When Does The Person Begin?




Home Page Articles Links Contact Us




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

The significance of blood

After Cain kills Abel, Abel's blood cries to the Lord from the ground: 'The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground' (Gn 4: 10).  Thus the significance of blood begins to appear, not just as a sign of life but as a sign of a life that endures after death.

Again the theme of the blood of life appears in the commandment to Noah at the end of the flood: 'Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood' (Gn 9: 4).  So the idea is sown that that there is a distinction between the 'body' and its 'blood': a distinction which seems to correspond to the difference between life and death: a distinction which suggests that the 'blood' is the life of the body.  Whether, however, the distinction between the body and the blood corresponds in the concrete sign language of these things to the distinction between the body and the soul is a question outstanding.

The significance of this theme is further emphasised by the following three things: the prohibition to eat flesh which has not been drained of its blood; the use of blood in the religious rites of the people of God432, which associates it with the sacredness of life, and at the same time with the power to save life, not least of which was when the blood of the lamb was put on the lintel of the houses as a sign to the Lord to 'pass over' that house and spare it from the destroying plagues (cf Ex 12: 1-13); and, ultimately, by the fact that it is the body and blood of Christ433 which are as it were the two great concrete reality-signs of the mystery of our redemption.

But while on the one hand there is an immense and growing significance to these reality-images, what continues to escape demonstration is a convincing Scriptural argument for the existence of the soul that animates the body at conception.

Where is the creation of the soul in all this?

If God has given an immortal soul to Adam, then how is it that Adam's death is of such a kind that in the very description of it there is absolutely no trace of life: no trace of that thing called the soul which gives life to the body and which lives on after death?  Indeed the very dust to which Adam will now return (Gn 3: 19) is the very dust that it is now the serpent's punishment to eat (Gn 3: 14).

Whereas in the book of the Wisdom of Solomon there is the recognition that God 'created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity,' (Wis 2: 23) although as the sacred author goes on to say 'but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it' (Wis 2: 24).  Secondly, 'the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.  In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died ...' (Wis 3: 1-2).

Therefore, on the one hand the authors of Scripture acknowledge the existence of a soul which lives on after death in the hand of God, and on the other hand there seems to be no trace of this in the death that awaits Adam: 'In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return' (Gn 3: 19).  Although in the book of the Wisdom of Solomon the author also says: 'Wisdom protected the first formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule all things' (Wis 10: 1-2).

The soul is as it were hidden

I began to realize that the 'soul' that I was looking for was the soul as defined philosophically: the soul that animates the body434: the soul that is the form of the body435: the soul that is the life of the body436.

The soul as philosophically defined is, more precisely, the life of the natural body; and this definition of soul is scarcely evident in the Scripture in precisely this way, except by way of a few incidental references made to it by St. Paul.  J. L. McKenzie SJ says: 'The use of the adjective psychikos is rare and slightly different.  This word signifies the natural as opposed to the spiritual (1 Co 15: 46), the man endowed with natural life but lacking the spirit (1 Cor 2: 14; Jd 19), the body with natural life as opposed to the spiritual body of the resurrection (1 Co 15: 44)'437.

This precious and priceless piece of scholarship gives the beginning of a key to the mystery of the invisibility, as it were, of the philosophical concept of the soul in the Scriptures.  For it indicates that the concept of 'human nature' with which the Scripture tends to work is a concept of human nature that is understood from the point of view of the spiritual life and the spiritual death of the person.  In other words, the Scriptural perception is of an ontological state of life or death.  Thus the ontological death438 of the person is also and paradoxically the ontological death of the totality of the person, one in soul and body.  Therefore, for the Scripture, there is a state which is as it were the death of the spiritual life of the soul: the state that 'will be held in horror by all humanity' (NJB Is 66: 24); the state that the Scripture expresses by saying it is what happens to the 'corpses of those who rebelled' (ibid) against God; it is the paradoxical state of the living dead (cf. Num. 16: 30-33)439; and, finally, it is this state that is intimated by juxtaposing the following two texts in The First Book of Moses, commonly called Genesis, when on the one hand God curses the serpent and says "dust you shall eat all the days of your life" (Gn 3: 14) and on the other hand God curses the ground and says to Adam "you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn 3: 19).

What begins to emerge is that the Scriptural author of Genesis is communicating the origin of life and death as it came to be understood at a certain point within the biblical tradition; but which yet pertains to a truth which is permanently valid and relevant to our salvation.  Therefore one has to take into account three things: the development of ideas up to and including the time that Genesis was written; the fact of the continuing development of that tradition, which among other things led to the differentiation between states after natural death which correspond to the doctrines of at least heaven, purgatory and hell; and, finally, the basic vision of the author which pertains to a meaning of "life" and "death" which is perhaps unfamiliar to some of us and which can only be appreciated through study.

When, therefore, the author of sacred Scripture wrote in the book of the generations of Adam (Gn 5: 1), that the 'LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being' (Gn 2: 8)., one has to conclude that the life which Adam received was the spiritual life that can only come from God and at the same time that God gives spiritual life to man, God completes the gift of life, body and soul, which He has been making.  But so profound is the biblical perception of this spiritual life that the loss of it is the loss of 'life.'  Thus, even if man is left in his totality of being one in body and soul, this natural state is in fact totally unnatural: it is a terrible state of death.

Finally, however, the giving of the soul by God and the giving of spiritual life by God becomes, because of the fall of man, the two acts of natural and supernatural conception: the first of which is what happens with the 'help of the LORD' (Gn 4: 1) when a person is naturally conceived; and the second of which happens with the help of the Lord when a person is supernaturally conceived (cf. Jn 3: 5-6).  Thus to be baptized is to be immersed440 in the new and yet original grace of God given in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ441: the one in whom we were first created (cf. Jn 1: 1-5) and in whom, therefore, we first came to be (cf. Ac 17: 28).

