Summary Against Modern Thought: The Soul Begins At Conception, Part III

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Part III of three parts, showing life begins at conception. Like last week, do your homework and review first.

Chapter 83 That the human soul begins to exist when the body does (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

30 Furthermore, if the knowledge of conclusions were as natural to the soul as knowledge of principles, then everyone’s judgment concerning conclusions, as well as principles, would be the same, since things natural are the same for all. But not all persons share the same judgment in respect to conclusions, but only to principles.

Clearly, then, the knowledge of principles is natural to us, but not the knowledge of conclusions. The non-natural, however, is acquired by us through the natural; thus it is through our hands that we produce, in the world of things outside us, all our artifacts. Therefore, we have no knowledge of conclusions except that which we acquire from principles.

Notes Of course, agreement on principles is also hard work.

31 Again, since nature is always directed to one thing, of one power there must naturally be one object, as color of sight, and sound of hearing. Hence, the intellect, being one power, has one natural object, of which it has knowledge essentially and naturally. And this object must be one under which are included all things known by the intellect; just as under color are included all colors essentially visible. Now, this is none other than being [ens].

Our intellect, therefore, knows being naturally, and whatever essentially belongs to a being as such; and upon this knowledge is founded the knowledge of first principles, such as the impossibility of simultaneously affirming and denying, and the like. Thus, only these principles are known naturally by our intellect, while conclusions are known through them; just as, through color, sight is cognizant of both common and accidental sensibles.

Notes The study of being, i.e. metaphysics, is the highest subject, and its relation to God the “Queen of sciences” (Newman).

32 And again. That which we acquire through the senses did not exist in the soul before its union with the body. But our knowledge of principles themselves is derived from sensible things; if, for instance, we had not perceived some whole by our senses, we would be unable to understand the principle that the whole is greater than its parts; even as a man born blind is utterly insensible of colors. Therefore, neither did the soul prior to its union with the body have any knowledge of principles; much less, of other things. Hence, Plato’s argument that the soul existed before its union with the body is without solidity.

Notes That the whole is greater than the parts is one of those things all know is true, but which cannot be proved (except in limited instances). This proves empiricism is false. Reincarnation is defined then disproved in the rest of this chapter.

33 There is also the argument that if all souls existed before the bodies to which they are united, it would then seemingly follow that the same soul is united to different bodies according to the vicissitudes of time—an obvious consequence of the doctrine of the eternity of the world.

For from the hypothesis of the engendering of human beings from eternity it follows that an infinite number of human bodies have come into being and passed away throughout the whole course of time. Hence, two possibilities: either an actually infinite number of souls pre-existed, if each soul is united to a single body, or, if the number of souls is finite, then the same souls are united at one time to these particular bodies and at another time to those.

And seemingly we would be faced with the same consequence if we held that souls existed before bodies but that they were not produced from eternity. For, even if it be supposed that the engendering of men has not always been in progress, nevertheless, in the very nature of the case, it indubitably can be of infinite duration; because every man is so constituted by nature that, unless he be impeded accidentally, he is able to beget another man, even as he himself was begotten of another. But this would be impossible if, given the existence of a finite number of souls, one soul cannot be united to several bodies. That is why a number of proponents of the doctrine that souls exist before bodies espoused the theory of transmigration; which cannot possibly be true. Therefore, souls did not exist before bodies.

34 Now, the impossibility of one soul’s being united to diverse bodies is clearly seen in the light of the following considerations. Human souls do not differ specifically from one another, but only numerically; otherwise, men also would differ specifically, one from the other. Material principles, however, are the source of numerical distinction. It follows that the distinction among human souls must be attributed to something material in character—but not so as to imply that matter is a part of the soul, because the soul is an intellectual substance, and no such substance has matter, as we have proved above.

It therefore remains that in the manner explained above the diversity and plurality of souls result from their relationship to the diverse matters to which they are united; so that, if there are different bodies, they must have different souls united to them. One soul, then, is not united to several bodies.

35 Moreover, it was shown above that the soul is united to the body as its form. But forms must be proportionate to their proper matters, since they are related to one another as act to potentiality, the proper act corresponding to the proper potentiality. Therefore, one soul is not united to a number of bodies.

36 We argue further from the fact that the power of the mover must be proportionate to the thing movable by it, for not every power moves every movable. But, even if the soul were not the form of the body, it could not be said that the soul is not the body’s mover, for we distinguish the animate from the inanimate by sense and movement. It therefore follows that the distinction among souls must correspond to the distinction among bodies.

