[Milton-L] Distinction between Spirit and Soul (Was Crucial punctuation in The Book of Common Prayer)

Mike Streeter streetm at stthom.edu
Sun Sep 16 15:23:58 EDT 2007

Dear Jeffery and Nancy,

Traditionally, the human spirit is a part of the whole soul (the  
principle of life) in our temporal existence.  Hence, often  
philosophers like St. Thomas Aquinas refer to the "three faculties of  
the soul," the rational, animal and vegetative.  The only power among  
these three that is spiritual, of course, is the rational faculty  
(it's not sensory).  Nevertheless, all three powers belong to the  
soul, even the physical ones.  Scripture also seems to usually  
describe spirit as a higher property of the soul, not just as the  
"spirit of life" (Cf. Mt. 26:41, "the spirit is willing, but the  
flesh is weak").  Although I'm adapting this analysis from Aquinas, I  
don't think his beliefs in this matter are contrary to Milton's early  
creeds or the creeds of most other people of the 17th century.  After  
all, Aquinas' metaphysics were entrenched in Aristotle.  And if we  
remember Milton's words in one of his Prolusions that anyone who  
dissents from Aristotle is a "heretic of philosophy," Aquinas'  
Aristotelianism seems more relevant here.

Therefore, I'd venture to judge that Paul was saying that once the  
immortal soul is reunited with her body at the Resurrection, they  
experience a perfect union, an immortal union (that "enspirited"  
body).  During man's temporal life, however, his body is imperfectly  
united to his soul (the body is merely "ensouled").  Certainly,  
though, man still has a spirit in this temporal life (I disagree with  
Dr. Hodges here), but that spirit belongs to his soul only, not his  
body, the reason for why the human soul does not perish at death.   
Metaphysically, how the body becomes spiritual I don't think anybody  
knows.  It would seem to me to be a mystery of faith.  I imagine the  
glorified or "enspirited" human body will look something like  
Solomon's description of it in Paradiso, "luminous flesh" "defeating"  
the brightness of the soul, but that's just me.  Our only experience  
with an "enspirited body" here on earth is, at least for Catholics,  
the Eucharist.  We believe the Eucharist to be the true body and  
blood of Christ (He's a spiritual body), although He still retains an  
appearance (His accidents) of bread and wine.

I agree with Dr. Hodges that Paul is not implying that the Holy  
Spirit instead of the human soul is the life principle of the eternal  
human body.  As I read 1 Cor. 15, "pneuma" is referring to the human  
body "enspirited" or perfectly united with its soul, not the Holy  
Spirit (usually Scripture will apply spirit as a possessive of God if  
that's the case).  We Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit is  
active in Creation, for He breathes life (a soul) into us, but He is  
not the soul itself.  If He were, then I don't see how we'd retain  
any individuality.  In fact, Paul says in verse 45 of this letter in  
question that at the Resurrection, it is not the Holy Spirit that  
breathes life into our bodies again but the "new Adam," Christ  
himself, the Son of God.  Even so, nowhere does it say that our soul  
is Christ himself.

Nevertheless, we're not autonomous beings after Creation either.   
Jesus Christ provides "true food" for our spiritual sustenance and  
without him we will not conquer death (Cf. John 6).  Philosophically,  
many of us also believe that God is imminent in our fundamental  
existence.  St. Thomas posits this principle called "esse," the act  
of existence, which is lent from God.  I don't know which person of  
the Trinity provides "esse" according to Aquinas, but that's not  
really important to Milton anyway.  What is important is that  
Scripture never says that the Holy Spirit or either other person of  
God replaces our souls at the Resurrection, however active God is in  
sustaining us.

I do not believe that the verses Dr. Rosenfeld cited in Psalm 6  
indicate a Hebraic belief in mortalism.  The Hebrew antecedent for  
our translation of "death" is "Sheol."  "Sheol" in Hebrew tradition  
was an underworld, similar to Hades, and so the departed souls of the  
dead were believed to exist in this place, even though they were  
indeed disconnected from God and cannot praise Him.  The Hebrews did  
believe in an afterlife, then, although it was not always a happy one.

I would recommend reading Stephen Fallon's Milton among the  
Philosophers to learn more about Milton's belief on the human soul/ 
spirit and body.  The book addresses Milton's evolution from  
Cambridge Platonism to material monism and so it would directly  
pertain to Milton's distinction between spirit and soul and their  
relation to the body.  I think a younger Milton would have agreed  
with the orthodox interpretation of Paul that during our temporal  
lives, the human soul is spiritual, while the body is not, but in our  
eternal life, both the soul and body are spiritual.  After the late  
1940s, however, the timeframe which Dr. Fallon assigns as Milton's  
conversion to monism, Milton wouldn't have made any distinction  
between body and spirit (and therefore, presumably soul and spirit,  
too), since the two components would be part of a continuum; they're  
different in grade but not in kind, you know?  Therefore, when the  
body perishes, so too would the "soul," according to the later Milton.

Hope that helped to clarify the vagueness of "spirit" and "soul" in  
some way!

All the best,

Mike Streeter
streetm at tamu.edu

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