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The Heart of the Matter: Edith Stein on the Substance of the Soul
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“It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don’t understand ourselves or know who we are. Wouldn’t it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone when asked who he was didn’t know, and didn’t know his father or mother or from what country he came? Well now, if this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only roughly these bodies. Because we have heard and because faith tells us so, we know we have souls. But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells in it, or its high value.”

Teresa of Avila, the Interior Castle, 1.2

The words of Teresa of Avila still ring true for our time. Contemporary normative anthropologies have excised the human soul from conception and discussion. Instead, St. Edith Stein maintains the reality of the human soul in terms of its veracious spiritual being and its certain manifestation in and through the body. The following study will trace two of the primary avenues through which Stein presents the human soul: (1) as the inner life of the human person, and (2) as the substantial image of God the Father. By considering these crucial aspects of Stein’s holistic theological anthropology, we will reconnoiter a rational basis for speaking of the human soul in the twenty-first century.

I. Conscious Spiritual Being

In addition to designating the soul as the form of the body, Stein also describes it as the inner life of the human person. The soul is that which cannot be understood sufficiently by the natural sciences alone, for there is an innerness to personal life that cannot be accessed by instruments of outward sense perception. All outward perception depends on a hidden ground for its external observations. The one who perceives is ever removed from that which is perceived. The one who perceives constitutes a human subject who lives from an inwardness that cannot be extracted or manipulated by the corporeal senses. This inward self exhibits many properties, designated by such terms as consciousness, affectivity, intellect, memory, will, and personality. Stein writes, “Among the things we perceive with our outer senses are ‘having life’ and ‘having soul.’ Life and soul are ‘seen along with’ what we actually see in our outward perception, but they can never be seen in the proper sense from the outside. They are nevertheless truly experienced from the ‘inside,’ and what we conceive along with the outer world can in a certain way come to dovetail with what we experience inwardly.”

Stein claims that we are able to intuit the general fait accompli of the givenness of living existence, and especially of an ensouled body. Whatever we observe in our outward perception always runs concomitant to an inward recognition of conscious meaning-making and empathetic experience. Our inner hidden and subjective experiences are no less real than our outer objective experiences. In fact, both types of experience are complementary to one another. The inner life of the human person is the condition of possibility for meaningful outward perception, while outward perception serves as one of the primary means by which the inner self is formed. While the soul can be identified as integral to human life and being, it cannot be quantified, measured, or manipulated in a laboratory of natural science. As Stein insists, “the soul as a spirit is positioned in a realm of the Spirit and of spirits. She, however, possesses her own structure. She is more than a simple form that animates the body, more than the interior of an exterior. Rather, within her there lies an opposition between internal and external.” It is difficult to speak of the human soul in terms of objective science based on sense observation. The realm of objective science is confined to the radically potential dimensions of space, time, and mass/energy, while the human soul can be circumscribed by none of these. The soul is not merely an object among objects and can neither be reduced to pure interiority as separated from an exterior...



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