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Traducianism, and the origin of the human soul


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#1 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 12:01 PM

Dear all,

The wikipedia entry on traducianism suggests this is a doctrine held by the Eastern Orthodox (see http://en.wikipedia....ki/Traducianism). THis would imply that we believe the child's soul is transmitted together with the body from its parents through the act of reproduction. Is this in fact what we believe about the origin of each soul after the fall? The article also says Gregory of Nyssa maintained this teaching. Is that correct?

In Christ
Byron

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:30 PM

Dear all,

The wikipedia entry on traducianism suggests this is a doctrine held by the Eastern Orthodox (see http://en.wikipedia....ki/Traducianism). THis would imply that we believe the child's soul is transmitted together with the body from its parents through the act of reproduction. Is this in fact what we believe about the origin of each soul after the fall? The article also says Gregory of Nyssa maintained this teaching. Is that correct?

In Christ
Byron


Ah the joys and tribulations of Wikipedia as source material, dynamic and malleable as it is...

I noted with a smile the citation needed after "... supported by ... the Eastern Orthodox churches, ...". Yes indeed.

After over 30 years as an Orthodox Christian who has done a fair amount of research, I can say, at least anecdotally, that this is the first time I have ever come across this particular term: "Traducianism". Therefore I find it difficult to believe it is supported by any Eastern Orthodox churches I have been associated with.

The way I have most often heard it explained is that at conception, there are three parties present, the man, the woman, and the Holy Spirit being the source of the soul, just as for Adam. That does not sound like support for "Traducianism" to me, but hey, what do I know? At least it is fun to say... Traducianism Traducianism Traducianism

O bother.

Herman the non-Traducianist Pooh

#3 D. W. Dickens

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 04:32 PM

The way I have most often heard it explained is that at conception, there are three parties present, the man, the woman, and the Holy Spirit being the source of the soul, just as for Adam. That does not sound like support for "Traducianism" to me, but hey, what do I know?


I'd like to know something more precise than "source". I didn't realize it, but I'm a traducianist. I've always assumed we got both soul and body from parents, partially because I see only a theological "model" as being able to identify something called a "soul" or something called a "body" in relationship to each other. I've heard it said we are best described as an "ensouled body" or "embodied soul". That the two aren't separate identifiable things or parts.

Of course, I can see why human nature could be considered "bodiedness" or something like that making it someone simpler to think of Christ taking on our nature by having a body. But if he didn't also take on the soul-as-nature as well then our souls ain't saved in him.

But the idea that our souls are little bits of the Holy Spirit seems weird too. But then God "breathed" or "ensouled" or "spirited" or whatever, Adam.

OK, I've completely confused myself.

#4 Father David Moser

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 04:37 PM

The way I have most often heard it explained is that at conception, there are three parties present, the man, the woman, and the Holy Spirit being the source of the soul, just as for Adam. That does not sound like support for "Traducianism" to me, but hey, what do I know?


Actually, iirc, the fathers are pretty much divided on this point and there is no definitive statement as to what is true or not true. Some places you will hear - as Herman indicated above - that the soul of the newly conceived child is created uniquely by God at each conception. Other places you will hear that the soul of the child is the result of the joining of the souls of the parents just as the body of the child is the result of the joining of the bodies of the parents. If this is traducianism then I guess it is consistent with Orthodox teaching, but not an absolute. But then traducianism has more than three syllables so its beyond my meager mental ability.

Fr David moser

#5 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 04:48 PM

I'd like to know something more precise than "source". I didn't realize it, but I'm a traducianist. I've always assumed we got both soul and body from parents, partially because I see only a theological "model" as being able to identify something called a "soul" or something called a "body" in relationship to each other. I've heard it said we are best described as an "ensouled body" or "embodied soul". That the two aren't separate identifiable things or parts.

Of course, I can see why human nature could be considered "bodiedness" or something like that making it someone simpler to think of Christ taking on our nature by having a body. But if he didn't also take on the soul-as-nature as well then our souls ain't saved in him.

But the idea that our souls are little bits of the Holy Spirit seems weird too. But then God "breathed" or "ensouled" or "spirited" or whatever, Adam.

OK, I've completely confused myself.


Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is also called the Logos, the Word of God

The Holy Spirit is called the Pneuma, the breath of God

When "God breathed life", that was the Holy Spirit giving the clay its spirit. We don't get a "piece" of the Holy Spirit, remember that God can create out of nothing, we can't.

Does that help at all?

