Spirit of Soul (Part III of III)

windmill of the soul
“We no longer want merely to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths which we do not fully comprehend. But things we do not fully comprehend are repugnant to the individual element in us, which wants to experience everything in the depths of its inner being. The only knowledge which satisfies us is one which is subject to no external standards but springs from the inner life of the personality…One must be able to confront an idea and experience it; otherwise one will fall into its bondage.”

 – Rudolf Steiner

Life of the Soul

No definition of soul would be complete without spirit. In all honestly, spirit has been one of the more difficult words for me to experientially grasp, primarily due to its many uses and the theological “beliefs” that I have held from my earliest remembrance.

Spirit is a synergistic word intended to express the sum of mankind’s intellectual composition and is characteristically responsible for motion in the soul leading to action in the body.

People often use the word soul and spirit interchangeable to label the immortal part or essence of personhood that exist beyond death. Some go as far as to devise incredibly complex philosophical arguments in attempts to demonstrate the indestructible nature of human essence. For me, it is enough to know by faith, not philosophy, that something of my personhood is accountable beyond death. Therefore I will concede the immortal aspect of spirit/soul without dwelling on it for now.

What I find most interesting about the word spirit is how many confusing and contrary doctrines have crept into modern day Christendom based on the ambiguity of the word and cultivated by a mortal desire to have a one-size-fits-all explanation for everything. The fact remains, that spirit cannot be treated so carelessly as to mold the word into any specific doctrine without watering down its meaning. Keep in mind that spirit is the sum total of many distinct parts of the human intellect, yet the word, used loosely, can be applied in a variety of ways without ever revealing its complete meaning, much less its experiential truth.

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts.”
- Proverbs 20:27 

A Thinking Thing 

Rene Descartes writes the following in Meditation II on First Philosophy. “But what, then, am I? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives. Assuredly it is not little, if all these properties belong to my nature. But why should they not belong to it? Am I not that very being who now doubts of almost everything; who, for all that, understands and conceives certain things; who affirms one alone as true, and denies the others; who desires to know more of them, and does not wish to be deceived; who imagines many things, sometimes even despite his will; and is likewise percipient of many, as if through the medium of the senses. Is there nothing of all this as true as that Irene descartes am, even although I should be always dreaming, and although he who gave me being employed all his ingenuity to deceive me? Is there also any one of these attributes that can be properly distinguished from my thought, or that can be said to be separate from myself? For it is of itself so evident that it is I who doubt, I who understand, and I who desire, that it is here unnecessary to add anything by way of rendering it more clear. And I am as certainly the same being who imagines; for although it may be (as I before supposed) that nothing I imagine is true, still the power of imagination does not cease really to exist in me and to form part of my thought. In fine, I am the same being who perceives, that is, who apprehends certain objects as by the organs of sense, since, in truth, I see light, hear a noise, and feel heat. But it will be said that these presentations are false, and that I am dreaming. Let it be so. At all events it is certain that I seem to see light, hear a noise, and feel heat; this cannot be false, and this is what in me is properly called perceiving (sentire), which is nothing else than thinking.” – Rene Descartes

 

This Something is Thinking (Rudolf Steiner, on Freiheit)

“This percept (observation) of self would remain merely one among many other percepts, if something did not arise from the midst of this percept of self which proves capable of connecting all percepts with one another and, therefore, the sum of all other percepts with the percept of our own self. This something which emerges is no longer merely percept; neither is it, like percepts, simply given. It is produced by our activity. To begin with, it ruldolf steinerappears to be bound up with what we perceive as our own self. In its inner significance, however, it transcends the self. To the separate percepts it adds ideally determined elements, which, however, are related to one another, and are rooted in a totality. What is obtained by perception of self is ideally determined by this something in the same way as are all other percepts, and is placed as subject, or “I”, over against the objects. This something is thinking, and the ideally determined elements are the concepts and ideas… 

One only avoids the confusion into which one falls through the critical attitude based on this naïve standpoint, if one notices that, inside everything we can experience by means of perceiving, be it within ourselves or outside in the world, there is something which cannot suffer the fate of having a mental picture interpose itself between the process and the person observing it. This something is thinking

We might very easily be led to such a view by the observation that, in contrast to dreaming, there is indeed the waking state in which we have the opportunity of seeing through our dreams and referring them to the real relations of things, but that there is no state of the self which is related similarly to our waking conscious life. Whoever takes this view fails to see that there is, in fact, something which is related to mere perceiving in the way that our waking experience is related to our dreaming. This something is thinking

For Steiner, the spirit is experienced directly in the act of intuitive thinking. The human spirit is that part of us that thinks, but the spiritual world is not limited to the personal field of the individual human being; it opens out to embrace the eternal truths of existence” Spiritual activity “is thus more than mental activity, although it starts at a level we would call mental; it leads the human being, aware of himself as a spirit, into the ultimate experience of truth.”

– Rudolf Steiner (The Philosophy of Freedom)

 

At this point, I had intended on interlacing my understanding with select scriptures that I had, in times past, found perplexing and now view as awe inspiring. Realizing now, I would not be adding anything significant or publically useful and more than likely would detract from the truth of scripture by sharing my “insights”, I have resolved to refrain. Truth is its own best spokesman and speaks loudest when discovered individually! I will instead share specific scriptures that only truly opened up for me after I had achieved an experiential, that is to say “mystical” understanding of (soul, heart, spirit).

