Of God and His Creatures

Arguments against the Truth of the Conclusion last drawn, with their Solution

For the better understanding of the solutions given, we must prefix some exposition of the order and process of human generation, and of animal generation generally. First then we must know that that is a false opinion of certain persons who say that the vital acts which appear in the embryo before its final development (ante ultimum complementum), come not from any soul or power of soul existing in it, but from the soul of the mother.* If that were true, we could no longer call the embryo an animal, as every animal consists of soul and body. The activities of life do not proceed from an active principle from without, but from a power within; a fact which seems to mark the distinction between inanimate and living things, it being proper to the latter to move themselves. Whatever is nourished, assimilates nourishment to itself: hence there must be in the creature that is nourished an active power of nutrition, since an agent acts to the likeness of itself. This is still more manifest in the operations of sense: for sight and hearing are attributable to a power existing in the sentient subject, not in another. Hence, as the embryo is evidently nourished before its final development, and even feels, this cannot be attributed to the soul of another.

It has been alleged that the soul in its complete essence is in the male semen from the first, its activities not appearing merely for want of organs. But that cannot be. For since the soul is united with the body as a form, it is only united with that body of which it is properly the actualisation. Now the soul is the actualisation of an organised body. Therefore before the organisation of the body the soul is in the male semen, not actually, but virtually. Hence Aristotle says that seed and fruit have life potentially in such a way that they "cast away," i.e. are destitute of soul; whereas that (body) whereof the soul is the actualisation has life potentially, and does not "cast away" soul.*

It would follow, if the soul were in the male semen from the first, that the generation of an animal was only by fissure (per decisionem), as is the case with Annelid animals, that are made two out of one. For if the male semen has a soul the instant it was cut off from the body,* it would then have a substantial form. But every substantial generation precedes and does not follow the substantial form. Any transmutations that follow the substantial form are not directed to the being of the thing generated, but to its well-being. At that rate the generation of the animal would be complete in the mere cutting off of the male semen from the body of the parent; and all subsequent transmutations would be irrelevant to generation. The supposition is still more ridiculous when applied to the rational soul, as well because it is impossible for that to be divided according to the division of the body, so as even to be in the semen cut off therefrom; as also because it would follow that in all cases of the semen being wasted, without conception ensuing, souls were still multiplied.

Nor again can it be said, as some say, that though there is not in the male semen at its first cutting off* any soul actually, but only virtually, for want of organs, nevertheless, as the said semen is a bodily substance, organisable although not organised, so the active power of that semen is itself a soul, potential but not actual, proportional to the condition of the semen. The theory goes on to say that, as the life of a plant requires fewer organs than the life of an animal, the aforesaid active power turns into a vegetative soul as soon as the semen is sufficiently organised for the life of a plant; and further that, when the organs are more perfected and multiplied, the same power is advanced to be a sentient soul; and further still that, when the form of the organs is perfect, the same becomes a rational soul, not indeed by the action of the power of the semen itself, but only by the influence of some exterior agent: and this the advocates of this theory take to be the reason why Aristotle said (De gen. animal., II, iii) that the intellect is from without.

Upon this view it would follow that numerically the same active power was now a vegetative soul only, and afterwards a sentient soul; and so the substantial form itself was continually more and more perfected: it would further follow that a substantial form was educed from potentiality to actuality, not instantaneously, but successively; and further than generation was a continuous change, as is alteration, -- all so many physical impossibilities. There would ensue even a still more awkward consequence, that the rational soul was mortal. For no formal constituent added to a perishable thing makes it naturally imperishable: otherwise the perishable would be changed into the imperishable, which is impossible, as the two differ in kind. But the substance of the sentient soul, which is supposed to be incidentally generated when the body is generated in the process above described, is necessarily perishable with the perishing of the body. If therefore this soul becomes rational by the bringing in of some manner of light from without* to be a formal constituent of the soul, it necessarily follows that the rational soul perishes when the body perishes, contrary to which has been shown (Chap. LXXIX) and to the teaching of Catholic faith.

Therefore the active power which is cut off, or emitted, with the male semen from the body, and is called 'formative,'* is not itself the soul, nor ever becomes the soul in the process of generation. But the frothy substance of the male semen contains gas (spiritus), and this gas is the subject on which the formative power rests, and in which it is inherent.* So the formative power works out the formation of the body, acting in virtue of the soul of the father, the prime author of generation, not in virtue of the soul of the offspring, even after the offspring comes to have a soul: for the offspring does not generate itself, but is generated by the father.* This is clear by enumeration of the several powers of the soul. The formation is not attributable to the soul of the embryo itself on the score of that soul's generative power: for that power puts forth no activity till the work of nutrition and growth is complete; and besides, its work is not directed to the perfection of the individual, but to the preservation of the species. Nor can it be assigned to the embryo's nutritive power, the work of which is to assimilate nourishment to the body nourished; for in this case there is no room for such a work; since nourishment taken while the body is in formation is not applied to assume the likeness of a pre-existent body, but goes to the production of a more perfect form and a nearer approach to the likeness of the father. Nor is the development of the embro attributable to its own power of growth: for to power of growth there does not belong change of form, but only change in bulk. And as for the sensitive and intellectual powers, it is clear that theirs is no office bearing on such a development. It follows that the formation of the body, particularly of its earliest and principal parts, does not proceed from the engendered soul, nor from any formative power acting in virtue thereof, but from a formative power acting in virtue of the generative soul of the father, the work of which is to make another like in species to the progenitor. This formative power therefore remains the same in the subject aforesaid* from the beginning of the formation even to the end. But the appearance of the being under formation does not remain the same: for first it has the appearance of semen, afterwards of blood, and so on until it arrives at its final completeness.

