Historical Doctrinal Question: When Life Begins


#1

I posted this question in the “Ask an Apologist” forum last week, but have not received a response. I’m guessing that they don’t know the answer, so I’ll post it here:

The Catholic Church holds that it’s doctrine has not changed since Jesus founded His Church. Church doctrine, as it stands today, has been revealed over time, but new declarations have never refuted earlier claims. This makes sense, because truth is truth.

I was concerned, therefore, when someone told me they had read on religioustolerance.org (an admittedly liberal website) that prior to 1863 the Roman Catholic Church maintained that life begins 40 days after conception.

Is this claim true? If so, how do we reconcile this with the teaching of never-changing doctrine?


#2

There is a difference between science and religion. Early physicians and philosophers believed life began at quickening. They did not know about DNA, or how the sperm and ovum unite. However, many Catholic thinkers, such as Gregory of Nyssa (died about 386) held that life begins at conception.

As we learn more through science, we often must rethink ideas that are based, not on faith, but on science. The point at which life begins is one of these.

Another such re-thinking was the Church’s position on suicide. At one time, it was considered a wilful act, and the ultimate sin. Suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground. But science has shown that most suicides are the result of mental illness, and not acts of free will at all – and the Church recognizes this.


#3

But aren’t those changes in doctrine? I guess I’m just not clear on what is doctrinal or not. If something is true, it’s true, and cannot be changed by science. If the Church declares something doctrinally true, it cannot change it. Was the 40 day rule a declared doctrine, or just a commonly-held belief? And if the latter, was conception defined doctrinally as the beginning of life in 1863? I know it’s in the Catechism, but is this dogma, or just a general teaching?


#4

fallacy


#5

The question of ‘when life begins’ is not as important as the question ‘when do we have the right to interfere with a life-affirming process.’ The answer to the former is that God knows. The answer to the latter is: never. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

So while you may assume that life is not being snuffed out by wearing a condom, the Church assumes that life is being prevented by wearing a condom. How we conduct ourselves should be, according to the Church, in favour of Life.

If this question is about Roe v Wade, then this decision contradicted itself. The court admitted that it could not determine for once and for all when life begins and therefore Roe v Wade is invalid. That did not stop the American courts from upholding this decision anyway. And the renegade courts of other countries tripped over each other to follow suit.


#6

See forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=43287&highlight=ensoulment for a good description of life and ensoulment.

As far as when life “begins”, Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk from the National Catholic Bioethics Center gave a very good talk at a Catholic family conference in which he stated that sperm and ovum are life itself (they are living), so it is through the act of God combining these two living elements that a child is created. The components required for fertilization are already “alive”, so life technically pre-dates conception purely due to that fact. Interesting perspective, isn’t it?

Peace,
Gordon


#7

That doesn’t answer my question at all! I’m beginning to think no one has the answer… :frowning:


#8

[quote=MamaGeek]That doesn’t answer my question at all! I’m beginning to think no one has the answer… :frowning:
[/quote]

Maybe I misunderstood your question. Could you please rephrase for me (I am a little slow also, so use small words!:wink: )

Peace,
Gordon


#9

[quote=MamaGeek]That doesn’t answer my question at all! I’m beginning to think no one has the answer… :frowning:
[/quote]

How about the CCC: 366 “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not “produced” by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.235”

Is that helpful?

Peace,
Gordon


#10

[quote=MamaGeek]That doesn’t answer my question at all! I’m beginning to think no one has the answer… :frowning:
[/quote]

I believe at one point ensoulment was defined in an unborn child. I believe it was Augustine. Just because ensoulment was defined does not mean that the Church believed that you could kill a child before that point in time. The Church has never taught that you could kill an unborn at any age. The definition of ensoulment, does not matter, in my opinion. I was given a link to the theory a while ago, but I don’t have it now.

I believe that they are enterpreting that before ensoulment, which has never been defined formally by the vatican/papal decree etc, it is open season on the unborn. Which is nonsense

John


#11

[quote=MamaGeek]That doesn’t answer my question at all! I’m beginning to think no one has the answer… :frowning:
[/quote]

maybe this will help:

catholicintl.com/noncatholicissues/ensoulment-fathers1.htm

This is a discussion of exactly what I was talking about.

John


#12

This argument is used to validate abortion. Technically, the Church has never defined when ensoulment actually occurs. It has, however, always condemned abortion from the moment of fertilization (it was sometimes given a lighter penance before quickening, but it was an intrinsic evil nonetheless).

Conception was often thought to be a process that lasted a few weeks.


