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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do Animals Have Souls?

Regarding whether animals have souls: although I have found places on the net where people have stated that St. Thomas Aquinas claimed that animals have "material souls," I was not able to find a reference to a writing where he stated this. However, in the Summa Theologica (Prima Pars, Question 75, Article 3: link), he addresses the question of "Whether the souls of brute animals are subsistent?":

"Hence it is clear that the sensitive soul has no 'per se' operation of its own, and that every operation of the sensitive soul belongs to the composite. Wherefore we conclude that as the souls of brute animals have no 'per se' operations they are not subsistent. For the operation of anything follows the mode of its being."

I don't know what the official teaching of the Church is on this topic (which brings up the more general question that is of great interest to me: in general, how does the Summa Theologica influence official Church teaching?).

I did find a site where a priest stated the following:

"Actually the Catholic Church teaches that all living things have some sort of soul, because the soul is the principle of life, the unifying force behind the substance of a being." (link)

However, this doesn't make sense to me - I think in part because his wording seems to me to be inconsistent. He first refers to "living things" but then later to "beings" in general. (A rock is a "being" that has a "unifying force," but I don't think that the Church teaches that it has a soul.)

2 comments:

Eric Moore said...

I've found several references to a quote made by Bl. John Paul II at a general audience in 1990, though I haven't been able to find an authoritative source to confirm it: "animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren."

In the Catechism, the term "spiritual soul" is used to refer to a human soul. "The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul" (CCC 364) This distinction may imply a character that differentiates a human soul from the souls of other living things.

Perhaps some more detective work is in order...

Patrick L. said...

I hadn't run across the quote by Bl. John Paul II. Assuming he did say it, I'd like to see the context of the statement.

The discussions I've had on the "soul" or
"spirituality" with the general public (i.e. non-Catholics) seem to have come from either the "scientific" or the "new age" perspective. The "scientist" denies the soul exists, and the new ager takes the soul to be malleable to the point of vacuousness.

According to etymoline.com (link) (note I don't know how reliable this source is), the word "animal" (link) derives from the Latin "animale" ("living being" or "being which breathes") whose root is "anima." One Latin dictionary (link) defines "anima" as not only "soul," "spirit," and "vital principle," but also "breathing" or "air."

I find this etymological connection between "life" and "breath" notable. But as early as the 6/7th century, a Doctor of the Church pointed out that the two are not inextricably connected, in a statement that is reassuringly pro-life:

"Anima autem a gentilibus nomen accepit, eo quod ventus sit. Unde et Graece ventus ἄνεμος dicitur, quod ore trahentes aerem vivere videamur: sed apertissime falsum est, quia multo prius gignitur anima quam concipi aer ore possit, quia iam in genetricis utero vivit."

"Soul (anima) takes its name from the pagans, on the assumption that it is wind - hence wind is called ἄνεμος in Greek, because we seem to stay alive by drawing air into the mouth. But this is quite clearly untrue, since the soul is generated much earlier than air can be taken into the mouth, because it is already alive in the mother's womb." ~St. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636), from 'Etymologiæ', Book XI: 'De homine et portentis' ('The human being and portents')

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