Printer Friendly

The heart of the matter: Edith Stein on the substance of the soul.

"It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don't understand ourselves or know who we are. Wouldn't it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone when asked who he was didn't know, and didn't know his father or mother or from what country he came? Well now, if this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only roughly these bodies. Because we have heard and because faith tells us so, we know we have souls. But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells in it, or its high value."


The words of Teresa of Avila still ring true for our time. Contemporary normative anthropologies have excised the human soul from conception and discussion. Instead, St. Edith Stein maintains the reality of the human soul in terms of its veracious spiritual being and its certain manifestation in and through the body. The following study will trace two of the primary avenues through which Stein presents the human soul: (1) as the inner life of the human person, and (2) as the substantial image of God the Father. By considering these crucial aspects of Stein's holistic theological anthropology, we will reconnoiter a rational basis for speaking of the human soul in the twenty-first century.

I. Conscious Spiritual Being

In addition to designating the soul as the form of the body, Stein also describes it as the inner life of the human person. The soul is that which cannot be understood sufficiently by the natural sciences alone, for there is an innerness to personal life that cannot be accessed by instruments of outward sense perception. All outward perception depends on a hidden ground for its external observations. The one who perceives is ever removed from that which is perceived. The one who perceives constitutes a human subject who lives from an inwardness that cannot be extracted or manipulated by the corporeal senses. This inward self exhibits many properties, designated by such terms as consciousness, affectivity, intellect, memory, will, and personality. Stein writes, "Among the things we perceive with our outer senses are 'having life' and 'having soul.' Life and soul are 'seen along with' what we actually see in our outward perception, but they can never be seen in the proper sense from the outside. They are nevertheless truly experienced from the 'inside,' and what we conceive along with the outer world can in a certain way come to dovetail with what we experience inwardly." (2) Stein claims that we are able to intuit the general fait accompli of the givenness of living existence, and especially of an ensouled body. Whatever we observe in our outward perception always runs concomitant to an inward recognition of conscious meaning-making and empathetic experience. Our inner hidden and subjective experiences are no less real than our outer objective experiences. In fact, both types of experience are complementary to one another. The inner life of the human person is the condition of possibility for meaningful outward perception, while outward perception serves as one of the primary means by which the inner self is formed. While the soul can be identified as integral to human life and being, it cannot be quantified, measured, or manipulated in a laboratory of natural science. As Stein insists, "the soul as a spirit is positioned in a realm of the Spirit and of spirits. She, however, possesses her own structure. She is more than a simple form that animates the body, more than the interior of an exterior. Rather, within her there lies an opposition between internal and external." (3) It is difficult to speak of the human soul in terms of objective science based on sense observation. The realm of objective science is confined to the radically potential dimensions of space, time, and mass/energy, while the human soul can be circumscribed by none of these. The soul is not merely an object among objects and can neither be reduced to pure interiority as separated from an exterior world, nor to an external datum of sense perception.

Instead, one of the primary properties of the soul is consciousness that "as a correlate of the object world is not nature, but spirit." (4) The soul, belonging to the order of conscious spiritual being, is that which has "stepped out of the order of nature and faced it." (5) The soul is that inner life of the human being that, while existing alongside the natural world of objects, is not to be counted among the various objects that it never ceases to face as a genuine other. As personal consciousness, the soul demonstrates an intentionality that symbolically orders the world in which it lives and thereby exercises its "spiritual actuality, conscious of itself, [which] is its highest mode of being." (6) The being of the soul is the core of the human being that intends a world from the inside out. Here is where Stein can be seen bringing together the wealth of both Thomistic metaphysics and Husserlian phenomenology. In a vital dialectical tension, Stein harnesses the generative power of reason working from above (as in Aquinas) and from below (as in Husserl). For his part, Aquinas begins with self-evident first principles and a particular brand of divine revelation, while Husserl, in contrast, commences his descriptive exercises with a consciousness bracketed from working assumptions about that which is to be per ceived. In her analyses, Stein examines the phenomenological givenness of the human soul vis-a-vis a thoroughgoing metaphysical assessment of being. The soul is regarded metaphysically as the actualizing principle of the personal being and is described phenomenologically as consciousness in all of its noetic activity.

II. Getting at the Heart of the Matter

The integral inner life of the soul is portrayed by Stein as including both mind and heart. Her analysis takes seriously the psychosomatic constitution of the human person in the fullness of her objective and subjective dimensions. On the one hand, Stein stresses consciousness as a preeminent trait of the soul, while on the other hand, she regards the heart (in both a physical and spiritual sense) to be the innermost center of the soul and therefore of the human being:
   (Penetrating intellectual thinking) affects the bodily organs, the
   heartbeat, and the rhythm of breathing, the individual's sleep and
   digestion. He "thinks with his heart," and his heart is the actual
   living center of his being. And even though the heart signifies the
   bodily organ to whose activity bodily life is tied, we have no
   difficulty in picturing the heart as the inner being of the soul,
   because it is evidently the heart that has the greatest share in
   the inner processes of the soul, and because it is in the heart
   that the interconnection between body and soul is most strikingly
   felt and experienced. (7)

