There has been much brain research recently attempting to come to terms with the mystery of our consciousness. They always start from a materialistic basis instead of a spiritual one, but have been able to show us how our biological system works and holds us in a sinful nature. As we increase our scientific knowledge, and we learn how to give priority to our soul over our body and its biological brain, we can begin to lift ourselves up from our condition by God’s grace.
The soul is a mystical concept that we cannot totally understand. The word is derived from the Greek word “psyche” and has many meanings as used in Scripture. It is a word often used interchangeably with spirit. Our Church Fathers have given us various insights about the nature of the soul. From the account of Creation in Genesis, the first man is created from earth and then God breathed into him and he became a living being. The word used for breath is the word we translate into soul. So in the broadest sense the soul is the inbreathing of God into our being to give us life. The soul is how the material world is connected to God. Body and soul were created at the same time creating a unity of body and soul. There are two principles that come together, spirit and earth. The soul makes the material element become conscious and capable of willful actions. With a soul in the body, spirit can meet the world.
There is no church dogma on the soul other than to say that it does not preexist our birth, but is given at the time of conception by the will of God. How the soul is created in each person remains a mystery. The Church Fathers teach that the soul is the image of God and has the powers of nourishment, imagination, instinct and intelligence.
It permeates the entire body and is bound up in it, but transcends its materiality. It is not a derivative of the brain or the body, but has it own distinctness. It is the soul that gives us consciousness. We are created in this way to bring the created material world into union with the eternal principles of the world God created. This involves a dialogue and a collaboration with God.
Our soul provides these capabilities. By this means God makes the world spiritual and does so though mankind. Through the soul, humankind brings about the spiritualization of the entire world.
Another term that is widely used by the Church fathers is the term nous. It too is a term that is difficult to define. Generally we can think of it as the mind. The nous is seen by the Fathers as the higher and intellective part of the soul. The soul is more than the nous or the mind. However, sometimes nous and soul will be used interchangeably. At other time it refers to the “eye of the soul.”
Saint Maximos tells us that it has the powers of understanding, acuteness, apprehension and quick wittedness. He says that its natural function is to keep the passions of the body under control, to contemplate the inner essences of created things and to carry out God’s will.
It is capable of direct intuitive knowledge of God.
Still another common term used by the Fathers is “heart.” From Scriptures we have Jesus telling us in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
God is revealed in the heart and it is there that man comes to know Him. The heart is where the knowledge of God is revealed to us. The heart is the innermost part of our being. It is part of our sub-consciousness. You only become aware of it gradually. The heart is the control center that reigns over the body. It is the place from which grace penetrates throughout the body and the mind. It is the deepest part of the soul and where Christ comes to dwell within us.
Saint Theophan the Recluse says the heart is the innermost part of man and is spirit. This is were our self-awareness, our conscience and our idea of God resides. The Fathers see the heart as both a bodily organ and the center of our being. Peter says the heart is that place that is energized by God’s grace. It is a place that is deep within us and unknown to others and often to ourselves. “Do not let your adornment be merely outward... rather let it be the hidden person of the heart.”
Next: How about the Brain?