When is our soul created? Is it ‘there’ from all eternity and destined for us individually - or is it a new creation for each human being as we come into existence? John
Would it be very confusing if I said: both? Even so, I'll say it, because that is the traditional teaching. And then, to add to the confusion, there is another traditional Christian teaching that says the soul is being created at every moment.
First of all, it was an axiom for mediaeval theologians that everything that exists exists in the mind of God. ‘The mind of God’ is just another way of saying God, because God’s mind is not a ‘part’ of God: God is simple and has no parts. God exists from all eternity; so yes, the soul is ‘there’ from all eternity. ‘There’ means ‘in God’. By the way, it’s not only the soul that exists in this way from all eternity, but a person’s entire being.
‘From all eternity’ doesn’t mean for a very long time. Eternity is not time. This is obscured when people translate ‘eternal’ as ‘everlasting’ – which is a mistake frequently found even in liturgical texts. The present instant is a much better image of eternity than the past. In Meister Eckhart’s language, our ‘day’ (the ‘now’) is our window on “God’s eternal day.” It is very difficult to think of eternity without imposing the categories of time on it. This is understandable because we are immersed in time. If we are to get the merest impression of eternity, it is through intense awareness of the present moment.
Then we are born in time – born into time, you could say. Our parents tell us the day of our birth, and even the hour. That is the moment when we put in our first appearance, but the real beginning of our earthly life was the moment of conception. Mediaeval theologians, including St Thomas Aquinas, believed that the human soul did not come into existence till the foetus was somewhat developed, but that is not the Church’s teaching now. At the moment of conception we began to exist in a new way; our body and soul were equally ‘new’. God’s action is always new, always now. It’s not as if God inserted a very old thing called a soul into a new body.
That moment was the first of many moments, the first step in the long journey of our life. But in the present moment – many years after our conception – we are as dependent on God’s creativity as we were then. As children we said “God created the world.” But this put it in the past tense. It would be more correct to say that God is creating the world every moment. In this sense we are as new now as we ever were! “Know then that my soul is as young as when she was created,” said Meister Eckhart.
But isn't it obvious that we age? Yes, we are immersed in time, and time is always moving: “the moving image of eternity,” an ancient philosopher called it. But the present moment of an eighty-year-old man or woman is as new and original as the moment of their conception. To grow old is not to become more and more distant from God's creative act; it is not to go downhill from God. But by thinking of our life as an allotment of days – so many gone and an uncertain number to go – we immerse our minds in the past and future, seldom realising that our life is always now. My past is not my life; it is the record of my life. When Eamonn Andrews presented that red book to his victims he used to say, “This is your life!” Strictly speaking, it was not; it was a selection of events from their past. My life is always now. It was in that sense that Eckhart said he would be ashamed if he was not younger tomorrow than today.
I hope these words have clarified something for you, John.