The Faculties of the Soul

» Posted by on Dec 9, 2011 in daily life, interior life | 3 comments

The Faculties of the Soul

Have you ever wondered what a soul is? I did for a while. I found myself doing some extensive research as to what exactly the Church taught about the soul.

Some of the doctors of the Church have spoken about the soul. Some of the best teachers about the soul are John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila – of course. also, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Augustine are very keen on this subject.  (Edith Stein, Von Hilldebrand, Von Balthasar, and Guardini too!)

The saints don’t agree on everything, but when we put their wisdom together, when we listen to them as a Communion of Saints, we end up with a pretty clear picture about the soul. Modern psychology, for the most part, stands in agreement about the teachings of the soul too. Of course, they don’t typically use the word soul – but, for those of us who know that the soul exists, we know what they mean. : )

The soul is made up of different faculties or functions. Like, we have a will and an intellect. The will differs from the intellect. It’s functions are different. The will and the intellect belong together. They are the stuff of the soul. But, we can surmise very quickly that they aren’t the same thing. Hence, faculties.

Putting the teachings of the doctors together, we can find that there are five major faculties of the soul. They are the intellect, will, memory, imagination, and emotion. It’s important to note that there are other components of the soul as well – like the phantasm. But, we won’t get into all of that quite yet.

Before we go any further, we must realize something – otherwise, we will find ourselves in schism from the Truth. We have been created by God, body and soul. We aren’t just souls. We aren’t just bodies either. The body and soul go together as one. We work for the salvation of our souls here on earth. In heaven, we look for the resurrection of the body.

Here’s a quick overview of the faculties. Science can explain most of this for you.

The soul is one. The faculties within it work in tandem with reason, desires, your senses, your temperament, biology, etc. Like, the will works with the emotions. The imagination works with the intellect. So, if your imagination has sinned, your soul has sinned. We can’t compartmentalize our souls away. We are created to be irreproachable, whole and entire.

Emotions are at one end of the spectrum. Emotions differ from the basic feelings. Dogs are capable of the basic feelings, but dogs aren’t capable of the complexity of emotions. Like, feeling anger because someone took your food is much more primal than feeling anger because of betrayal. To feel betrayed takes the complexity that only the spiritual creature or intellectual being can surmise. Feeling the pain of being kicked is much more instinctual than feeling the pain of being abandoned. The latter exemplifies emotion.

The imagination calculates with data that has been perceived by the senses. Like, if you think about how to rearrange the furniture – or – if you could predict when you need a ladder to reach something – or – if you presume that someone will react a certain way – all of these are examples of the imagination at work.

The memory is essentially the databank of the soul. In the memory, information is stored. It stores images from your eyes, sounds from your ears, and feelings from your emotions. You could remember the feeling of touching things, smells, thoughts, situations, and even calculations from your imagination. The consumeristic attitudes of the twentieth century will find the memory most appealing. It’s the horder’s dream!

The will is the place of choosing. It’s the will that can lead someone to vice or to virtue. The will carries out actions. For example, we can feel something like anger in our emotions but it’s in our will that we choose to act or not act a certain way. We could imagine ourselves being able to contribute in a certain way to a ministry, but it’s not until we engage our will that we are actually able to do what may or may not be from God.

The intellect is also known as the mind or understanding. It’s through the intellect that we recognize the symbolic nature of things. Like – we are able to see that a baptismal font is symbolic of the womb of Mary, for it’s there that the members of the body of Christ come forth. In the intellect we are capable of recognizing the signs of the times and seasons. When we perceive with our eyes that the trees are in bloom and perceive that the temperature is warmer with our skin – we understand with our intellect that a new springtime is here and the dove’s song will be heard in our land.  lastly, it’s with our intellect that we pierce into the mysteries of God.  Like, the fact that He is 3 Persons – One in Being.  It is in our intellect that we comprehend such things that are beyond our imaginations.

This is a very simple start to the complexity of the faculties of the soul. I know that people are interested in hearing more about this subject – and how God works within them for the salvation of our souls. There will be more on this.


  1. I really enjoy your explanations about soul. Do you have more materials on this subject?
    God bless!!

    • Your explanation of the SOUL IS most inciteful….understanding the process through which we arrive at essential union , we need to understand god uniting the soul to himself…..thank you

  2. I’m currently reading “My Life” by St. Teresa of Avila. She refers often to the will, the memory, and the intellect in her dissertations on prayer. Thanks for the explanation.

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