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August 16, 2006


Bob Lozano

Looks like a very interesting book- thx to both of you for passing it along. Just wanted to let folks know that I was able to order it via amazon, so my guess is that it may be moderatley available. FYI the amazon link is here. Note that there are used copies for about $23 including shipping.


Prof. Richard Myers deals with this on Mirror of Justice:


Excuse my lack of enthusiasm here, but this book is not exactly authoritative on Church teaching. Worse yet, it appears to be merely paraphrases of hearsay statements of what someone might have said.

Besides, this whole "ensoulment" issue is a red herring and is completely off the abortion track.

As for Macguire and his ilk pointing to "the exact time when ensoulment takes place," they might consider that Mary's immaculate soul was present, not from the moment of her being an 80-day-old embryo, but from the moment of her conception. And if the teaching of the Immaculate Conception were too late in the day for some people in the history of the Church, they might consider that the soul of Jesus was present from the very moment of his conception at the Annunciation. And that has been understood from the earliest days of the Church, as has been the understanding that Jesus was and is wholly human, that is, just like every other human being (other than also being divine), such that it should be very easy to conclude when everyone else's soul is present.

Bob Lozano

Prof. Myers refers to "Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective", by John Connery S. J. (Loyola University Press 1977). Anyone familiar with this book?


I might be making things up - and getting off the track - but I seem to remember that Aquinas, who did hold with the idea of a later ensoulment, also didn't agree with the Immaculate Conception. (Keeping in mind that in his day it was the fruit of popular devotion and not defined dogma until 600 years later, give or take.)

Actually, since we know so much more about the formation of unique humanity (in the combination of DNA at the moment of fertilization) I think it is easier to make a claim about humanity based on science than on philosophy or theology. And if Thomas was working and writing today, he'd be fascinated and I'm sure integrating our modern science with his theology.


F C Bauerschmidt

Cathy is correct about Aquinas, and it was in part because he didn't think that the body was ensouled at the moment of conception that he thought that Mary could be free from sin from the moment of her conception. He did think, however, that she was cleansed of her sins in the womb, prior to birth. He also thought that Jesus, uniquely, was ensouled from the moment of his conception.

As to the comment by "Bender" that the Jones book "appears to be merely paraphrases of hearsay statements of what someone might have said". . . well. . . this is what we call "history" -- in which the author tells us what someone else says or did. If you go to your local Barnes and Noble, they have a whole section of such books. It's generally considered a respectable academic genre, particularly if one includes footnotes (which I presume Jones does).

F C Bauerschmidt

oops. That should read "Mary could not be free from sin. . ."


this is what we call "history" -- in which the author tells us what someone else says or did. If you go to your local Barnes and Noble, they have a whole section of such books.

And a lot of that "history" is junk, especially in this day and age of disinformation to advance political goals. Any serious student of history does not rely upon secondary sources and translations of translations. Even when done so in good faith, a great deal of distortion will inevitably seep in. Have you ever played the game "telephone"? Serious students of history will rely on original sources as much as possible to get first-hand accounts, rather than some advocate's characterization of what was said or done.


The whole ensoulment/not alive yet thing just goes to show that the Church has always paid attention to the faith implications of the latest science -- and that sometimes the latest science doesn't know as much about what it's talking about as the Church's tradition (ie, the Immaculate Conception and Annunciation) does.

The latest science believed that the fetus became alive ("quickened") so late in pregnancy, not because it had something against conception, but because it takes that many days for the baby to have detectable movement. Movement meant life, and life meant a soul. (Hence the "anima", soul, in "animation".)

These days, we know perfectly well that the fetus is a living creature from the moment of conception; we know the whole process. We know the cells are dividing and growing, and indeed, moving about.

We know mother bears and lions don't lick their babies into shape and breathe them to life after they're born, either. I doubt anyone killing a newborn zoo cub and claiming it wasn't alive would make much headway with the media or the public.

Similarly, pretending that no soul or life is present in human babies, at a stage when an animal baby would easily be called a living thing, makes us look far more ignorant than the medievals. They were doing their best; we deliberately ignore the facts.


It is VERY difficult to take Maguire's commentary seriously. See, e.g.:


or see:


Intellectually serious? I doubt it.


One of the hallmarks of progressive theological thought -whether it concerned female ordination, contraception, orginal sin, etc..- was that it was forward looking. Usually, progressives relied on History, social evolution, and modern science to further thier ideas. Now, with abortion they are going back. I suppose it will not be too long before they find "proof" that the "early church" not only permitted abortion but endorsed it.


