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Difference between soul and spirit


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#1 Augustine C.

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 03:19 AM

I tried doing a bit of a search on this topic before starting a new thread but I didn't find quite what I was looking for. My specific question is what is the difference between the soul and the spirit? What exactly is the Soul, and what exactly is the Spirit? Many times people use them synonymously. Also, I've heard that one is part of the other (spirit part of the soul I think?). I know both are the immaterial part of man. However, I'm having a hard time distinguishing between the two and knowing exactly which one is what. Another thing I've taken into consideration is the Holy Spirit, and I don't know exactly what that brings into the picture, if it helps define anything or show anything specific. Mark 12:30 also says "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment." The Lord seems to make a distinction between the soul and mind (perhaps the soul and spirit, spirit probably being mind). Do we have enough info on the topic to form a complete picture of these two, or are they two vague/undefinable?

Any input would be appreciated. Thanks.

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 03:31 AM

The words soul and spirit do seem to be used interchangeably, in that what some Fathers call the soul, others call the spirit. Metropolitan Hierotheos says that man is different from the angels and animals because angels have a spirit and a soul but no body, and animals have a spirit and a body but no soul, only man has body, soul, and spirit.

A very rough difference, at least to this bear of little brain is that the spirit is the "life", that which animates, while the soul is that which is "aware". I look forward to reading an answer from someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

Herman the somewhat self-aware Pooh

#3 Father David Moser

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 04:34 AM

Off the top of my head - since I don't have time to look up the sources - I think the best differential is that the spirit is a part of the human soul. The presence of the spirit is what differentiates the soul of a man from the soul of an animal - it is what makes the soul of a man immortal (for the spirit is by nature immortal) but the soul of a beast, lacking the spirit is mortal (that is it passes away). The spirit is the highest part of the soul and it is the point of contact between the physical world and the spiritual world.

Like I said, off the top of my head and therefore short because it is difficult to balance to much on my pointy head.
Fr David Moser

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 10:46 AM

This is not an exact science. At best what we have are methodologies, a way of looking at thing to help us try to make sense of it, but we don't all see it in the exact same way. One saint's methodology is different than another's, even if they are describing the same thing. Different people use the same words in different ways and it has not been laid out in any definitive manner. We are all trying to nail down the nebulous here. This is one of those things that “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Herman the methodical Pooh

#5 Evan

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 01:35 PM

I recommend Tertullian's astonishingly clever "The Soul's Testimony" and his more precise, comprehensive "De Anima," which makes abundantly clear that in the pagan world, the existence of the soul was taken as self-evident. Tertullian's apologetic task was that of distinguishing the Christian understanding of the soul from the myriad conceptions floating about at the time.

To simplify dramatically, Christians do not believe that the soul is pre-existent. It is created by God, and it enlivens a body-- the body is the instrumentality of the soul, and the soul's separation from the body in death is a tragic consequence of sin. If we affirm that death is a gain and the spirits of just men made perfect stand before the throne even now, still and all our salvation will not be complete until our souls are reunited to our bodies.

Still and all, what has been revealed to us about the human soul has much in common with the tri-partite model with which readers of Plato ought to be familiar. The difference is that the body is not for us, as it was for Plato, inherently a prison. Although some Fathers DO describe the body in such terms, they always qualify it by reference to the hardships of human existence and our corruptibility as a consequence of sin --the body is not SUPPOSED to be this way. We long not to be unclothed, but clothed again.

Our own Father David has provided a terrific account of the "structure" of the soul, available here.
http://www.rocor.org.au/?p=28#more-28.

In Christ,
Evan

#6 Augustine C.

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 06:50 PM

Thanks for the comments guys.

#7 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 25 November 2010 - 02:52 AM

I recemmend the writing of St Theophan the Recluse. He touches on this topic in depth ... a very interesting read and whether the overall Church consensus is in agreement with St Theophan, I do not know but worthwhile.

#8 Matthew

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Posted 26 November 2010 - 05:02 AM

I disagree that soul and spirit are used interchangeably, but I'm open to correction.

Spirit in the bible is πνεῦμα, the same as Holy Spirit.
Soul is ψυχή, literally psyche.
Psyche is confusing to me, because when I hear the English word, I think it should be the Greek νοῦς, or mind.

But those are the three separate words from the Koine bible: spirit, psyche, and mind.
So "spirit" is not "mind," as you interpreted it, Augustine.

And Mark 12:30 uses the word ψυχης, or psyche.

I apologize for not being better at defining each one, but I hope it helps to know each one is different.

#9 Augustine C.

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Posted 26 November 2010 - 05:35 AM

I disagree that soul and spirit are used interchangeably, but I'm open to correction.

