Reason, Tradition and the Advent of the Soul
Philippe Jobert FAITH Magazine March-April 2007
Development of Doctrine and Understanding Concerning the Soul of the early embryo.
On several occasions John Paul II affirmed that the human embryo receives an immortal soul at the very moment of conception, thus making it a developing human being, and as such, it enjoys all the rights of an individual, and in the first place, the right to life. There is no lack of persons who approve of abortion and its legislation, and to relieve their conscience pretend that the human embryo has no soul, is not a person, and therefore can be dispensed with like an animal. Even within the Catholic Church there are persons who hold this view. Indeed, they make use of the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who in this matter wrongly adhered to the view held by Aristotle, who was a zoologist as well as a philosopher. Aristotle, noting that the human embryo in its earliestform did not have a human form, head, body and limbs, imagined that it had an animal soul which was replaced by a spiritual soul as soon as the human form definitely became apparent. This opinion can not be held with regard to Christ: it would be inappropriate for the Son of God to subsist in an animal nature. The Apollinaris heresy, which held that Christ did not have a spiritual soul was condemned in the Fourth Century. Now, according to the Holy Bible Christ resembled men in all things except sin (cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15). In attributing to Christ a spiritual soul from the moment of conception, Saint Thomas was obliged to make the case of Christ an exception thus contradicting Sacred Scripture. Since then the definition of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady as preservedfrom original sin from the first moment of her conception would require another exception to be made in the case of Our Lady. Today, we know by experience (DNA technology) that all the human organisms are present in rudimentary form in the human embryo, and that there is no essential change from conception to adulthood. The whole development of the embryo is effected immutably and continuously, according to the programme determined at the moment of conception, through the spiritual soul. It is the soul which progressively perfects the primitive organs, and in particular the brain, so that little by little, they adapt to become the instruments of the mind. In the same way, it is the soul alone, which being spiritual, is able to give the embryo its definitive spirituality.
This is why John Paul II, declared on 24 February 1998, during a talk addressed to all the members of the pontifical Academy for Life that:-
“The Catholic Church, which considers man redeemed by Christ as her way" (cf. Encyclical ‘Letter Redemptor hominis, n. 14), insists that the recognition of the dignity of the human being as a person from the moment of conception also be guaranteed by law."
This philosophical argument is of great importance because it determines the ethics to be adopted by legislators whose norm is the natural law as arrived at by reason. Those who go against this argument or even reject its possibility, unconsciously become accomplices of abortionists and of the legislation of abortion, by rejecting in the realm of Faith the certitude of the spiritual animation of the embryo from the moment of conception, even though it is a fact of applied science at the disposal of every man.
This is a translated extract from Les Saints Innocents de Nos Jours originally published in the French language review Lettre aux Amis de Solesmes