Selling One’s Soul?

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

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
the thought.

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.

20

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{ 21 comments }

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Actually, maybe not exactly,
you can “sell your soul”.
In fact, a church was made (I believe in Ecuador)
by demons! That is right.
Well, the man you was supposed to get it built was being negligent. So he saw the deadline coming and he made a pact with the Devil.
He “sold his soul” so when the church was built the Devil could take him to Hell when the last rock was but in by the demons.
So right about when the demons were about to finish, the man got scared and begged Our Lady to help him. And She did. Remember She is Queen of all the Creation, even devils obey her.
To this day, the church is missing one stone and has a hole.

Leah February 16, 2007 at 12:52 pm

A question that’s somewhat related to the nature of the soul, that’s been rolling around in my mind for a while: do angels have souls?
I’ve heard the souls of things that exist in the material world as having souls, including animals and plants – even rocks. They have material souls.
We, on the other other hand, have spiritual souls, which are the animating principal of our bodies.
I’ve never heard the angels referred to as having souls, and I’ve wondered if that’s because the concept of the soul is related to the material world, or if it’s just not used to refer to purely spiritual beings.
If the soul is understood as the essence of the thing/person in question, then I don’t suppose there’s any reason that angels could not be said to have them.
Anyone know?

David B. February 16, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Someday,
Did you not see the ’20′ at the bottom of the post? To the reader who Wrote: don’t pay attention to someday’s post, Jimbo has got your back.

David B. February 16, 2007 at 12:56 pm

Someday,
Did you not see the ’20′ at the bottom of the post? To the reader who Wrote: don’t pay attention to somday’s post, Jimbo has got your back.

David B. February 16, 2007 at 12:58 pm

“Jimbo has got your back”
That’d be good on a T-shirt!

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 1:00 pm

David,
I did not violate the rule. I didn’t say he sold his soul, I just told true story on what could be considered selling your soul. Don’t be apathetic.
Leah,
minerals and plants have no souls.
Animals have mortal souls (irrational as well)
according to I believe St. Thomas.
Humans have immortal and rational souls.
Angels are pure spirit, therefore without souls, as that is a spirit connected to a material thing.

Curious February 16, 2007 at 1:01 pm

Some Day,
I’d have to classify your story as a pious legend. Jimmy is correct.

Josiah February 16, 2007 at 1:07 pm

What does the ’20′ mean, anyway?

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 1:07 pm

Ever heard of “Highway to Hell”?
I think that is the name of the song.
Its by the Beatles I think or some other rockers.
It has a part where he says that he is coming, that he is going to pay his debt.
He made a pact with the devil ( a mortal sin in itself) to reach that fame.
The price was his soul. He did not rip his soul and write a receipt. He just agreed to go to Hell in exchange for all that fame and worldy pleasure.
This writer has not done that. Nor did I accuse him of doing so.
I agree with Jimmy 100%.
What I am saying is entirely compatible with his explanation.

David B. February 16, 2007 at 1:09 pm

The writer did not ask Jimmy if he sold his soul. He asked if it was possible. You DID violate the rules. I’m not being ‘apathetic.’
I didn’t mean “don’t pay attention to Some Day’s post” to be insulting. It was the best way I could think to put it. I’m sorry if you were offended.

cv February 16, 2007 at 1:09 pm

My prayers go out to this person struggling with OCD. I have had major league struggles with this illness in the past, and occasionally it still has its flare ups. While OCD is often associated with rituals (e.g. hand washing, door knob avoidance), the more “mental” types of obsessions, such as this reader’s “what if” fear, are extremely painful. And being an anxiety-based disorder, OCD can generate much fear in those it affects.
Be of good cheer, whoever posted the question to Jimmy – you’re not alone. And thank you Jimmy for your answer to his question.

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Josiah,
See http://www.jimmyakin.org/2004/06/da_rulz.html
It is the rules of the blog.
Simply having Catholic decency.

Anonymous February 16, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Josiah,
Check out DA RULZ for the meaning of ’20.’

bill912 February 16, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Josiah, “20″ refers to Rule # 20:”When Jimmy is answering a pastoral question(like this one)…do not disagree with Jimmy in the comments box(as was done)”.
You can read all 20 rules in the permapost “Da Rulz” in the left-hand column.

David B. February 16, 2007 at 1:17 pm

“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.”
“Actually, maybe not exactly,
you can “sell your soul”.”
Don’t you see the contradiction?

David B. February 16, 2007 at 1:18 pm

“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.”
“Actually, maybe not exactly,
you can “sell your soul”.”
Don’t you see the contradiction?

Dan Hunter February 16, 2007 at 1:23 pm

Mr Akin,
I believe what above writer means is that he acknowledges the fact that mortal sin can be commited without going to Sacramental Cofession and you are then cut of from God.If he was to die without the sacrament of confession he would go to hell.
God bless you

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Maybe I should have added a word to the first phrase.
Read more like this:
“Actually,though maybe not in the literal way, you can do something similar.”

Rosemarie February 16, 2007 at 1:25 pm

+J.M.J+
“Highway to Hell” is by AC/DC, not the Beatles. See:
Highway to Hell (song) from Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_to_Hell_%28song%29
In Jesu et Maria,

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Maybe I should have added a word to the first phrase.
Read more like this:
“Actually,though maybe not in the literal way, you can do something similar.”

Some Day February 16, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Thanks.
I’m 17 and have no idea about that stuff.
Esspecially since I don’t listen to that trash.

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