Form and Soul

Even so, early Christian writers often retained the distinction between the formed and unformed fetus, implying that the unformed fetus possesses a lesser status than one that is fully formed. One of the first Latin Christian theologians, Tertullian, who lived around 200 c.e., opposed abortion but implied in his writings that there is a distinction of significance between the formed and unformed embryo. In chapter 37 of his treatise On the Soul, Tertullian wrote: "The embryo therefore becomes a human being in the womb from the moment that its form is completed."

One way to defend the distinction between formed and unformed is to hold that the human soul is added to the developing fetus when it attains a recognizably human shape. The metaphysics of the fourth century b.c.e. Greek philosopher Aristotle, which links soul and form, was often used here for support. Thus, what begins as an empirical question—does the fetus have a human shape?—becomes entwined with a religious and metaphysical question of whether the fetus has a soul, and at what stage this is so. The joining of the soul to the developing organism, a process called ensoulment, thus became a subject of intense religious debate among Christian theologians.

This debate was never resolved and in fact quickly became entangled in conflicting Christian views of the human soul, its origin, and the nature of its relationship to the human body, all set against the backdrop of competing philosophical options. In this regard Tertullian held a view peculiar among Christians that the soul is not a spiritual but a material substance and is transmitted sexually rather than created by God. Most other theologians of the early church saw the soul as a spiritual substance. In contrast, however, to philosophical views that accepted a dualism of soul and body, Christian theologians generally agreed that body and soul, though metaphysically distinct, are functionally inseparable. In death, the soul is not freed from the body, as the Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428-c. 347 b.c.e.) contended, but awaits the resurrection of the body in order that both soul and body might be transformed together into a glorified mode of immortal existence. Speculation about ensoulment, therefore, was always grounded on this insistence on the unity of soul with body.

Anxiety and Depression 101

Anxiety and Depression 101

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