Nor need we be uneasy in admitting the generation of an intermediate product, the existence of which is presently after broken off, because such transitional links are not complete in their species, but are on the way to a perfect species; and therefore they are not engendered to endure, but as stages of being, leading up to finality in the order of generation. The higher a form is in the scale of being, and the further it is removed from a mere material form, the more intermediate forms and intermediate generation must be passed through before the finally perfect form is reached.* Therefore in the generation of animal and man, -- these having the most perfect form, -- there occur many intermediate forms and generations, and consequently destructions, because the generation of one being is the destruction of another. The vegetative soul therefore, which is first in the embryo, while it lives the life of a plant, is destroyed, and there succeeds a more perfect soul, which is at one nutrient and sentient, and for that time the embryo lives the life of an animal: upon the destruction of this, there succeeds the rational soul, infused from without, whereas the preceding two owed their existence to the virtue of the male semen.*

With these principles recognised, it is easy to answer the objections.

Arg. 1. Man being an animal by the possession of a sentient soul, and the notion of 'animal' befitting man in the same sense as it befits other animals, it appears that the sentient soul of man is of the same kind as the souls of other animals. But things of the same kind have the same manner of coming to be. Therefore the sentient soul of man, as of other animals, comes to be by the active power that is in the male semen. But the sentient and the intelligent soul in man is one in substance (Chap. LVIII). It appears then that even the intelligent soul is produced by the active power of the semen.

Reply. Though sensitive soul in man and brute agree generically, yet they differ specifically. As the animal, man, differs specifically from other animals by being rational, so the sentient soul of a man differs specifically from the sentient soul of a brute by being also intelligent. The soul therefore of a brute has sentient attributes only, and consequently neither its being nor its activity rises above the order of the body: hence it must be generated with the generation of the body, and perish with its destruction. But the sentient soul in man, over and above its sentient nature, has intellectual power: hence the very substance of this soul must be raised above the bodily order both in being and in activity; and therefore it is neither generated by the generation of the body, nor perishes by its destruction.

Arg. 2. As Aristotle teaches, in point of time the foetus is an animal before it is a man.* But while it is an animal and not yet a man, it has a sentient and not an intelligent soul, which sentient soul beyond doubt is produced by the active power of the male semen. Now that self-same sentient soul is potentially intelligent, even as that animal is potentially a rational animal: unless one chooses to say that the intelligent soul which supervenes is another substance altogether, a conclusion rejected above (Chap. LVIII). It appears then that the substance of the intelligent soul comes of the active power that is in the semen.*

Reply. The sentient soul, whereby the human foetus was an animal, does not last, but its place is taken by a soul that is at once sentient and intelligent.

Arg. 3. The soul, as it is the form of the body, is one being with the body. But unity of thing produced, unity of productive action, and unity of producing agent, all go together. Therefore the one being of soul and body must be the result of one productive action of one productive agent. But confessedly the body is produced by the productive action of the power that is in the male semen. Therefore the soul also, as it is the form of the body, is produced by the same productive action, and not by any separate agency.

Reply. The principle of corresponding unity of produced, production, and producer, holds good to the exclusion of a plurality of productive agents not acting in co-ordination with one another. Where they are co-ordinate, several agents have but one effect. Thus the prime efficient cause acts to the production of the effect of the secondary efficient cause even more vigorously than the secondary cause itself; and we see that the effect produced by a principal agent through the agency of an instrument is more properly attributed to the principal agent than to the instrument. Sometimes too the action of the principal agent reaches to some part of the thing done, to which the action of the instrument does not reach. Since then the whole active power of nature stands to God as an instrument to the prime and principal agent, we find no difficulty in the productive action of nature being terminated to a part only of that one term of generation, man, and not to the whole of what is produced by the action of God. The body then of man is formed at once by the power of God, the principal and prime agent, and by the power of the semen, the secondary agent. But the action of God produces the human soul, which the power of the male semen cannot produce, but only dispose thereto.*

Arg. 4. Man generates his own specific likeness by the power that is in the detached semen, which generation means causing the specific form of the generated. The human soul therefore, the specific form of man, is caused by the power in the semen.

Reply. Man generates his specific likeness, inasmuch as the power of his semen operates to prepare for the coming of the final form which gives the species to man.

Arg. 5. If souls are created by God, He puts the last hand to the engendering of children born sometimes of adultery.

Reply. There is no difficulty in that. Not the nature of adulterers is evil, but their will: now the effect which their semen produces is natural, not voluntary: hence there is no difficulty in God's co-operating to that effect and giving it completeness.

