The Development of Catholic Thought

In time creationism, with its dualistic tendencies, became the majority view in the Western or Latin church, and it was often combined with the idea that the soul was not joined to the body until formation. The reintroduction of Aristotle into Western thought brought new subtleties to the discussion. Thomas Aquinas, whose integration of Aristotle into Christian theology in the thirteenth century was at first controversial but was subsequently seen as authoritative for Catholics, combined creationism with the view that the soul undergoes transition. At its beginning, the embryo does not have a human soul, merely the kind of soul common to all forms of life and responsible for growth and development. Only when fetal development advances to a stage that resembles human form is it possible for the human soul to be present. The human or intellectual soul is immaterial and must be created by God, who joins it to the developing fetus. At that moment of ensoulment, the fetus becomes human or attains hominization, and its moral claim to life is absolute.

Thomas's position is dependent upon an empirical observation ofAristotle, who concluded that the human soul is present at forty days after conception for males and ninety for females. Because the soul was thought to animate the body, "quickening," or the feeling of fetal movement, was taken as a sign that ensoulment had occurred. Until 1869, the Catholic Church recognized a distinction between the ensouled and the unensouled fetus, insisting on a higher penalty for the destruction of the former.

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