Just curious.

Why does it take longer for the female to get a soul than for the male?

Isn't there also something about the mother "churching" - cleansing in the temple after birth - that is different for the birth of females than for males?

I know that females were considered defective males for many eons, but what would that have to do with when a female gets a soul or the length of time that a post-partum mother is considered unclean?

Just asking.


Arguing that the Doctrine Immaculate Conception resolved the matter of the time of ensoulment is simply wrong. As the 1913 (and they knew about modern reproduction in 1913, so scientific ignorance is no excuse) Catholic Encyclopedia explained: "The term conception [in "Immaculate Conception"] does not mean the active or generative conception by her parents. Her body was formed in the womb of the mother, and the father had the usual share in its formation. The question does not concern the immaculateness of the generative activity of her parents. Neither does it concern the passive conception absolutely and simply (conceptio seminis carnis, inchoata), which, according to the order of nature, precedes the infusion of the rational soul. The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07674d.htm

As was commonly accepted Catholic belief, "conception" occured at "animation," NOT at what we now call fertilization, and it was at this time later in pregnancy in which the rational soul was infused -- and neither Mary nor any one else was deemed a full, i.e. ensouled, person until that time. The theory of "immediate animation" (i.e., at fertilization) is just that: a theory. Many Catholic theologians now argue for twinning as the crucial time, since, they argue, it cannot be said that there is a human "individual" there until after the time for possible twinning has occurred, and they are free to do so because the Church has not finally spoken on when "ensoulment" of a person occurs.

Kevin Jones

"Why does it take longer for the female to get a soul than for the male?"

I'd guess it has to do with Aristotelian embryology, which believed the female was a defective male. I do not believe this specific view was influential on Hebrew purification regulations, though I'd also like to know if the rationale for such laws is known to us.



Wherever there exists a "person" in Catholic theology, there simultaneously exists a human being with "soul" and body. There could never be a time in which a complete human nature exists that is not also and at the same time "personal".

The anachronistic substantialist language about soul infusion and the like is very much out of sync with the whole direction of theological anthropology as things stand today.

Chris Sullivan


In the Jewish view, it was important to have a proper seperation of the holy from the profane ["And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean" Lev 10:10]. Therefore, the priests had to wash themselves, change clothing etc on entering and leaving the temple sanctuary.

We do something similiar in blessing ourselves with holy water on entering and leaving Church.

Conception, pregnancy, and childbirth are a contact with and a participation in the divine propagation of human life and are therefore especially holy, requiring a suitable cleansing before return to the profane humdum of everyday life.

Perhaps the blood associated with childbirth also has a role - for the Jews blood is very holy, being essential for life.

Why a greater time is required for female children [Lev 12] I don't know. Perhaps they are twice as holy, possibly in respect of their own potential for later pregnancy and childbirth ?

Rabbi Gunther Plaut suggests that since all births were regarded as frightening and uncanny, the birth of a female who will also be capable of giving birth (in the future) was considered doubly frightening. [http://urj.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=3048&pge_prg_id=34203&pge_id=3452]

I think it would be a mistake to see this cleansing as necessarily misocynist, despite the fact that it might have sometimes been popularly thought of in a miscoginyst way.

In fact, the cleansing celebrates the wonderful feminine contribution of childbirth.

God Bless

Allan Edwards

It seems impossible to separate "fertilization" from "animation" in light of our current knowledge on the subject. I'm quite sure there is more to the story but even if it were "a theory" it would in no way legitimate abortion at any stage of pregnancy, because as Amy mentioned "[i]n the absence of irrefutable proof, it is unethical to risk homicide."



All the "substantialist" and "ensoulment" talk may be out of sync with fashionable theological anthropology, but there it is. And it may be true that there "could never be a time in which a complete human nature exists that is not also and at the same time 'personal,'" but it is also true that a "complete human nature" does not exist until there is a soul, and it is Catholic doctrine that each human soul is individually created by God -- not that it arises ex opere operanto on account of the existence of certain genetic components and biological functions upon or after fertilization. It could occur at another time, as most theologians have assumed it did for most of history.

Kevin Miller

Yes - the soul is created immediately by God.

But - where there is something that's clearly, biologically, a human person - continuous with the human person who'll develop into an infant and then a toddler and then a child and then an adolescent and then an adult and so on - then there must be a soul.

The substance formed is evidence of the existence of the form.