Herman the trying to be helpful Pooh

#6 D. W. Dickens

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 05:10 PM

The Holy Spirit is called the Pneuma, the breath of God

When "God breathed life", that was the Holy Spirit giving the clay its spirit. We don't get a "piece" of the Holy Spirit, remember that God can create out of nothing, we can't.

Does that help at all?

No, it is, in fact, the source of my confusion. Let's center on "its". Is that referring to the Holy Spirit or the clay?

It seems to be that the breath of God was given to man, we are told that the Holy Spirit enlivens us, we are told Christ lives in us. We are told that we live and move and have our being "in Christ". We are told all sorts of things that make it sound like more is going on here than a soul (whatever that is) being "ex nihilo" created at every conception and infused/connected/whatever with a biological entity.

Bodies aren't created "ex nihilo" why would souls be? Is there a substance of souls to fashion a new one from as a body from cells? Why not consider the mingling of parental soul-stuff, just like parental body-stuff?

This creates all sorts of problems. What is me? Is me the soul or the body? I think both are me and I am not me without both and perhaps "both" here is a problem because I'm wondering if they aren't really so much unified that we really shouldn't think about them as two "different" things.

#7 Seda S.

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 07:51 PM

1. I've read that the Spirit of God breathed on the face of the first man wasn't man's soul, but the Spirit of grace.

2. As for 'traducianism', I first made a slight search in the Russian Internet sources. In the sources that I looked, they don't say that the author of that so-called 'traducianism' is St Gregory of Nyssa. They give the name of Tertullian only. Fr Valentin Asmus (http://proroza.narod.ru/Asmus-2.htm) introduces in brief the different teachings on the origin of human soul (traducianism, generationism, creationism etc), explains traducianism as 'coarse materialistic conception of Tertullian'. Unfortunately I wasn't able to understand from his further explanations which is the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church about this subject. I just understood that neither those creationism and generationism are correct Orthodox teachings.

I slightly looked in the treatise of St Gregory of Nyssa 'On the making of man' and didn't find (or maybe I was not careful enough, I don't know) anything like 'traducianism'. But I found there the ancient teaching (which is found also in non-Christian sources, for example, in the Commentary on the Book of Genesis by Philo of Alexandria) about 3 types of souls- vegetative, sensible and rational. Then I looked in a book by an Armenian saint (Gregory of Tathev) to see what he says on this matter and found an answer to the question 'Is the human soul created by God or transmitted from parents, like the body?' It's in the middle of those traducianism and creationism. If you are interested in his explanation (though, I think, that is not his own opinion but is in accordance with the ancient Church Fathers opinions, as he frequently refers to that same St Gregory of Nyssa and explains this matter just through that teaching about three types of souls), I'll write it here, with moderators' permission, of course.

Edited by Seda S., 10 March 2009 - 07:56 PM.
adding some words


#8 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 08:38 PM

Dear friends,

As Father David has already mentioned - quite rightly - the Fathers themselves take various approaches to this question. I think it would help foster useful, constructive discussion of contributors to this thread could offer some specific quotations from the patristic sources by which to advance this conversation -- there is plenty to choose from!

INXC, Fr Dcn Matthew

#9 Father David Moser

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 08:39 PM

1. I've read that the Spirit of God breathed on the face of the first man wasn't man's soul, but the Spirit of grace.


Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy in The Law of God tells us:

God created man out of the dust of the earth, that is, from mater from which all material things were reated inthe earthly world, and He breathed into his face the spirit of life; that is, He gave him a spirit, free, intelligent, alive and immortal according to His image and likeness, and man came into beign wit an immortal soul. By this "breath of God" or immortal soul, man was separted from all the other living creatures



In this manner he indicates that the Spirit of God breathed upon the face of the first created man was indeed the immortal soul.

Fr David Moser

#10 D. W. Dickens

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 09:29 PM

I'd really like to quote, but firstly I need to ask a question.

Words like soul, spirit, breath, life, heart, intellect, intelligence, rational, image, nous, mind all seem related. But they are used differently (it appears that OT, NT, and Patristic Fathers all have their own preference). Is there some Rosetta Stone where I can understand which "thing" or "aspect" of a human being is begin referred to?

In a follow-up, am I to understand the various uses of these terms to be only meaningful in terms of a theological or dogmatic model? Is it pointless to talk about any of these things outside a specific anthropological or soteriological model? In fact, is the word model itself offensive. Are we speaking about reality or useful vocabulary for some particular pastoral purpose?

