Pneuma (pronounced nü-mə) is the essence or driving force of an individual; their spirit or creative fire.
Pneuma is a concept found in various philosophical and religious traditions, representing the vital and animating force within an individual.
Often described as the breath of life, it is the source of energy and vitality that sustains one’s existence.
In Stoic philosophy, pneuma is considered a divine and rational principle governing the universe and residing within each person, associated with reason and interconnectedness.
This concept holds spiritual significance in some traditions, signifying a person’s essence and their connection to the divine or universal consciousness.
Pneuma is a multifaceted concept, reflecting the fundamental driving force of an individual’s life and consciousness across different belief systems.
The word pneuma comes from the ancient Greek πνεῦμα meaning “breath” or “moving air”, “wind”. (Compare to the similar word psyche).
In ancient Greek philosphy, pneuma was the active force of life, responsible for regulating the heat and motion of the internal working of the body. It was also the active life force of the Universe, drawn into the body through the breath.
Pneuma also references the firey aspect of air (oxygen) as observed when one blows air onto a fire, causing it to flare.
In Biblical translations, the word pneuma is often translated as “sprit”, sometimes referencing the Holy Spirit.
The idea of pneuma as a ghost, demonic entity or other spirits independent of corporeal forms, suggests the relationship between the unseen but felt presence of such a being and the unseen but felt presence of moving air, breath, wind.
The Idea of Pneuma in Different Traditions
Understood as a cosmological principle, the concept of pneuma went on to become very important to Stoic philosophers. This mode of thought explained the world in terms of rational structure and matter.
In Hebrew tradition, pneuma represents life, consciousness, and conscious, invisible agents such as angels and demons. Looking at Christian doctrine the term often relates to divine inspiration; in John pneuma is used to describe God himself, but this usage is unusual in the Bible.
Stoicism and Pneuma
According to the Stoic world, there are three kinds of pneuma, depending on the proportion of air and fire at play. The pneuma of state is a shaping and unifying pneuma that was believed to provide matter with cohesion and stability. Moving onto the pneuma of life force, this is the force that distinguishes a thing as being alive and enables growth.
The pneuma as soul is the force’s most fiery and rarified form and is the animal soul that suffuses an organism. This concept is linked to Aristotle’s theory about the pneuma in sperm; the philosopher believed that this conferred the capacity for locomotion and some sensory perceptions to the eventual child.
The Bible: The Impact of Pneuma on the Believer
There are many ways, according to the Bible, that pneuma can affect the believer. For example, it is key to gaining spiritual knowledge. As well as providing the believer with wisdom on every aspect of life, it is said that pneuma can even help bring back to remembrance things that have been forgotten.
In pneuma’s aspect as an unseen force, it is also, so the Bible says, a means of augmenting a believer’s personal power so that they can become witnesses to God and His will upon Earth. As well as power, the Bible also suggests that pneuma can have a beneficial effect on an individual’s creativity, and confer the ability to find a solution to just about any problem that may present itself.