Soul and spirit

Question: I have read prayers that ask blessings for healing of body, soul and spirit. I always thought that soul and spirit is the same thing. Are “soul” and “spirit” different or are they the same?

Jo Hadley, Claremont, Calif. 

Answer: The terms “soul” and “spirit” often are used interchangeably in modern English, and also to some extent in the Scriptures. They are synonymous, in the sense that they are not describing two separate realities. The human spirit is not some third part of the human person, separate from the soul. Rather, as an aspect of the soul, the human spirit (as distinct from the Holy Spirit) is that aspect of our soul that opens us to God. Some theologians speak of this openness of our spirit as giving us capax Dei (a capacity for God). That is to say, since our souls are spiritual and rational, we have the capacity to know and interact with God. And thus, the spirit is that aspect of our soul that most distinguishes us from the animals.

In this distinction of soul and spirit, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:

“Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people ‘wholly’ with ‘spirit and soul and body’ kept sound and blameless at the Lord’s coming (see 1 Thes 5:23). The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. ‘Spirit’ signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end, and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God” (No. 367).

Why ‘Son of Man’?

Question: Why is Jesus called “Son of Man” in the Gospels? What does it mean, and why is it used so often?

Arlene Farrell, Huntington Station, N.Y. 

Answer: In the Scriptures, the title “son of God” is used in many different senses and is, paradoxically, more vague than the title “Son of Man.” “Son of God” can be a title of Israel itself (Ex 4:22; Hos 11:1), of the Davidic King (Ps 2:7) and of the angels (Gn 6:2), all humankind, all the just and peacemakers are called sons of God (Mt 5:9), and so forth.

In view of the ambiguity of the term, this is why Jesus did not simply say, “I am the Son of God.” Rather, he spoke more clearly, saying for example, “The Father and I are one … to see me is to have seen the Father,” etc. Indeed, the anger and charges of blasphemy by many of the Jews at Jesus’ time show that Jesus’ claim to divinity was far better accomplished this way than to use a more ambiguous term of that time, “Son of God.”

Paradoxically, “Son of Man” is a clearer profession of divine transcendence that can be traced to Daniel 7:13-14, which Christ appropriated to himself. That prophecy speaks of one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds to judge the earth, who has a kingdom that shall never end.

Jesus’ preference for the term is shown when the high priest said: “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” answered Jesus. “But I tell you: From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Mt 26:62-64).

Thus, “Son of Man” is a more clear and lofty title, which Christ prefers for himself. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.