#11 Matthew Panchisin

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 11:06 PM

Dear D.W. Dickens,

I think the Church teaches that the Rosetta Stone so to speak is repentance, especially during these days. It seems to me all of your questions can be answered with patience and by slowly praying the morning and evening prayers as found in Orthodox prayer books, that is what I was taught. If it is really important for us to know something God can make it crystal clear in your soul, spirit, breath, life, heart, intellect, intelligence, rational, image, nous, mind. This is a question of how we go about knowing things. Recently I heard a homily that mentioned such things are worked out if we attend the Church services attentively. The Great Canon of Saint Andrew was mentioned by the homilist (His Grace Bishop Peter) as a way of knowing. An old friend of blessed memory who read piles of books on Orthodoxy for many years once gave me some pastoral advise, near the end of his life, he said just go to Church alot and "plug in".

In Christ,

Matthew Panchisin

#12 Christopher Dombrowski

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 11:51 PM

The Wiki article left me very confused. Particularly I didn't understand the comment about the "pro-life movement":

"Opponents of traducianism are often found in the pro-life movement, because many among those who hold to pro-life views are of the opinion that embryos have a soul and are to be fully recognized as persons."

How does Traducianism in any way indicate that embryos do not have a soul?

#13 Seda S.

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:25 AM

Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy in The Law of God tells us:


In this manner he indicates that the Spirit of God breathed upon the face of the first created man was indeed the immortal soul.

Fr David Moser


Thank you, Father, for this very important correction. St Ephraim the Syrian whom I love very much also says the same. I think, some other Universal Teachers too, though I don't know now who exactly. So now I need to find out who of the Ancient Fathers or at least just 'authors' gives that other explanation I brought there. I've read it somewhere, as I've written already, but I don't know the patristic source (otherwise I would mention it). Maybe someone of you, more knowledgable in this subject, recognizes the source of that other explanation. This started to bother my mind a little.

I'm very thankful to Byron for this topic. It was very useful personally for me, as I hadn't paid much attention on such anthropological matters, while now many many questions arose in my mind. Especially after reading what Fr. Valentin Asmus has written about it. His words somewhat confused me (in a good sense). So I need to learn more.

#14 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 07:33 AM

Dear all,

Everyone should use long words
It’s such fun to create an –ism
Rise up, people, and be heard
And let’s discuss traducianism!

Don’t be intellectual shirks
Recall the struggle over Arianism
Traducianism rules OK – be glad it’s not
Antidisestablishmentarianism!

Now I'm truly confused! I'm glad there's been such response to this question, but I don't feel I've arrived at any 'conclusions' regarding the Orthodox teaching on the transmission of the soul. I like what Matthew Panchisin has written about the importance of reflection on these matters being prayerful and participatory (sorry, Fr David, that's six syllables!). This is surely true for all Orthodox theology. At the same time, I'm hoping to 'cheat' a bit by hearing the opinions of those who are more 'plugged-in'!!! :-)

I don't get the impression traducianists claim Adam didn't get his soul from God's breath. What I understand of this, is that traducianists claim that since the Fall reproduction has been by sexual means, and thus the soul of a child is inherited from its parents together with its body. This view seems to chime with the Orthodox understanding that spirit is not supererogatory (aren't I clever!) to matter, or 'added on' as an afterthought, as D.W. Dickens suggests. It also, of course has implications as a theory for the manner of transmission of original or ancestral sin.

Then I looked in a book by an Armenian saint (Gregory of Tathev) to see what he says on this matter and found an answer to the question 'Is the human soul created by God or transmitted from parents, like the body?' It's in the middle of those traducianism and creationism. If you are interested in his explanation (though, I think, that is not his own opinion but is in accordance with the ancient Church Fathers opinions, as he frequently refers to that same St Gregory of Nyssa and explains this matter just through that teaching about three types of souls), I'll write it here, with moderators' permission, of course.

Seda, I for one would be very interested to hear what St Gregory of Tathev has to say on the matter...

Thanks to everyone for their contributions.

In Christ
Byron

#15 Seda S.

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 01:49 PM

I have found the words of Theophan the Recluse on this matter. The Russian text you may read here - http://www.zagorsk.r...n/feofan/08.php

For those who can't read or understand Russian, here is my poor translation of some of his thoughts. In one of his letters Theophan the Recluse says, '... When God created man, He first formed a body from dust. What was that body? An earthware greyhen or a living body? It was a living body; it was an animal in the form of man with the animal soul. Then God breathed His spirit into him and the animal became man - an angel in the form of man. As it was at that time, so, in the same way, also now men come into being. The souls are born from the parents or are put in through the natural birth, but the spirit is breathed in by God Who is everywhere... When you say man is an animal, do you only mean the meat or the whole animal life? Of course, the whole animal life together with the soul of animal. But adding [the word] 'rational' to this [that is, 'rational animal'], what does this mean? This means that though man, on the one hand, is the same as the animal with the animal soul, on the other hand, he is incomparably higher than animals, as he has ration (/intellect) which perfectly corresponds to to the word 'spirit'. To say 'rational animal' is the same as to say 'spiritual (lit. spiritualized) animal'.

