When Does The Person Begin?

Home Page Articles Links Contact Us

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


The conclusion of this book is in four parts: a summary of the arguments as to why the soul is ensouled in the body from its beginning; a summary of the contra-indications of a theory of evolution which would suppose an actual development of one kind of being into another kind of being; a warning from Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II; and a blessing.

A summary of the arguments for the existence of the soul from conception

Christ recapitulates the history of the whole human race (Ref 21 - These references take you to the relevant webpage - please use the main back button to return to this page); and, therefore, just as his conception is from the first instant of His incarnation, or an animal would be united to God, so is our conception 'modelled' on His and in its own way reflects the dignity of being made in the image of God (Ref 27).

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Ref 28), and the doctrine of original sin (Ref 29), together constitute the following argument for the existence of the soul-body unity from conception.

If Mary is the perfect creature then her conception, while extraordinary as to the grace of the Immaculate Conception is otherwise according to nature and the same as ours.  Therefore whatever can be said according to nature, of the moment of her conception, can be said of ours.  If Mary was conceived without stain of original sin, and if the original sin is transmitted through generation and is, therefore, a 'privation' in which the body shares as indeed it is a 'privation' of the soul, then for Mary to be conceived without this privation, body and soul, would be for Mary to be conceived and sanctified, body and soul, from the first instant of conception.  If Mary is conceived as one, at one and the same moment of the conception of the body and the creation and infusion of the soul, from the first instant of her co-creation by her mother, father and God, then in this she is a typical creature and thus, in a way, defines this moment of our creaturliness for us.  Therefore we are all conceived as one, body and soul, from the first instant of our conception.

The Church teaches that there is a 'personal presence' from conception (Ref 21) and (Ref 23).

There is an 'outward' and human sign of our conception, of the 'inward' and divine act of our creation.  This accords with the understanding of a sacrament.  An act of God, namely the creation and infusion of the human soul in an act which begins, through the subordinate but real cause of the conjugal and parental act of the activation of the egg by the sperm, is a sacramental act: the external act of fertilization is an outward sign of the inward event of the act of God which co-creates, although in a logically prior way to that of the parents, the beginning of the person (Ref 54) and (Ref 55).

The only evidence of an outward act and moment of conception is the act and moment of fertilization (Ref) and (Ref 56): to begin a part is to beget the whole.

The metaphysical proof of the existence of the body-soul unity from conception, is a proof which follows on the definition of the terms involved (Ref 45), (Ref 46), (Ref 47), (Ref 48), (Ref 49), (Ref 50), (Ref 51), (Ref 52), (Ref 53) and (Ref 54) and concludes with the perception that if the act of existence of a thing is what constitutes it to be and, as such, inextricably unifies all that it is and which up to that moment has not existed as such, then it is logical that the beginning act of existence of the human being is at conception (Ref 54).

The making of a thing involves two complementary principles of design (Ref 48): what is made to exist simultaneously, just as two pieces of a mosaic are put side by side in a composition (Ref 48); and, secondly, what is necessarily chronological and dynamic in so far as things exist as an act with the potential to develop in time.

A metaphysical expression (Ref 41) of the biblical unity-in-diversity (Ref 16), evident also in the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas on law (Ref 19), is in a way an embodiment of the aforementioned two principles of design, particularly with respect to how this makes it possible for created being to 'imitate' uncreated being (Ref 44).  In other words the principle of a thing immediately imitating its origin is a general scriptural principle (Ref 33) and (Ref 48) of which the human being's imitation of the being of the Creator is a particular instance.

In the original hebrew Psalm 139, verse 16, uses an original and unique word for the beginning of the person; this word golmi, has an etymological meaning of 'unfinished vessel' (Ref 38) and (Ref 39).

This phrase is not only a primitive expression of the beginning of what it is to be a person, but in some way expresses the essential nature of what it is to be a creature from birth to death.  For we are all creatures who will remain incomplete in this life, and indeed even in purgatory if, that is, we are fortunate enough to make it even to there; moreover, it could be said that the unfortunate creature which is damned is a creature which will be eternally unfinished.  This is because what is begun in our beginning is an end which is only and ever accomplished in the mystery of communion with God and our neighbour.  The psalmist, therefore, could be said to have so well defined our essential nature that it applies, by definition, to both the first moment of his life and to his entire life until, that is, the definitive 'end' of it in heaven or hell.

Where the body lives, there the soul is, and where both are is the person, is a principle which developed out of the 'riddle' of how to express the fact that human life comes from human life in different ways (Ref).  One image which 'makes sense' of the reality of the above principle is the biblical image of the rock.  For it can be said that when a rock is placed in the light, this rock cannot but have a shadow; and, therefore, just as a rock cannot but have a shadow in the light, so a human body cannot be what it is without a human soul (Ref 23).  Another aid to understanding is the biblical image of the 'burning coal' in the vision of Isaiah in which the difference between ontological life and ontological death is well expressed (Ref 43): a difference which is fundamental to how Scripture conceives the beginning and the salvation history of human life (Ref 35).  Furthermore, it is within the terminology of 'life' and 'death' that an account of the existence, nature, and beginning of the body-soul union is to be found (Ref 35), (Ref 36) and (Ref 37).  There are many other and complementary accounts of the beginning of human life (Ref 38) and (Ref 50).

This scriptural evidence is also and typically an account of how God is the true author of human life, and yet the biblical authors increasingly specify the human co-authorship of this human life (Ref 34) and thus demonstrate an increase in understanding of how it develops (Ref 33) and (Ref 38).  Finally, the Scripture contains within it a language which is to become, in the New Testament, the language of our salvation: a language of the body and blood (Ref 35) which, in a way, seems to 'sum up' the soul-body unity and to use it in such a way as a 'natural' mystery becomes the vehicle of the 'supernatural' mystery of our salvation.

The biblically inspired vision of the incarnational nature of creation is a profound reason for understanding each and every aspect of God's work of creation as within this perspective (Ref 26).

If the soul is incarnately expressed in the body (Ref 21), (Ref 23), (Ref 26), (Ref 49) and (Ref 55), then the whole is inextricably one.  This mystery of being one person, one in body and soul, is a mystery which nevertheless has to be understood in the light of human conception, death818 (Ref 54) and (Ref 56) and man's eternal destiny (Ref 54).  Nevertheless the physical, philosophical and theological reasons advanced in this book, God willing properly understood and properly expressed are, taken together, a proof of the following proposition: the person is one in body and soul, from conception.  This can be expressed more completely by saying conception is the 'outward' sign of our creation.

818 The question of whether or not there is a 'virtual' corporeality which manifests itself on the departure of the soul is a question which remains outstanding; cf. AQU, page 41 and cf also E. McMullin, Matter, page 477 of Vol IX, NCE.  What is clear, however, is that there cannot co-exist two 'substantial forms' in the same being, at the same time, in the same way.    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