The human soul is bound at once to intellectual life, affectivity, and the body, forming an organic personal whole. Intellectual thinking has not only a neurological center but a cardiological center as well. There is an indissoluble bridge between mind and heart, and this bridge is encompassed by the soul. The psychological state of a person directly affects his or her physical state. The cardiac center of the person gives itself as the domain of the most interior chambers of the soul. (8) All unfolds outward from the center of the person. Begin ning as a single-celled organism, the entelechy of the human being ever unfolds as from a hidden center--from not only the biological nucleus of the cell, but also from the psychological nucleus of the entire person as body, soul, and spirit. Stein goes on to posit the innermost center of the soul as "the 'most spiritual' part of the soul." (9) Likewise, it is the innermost center of the soul that issues "that radiation of the personal essence or nature which is an involuntary spiritual emanation of the personal self ... the more a human being is at home in the interiority of its soul, the stronger is the body impregnated with this inner life and 'spiritualized' by it. Here, then, is the true center of the being of body, soul, and spirit." (10) In other words, the unique personality of the human being issues from his or her soul and charges the body in an involuntary manner. The personal spiritual self radiates through every fiber of the body to the degree that one is at home in the inner habitation of the soul. As one retreats further into the interior castle of the soul, one simultaneously ascends further upward to God and further outward to neighbor. The incommunicable and unrepeatable personality of the individual emanates outward in the measure that the personality is meaningfully fashioned inward, in the hidden depths of the soul.

For Stein, it is impossible to understand the nature of the human soul apart from its irrefragable relationship with God, who is pure Spirit and the archetype and actuating pattern of all created spirits, including the type of spiritual being that is the human soul. While the general form of the human soul can be divided into three distinct actualities--the understanding, the sense appetite, and the will--these alone do not adequately reflect the soul's holistic constitution. (11) As already mentioned, the soul consists moreover of the formative involuntary entelechy for the body, as well as the voluntary capacity for self-mastery and self-possession that masters the very actualities of the soul, namely, understanding, sense appetite, and will. (12) This is to say that by vital participation in God's uncreated Spirit, spiritual souls master themselves through the process of self-surrender to the uncreated Spirit. In this sense there is a pneumatological will that can master the psychological will in perfect cooperation with the divine will. In other words, the soul bears the potential to be spiritualized by the actualizing force of the Holy Spirit within it. A human soul can master and possess itself only in and through that spiritual being that is not identical to the human soul, namely, the Divine Spirit. It is a paradox in which the human soul masters and possesses itself to the degree that it surrenders itself to God. Stein contends that "this surrender is the highest act of her freedom" and "here it must be considered that the autonomous action of the soul apparently diminishes the more she nears her inmost self. And when she arrives there, God does everything in her, she no longer has anything more to do than to receive." (13) Receptivity characterizes the high point of the soul's activity. It also signals the goal of interpersonal communion among human beings: an awakening to the ethical.

The transition from living as a sensual person to embodying an ethical attitude is marked by a supernatural awakening to an "attitude of one who wants to recognize and do what is morally right." (14) The character of supernatural awakening cannot be emphasized enough, for "the conscience of the one who lives in this certainty of faith can no longer quiet itself by following its own best knowledge. It must strive to recognize what is right in God's eyes ... only in seeking for the divine will can human beings truly reach their goal." (15) Even the natural spiritual soul must undergo a metamorphosis and assume the character of supernatural spiritual being, not by prescinding from the material body but by conforming the material body to the self-giving and life-giving shape of spiritual being, manifest and proclaimed in the form of sacrifice. Only the personally free being can willingly comport oneself to the meaning and demands of sacrifice in the precise definition of the term. (16) Acts of sacrifice are the supreme testimony to spiritual being. Sacrificial acts reveal the utmost possibilities of the human soul: to exhaust oneself for the sake of the other. The measure of the soul's journey inward is disclosed in the measure of the body's outward display of love, extended toward the furthest reaches of the world, and to the direst circumstances of the other.

The inner life of the human person is ordered to interpersonal communion in love. Ethics is simply the field in which the proposed narratives of authentic love are tried and tested. Stories of human lives are woven from the loom of the human heart. All meaningful action proceeds from the desires of the heart and the determination of the will. Ethics outlines a territory that exceeds the competence of the natural sciences, including behavioral psychology. A posteriori studies are unable to account for the hidden a priori self-conscious determinations of action, concealed as they are in the inner life of the soul. It is only by way of metaphysics and phenomenology that the most foundational principles and ethical phenomenality of the soul can be brought to light. According to metaphysics and phenomenology, all roads lead to God--both in terms of actuality (metaphysics) and possibility (phenomenology). Supernatural phenomena are inaccessible by instruments of natural sense perception alone but demand a spiritual penetration to arrive at their detection; like discovers like. Only spiritual beings can recognize spiritual phenomena, and only methods that constitute the science of spiritual phenomena can successfully render the nature and life of such phenomena. Metaphysics and phenomenology bear the methodological competence to accurately identify and explicate the inner life of the human person and its intimate relationship to ethical action. In pioneering the blend of these two methods, Stein effectively unearths the givenness of the human soul and its attested being in the realm of ethics.

III. The Substance of Spiritual Being

The difficulty with attempting to submit a scientific description of the human soul is that it does not fit neatly within the parameters of typical scientific objectivity, which limits itself to the various forms of physical energy--for example, radiant, thermal, chemical, electric, nuclear, and mechanical--and material objects that the human ego is able to face. As Husserlian phenomenology demonstrates, however, the highest scientific analysis will be a science of consciousness that performs a critical appraisal of all data within consciousness rather than of those data outside of consciousness. Phenomenology ultimately inquires about the spiritual objects that infiltrate consciousness--for example, colors, textures, sounds, shapes, ideas, concepts, sensations, meanings, and images--thereby extracting data of a universal character. For instance, the shape of the triangle gives itself to consciousness as a universal datum: three lines intersecting and forming three respective angles. The triangular shape may take many forms and figures in the external world, but within consciousness it is regarded as an absolute datum--as a pure noema for noetic consciousness. The triangle is a spiritual object within consciousness, which includes the imprint of its shape within memory and imagination, but even more refers to the immutable givenness to consciousness of its shape.

