When Does The Person Begin?

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

General Introduction

This book arose out of the suffering and questioning through which came my response to this contemporary question: when does life begin?  What kind of beginning does a human life have if, after the conception of one person, there can come into existence another person as a result of a sub-division in that first human embryo?  In other words, how do we theologically 'account' for the true beginning of one person, if this is what conception really is, and the subsequent beginning of a second person at a later stage in the development of that first individual?

My research and reflection was eventually formulated into the principle: where the body lives, there the soul is, and where both are is the person.

This is an account, theologically and philosophically technical where necessary, of how conception must be the actual beginning of the person, one in body and soul: 'Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity'1.  It therefore involves my search to define the terms which at the same time came to make up this principle.

My approach grows out of the belief that orthodox Catholic doctrine can be investigated fruitfully.  This fruitfulness is of two, inseparably interconnected kinds: for the further understanding of our faith and for assistance with respect to the problems of our time.  I therefore tend to concentrate my efforts on the work of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas Aquinas and a few others.  In other words it is my intention to write out of the triple source of Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium2.  It is therefore presupposed that I draw on this 'source' as far as I am able; and while this does not preclude other, subsidiary sources, it is always, I hope, with a view to their positive relationship to the 'one' source.  If I am ever in error, God willing I will accept the correction of the orthodox point of view as against my error.

I acknowledge a particular debt to F. C. Copleston's Aquinas, to many, many articles of the New Catholic Encyclopedia (reprinted 1981), to Timothy McDermott's concise translation of the Summa Theologiae, and to many different editions of Communio: International Catholic Review, edited by D. L. Schindler and, finally, to A. Kenny's Aquinas.  I would also like to thank Fr. Richard Conrad OP for his helpful remarks and the monks of Prinknash Abbey OSB, for the use of their library.

"Be Open To Life: a theology of the body."

The original title of this book both indicates where I have come from and where I am going.  From my first reading of Humanae Vitae I saw a coherent teaching whose source was, in part, the evidence of how we were made: an evidence that came before our judgements on it and indeed informed those judgements.  Secondly, while I was aware that the body, and particularly the body of the woman, was a contributory factor in the development of the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, I was very slow to realise that what is 'given,' that what the Creator has Himself made, is itself a word to us: a word both in its particularities and in its totality.  For just as what I make fulfils a purpose, and indeed embodies that purpose, so it seemed increasingly obvious that one had to ask why the Creator made us in the way He did.  In other words: what purpose did the Creator embody in the creation of us?

It could be said, therefore, that while the suffering in my life was turning me to this particular subject, particularly the suffering I experienced on the news of the death by abortion of the first child I ever knew to have conceived, it was also the questions that arose in me on learning of the Church's teaching on the nature of Christian marriage which together began the investigations which have led to this book, and to the desire to practise what I began to understand to be a good teaching: a teaching which was both in conformity with my reason and at the same time a teaching that I could not fulfil without the help of God.  For it was increasingly obvious to me that I could not be chaste through my own efforts, neither could a purely psychological explanation - for all its good elements and certain usefulness - constitute either a complete answer to who I was, nor how I could become the person I wanted to be.  Nor, more generally, did it explain why God made us the way He did3, nor what became of this good beginning.  Furthermore I could no more conceive of an unintelligent act of the Creator than I could of anything existing without an inherent reason for its existence.  For it made no sense to me to look at what exists and to conclude there was no Creator, even though, in one sense, one can posit the hypothesis of no God or one can even assert, as an assertion, there is no God - but proving the non-existence of God seemed a contradiction in terms.

But I was the kind of person who found things, thought them helpful and forgot about them!  And so it wasn't even as if one thing simply led to another.  It was, in the end, the fact that if God existed - if He was the Creator - then He had the power to prevent me from falling into the sin which led to the death of my first child.  I cannot tell you what a pain that opened up in me: a pain that led me to beg God, and to go on begging God: that if He existed, and if He was all powerful, then would He help me to be chaste?  He did.  Thanks be to God!  And now I am married and we have one daughter and we are expecting our second child!  Thanks be to God!

What happened, too, was that the specific question with which I began, all those years ago, not only had to develop its own history, as it were, but that the intellectual history of that question was also a part of other questions which had already dominated my life for years, namely: why be the Catholic I was baptised to be; what job was I was going to do; and why couldn't I finish any of the degrees I had begun?  For no sooner did I decide to do something than I would conclude, when I actually began each course of study, that it was not giving me whatever answers I was looking for - whatever they were!

On the one hand were the great unsolved questions of my life: would I marry; what job did I want to do; what degree would I do and why, anyway, did I want to do a degree?  And why couldn't I get anywhere with these questions and how, anyway, were we supposed to get anywhere with these question?  For just as there seemed to be a multitude of unanswerable practical problems such as how long is a book, so there there seemed to be an endless number of other questions: almost as if life itself was an interminably unanswerable question.

And then on the other hand was the fact that the more I read and thought about these things the more obvious it became to me that this was what I wanted to be doing: reading and writing about them.  Thus there emerged this extraordinary coincidence between searching for myself and searching for answers to theological questions; and, moreover, the vehicle of writing which I had abandoned about fifteen to twenty years ago.

But through a long list of relatively short term jobs, job interviews, career interviews, counselling sessions, visits to psychiatrists (and even, many years ago, a brief but traumatic period of incarceration in a psychiatric hospital) - all of which were helpful in there different ways - so I also experienced the sheer pain of what was advocated by the very discipline of medicine which was meant to help people: the sheer pain of one! aborted child in a world which I realised was advocating this as a solution to its problems.

And slowly I began to see, as I've said before, that there are facts in existence and these facts have a meaning that can be found; and, secondly, that one of those facts was always with me - for it was me!  So perhaps one of the basic reasons all this started to make sense was because it meant that I had to observe for myself who I was given to be.

Finally, because answers seem to follow questions and give rise to further questions there began what I can now see has developed into an account of where I have been led.

In conclusion, the present title, "Be Open To Life: a theology of the body," is indicative of the realisation that God speaks a word to us through what He has made and particularly through the nature of the human body and all that characterizes it as 'given.'

1 Cf. Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World, (Gaudium et Spes), art 14, page 914 of Vatican Council II, Vol. I, general editor Austin Flannery, OP, (Dublin: Dominican Publications, and Australia: E. J. Dwyer Pty. Ltd., new revised edition, 1992).  Subsequent abbreviations will use the latin title of the document and VCII for this collection of them.    Back
2 Cf. Dei Verbum, art 10, page 756.    Back
3 Peter Brown, The Body And Society, Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, (London: faber and faber, 1988), page 17 and footnote 55.  It is interesting to note that Galen saw the nature of human sexuality as a question written into man by the gods; and, secondly, it was a question, it seems to me, that cannot be wholly answered without reference to Revelation: to a theology of the body.  For why did God make us the way He did?  This is a real question.    Back

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