From Testicles to Immortal Souls

I have been considering my colleague’s ideas about spiritual entities.  We both borrow heavily from ancient literature to understand concepts like “spirit,” “soul,” “nefesh,” “pneuma” etc.  As for the “immortal soul” of man, we disagree.  She says humans have this, and continue to live after they die.  I say that humans do not possess and immortal soul; rather, in Hebraic context, the soul (mind) and body are one, and this mind / body unity is what the Hebrews called “nephesh” – and the nefesh is not immortal.

She goes on to say that, after the death of the body, the immortal soul is somehow implanted in another body, and this is called reincarnation.   I, on the other hand, believe in the total resurrection of the dead, as is stated in the Creed; and I do not believe in reincarnation.

But this entry is not really about the soul, but what the ancients believed about the testicles.  Yes.  As I was pondering the beliefs of my colleague, I also started to read a very good book by Aline Rousselle titled Porneia: On desire and the Body in Antiquity (1983, 1988).   Porneia is Greek, and it means immorality, and especially sexual immorality.  I wanted this book because it promised a collection of medical essays from ancient times, and of course I am interested in such histories.  From the beginning of the book, pages 14,15, we find a translation of an essay from Galen of Pergamum (150 – 210 AD), a world-renowned physician in his time, that describes the function of the testicles.  (I don’t mean to offend, but this is the first primary source in the book.)

The testicles are even more important than the heart, since, besides the heat and strength they give to animals, they are responsible for the continuance of the species, for they impart to the whole body a power similar to the sensory and motor power which the brain communicates to the nerves, and to the pulsatory power that the heart communicates to the arteries, and this power causes the male’s vigour and virility … When, as a result of continual sexual excess, all the sperm has been lost, the testicles draw seminal liquid from the veins immediately above them. These veins contain only a small quantity of this condensed liquid; so when they are suddenly deprived of it by the testicles, which are stronger than they are, they in turn drain the veins above them and so on. This draining process does not stop until it has involved every part of the body, so if it is constantly repeated and if all the vessels and all the parts of the body are forced to give up their supplies until the strongest part is finally satisfied, the result will be that all the parts of the animal (or the living creature) are drained not just of seminal fluid but also of their vital spirit for this is taken from the arteries along with the seminal fluid. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that those who lead a debauched· life become weak, since the purest part of both substances is removed from their body. As well as this, pleasure itself can dissolve vital tension to such an extent that people have died from an excess of pleasure. We should therefore not be surprised if those who indulge moderately in the pleasures of love become weak.

I cannot argue with the last sentence, for “I am sick with love” says the groom (Canticles 5:8 ESV).  However, the rest of Galen’s assessment is based on something other than investigation, for at that time, there were no dissections of humans allowed.  So we might say that Galen’s ideas about the testicles and sperm (being squeezed as it were out of blood in the adjoining veins) are antiquated and totally incorrect.

Now let me make a connection here to the ideas of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas on the soul.  The notion that a human being has/is a soul, spirit, immortal soul, living soul, absent spirit, as laid down by these ancients, as well as their ideas of immortality, resurrection, resuscitation, reincarnation, heaven & hell  – that WE of the 20th century have accepted as valid – may be  (and probably are) just as antiquated, obsolete and illogical – even absurd – as Galen’s baseless conception on the more humble parts of a human male.

Is my comparison valid?  And if so, what might I consider to be a more reliable model for these possibly invalid terms and systems of human spirituality?  I have been looking at the concept of Morphic Resonance in the last couple of years – a very quantum-oriented system developed by a fellow believer and scientist, Rupert Sheldrake.  Perhaps after hearing this interesting lecture, we may corporately recognize a more modern and certainly more accurate conception of the human psychenome (spiritual system).   August 1, 2018

Listen to Sheldrake here.