Times Article and mention of Aquinas

In a recent article in the Times, “Why Radical Pro-Lifers are Wasting their Time”, the author states the following, “As far back as the Middle Ages, the sainted theologian Thomas Aquinas recognized that a first-trimester fetus wasn’t yet a sentient human being but rather a potential human being — a vegetative organism lacking “ensoulment.” It wasn’t until the Popes felt their power threatened by the Enlightenment that they started to assert a blanket ban on abortion, co-opting new scientific instruments like the microscope to claim even the youngest fetus as a “homunculus,” or miniature human being.”

How can I refute arguments by Catholics that are pro-choice/murder when they use Aquinas as a support to their argument. I always believe that the Church believed that the soul is breathed into being at the moment of conception.

Thanks for your help…

from this site:

Did Aquinas say a baby has no soul until 40 days (for a boy) or 80 days (for a girl) after conception, so abortion is okay before those times?

This is only half true. Aquinas did say an unborn baby receives a soul 40 or 80 days after conception, depending on gender. But he also said abortion is a violation of natural law and is always wrong, no matter when a soul may be infused into the developing child’s body.

The 40/80-day view is based on the writings of Aristotle, who said a child becomes human at “formation,” the point at which it first “has a human form”–that is, when it looks human. He said this was 40 days for boys and 80 days for girls. Probably this distinction was based on the point at which genitals could be observed on miscarried children. Keep in mind that fetal embryology was then a restricted science; all observations could be made only by the naked eye, the microscope being in the distant future.

Aquinas accepted the idea of formation, which he said occurs when a child receives a soul. But since abortion violates natural law whether or not the child has a soul, Aquinas taught that abortion is always gravely wrong.

Today we have better scientific tools than did Aristotle or Aquinas. We know unborn males and females look human at the same time, and we know they are human long before they look human. Modern science verifies that the unborn have a human genetic code from conception, and this is when their humanity begins.

The ancients did not know about the genetic code, of course–we had to wait for Gregor Mendel, a 19th-century monk for that–and relied on outward appearances to identify species and gender. Appearance was the best test available to them, but it was hardly reliable.

Aquinas overlooked the fact that the biblical view of the soul cannot be squared with Aristotle’s. In Psalm 51:5 David says he was a sinner from conception, but sinfulness is a spiritual quality, so David must have had a spirit, a soul, from conception.

Well, times change, and the media are fond of taking such quotes out of context. (They are similarly fond of quoting St. Augustine on science and the Bible, ignoring that St. Augustine was a “Creationist” himself!)

Though St. Thomas Aquinas was the greatest of philosophers, and the foundation for all orthodox Catholic philosophy and theology, he was not God, and it is not heretical to suggest that he could have made a minor error or two.

For example, I’ve read that he did not believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (believing, instead, that Our Blessed Mother was kept free from actual sin throughout her life), but that doctrine is now a Marian dogma of the Church.

Second, there is some Scriptural support for the notion that “ensoulement” - or at least the creation of a human soul - either coincides or antedates the actual physical act of conception. Psalm 51:5 and Jeremiah 1:5 both suggest that a post-conception “dating” of the nature of an individual soul may be an error.

Third, there is a Biblical interdiction - re-emphasized several times - on the taking of innocent human life, regardless of whether “ensoulment” (whatever that may consist of) has taken place. The potentiality of life begins at the moment of conception - from that point onwards, a sequence of irreversible biological changes is set in place, that leads to the gradual development of tissues, organs and systems. Therefore, even if we grant that “ensoulement” requires an intact nervous system or a “developed” brain, abortion would still be a grievous sin, a violation of both natural law and the Commandment against killing.

I note that Aquinas’ 40 and 80 days is a parallel to the mother’s post-partum period of purification as given in Leviticus 12. Odd, that…

What an individual wrote does not mean it is Church teaching.

RPRPsych is correct. Thomas Aquinas did NOT believe in the Immaculate Conception. However, he was free to have his own opinion then because at that time it was not dogma. Had he been around when it became dogma I’m pretty sure he would have accepted the Church teaching.

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