Philosophers and thinkers throughout the ages have pondered and speculated on the origin of the soul. Scripture clears all the dust raised by centuries of dispute with one simple sentence: “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” This informs us plainly that the soul originates from God’s creative power. It was not formed from any preexistent matter, but directly ex halitu divino, from the inspiration of God.
Some have held to the theory of traduction from the parents as the best explanation of the origin of the soul. This means that the soul is 'created,' as an almost corporeal substance, at the time and by the mechanism of conception. Some have opted for a simple approach, citing that the life of all other creatures flows from natural generation; hence it is likely that human souls flow in the same way. However, there is a specific difference between rational souls and the “soul-ish” life of any other creature. Since the human soul is an immaterial substance, it cannot possibly derive from a material source. The human soul is a spiritual being, thereby requiring a spiritual origin, which Scripture proclaims God to be.
A second objection that has been raised is this: Though the first soul was made by a direct, immediate creation and inspiration of God, it does not necessarily follow that all subsequent souls must be made the same way. God may have created man with such a power of begetting souls after his own image. The first tree was created with its seed in itself to propagate its kind, and so might the first man. We would respond to this by noting that trees and animals were created out of preexistent material; the soul was not. It was created by a direct, immediate act of God. If we consult Job 33:4, we find Elihu giving an account of his soul with almost the same words Moses gave for the origin of Adam’s soul. He says, "The Spirit of God has formed me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life." Besides, the soul is immaterial and thus the “seed” of it must be immaterial too, meaning that its origin cannot reside in the body of man. Moreover, whatever is generated by natural means is corruptible; but the soul is not corruptible. So all souls, like Adam’s spring from God by creation.
The best arguments however for this position have usually hinged on the question of the transmission of Original Sin. Yet even these admit of solutions. The first of such objections is that when God creates something, it either comes from His hands pure or impure. If the soul is created pure, how does it come to be tainted with sin? If it comes from his hand impure, how is God not the author of sin?
In order to answer this, it must be first clarified what is meant by the question. If the question is whether souls are pure or impure as soon as they are united with their bodies, the answer is that they are impure. The union of soul and body is what constitutes a child of Adam, and therefore a tainted, impure, sinful creature. If the question be regarding the condition of the soul in the state in which God created them, this is another issue altogether. Baronius writes, “They are created neither morally pure, nor impure; they receive neither purity nor impurity from him, but only their naked essence, and the natural powers and properties flowing there from.” In other words, God does not create the souls of Adam’s posterity in an impure state, because that would make Him the author of sin, which He cannot be since He is the Avenger of it. But neither does God create souls in the state of original purity, for Adam’s sin lost that, and God justly withholds it from all of his posterity. Adam abused to the dishonor of God his original purity and rectitude, thus God may justly withhold it from his offspring. Adam, acting as our race’s Federal Head, voluntarily deprived himself of this rectitude and therefore deprived all his posterity of that original righteousness and purity in which he was created.
A further objection may be raised, namely: How do souls then come to be tainted with Original Sin? If God did not make them impure, how do they become so? The body is material; the soul is spiritual; so, it is held that the body cannot act upon the soul. The body without the soul is a lifeless lump of clay; hence it cannot defile the soul, since without the soul it is dead and cannot act at all.
Admittedly, this is a much harder knot to unravel. There are some things which will forever remain a mystery; this does not prove them false. I do not understand the Hypostatic Union; I do not therefore deny that Christ is Qeanqpwpwv. Besides we should perhaps be more concerned with getting the sin out of our souls than with how it got into them. Nevertheless, I will offer a few observations rather than hide behind the obvious mystery.
I think it is proper to affirm that Original Sin does not adhere to either part individually: it does not come by the soul alone, nor by the body alone. It comes by the union of both body and soul as one person. It is as a union of soul and body that one is a child of Adam, and only as such are we capable of being infected with his sin.
I would question however, the validity of the assumption that the body, being material, cannot act upon the soul. This is a whole lot easier to say than to prove. Indeed, it seems to me that the body can and does act upon and influence the soul. The body affects the soul’s moods as surely as the soul gives the body life. Not only that, but we could instance many cases where the powers of the soul are diminished or hindered by the weakness of the body. The soul of an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease is the same soul that had full use of its faculties when the body was younger. Deterioration of the body hinders or obstructs the powers of the soul. Nothing is more obvious than that there is a reciprocal relationship between the soul and the body. So while the mystery remains, perhaps we can at least make some sense of this tangled issue.
If one asks how it is that an infant comes to be guilty of Adam’s sin, the answer is that he is guilty because he is Adam’s offspring by natural generation. Why is that infant deprived of the Original rectitude wherein Adam was created? Adam lost it by his sin and could not transmit to his posterity that which he had lost. Why is he naturally inclined to what is evil? This is because he no longer possesses that original purity. One not in possession of that original purity naturally inclines to what is evil. So the propensity toward evil is a necessary concomitant of the defect or loss of original righteousness. All of God's dealings with man are covenantal by nature, thus Adam, standing as the covenant representative of the human race, acted for us all in his rebellion against God in violating the covenant of works. This is the answer to the 'why' of inherited guilt. Natural generation answers the 'how.'