Then he speaks on the 'organic life' which exists in different classes of beings- plants, animals and men, but is the same in all of them. The only difference is our mind (ум) which he calls 'spirit'.

Compare what St Theophan says with the words of St Gregory of Nyssa who in his treatise 'On the making of man', after speaking about the three parts of soul (or souls)- vegetative (nutritive), sensible and rational (intellectual), says that the human rational soul corresponds to the 'spirit' (pneuma) in I Thes. 5:23, the sensible part corresponds to the 'soul' (psyche), the vegetative part to the 'body' (soma).

'... For this rational animal, man, is blended of every form of soul; he is nourished by the vegetative kind of soul, and to the faculty of growth was added that of sense, which stands midway, if we regard its peculiar nature, between the intellectual and the more material essence being as much coarser than the one as it is more refined than the other: then takes place a certain alliance and commixture of the intellectual essence with the subtle and enlightened element of the sensitive nature: so that man consists of these three: as we are taught the like thing by the apostle in what he says to the Ephesians, praying for them that the complete grace of their body and soul and spirit may be preserved at the coming of the Lord; using, the word body for the nutritive part, and denoting the sensitive by the word soul, and the intellectual by spirit. Likewise too the Lord instructs the scribe in the Gospel that he should set before every commandment that love to God which is exercised with all the heart and soul and mind : for here also it seems to me that the phrase indicates the same difference, naming the more corporeal existence heart, the intermediate soul, and the higher nature, the intellectual and mental faculty, mind.' (St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, Ch. 8)

As for the explanation of the above-mentioned Armenian Father, St Gregory of Tathev (+1409), he understands this problem almost in the same way as St Theophan the Recluse but uses different terminology. He says that vagetative and sensible parts (or 'souls') which exist also in animals are transmitted to us from our parents, while the rational part (or 'soul') is given to or created for each of us by God directly. But this is not a new act of creation, he says. 'It is not new, because the one and the same Creator-established command has been flawlessly acting from the beginning to the end, and for each soul a new command of creation is not issued' ('Book of questions', About the soul of man).

Edited by Seda S., 13 May 2009 - 02:26 PM.


#16 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 02:09 PM

Dear Seda,

Thank you for posting these interesting passages, which make a lot of sense. I can especially relate to the idea that, while the soul is basically the seat of sensation, and inherited from our biological parents, the human intellect is more than just the perceiving agent, but is also a rational spirit breathed into us by God.

I'm a little confused about what St Gregory of Tathev meant however, when he wrote that this rational part

is given to or created for each of us by God directly. But this is not a new act of creation, he says. 'It is not new, because the one and the same Creator-established command has been flawlessly acting from the beginning to the end, and for each soul a new command of creation is not issued'

If for each soul no new command is issued, then what is it that makes each rational soul unique?

In Christ
Byron

#17 Seda S.

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 02:41 PM

Dear Seda,

Thank you for posting these interesting passages, which make a lot of sense. I can especially relate to the idea that, while the soul is basically the seat of sensation, and inherited from our biological parents, the human intellect is more than just the perceiving agent, but is also a rational spirit breathed into us by God.

I'm a little confused about what St Gregory of Tathev meant however, when he wrote that this rational part If for each soul no new command is issued, then what is it that makes each rational soul unique?

In Christ
Byron


Dear Byron

I don't understand all the subtleties of theology but, as far as I know (if I'm wrong, someone else may correct me), the creation of creatures has been completed during the six days of creation. This is why Gregory of Tathev mentions that each time when a new soul is born, it is not a new act of creation. Before that sentence that I quoted from him he writes this:

'The work of creation is to make something from nothing, and the work of providence is to keep the created thing through transmission. The human being has the vegetative and sensible [powers/souls] by providence, and the rational soul, the image of God, by creation. Also, that same rational soul is neither new creation, nor old. It is not old, because the soul is created with each body at the same time. And it is not new, because the one and the same Creator-established command has been flawlessly acting from the beginning to the end, and for each soul a new command of creation is not issued.'

I understand this like this: when in the beginning God created man's soul through a command, as we see it in the Book of Genesis (like 'Let this be, let that be...' and they came into being- were created), that command once issued is not repeated each time when a soul is created/breathed into man by God.

