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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Soul and its Origin.: Chapter 37

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 37 [XXIII.]—Wide and Narrow Sense of the Word “Spirit.”

But now, with a view to our easier elucidation, I beg you to observe that what is the soul is also designated spirit in the scripture which narrates an incident in our Lord’s death, thus, “He bowed His head and gave up the spirit.” 2515 Now, when you hear or read these words, you wish to understand them as if the whole were signified p. 370 by a part, and not because that which is the soul may also be called spirit. But I shall, for the purpose of being able the more readily to prove what I say, actually summon yourself with all promptitude and convenience as my witness. For you have defined spirit in such terms that cattle appear not to have a spirit, but a soul. Irrational animals are so called, because they have not the power of intelligence and reason. Accordingly, when you admonished man himself to know his own nature, you spoke as follows: “Now, inasmuch as the good God has made nothing without a purpose, He has produced man himself as a rational animal, capable of intelligence, endowed with reason, and enlivened by sensibility, so as to be able to distribute in a wise arrangement all things that are void of reason.” In these words of yours you have plainly asserted what is certainly most true, that man is endowed with reason and capable of intelligence, which, of course, animals void of reason are not. And you have, in accordance with this view, quoted a passage of Scripture, and, adopting its language, have compared men of no understanding to the cattle, which, of course, have not intellect. 2516 A statement the like to which occurs in another passage of Scripture: “Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding.” 2517 This being the case, I want you also to observe in what terms you have defined and described the spirit when trying to distinguish it from the soul: “This soul,” you say, “which has its origin from the breath of God, could not have possibly been without an inner sense and intellect of its own; and this is the spirit.” A little afterwards you add: “And although the soul animates the body, yet inasmuch as it possesses sense, and wisdom, and vigour, there must needs be a spirit.” And then somewhat further on you say: “The soul is one thing, and the spirit—which is the soul’s wisdom and sense—is another.” In these words you plainly enough indicate what you take the spirit of man to mean; that it is even our rational faculty, whereby the soul exercises sense and intelligence,—not, indeed, the sensation which is felt by the bodily senses, but the operation of that innermost sense from which arises the term sentiment. Owing to this it is, no doubt, that we are placed above brute animals, since these are unendowed with reason. These animals therefore have not spirit,—that is to say, intellect and a sense of reason and wisdom,—but only soul. For it is of these that it was spoken, “Let the waters bring forth the creeping creatures that have a living soul;” 2518 and again, “Let the earth bring forth the living soul.” 2519 In order, indeed, that you may have the fullest and clearest assurance that what is the soul is in the usage of the Holy Scriptures also called spirit, the soul of a brute animal has the designation of spirit. And of course cattle have not that spirit which you, my beloved brother, have defined as being distinct from the soul. It is therefore quite evident that the soul of a brute animal could be rightly called “spirit” in a general sense of the term; as we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Who knoweth the spirit of the sons of men, whether it goeth upward; and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward into the earth?” 2520 In like manner, touching the devastation of the deluge, the Scripture testifies, “All flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: and all things which have the spirit of life.” 2521 Here, if we remove all the windings of doubtful disputation, we understand the term spirit to be synonymous with soul in its general sense. Of so wide a signification is this term, that even God is called “a spirit;” 2522 and a stormy blast of the air, although it has material substance, is called by the psalmist the “spirit” of a tempest. 2523 For all these reasons, therefore, you will no longer deny that what is the soul is called also spirit; I have, I think, adduced enough from the pages of Holy Scripture to secure your assent in passages where the soul of the very brute beast, which has no understanding, is designated spirit. If, then, you take and wisely consider what has been advanced in our discussion about the incorporeity of the soul, there is no further reason why you should take offence at my having said that I was sure the soul was not body, but spirit,—both because it is proved to be not corporeal, and because in its general sense it is denominated spirit.



John xix. 30.


Ps. xlix. 12.


Ps. xxxii. 9.


Gen. i. 20.


Gen. i. 24.


Eccles. iii. 21.


Gen. 7:21, 22.


John iv. 24.


He seems to refer to Ps. lv. 8.

Next: Chapter 38