Spiritual objects are of a different nature and substance than material objects. They are not locatable in space and cannot therefore be observed and measured in spatial dimensions. But spiritual objects are not on this basis to be ruled out of the realm of possibility in an a priori fashion. Instead, their very possibility is protected by the rights of phenomenology--the rights of any phenomenon to give itself as such--and their actuality is secured by the logic of metaphysics: "Spatial material structures--both dead and living--do not exhaust the range and scope of what is termed ousia [being]. For self-dependent, autonomous existents are also found in the realm of the spirit. And, indeed, according to what has previously been said concerning the first existent, it is evident that the name ousia applied to it in the highest and strictest sense, because the first existent possesses an infinite 'preeminence' of being over and above all finite existents." (17)

Stein insists that we must rationally demonstrate the precise nature of spiritual being, or the substance of spirit. Not only is this analysis to be applied to spiritual objects of consciousness but also to consciousness itself through the terminology of soul. (18) Spiritual objects can only be intuited as such by a spiritual subject. (19) Yet what is the specific substance of the spiritual subject? In other words, what is the precise substance of the spiritual soul? How might this created spiritual substance reflect the eternal substance of the first existent? Here is where the analysis must tread very carefully. The principle of the analogia entis must not be forgotten. God, spoken of in terms of substance and in terms of the first existent, is not to be regarded as simply an extension and highest proportion of created substances and existents. First of all, God is to be respected as supremely other and therefore ontologically different from finite existents in the most radical way. (20) The idea of God itself defies definability and comprehension and must be understood as either a limit concept (as in Kant), the most radical possibility, the possibility of impossibility (as in phenomenology), or the first existent and the highest degree of substance, of course by way of analogy (as in metaphysics). (21) Stein adopts the latter two understandings of God in dialectical tension between one another. For Stein, God is not merely a limit concept that marks the natural boundary of reason. Rather, God is intellectually ascertainable and able to be known with certainty via rational demonstration. Stein concurs with Aquinas that we do not know what God is in God's essence, but we can know that God exists with certainty by reasoning about God's effects. (22) Even more, Stein posits the human soul as the substantial image of God the Father.

Stein argues that the human soul is "a substantial unity which, entirely analogous to the physical thing, is made up of categorical elements and the sequence of categories ... This substantial unity is 'my' soul when the experiences in which it is apparent are 'my' experiences or acts in which my pure 'I' lives." (23) Among the categorical elements of the soul are the three levels of its structure: substance, potency, and act. According to Stein, "filling time is characteristic of (the substance of the soul), and hence it is something that endures and fills its duration with a stock of qualities that persists throughout changes." (24) This is to say that all the while the soul undergoes various changes--in every temporal instance where that which is potential is actualized--the soul's substance subsists and remains the same. (25) In comparison, the nature or substance of human being subsists through out the course of the individual's life, independent of circumstance, stage of development, or manifestation of abilities. The peculiar nature of each and every existent is determined by its preset entelechy, which defines its very nature and substance from the start.

For example, the inception of the human being is clearly at biological conception--the fusion of paternal and maternal gametes. (26) Upon this event of reproductive conception, the full entelechy of the unique individual person gives itself and begins to unfold through the processes of DNA replication and cellular division (mitosis). (27) The human nature is substantially realized in its fullness at the distinct epiphany of the newly formed individual person. All subsequent processes within the maternal womb, for example, implantation, play a subsidiary role in working to promote and sustain the life and substance of the newly fashioned infant. The substance of the soul originates concomitantly with the inception of the material body of the person. (28) The soul does not predate the body in terms of its specificity but comes on the scene, as it were, at the fusion of gametic nuclei forming the zygote nucleus. The soul is the spiritual nucleus of the entire person, just as the nucleus of the cell is at the core of the cell's vital processes, physical constitution, and individuated ontological identity as a genuine other distinct from the mother and the father.

The substance of the soul cannot be reduced to the material substance of the body, just as the physical body cannot be reduced to the spiritual soul. (29) The body and soul together constitute the nature of human being and together comprise the quidditive determinateness of the human existent. However, the soul itself, falling within the category of spiritual substance, can be abstracted from its indigenous corporeality as a spiritual object for consciousness. Stein insists that the human soul exists always and necessarily in a body, but we are still able to speak of the soul in a sense in which it can be viewed as a distinguished spiritual substance in itself. This task of abstraction is all the more important if we are to entertain the possibility of the postmortem soul existing in its vital specificity apart from the body.

IV. The Analogy of Material Being

In order to avoid speaking in such a way that becomes too removed from the natural world of material objects, Stein employs the concrete language of material being in order to speak of a concrete science of the soul by way of analogy: "Just as the soul's being, as we described it, is 'formed matter' (life having qualities and specified for acts), its substance (whose being is life given qualities) is also formed matter = power having qualities. The soul's power without form does not have actual being any more than space-filling matter in the sense of material prima without form has being. But neither could the form, if it lacked power, have actual being since this form is formal in the sense of an empty form and the first formed power is substance." (30) As precisely as possible, Stein describes the substance of the soul as power (Kraft) having qualities. The substance of the soul is depicted as the actual power of the organism's entelechy since the entelechy is at once power and form. The power of the soul cannot be separated from the qualities of the soul, such as understanding, sense appetite, and will. (31) Just as the thought of prime matter is purely theoretical and could not take place in reality (because prime matter is pure potency with no admixture of actuality), so too power is the core of the soul's substance but would not be manifest as such without its constitutive qualities. The manifest qualities of the soul--for example, understanding, sense appetite, and will--attest to a substantial ground of their being that remains even more abstract than these abstract qualities. (32) The soul's substance is that which remains the same throughout the ongoing processes of metamorphosis and variation within the soul and within the body. (33) Stein refers to substance of the soul as the "soul of the soul" and speaks of the living soul as "an act of the organism ... what gives being to the organic object as a whole, indeed the characteristic being that we call 'life' ... Act, understood as the actual being of the living soul, is life." (34) The substance of the soul, as power having qualities, exhibits a center of constant actualization of the organic being in its life. Once the organism dies, the soul's substance no longer is operative within the body. Upon death, the body commences an irreversible biological process of unbecoming: deterioration, decay, decomposition.

