Soul Versus Spirit?

The more I think about this the farther down the rabbit hole I find myself, and the more I’m getting tangled up in my own thoughts. So, I’m going back to the basics to sort this all out.

We assume everyone has a Soul, be it a good soul or a bad soul or just somewhere between the two extremes. But just what IS the soul?

I also assume everyone has a Spirit as well- a spark of the Divine that separates us from all other creatures. In short, in order for Man to ‘work’ he must have an spirit dwelling within him (whether he knows it or not). But just what is this spirit?

As for the Soul, I believe it’s our human nature and intellect all rolled into one.

As for the Spirit, I believe it’s angelic presence created by God.

Soul + Spirit = Man. Or is it Spirit + Man = Soul?

But how do they interact- what happens to our Soul and Spirit when we die? Are they fused together as one and enjoy (or suffer) the same fate? Do they go their separate ways? Does the soul simply cease to exist and the spirit alone carries on another destination?

For those who believe in the transmigration of spirits, as I do, the problem gets a little deeper. I believe those spirits which are not ready for prime time (ie, heaven) are ‘recycled’ into another body so it has another go at salvation. But, if this spirit had previously inhabited a body, what became of that person’s soul? Do spirits retain any ‘memory’ of previous vessels? Or, as I noted earlier, are spirit and soul combined- and if this is so, can a spirit be ‘carrying’ multiple souls through a succession of transmigrations?

I use “soul” and “spirit” as synonyms.

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I would, too, except that I’m still faced with determining just WHERE that soul/spirit comes from. Some may contend that a new soul is created at conception, but it is my belief that the soul/spirit is placed in the new person from an external source. I tend to think that the Jewish concept of the Guf (or Well of Souls, for you Indiana Jones fans) explains where these souls are held until needed.

Then there’s the question of are the souls held in the Guf (or wherever they come from) the ONLY souls? Or are these just the ones allotted to Man? I tend to go with the latter.

If we assume that ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are the same thing, then the mechanics of having a soul is greatly simplified. But if we regard the soul and spirit as separate- yet connected- it becomes far more complex.

Well I don’t really worry about it too much. I believe our souls/ spirits exist way before our bodies do. By some power, it is placed in our body at some point in time.

I am pretty new-age though. I don’t practice Catholicism, so I am probably not the best person to reply. Except I think I make a valid point when I say all of that doesn’t really matter much. What matters is the here and now. We are a body with a soul/spirit. At least that is what I believe. People who don’t believe in souls/spirits would obviously have a different idea.

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See if this helps

I think though that it is a bit arbitrary and one should define what is meant when using a term.


Man is body and soul, not tripartite body, soul, and spirit. It is Catholic dogma that every human soul is created immediately at conception and is not pre-existing.


Yes that is what I always thought. The soul does not exist until conception. Perhaps we can say once created the soul is everlasting but it is not eternal because it did not always exist. The soul is what gives life to the body and transcends materiality and physical death. The soul has been described as intellect and will. Spirit is what the soul is, meaning spiritual not physical.

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In Scolastic Theology, it is said that soul is made up of intellect, will, and memory.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We also believe that plants have a vegetative soul, animals have a [don’t remember] soul, and people (maybe angels too) have a rational soul.

See also Summa Theologica 1st part, question 79

The distinction of soul and spirit comes from.1 Thessalonians, where S.Paul makes reference to “spirit, soul, and body.” There are similar references in Scripture.

So if nothing else, the equation of ‘soul + spirit = human being’ is wrong right off, because you forgot the equally important term ‘+ body!’

We normally associate the mind with the soul, although theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas have disagreed as to the extent of the mind’s spirituality.

However, in French (which has no word for mind), the term “esprit” is used to refer to a human being’s intellective propensities.

Clear as mud, what???

Fortunately we have our bodies to hold the immaterial aspects together!!!


You are thinking of the soul as an independent entity which is separable from the body. This leads to the idea that the soul existed before the body, that the soul is trapped in the body for a time, that a soul might jump from one body to another, and that the soul might float free after death.

The standard Catholic teaching (with a few references to Scripture) is found here:
CCC 362-368, “Body and soul but truly one”

And the key might be this, from CCC 365: “Spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”


In scholastic philosophy, all living things, including animals and plants, have souls, but human beings have spiritual souls, meaning that it is subsistent and is not destroyed when the body is destroyed because it has an incorruptible principle (in an existential, rather than moral sense). Since spirit cannot be produced by a material cause, it must be created at conception. Aquinas has convincing arguments for the subsistence and incorruptibility of the human soul.

