The Soul of the Church


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1       Introduction

1.1  The title “Soul of the Church” as a title of the Holy Spirit and as a description of His role, is one which draws its roots from the authors of the Gospels and from St. Paul. It was first formulated in the early church by St. Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century.  The concept was developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica in the 13th century. The idea has been written about and used extensively in the teachings of the Church up to our modern times. From Pope Leo XIII through to Pope Francis, many (if not all) of our recent popes have used or expounded on this teaching and its meaning.  Pope Francis used this name of the Holy Spirit in his address to the College of Cardinals on the day of his election.

1.2  In my discussion on this topic I will demonstrate the logical appropriateness of the title, it’s appropriateness in both Hebrew and Greek world views and how this title is not just symbolically appropriate but is in fact a mystical truth which is central to the Catholic understanding of the Church as being the Mystical Body of Christ.

2       The Hebrew concept of Ruach

2.1  From the opening passages of the Book of Genesis (1) we read how the Spirit of God moved over the void and how The Lord breathed (Ruach) his life into Adam (2) (3). In the Hebrew Language “Ruach” means Breath, Wind, Spirit and can also mean Life (especially Life-Spirit) and Mind (4).  The Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) is the earliest concept in the Old Testament which directly and explicitly names what we now recognise as The Holy Spirit: a person of the Trinity.

2.2  The Hebrew image of man was a person made up of body and spirit. Man’s soul is spirit. That spirit is the life breathed into the First Adam and that essential life-giving part of man which is directly of God. When we say we are made in the image and likeness of God it is our soul to which we refer. (5)

2.3  In a Hebrew view of Christology, a key point is when the Spirit of God entered Jesus and made him more than just a man and as we read in John (6) this moment is “In the Beginning”, before time and creation. He is the “only begotten son of God, born of the Father before all ages (7), however we also see other times when the Ruach Elohim is poured out in greater fullness on Jesus: At the Visitation, at His birth, at the time of His disappearance at the Temple, at His Baptism, at the Transfiguration. All these lead up to the birth of the Church as He is on the cross and the descent of the Spirit into the Church at Pentecost.

3       The Greek View of Man

3.1  The Greek philosophy of mankind incorporated the view of man as comprised of body and spirit, but with the spirit divided into mind, heart and appetite (8). As with the Hebrew view, it was seen that the metaphysical spirit was in fact the essence of man.

4       The Soul

4.1  Every living being has a soul (Anima) (9) (10 pp. 3-4). This is the essential “life-giving principle” which distinguishes that being from inanimate objects like a dead body or a piece of rock.

4.2  The soul of man is breathed into him by God as described in figurative language in the book of Genesis (3). It is through this action that man is made in the image and likeness of God. (5) The soul of man is thereby different from the soul of other animals, which are created in a less intimate way.  Every living being in this world also has a physical body.

5       The Church is The Living Body of Christ

5.1  The Church is a “body” of individual people which was established by Jesus as described in the Gospels (11) (12 p. 62).  However beyond this She is the Body of Christ, we see this stated throughout the epistles of St. Paul (13)etc.  and indicated in Jesus’ question to Saul “Why are you persecuting me?” in direct reference to Saul’s persecution of the early Church. (14)  Jesus himself told us that we would be one with Him until the end of time, (15) likening the unity of the Church and its unity to Him, to be like His unity with The Father. Furthermore, we read in the Catechism:

“The Church is both visible and spiritual. A Hierarchal society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one yet formed of two separate components, human and divine.” (16)
“Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body.” (17)

5.2  Pope Pius XII instructs us in Mystici Corpus Christi (12) where he says that the Church is not just the “Body of Christ”, but quotes St. Thomas Aquinas in saying that She is Christ and points to the story of the conversion of Saul mentioned above.  He goes on to say that the action of the Church in Her evangelisation, charity and stewardship of the sacraments; and through them her work in the Economy of Salvation is in fact the work of Christ himself acting in perpetuity through Her.  This, in the eyes of Pope Pius, is a state which is far more than mere symbolism but indicates a Mystical Union. As such the title of “Body of Christ” in reference to the church is not a mere symbol, but a mystical reality. (12 pp. 48 – 56)

5.3  This unity of Christ and His Church is linked by St. Paul and many writers since (18 p. 7) to the mystery of the Eucharist: We who are many are one body just as the Eucharistic bread is one bread. – Both are forms of the Body of Christ (19).  These different forms, however, are truly the Body of Christ in but very different ways.

