Why does the Course say the term “soul” is hardly used, when it originally was used a lot?

Q. In the Clarification of Terms, it says that the word “soul” is not used in the Course except in direct biblical quotations. This is so contradictory to the Urtext (the original typescript of the Course) that it creates a great conflict. How can what the Course says about its wording be contradicted by its actual wording?

A. The answer to this is that the Clarification of Terms was dictated after the final edit of the Course had been completed. It was taken down in the fall of 1975, and the editing was completed in early 1975. So the comment that “The term ‘soul’ is not used except in direct biblical quotations because of its highly controversial nature” (C-1.3:2) reflects the editing that had already been done, in which the word “soul” had been almost entirely removed.

It’s tempting to see something as going awry here, but I don’t really think so. Yes, the term is used frequently in the early part of the dictation. Yet it is also quite notable that the use of the term tapers off after Chapter 5 and eventually phases out in Chapter 12. After that, when the Course speaks of the concept of the soul—an individual spiritual element in us that retains its divine purity yet feels imprisoned by the separation—it uses other terms. In Chapter 21, it’s somewhat awkwardly called “the part of your mind the ego knows not of” (T-21.IV.4:5). In Lesson 182, it is the Christ Child. In both cases, the concept of “soul” is there, but is pointedly not called that. (For a discussion of the concept of the “soul” itself, please see my article “What Is the Soul?”)

For some reason, then, Jesus apparently decided not to make “soul” a permanent part of the Course’s vocabulary. Why is that? I don’t really know. It’s true that “soul” in our culture has many different meanings, which could be what the above quote means by “highly controversial.” On the other hand, it may just be that Helen herself was uncomfortable with the word—it may be that she found it controversial—and that is why it was gradually phased out. I really don’t know.

The point is, though, that it does disappear on its own, and so I personally think the term should have been largely replaced where it occurred in the first third of the Text, which, of course, is what the editors did. I do think there are a few more places where it should have been left in, just because any other term changes the meaning of those particular passages. But by and large I think the editors did the right thing in the way that particular term was handled.

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