Tuesday, 21 February 2012

What is the difference between Soul and Spirit

The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts more incisively than any two-edged sword: it can seek out the place where soul is divided from spirit, or joints from marrow; it can pass judgement on secret emotions and thoughts. Hebrews 4:12

The above scripture has haunted me for years. My focus has always been :what is the difference between Soul and Spirit? It should have been that the Word of God penetrates to our deepest being.I came across the version below recently:

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

There is a defination of Soul as the breath of life and the spirit as the Immortal.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes the following on the soul (greek: Psyche)

The soul may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, and will, and by which our bodies are animated.....
The Gospel language is popular, not technical. Psyche and pneuma (spirit) are used indifferently either for the principle of natural life or for spirit in the strict sense. Body and soul are recognized as a dualism and their values contrasted: "Fear ye not them that kill the body... but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell."....
Descartes conceived the soul as essentially thinking (i.e. conscious) substance, and body as essentially extended substance. The two are thus simply disparate realities, with no vital connection between them. This is significantly marked by his theory of the soul's location in the body. Unlike the Scholastics he confines it to a single point — the pineal gland....
(And then after a very long article ends with this ditty) such is the Catholic doctrine on the nature, unity, substantiality, spirituality, and origin of the soul.

On the Spirit it has this to say:

the principle of life was often represented under the figure of a breath of air. The breath is the most obvious symptom of life, its cessation the invariable mark of death; invisible and impalpable, it stands for the unseen mysterious force behind the vital processes. Accordingly we find the word "spirit" used in several different but allied senses: (1) as signifying a living, intelligent, incorporeal being, such as the soul; (2) as the fiery essence or breath (the Stoic pneuma) which was supposed to be the universal vital force; (3) as signifying some refined form of bodily substance, a fluid believed to act as a medium between mind and the grosser matter of the body....
Matter has generally been conceived as in one sense or another the limitation of spirit. Hence, finite spirits were thought to require a body as a principle of individuation and limitation; only God, the Infinite Spirit, was free from all admixture of matter. Thus, when we find the angels described as asomatoi or auloi, in the writings of the Fathers, this properly means only that the angels do not possess a gross, fleshly body; it does not at all imply a nature absolutely immaterial.... (Angels are spirits but not infinite... only God is infinite.

The more I read on one or the other, the more I get confused. I want a simple exact explaination. Without that. How can I be sure. How do I know the role of any of these.

On the Catholic Answers website I found the following:

Some protestants believe the "soul" is the "spark of life" which all living things possess (trees, animals, etc), whereas the "spirit" is the essence of the Divine Nature which is specific to humans (who possess both soul and spirit), but the Catholic Church does not teach such a doctrine.

Actually, that is EXACTLY what the Church teaches.

A Soul is what animates living matter, without a soul, there is no material life.

This was affirmed by both Augustine and Aquinas.

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica I-II, Q78, specifically articles 1-2

Plants have an "animative' soul, that provides the general necessities of life.

Animals have a "Sensitive Soul", that can respond to input from the senses.

Both of these souls are non Spiritual. They have a finite existance, the soul of plants and animals cease to exist when the life of the creature is over.

Humans, on the other hand, have a Rational soul. We know and understand good vs. evil. We can make decisions on such knowledge.

Our souls are also Spiritual. God IS Spirit (He is not made of Spirit, He IS Spirit). Our souls, unlike the animals, are made in the likeness and image of God. Our souls, therefore are Spiritual in Essence. We are, therefore unique in all of creation, being creatures of both matter AND Spirit.

The Angels, are creatures of pure Spirit.

So I am still not sure.... so I'll go along with the last answer.


  1. There is a great book that explains this in detail by Andrew Wommack called "Spirit, Soul and Body". That can help you understand it better.

  2. Thank you. I will look for it.

  3. It
    is worth noting however, that Andrew Wommack is a non-Catholic. I'm not
    saying this because i'm against him. In fact i appreciate him very
    much. I'm saying this because as i read your post, i can infer that
    you're looking for the Catholic Church's teaching on the difference
    between the two.

  4. the soul is formed at conception.....the spirit pre exists...Before I formed you in the womb I knew you(your spirit). The soul is made of both matter and spirit; hence is formed at conception.

  5. How about looking at Mary's Magnificat wherein she said, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior." How's the differentiation between soul and spirit explained here from Catholic perspective? Please help clarify. Thanks. Miguel J.

    1. So true and so good!!! Love your answer. Yes there is a difference. Mary knew it, Paul knew it. Holy Spirit help us understand it. I have listened to Andrew wommack’s Teaching in spirit and soul. He identifies they are separate.

  6. I am not highly spiritual. However I have a burning desire to know god...better. It has always been a big challenge for me to understand the difference between "Soul" and "body". However Caribbean Catholic has brought me a closer to understanding...but I am still confuse.