There’s a reason why there aren’t answers.

From a Christian point of view, the soul is what connects us with God. It is also interchangeable with spirit, there is no differentiation between them.
"The soul is a mystical concept that we cannot totally understand. The word is derived from the Greek word “psyche” and has many meanings as used in Scripture. It is a word often used interchangeably with spirit. Our Church Fathers have given us various insights about the nature of the soul. From the account of Creation in Genesis, the first man is created from earth and then God breathed into him and he became a living being. The word used for breath is the word we translate into soul. So in the broadest sense the soul is the inbreathing of God into our being to give us life. The soul is how the material world is connected to God. Body and soul were created at the same time creating a unity of body and soul. There are two principles that come together, spirit and earth. The soul makes the material element become conscious and capable of willful actions. With a soul in the body, spirit can meet the world.

There is no church dogma on the soul other than to say that it does not preexist our birth, but is given at the time of conception by the will of God. How the soul is created in each person remains a mystery. The Church Fathers teach that the soul is the image of God and has the powers of nourishment, imagination, instinct and intelligence."

I am fully prepared to run with ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ being one and the same; I’m not so prepared to go with the explanation that souls do not pre-exist the body, though. For this, I’m very much inclined to go with the Jewish concept of the Guf, where all the souls that have been created are held; as each person is born a soul is placed within them.

My primary divergence, though, is transmigration of the soul- I believe if our soul is not redeemed (saved, strengthened, cleansed, however one wishes to put it) by the time we die, it goes back to the Guf (or whatever one calls it) to be placed in another person. And so the cycle of life, learning, and attempted redemption (return to God) begins again.

Then there’s the whole Manichaean thing weighing very heavily on my mind, and how that plays into the old-school outlook of the Cathars whose influence and beliefs I admire.

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I tend to consider that if God creates a soul, then conception actually happens. If he didn’t create a soul then fertilization does not happen.
Form does not conform to matter; matter conforms to manifest the reality of the soul.

As to the soul pre-existing, God co-operates with male and female; an individual person becomes a reality when a man and a woman and God, the three together, all know the same thing which is Union of the sexual act for creation. The man knows he has given the seed, the woman knows she has received the seed, God knows he is giving the animating soul. The soul does not pre exist.
God knows eternally that when the man and the woman know temporally that suddenly in temporality a child is conceived. co-knowing, cooperation

Sigh, we are going to have to pull out Patristics here.

Spirit and soul, while almost always used in a sense which intertwines the two, are different. It is easier, I think, to start out with their Greek root and move forward into theology

Spirit (πνεῦμα, pneuma) originally meant ‘breath’.

Soul (ψυχή, psyche) originally meant ‘soul’.

Spirit was the fuel for the soul to function. Without spirit, a soul was simply a rational construct, an identity with nothing to identify. Spirit was the motive force which brought the soul to action and incorporation/individuation (inhabiting a specific body). St. Augustine in Treatise on the Soul and its Origin, Chapter II speaks about this distinction. When we speak of someone’s soul, spirit is inherently present. If we speak of the nature of the soul, in general, then it has not been incorporated/individuated and thus has no spirit. Spirit is the divine spark, quite literally the breath of life.

This is why in Christ’s Passion narrative, he always gives up his spirit when he dies. He willfully allows the spirit of his human soul which gave life to his body to return to the Father. So too do we return our own spirit to the Father along with our souls. Christ’s divine nature, however, sustained his human soul so that he might first descend into hell and return to Earth before Ascending to his Father.

On a side note, the spirit is the source of the tradition of sealing marriage vows with a kiss. It was seen as a sharing of that breath, that spirit, which gave them life. In that mingling of their breath, their spirit, they were mingling the most integral part of their souls.

I’m glad I stumbled onto this, because I’ve always remembered my mom telling me as a 9 year old Lutheran kid that, “we are a spirit, we have a soul, and we live in a body.” Now I know where that came from.

My parents and their friends were always telling me self-interpreted stuff I did not understand, and nothing made sense to me until I became a Catholic.

That what I was taught .body soul spirit

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