Yet Stein does not regard the soul as a sort of pure actuality in the finite world: "Divine being is for us the pure act, in comparison with which all finite being--in different measure and degree--is partly potential and partly actual. This also applies to the soul. As the actuating principle in the living being--the principle which forms the living being and thus makes it actual--the soul is itself actual, but its actuation [Wirken] is at the same time a constant actualization of its own potentialities. This supremacy of the soul over all merely potential being is implied in the term 'potent potency' [Kraft-Moglichkeit]." (35)

In other words, the actuality of the soul is to be understood in relation to the constant actualization of its pluripotent potencies. Potent potency amounts to the finite actuality exercised by the soul. Not only does the soul bear countless potentialities to be actualized, but if potency is that which lacks actual being (thereby assuming a negative character in relation to the positivity of actual being), potent potency can be viewed as a negation of negation wherein actual being gives itself. Another way of saying potent potency is nonactual nonactuality, or actual actuality--not pure actuality but a constant actualization (a powerful potency) of potential being. Theoretically speaking, prime matter is pure potentiality, whereas spiritual being is the actual being that always precedes material being. Prime matter could assume this form or that form depending on the formal actuality that causes it to take its specific shape of being. Prime matter alone--as it can be theoretically conceived--is pure potency or possibility. Only the powerful potency as finite actuality can give specific forms to this prime matter.

V. The Analogy of Divine Being

As the life-giving principle of the organism, the soul is at the same time the actuating agent of its own potentialities. Immaterial and nonspatial (though naturally living as a single nature with the material body), the substance of the soul is the very actuating agent of both soul and body. As an individuated power having qualities, the soul's substance is manifest in its qualities, though these qualities themselves do not constitute their own substances and self-possessing powers. Individual human being stems from the uniqueness of individual human souls, all of which partake of the same human nature but each of which constitutes an unrepeatable sui generis existence. (36) In sum, for Stein, the substance of the soul is the actuating principle of both soul and body, while the body stands in relation to the soul as material potentiality in need of being actualized by the soul.

Further, Stein designates three realms of actual being: (i) material being as "that which maintains itself in a self-enclosed structure," (2) the being of the soul as "that which tends toward formation," and (3) spiritual being as "that which freely gives and diffuses itself." (37) The soul exhibits a threefold power of formation: "the forming of the body, the forming of the soul, and the unfolding in spiritual life. All this is done by the formative power of the soul, although this power (in its threefold formative efficiency) is one." (38) The substance of the soul--this singular power having qualities--is the actualizing force of life and meaning; it is the substratum of all corporeal form and cellular processes. Stein traces the origin of the soul's substance to the first existent, which is pure actuality and therefore must be understood as pure spirit, even if by way of analogy. The soul, as the source of life for the living organism "has in God its primordial archetype, because the divine life from eternity draws creatively from the source of its own self and wells up from its own depth. If the divine life were rigid and unmoved, it would not be life, and it is not only life but the life, and all earthly life is nothing but its remote image." (39)

The human soul can be understood as the spiritual heart of the imago Dei. Drawing creatively from the source of its entelechy, the soul wells up from its own depth and bears itself outward in a bodily manifestation. The soul's power is constantly dynamic as potent potency rather than a static and meaningless substance. It is the power of the soul which generates its inner life that unfolds temporally through mitosis and the gradual teleological formation of the organism. More specifically, Stein draws an intimate connection between the three basic forms of real being--material being, the being of the soul, and spiritual being--and the triune Deity: "To the Father--the primordial creator--from whom everything derives its existence but who himself exists only by and through his own self, would then correspond the being of the soul, while to the Son--the 'born-out' essential form--would correspond all bodily being. And the free and selfless streaming forth (of the Holy Spirit) would have its counterpart in the activity of the spirit, which merits the name spirit [Geist] in a special sense. We might then see a triune unfolding of being in the entire realm of reality." (40)

Here Stein is establishing a most meaningful correspondence between the fruits of reason and the illumination of divine Revelation. The triune structure of the soul's formative power, as well as the trichotomy of actual being, directly accords with the trinitarian form of divine Revelation in the Christian tradition. By rationally understanding the pattern of Christian faith, one is better able to understand the creedal rationality of the structure of personal being, for "faith has its reasons and scientific reason has its beliefs." (41) In such analyses, the truth of metaphysics, phenomenology, and divine Revelation coincide. Faith and reason act as two lungs breathing in the pure air of truth. By way of analogy, Stein conceives the human soul as an image of God the Father who from eternity is begetting God the Son. The eternal actuality of God is revealed as an eternal begetting of the divine Logos, the preexistent Word of the Father. This word at once communicates truth, goodness, and beauty. The logic of divinity is nothing less than the veracity of truth, the delight of goodness, and the radiance of beauty. As primordial creator of the universe, the character of God the Father is most precisely revealed as the causa sui and the unity of essence and existence. While the divine substance is the same among the three Persons of the Trinity, the doctrine of the divine processions sheds light on the distinct figure of God the Father as the prosopic archetype of the human soul in its indivisible relation to body and spirit. The personal identity of God the Father is revealed only through the divine processions of Son and Spirit, of Logos and Love, of Meaning and Power.

