When Does The Person Begin?




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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

The beginning of an integral vision of man

The 'marriage' of an event of faith and a fact is at the beginning of each of us.  This is simultaneously an act of spousal love, a manifestly physical occurrence of the activation of an egg by a sperm, a coming into existence of the relationships of parents to child and, through this of the child's entrance into the family of man122, and, finally, the miracle of the beginning of being a person, body and soul, which mirrors and, in a way, recapitulates the beginning of creation.  For while the body of the 'person' has its antecedent 'flesh' in the egg of the mother and the sperm of the father, the soul (cf Gn. 4: 1) is created by God from nothing: an event which, as it were, re-enacts the event of the absolute beginning of creation123 (cf. 2 Mac 7: 22-23).

The term embyro, therefore, like any term which refers to something beyond itself, cannot be separated from the total reality of that thing.  For just as God exists and His name is a kind of well down to the ocean of His existence, so did the Creator intend for us to see the immense significance between what a thing is and what we call it (cf. Gn 2: 19).

Secondly, and what has become more and more obvious to me in the course of writing this book is the following: what is conceived is begun; and what is begun is a process of change; and what governs the process of change is what God has given a thing to begin to become.  Therefore the question arises: what is meant by the beginning of my life?

What I find is that while there are stages to human development, and so one can ask if this or that stage been completed, the beginning of human life, as such, is both a fact of the activation of the egg by the sperm and a mysterious moment in which simultaneously, inseparably and, in a sense, through the event of union, God creates an incarnate soul from nothing.

On the one hand then, it makes sense to ask at what point is the stage of fertilization complete, before one then considers the second stage of the first cell division; but on the other hand, in that what conception is, is that it is a beginning124, there is no question of a complete beginning: there is no question of the duration of the beginning such that it can be said that the beginning of human life, while begun, has got to extend to some point of completion.  In other words, the mystery of the beginning of a human life recapitulates the profundity of the beginning of creation which began with the act of God at the beginning of everything (Gn 1: 1).  This is not to suppose that a soul is created at the beginning of everything and awaits, as it were, its moment of ensoulment; but it is to suggest that the mystery of the beginning of everything is, as it were, recapitulated at the beginning of each and every one of us.

Furthermore, and just by way of emphatic repetition, this is not to say, either, that there is no difference between the beginning of everything and the beginning of each one of us.  For 'before' the very beginning there was no created thing; and in that 'before,' when there was no created thing, there was the God who is.  Whereas at the beginning of each 'child' of Adam and Eve, there was the life of the sperm and the existence of the egg, and the moment of sperm and the egg's union which, in expression of the will of the Creator, is when God repeats anew His creation from nothing and completes His creation of each one of us.  Thus, while it is possible to say that when the sperm activates the egg125, I began, because this involves the inextricable action of God who creates my soul from nothing, and the bodily union to which it is intrinsically ordered, at that same moment, one has also to say that that act of God co-constitutes a moment where time and eternity are, as it were, one.  Therefore, if one is truly open to the facts of life and to the data of Revelation one is confronted with a beginning which is both an act, an event and a moment which is both completely natural and supernatural - both a true act of man and a true act of God: both completely human and at once overshadowed by the intimately active presence of God.

In conclusion because conception is of its nature both an expression of the history of man and the absolute beginning of a new man - it is not possible to appreciate the true nature of the beginning that conception is if one does not also apprehend the mystery of the action of God it also and inseparably is.  Therefore the marvellous fact of an observable beginning to human life is the beginning which is also and necessarily the data of theology - because this is also an act of God as radical as the beginning to which the Book of Genesis directs us.  The full nature of that moment of beginning is, therefore, as much a question for philosophy as it is an observable fact for embryology, as it is a fit subject for theological reflection and a joy, one hopes, to every mother and father to whom this blessing comes as the gift it is.

Finally, while the suffering of infertility is not the subject of this book let me say here that I believe the only true solutions to infertility will come through a method or methods that are ethically acceptable to the Catholic Church.  This is quite simply because the 'integral vision of man' that will inform such investigations and methods will be so well-informed that they cannot but lead to humane answers to heartbreaking questions.  Because this is also the Church which says that a child is a gift and not a right; and, therefore, it is the voice which preserves the truth concerning everyone and everything that this suffering involves.




References
122 Cf MPJ page 192.    Back
123 Cf. CCC, articles 296-298, page 78.    Back
124 Cf. The American Heritage College Dictionary, senior Lexicographer, David A. Jost (Project Director), (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, third edition, 1993), page 228: con-cep-tion: the archaic sense of which is 'A beginning ...'  Abbrev AHCD.    Back
125 Cf A Child Is Born, photographs by Lennart Nilsson and text by Lars Hamberger, translated by Clare James, (London: Doubleday, 1990), page 50.  Abbrev ACB.  Cf. also the extracts from this book published in The Sunday Times Magazine, September 16, 1990, The Winner: The photographs it took Lennart Nilsson five years to get, particularly page 45.  Abbrev TW.    Back

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