A reader writes:
I suffer from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
One of my most troubling obsessions is the thought
that I have (or will) sell my soul (e.g. to the
devil). This thought generally occurs when there’s
something that I want (e.g. I want project X to go
well at work; I see an attractive woman), and is
generally accompanied by an urge to strongly resist
I’m hoping you can address this from a theological
perspective. That is, is it even possible to sell
one’s soul? If not, I’ll have "ammunition" to ignore
these thoughts going forward, and be able to dispel
all fear that I may have ever given in to the thought
in the past. If it is possible, how would I know if I
had done it?
It is not possible to sell one’s soul. Period.
The only things that can be sold are things that (1) you own and (2) are alienable (that is, capable of being transferred from one person to another).
It is questionable whether you even own your own soul. To the extent that ownership even applies to souls, it could be stated that God owns our souls. Thus St. Paul, alluding to the fact that Christ redeemed us on the Cross, states:
You are not your own; you were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
There is thus a significant argument to be made that we can’t sell our souls because we don’t own them.
Even if one were to quibble on that point, though, we most definitely cannot sell our souls because they are not alienable. They can’t be taken away from us and given to someone else. Why? Because the soul is the essence of who we are.
I can’t transfer my essence–my "me"-ness–to anybody else. He has his own "me"-ness (which to me is "him"-ness), and it is logically impossible for someone else to be both him and me. He’s him. I’m me. That’s all there is to it.
Therefore, a single individual cannot have two souls. This is obvious to see in the case of an embodied soul: Human souls are the substantial forms of our bodies (that’s been dogmatically defined), and a body cannot have two substantial forms. The same thing applies even when our souls are outside our bodies, though. They constitute the irreducible essence of our persons, and as such they cannot be transferred from one person to another, by definition.
The thing to do when these thoughts come to you is to resist them, as you are doing, and to resist them in such a way that they aren’t reinforced. Just do your best to relax and put them out of your mind.