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Primer on Spiritual Development (Part 3)

We learned already that in addition to having a body and a soul, we also have a spirit. And we learned also the difference between the two. But most people think human beings are composed only of body and soul. Today we learn why this is so.

9. If the soul and the spirit are two different realities, how come very intelligent people like Thomas Aquinas have understood and taught that the human being is composed of body and soul?

Yes, you can read this in the book of Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 75, that the human being is composed of body and soul. That was the opinion and teaching of people during his time, and even today, those who follow his teaching, say the same thing, that the human being is composed of body and soul.

This is because Thomas Aquinas and those who follow his teaching used Aristotelian philosophy or ideas to describe the human being. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, taught that the human being is composed of body and soul. When people like Thomas Aquinas studied their philosophy they adopted the terminology used by Aristotle. They accepted his ideas as a good means to explain the message of God in the Bible. One of these ideas of Aristotle is that the human being is composed of body and soul. So they accepted this idea of Aristotle and used this to explain the human being.

Philosophers like Thomas have a maxim which in Latin reads, Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. In English it reads, Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver. A simple but very clear explanation of this is water. Water takes the form of the container which receives it. If the container is a bottle that water has the form of a bottle. If the container is a basin, then the form of the water is the basin.

The teachings of the Bible were received according to the ideas of Aristotle by Thomas Aquinas and other philosophers. These ideas of Aristotle were, as it were, the container which received the teachings in the Bible. Since in the ideas of Aristotle the human being was composed of body and soul, the teachings of the Bible had to be understood also in terms of the human being as composed of body and soul. That is why these people thought that the human being was composed of body and soul.

But actually these people realized that the ideas of Aristotle were deficient in teaching about the body and soul in the human being. Aristotle taught that when the human being dies, the soul also dies. These people did not accept this teaching of Aristotle. They understood and taught that the human soul does not die with the death of the body but it is immortal. It cannot die.

So for these people the spirit was a function of the soul of the human being, not something that composes the human being together with the body and the soul.

Tomorrow we are going to discuss the meaning of “development” as applied to spiritual development.

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