37 Likewise, in the realm of things subject to generation and corruption it is impossible for one and the same thing to be reproduced by generation; for generation and corruption are movements in respect of substance, so that in things generated and corrupted the substance does not remain the same, as it does in things moved locally. But, if one soul is united successively to different generated bodies, the self-same man will come into being again through generation. This follows necessarily for Plato, who said that man is a “soul clothed with a body.” This consequence also holds for any others. For a thing’s unity follows upon its form, even as its being does, so that those things are one in number whose form is one in number. It is, therefore, impossible for one soul to be united to different bodies. From this it follows, too, that souls were not in existence before bodies.

38 With this truth the Catholic faith expressly agrees. For it is said in a Psalm (32:15): “He who made the hearts of every one of them”; namely, because God created a soul specially for each one, and neither created them all together, nor united one to different bodies. In this connection also we read in the work On the Teachings of the Church: “We declare that human souls were not created from the beginning together with other intellectual natures, nor all at the same time, as Origen imagines.”

Chapter 84 Solution of the prececding argument (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

1 The arguments in proof of the thesis that souls have existed from eternity, or that at least they existed before bodies, are easily solved.

Notes Review Part I for these arguments.

2 As to the first argument, the statement that the soul has the power to exist always, must be granted. But it must be borne in mind that the power and potentiality of a thing extend not to what was, but to what is or will be; hence, there is no possibility with respect to things past. Therefore, from the fact that the soul has the power to exist always it can be concluded, not that the soul always was, but that it always will be.

3 Moreover, that to which a power is ordained does not follow from the power except on the supposition of the latter’s existence. Therefore, though the soul have the power to exist always, it cannot be inferred that the soul does exist always, except after it has actually received this power; and if it is assumed that the soul has received this power from eternity, the point that has to be proved, namely, the soul’s existence from eternity, will be begged.

4 The second argument, concerning the eternity of the truth which the soul understands, calls for a distinction. In one way, this eternity can be taken to refer to the thing understood; in another, to that by which it is understood. In the first case, the thing understood would be eternal, but not the one who understands; in the second, eternity would be on the side of the soul which understands.

Now, the understood truth is eternal, not in the latter but in the former reference; since, as we have already clearly shown, the intelligible species, whereby our soul understands truth, come to us repeatedly via the phantasms through the operation of the agent intellect. It cannot, then, he inferred that the soul is eternal, but that the truths understood are based upon something eternal; for, indeed, their foundation is in the first truth, as in the universal cause embracing all truth.

But the soul stands in relation to this eternal entity, not as subject to form, but as thing to proper end, since the true is the good of the intellect, and its end. Now, argument concerning a thing’s duration can be drawn from its end, just as the question of its beginning is arguable through its efficient cause; for, indeed, a thing ordained to an eternal end must be capable of enduring forever. That is why the soul’s immortality can be proved from the eternity of intelligible truth, but not its eternity. And what we have already said on the question of the eternity of creatures makes it quite clear that the eternity of the soul cannot be demonstrated from the eternity of its efficient cause.

5 The third argument, in regard to the perfection of the universe, is void of necessity. For the perfection of the universe envisages species, not individuals; since the universe is constantly receiving the addition of myriad individuals of pre-existing species. Human souls, however, do not differ in specific nature but only in number, as was shown above. Hence, it is not incompatible with the perfection of the universe if new souls be created.

6 And from this we see the solution of the fourth argument. For in the Book of Genesis (2:2) it is said at the same time that “God ended His work,” and that “He rested from an His work which He had done.” Hence, just as the consummation or perfection of creatures is considered in terms of species, not individuals, so God’s resting must be understood to refer to cessation from forming new species, but not new individuals, of which others specifically alike have existed before. Thus, since all human souls are of one species, and likewise all men, it is not inconsistent with God’s rest if He creates new souls every day.

Notes And, anyway, change still happens.

7 Now, it should be known that in Aristotle we do not find the statement that the human intellect is eternal; yet he customarily says this of those things which he thinks have existed always. But he does say that the human intellect is everlasting; and this can be said of those things that always will be, even if they have not always been. Hence, when Aristotle, in Metaphysics XI [3], excepted the intellective soul from the condition of other forms, he did not say that it was prior to matter, but Plato said this of the Ideas; and so it would seem that Aristotle might consistently have said something of the sort here about the soul; but what he did say was that the soul remains after the body.


  1. “Part III of three parts, showing life begins at conception…”

    It’s not necessary, everybody knows that life begins at conception.

    “The Queen of science” is also a title given to pure mathematics.
    Flattery doesn’t change the value or truth of a thing. Fake flattery is of even lower value but may be of utility.

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