The Thomistic Institute is offering a free course on the Summa Theologiae by St. Thomas Aquinas. You can sign up for it and receive the videos in your email or you can view the videos on YouTube or listen to the audio on Soundcloud. You can watch one of the videos below on the Immortality of the Soul. Links and notes will be at the end of this post. (All quotes are from the video below unless otherwise indicated.)
“Soul was associated with life breath, not first of all with thinking or consciousness. Now, when we use the term soul to refer to the principle or source of life in a living thing, then whatever is living is animated by a soul.”
“Trees, grass, animals—all of it has soul and lives because of its soul. That broad usage of the term comes as a surprise to many people, but it is important to see that soul is what makes a thing to live. And that’s how Thomas Aquinas uses the term.”
In the next paragraphs I’ll paraphrase the video (but I’m not going to do the whole video)
For Aristotle and Aquinas souls come in grades of perfection. Some things are living and have basic functions. These are plants.
Plants have plant souls.
Other things are living and have basic functions and also sensory functions but don’t have intelligence or reason.
Now remember, Fr. James is talking about the Summa Theologiae, after all, and using words in a specific philosophical and theological sense. It’s not that animals don’t have any smarts or ability to figure some things out, of course they do and can. But they don’t have that higher form of intelligence or reason that would allow them to, say, watch and understand a film and then review it or make a film of their own.
Animals have animal souls.
But humans are different from both of these types of living beings because we have the basic functions (or our own version of them?) and we have the sensory perceptions (though we can’t compete with some animals’ keen senses of smell and hearing), but we also possess something other things don’t: intelligence and reason
“To signify our human souls we have the term, rational souls. Rational souls may also be called spirit. But we have to be careful. Sometimes spirit is used to talk about the angels. Angels are called pure spirit because they have no bodies.”
We have a human soul, or rational soul, and it is not pure spirit. Our spirit is different from angels, who are pure spirit.
Humans have human (rational) souls.
Our soul is the form of a human body. What does that mean? The form of a thing accounts for several features of it. Form makes a thing to be what it is. The soul makes us to be a living human being, but a living human being is not just a soul, we’re also bodies or matter. The soul forms or informs the matter to make it a human body.
This is getting good. I hope you’re enjoying the video as much as I am. Thanks for visiting, watching and reading, and please do join me again next week for more about the soul. Until then, whoever and wherever you are, may the Lord bless you and keep you, and may the peace of Christ be always with you. +JMJ+
Links and Notes
- Aquinas 101 playlist on YouTube – video in this post: The Immortality of the Soul, by Fr. James Brent, O.P. (More about him at Meet the Friars.)
- Aquinas 101 at the Thomistic Institute website.
- Image credit: The triumph of the Immaculate, by Paolo de Matteis. From Wikimedia, public domain. It’s a large image. Be sure to click on it. How glorious the original must be!