When Does The Person Begin?




Home Page Articles Links Contact Us




Can the Relationship between Fact and Moral Norm, as indicated in Humanae Vitae be Further Explained?

Part III:  The act of the person and the action of procreation

An introduction to Part III in the light of the dissertation as a whole

We have taken as one of the points of departure of this dissertation that each human body is a gendered sign of the person-gift (Introduction [v]).  In Chapter 1 we looked at how the theme of reciprocal self-giving is capable of unifying the diverse reality of the human person and the personal action of procreation.  We have also seen how the "is-ought" distinction between fact and norm has begun to entail a relationship of one to the other.  In the course of Part I we saw this relationship emerge in the normative fact of the gendered bodily person.  Many things have also pointed to the necessity of seeking out the foundation of the body-soul unity of the person in the moment of conception.

In Chapter 4 the theme of the person-as-gift will be taken up as it comes into the very creation of each one of us, at conception, by an act of God.  We will also seek to show that the act of God at conception establishes the person as an ontological unity-in-diversity; and that this complex being of man is made in the image of the Blessed Trinity.

In Chapter 5 we will seek to show how the bodily sign of the person as gift, and God's gift of existence to each one of us, has a 'determining' effect on our attitude to the marital act, to each other and to God.  We will also seek to show that the ontological foundation of our unity-in-diversity, reveals the marital act to entail a reciprocal interrelationship of body-soul.  The marital act, according to Humanae Vitae, embodies an attitude of being open to the possibility of the gift of life: an attitude that is as inseparably rooted in our physicality as it is expressed in our spirituality.  The definition of this attitude is taken up from a brief reference to it at the beginning of the dissertation (Introduction [v]).  We also take up the theme of the necessity of pondering the mystery of the Blessed Trinity in order to understand the mystery of the sexuality of the person221.

Finally, in what follows the assumption is that the reality under investigation is the Christian marital act, as it conforms to Humanae Vitae, with specific reference to the time of infertility and the avoidance of the conception of a child.  These Chapters continue to investigate this doctrine in relation to a Christian anthropology of man.  This is because the relationship of being to action continues to illuminate the relationship of fact to norm in the precise type of marital act under investigation.

CHAPTER 4: The act of the person

(i) Being is a unity-in-diversity

We now come to a proposition which answers a metaphysical question within this dissertation.  The discussion has been about how to answer the problem posed by Hume: can an 'ought' be derived from an 'is'?  This reply drew upon the following principle: the 'Blessed Trinity ... is the archetypal Exemplar of unity-in-diversity'222.  Relating this principle to human being showed that it possessed a unique power of explanation.  There is no more fundamental being than that of the Blessed Trinity; and that if all being is made in the image of the Blessed Trinity, then being is a unity-in-diversity.  The proposition, being is a unity-in-diversity, is as irreducible as the Revelation of the Blessed Trinity is The Revelation of God: it cannot be given a more basic 'definition' than the reality of God.  This proposition, as has been said, answers a question within this dissertation: what structure of human being reconciles the difference between a fact and a moral norm?  It is a "first principle" of this dissertation; indeed, while it has been drawn upon from the very beginning of this dissertation, it has taken this extensive use of it to make apparent how basic it is.  So as a first principle of these thoughts it has been operative from the beginning of the dissertation; however, the proposition that being is a unity-in-diversity is not just a first principle of this dissertation but a first principle of being.  This basic structure of being is given through rational reflection on the datum of the Blessed Trinity; and the realization that it cannot be derived from a more basic fact, discloses it to be a thought which follows on existence223.  The principle that being is a unity-in-diversity is seen to be the principle at work in the traditional definition of man: the person is one in body and soul224.  On the one hand this principle is not proved225 by the thought which proceeds from the fact of existing things226, as it is verified in the very structure of created reality and philosophical thought.  On the other hand, the very coherence of Revelation and created reality which is constitutive of this principle, commends it to reason227.  So God is revealed to be the archetypal228 template229 of all created and creaturely structure230: 'Let us make man in our image ...' (Gn 1: 26); and created reality imitates231 The unity-in-diversity of God and leads to Him: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1).

