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 genome appears as the organising, structural element of the body in both its individual and hereditary traits: it indicates and conditions membership in the human species, the hereditary link and the biological and somatic marks of individuality. It has a determining influence on the structure of physical existence from the dawn of conception until natural death. It is on the basis of this inner truth of the genome, already present at the moment of procreation when the genetic inheritance of the father and the mother are united, that the Church has taken upon herself the task of defending the human dignity of every individual from the very start of his existence. Anthropological reflection, in fact, leads to the recognition that, by virtue of the substantial unity of bodyand spirit, the human genome not only has a biological significance, but also possesses anthropological dignity, which has its basis in the spiritual soul that pervades it and gives it life. Therefore, it is unlawful to carry out any intervention on the human genome unless it is aimed at the good of the person, understood as a unity of body and spirit, nor is it lawful to discriminate between human subjects on the basis of possible genetic defects discovered before or after birth.

“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."

�A little further on, the Holy Father added:

“It is necessary to denounce the rise and spread of a new selective eugenics, which leads to the suppression of embryos and foetuses suffering from any disease. Sometimes baseless theories about the anthropological and ethical difference of the various developments of the prenatal life are employed: the so-called 'progressive humanisation of the foetus'.
One is struck in this speech by the total rejection of the theory of Aristotle taken up by Thomas Aquinas. It is clear that the rejection is based on the anthropological argument, that is to say philosophical, because the speech is addressed to scientists. This reasoning arrived at by induction is rooted in the experience of the unity and continuity in time of the human genome from conception until the age of reason. The person revealed as such by the rationality of its operations, of which the spiritual soul is the moving principal, is one and the same with the embryo just conceived and which therefore has a spiritual soul. It is primarily by means of the spiritual soul that God has a relationship with the human person since God is Spirit (Jn 4:24, 6:63). This relationship, arelationship of Love is the cause of bringing the person into being and sustaining their life.

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

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