Weekly Series On the Soul, Part 2

Occult phenomena, why bother; theology, why it matters

images of stars, galaxies, and nebulae make me think of God in His heaven.

Update, Sat, Nov. 9: I left out a link earlier. It did appear at the very end of the post, and now I’ve added it towrd the end of the opening paragraph. Sorry about that! It was in the draft version, but when I pasted the text in, the links didn’t transfer. I had to re-enter them and that one slipped by me. Whatta maroon, huh?

First I’ll offer a few thoughts of my own as to why we should bother to study the soul, occult phenomena, or theology. Then I’m going to quote several passages of Dom Wiesinger to show what he has to teach us. In all honesty, I haven’t studied this long enough or deeply enough to attempt to put it in my own words yet. So since the text is in the public domain, I’ll let the author speak for himself. Some of the passages at the beginning of the quotes are repeated from last week, in case it’s been a while since you read the earlier post, or in case you missed it altogether. If you haven’t got a copy of his book yet, get a free PDF copy from archive.org. I’ll provide a link to purchase a copy at Amazon at the end of the post.

Why bother with theology? 

We cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot live in a Way we do not know. The study of theology is the study of God, of His Revelation to us, of our relationship with Him, of our beginning and of our end, our philosophical and theological end, our goal and purpose, and the way we are to live to attain that goal.

Why do we need to know the truth about occult phenomena or the powers of the soul? 

Because so many of us have not been taught or we have been taught distortions, even lies about ourselves, about the human person and the soul, about our purpose. And even when we discover the truth, all too often we reject it. But if we do not understand the truth, we will make mistakes, some of them costly, some of them sins. We were made for truth, but we do not know it, or all of it, automatically. Our fallen nature will see to that.

There is “a great hunger for the preternatural which the various philosophical systems are unable to asuage,” there is “a violent reaction against the materialism which “holds matter to be the sole reality and the mother of all living things”, which assumes no difference between spirit and matter, and refers to man simply as “a digestive tract open at both ends.”

The religion of Christ satisfies this hunger; but many have forsaken God, the fountain of living water, and have built unto themselves “cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2. 13). They have no knowledge of the means of salvation, and, although they consider themselves educated, are ignorant of Christian doctrine. They stand in particular fear of the Catholic Church because of her moral code, live like heathens and are ready to accept any superstition that in some slight way promises to lead them beyond the material.

— Occult Phenomena, pg. vii.

Why bother with occult phenomena of any type?

Because chances are, you or someone you know, will have some sort of experience for which you have no explanation. In searching for a way to explain it, you may look to the Church and her theology, but you are just as likely these days to search in other places, in the new age and so-called “occult” teachings. That’s what happened in my own case. (I was drawn to the new age for other reasons, too, but this was certainly an important one.) But those new age “occult” teachings are at best awfully insufficient and disastrously distorted, and the damage that can result from embracing them include warping your mind, damaging your body, and threatening your soul. 

Even if you were to escape unscathed by new age occultism, think of all the time you would have spent on it and how much time you would not have spent picking up your cross and following Him. I could have been very far along the Way indeed, yet look at all the time I wasted. What on earth was I thinking?

Passages from Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology: On the Soul

The first is that man is a fallen creature, which means that he once possessed certain spiritual powers that can now only be present in him in a weakened state…The second truth is that, although it is connected with the body, the soul is a spirit which may sometimes loosen that connection, and may thus be able to achieve things that would ordinarily be impossible.

If we can succeed in throwing new light on these two truths…then the way is open to a better understanding of certain acts of the soul which it has hitherto been thought necessary to ascribe to the intervention of an alien intelligence.  

The author’s first task is clearly to show that this element in the soul actually exists, and he sets about doing so deductively. According to scholastic philosophy body and soul are a unity, and the soul without the body is an imperfect substance. Nevertheless this imperfect substance lives on after separation from the body, and when doing so can only exist as a pure spirit. It follows that the soul must have within itself, potentially or actually, the attributes of a pure spirit.

Occult phenomena astonish us because they appear to pass beyond the powers of our living body and seem, as it were, to take place miraculously outside the framework of the laws of nature. We must therefore first acquaint ourselves with the nature of man, and learn something of the powers both of the body and the soul and of the mutual interdependence of these powers as, under the guidance of Catholic teaching, these things are presented to us by scholastic philosophy.

In order to understand what follows we must keep before our minds the scholastic doctrine that the body consists of both matter and form…The reasoning soul is the substantial form of the human body, and this after such a fashion that it comprehends within itself the lower forms, namely the vegetative and the animal soul. Body and soul are incomplete substances which only in combination make a unitary substantial being—man.