Stein likens God the Son to all bodily being since material corporeality is the born-out form of spiritual being. This is not to imply that there is an eternal finite materiality within the infinite Godhead. Rather, through the analogia entis, a direct correlation can be made between the eternal procession of God the Son and the nature of material being as such. The logic of the laws of physics and metaphysics themselves originate within the eternal Logos, from whom there proceeds, and in which there actualizes, "a perfect coherence of meaning [Sinnzusammenhang]" and "a totality of meaning [Sinn-Ganzes] " (42) The divine procession of the Son is the personal and gratuitous self-communication of Godself to the created universe. All coherence of meaning, all logic and intelligibility, and all rational form and truth issues from the eternal Logos, which is the loving discourse of divinity. The pattern of kenotic self-emptying is one that bears itself outward in generous and sacrificial self-donation. As Albert the Great, teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas, wrote, "It is characteristic of the greatest love to give itself as food" and it is in this food that God manifests his whole sweetness to us. (43) The mystery of the Incarnation reveals most poignantly the born-out form of spiritual being. Consisting of a double generation--one divine, the other human--the immaterial and eternal Logos manifests itself to the created universe in becoming flesh in time and space as the Incarnate Word. The material manifestation depends entirely on the anteriority of immaterial spirit, in this case and in particular, the pure and eternal actuality that is the preexistent Logos. Yet God the Son does not stop his voluntary kenosis at his virginal conception. He goes even further by offering his flesh to his followers as food and drink in the Eucharist. His desire is to continue to bear himself outward in and through the Church as Word and Sacrament.

God the Spirit, according to Stein, is marked by its free and selfless streaming forth. The Holy Spirit goes by the nomenclature of spirit because this Divine Person exhibits the character of spirit par excellence. The activity of the Holy Spirit is a constant self-diffusion that wields the power of inverting the natural entropic tendencies of material being and spiritualizing it. Material being tends toward consumption and self-preservation, selfishly fixated on its conatus essendi (i.e., its struggle for being). Its cardinal concern is to prolong its own existence over and against the existence of the rest. Spiritual being, on the contrary, is other-centered. Its concern is to promote the well-being and flourishing of the other through passionate sacrifice and loving service. Spiritual being gives itself over to the other to the point of abandonment, invisible and immaterial by nature, entirely selfless and self-transparent with a purely righteous and virtuous intentionality in self-giving and self-emptying. The Book of Wisdom features a descriptive litany of the eternal Spirit of God: "For in (Wisdom) is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, never harmful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, and pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle." (44) Along with the meaningful Logos, the Holy Spirit is the very power of regeneration. Just as the Spirit (JR, ruah) swept over the primordial waters at creation, it is the Holy Spirit who likewise gives life (Zwopoiew) through the regenerating waters of baptism while the flesh, merely material and unspiritual, is of no avail on its own. (45) The Holy Spirit lends the pattern, power, and authority of radical self-donation to both body and soul, thereby opening the way to redemption of created finitude and mortality.

For Stein, God the Father is identified as the primordial creator of the universe, creating all precisely through the eternal processions of Son and Spirit, of Word and Breath, of Meaning and Power, of Order and Kenosis. The Father, in relation to Son and Spirit, is the hidden Substratum of the Godhead, "from whom everything derives its existence but who himself exists only by and through his own self." (46) The kenosis of the Spirit testifies to the Son while the kenosis of the Son testifies to the Father. The kenosis of the Father runs in the opposite direction, exhibiting a self-attestation through the divine processions of Son and Spirit. Scripture reveals God the Father primarily as the mysterious One, the incomprehensible One, as dark Abyss that is paradoxically Foundation. (47) And so Stein identifies the soul as corresponding most precisely to the Father, since the soul is the hidden spiritual ground of the totality of the human person. As entelechy and actuality of the body, the soul is the animate principle from which the entire person derives his or her existence. As proximate formal and final cause of the human being, the soul reflects the Father as Uncaused Cause. It is the soul that is associated most readily with God the Father, given the trichotomous structure of the human being: body, soul, and spirit.

VI. Conclusion

In sum, soul, body, and spirit mirror the nature of divinity. From eternity, both Son and Spirit proceed from the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son: "the true God is, of his own nature, being-for (Father), being-from (Son), and being-with (Holy Spirit). Yet man is in the image of God precisely because the being for, from, and with constitute the basic anthropological shape." (48) The unity in plurality evident within the self, enmeshed within a community of persons, reflects the unity in plurality of interpersonal relationships and the unity in plurality within God. As Stein suggests, soul, body, and spirit together correlate with the Trinity, a singular Divine Substance and a plurality of Divine Persons. To recapitulate, the soul most directly correlates with God the Father as the substantial and immutable ground of the per son; the body coincides with God the Son as the born-out essential form of the person; and the spirit links at once to God the Spirit, which is characterized as the free and selfless streaming forth of divine life. The soul is the substantial seat of personal being, bearing within itself the capacity to be elevated according to the Divine Spirit and thereupon spiritualizing the merely natural struggle for being in body and soul. (49) This is to say that the soul itself can either live in the spirit or die in the flesh. The soul may voluntarily yield to the natural corruption of the body, exacerbated by its chronicle of inclinations and appetites, or it may willfully surrender itself to the movements of its finite spirit that is anchored in the Infinite Divine Spirit. (50) The soul as a substantial power having qualities, as a substantial receiver and weaver of meanings, and as the substantial source and object of interpersonal love is the substantial image of God the Father.