5.4  To see that this body is alive, we can read in Lumen Genitum

“As the assumed nature inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body” (18 p. 7)  [emphasis mine]

5.5  And is beautifully summed up by Blessed Pope John Paul II saying,

“A group of people is not enough to form a Christian community. The Holy Spirit brings the Church to birth.” (20)

5.6  Thus we see that the Church is a living body and as such must have a soul.

6       Jesus Christ is God.

6.1  This is a central tenant of the Christian Faith. To quote our Creed:

“God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Begotten not made, of one being with the Father.” (7)

7       The Soul of Christ, is the Holy Spirit

7.1  Christ’s Soul is the Soul of God: that is the “Ruach Elohim” – the Holy Spirit. This is central to the mystery of the Trinity. In many documents the title “The Spirit of Christ” is used explicitly to name the Holy Spirit – especially in his interaction with the Church. Pope Leo XII tells us

“No one can be surprised that all the gifts of the Holy Ghost inundated the Soul of Christ.” (21 p. 4)

While Pope Pius XII goes far further stating

“If we examine closely this divine principle of life and power given by Christ, insofar as it constitutes the very source of every gift and created grace, we easily perceive that it is nothing else than the Holy spirit, the Paraclete, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and who is called in a special way, the “Spirit of Christ” or the “Spirit of the Son.” (12 p. 56)

8       The Soul of Christ is the Soul of the Church

8.1  Therefore as the Church is Christ and the Holy Spirit is the Soul of Christ, therefore the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church (both the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant).

8.2  This is first explicitly stated by St. Augustine in one of his Sermons.

“What the soul is for the body of man, that the Holy Spirit is for the body of Christ, that is, the Church, The Holy Spirit operates in the whole Church that which the soul operates in the members of the One Body” (22)

8.3  The same concept is also repeated by St. Augustine in other sermons (23) (24) and repeated and quoted in many subsequent teachings of the church. (21) (12).  Where point 5 is taken to be symbolic, then point 8 would also be taken to be symbolic; however the language of: Jesus, in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles; and of St. Paul, in his epistles; does not point to the church only being Christ’s symbolic body but to being his body in a true, however Mystical, way. The teaching of the Church from its earliest days supports this view: The Church is the Living Body of Christ. Being alive She has a soul. Her soul is therefore the Soul of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit.

8.4  Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Divinium Illud Munus, (21 p. 5) first compared the descent of Moses from the Mountain with the Tablets of Stone, to the disciples on the day of Pentecost descending from Zion carrying the Holy Spirit in their Minds and “Pouring forth the treasure and fountain of doctrines and graces.”  He goes on to say:

“That the Church is a divine institution is most clearly proved by the splendour and glory of those gifts and graces with which she is adorned and whose author and giver is the Holy Ghost. Let it suffice to state that, as Christ is the Head of the Church, so is the Holy Ghost her soul.” (21 p. 6)

8.5  This teaches us when the moment of spiration or indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Church first occurred: the moment of Pentecost.  The Church was announced by Christ to His Apostles and disciples, instituted at the time of the Last Supper, created in His sacrificial act on the Cross and Born at Pentecost.  It was at that time infused with the essential life giving principle of its soul: the Holy Spirit. (25), (10)

8.6  The use of this title for the Holy spirit has been used from the time of St Augustine and continued up to the present day where, in his first address as Pope Elect on the day of his election (26) (and on subsequent occasions (27)), Pope Francis reminded us

“The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church through his life-giving and unifying force: out of many, he makes one single body, the Mystical Body of Christ.”




1. Genesis 1: 1-2. The Holy Bible.

2. Genesis 1:27. The Holy Bible.

3. Genesis 2:7. The Holy Bible.

4. Strong. Strongs Exhaustive Concodance.

5. CCC Paragraphs 355 – 361. Catechism of the Catholic Church. s.l. : Geoffrey Chapman, 1994.

6. John 1: 1-2. The Holy Bible.

7. Niciene Creed. [trans.] ICEL. The Roman Missal. 3rd Edition. 2011.

8. The Greek Versus the Hebrew View of Man. Present Truth. [Online]

9. Bl. Pope John Paul II. Paragraph 84. Eangelium Vitae. 1995.

10. —. The Soul of the Church. G.A. 28.11.1990. Rome : s.n.

11. Matthew 16:18. The Holy Bible.

12. Pope Pius XII. Mystici Corporus Christi. Rome : s.n., 1943.

13. Rom 12. 1 Cor 12. The Holy Bible.

14. Acts 9:4 . The Holy Bible.

15. John 17:21. The Holy Bible.

16. CCC Para. 779. Catechism of the Catholic Church. s.l. : Geoffrey Chapman, 1994.

17. CCC Para 789. Catechism of the Catholic Church. s.l. : Geoffrey Chapman, 1994.

18. Vatican Council II,. Lumen Gentium. Rome : s.n., 1964.

19. 1 Corr 10:17]. The Holy Bible.

20. Bl. Pope John Paul II. General Audience. 08.07.1998. Rome : s.n.

21. Pope Leo XIII. Divinium Illud Munus. Rome : s.n., 1897.

22. St. Augustine. Sermon 276.4.

23. Augustine, St. Sermon 269.

24. St. Augustine. Sermon 187.

25. The Soul of the Church. The Hermeneutic Of Continuity. [Online]

26. Pope Francis. Address to the College of Cardinals. 15 Mar 2013.

27. —. Address to Ordinary council of the secretariat general of the Synod of Bishops 13 June 2013.