(ii) Conception and the actus essendi232 of the person

If God is a unity-in-diversity, then it follows that man, made in the image of God, is made to be a unity in diversity from the very moment of his conception.  If man is not made to 'reproduce' (cf. Gn 1: 12; 4: 1; and 5: 1-3) the "structure" of divine Being at the moment of conception, then in a fundamental sense man has not been made in the image of God.  God did not become what He is but is what He is233, so man does not come into existence through a process of coming to exist234.  This is because the very being that comes to exist, comes to exist in the structure that is as inseparable from its own existence as God is the Blessed Trinity.  If giving existence is the actual externalization235 of a divine idea, and the divine idea follows on the divine 'fact' of God being the Blessed Trinity236, then it follows that the perfect reproduction of the divine reality is an existence of a creature and a creation which from the very first moment (cf. 2 Mac 7: 23) is in the image of the Creator.  Prescinding, then, from the difference between the beginning of creation, Adam and Eve, and our own beginning, the significant similarity is the existential fact that what comes to exist, comes to exist in such a way that from the very first moment of its created existence, it expresses the mystery of the divine Being.  This is the moment in which God makes visible His invisible reality; and it is indeed the moment that the body manifests the existence of the soul237.  The question of the moment of human ensoulment is different from the the question of the necessity of a soul.  Therefore even if there has been a philosophical dispute concerning the existence of a human soul from conception238, there is still a philosophical necessity for some kind of soul from conception239.  The soul is an invisible principle of design which makes a living thing to be what it is240; and it is made visible in the difference between the nature of things: a plant, an animal and man (cf. Gn 2: 19-23).  The moment of a beginning is therefore the moment of making known the invisible.  First in the sense of what form makes it to be what it is.  Second in the sense that the 'visible' expression of the invisible is called into existence to disclose an aspect of the unique identity of the Creator.  So if the Being of the Blessed Trinity is The unity-in-diversity, then the reproduction of this in created being is the foundation of all created being participating in the vocation to reveal God.  We can say that the action of creation is the free reproduction of the Act of the divine Being: the structure of created being is a "reproduction" of the "structure" of divine Being.

The first 'visible moment' of human existence is the very moment the sperm activates the egg.  The sperm does not simply enter one of the many 'pores' which are formed out of the granular, thread like material of the egg, each one of which is roughly the diameter of a sperm head.  The sperm also effects a reaction in the egg when it has penetrated 'the inner cell plasma of the ovum'241.  The sperm's penetration of this inner membrane excites the response of the egg: the egg is activated.  The activation of the egg is expressed by the action of the egg: it shuts down the openings in the surface of the egg242 and forms, with the head of the single sperm enclosed within it, a single body.  In this moment of the activation of the egg by the sperm, we can say that life is transmitted; and life is transmitted in that one of the fundamental expressions of life is movement243: the egg has been moved to an action by the sperm.  The activity of the sperm has caused an action in the egg.  This moment of activation is therefore the moment of a true beginning244.  In terms of what constitutes the cause of the human being, however, this 'outward' sign of the beginning of the person is a secondary cause: it is a subsidiary and contributory cause.  The primary cause254 of the beginning of the person is God; it is God who creates the soul in union with the body, causing the person to exist, one in body and soul: the soul exists as 'immediately created by God'246 and the body exists in the very instant that fertilization itself is animated by the soul247; and it is God, Who from the beginning, has ordered the human cause to His own divine action.  Just as the sacramental signs "represent what they signify by natural resemblance"248 ., so an 'outward' sign of the 'inward' action of God expresses the very making visible of the invisible that constitutes the divine action of creation.  As God creates the invisible soul, so it is made visible in the moment of fertilization.  If in terms of an analysis we can say there is a body and a soul, in terms of the terminus of the creative action of God, there is the person: one in body and soul.  The unity-in-diversity of the person, one in body in soul, is an 'individual' reproduction of the divine Actus essendi.  We are, however, members of a family and so we imitate in this way the plurality of the Blessed Trinity; indeed for this reason of imitating the Actus essendi of the Blessed Trinity, we can say that man as male and female, as Adam and Eve, were created simultaneously one and different in their humanity249.  Furthermore, the incarnation of Christ, uniting as it does each person to Christ250, reveals our imitation of the society of the Blessed Trinity.  Christ is both a divine Person and united to each of the other two divine Persons, as he is a man and united to each man.