In supplying a description of the inner life of the human person, and in drawing the analogy between the spiritual soul and material being and the analogy between the spiritual soul and Divine Being, Stein sufficiently presents a picture of the human soul that reduces it neither to material being nor to a meaningless nonconceptual placeholder of nothingness. Through the joint efforts of metaphysics and phenomenology, Stein accurately construes the human soul in its spiritual substance and in its particular being in relation to the body and to the Divine Spirit. Stein's work effectively counteracts the postmodern tendencies to reduce the human being to categories of material being alone. A holistic theological anthropology is proffered that greatly contributes to a truthful answer to the question, what is it to be human?


(1.) Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle: Study Edition, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2010), 34.

(2.) Edith Stein, Knowledge and Faith, trans. Walter Redmond (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2000), 99. Cf. Stein, La Estructura de la Persona Humana, 81: "'Having soul' means to possess an interior center, in which it perceives as crashing all that which comes from without, and from which proceeds everything that manifests itself in the behavior of the body as coming from within" (translation my own).

(3.) Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross, trans. Josephine Koeppel (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2002), 153. The end of the quoted text is followed by endnote 1, which reads, "Here one must recall that in these distinctions we are using a spatial image for something that is not spatial. Actually, the soul 'has no parts, and there is no difference as to inward and outward." Cf. The Living Flame of Love by John of the Cross, 1.10." Cf. Stein, Potency and Act, 153: "The spirit or soul is not an extended thing, nor is the understanding a spatial part of such a thing. The understanding is not a kind of drawer we can shove things into. It is not a material body that can be molded and impressed with forms like visible, tangible shapes." Cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 373: "The soul is the 'space' in the center of the body-soul-spirit totality.... As spiritual soul it rises above itself, gaining insight into a world that lies beyond its own self--a world of things, persons, and events--communicating with this world and receiving its influences. As soul in the strictest sense, however, it abides in its own self, since in the soul the personal I is in its very home. The soul as the interior castle--as it was pictured by our holy mother Teresa--is not point-like as is the pure ego, but 'spatial'"; ibid., 433.

(4.) Edith Stein, On the Problem of Empathy, trans. Waltraut Stein (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1989), 91. Cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 370:
   In the human soul personal erectness has become a fact. Here the
   inner life has become conscious being. The I has been awakened, and
   its vision moves in an outward and inward direction. The I is
   capable of viewing the multitude of external impressions in the
   light of its understanding and of responding to them in personal
   freedom. And because the human I is capable of doing this, people
   are spiritual persons, i.e., carriers of their own lives in a
   preeminent sense of a personal "having-oneself-in-hand."

(5.) Ibid., 91. Cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 375:
   The awake and conscious ego-life is the entrance portal to the soul
   and its hidden life, just as the life of the senses is the entrance
   portal to the body and its hidden life. The awake and conscious
   life is the entrance portal because it is a manifestation of that
   which takes place in the soul, and it is an actualization
   [Auswirkung] of the soul's essence. Everything I consciously
   experience issues from my soul. It is an encounter of my soul with
   something that "impresses" it.

(6.) Edith Stein, Potency and Act: Studies Toward a Philosophy of Being, trans. Walter Redmond (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2009), 200. Cf. ibid., 257, 258 (including endnote 220), 340:
   Lastly, in this inner life the soul's very depth opens up, and
   albeit (according to Conrad-Martius's discourse on "the soul") the
   soul remains a "ground beyond" which does not fully enter its
   actual life, nevertheless what the soul is in itself lights up in
   its inner life. And as we have seen, it is possible for the soul to
   pass into a form of being wherein it is entirely actual, hence
   entirely illumined. We also saw that the free activity of the I,
   what is specifically personal, proceeds from its "interior." From
   here, too, the real [real] unity of soul and body evinces itself
   ... The child does not know what it is nor what it is like
   inwardly. It is given over wholly to its actual living, radiates
   itself therein without restraint, and this is precisely why the
   aura it gives off is so strong ... Children differ greatly,
   however, in how much their "depth" is involved in their actual
   living; we should sharply distinguish this involvement or
   non-involvement from the kind we are reflexively aware of. I
   daresay, though, that on average children also live "with their
   whole soul" more than adults do ... The life of a soul is the life
   of the subject that has the soul ... the acts of the soul--as in
   man--have the form of intentionality. Moreover, Stein indicates the
   potential perfection of the highest mode of being human: "Whoever
   truly wants, in blind faith, nothing more but what God wills, has,
   with God's grace, reached the highest state a human being can
   reach" (Stein, The Science of the Cross, 166).

(7.) Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt at an Ascent to the Meaning of Being, trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2002), 437-38.

(8.) See ibid., 433:
   We have repeatedly described the soul as a sort of "space," and we
   have spoken of its "depth" and its "surface." The same idea is
   expressed in the metaphor of the castle of the soul, a castle that
   has outer and inner chambers as well as an innermost abode. The "I"
   inhabits this castle, and it may choose to reside in one of the
   outer chambers, or it may retire into that nearer and innermost

(9.) Ibid., 441.

(10.) Ibid., 441.

(11.) See Stein, Potency and Act, 381-83, for a discussion of the three actualities, understanding, sense appetite, and will.

