When Does The Person Begin?

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

The first of three objections

Genesis says that it is man that God created 'in his own image' (1: 27) and that it is therefore an unwarranted extension of this to consider that created being in its totality is itself in the image of God.  Secondly, that it was man as male and female that was made in the image of God and thus man in the mystery of the human being that is a differentiated unity of being male and female of which Pope John Paul II says: 'It is only through the duality of the "masculine" and the "feminine" that the "human" finds full realization'564.

On the other hand St. Paul says: 'Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made' (Rom 1: 20); and the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, in the context of discussing the Blessed Trinity: 'A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions'565.

In reply to this objection one could say that the being of man presupposes the being of creation.  Or to put it differently and so as not necessarily to imply the prior creation of the universe to that of what would be the subsequent creation of man566, one could say that in man God chose to express the full unity in diversity of the entire created order567: a created order that is already, from the first moment of its existence, a unity-in-diversity567.  Therefore, on the basis of that perception one could say that the way by which one comes to see the whole of created being as the manifestation of God is through reflection on the whole of man: male and female; body and soul; and in the diverse physical, biological and spiritual unity that human being is.  Finally, therefore, the context in which it is possible to say that the being of creation is a manifestation of the being of the Creator is in the context of understanding that the human being - almost now an inescapably plural expression - is at the centre of a vision of creation in which everything else that exists, both exists in its own nature and, as it were, as necessary to a vision of man in the context of creation.  In other words, everything that God made is necessary to understanding each part of it.  Nevertheless, each part of it has a nature that is recognizably different and thus the whole is a mystery of the unity of truly irreducibly different natures: the physical, the biological and the spiritual.

In closing, and while it cannot be developed here, it can simply be said that if man expresses in himself the unity of the created order, particularly prior to the fall, then the risen Christ expresses the 'sum' of all: Uncreated and created; supernatural and natural; God and man.  For 'it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear'569.  Thus one could conclude that the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity bears fruit for man's reason - indeed for man and his destiny, whole and entire - precisely in Christ.

Furthermore, while it is true that the existence of God is what can normally 'be known with certainty from the created world, by the natural light of human reason'570, it is precisely the human being's perception of the created world which Revelation transforms - not in a way contrary to its rational nature but in the way of revealing to reason what could not be seen without it.

Finally, because the act of creation is the act of God, and because the intention of God is to create in a way which imitates His own Being, then it would follow that creation would be 'as' radical an expression of a unity in diversity as the Being of God is, notwithstanding the fact that, as the IV Lateran Council says: "between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude"571.

A second objection

St. Thomas Aquinas draws the distinction between the life of the soul and the activity of the soul.  For if the soul were itself in activity 'then we would be in non-stop activity all our life long'572.

This objection can be answered very briefly by saying that just as the constant activity of the sun does not mean that there is no darkness, so it does not follow that if the nature of being is to be active, that all activity is the same: to rest is an 'activity.'  Further, just as the sun is one source of energy and yet many different things grow, so if activity is fundamental to being, it seems to follow that that would result in one kind of activity informing everything else, which is the desire for God573, and yet this leads to the manifest variety of human acts.  Therefore, perhaps activity is like light: it has one fundamental and unitary expression of whiteness which can nevertheless be broken down into the irreducible colours of the spectrum and then mixed to produce more, while nevertheless it all follows on the nature of white light.

A third objection

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council were concerned with the 'parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love' and not the nature of creation as a whole or of individual human being in particular.

While it may be true, however, that the parallel to which the fathers of the Council direct us, is itself the fullest expression of the parallel to which they refer us, it does not follow that this parallel does not imply a presupposition, as it were, of a parallel between the being of creation and the Being of the Creator, that was both established at creation and 'suffered' the disfigurement of the fall, while, at the same time will only finally be restored at the end of time when, as St. Paul says, creation will be freed from its subjection to futility.


What this seems to culminate in is that the nature of the beginning, whether of the beginning of creation or the beginning of an individual human being, is on the one hand a mystery in that it is an act of God, and on the other hand, and in so far as we can learn about it through reason's reflection on Revelation - is at once the beginning of a being, the activity of which will manifest574 the nature of which to be both unitary and diverse.

There seem to be three implications to this conclusion: the first concerns the beginning of creation; the second concerns the beginning of each one of us; and the third concerns a theological answer to a philosophical question.

The first implication is the question: Is this an argument against evolution?  It is in the sense that created being, on this account, does not have to evolve to be different: differences will be radically evident from the beginning and evident in the activities of each thing.