The very fact that under normal circumstances we do not see even the external manifestation of conception only enhances this element of the language of the body.  This is because there is a kind of parrallel between the fact that we do not normally see the moment of conception, and the difficulty we have in understanding this action of God.  So it can be said that conception is the outward sign of the inward action of God.  The 'physical' action of the sperm activating the egg is an outward sign of the 'spiritual' action of God beginning the human person.  This can be summed up by saying that the physical action is to the spiritual action what the literal sense is to the spiritual sense of Scripture.  In other words, the physical and spiritual meanings of the one event of conception are as inseparable as it is in fact.

We have seen that the unity-in-diversity of man, imitates the unity-in-diversity of God (Gn 1: 26).  The action of God has produced man, made in the image of God; and the action of God is an expression of the Divine We: "Let us make man ..." (ibid251).  So the Act of being God is the fullnes of the unity-in-diversity of being; and therefore the action of God will be a manifestation of the unity-in-diversity of His being252.  If this is the archetypal instance of the maxim, activity manifests being, then it follows that the action of God will reveal the mystery of His Being253.  Creation in general and man in particular will follow this archetypal pattern of the relationship between activity and being.  The activity and being of man will be modelled on God254.  In this way the action of God is both true to His own nature and a revelation of it.  This gives us a theological reason for the coming into existence of the person, one in body and subsistent255 soul, at the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg.  The action and reaction of the sperm and egg on the one hand, and the 'simultaneous' action of God on the other, terminate in human being.  We see that the unity-in-diversity of the Act of God is immediately (cf. Ps 33: 9) reproduced in the unity-in-diversity of the actus essendi of the human being.  The structure of human being is the uniquely typical expression of the action and being of God.

This dissertation accepts as a datum that the human soul is an invisible reality and is what enables the bodily person to be what it is and to do what it does256.  It is also presupposed that God is the only Being Who can bring to exist what did not exist (2 Mac 7: 28)257.  Thus God is the principal Author of the person.  He both brings the soul to exist, to exist immediately258, and to exist in that unity with the body that constitutes the person.

So the actus essendi of the person is the terminus of the creative action of God and the co-operation of the parents.  It expresses a positive answer to the question: does the person exist?  The act of the person is that first concrete moment of the person's existence: it is that which is in 'act' ; and it is ordered to what it can become259; and that which it is possible for it to become is ordered to the foundational act of the person260.  This would be the case whether or not the moment of ensoulment is the same moment as conception261, precisely because the person is defined as one in body and soul.  So even if delayed animation were true, at the moment of the body's animation by a human soul, there would be a person.

(iii) Confirmation of this view of conception

A number of things tend to confirm the view of conception as advanced in this dissertation.

Conception is the coming to be of a 'personal presence'262 and the 'presence of a spiritual soul'263.

Two papal documents have advanced views which bear on these reflections.  The first document does so by drawing attention to the analogy of the body-soul relationship to the incarnation of Christ.  In Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II says: 'As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality'264.  The significance of this reference does not lie solely with itself but also with the tendency of the Documents of the Second Vatican Council to refer the foundational works of God to the Incarnation as to their model and type: the Scripture265; the Church266; and the union of Christ with each person267.

Inspiration belongs to the very inception of the word268 (cf. Ps 139: 4) which, in its final form, is called the Holy Scripture.  The word of Scripture is not first a human word and then the word of Scripture269.  So the analogy of the word of Scripture to the Incarnation is from its very inception.  From its very inception it is a divine-human word.  Similarly there is no beginning to the humanity of Jesus Christ, prior to the moment of conception.  If flesh were to exist prior to the ensoulment of man, it would be the flesh of either a vegetative soul or an animal soul270; and God does not unite Himself to either a plant or an animal but man.  If these realities are compared to the beginning of human life, then it follows that the moment of conception is the determining of the body-soul unity-in-diversity of human life.  Moreover, each of these realities is fundamentally alike in the following respect: in each case there is replication of the divine Act of existing in that in each case there comes to exist a being in the form of the principle: being is a unity-in-diversity.