(12.) See ibid., 352-53, on the notions of self-possession and self-mastery. See ibid., 242: "the base of a man is shifted into his spirit, and so he can have his soul and master it."

(13.) Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross, trans. Joesephine Koeppel, OCD (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2002), 162.

(14.) Ibid., 164.

(15.) Ibid., 165.

(16.) See Stein, The Science of the Cross, 163-64, for a brief discussion on the spiritual prospect of self-denial and sacrifice.

(17.) Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 275. See ibid., 275: "substance, i.e., an actuality resting upon itself and both encompassing and unfolding its own essence. Essentia is the nature belonging irrevocably to the being of this actuality as the foundation of the quidditative determinateness of such an existent."

(18.) Stein, Potency and Act, 354: "And the soul can carry out an activity wherein the body no longer seems to play any role at all, when the soul is not concerned with the body itself nor through it with the sensible world but with purely spiritual objects ... and the soul itself, which is capable of such an actuality (of spiritual acts), appears to be a purely spiritual substance."

(19.) Ibid., 385: "Through this empty form, the soul is open in three ways: it is sensibly receptive, intellectually directed to objects, and innerly open to spiritual contents."

(20.) Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 447: "In the case of lower creatures we have seen the similitude with the divine archetype primarily on the side of the form, because matter--in the dual sense of that which fills space and of the determinable indeterminate--is with respect to God the totally other. Only as formed matter does matter partake of the Godlikeness of created things and beings."

(21.) It is important to note that Stein regards analogy as the hermeneutical key for theology. See Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 607-8, endnote 126: "the law of analogy which in my opinion is the basic law of all theological thinking. This law makes it impossible to transfer to God the categories of the finite completely unchanged. In God there are neither states of the heart nor qualities. Everything that is attributed to him must be understood analogically.... And that which is separated in creatures is one in God."

(22.) Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1.2.1-3.

(23.) Stein, On the Problem of Empathy, 40.

(24.) Stein, Potency and Act, 337.

(25.) Ibid., 262-63: "For the soul's potency and essence cannot possibly be identical, since its essence is simple but its potencies are many, corresponding as they do to its acts.... The potencies are not part of the soul's essence but of its power as a whole."

(26.) Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 515-16:
   Every soul is directly or immediately created by God ... the new
   creature has a particular individuality of body and soul from the
   first moment of its existence in the maternal womb, a particular
   individuality which, though akin to that of the parents, is
   nonetheless something quite different. It must be considered,
   furthermore, that the new human being is from the first moment of
   its existence the carrier--albeit not a free, conscious carrier--of
   its own being and initiates its own evolution. It takes in
   nourishment, it grows, and it forms itself. Must we not assume,
   then, that the soul too, even in this earliest stage, receives
   impressions and initiates its own formation [Ausgestaltung]?

(27.) Even in (1) the case of identical twins that originate from a single zygotic cell that divides into two distinct beings, or (2) the case of tetragametic chimerism in which two originary zygotic cells fuse into one, the human soul--as nonspatial--can be regarded as united with the distinct material body at its inception. In the case of identical twins, the distinction between two souls would at least have to be made upon the inception of the second individual zygotic cell. In the case of tetragametic chimerism, it can be plausibly assumed--in the light of the notion of the soul as entelechy and its definite teleology--that there is an individual soul that informs the two originary zygotic cells simultaneously, with the divine foreknowledge that the two zygotic cells will at a precise point fuse together as one definitive being.

The latter case is no different from a singular soul informing a plurality of cells that constitute the human body.

(28.) See Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 274: "The soul comes out of nothingness and yet bears within itself the power for being."

(29.) The argument that attempts to reduce the human self/soul/person to the body alone is undercut by the fact that the vast majority of the human body is regenerated several times throughout the course of a mature human life span. This is to say that the physical body is not contiguous with itself over the course of the body's temporal formal existence. The human body is always in a state of flux and becoming. Most anthropological material reductionisms today make their case in the name of neurobiology, arguing that all of the attributes of the so-called soul can be traced to neurological processes within the human brain as their source. Yet this argument, too, is rendered untenable in light of the recent discoveries of neurogenesis occurring naturally within the brain. Neurological matter is likewise subject to change and regeneration--a fact that calls into question the hasty anthropological reductionism of positing the subsistent self upon nonsubsistent matter. In other words, the whole self is much greater than the sum of its ever-fluctuating material parts. It is nonsensical to reduce the self to the organized activity of neurotransmission. The subsistence and continuity of the unique self cannot be reduced to its material components alone because the material components come and go while the self's entelechy remains the same--the entelechy as the actualizing agent of the latent potencies of material being in its precise configurations and matrical properties.

(30.) Stein, Potency and Act, 385.

(31.) See ibid., 189-90.

(32.) See Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 369: "Following the lead of H. Conrad-Martius, we have regarded it as a particular characteristic of the soul to be the center of the being [Seinsmitte] of the animate existent [Lebewesen] and the hidden source from which this existent draws its being and rises to its visible form."

