The soul: A view of its origin

Discussion in 'Theology' started by Thomas, Apr 13, 2021.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Origen's idea of the pre-existence of the soul drew from Greek philosophy, namely Plato. It was one among a number of beliefs later refuted by orthodoxy, such as metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls) and apokatastasis (the restoration of all things to their original perfection). Tertullian, on the other hand, believed the soul is part of the natural process of generation (traducianism), whilst Jerome believed that each soul is created by God at, or after, conception (creationism). The latter, creationism, became the orthodox position in Christianity East and West until, I think, the 19th century.

    It was St Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662) who restructured the Platonic anthropology that informed the likes of Philo, Origen and others. His argument was directed at those monks who saw themselves as the inheritors of Origen’s teachings. Whether their theology is an accurate interpretation of Origen is not the point here, and for simplicity’s sake 'Origenist' implies those errors addressed by Maximus, rightly or wrongly imputed to Origen.

    The primary argument was his refutation of the pre-existence of a spiritual world of beings in an original unity with God, particularly the idea of the eternal existence of the soul.

    In Platonic terms, spiritual being exist eternally, in the contemplation of the Divine. At some point, for reasons never metaphysically satisfactory explained, these beings 'turned away' from God and initiated a 'fall' that obliged God to create the physical world to catch the soul and arrest an otherwise eternal descent.

    The world was seen as a place of punishment, a necessary evil, a place and state to be escaped from. Later Christian thinkers softened this position, rendering the embodied soul as undergoing a pedagogic (educational), rather than punitive, experience.

    According to Origen then, 'movement' occurred before the creation of the cosmos, it happened in the eternal realm, the product of sin and thus movement as such was inherently sinful – any and all movement could only be away from God.

    All this, of course, seems to ignore the metaphysical implication of Creation according to the Book of Genesis, or at least the common exegesis. There, we find the world is called into existence by the free and gratuitous will of God; that it is essentially good; that man is shaped from the earth, and animated by the breath of God to become a living being.

    Hebrew anthropology is holistic, not quite so bifurcate as its Hellenic counterpart. Christian theology, and Christian understanding generally, has nevertheless been dogged by a Hellenic dualist way of thinking that owes more to Plato than it does Moses.

    (St Thomas Aquinas, for example, went on to argue that the 'human person' is a corporate, body-soul dynamic, and only as such is the human complete and entire. While the soul survives the death of the physical body, the soul alone is not wholly human, its disembodied state falls short of its ordained perfection. He looked forward to the General Resurrection when souls will once more be embodied (albeit this time clothed in some incorruptible manner). For him, a soul without a body is an imperfect thing.)

    Maximus argues that souls, being creatures in eternity, would not be able to move at all, since God is not subject to motion. Eternity is not defined by place or direction, by 'here' or 'there'. At the very basic, spiritual beings would not be able at avert their gaze, any more than turn away, because God is all, and God is everywhere.

    Nor is there any impetus or any desire in God that might set Him in motion, and thus 'motion' would not be transferred or in any other way imparted to His co-eternal spiritual beings.

    For Maximus, in the eternal is God and God alone. The first movement is a creatio ex nihilo, a coming from nothing into being. Moreover, the natural trajectory of created beings would be from nothing, towards God, their source and origin, their object and end, rather than away from Him.

    Movement then, for Maximus, is the desire of finite, created being for the infinite. When such created beings reach their destination in God, their motion ceases, their desire fulfilled.

    (Sin then is a movement contrary to nature, since the vocation of all creation is towards its maker. Sin leads in the contrary direction, to the destitution and eventual extinction of being.)

    Maximus drew out the error that, by this movement in the eternal, there is no eternal peace or stillness, but rather, being eternal, an infinite series of falls from, and returns to, God (which means an infinite number of universes coming into being and being destroyed, not only successively but also contemporaneously, as multiverses). In this view of existence, the eternal impossibility of satisfaction is joined to the impossibility of rest in eternity.

    The suffering then, in this moment, this life, this world, is simply a manifestation of an eternal suffering, and that furthermore suffering is a condition not just of this life, but of all and any mode of existing. Everything suffers, even God.

    Another aspect of the Origenist God is His being subject to necessity and thus a lack of freedom. God has no choice but is obliged to create the physical world, to arrest the fall and then punish the fallen, as a means of restoring them to their original state, in effect restoring the integrity of His own fragmented being.