The second document to advance a view of assistance to this discussion is Veritatis Splendor.  It does so by its emphasis on the unity of the person and in particular on the unity of the spiritual and biological inclinations.  There is in the following quotation an indication of the metaphysical thesis of this section: on the basis of the ontological unity of the person, there follows an activity which is as inseparably spiritual as it is physical.  Pope John Paul II refers to: 'the person himself in the unity of soul and body, in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end'271.

If we now turn to Gaudium et Spes, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council say of Christ: 'by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man'272.  We can apply to this relationship of each person to Christ, at His incarnation, the argument St. Thomas applied to the conception of Christ.  If the soul does not animate the body from conception, then the body would come into being and exist for a time before it was united to Christ.  Christ is not united to plant or animal life.  This leaves the possibility that a plant or animal body exists, for a time, not united to Christ.  According to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was conceived without original sin: 'Mary, in the first instant of her conception ... was preserved free from all stain of original sin ...'273.  Grace274, however, requires the existence of a mind: 'it is through the mind that man ... receives grace'275.  The existence of a mind, even to the degree which corresponds with this first moment of existence276, implies the existence of a soul.  If there is no soul, then there is no possibility of a union with Christ to prevent the infection of the fall; and if there is no soul then there is no possibility of a grace integrating body and soul277.  As original sin is transmitted by propagation278, then if there was a body but no soul to receive grace, then the bodily beginning of Mary would be subject to the law of original sin.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: 'Because of man, creation is now subject "to its bondage to decay"'279.  So a body, prior to ensoulment and therefore not united to Christ, can clearly be subject to its bondage to decay.  For it to be exempt from the fall, while possible to God, would require a clear reason for going against the tendency of all these arguments to the contrary.  So far none has arisen.  Therefore Mary was Immaculate at conception, one in body and soul; and if Mary is like us in all things except sin, then we began at conception.

The biological and theological reasons for the existence of the person from conception, one in body and soul, accord with the view that the life of Christ recapitulates280 the whole reality of the life of man.