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
 – Genesis 2:7

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
 – Matthew 22:37

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:24

“but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
– Isaiah 57:15

 “’Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
– John 7:38

 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”
  – 2 Corinthians 3:17

 

  Pax Vobiscum
-C.M. Gregory

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10 Responses to Spirit of Soul (Part III of III)

  1. Ken says:

    That is a good collection of scriptures you have at the end. I would like to suggest adding one more which goes to the point you made in the beginning about some people using the words soul and interchangeably.

    For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.(Hebrews 4:12)

    I have often wondered if the relationship between soul and spirit is the same as joint and marrow. Marrow is inside bone, and a joint is where two bones connect. Something to think about?

    • C.M. Gregory says:

      Ken,

      That is another great scripture, one that begs the question, if soul and spirit can be divided what are the unique characteristics of each? Thanks for the comment.

  2. bob knab says:

    greetings,

    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

    it is intresting to note
    that man became a living soul and
    no whare does it express mankind has a soul -
    life in its self is a spiritual process it is in that
    process that man has a spirit – in his natural
    state mankind is a mystic and lives in paradise -

    blessings,
    bob knab

  3. Here is a topic with some meat on it’s bones. I have also had a bit of a problem with the soul/spirit distinction and the frequent interchangeability of these two words. I suppose that’s the problem we run into when we devise constructs for the incomprehensible. No one is really sure how to apply them.

    I can’t say that I agree with all of Mr. Steiner’s comments on belief and incomprehensibility. For me, beliefs are not concrete things, but rather all of those views held that we may or may not comprehend. Beliefs are always subject to change in my view and they change because we acquire new information that supports a different view.

    Faith on the other hand is what allows us to actually accept the incomprehensible without subjecting it to any further analysis. For me faith is a giant step beyond belief. I also think that faith is really experiential, just as much as any “mystical experience”, except without the fireworks. This may only be a semantic difference, but it can cause confusion (as it obviously does with me).

    My concept of spirit, like it’s derivation from the Latin (“breath”), is the construct we use to describe the animation of all sentient beings. Spirit exists in humans, animals, plants and all living things that are considered sentient. And this is why it is difficult for me to accept any similarity between spirit and soul. It seems to me that when spirit is exhausted, life (as we know it) comes to an end. In my thinking soul is what remains after spirit leaves. It is that essence of being which faith tells me will endure after the physical connection is severed. Actually, the entire body/soul dichotomy is a bit troubling to me, but I won’t get into that now.

    In Part I of your series you touched upon Aristotle and his concept of soul. If I remember correctly he believed that body and soul were inseparable and could not exist apart from the other. Plato believed that the soul could exist apart from the body and so his philosophy was more easily adapted to Christianity. It seems to me that to believe in the immortality of the soul, you must adhere to Plato’s view and all of the separability inherent in his thought.

    This is all a bit confusing to me because Christianity speaks of the risen Christ and his “glorified” body. As a result I have to think that there must be some aspect of bodily survivability as well. I suppose this is what we mean when we talk about incomprehensibilty.

    God’s Peace.
    Steve

    • C.M. Gregory says:

      Meaty indeed! I can’t say that I agree with many philosophical conclusions either. However, to debate Plato’s view versus Aristotle or that of Descartes and Steiner is beyond the scope of my intentions. I realize that each of these individuals had a completely different world view and moral compass than I do and they are certainly not the prototypical biblical characters that we Christians are use to discussing. Not to mention they all seem to be fascinated with math, which I have never personaly developed a passion for. :)

      What I appreciate most about studying the writings of philosophers does not necessarily flow from their conclusions, but their methods. I have discovered an analogous structure in the methods the philosophers use to treat of their discourse and that of mystics in prayer… I’m struggling here to clarify the point without laying out a discourse of my own. So to quickly summarize, each exemplify walking in the spirit.

      I greatly admire the concept of walking in the spirit as opposed to fumbling through life led by physical passions, vain imaginations, false doctrines and in general succumbing to the whims of a wandering mind.

      I realize I have deviated from our topic. Thank you Steve for your thoughtful comment, which as you can see, encouraged me to focus on my intent.

      Pax Vobiscum
      -C.M. Gregory

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks to all of you for your interesting input. I want to find the “like button” for these coments!

  4. Thank you for this, yes, “meaty” discussion, Gregory.

    The opening quote of Steiner is sufficient alone for a good deal of contemplation. As challenging as the mystic path is, one deep level blessing is that it seems the path helps the mystic to evolve, bit by bit, from “believing” to “knowing.” When we begin, we do as Kierkegaard suggested: take a step of faith. As we do so, we “know” more and more, so faith becomes stronger. The tests of faith tend to strengthen as well, which leads to greater faith, which, in turn, leads to even greater knowledge.

    Thank you and shalom,
    Karina

    • C.M. Gregory says:

      Your welcome, I forgot to mention that quote came from the same book as the others (Philosophy of Freedom) which is available free using the link above. I like the downloadable version better than what is being sold these days at Amazon. I took the .pdf to Staples and had a copy printed and bound for under $20. Worked out great since I read with a book in one hand and a highlighter in the other…
      I’m certain this topic will show up again somewhere as we all seem to be grasping for a biblically founded definition of “self”… Thanks for the comment!

  5. I think that’s an excellent insight, Karina. The obscure certitude (Faith) “knows” God’s Truth.
    Steve

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