    On the principles of such a system, the fall of these spiritual beings (who in some ill-defined way share God’s nature) is necessarily a fall of (part of) God Himself, involving a struggle between that part of Him which has fallen, and that part which has remained intact; and the struggle takes place partly to prevent the remaining portion from being dragged down with the rest.

    In such a framework, God actually benefits from the existence of the corporeal world, despite the fact that its creation was prompted by sin, since it enables Him to recover the fallen fragments of His former plenitude. Thus Origenists would be obliged to argue that suffering and death was as much part of the life of Paradise as it is outside of it! Only then can the Origenist square the fact that there is a suffering, punitive world that can be declared 'good'.

    As Maximus goes on to hammer home, driving the argument ad absurdum towards its only logical conclusion, this means there is a link between God and evil, so that even the basic difference between good and evil is relativized, blurred, and ultimately lost.

    +++

    Maximus’ response is grounded on the reversal of the Origenist triad: stasis, kinesis, genesis (rest, movement, becoming). For the Origenists, stasis is the original state or condition of the spiritual beings coexisting with God; kinesis is their impulse to sin, their movement away from God; genesis signifies the passage of spiritual beings from an immaterial and intelligible state (mind) to a bodily and sensible one.

    For Maximus, the process begins instead with genesis, a ‘coming into being’, a creatio ex nhihilo that including both spiritual and material creatures. Kinesis is the natural and God-implanted inclination (logos) of created beings to their creator, an impetus that conveys them from their point of origin to their final end. Stasis is the condition of rest in the eschaton, when creatures will become by grace what God is by nature, and thus participate in eternal, becoming themselves immortal, as both Paul and the Johannine scribe hinted at.
     
  2. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic) Admin

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    I seem to remember that this theme was present in the Pre-Socratic Greek Philosophy of the Atomists, that originally, all atoms were free and unentangled, falling like rain into the abyss of time, until one of them deviated from the straight path and hooked up with a neighbor, starting creation...

    This is interesting, vis-a-vis the Buddhist teaching of the Three Signs (or Characteristics) of existence: Suffering, impermanence, and No(t)-Self.

    Thanks, fascinating!
     
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  3. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    It's getting too philosophical for me .. all that jargon.
    I believe what the Bible and Qur'an say about resurrection and an eternal life in heaven or hell.
    I don't believe that I can know for sure about the knowledge of God and how He "creates" souls etc.

    It makes a lot more sense to me that souls are eternal.
    It then becomes a case of eternal, spiritual essence .. and non-eternal matter.
    I find that easy to visualise.

    Souls being "created", and then becoming eternal [ as Catholic doctrine says that souls are not destroyed ], looks suspicious to me.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2021
  4. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    LOL, it's just three words!

    So do I, so did Maximus.

    Sadly doesn't to me. That makes souls uncreated, and as far as I know, only God is without cause. (And eternal souls are not at all Arian, btw! ;))

    OK. Each to his own.

    New knowledge invariably looks that way! :D
     
  5. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    Yes, maybe .. but did Maximus believe that souls could be destroyed? I don't think so :)
     
  6. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    You know Maximus' writings :rolleyes:

    He certainly believed that the soul is created, along with the body.

    His beliefs regarding the eschaton are the cause of some dispute.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2021
  7. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    No .. I am not familiar with them.

    The above is the Catholic church's official position on the subject of Christian universalism.
    I would be most grateful if you could show me where this doctrine was first formalised in
    a Catholic ecumenical council.
     
  8. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    The Council of Trent , held between 1545 and 1563 in Trent (or Trento, in northern Italy), was the 19th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, it has been described as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.
    The Council issued condemnations of what it defined to be heresies committed by proponents of Protestantism, and also issued key statements and clarifications of the Church's doctrine and teachings.


    ..so there we have it. The Catholic church were defending the doctrine of eternal hell from some protestants who were
    suggesting heretical belief.

    Are you a protestant @Thomas ? ;)
     
  9. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Well then. :)

    Is it, though?
     
  10. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Were they, though?
     
  11. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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  12. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Not quite the same as the wiki citation ... we need to be accurate.

    My belief is in line with the Catechism, not the wiki quote. "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:13-14 emphasis mine) One could argue therefore that, according to Scripture, if there is no eternal life abiding in someone, then what has happened to the soul?
     
  13. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    catechism 1036
    ----------------------
    The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

    Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."

    Why do I keep getting the feeling that you are trying to avoid the reality of what eternal fire actually means?
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2021
  14. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    I honestly don't know. :) I have said I have no problem with the idea of an eternal hell.
     