References
221 Ibid. no. 24.    Back
222 Conrad, "Is one human person, or a community such as the family, the better image or model of the Holy Trinity?"  Diss. Pontifical University of St. Thomas, Rome, May 1997 p. 3.    Back
223 Cf. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope p. 38.    Back
224 Cf. Gaudium et Spes no. 14.    Back
225 ST, I, 1, 8.    Back
226 John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope p. 38.    Back
227 Cf. The First Vatican Council: Dei Filius, 3019, p. 46 of The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, edited by J Neuner and J Dupuis, (New York: Alba House, 1982).    Back
228 Conrad, "Is one human person, or a community such as the family, the better image or model of the Holy Trinity?"  Diss. Pontifical University of St. Thomas, Rome, May 1997 p. 3.    Back
229 ST, I, 44, 3.    Back
230 ST, I, 45, 7.    Back
231 ST, I, 15, 2.    Back
232 The Latin is courtesy of Richard Conrad, criticism of manuscript 21/11/00.    Back
233 CCC 212-213.    Back
234 Pius XII, Humani Generis no. 36.    Back
235 Cf. John Paul II, General audience of January 15, 1986, pp. 201-202 of A Catechesis on The Creed, Vol. I: God Father and Creator.    Back
236 Cf. John Paul II, Letter To Families, (Published by the National Association of Catholic Families in co-operation with the Couple to Couple League, 1994) no. 6.    Back
237 Cf. The following reference is to the invisible made visible, even though it is not specifically linked to the moment of conception: John Paul II, General audience of February 20, 1980, no. 4, Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis, compilation of catecheses from September 5 1979 - April 2, 1980, (Boston, MA 02130: St. Paul Books and Media) p. 144.    Back
238 This question as it appears in the document: Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Let Me Live: Declaration on Procured Abortion Questio de abortu, (18 November, 1974), (London: CTS [Do 545], 1974) no. 13, footnote 19.  In other words, it is possible that some dispute the existence of a soul, or of any type of form per se; however, it is not possible to prove everything in a dissertation and so one takes the question as it exists within the tradition of the recent magisterial documents.    Back
239 ST, I, 118, 2.    Back
240 Cf. Copleston, Aquinas pp. 154-155.    Back
241 A Child Is Born, photographs by Lennart Nilsson and text by Lars Hamberger, translated by Clare James, (London: Doubleday, 1990) pp. 51.    Back
242 Ibid. pp. 51-52.    Back
243 Cf. ST, I, 75, 1.    Back
244 R. Conrad comments: Or is it 'when the two sets of chromosomes fuse to form a distinctive set of genetic material that will guide the embryo's development?' (4/07/01).  Reply: Fertilization is a true beginning of a new life; however, fertilization is subsequently followed by the natural stages of the development of that life (eg. the fusion of chromosomes).  Therefore we can distinguish between a moment of beginning and the beginning of developments which have their own time and sequence subsequent to this initial beginning.    Back
245 G. Woodall recommended the addition of the distinction between primary and secondary causality, comment (16/12/2000).    Back
246 Piux XII, Humani Generis no. 36.    Back
247 This clause re-written in response to R. Conrad's comment (4/07/01).    Back
248 Cf. Saint Thomas, In IV Sent., dist. 25, q. 2, quaestiuncula 1a ad 4um.  This is taken from footnote 19 of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration On The Admission Of Women To The Ministerial Priesthood: Inter insigniores, 15 October, 1976, Vatican Collection: Volume 2: Vatican Council II: More Post Conciliar Documents, p. 345.    Back
249 Cf. John Paul II, Letter To Women, (London: CTS [Do 638], 1995) nos 7-8.    Back
250 Gaudium et Spes no. 22.    Back
251 emphasis added.    Back
252 ST, I, 45, 7.    Back
253 CCC 236.    Back
254 John Paul II, Letter To Families no. 6.    Back
255 This qualification of the soul was added at the suggestion of R. Conrad, comments and criticism (21/11/00).    Back
256 Cf. Copleston, Aquinas p. 161.    Back
257 ST, I, 45, 2.    Back
258 Pius XII, Humani Generis no. 36.    Back
259 Copleston, Aquinas p. 94, textual reference to: De principiis naturae, in first sentence.    Back
260 Cf. Grisez, "The First Principle Of Practical Reason: A Commentary on the Summa theologiae, 1-2, Question 94, Article 2", p. 180.    Back
261 Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Let Me Live: Declaration on Procured Abortion no. 13.    Back
262 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day, [henceforth Donum Vitae], (London: CTS [S 395], 1987) p. 13: I, 1.    Back
263 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae no. 60.    Back
264 FC no. 11.    Back
265 Dei Verbum no. 13.    Back
266 Lumen Gentium/i no. 8.    Back
267 Gaudium et Spes no. 22.    Back
268 Dei Verbum no. 11: 'It was as true authors ...'.    Back
269 The First Vatican Council: Dei Filius, 3006, p. 75 of The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church.    Back
270 ST, III, 5, 4.    Back
271 VS no. 50. The italics are original to this citation and resemble Gaudium et Spes no. 14, although it is not given as a footnote in this edition of Veritatis Splendor.    Back
272 Gaudium et Spes no. 22.    Back
273 Apostolic Constitution of Pius IX: Defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: Infeffabilis Deus, issued December 8, 1854, (Boston: St. Paul Books and Media, no date) p. 21.    Back
274 Following R. Conrad's comment (4/07/01) and conversation on the (13/07/01), there are two complex questions to be addressed: the first is the nature and effect of grace or graces (sanctifying grace and others); and the second are the reasons for rejecting other anthropologies.  But it is beyond the scope of this dissertation to pursue these things here.    Back
275 Cf. ST, III, 5, 4: 'it is through the mind that man sins and receives grace ...' .    Back
276 Cf. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae no. 60.    Back
277 CCC 400.    Back
278 CCC 404    Back
279 CCC 400.    Back
280 Gaudium et Spes no. 38.    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