Well, perhaps someone else would understand and explain this better. My understanding is only this much.

#18 Seda S.

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 02:49 PM

Dear Seda,

If for each soul no new command is issued, then what is it that makes each rational soul unique?


I just thought about this your question, concerning the uniqueness, that all of us with all our unique minds/spirits/rational souls were in the mind of our Creator when He uttered His command of creating Adam our forefather. And it's also said we were in the loins of Adam. Huh, does this make any sense? :)

Maybe, in this context, these words of that same Father will help to understand this problem?

'As an artist, when wanting to depict an image on a stone, first in his mind draws the form of the image, then cuts the stone, hews it out and depicts the image according to what was formed in his mind, so also God the Artist, through His pre-outlined vision, has in His mind, before the man has come to being, his quality, quantity etc. And the art, which is the Creator-established command, affects on the matter, and since the matter is [still] imperfect, [God] gives it the vegetative soul. When it grows more, He gives it the sensible one. And when the body is perfect, He pours into it the rational soul according to that prevised form that was in the mind of the Creator before the existence of the world. Therefore it's the work of the Providence to bring forth each soul and make it sharer of the image of the Prototype....'

But he also says that when he says that the rational soul is given later, this doesn't mean in time, but in order. In reality the soul and the body come into being together, so it is not correct to say that the soul is created later than the body. He explains it by the example of the seed that has in itself, by the power, both the grass and the flower, but, by the action, they are seen later.

I hope, this helps. If not, then sorry...

#19 Father David Moser

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:20 PM

And it is not new, because the one and the same Creator-established command has been flawlessly acting from the beginning to the end, and for each soul a new command of creation is not issued.'

I understand this like this: when in the beginning God created man's soul through a command, as we see it in the Book of Genesis (like 'Let this be, let that be...' and they came into being- were created), that command once issued is not repeated each time when a soul is created/breathed into man by God.


I don't have the patristic references to hand for this, however, there seems to be two equally accepted approaches to the generation of the soul (both of which could fit in to the above referenced quote). On one side there is the opinion that with each new conception, a new soul is created by God. This could be seen as the continuously acting command of God merged with the transmission by generation. On the other side there is the opinion that the soul is generated along with the body from the mingling of the souls and bodies of the parents. This again could be construed as the continually acting command begin fulfilled through the means of generation. (From all that I can tell both opinions of the generation of the soul have existed side by side in the Church, neither gaining particular predominance over the other.) In either case we see that each soul is in one sense "unique" and yet in another sense bound to every other soul by a base commonality.

Fr David Moser

#20 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 15 May 2009 - 05:59 AM

Dear Seda,

In reality the soul and the body come into being together, so it is not correct to say that the soul is created later than the body. He explains it by the example of the seed that has in itself, by the power, both the grass and the flower, but, by the action, they are seen later.

This is a beautiful image. Many thanks for your further quotations from St Gregory, whose work sounds really profound. He seems to be using this image to suggest that both soul and body exist initially in potentia, but come into expression as discrete entities in successive order. I am particularly interested in the suggestion that

all our unique minds/spirits/rational souls were in the mind of our Creator when He uttered His command of creating Adam our forefather [...] when the body is perfect, He pours into it the rational soul according to that prevised form that was in the mind of the Creator before the existence of the world. Therefore it's the work of the Providence to bring forth each soul and make it sharer of the image of the Prototype....

The cosmological idea of the 'big bang' may be based on a similar concept (and perhaps it is no coincidence that it was proposed by Georges Lemaitre, a RC priest), namely that everything which exists was once contained in a single concentrated point of energy, prior even to space and time itself. But St Gregory's suggestion is even more amazing, in that he seems to be saying not only that every soul has a common point of origin (the 'image of the Prototype'), but also that the way each of us shares in that Prototype is the result of an intentional act of God, as determined from before the existence of the entire universe.

Dear Fr David,

On one side there is the opinion that with each new conception, a new soul is created by God. [...]On the other side there is the opinion that the soul is generated along with the body from the mingling of the souls and bodies of the parents. [...] In either case we see that each soul is in one sense "unique" and yet in another sense bound to every other soul by a base commonality.

Could you say a little more about what you mean here by the expression "a base commonality"? I ask this, because I can't see how it would apply to the first case, where each soul is created anew by God at each conception. What would this new soul share in common with the previous new soul?

This topic sounds quite abstract perhaps, but I sense that it has important practical implications (but then, theology often seems to be like this).

In Christ
Byron




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