  15. stranger

    stranger wolfwing, a feral angel

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    Hi Thomas,

    Excellent piece here. My mind was humming like crazy trying to keep up. I have respect and I think a certain amount of envy towards you guys here on interfaith who are able to put all these things together in your minds and write such a good paper as this. There's a certain amount of sadness in me as I write this, I don't know why. I'm going to try to add one little tidbit here and I hope it helps somehow.

    All this, of course, seems to ignore the metaphysical implication of Creation according to the Book of Genesis, or at least the common exegesis. There, we find the world is called into existence by the free and gratuitous will of God; that it is essentially good; that man is shaped from the earth, and animated by the breath of God to become a living being.

    This is I believe where the turning point is. In the beginning, in the book of Genesis, at first it was not good. In fact, we read:

    "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." -- Genesis 1:1,2

    A fall and a trapping of all that fell in the temporal.

    As you know I have been nourished by both the Catholic and the Protestant camps. It was the rather odd couple of St. John of the Cross and Andrew Jukes that kept me partially alive, or else to be honest I don't know what would have become of me. These are a couple excerpts from from Jukes' Types In Genesis which might help here:

    "As a divine preface to this book, which shews us what
    man is, and the fruit which his earthy nature can produce under the creative word and will of God, we are shewn what this earth was, and the gradual steps of its adorning, from the time when it was " without form and void," with " darkness upon the face of the great deep," until after light and life and fruit, " the image of God," the man created in righteousness, is seen to rule it all."

    And,

    "First then there is a creation of God announced—then a partial ruin—then a restoration. " In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Of these first " heavens" nothing further is here revealed to us; but of the "earth" we read that it was " without form and void," language used by the prophets to describe a state of judgment and utter ruin. In some way not revealed God's work had been destroyed. God then, in the six days, restores that earth, not made dark by Him, yet now in darkness ; and on this ruined earth His work proceeds, till His image is seen, and He can rest there. Thus a creation utterly wrecked is the ground for the six days' work. On this dark and ruined mass appears what God can do."

    I suggest that this mysterious fall is designated in Genesis 1:1 and the first half of Genesis 1:2. The rest is metaphor, showing God's action toward restoration. This has only to do with this first part of Genesis, or what some scholars call "the first creation story".
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2021
  16. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    Fast-forward a little and:

    1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
    2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
    3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
    4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

    - Genesis 3 -

    We see here, that "the serpent" tricked Eve into disobedience.
    Why do you think he did that?
     
  17. stranger

    stranger wolfwing, a feral angel

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    This is the (so-called) second story of creation. However, I think it is just a metaphorical re-tooling in order to take a closer look at the mysterious fall.

    To your question, the serpent is a strategist and took a decisive first step toward getting what he wanted. I believe he actually desired Eve for his own, and through her he knew (or thought) he could become like the Most High. He took a step outside his place, outside his resonance as we might say here. But I could be off base. Any thoughts?

    Perhaps Eve represented the female in God before the fall?
     
  18. muhammad_isa

    muhammad_isa Save Our Souls

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    Well, we had a discussion about iblees and how he became satan through pride.
    The serpent [satan] simply wanted Adam & Eve to disobey God. i.e. he wanted them to fall

    ..nothing mysterious about it at all.
     
  19. stranger

    stranger wolfwing, a feral angel

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    :rolleyes: Nope, simple as can be...

    Sounds like Adam and Eve need some kind of cosmic marriage counselor. I pity the fool that gets that job, he would have to be a total nut job himself to take it? o_O
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2021
  20. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Hi Stranger —

    An interesting concept, I've never seen it presented that way... Andrew Jukes is a name I've not come across before.

    My own understanding of "without form and void" and "darkness upon the face of the great deep" sit in line an understanding of a general or universal metaphysics, introduced to me by the Traditionalist Réne Guénon. He speaks of this point from a 'scientific' viewpoint:

    The Universal (or Logos) consists of the unmanifested, comprising both the unmanifested and the supra-individual formless states of manifestation. As for formal manifestation, there is the manifestation of subtle states and gross states.
    So the initial descriptions, to me, read as a reference to the universal order prior to the process of manifestation and individuation.

    I'm not sure I accept that, nor do I see a reason for it, or the relevance to our situation ... it suggests two creations? I'd have to read further into Jukes to see how he presents that conclusion.

    The two accounts, as I see them, the first being Chapter One and is a cosmology, the second is Chapters Two and Three, and the focus there is anthropological.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2021

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