In a book ascribed to Gregory of Nyssa* there are found further arguments, as follows:

Arg. 6. Soul and body make one whole, that is, one man. If then the soul is made before the body, or the body before the soul, the same thing will be prior and posterior to itself. Therefore body and soul are made together. But the body begins in the cutting off, or emission, of the semen. Therefore the soul also is brought into being by the same.

Reply. Allowing that the human body is formed before the soul is created, or conversely, still it does not follow that the same man is prior to himself: for man is not his body or his soul. It only follows that one part of him is prior to another part; and in that there is no difficulty: for matter is prior in time to form, -- matter, I mean, inasmuch as it is in potentiality to form, not inasmuch as it is actually perfected by form, for so it is together with form. The human body then, inasmuch as it is in potentiality to soul, as not yet having the soul, is prior in time to the soul: but, for that time, it is not actually human, only potentially so: but when it is actually human, as being perfected by a human soul, it is neither prior nor posterior to the soul, but together with it.

Arg. 7. An agent's activity seems to be imperfect, when he does not produce and bring the whole thing into being, but only half makes it. If then God brought the soul into being, while the body was formed by the power of the male semen, body and soul being the two parts of man, the activities of God and of the seminal power would be both imperfect. Therefore the body and soul of man are both produced by the same cause. But certainly the body of man is produced by the power of the semen: therefore also the soul.

Reply. Body and soul are both produced by the power of God, though the formation of the body is of God through the intermediate instrumentality of the power of the natural semen, while the soul He produces immediately. Neither does it follow that the action of the power of the semen is imperfect, since it fulfils the purpose of its existence.

Arg. 8. In all things that are engendered of seed, the parts of the thing engendered are all contained together in the seed, though they do not actually appear: as we see that in wheat or in any other send the green blade and stalk and knots and grains and ears are virtually contained in the original seed; and afterwards the seed gathers bulk and expansion by a process of natural consequence leading to its perfection, without taking up any new feature from without. But the soul is part of man. Therefore in the male semen of man the human soul is virtually contained, and it does not take its origin from any exterior cause.

Reply. In seed are virtually contained all things that do not transcend corporeal power, as grass, stalk, knots, and the like: from which there is no concluding that the special element in man which transcends the whole range of corporeal power is virtually contained in the seed.

Arg. 9. Things that have the same development and the same consummation must have the same first origin. But in the generation of man we find the same development and the same consummation: for as the configuration and growth of the limbs advances, the activities of the soul show themselves more and more: for first appears the activity of the sentient soul, and last of all, when the body is complete, the activity of the intelligent soul. Therefore body and soul have the same origin. But the first origin of the body is in the emission of the male semen: such therefore also is the origin of the soul.

Reply. All that this shows is that a certain arrangement of the parts of the body is necessary for the activity of the soul.

Arg. 10. What is conformed to a thing, is set up according to the plan of that to which it is conformed, as wax takes the impress of a seal. But the body of man and of every animal is conformed to its own soul, having such disposition of organs as suits the activities of the power to be exercised through those organs. The body then is formed by the action of the soul: hence also Aristotle says that the soul is the efficient cause of the body.* This could not be, if the soul were not in the male semen: for the body is formed by the power that is in that semen: therefore the soul has its origin in that emission of it.

Reply. That the body is conformed and fashioned according to the soul, and that therefore the soul prepares a body like unto itself, is a statement partly true and partly false. Understood of the soul of the generator, it is true: understood of the soul of the generated, it is false. The formation of the body in its prime and principal parts is not due to the soul of the generated, but to the soul of the generator, as has been shown.

Arg. 11. Nothing lives except by a soul. But the male semen is alive, of which fact there are three indications. In the first place, the semen is cut off and detached from a living being: secondly, there appears in it vital heat and activity: thirdly, the seeds of plants, committed to earth, could never warm to life from the lifeless earth, had they not life in themselves.

Reply. The semen is not alive actually, but potentially, and has a soul, not actually, but virtually.* In the process of generation the embryo comes to have a vegetative and a sentient soul by the virtue of the semen, which souls do not endure, but pass away and are succeeded by a rational soul.

Arg. 12. If the soul is not before the body (Chap. LXXXIII), nor begins with the liberation of the semen, it follows that the body is first formed, and afterwards there is infused into it a soul newly created. But if this is true, it follows further that the soul is for the body: for what is for another appears after it, as clothes are for men and are made after them. But that is false: rather the body is for he soul, as the end is ever the more noble. We must say then that the origin of the soul is simultaneous with the emission of the semen.*

Reply. There are two ways of one thing being 'for another.' A thing may be to serve the activity, or secure the preservation, or otherwise promote the good of another, presupposing its being; and such things are posterior to that for which they are, as clothes for the person, or tools for the mechanic. Or a thing may be 'for another' in view of that other's being: what is thus 'for another' is prior to it in time and posterior to it in nature. In this latter way the body is for the soul, as all matter is for its form. The case would be otherwise, if soul and body did not make one being, as they say who take the soul not to be the form of the body.*

2.87 : That the Human Soul is brought into being by a Creative Act of God
2.91 : That there are Subsistent Intelligences not united with Bodies