When Does The Person Begin?

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

A second difficulty

If the general pattern of the two accounts of Genesis is to give an instantaneous beginning to something and then to show its development through time, then why doesn't the account of the creation show that man was complete in all he is from the first instant of his creation and that what followed on from that fact was its development through time?  For while the two accounts of Genesis do give this twofold account of the creation of man, the second account does not describe man as complete from the first moment of his conception, but at the last moment of his making.

Firstly, Genesis is an account of the making of man from the point of view of God; and in this respect if fulfills perfectly the common understanding of Scripture that the act of creating a human being is principally an act of God.

Secondly, this is further fulfilled by the anthropomorphic presentation of God's act in the second account of the creation of man.  For this communicates in a readily understandable way the fact that God is as it were making man in his own image, much as a sculpture can be made in the image of the artist's subject, and in so doing the Yahwist account conforms to the theme of the Priestly account: each thing reproduces its own like.

Thirdly, this accords with an ancient449 account of the creation of man, bearing in mind that the human authors worked through a framework of natural knowledge.  For if inspiration is to be real then it has to work with the historical development of the author's imagination: a historical development which, while it does not preclude the perception of what is necessarily permanently true, if true at all, nevertheless expresses a grasp of it which is relative to the development of human knowledge.  In other words, one could say on the basis of previously acknowledged principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, that the author is using an image to aid our human understanding of a mystery450: an image that would be available to them at the time, such as that of the potter working the clay with his hands451: an image which in its own way expresses the beginning of human understanding precisely because it is an image which proceeds from the physical facts of human experience to the supernatural truth they are seeking to communicate452.

Finally, then, Genesis is an attempt to give an account of the relationship between God and man: a relationship which is established and expressed in God's work453 of making man; and, I would argue, that a fundamental feature of the choice of this method of making man is that man is thereby revealed to be the personal work of the Creator454.

The help of Aristotle

Pope John Paul II says: 'The "Yahwist account does not speak of the "soul."  Nevertheless we can easily deduce from it that the life given to man in the act of creation transcends the mere corporeal dimension (that which is proper to animals)'455.

Now I agree that the Yahwist account does not directly speak of the soul and that therefore we must deduce from it the nature of the life given to man which transcends that of the animals.

However, there seems to be a direct parallel between the point of departure for Aristotle's reasoning that the soul is the form of the body and the point of departure for the author of the book of Genesis on the formation of man.  This is not to say that there is a dependence of the one on the other, so much as a resemblance in the human process of their thinking and expression, in that both seem to start from the same sort of consideration of the human act that results in the making of something.  For each of them considers the maker of something: Aristotle considers the work of the carpenter and the sacred author the work of the Divine sculptor (cf Job 10: 8-9).  Aristotle says of the carpenter that without imparting a material part to the object he is making, yet 'the shape and the form are imparted from him to the material by means of the motion he sets up'; and then a little later he says: 'it is his knowledge of his art, and his soul, in which is the form, that move his hands or any other part of him with a motion of some definite kind ...'456.  While for the sacred author, when a mist had 'watered the whole face of the ground-then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground' (Gn 2: 6-7).  In other words, common to both these accounts is the universal human experience of making things; and, secondly, this common human experience is applied to similar things: the philosopher is trying to understand the transmission of human life and the sacred author is trying to understand the beginning of human life.

One will proceed, then, by way of applying the philosopher's terminology to the sacred author's imaginative understanding of the beginning of human life.

In the first place, the philosopher distinguishes between the shaping of the material by the carpenter and the 'form'.  Aristotle says of the form 'it is his knowledge of his art, and his soul, in which is the form'457.  In other words, it would seem as if 'shape' is to the outward appearance of the material what the form is to the action of the craftman which it informs.  Thus it seems that imparting 'the shape and the form' to a material thing is his way of saying that the shape of an object is a translation into material terms of the intellectual form or understanding that the carpenter has of what he is making.  This involves both knowledge of his art, of how to make things, and his soul, of what he understands the intelligible structure458 of what he is making to be.  Finally, it is through the action of making that the carpenter imparts the form of what it is he is making, through the particular and multiple acts of shaping the material, to the finished object, while at the same time the carpenter has added nothing but the transforming action of his work to the materials with which he works.

In the case of the canonical text of Scripture, the second account of the creation of man which is descriptively precise, follows on the first account which has already said with conceptual precision: 'God said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over ... every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth"' (Gn 1: 26).  Therefore man is to be made in the 'image' and the 'likeness' of God.

Now it could be suggested that the second account translates this conceptual vision of man into a descriptive vision of man, or is at the least influenced by it, if not at the time of writing-although this cannot be absolutely excluded as a possibility-then at the time of the sacred author's editing things into a whole.  Thus the image of God is given to man through the act by which God 'formed man of dust from the ground' (Gn 2: 7); and the likeness of God is given to man when God 'breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being' (ibid).  Moreover, this distinction of 'image' and 'likeness' mirrors, as it were, the distinction between the soul as the form of the body and the breath of life as the spiritual life of the person.  In other words, while for the natural philosopher, for a thing to receive a form is to given that by which it is intelligibly animated, for the author of Scripture, it is the spiritual life which is life.  Therefore it is understandable that the sacred author did not distinguish more evidently the making of the soul, precisely because the giving of spiritual life was so profoundly the giving of life that the loss of it results in man's return to the dust from which he came.

Finally, what can perhaps be adduced from the natural contrast which arises from the very fact of this anthropomorphic description of the creation of man as a sculptor would make an artifact, is the fact that what God makes 'becomes a living being' (Gn 2: 7)., whereas when man himself does this, all he produces is a 'lifeless product'459.

449 Cf TC, Vol I, on In Creation God Calls the World into Existence from Nothingness, Gen. aud. Jan 29, 1986.  Cf also E. Loveley, Creation, page 417-419 of Vol. IV of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, (USA: Jack Heraty and Associated, Inc., Palatine III, reprinted 1981).  Abbrev. NCE etc., therefore NCE, C.    Back
450 A, pages 176-177.    Back
451 Cf. DOB, page 159: Creation.    Back
452 Cf. ST, Pt 1, Qu 84, art 7, page 131.    Back
453 Ibid.    Back
454 TC, Vol. III, Gen. aud. Jan 10, 1990, page 157.    Back
455 TC, Vol. I, Man Is a Spiritual and Corporeal Being, Gen. aud. April 16, 1986, page 277.    Back
456 Sir David Ross, Aristotle, (London: Methuen & Co Ltd, reprinted 1964), page 120 (footnote 2: 730 b10-21).  Abbrev. AR.    Back
457 Ibid.    Back
458 A, page 32.    Back
459 Paul Auvray, Creation, translated by W. Jared Wicks, page 99 of Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited under the direction of Xavier Leon-Dufour, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, reprinted with revisions 1988).  Abbrev DOBT etc.    Back

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