by Diego Velázquez

A soul is an immaterial thing. It is a principle of activity, it is an “act,” a “form,” an energizing principle. It is the life of the body, and it must also have a life of its own. But the life of the soul does not inhere in any physical, material subject. So to compare a soul without grace to a corpse without life is only a metaphor. But it is very true. – Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain, 109

Parker sat for a long time on the ground in the alley behind the pool hall, examining his soul. He saw it as a spider web of facts and lies that was not at all important to him but which appeared to be necessary in spite of his opinion. The eyes that were now forever on his back were eyes to be obeyed. – Flannery O’Connor, Parker’s Back

You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body. – C.S. Lewis

Soul is a feeling, feeling deep within
Soul is not the colour of your skin
Soul is the essence, essence from within
It is where everything begins
– Van Morrison, Soul, from the Album ‘Keep it Simple’

… a special substance, endowed with reason, adapted to rule the body – St. Augustine

…the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life; the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe; a person’s total self – Merriam- Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed.)

For the Jew, the soul (nep̱eš) was understood as ‘the vital force or the seat of the mind or spirit.’ In the New Testament ‘soul’ (nep̱eš) seems at times to be indistinguishable from ‘life’ and ‘spirit’ and at other times to be altogether different. All the definitions and discussions I can find in a short time of searching seem to at once be ideas I agree with and yet always leave me wanting. What the heck does ‘seat of the mind’ mean anyway?

So in my quest for a peaceful soul, I find myself in a strange but statisfying place. I cannot help but think (feel?) that the word/idea/concept of a soul is a meaningful one for which no real meaning satisfies. Maybe it’s like the love between a man and a woman for which poems and songs and novels must be written to express it.

All the definitions and descriptions are good and helpful and true. But not really enough. I read them and want to say “yes” but “more…give me more.” “Yes! That is true and it helps make sense of this which we call the soul. But I need more.”

And it makes perfect sense. For you can see the soul everywhere and yet it cannot be seen.

I admit it. I like it this way. For some reason, this satisfies me on a deeper level than any definition. Because we know what it is even if we cannot really get our heads around it and nail it down with words. Maybe we need poems and songs and stories so we can get at the soul and get some understanding in a way definitions cannot.

What do you think? Got any definitions or quotes on the soul that are helpful?

One thought on “The Definition of A Soul

  1. glornacara May 9, 2011 / 7:33 pm

    Can't believe I'm just now reading this one–not sure how I missed it. (It may well be my favorite of the "peaceful soul" series.)"Because we know what it is even if we cannot really get our heads around it and nail it down with words." –I like it this way, too!

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