Is CCC Teaching On The Soul 100% Infallible?


Specifically regarding Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy of the soul.

Link to the relevant paragraphs start here.

And I’d like to say that I already know that the following issues regarding the soul have been doctrinally defined and are infallible: Every spiritual soul is directly created by God. The spiritual soul is immortal. And that man, though made of body and soul, is a unity.

I also agree with all of the following statements (originally listed here):
The present Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the soul as "the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man."
The soul is the center of the human will, intellect (or mind), and imagination (or memory), and the source of all free human acts, although good acts are aided by God’s grace.
Every human being receives a soul at the moment of conception, and has rights and dignity equal to persons of further development, including the right to life.
At the moment of death, the soul goes either to Purgatory, Heaven, or Hell. Purgatory is a place of atonement for sins that one goes through to pay the temporal punishment for post-baptismal sins that have not been atoned for by sufferings during one’s earthly life. This is distinct from the atonement for the eternal punishment due to sin which was affected by Christ’s suffering and death.
The Catholic Church teaches the creationist view of the origin of the soul: “The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God.” -Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 382.

However, I’m having some serious issues right now with referring to the soul as a sort of “animating principle”, because I don’t see a good reason as to why the “animation” of living things could not simply be a purely material (physical/chemical) phenomenon, while still the spiritual soul remains the seat of the human intellect and will (and everything else listed above).

I’m specifically thinking of statements like the following:
"…it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul."
"…one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body… i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body."

Is absolutely everything in the CCC 100% infallible? Or does it, in addition to doctrinal teaching, contain statements and explanations that are (while not contradictory to the faith in any way, and possibly even very helpful guides) not necessarily infallible, such that an educated person could respectfully disagree with minor points while not rejecting infallible Church teaching?


It is the second. The CCC is great for looking up what the party line is on X, virtually useless as the basis for any sort of serious philosophical thinking. It is not going to tell you, except in highly abbreviated form, what Catholic thinkers have thought about the soul. However it might warn you against a few silly non-Catholic ideas in common currency.


“…one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body… i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body.”

I know this was infallibly defined at the Council of Vienne.

As for the rest, that is the teaching of the universal ordinary magisterium, which makes it inafallible as well.


OK… found that particular quote.

“Moreover, with the approval of the said council, we reject as erroneous and contrary to the truth of the catholic faith every doctrine or proposition rashly asserting that the substance of the rational or intellectual soul is not of itself and essentially the form of the human body, or casting doubt on this matter. In order that all may know the truth of the faith in its purity and all error may be excluded, we define that anyone who presumes henceforth to assert defend or hold stubbornly that the rational or intellectual soul is not the form of the human body of itself and essentially, is to be considered a heretic.”

…I still don’t understand exactly what that means, though.
But it’s really a topic for another thread anyway, so I’ll hold off for now.


“Animating” doesn’t mean just what English commonly means by that, now does it? Look at the word. “Anima”, soul. So what they’re talking about is not just the physical function of a living body, but rather both the physical functioning and what is called “ensoulment”. This is very crucial to the doctrine of the Incarnation, to the fact that we are not just souls using bodies as vehicles, and to the dignity of human life.

This teaching strikes at those who would claim that some living human beings are inferior, soulless animals; and that severely injured or disabled persons who are still alive are now just soulless containers whose souls have already passed on. If the person’s body is alive, the soul is there; that’s pretty simple.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the soul is the physical mechanisms working all this. It does mean that the soul is, in some metaphysical sense, responsible for working those physical mechanisms or united with them. (Since we all know people who’ve decided to die and done it without any apparent physical reason, this should be pretty intuitive.)

This also suggests why it is that becoming more Christlike is a process which works both on soul and body – because in a living human, soul and body are in such intimate union at all times.

I’m not really all that into theology, though, so if I’m wrong about this, folks, please correct me.


I did a little more searching and found this older thread, which is very helpful.

I was also thinking some more, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly why we would/should consider that particular statement from the Council of Vienne to be infallible? Because it reminds me a whole lot of this argument that I ran across last year (where heliocentrism was declared “formally heretical” and rejection of geocentrism was declared “erroneous in faith”), and I’m not exactly sure why we would say that the first one is infallible, while the other was simply the fallible but well-intended opinion of Church officials. Is declaring the rejection of something as heretical actually the same as making an infallible definition, or are they different things altogether? Does a particular (Aristotelian/Thomistic) philosophy of the soul even count as a matter of “faith” that it can be infallibly defined?

That second option actually sounds really good.


“…one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body… i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body.”

It’s important to know the word “form” is a philosophical term and that is how it is used here. It does not mean just the shape of the body.



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