A summary

Pope John Paul II says: 'Sacred Scripture therefore gives us to understand that God has intervened by means of his breath or spirit to make man a living being.  In man there is a "breath of life," which comes from the "breathing" of God himself.  In man there is a breath or spirit similar to the breath or spirit of God'442.

But I would go on to say that God creates man in three ways.  For the original and redeemed totality of man is as St. Paul says: spirit, soul and body (cf. 1 Thess 5: 23).  Therefore the original act of creation involves the one act by which these three elements are created one; and this one act could yet be said to express the one action of each Person of the Blessed Trinity443.  In other words, the fundamental reality of existing is signified by the totality of the existence of body and soul, which is the flesh444 (cf. Jn 1: 14)445 and is the work of the Father to give it existence and the Holy Spirit to animate it (cf. Mt 1: 20); and then the form of this unity, of this 'embodied soul' is as it were the Son through whom all things are made (cf. Jn 1: 3); and then, finally, the Holy Spirit establishes in it a spiritual life of grace which expresses the fact that this person lives in, and through and by the power of the Holy Spirit of God (cf. Jn 1: 17).

Now whether one can take this rather clumsy construction of a mystery and determine whether or not its elements are present at the beginning of our creation, remains to be seen.

In the first place God it could be said that it is implied that God makes man with His hands446 (Gn 2: 7), which, together with Himself, more than suggests the action of the Blessed Trinity both working together and through the limitation of that impression, working together at the same time.

Secondly, the totality of what God has made is called 'flesh' (Gn 2: 23) in such a way that it expresses the fullness of what has been given by God and indeed is in the expression of the first nuptial union of the couple: the 'one flesh' (Gn 2: 24) of Adam and Eve.  In other words, while man is made out of the ground (Gn 2: 6), the first expression of this does not contradict the good that God's creation is (Gn 1: 31), nor does it preclude the giving to man of the grace which the Church has come to call "original justice"447, and which the Scriptures recognized both then (cf. Gn 3: 22) and later in the words: 'God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity ...' (Wis 2: 23).

Thirdly, the grace which is given to Adam and Eve is a grace which is given to them body and soul.  In other words, Adam and Eve are created in grace.  Therefore, after the fall, both body and soul are destined to express in the death which is a return to the dust (Gn 3: 19) that is now their inheritance, the effect of this loss precisely as the loss of the life of the flesh.  The corpse (cf. Is 66: 24) is now a sign of this ontological death: this death of the very being of what it is to be a living existence: a living Icon of the Creator.  This explains why the Church has taught that original sin is transmitted through generation, because the living body of man now expresses its participation in the fall of man, just as John Paul II reminds us that the body of man will participate in the glory of the resurrection.

Fourthly, one has to recognize that the sacred authors have given us two accounts of creation: one which involves a succession of things coming into existence instantaneously (cf Gn 1: 1, 3 etc f); and one which develops the implied period of time even in an account of instantaneous acts, some of which involve a secondary act of separating one thing from another (cf. Gn 1: 4), and so this type of work can be called creation through time (cf. Gn 2: 7).  The sacred authors have given us both accounts of the creation of man, male and female: both one which is instantaneous and one which is in time.  I would say, therefore, that each contributes to the whole meaning and that, possibly, the overall impression is that the authors have understood as occurring in time what God did instantly.  However, it is also true that God acts once in the beginning (cf. Gn 2: 2-3), which signifies that the act of beginning is a new and in a way an unending act, and God continues to act through time, which signifies that the act of Creation is also and explicitly an act of parental love: an act which begins and continues to the end of bringing up the children which are brought into existence.

Finally, the nature of an absolute beginning of creation of which God is necessarily the one author, does not preclude God from creating our participation in His act of creation.  This is what Eve expresses when she says: "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord."  This is also what St. Thomas Aquinas means when he says: 'The whole of bodily nature is God's instrument, so there is no reason why a bodily power can't form man's body and his intelligent soul be created in him by God alone'448.




References
432 Cf. DOB, page 99: Blood.    Back
433 Cf. DOB, pages 99-100: Blood.    Back
434 Cf. ST, Pt I, Qu 75, art 1, page 108.    Back
435 CCC, art 365, page 93.    Back
436 Cf. CCC, art 362, pages 92-93 and art 365, page 93.    Back
437 DOB, page 838: Soul.    Back
438 I am indebted to the Neochatecumenal way for this concept; but I do not know with whom it originated nor if it had an origin elsewhere.  Cf. CCC art 403, page 102: 'a sin which is the "death of the soul"' (footnote 291 is to Council of Trent: DS 1512).  Cf. also the articles on the Body (page 10 ), Life (page 508), the Curse (page 166) in DOB.  Cf. also the 'curse of destruction' (NJB Jos 6: 17) and also Lv 27: 28-29 etc..    Back
439 Cf. DOB, page 509: Life.    Back
440 Cf. DOB, page 79: Baptism.    Back
441 Cf. ST, Pt II, Qu 110, art 2, page 313.    Back
442 TC, Vol III, Gen. aud. Jan 10, 1990, pages 156-157.    Back
443 Cf. CCC, art 258, page 68.    Back
444 Cf. ST, Pt III, Qu 5, art 3, page 483.    Back
445 Cf. DOB, page 280: Flesh.    Back
446 Cf. CCC, art 292, page 76.    Back
447 CCC, art 376, page 95.    Back
448 ST, Pt I, Qu 118, art 2, page 163.    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