#13

Mama-

Re-reading your initial post, I see the error in my understanding of your question. I do not know that the Church had an official teaching on *exactly *when life begins. From my limited experience being a Catholic (about a year), it is my understanding that it was a non-issue when life started. The important fact was the it did start. Unfortunately, with litigation (Roe V Wade, Terri Schiavo, etc) bringing these cases up through the governmental system, we are now forced to come off of our general acceptance (faith), and provide detailed descriptions of our beliefs (and in some cases justifying them) Sad state. I would spend some time reading the writings of the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, and Papal encyclicals. I tend to be skeptical of anything from the more liberal sources anyhow, but do enjoy researching their claims (they are normally skewed to support a more political agenda…)

Sorry for the confusion of my misguided answers in the prior posts-

Peace,

Gordon


#14

To the question of when life begins: conception.
To the question of changing “doctrines”, we need to research the “doctrine” fully, when you do you’ll find that although it was a “teaching” it was not taught as an infallible teaching. The Church has many, many, teachings which are not infallible, in fact most are not infallible, this does NOT mean we can disregard these teachings, but it does mean they can develop and yes, even change. St Thomas was brilliant, his writings are the basis of many “teachings” of the Church, but he was not nor was his writings infallible. They are wonderful, thought provoking, and insightful, but, only human. Should we disregard the brilliant human fathers of the Church? Certainly not, they inspire us to seek unity with God. At one time the Church “taught” that the world was flat. But guess what, it was not EVER taught as an infallible truth, it was a theory. The Church teaches about the omniscience of God, but, it’s not an infallible teaching, it gives us a wonderful way to understand God, as such it brings us closer to God. One of our problems is trying to determine what is and what is not infallible. If we have a problem with a particular teaching, research it out. Don’t take my or anyone else’s’ word for it’s infallibility, in researching you will find the basis for the teaching, the majority of the time the teaching will have strong Scriptural basis, but not written out in plain language, an example is the perpetual virginity of Mary. The Scriptural references are very compelling, but, no, Scripture does not specifically state she was or was not a perpetual virgin. The Church’s’ teaching of her perpetual virginity can easily be defended on Scriptural grounds. After researching you’ll have a much better understanding of the Church teaching.


#15

[quote=MamaGeek]But aren’t those changes in doctrine? I guess I’m just not clear on what is doctrinal or not. If something is true, it’s true, and cannot be changed by science. If the Church declares something doctrinally true, it cannot change it. Was the 40 day rule a declared doctrine, or just a commonly-held belief? And if the latter, was conception defined doctrinally as the beginning of life in 1863? I know it’s in the Catechism, but is this dogma, or just a general teaching?
[/quote]

No. The doctrine says “life is sacred from the beginning.” It doesn’t say WHEN life begins – that’s a matter of science.

Nowadays we know the sperm carries half the DNA and the ovum the other half. When the human DNA is forned, we have a unique human being.

Given the virtual certitude of modern understanding of conception, you can safely assume that doctrine and science have converged in this case - it’s a human being from conception.


#16

[quote=yochumjy]I believe at one point ensoulment was defined in an unborn child. I believe it was Augustine. Just because ensoulment was defined does not mean that the Church believed that you could kill a child before that point in time. The Church has never taught that you could kill an unborn at any age. The definition of ensoulment, does not matter, in my opinion. I was given a link to the theory a while ago, but I don’t have it now.

I believe that they are enterpreting that before ensoulment, which has never been defined formally by the vatican/papal decree etc, it is open season on the unborn. Which is nonsense

John
[/quote]

Saint Augustine believed, following the thinking of his time, that a boy was 'quickened" at 40 days and a girl at 80 days. Gregory of Nyssa believed life began at conception. But this is not a matter of doctrine – any more than any other scientific question. We know today that the unique human’s DNA is formed at conception.

The DOCTRINE is human life is sacred. Science tells us it begins at conception.


#17

Thank you! Yes, that’s the answer I was looking for. Let me see if I can sum it up from the several replies I’ve gotten:

One doctrine of the Catholic Church is that all life is sacred “from the very beginning.” The Church never changes doctrine. It was once believed that conception took many weeks, since pregnant women did not perceive the presense of an unborn child until a period was missed. This places it at around 40 days. Before birth control, morning-after pills, and other forms of early chemical abortion, it was extremely unlikely that a woman would even attempt an abortion before 40 days, anyway. I believe there is historical evidence for use of certain herbs to prevent birth in a like manner, but even when using more modern means, it is unknown whether an abortion actually takes place, or whether there was no pregnancy to begin with. This sin, when confessed, might have been given a lighter penance before “quickening,” but it was considered an intrinsic evil nonetheless. When modern technology revealed the actual process of fertilization, the Church revised this policy to give similar gravity to abortion attempts before 40 days as it did after that time. The doctrine remained the same.


#18

For me,LIFE STARTS WHEN THE KIDS LEAVE HOME :stuck_out_tongue:

Just kidding :smiley:

Cell division starts at the moment of conception–Only a living cell can divide. Seems simple to me that that is when life starts for the individual.

As for when life started on planet earth?..God already told us that :thumbsup:

Just trust in the church’es teachings, after all, the Holy Spirit would never lead us astray (even if WE tend to fall off the “tracks” sometimes).


#19

[quote=MamaGeek]I believe there is historical evidence for use of certain herbs to prevent birth in a like manner, but even when using more modern means, it is unknown whether an abortion actually takes place, or whether there was no pregnancy to begin with.
[/quote]

Not truly a correct assumption :nope: . Example: Birth control pills do not necessarily stop fertilization, but they definately stop implantation if fertilization occurs. If fertilization does occur, the woman’s normal cycle is not hormonally stopped, and she will shed her lining, new fetus included. These types of bc are called abortiofacients. All of the other points seem coherent though! Good job summarizing. :thumbsup:

Peace,

Gordon


#20

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