And unlike people in "most of history," we know that, biologically, there is continuity between the embryo and the eventual infant (etc.). We know that the embryo develops from within, from the beginning - e.g., that it isn't molded from without by a sort of energy contained within the seminal fluid (as Aristotle/Aquinas theorized).


Prof. Myers refers to "Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective", by John Connery S. J. (Loyola University Press 1977). Anyone familiar with this book?

Well, I own a copy that I got from Alibris a couple of years ago. Questions?

Chris from St. Mary's

Where you can find Soul of the Embryo at a library



The point about the person is made mainly to provide a mechanism more adequate to the solution of the questions involved, not simply to be "fashionable". Much of the difficulty encountered here arises precisely because of the limitations encountered in giving pride of place to the category of substance. While you're quite right to say that the soul is the immediate creation of God, the soul together with the biology it informs has being only by virtue of its relatedness in any event, a relatedness, or personhood, minimally defined in this instance as receptivity. Here one notes Kevin Miller's perfectly relevant point that "substance is evidence of the existence of the form". While no one is trying to be particularly trendy here, I really must observe that we've now gone through a hundred years or more in which such substantialist language has been surpassed. Perhaps a new approach might bring greater promise, eh?


Thank you for those comments from those who have read my book (The Soul of the Embryo). I could not tell from the comments if 'Bender' had actually done so. The criticisms which she/he makes are of a very general sort and would apply to virtually any book. If there are specific weaknesses with the assertions or arguments in the book please point them out so that we can have a debate.

'The Soul of the Embryo' is not a work of official Catholic teaching, for this see the Pope or the many episcopal statements of national hierarchies, but it is a contribution to the historical debate on this issue, which has been deliberately misrepresented by writers such as Maguire.

It should be noted that in excluding all abortion except to save the mothers life (and this only in the first 40-80 days, i.e. the first trimester) Antoninus could not with any honesty be said to be 'pro-choice'. Abortion only to save the mothers life (not 'health' let alone 'choice') only in the first trimester (not up to partial birth) is no where near Roe v Wade and to imply that it is, is simply disingenuous.

To Celine: animation at fertilisation is a theory and one that is disputed by some Catholic theologians. Nevertheless, it is a theory that has persuaded many theologians (myself included). I discuss the reasons why I think this more convincing than twinning in the pen-ultimnate chapter of my book. The theory of animation at fertilistion deserves to be taken seriously and it seems at the very least that the embryo deserves the benefit of the doubt. What is not a 'theory' but a matter of official church teaching is that the embryo 'is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception' (Evangelium Vitae 60).

The timing of ensoulment is a matter of debate but protection of the unborn child should not be a matter of debate but a Christian imperative.



Jones above says:

"What is not a 'theory' but a matter of official church teaching is that the embryo 'is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception' (Evangelium Vitae 60).

The timing of ensoulment is a matter of debate but protection of the unborn child should not be a matter of debate but a Christian imperative."

Are we to conclude from the above that the embryo is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception simply in view of some duty being imposed on us by the Church or would you think it more likely that the reference here is to some corresponding and quite concrete reality instead? If the Church is recognizing the concrete reality of the person from the moment of conception - which in my view is the only supportable interpretation of these remarks - then any and all speculation about soul infusion is utterly meaningless. With all respect to Jones, we're barking up the wrong tree to read no more than a kind of instruction in the statement.


I think that, while the late Pope was personally convinced that the soul was infused at conception (and I am strongly inclined to this view - though I have not always held it), the Pope was well aware that the tradition on this had varied and he had no intention of stepping in with a new definition on the issue of ensoulment.

What JP II stressed in EV and elsewhere was the constant teaching of the Church against killing the embryo in the womb, a teaching also upheld by those (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) who thought that God had not yet infused a soul into the embryo.

Why else would the embryo be treated 'as a person' if it were not a person?

If there was objective doubt as to whether the embryo was a person then it might be treated 'as a person' due to benefit of the doubt - this is a serious argument that others have pursued.

Secondly, I think a good case can be made for saying that the embryo would be sacred and worthy of protection 'as a person' even if it were not stricte dictu a person, if it were thought of as a living being whom God was actively transforming into a person. This 'anticipated homicide' view is very strong in the tradition and is not reducible to a future 'possible person' view in a sense that is unrelated to a concrete embryo whom God is fashioning.

I think the main point of the Pope is that, while views on ensoulment have come and gone, the worthiness of the human embryo to love and protection has been seen as a fundamental element of Christian moral understanding from the first century.

Play with soul langauge all you like, killing human embryos is not Christian.

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