Spirit in the bible is πνεῦμα, the same as Holy Spirit.
Soul is ψυχή, literally psyche.
Psyche is confusing to me, because when I hear the English word, I think it should be the Greek νοῦς, or mind.

But those are the three separate words from the Koine bible: spirit, psyche, and mind.
So "spirit" is not "mind," as you interpreted it, Augustine.

And Mark 12:30 uses the word ψυχης, or psyche.

I apologize for not being better at defining each one, but I hope it helps to know each one is different.


I don't have a concrete view on this, I'm still researching it, thus my post. Thanks for your input though, I'm open to what's out there to better understand this topic. I appreciate everything I can get.

#10 Augustine C.

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Posted 26 November 2010 - 05:38 AM

I recemmend the writing of St Theophan the Recluse. He touches on this topic in depth ... a very interesting read and whether the overall Church consensus is in agreement with St Theophan, I do not know but worthwhile.


Which writing of his is it specifically?

#11 Xenia Moos

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Posted 01 December 2010 - 04:31 PM

Which writing of his is it specifically?


The Spiritual Life.

My copy was published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.

#12 Father David Moser

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Posted 01 December 2010 - 06:44 PM

The Spiritual Life.

My copy was published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.


In addition to "The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it" which is a collection of letters from ST Theophan to a young woman who was his spiritual daughter, there is also "The Path of Salvation" which is a more systematic treatise concerning St Theophan's instructions on Orthodox spiritual anthropology.

Fr David

#13 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 01:52 PM

Thanks Mrs Xenia Moos and Father David Moser for referring Augustine to the two books I was referring to; both of these are what I was referring to. It is a shame someone a little more learned has not given a synopsis on St Theophans explanation of soul and spirit to compliment this discussion. I have heard that the fathers are vastly divided on this matter and it would be interesting to group the different schools of thought.

#14 Sacha

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 01:14 AM

An interesting tidbit from Hebrew and gematria, the words for soul and heaven in hebrew carry the same gematria number. I thought that was stunning in the sense that if you think of man has having a soul and spirit in a body, then he is the meeting place of a part of heaven and a part of the earth. It boggles my mind as to why God would infuse a life giving soul into an earthly body, but there is a higher purpose to this that my fallen nature cannot grasp.

#15 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 11:56 PM

It boggles my mind as to why God would infuse a life giving soul into an earthly body, but there is a higher purpose to this that my fallen nature cannot grasp.


Actually there are many of the early Fathers who deal with this question. The basic answer is that in the normal course of things, through the soul the body was meant to become more spiritual, more divine, but that in the fall the soul started to become more fleshly/carnal instead.
It is through the soul, and more specifically the spiritual part of the soul made in God's image, that the body partakes of immortality, incorruptibility, etc. even though in its own nature it is mortal and corruptible.

(below "intellectual" is more a reference to spirit and "sensible" would be a reference to the body.)

Now, by a provision of the supreme Mind there is an intermixture of the intellectual with the sensible world, in order that nothing in creation may be thrown aside as worthless, as says the Apostle, or be left without its portion of the Divine fellowship. On this account it is that the com mixture of the intellectual and sensible in man is effected by the Divine Being, as the description of the cosmogony instructs us. It tells us that God, taking dust of the ground, formed the man, and by an inspiration from Himself He planted life in the work of His hand, that thus the earthy might be raised up to the Divine, and so one certain grace of equal value might pervade the whole creation, the lower nature being mingled with the supramundane., St Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism, ch VI



#16 Theophan C.

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 02:55 AM

Richard Smoley says in "Inner Christianity" the early Church viewed man as having body, soul and spirit until "an ecumenical council of the ninth century explicitly stated there was no difference between the spirit and the soul, contrary to the Bible itself."

Perhaps Theophan the Recluse did not get that memo or is it Smoley that's mistaken?

Quoting from the introduction to "The Art of Prayer" Kallistos Ware says "Theophan and other authors in The Art of Prayer speak of three elements in man - body, soul, and spirit - which Theophan describes as follows: 'The body is made of earth; yet it is not something dead but alive and endowed with a living soul. Into this soul is breathed a spirit - the spirit of God, intended to know God, to reverence Him, to seek and taste Him, and to have its joy in Him and nothing else.' [...] But while the soul exists primarily on the natural plane, the spirit brings us into contact with the order of divine realities: it is the highest faculty in man, and that which enables him to enter into communion with God."

If by soul we mean psyche that's closer to just the "thinking mind" isn't it? Surely the rational mind (soul) can know about God but what actually knows God is something above and different than the rational mind? I'm not suggesting we can know God's essence but what we do know of God's "energies" is "known" directly and without mediation by thought.

Theophan's description seems true to life and instructive (at least to me) but if it's NOT in agreement with the Holy Fathers and the Orthodox Church can someone please clarify the matter for me?

in Christ,

-A.




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