(33.) See Stein, Potency and Act, 124-26:
   Finite spirits are not from themselves; that is, they do not come
   into existence through their own power. But they are "by themselves
   [fur such]"; that is, by entering into existence they are on their
   own. "Hypostasis" is the specific term for this self-constancy
   [Selbst-Standigkeit]. We shall even go ahead and restrict the word
   to this purely formal sense that does not include spiritualness,
   and we shall call what is self-sufficient, insofar as it is
   something spiritual, a "person." We would therefore have to
   identify "spiritual subject" and "person." The person is what is
   spiritual originally ... If we take "substance" for what activates
   its being in certain effects and--where it is something
   variable--persists throughout its variations ... A spiritual
   substance is a spiritual subject having a what of a definite
   content ... The life of the I is stimulated at [a] something
   outside, at "objects [Gegenstand]" that "come to consciousness."
   But the I is not an empty form that life is put into from without;
   its life rather comes from itself. Hence something exists that
   takes effect in living, and this something must have its own
   qualities and it must bestow qualities, although the objects
   whereat conscious life is stimulated also give qualities to the
   stream of consciousness. So we cannot imagine any being of the I
   where the I lacked substance; spiritual being requires a spiritual
   substance. Consequently, we may answer our question in this way:
   being a spiritual substance pertains to the person. Person denotes
   not just the form of the object in the spiritual region, but at the
   same time the need for an individual substance to fill this form.

(34.) Ibid., 289.

(35.) Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 273.

(36.) See Ibid., 272-73:
   Finite being has an essence and it has the power of self-being
   [Macht zu seinem eigenen Sein]. This power is a dynamic
   potentiality in the sense that all finite actuality is constantly
   on the way toward its being and is therefore essentially temporal.
   When we designated substance as "autonomous [selbsteigen]
   existent," we meant to indicate that this kind of existent owns
   "itself" or is its own self and thus has its own essence and being.
   However, we understood being as the actualization [Sichauswirken]
   of the essential form, that is, as the actualization of those
   potentialities that have their foundation in the essence (including
   temporality and the "power of being an independent self" [Macht zum
   eigenen Sein]) ... The specific being of living beings is
   distinctfrom both body and mind (spirit) by virtue of thefact that
   living beings must first acquire possession of their essence or
   nature. That which is alive [das Lebendige] is distinguished from
   purely material natures because it has a "center" of its own being,
   that is, a soul or what we may call a "be-souling principle" (if we
   want to reserve the term soul for that personal soul that does not
   make its appearance until we arrive at the individually and
   personally formed human totality).

(37.) Ibid., 274. Cf. ibid., 274:
   The form toward which material elements as such tend is the form of
   the body. The form for which the mental (or spiritual) as such
   craves is the form of the mind (or spirit). The soul principle [das
   Seelische], however, being 'creative' and 'underground'
   [unterirdisch], does not actualize itself in a third kind of
   fullness of content [inhaltliche Fulle], but in a form that is
   either material or spiritual. What we customarily call living
   beings are substances whose being is the progressive formation of a
   material body out of the soul principle. That which is alive is
   never finished. It is forever on the way to its own self, but it
   bears within itself--that is, within its soul--the power of forming

(38.) Ibid., 462.

(39.) Ibid., 361.

(40.) Ibid., 361. Cf. ibid., 463: The threefold formative power of the soul must be regarded as a tri-unity, and the same is true of the end product of its forming activity: body--soul--spirit. If we attempt to relate this tri-unity to the Divine Trinity, we shall discover in the soul--the wellspring that draws from its own sources and molds itself in body and spirit--the image of the Father; in the body--the firmly designed and circumscribed expression of the essence or nature--the image of the eternal Word; and in the spiritual life the image of the divine Spirit.

(41.) Jean-Luc Marion, The Visible and the Revealed, trans. Christina M. Gschwandtner, et al. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 145.

(42.) Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 113. Cf. Stein, Potency and Act, 112, 331:
   Ideas are--on this view--archetypes of things and the things are
   their likenesses or copies. But the ideas owe the fact that they
   have the power to call their likenesses into existence and to form
   the matter into copies of themselves to their being in the Logos,
   who makes them alive [lebendig], hence effective as well ... Thus
   the individual peculiarity and the typical variations of the
   species are accidental outcomes from the standpoint of the
   entelechy, but from the standpoint of the Logos they are foreseen
   as possibility founded on the ordered interplay of the forces.

(43.) Albertus Magnus, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 22, 19; Opera Omnia, Parisiis 1890-899, 23, 672-74, trans. in The Liturgy of the Hours According to the Roman Rite (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975), 1560.

(44.) Wisdom 7:22b--3 (NABRE).

(45.) See Genesis 1:1-2; John 6:63; Jude 17-20: "But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers who will live according to their own godless desires.' These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit" (NAB); Romans 6:4: "We were indeed buried with (Christ Jesus) through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (NAB); Romans 8:5-6, 14: "For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace.... For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God" (NAB). Cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 445, 464:
   And the spirit of God is meaning and power . . . In the last
   analysis, therefore, every meaningful demand which is made upon the
   soul with obligatory force is a word of God. For there is no
   meaning that does not have its eternal home and abode in the Logos.
   And anyone who willingly receives such a word of God simultaneously
   receives the divine power to comply with the demand.... All
   creatures have a triune structure as substances that stand upon
   themselves and that are filled with meaning and power. And all
   self-dependent structures pertain to a triune (body--soul--spirit)
   unfolding of their being.

(46.) Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 361.

(47.) See Exodus 3 : 14: "God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you" (NABRE); Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (RSV); Judges 13:18: "The angel of the LORD answered him: Why do you ask my name? It is wondrous" (NABRE); Psalm 139:12: "Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one" (NABRE).

(48.) Joseph Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 248.

(49.) Cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, 364: "The human soul as spirit rises in its spiritual life beyond itself."

(50.) Cf. ibid., 444: "The soul's being appears anchored in divine being."
COPYRIGHT 2014 Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Wallenfang, Donald L.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2014
Previous Article:St. Vincent of Lerins and the development of Christian doctrine.
Next Article:The Christian Socrates: autobiography and conversion in the Consolation of Philosophy.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters