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The sensory power of the soul in the writings of the fathers


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#21 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:24 AM

Dear Victor,

I'm not sure I necessarily follow how all your comments in your recent post fit into the other elements of the discussion; but I did enjoy reading them, and the references to a few of the fathers.

Just a few things caught my attention. Firstly, you replied to a comment I had made previously. I reproduce here the exchange:

But there is also some nuance in St Athanasius' writings to temper even these statements. Firstly, the heavenly kingdom and eternity are no more akin to the soul than the body, since the whole human person, body as well as soul, has been created for both.

St Diodochos of Photiki wrote, "Just as the senses of the body impel us almost violently towards what attracts them, so the perceptive faculty of the intellect, once it tastes the divine goodness, leads us towards invisable blessings. Everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods, while the body, being dust, seeks earthly nourishment. So we shall surely come to experience immaterial perception if by our labours we refine our material nature."


It is interesting to note the difference in what St Diadochos identifies in this passage as the objects of the body's desires, and those which you identified in an earlier posting. You had noted 'food; comfort; pleasure; rest...', and Diodochos notes 'earthly nourishment'. On the one hand, these lists are interwoven, but on another it is worth noting that Diodochus here makes mention only of the natural needs of a physical ('earthly') creation requiring physical goods / sustainment, and seeking after them. The soul, as immaterial ('heavenly' rather than 'earthly') requires heavenly / immaterial goods, and so seeks after them. However, in your earlier list, you identified the soul's objects as 'prayer; contemplation of God, the heavenly kingdom, eternity; purity; wisdom...'. Again, there is clear overlap; but what strikes me immediately about the difference in Diodochus' identifications and yours is that his identify simply the immaterial / material needs and related desires of the soul and body, while yours identify quite divergent soteriological aims. The body seeks 'pleasure' and 'comfort' while the soul seeks 'the heavenly kingdom', 'purity', 'wisdom', etc.

I don't discount what you are saying about the tendencies of the body and soul, but it is important to note that you are dwelling on the tendencies of habituation in each, as effects of the division wrought by sin (which Antonios has discussed in a recent post), and not the natural reality of each. It is not possible to understand something like the sensory powers of the soul, which are the subject of this thread, if one only focuses on the divided nature of sensory abilities resulting from sin.

Later in your post, you again quoted me and offered a response:

So while compared with the flesh, the soul appears 'eternal' (and Athanasius calls it this from time to time), nonetheless in an ultimate sense, the soul is as finite as the body, since it is a created thing, brought into being and thus bound to pass out of being unless sustained by something greater (i.e. the eternity of God).

This is true, however the soul can also operate quite freely from the body's influence. St Symeon The New Theologian says, "It is not always both the soul and the mind that are perturbed by the body. Sometimes it is the soul alone that suffers, while the mind says to it, 'What is wrong with you?' and comforts it. At other times the mind is blinded and covered with a veil, while the soul remains free and by the power of the divine fire expels the darkness, removes the veil, and makes the soul see clearly."


I'll admit I'm not quite sure how A (my comment) leads into B (your reply) in this instance, since I wasn't speaking about the soul's operation freely from or together with the body, but rather the question of its finitude as created being. But your point is very valid in its own right, and the subject of discussion of many fathers and writers. From what text is the passage you quoted from St Symeon?

You also wrote:

I agree that the soul is not eternal because it had a beginning when it was created, but it is immortal, since it has no end. The body we have in this earthly life is mortal.


Here the fathers provide careful nuance. It is true that the soul has no end, but this is because it is sustained by participation in God. Of its own created stature, the soul is finite, and passes into non-being. St Athanasius repeats this point over and over again in the CG-DI, as in many other places; and it is a consistent refrain in the fathers.

With respect to the ascetical relationship of the soul to body, the soul's infinity makes it quite a different aspect of human existence than the obviously decaying human body; and so in the ascetical writings of the Church, its non-decaying nature is consistently contrasted to the corruptibility of the flesh, as part of the struggle of the ascetic life. But in the end, the body, too, will have no end.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#22 Victor Mihailoff

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 12:29 PM

Dear Servant of Christ, Dc Matthew:

I will try to reply to each item you noted but it really takes alot of time due to my eyesight and two fingered typing skills as well as my gradually gaining familiarity with the formatting and editing tools but not anywhere near their master to date.

Just a few things caught my attention. Firstly, you replied to a comment I had made previously. I reproduce here the exchange:

Originally Posted by M.C. Steenberg
But there is also some nuance in St Athanasius' writings to temper even these statements. Firstly, the heavenly kingdom and are no more akin to the soul than the body, since the whole human person, body as well as soul, has been created for both.

Originally Posted by Victor Mihailoff.
St Diodochos of Photiki wrote, "Just as the senses of the body impel us almost violently towards what attracts them, so the perceptive faculty of the intellect, once it tastes the divine goodness, leads us towards invisable blessings. Everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods, while the body, being dust, seeks earthly nourishment. So we shall surely come to experience immaterial perception if by our labours we refine our material nature."


It is interesting to note the difference in what St Diadochos identifies in this passage as the objects of the body's desires, and those which you identified in an earlier posting. You had noted 'food; comfort; pleasure; rest...', and Diodochos notes 'earthly nourishment'. On the one hand, these lists are interwoven, but on another it is worth noting that Diodochus here makes mention only of the natural needs of a physical ('earthly') creation requiring physical goods / sustainment, and seeking after them. The soul, as immaterial ('heavenly' rather than 'earthly') requires heavenly / immaterial goods, and so seeks after them. However, in your earlier list, you identified the soul's objects as 'prayer; contemplation of God, the heavenly kingdom, eternity; purity; wisdom...'.

Again, there is clear overlap; but what strikes me immediately about the difference in Diodochus' identifications and yours is that his identify simply the immaterial / material needs and related desires of the soul and body, while yours identify quite divergent soteriological aims. The body seeks 'pleasure' and 'comfort' while the soul seeks 'the heavenly kingdom', 'purity', 'wisdom', etc.


I was taking my cue from your earlier posts, eg. “So as the bodily senses, misused, draw the human person to participate in the lustful passions, a rightly sensing soul causes the human person to participate in the immaterial objects of the soul's senses: the life of the Spirit. But of course, the soul can also have her senses misused, as Athanasius notes, can focus instead on lustful things”

Also, what I originally posted was from my memory of the gist of the writings of many fathers over the years. Then, when I was replying to your post which commented on, perhaps the relevance of my comment, I quickly (in about 3 minutes) found a statement by one of the fathers which generally stated that same thing. I acknowledge that the differences you’ve pointed out are present. I was acknowledging the similarities.

This is extremely time consuming for me as I can only read with one eye and only type with two fingers. I have to balance ref. books on my lap and keep pages open by pressing the books upwards under the PC desk in my bedroom.

I don't discount what you are saying about the tendencies of the body and soul, but it is important to note that you are dwelling on the tendencies of habituation in each, as effects of the division wrought by sin (which Antonios has discussed in a recent post), and not the natural reality of each. It is not possible to understand something like the sensory powers of the soul, which are the subject of this thread, if one only focuses on the divided nature of sensory abilities resulting from sin.

Later in your post, you again quoted me and offered a response:

Quotation:
Originally Posted by M.C. Steenberg
So while compared with the flesh, the soul appears 'eternal' (and Athanasius calls it this from time to time), nonetheless in an ultimate sense, the soul is as finite as the body, since it is a created thing, brought into being and thus bound to pass out of being unless sustained by something greater (i.e. the eternity of God).


Quotation:
Originally Posted by Victor Mihailoff
This is true, however the soul can also operate quite freely from the body's influence. St Symeon The New Theologian says, "It is not always both the soul and the mind that are perturbed by the body. Sometimes it is the soul alone that suffers, while the mind says to it, 'What is wrong with you?' and comforts it. At other times the mind is blinded and covered with a veil, while the soul remains free and by the power of the divine fire expels the darkness, removes the veil, and makes the soul see clearly."

I'll admit I'm not quite sure how A (my comment) leads into B (your reply) in this instance, since I wasn't speaking about the soul's operation freely from or together with the body, but rather the question of its finitude as created being. But your point is very valid in its own right, and the subject of discussion of many fathers and writers.


A) I was looking at your comment generally and replying generally. I saw generally speaking in your comment an expression of the similarity of soul to body. “the soul is as finite as the body” “a created thing” both show its similarity to the body whereas, in my comment I was generally pointing out some differences between the two, “however the soul can also operate quite freely from the body’s influence” and “not always both soul and mind that are perturbed by the body” Here the soul is not together in function with the body but the victim of its activity. “while the soul remains free”.

From what text is the passage you quoted from St Symeon?


A) From “Symeon The New Theologian – The Discourses”; President and Publisher, Kevin A Lynch, C.S.P.

I looked up “soul” in the index and stopped on the first page that said something expressing a difference between soul and body. I say first page because I wanted to economize my time.

You also wrote:

Quotation:
Originally Posted by Victor Mihailoff
I agree that the soul is not eternal because it had a beginning when it was created, but it is immortal, since it has no end. The body we have in this earthly life is mortal.

Here the fathers provide careful nuance. It is true that the soul has no end, but this is because it is sustained by participation in God. Of its own created stature, the soul is finite, and passes into non-being. St Athanasius repeats this point over and over again in the CG-DI, as in many other places; and it is a consistent refrain in the fathers.

With respect to the relationship of the soul to body, the soul's infinity makes it quite a different aspect of human existence than the obviously decaying human body; and so in the ascetical writings of the Church its non-decaying nature is consistently contrasted to the corruptibility of the flesh, as part of the struggle of the ascetic life. But in the end, the body, too, will have no end.


A) I was here trying to demonstrate that the body and soul do have a difference in that one is mortal and the other immortal. You also touched on this in a previous post:

“This seems to be getting more toward Athanasius' point. The bodily senses and the soul's senses are different things, and thus they sense different things. The bodily senses are given to sense what St Athanasius elsewhere calls 'those things near to them' -- i.e. the tangible material creation; while the soul senses 'immortal things, it follows that it is immortal and lives for ever'. Athanasius is clear that the mortal objects of the bodily senses does not make them negative (materiality is good, even in its transience, as created by God); but that the immaterial objects of the soul's sensory power are distinct.”


I realize that you were referring to senses of soul and body, but note the similarities in the differences. Confusing; What I mean is you are talking about the bodily and soul senses, whereas I was talking about the body’s and soul’s desiring powers.

That’s the difference but note the similarity: "Just as the senses of the body impel us almost violently towards what attracts them, so the perceptive faculty of the intellect, once it tastes the divine goodness, leads us towards invisable blessings. Everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods, while the body, being dust, seeks earthly nourishment.” From my post.

"This seems to be getting more toward Athanasius' point. The bodily senses and the soul's senses are different things, and thus they sense different things. The bodily senses are given to sense what St Athanasius elsewhere calls 'those things near to them' -- i.e. the tangible material creation; while the soul senses 'immortal things, it follows that it is immortal and lives for ever'. Athanasius is clear that the mortal objects of the bodily senses does not make them negative (materiality is good, even in its transience, as created by God); but that the immaterial objects of the soul's sensory power are distinct.”

From one of your earlier posts and first copied 3 paragraphs above.


To me it is all one and I believe that in heaven it is as well. That is, the senses of the soul, its desiring powers, and all the other attributes are really one and inseparable. Only in this life do we separate them, study them and discuss them. Just as one learns grammar in order to become an effective communicator and then discards the terminology upon becoming an eloquent adult, unless of course, one becomes a teacher of grammar or a student of an additional language/s; so too, we only study these differences, similarities and terminology for the sake of learning or teaching until we know instinctively, so to speak.

In Christ, Victor

#23 Victor Mihailoff

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Posted 13 March 2008 - 05:09 AM

The following is quoted from my own previous post.

To me it is all one and I believe that in heaven it is as well. That is, the senses of the soul, its desiring powers, and all the other attributes are really one and inseparable. Only in this life do we separate them, study them and discuss them.


By way of an addendum I quote a Philokalian passage that is attributed with some uncertainty to St Isaiah The Solitay:

When the intellect sees that it is not dominated by anything, it prepares itself for immortality, gathering its senses together and forming them into one body.


In Christ, Victor




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