The Soul

Genesis 2.7 describes how God breathed life into Adam. That accorded with the consensus of the ancient philosophers that the soul is the animating principle of living beings. That is to say, it is the presence of the soul which makes it possible for the matter of which the body is composed to act as a living thing. Augustine thought the soul was something more. In man the soul is more than mere animator (even vegetables have life). It is more than the power of sensation (which animals also have) (Conf. X.7, and see also Boethius on Porphyry on the same point). It is a man's very self, the 'I', says Augustine, 'joined to my body', and by which I fill its frame with life' (Conf. X.7).

He fuses two philosophical systems here. Aristotle says that the soul is the form of a natural body which has the potential for life (De Anima II.412a-3a). His chief concern was with what we might call the machinery. The Platonists were more interested in trying to understand the relationship between the rational and upwardly aspiring soul and the downward-tugging body to which it gives life, but from which it desires to escape, so that a man is perpetually tugged between the beast and the god in him. The true self of man ought to be above the animal and vegetable.1 For Augustine as a Christian there is a complex baggage of further connotations, but both these approaches are integral to his.

His principal problem at first was, however, philosophical. He found it hard to understand how the soul could itself be anything other than a body. He describes in the Confessions how difficult he found it to grasp the very concept of the incorporeal (III.vii.12; IV.xv.24). Even in the De Genesi adLitteram he still leans to the view that it is a 'sort of substance' (VII.vi.10-11). He had the support of Tertullian and Hilary among the earlier Western

Fathers in thinking of the soul in this way, although Augustine himself was convinced it was not the right way to conceive of it. Faustus of Riez pursued the same line in the next generation and Claudianus Mamertus tried to answer him in his De Statu Animae (c.461-12) with the argument that the soul cannot be corporeal because it is invisible and has no quantity; moreover, it is in our souls that we are made in the image of God and God has no body, so the soul cannot be a bodily thing. The issue was pursued by Cassiodorus in his DeAnima, and by Gregory the Great in Book IV of his Dialogues, where it is pointed out (as it had been by the Stoics) that one does not see the soul leave the body as one would if it were itself a body. Hincmar of Rheims took up the question again among the Carolingians. It did not disappear even in the thirteenth century, although the questions become increasingly sophisticated. Aquinas discusses in one of his Quodlibets whether the soul does not have some sort of 'corporeity'.2 Questions arise, such as whether the soul will be able to feel the fire of hell in a 'bodily' way, that is, as one would feel it if one were burnt in the body. (Aquinas says no. But it will be able to 'feel' the fire as an instrument of divine avenging justice.)3

The underlying philosophical problem here is the classic one of the possibility of a relationship between spiritual and material which had made many philosophers in the ancient world disinclined to believe that the immutable Supreme Being could have anything to do with a creation which had all the most disparaged attributes of the material and bodily: the capacity to change and decay, the tendency to fall away from the Highest at every point. In miniature we have a similar problem about the soul's continuing in a working relationship with the body unless it is itself somehow 'bodily'.

Certainly any relationship between body and soul ought to make the soul the body's master. Plato's view that the spiritual is intrinsically higher and finer than the corporeal was pervasive in the Christian tradition too. Hermetic thinking stressed that a man who cultivates his spiritual nature will grow more Godlike, while one who behaves like a beast will degenerate into a lowlier, 'bodily' condition. The soul ought to keep the body in subjection (and here St Paul would come naturally to the mind of the Christian theologian). It ought, as William of Auvergne puts it in his De Anima, to behave like the king of a kingdom, keeping the lower powers of its bodily nature under control, making reason the king's councillor, sending other powers to do his bidding at his will and making the senses inspectors which travel about and report what they see faithfully to their king.4

A number of more or less mechanical questions were seen to arise. In his De Quantitate Animi Augustine had asked various questions which were also

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES of interest to Plotinus: whether the soul fills the body, as it were to the fingertips. If it does, what happens when a limb is amputated? Is part of the soul lost too? Or does the remainder of the body still contain the whole soul? Is the soul related to the body as form to matter? asks Gilbert of Poitiers, even before the arrival of the libri naturales of Aristotle in the Western schoolroom. Further detailed questions of physics presented themselves from the thirteenth century. Aquinas, for example, wrestles with the question of what moves the heart. It is not easy to see how it can be the soul, for in its nutritive function the soul only generates, digests, grows, shrinks, and in its sensitive and intellective functions, proper to animals and man respectively, it moves by desire, while the motus cordis is involuntary. Such interesting enquiries were multiplied in the thirteenth-century schools as Aristotle's De Anima became the first work of Aristotelian science to which students were normally introduced.

Even if the question of the intrinsic incompatibility of soul and body can be resolved, we are immediately brought up against the opposite difficulty: if it seems that man is both body and soul, can the soul be separated from the body at death, even temporarily, without destroying human fullness of being? This was an urgent question for Christian thinkers, because of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body which appears in Paul and in early creeds. It was more or less universally accepted by mediaeval theologians that when someone dies he is separated from his body, but at the Last Judgement he will be reunited with it, and only then can he enter fully into the bliss of heaven. This belief prompted a multitude of questions about what happens to the soul in the period after death and before the resurrection of the body,5 whether during this time it is possible for the individual to be truly himself, and how it may be possible for the separated soul to perceive what is happening around it, while it lacks the bodily sense to inform it. There were also questions about the form the resurrected body would take. Origen did not think it would be spherical, as some said, and in fact that view was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 533.6 But mediaeval debate explored increasingly complex questions in this area. Giles of Rome, for example, draws on Aristotle to ask whether the agent intellect can remain in the soul when it is separated from the body.

