The trichotomy of man (or his trichotomous or tripartite nature) is the belief that man was created with three "parts" – body, soul, and spirit. This is a popular viewpoint among many Christians, but the official position of Catholicism (Catechism §365), not to mention the majority view of many Protestant traditions, is that man consists of only body and soul.

It turns out that there was some disagreement on this point in the early church. Apollinaris of Laodicea came up with a tripartite scheme in his attempts to explain the incarnation of Jesus, and he was defeated at the First Council of Constantinople (381). However, according to J. Oliver Buswell's Systematic Theology (3.2.5.H.2), his trichotomism was not specifically rejected – just his view of Christ's nature more generally.

Thus, I wonder – when did the church specifically reject the trichotomy of man? By "church" I'm referring to the orthodox (small O) church prior to the East-West schism, the Western church prior to the Reformation, and, if necessary, Roman Catholicism after that. Note too that this means I'm looking for official church councils, not the writings of respected fathers and doctors.

1 Answer 1


Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Book 2, §14), directs us to relevant councils:

The first of these rejects the idea that man has "two souls," which, if not completely rejecting trichotomy, at least gets close to it. Canon 11 reads:

The Old and the New Testaments teach that man has one rational and intellectual soul, and all the Fathers speaking the word of God, and all the teachers of the Church declare the same opinion. (Denzinger, §338)

unam animam rationabilem et intellectualem habere hominem (Ott)

In the opening chapter of the 4th Lateran Council, we find a more explicit statement within a general expounding of God's nature and creative work:

By [God's] own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. (Denzinger, §428)

deinde (condidit creaturam) humanam quasi communem ex spiritu et corpore constitutam (Ott)

So it turns out that the trichotomous doctrines were only officially rejected several centuries after Apollinaris, but still well before the Reformation. Thus it makes sense that many major Protestant traditions continued to hold this view.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .