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Catholic Church: Unborn Children Have a Soul at Conception

by Gerard Nadal, Ph.D. | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 8/12/11 11:11 AM

Opinion

We continue our study today of a little-known and little-studied 1974 document from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled:

Declaration on Procured Abortion

Read Part I here.

Today we turn to the document’s treatment of the Church’s varied voices on when the body is infused with a soul. This is critical, because so many proaborts look selectively to voices from within the Church that have fixed a point some time after fertilization. What they do not do is point to the universal condemnation of abortion at every stage, going all the way back to our most ancient document of apostolic teaching, The Didache (pronounced DID-a-kay), subtitled, The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.

Here are excerpts from the Declaration on Procured Abortion, followed by the footnotes from the text, and then a few words of analysis:

“6. The tradition of the Church has always held that human life must be protected and favored from the beginning, just as at the various stages of its development. Opposing the morals of the Greco-Roman world, the Church of the first centuries insisted on the difference that exists on this point between those morals and Christian morals. In the Didache it is clearly said: “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born.”[6] Athenagoras emphasizes that Christians consider as murderers those women who take medicines to procure an abortion; he condemns the killers of children, including those still living in their mother’s womb, “where they are already the object of the care of divine Providence.” Tertullian did not always perhaps use the same language; he nevertheless clearly affirms the essential principle: “To prevent birth is anticipated murder; it makes little difference whether one destroys a life already born or does away with it in its nascent stage. The one who will be a man is already one.”[8]

“7. In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine – the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods. But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault. This condemnation was in fact unanimous. Among the many documents it is sufficient to recall certain ones. The first Council of Mainz in 847 reconsidered the penalties against abortion which had been established by preceding Councils. It decided that the most rigorous penance would be imposed “on women who procure the elimination of the fruit conceived in their womb.”[9] The Decree of Gratian reported the following words of Pope Stephen V: “That person is a murderer who causes to perish by abortion what has been conceived.”[10] St. Thomas, the Common Doctor of the Church, teaches that abortion is a grave sin against the natural law.” At the time of the Renaissance Pope Sixtus V condemned abortion with the greatest severity.[12] A century later, Innocent XI rejected the propositions of certain lax canonists who sought to excuse an abortion procured before the moment accepted by some as the moment of the spiritual animation of the new being.[13] In our days the recent Roman Pontiffs have proclaimed the same doctrine with the greatest clarity. Pius XI explicitly answered the most serious objections.[14] Pius XII clearly excluded all direct abortion, that is, abortion which is either an end or a means.[15] John XXIII recalled the teaching of the Fathers on the sacred character of life “which from its beginning demands the action of God the Creator.”[16] Most recently, the Second Vatican Council, presided over by Paul VI, has most severely condemned abortion: “Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”[17] The same Paul VI, speaking on this subject on many occasions, has not been afraid to declare that this teaching of the Church “has not changed and is unchangeable.”[18]

FOOTNOTES

6. “Didache Apostolorum,” edition Funk, “Patres Apostolici,” V, 2. “The Epistle of Barnabas,” IX, 5 uses the same expressions (cf. Funk, l.c., 91-93).

7. Athenagoras, “A plea on behalf of Christians,” 35 (cf. PG. 6, 970: S.C. 3, pp. 166-167). One may also consult the “Epistle to Diogentus” (V, 6 Funk, o.c., I 399: S.C. 33), where it says of Christians: “They procreate children, but they do not reject the foetus.”

8. Tertullian, “Apologeticum” (IX. 8 PL. 1, 371-372: Corp. Christ. 1, p. 103, 1, 31-36).

9. Canon 21 (Mansi, 14, p. 909). Cf. Council of Elvira, canon 63 (Mansi, 2, p. 16) and the Council of Ancyra, canon 21 (ibid., 519). See also the decree of Gregory III regarding the penance to be imposed upon those who are culpable of this crime (Mansi 13, 292, c. 17).

10. Gratian, “Concordantia Discordantium Canonum,” c. 20, C. 2, q.[2]. During the Middle Ages appeal was often made to the authority of St. Augustine who wrote as follows in regard to this matter in “De Nuptiis et Concupiscentiis,” c. 15: “Sometimes this sexually indulgent cruelty or this cruel sexual indulgence goes so far as to procure potions which produce sterility. If the desired result is not achieved, the mother terminates the life and expels the foetus which was in her womb in such a way that the child dies before having lived, or, if the baby was living already in its mother’s womb, it is killed before being born.” (PL 44, 423-424: CSEL 33, 619. Cf. the “Decree of Gratian” q. 2, C. 32, c. 7.)

11. “Commentary on the Sentences,” book IV, dist. 31, exposition of the text.

12. Constitution “Effraenatum” in 1588 (“Bullarium Romanum,” V, 1, pp. 25-27; “Fontes Iuris Canonici,” I, no. 165, pp. 308-311).

13. Dz-Sch. 1184. Cf. also the Constitution “Apostolicae Sedis” of Pius IX (Acta Pii IX, V, 55-72; AAS 5 [1869], pp. 305-331; “Fontes Iuris Canonici,” III, no. 552, pp. 24-31).

14. Encyclical “Casti Connubii,” AAS 22 (1930), pp. 562-565; Dz- Sch. 3719-21.

15. The statements of Pius XII are express, precise and numerous; they would require a whole study on their own. We quote only this one from the Discourse to the Saint Luke Union of Italian Doctors of November 12, 1944, because it formulates the principle in all its universality: “As long as a man is not guilty, his life is untouchable, and therefore any act directly tending to destroy it is illicit, whether such destruction is intended as an end in itself or only as a means to an end, whether it is a question of life in the embryonic stage or in a stage of full development or already in its final stages” (Discourses and Radio-messages, VI, 183ff.).

16. Encyclical “Mater et magistra,” AAS 53 (1961), p. 447.

17. “Gaudium et spes,” 51. Cf. 27 (AAS 58 [1966], p. 1072; cf. 1047).

18. The speech, “Salutiamo con paterna effusione,” December 9, 1972, AAS 64 (1972), p. 737. Among the witnesses of this unchangeable doctrine one will recall the declaration of the Holy Office, condemning direct abortion (Denzinger 1890, AAS 17 [1884], p. 556; 22 [1888-1890], 748; Dz-Sch 3258).

19. This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.

There are a few lines in all of that which jump out at the reader, and ought to be deployed as tactical weapons in our pro-life argumentation. Firstly, the last few lines of Paragraph 7:

“Most recently, the Second Vatican Council, presided over by Paul VI, has most severely condemned abortion: ‘Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.’[17] The same Paul VI, speaking on this subject on many occasions, has not been afraid to declare that this teaching of the Church ‘has not changed and is unchangeable.’[18]“

The quote about safeguarding from the moment of conception comes from the Vatican II document “Guadium et spes,” which, as a conciliar document is considered INFALLIBLE teaching. As such, it can never, ever change, which gives rise to the following quote from Pope Paul VI.

Next, it is worth considering footnote #19:

“on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.”

Thus speaks the Church. While there have been, and remain, different voices within the Church, the human organism from the moment of conception is presumed to be in possession of a soul. This cannot be overstated. In her wisdom, the Church grants the presumption of a soul from the moment of conception.

And therein lies a rhetorical dilemma when words such as conception and pregnant come into play.

The plain meaning of the words in their traditional usage are that a child is conceived at the moment the sperm penetrates the egg. When that conception occurs, the mother is said to be pregnant. Simple, right?

Wrong.

The rabidly pro-abortion American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, (ACOG)which is the official society of Ob/Gyn’s adopted an official change of lexicon thirty years ago that defines conception and pregnancy as both being synonymous with IMPLANTATION of the embryo in the uterus, an event that occurs several days after fertilization. Thus, proaborts will argue that even the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize that life begins at fertilization, because we state that the presumption of humanity begins at conception, an event that has been redefined by the proabort crowd.

It should be noted that the Declaration on Procured Abortion was written years before ACOG engaged in their verbal engineering.