The origin of the soul

The Pythagoreans believed the human soul to be some sort of divine spark, a fragment of heavenly origin embedded in matter. Augustine specifically condemns this view in the De GenesiadLitteram (VII.2, 3 and 5, 7). From the

Christian point of view it had the disadvantage of implying that God is not ultimately separate from, and other than, his creatures, and of being cognate with the theory of the world-soul in some of its forms. Gnostic and later Manichee tradition took the idea up, with the modification that the divine spark is seen as a fallen spiritual being, trapped in the body as a punishment for sin, and under the imperative to free itself and return to its proper purely spiritual state. Here again, Christian thinkers met something they could not accept, because it was incompatible with the belief that a human being is created to be both a bodily and a spiritual creature. The captive divine spark owes something in its conception to the Platonic theory of the transmigration of souls. This, too, was unacceptable to Christians because it went against the understanding that each human being lives one life on earth which determines his eternal destiny. Despite the objections to each of these hypotheses which gradually became clear, some patristic authors before Augustine did toy with them. But on the whole, after the fourth century, they disappear from Christian writers, in favour of a more settled Christian understanding that the soul of each human being is uniquely his own; that it lives one life on earth in the body, and will be reunited with that body at the end of the world; that it is a spiritual substance and immortal.

Nevertheless, the question of the origin of the soul was not fully resolved by Christian theologians during the Middle Ages. It was never settled, by Augustine or his successors, whether each soul was freshly created when a child was conceived, or whether the soul was somehow generated with the body. Bede reflects on the problem in his De Natura Rerum (PL 90.190-1), and Carolingian commentators were aware that neither Augustine nor Jerome had given a ruling.7 The lack of Augustinian guidance on this point was important from an early date. Cassiodorus says that it is Augustine's opinion that it is impossible to determine whether the Creator makes new souls for new bodies, or whether souls are generated with bodies in the natural process of the begetting and bearing of children (De Anima, VII, PL 70.1292). Alcuin thinks it best to leave not only this but many other problems connected with the soul a mystery known only to God (PL 101.645). Christian and pagan thinkers alike have failed to settle matters (ibid.). Augustine consulted Jerome, says Alcuin, and neither could determine matters so that future generations know what to think (ibid.). Rabanus Maurus, the Carolingian encyclopaedist, presses the view that Augustine was right to have said he was unsure {PL 110.1112).

The difficulty in deciding between a traducianist and a creationist view is, as Gregory the Great pointed out, that if souls are generated with bodies,

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES it is hard to see why they do not die when the body dies. If, on the other hand, they are freshly created for each child, why are they tainted with original sin (Epistolae, MHG Epist. II.147.13 (IX.147), to Secondinus, May 599)?

Perhaps the most substantial attempt to resolve the Augustinian dilemma was that of Anselm of Canterbury. He did not live to write the study he projected, saying wistfully on his death-bed that he wished he could live long enough to solve the problem of the origin of the soul, for he did not know who could do so when he was dead. But he had published a good deal on the subject already. While he was writing the Cur Deus Homo he had set aside the problem of the way in which it could be possible for God to become, not man, but sinless man, when the whole human race is tainted with sin. He returned to it in a separate treatise, the De Conceptu Virginali. It seemed to him that the question of the origin of the soul must turn on the solution to the problem of the transmission of original sin (S II.140.5). As Anselm sees it, the origin of sin cannot lie in human nature, for Adam and Eve were at first without sin (S II.140.12-14). Original sin is therefore 'original' to each individual; that is, it originates in the individual. Anselm distinguishes here between the natura which all men have in common, and the persona which individuates. Original sin in the individual, although it comes to taint his human nature, can be present only when there is a human person (S II.140.24-6), that is, when there is an individual man. Anselm wants to separate the bodily conception of an infant from the arrival of the rational soul. We know, he says, from Scripture, that original sin is not present from the moment of conception (S II.148.10-16). So when the Virgin conceived, there was no sin in her child's body. In Jesus, the individuating Person united from the first both divine and human nature and so the rational soul in him could not be the source of original sin. In ordinary humanity it is always the case (arguably with the exception of the Blessed Virgin) that as the foetus develops, a blueprint unfolds which means that as it becomes a person with the arrival of the rational soul, the new human being will be tainted with original sin (S II.149.1-5).

What Anselm achieved here was an explanation which makes it unnecessary to stipulate either that the soul is generated with the body or that it is freshly created. The question was repeatedly raised in later mediaeval centuries. A thirteenth-century set of questions on the soul (possibly by Matthew of Aquasparta, who died in 1302) asks specifically whether the 'intellective soul' is generated or created. He cites Aristotle, Porphyry and PseudoDionysius in favour of generation. The author himself is disposed to think the creationist view is right.

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