Man therefore consists of a body and a soul. The body con- tains the material elements and substances of the earth; it is the material part, it is extended, inert and made up of a number of cells, molecules and atoms, all distributed according to a marvellous pattern. Of itself, however, it is incapable of an independent movement.

As against this, the soul is the immaterial part, simple, endowed with reason, and active; together with the body it forms the natural entity, man. The ancient philosopher Aristotle defines the soul as “the first principle of the vegetative, sensitive and spiritual functions” (De Anima, II, 2).

The vegetative hfe, with its functions of nutrition-intake of matter (without its form), of growth and procreation, is dependent on the soul which unites the various parts that are separated as to time and place. The vegetative life, however, is confined to the purely physiological processes.

The sensitive life activates essentially different processes in which the organs of sense exercise specific functions that are pecuHar to themselves and receive the various sensible forms without their matter. We usually reckon with five senses, those of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing, though modern philosophers add certain others; these senses are all receptive to the stimuli proceeding from matter and duly transform them. These transformed stimuli are carried on to the brain, where in mysterious fashion they release sense perceptions ; these last are again closely bound up with the vegetative life; they are weakened, for instance, when we are hungry or overfed, a proof that they are dependent on the same essential principle, the soul.

Our intellectual and spiritual life is in its turn bound to these sensual perceptions and to the images that are based upon them; it apprehends their content, that is to say the sub- stantiated forms of their being, without their substance, and thus penetrates into the nature of the sensually apprehended objects and grasps the relation between them; in this way also it forms general ideas and can recognize the nature and norm of the good and with it that of evil. It therefore extends far beyond the senses, which can only apprehend isolated material things.

The reason passes beyond the reach of sensual perceptions, it discovers abstract and non-material concepts and general super- sensual ideas, and thus raises the world of sensual cognition on to an essentially higher, spiritual and non-material plane. Even at that level, however, it still remains dependent on the appre- hensions of the senses for so long as the soul is bound to the body. Nevertheless such dependence does not imply that the soul can in no circumstances be free of the senses, or is incapable of regaining at any time its purely spiritual nature. A distinction must therefore be made between the body-soul, which possesses the faculties described above, and the spirit-soul which, in its activities, reaches out beyond the material (cf St Thomas, I, q. 76, a. 4, ad i). [Emphasis added.]

…[W]hen Holy Scripture uses different names for mind, spirit, etc., namely νοῦς [nous], πνεῦμα [pneuma], and ψυχή [psyche] the purpose is to indicate natural and supernatural life (Lercher, Dogmatik)—or possibly the soul’s two modes of existence, as a spirit-soul and a corporal soul; the soul is of course in each case the same soul, but it has a dual aspect, that of a pure spirit and of something that has combined with the body. Similarly the mystics have one and the same soul in mind when they speak of the “ground of the soul”, or of the “spark of the soul”, or of the “soul’s point”. [Emphasis added.]

We know, however, that this union of soul and body must one day cease with death; indeed death consists in this very severance; thequestionnowbeforeusiswhetherthetwoparts can exist and function in separation.

When the body no longer possesses its form, the soul, which makes of it a complete substance, it disintegrates ; it is true that, as philosophy says, it receives a transient form as a corpse and still has the attributes of matter, namely weight and extension, but this transient form can no longer hold the constituent parts together but permits them to fall apart.

And the soul? The soul continues its life, for it is spiritual and therefore immortal, but it continues its life as something essentially incomplete and naturally experiences an urge to reunite with the body. It therefore leads an extra-natural and extra-ordinary life until at the resurrection of the dead the reunion with the body can be effected.

Now what is the nature of the life of the soul during this phase of separation ? Since the soul is a spirit, we must first acquaint ourselves, if we are to answer the question just posed, with the nature of pure spirits. This is all the more necessary in so far as we have reason to believe that even during its time of union with the body the soul can in certain circumstances, such, for instance, as those of the mystic state, act after the manner of a pure spirit.

Next week we’ll begin the chapter on Pure Spirit. After NaNoWriMo is over at the end of November, I hope to be able to study this text in more depth. I’ve read it all the way through once, but for my wee brain that’s not nearly enough to say I have a handle on it and I won’t try to pretend otherwise. 

Thanks for reading. I hope you got something out of this second post in the series. Until next time then, whoever and wherever you are, may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you and yours, forever and ever. God bless you!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Notes

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