When Does The Person Begin?

Home Page Articles Links Contact Us

The First Instant of Mary's Ensoulment1

Francis Etheredge

Part I: Introduction

The modern documents of the Church advert to the following philosophical question: is the human soul created by God at conception or at some subsequent moment such as that of nidation, otherwise known as implantation?2  However, does this lack of a specifically philosophical answer to this question preclude the Church from any kind of answer to this same question (see section 3)?  It is the argument of this brief essay that the Church does in fact make the following affirmation: the soul is one with the body from conception – but this single answer appears to have two possible interpretations.  On the one hand, as I shall hope to show (in sections 1-2), the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception implies that there is a first instant of fertilization and that this is necessarily prior to the first instant of the fusion of the male and female gametes.  On the other hand there is, particularly in Donum Vitae, a definition of conception which is subsequent to the very first instant of fertilization.  Thus it says in Donum Vitae: ‘Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality’3.  This discrepancy, discussed briefly (in section 3), leads me to the view that there is still progress to be made in the Church’s understanding of the mystery of the originating moment of human personhood.

I hope that these reflections, inadequate as they are in some respects, will nevertheless contribute to the recent debate on the issues surrounding the beginning of the human life and which raise, therefore, more or less directly, the very question of the beginning of each one of us4.

1 I owe a general debt to the Rev. Dr. Richard Conrad OP for many helpful discussions at a particularly formative time of my interest in questions concerning the beginning of each one of us.    Back
2 Cf. Declaration by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Procured Abortion, footnote 19, p. 16 and cf. also Donum Vitae, I, 1 and Evangelium Vitae, art 60.    Back
3 Donum Vitae, I.1.    Back
4 I am particularly thinking of the Altered Nuclear Transfer debate in the last two issues of Communio and to what looks like a call from David L. Schindler for contributions to this debate, “Veritatis Splendor and the Foundation of Bioethics”, Communio, Vol. 32, no.1, (Spring 2005): 201: ‘Christians ... no longer have the luxury of leaving such ponderings to “specialists”.’    Back

Home Articles Top Next

Copyright © 2010 - All articles written by Francis Etheredge
Copyright © 2010-2015 - Website designed, written and maintained by Grace Mason
All rights reserved