Secondly, the inherent unity of the whole and the particular unity of each part, particularly the unity of the human being, is something that it will possess as intrinsic to it from the beginning.  For a being cannot acquire the fact that it is a particular expression of what it is to be a unity in diversity: it will by definition be this from the beginning of its being or not at all.  For while it is possible that the human body could be made first and then the soul added at some later moment, if this were to be the case then human being could not by definition be the unity in diversity that this reflection has revealed to be the sense in which it would be if it were to imitate fully the Being of its Creator.  This is because the 'addition' of a soul, while an abstract possibility, would not constitute the human being at one and the same time, from conception until death, to be a unity in diversity.

The second implication of this is that the human being will manifest, in the diverse activities of which men and women are capable, the fundamental mystery of their own being which is that each one is a person: one in body and soul, and that this is, just as with creation as a whole, a fundamental fact of each of us which, if it is true, will have to be true from the beginning of each one of us or not at all.  And this is so for the same reason as that expressed above, namely, it cannot be true that we are both a unity in diversity in the sense I have defined, that is from the beginning of our being, and we become a unity in diversity following the union of a soul with a pre-existing body.

Therefore, for the theological reason of a being which is a unity in diversity, expressing in a more perfect way the image of God, I have to conclude that the human being is a person: is one in body and soul from conception - if this same human being is to be an imitation, in this respect, of the Divine Being of God.

The third implication is that this vision of being is as it were an answer to a problem as posed by philosophy.  For there seems to be a tendency in a particular kind of rationalism to resolve everything into some kind of expression of one thing, as it were, somewhat like an evolutionary theory would endeavour to do if it was of the kind which begins with an original big bang and proceeds to uninterruptedly differentiate itself out into every existing species and individual.  Or there is a counter tendency to resolve things into relatively unrelated differences, such as the difference between a particular conception of spirit and matter which either expresses an alienation between the two575 or constitutes an apparently unresolvable metaphysical parallelism576.  A third way, however, which is to perceive differences as within a unifying relationship would appear to be intuitively perceived in the following symbol: 'the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol, which sees male and female as harmony, stands at the place where one would expect conflicts and proposals for a resolution of the relationship between the sexes'577.  On the one hand, then, it would seem that the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is the source through which these sometimes conflicting tendencies to unity and to diversity can be reconciled; and, on the other hand, any natural precursors to the Christian perception of being can be purified of what is an obstacle to assist us in the living reconciliation of our undeniable differences.

Finally, while this conclusion on the nature of created being in general was not perhaps the particular 'horizons closed to human reason' which the Council father's foresaw, nevertheless, I humbly submit, this is a fruit of their reflection.

May God forgive us this desecration of His image of the Blessed Trinity in us and bring us, through repentance, to the change of heart which will protect us, in protecting His image in us, from conception until natural death.  Amen.

564 Letter Of Pope John Paul II To Women, (London: CTS [Do 638], 1995), art 7, page 12.    Back
565 Catechism Of The Catholic Church, (Geoffrey Chapman, 1994), art 236, pages 62-63.  Abbrev CCC.    Back
566 This still being an open question.    Back
567 CCC, art 355, page 91: 'in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds ...'    Back
568 Gn 1: 1: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' Cf. also Dei Filius of Vatican Council I, art 3002, page 124 of TCF.    Back
569 Gaudium et Spes, art 22, page 922 of VCII.    Back
570 Dei Verbum, art 6, page 752, of VCII, with reference to Vatican I.    Back
571 CCC, art 43, page 17.    Back
572 ST, Pt 1, Qu 77, art 1, page 118.    Back
573 ST, Pt II, Qu 1, art 8: 'God is the ultimate goal of all' page 174.    Back
574 A, page 158: 'activity follows, that is manifests, being (operatio sequitur esse) ...'    Back
575 Cf. P. L. Quinn, Manichaeism, page 519 of The Oxford Companion To Philosophy, ed. T. Honderich, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).  Abbrev. Philos.  Cf also Heino Sonnemans, Soul, afterlife, salvation, page 251 of Communio, Vol XIV, No 3, (Fall 1987).  Abbrev. Sas.    Back
576 Cf. J. Cottingham, Cartesianism, page 123 and A. Belsey, Matter, page 539 of Philos.  Cf. also IAB, page 275.    Back
577 E. Moltmann-Wendel, I am My Body, translated from the German by John Bowden, (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1994), page 8.  While the context of this quotation is that Elisabeth goes on to express a dissapointment concerning this symbol: 'Hasn't brutal physical oppression of women taken place under this old symbol?  Here we have open questions to a world-view which hardly touches on reality and real bodies and yet inspires many people.'  Abbrev. IMB.  Cf. also Kwong-loi Shun, Chinese Philosophy, page 131 of Philos.    Back

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