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What's the Nature of the Soul?

Q. What is the nature of the soul according to Catholic teaching?

A. The Catechism points out that Sacred Scripture often uses the word “soul” to denote a human life, or the totality of a 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” (CCC 363).

That is, the soul is what animates the body; it is the seat, so to speak, of human personality. The soul is the seat of our intellect and our will, including such aspects as consciousness, reason, memory, imagination, emotion, and conscience.

In this life, soul and body are joined in intimate union. For that reason, whatever affects the soul affects the body, and vice versa. This union is so close that the body and soul aren’t separate natures within us; together, they form a single human nature.

God has created the soul to be everlasting, but the body is mortal. When a human being dies, body and soul separate. The body is the portion of human nature that has been left behind; the soul is the portion that has departed. Nevertheless, just as Jesus’ soul was raised in His resurrection body, so will our souls be embodied in glorified bodies, if we die in Christ.

Because of the close union between body and soul, the actions of the body necessarily affect the condition and the fate of the soul. We’re not morally responsible for the actions of purely bodily functions. But every time in the body we freely perform an immoral action, it is only because our soul — the animating principle — has chosen that action. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10, emphasis added).

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