When Does The Person Begin?

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The First Instant of Mary's Ensoulment1

2. The Help of the Doctrine of Original Sin

The reason that I have supposed that Mary's body could not have been conceived before the moment of the creation and infusion of her soul, is that in a general way her body would be subject to the condition of the fall of creation.  For on the basis of such a chronological order of things, the body of Mary would in some way require the rectification of the imperfection it inherits through the fallen matter of which it is made: a rectification that would come about through the body's 'share' in the sanctification of Mary's soul on the moment of its conception and infusion into the body.  Therefore, I concluded, the body of Mary, if it was to share in the gift of sanctification given to the soul immediate to its coming into existence in such a way that her body was never to have been in any kind of fallen state18, then the body of Mary was itself to have come into existence at the same moment that it participated19 in the sanctification of Mary's soul.  Thus it could be said that Mary was sanctified, body and soul, at conception: at a conception in which body and soul are one.

The doctrine of original sin, however, offers a more precise understanding of how one can reject the possibility that Mary's body could have existed prior to the creation, sanctification and infusion of her soul.

St. Augustine tended to the view, it seems, that the soul cannot be immediately created by God.  For 'If the soul came straight from God, how could it come stained with original sin?'20.  In answer to this difficulty St. Thomas Aquinas 'places the essence of original sin in "the privation of original justice" ...'21.  Now the author of this article from which I have just taken a second quote goes on to say that it is this concept of original sin as a privation that comes to our help.  For God 'can and does infuse souls deprived of original justice ...'22.

In 1546 the Fathers of the General Council of Trent wrote a Decree On Original Sin.  In this decree they express the following characteristics of original sin: it is 'one in origin'; it is 'transmitted by propagation'; it is 'in all men, proper to each'; and it cannot be taken away by any 'remedy other than the merits of the one mediator our Lord Jesus Christ who reconciled us with God by His blood, being "made our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1: 30)'23.  In the following article they go on to say that the baptism of children is therefore necessary 'so that by regeneration they may be cleansed from what they contracted through generation.  For "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3: 5)'24.

Thus the question arises: what can be contracted by generation?  The part of the answer to this that directly pertains to my question concerning the moment of the beginning of human life, one in body and soul, is this: that what the parents transmit is what through the moment of fertilization and ensoulment becomes the beginning of a person's life: is what through the inheritance of original sin is transmitted in a state which is deprived of its original perfection as given by God to Adam and Eve.  In other words precisely because Adam and Eve are our first parents what they lost of what was originally given to them is as it were personally transmitted to us through the act of human generation.  This would imply that the original grace which Adam and Eve lost, was an original grace which inhered in their bodily substance.

This also accords with what St. Thomas Aquinas says of grace: 'grace is of a higher order of reality than the soul, but not in its mode of existing'25.  The mode of existing of grace is that of a supervening quality which, by definition, is not so much something that exists in itself as the way in which something else exists: 'and so grace is not created, but men are created in it, established in a new existence out of nothing, without earning it: Created in Christ Jesus in good works'26.  In other words, the loss that is transmitted through the generation of the flesh particularly, and the 'Fall' in general, is the loss of what is created being created to exist in the grace of God.  Therefore, whether from the point of view of the transmission of the flesh or the creation of the individual soul by God on conception, in either case the new person comes into existence deprived of the Creator's original fullness of gift: which was to be created in the grace of God.

The relevance of all this to the discussion on Mary is that therefore Mary must have been sanctified on conception, one in body and soul, or her body would have been contaminated by original sin, as understood to be transmitted through human generation.  Finally, because Mary is a creature like ourselves in all things except this contamination of original sin, then the fact of the existence of the unity of body and soul from conception, presupposed, I would now have to say, by the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception, is a fact that is common to the beginning of human beings.

18 Cf. CCC, art 404.    Back
19 Cf. for instance the following: the St. Thomas Aquinas says of the body and soul at the resurrection of the body: 'our body will be united to our pre-existing soul, but not as something secondary supervening, but as something taken up into the same existence, receiving life from the soul' Pt III, Qu 2, art 6; and the 'body shares one natural existence with the soul ...' Pt III, Qu 2, art 6.  It is not possible to enter into a more precise discussion in this essay.  The salient point is that the body cannot exist before the sanctification of the soul, if the sanctification of the body is to share in the same moment of the sanctification of the soul.  These excerpts are from the Summan Theologiae, a concise translation by T. McDermott, (London: Methuen, reprinted 1992); hereafter ST etc.    Back
20 A Catholic Dictionary, by William E. Addis and Thomas A Arnold and revised with additions by T. B. Scannell, (London: Virtue & Company Ltd, ninth edition, 1916), p. 783: Soul; hereafter Dictionary.    Back
21 Dictionary, p. 633: Original Sin.    Back
22 Dictionary, p. 634: Original Sin.    Back
23 The General Council of Trent Fifth Session Decree On Original Sin, art 1513, as in The Christian Faith, edited by J. Neuner SJ and J Dupuis SJ, (New York: Alba House, revised edition 1982); hereafter The Christian Faith.    Back
24 The General Council of Trent Fifth Session Decree On Original Sin, art 1514, The Christian Faith.    Back
25 ST, Pt II, Qu 110, art 2.    Back
26 Ibid.    Back

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