When Does The Person Begin?

Home Page Articles Links Contact Us

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

The body is male or female

This one thing that man is, is a person; and therefore a human person is 'a being at once corporeal and spiritual'637.  Secondly, a man is a person and a woman is a person.

It is fundamental to the term person that relationality is not considered of secondary significance to being a person; and, as this discussion develops, it becomes increasingly clear that the body is, as it were, fundamentally appropriate to the being of a human person, precisely because the body is orientated to the other.  For the body of a man as a man's body, is fundamentally orientated to the body of the woman; and the body of the woman, as a woman's body, is fundamentally orientated to the body of a man.  In other words, it is practically impossible to define a man and a woman, as a man and as a woman, except in terms which relate to and at the same time are not identical with, bodily difference and complementarity; and it is precisely this which reveals the depth of significance which lies in the body and, as it were, constitutes the terms of reference for a theology of the body open to life; indeed it is almost as if the body is itself open to life with respect to receiving the life of the soul it does.

Each human person is a specific manifestation of the Being that is pre-eminently personal,638 namely God.  For whom to be is to be Three Persons in One God.  Therefore to talk about a theology of the body is also to talk about the body in the context of it being a part of how God chose to reveal Himself to man.  The incarnation of God is, therefore, of significance on two counts: firstly, and primarily because God became man in order to redeem man; but secondly and, as it were, integral to the purpose of God in becoming man, God revealed the body to be intrinsically incorporated into the Revelation His Son Jesus Christ is: 'who is himself the sum total of Revelation'639, precisely because he became a man who united Himself in a certain way with each man640.  Therefore, as Gaudium et spes also says: 'In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear'641.  In other words there is a significance for us that Christ became a man, lived, worked and was crucified as a man, and rose from the dead, as a man, and ascended to heaven as a man; and, at the same time there is a significance for us that Wisdom is she (Wis 7: 22), the Church is she who came out of the side of Christ like Eve was made out of the rib of Adam, and that Mary is the perfect type of the Church642.  Therefore the 'sign' of the man and the woman are a paricipation in the iconography of creation643 through which God reveals what it is to be the Blessed Trinity644.

The act of creation is a personal act

The personal nature of the act of creation follows on from the fact of God being what it is to be Three Persons in One God.  This almost constitutes a reason for saying that evolution has to be shown to fulfil the criteria, as it were, of manifesting a personal act of God.  This is not to confuse one kind of evidence with another, or one kind of discipline with another, so much as to recognize that just as the facts of human reproduction reveal the intimately personal character of conjugal union, so the question arises as to whether evolutionary theory can suggest a similarly intimate account of our origin which is appropriate to it being as intimately a personal act of our creation as The First Book of Moses (Gn 2: 7; 2: 21-22) and the Scripture generally describes it to be (Job 10: 8-12; Ps 139).  In other words the very nature of the act through which a human being comes into existence has inscribed within it indications with respect to our beginning to be, both individually and in the very beginning: it has inscribed within it an intimacy which asks of God if my existence is the fruit of an act of love between the Divine persons?  Not in some confused literal meaning of this but in the depths of the mystery out of which God created all and each of us.

The transmission of life at the origin of the body

The sexual gametes, the sperm and the egg, are already a highly organized form of a first, fundamental matter of life.  This is because the egg and the sperm are created out of the flesh of the parents as the flesh of the parents was itself being formed and does itself live and mature645.

These sexual gametes are each a type of corporeal body in their own profoundly different and complementary way.  The sperm is biologically lean, active and, literally, a minute fraction of the egg's size: possibly the proportion of a knotted piece of cotton to a ball of wool; and the egg is ripe, large, and receptive, literally, to the possibility of the entering sperm because of the very nature of its surface providing entrance to the sperm.  For the surface of the egg is, literally, a multitude of openings.  In other words it could be said that the egg is fundamentally open to the life of the sperm: the whole being of the sperm and the whole being of the egg is for union.

Secondly, while I have argued the reciprocal corporeality of both the egg and the sperm, there is clearly a fundamental and complementary difference: the sperm transmits its own life to the egg and, in so doing, is incorporated into the egg.  In other words, the egg is the principle beginning of the body while the sperm is the principal of animating life.  This is particularly clear at the moment of union.  For the sperm which succeeds in animating the body of the egg, through entering one of the many passages in which, literally, the surface of the egg consists, is the sperm which has brought life to the egg: a life which, as philosophically defined, is the beginning of the life of the human body as constituted by the very act of the sperm animating the egg.  In other words the absolute moment at which, philosophically speaking, human life begins, is the moment of the animation of the egg by the sperm; and it is this same moment which is, as it were, the moment of the response of the egg.  The moment of the response of the egg consists in it simultaneously incorporating the sperm and enclosing itself; that is, both taking on, as it were, a characteristic of the sperm as animated by the sperm, and, in conformity with this, forming a spatio-temporal skin.  A manifestly different fact has now come into existence; this manifestly different fact is another human being.

However, what the sexual gametes are ordered to is both the transmission of human life and, in and through the transmission of human life, to becoming themselves as one body, the bodily beginning of the person, which as the beginning of the body is itself ordered, as it were, to the immediate reception of the spiritual soul.  In other words, while analytically one can "see" the possibility of three distinct 'forms' of life - material, biological and spiritual - at no point do they exist as one until the one act of existence establishes their union; and, following their union, these three forms of life exist ordinarily as one life: the one life of the now existing person.  The lump and the wax out of which it is made, and the impression which the seal makes in it, are analytically three things, but actually one.

637 CCC, art 362, page 92.    Back
638 Cf. ET, page 84.    Back
639 Dei Verbum, art. 2, page 751 of VCII.    Back
640 Gaudium et Spes, art 22, page 923 of VCII.    Back
641 Gaudium et Spes, art 22, page 922 of VCII.    Back
642 Cf. Lumen Gentium, art 65, page 421 of VCII.    Back
643 Cf. LTW, art 11, page 17.    Back
644 Cf. LTF, art 6, page 6.    Back
645 ACB, pages 11 and 24 particularly.  Incidentally the text on page 24 only addresses itself specifically to the early development of the 'immature sperm cells or spermatogonia.,' and so see page 122, too.    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