Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Souls Begin At Conception Part II

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.

Review is a must. We are a third of the way through a chapter this week, so please read the Previous post first (link above).

Chapter 82 That the human soul begins to exist when the body does (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

15 Now, the argument may be raised that union with the body is natural to the soul, as well as separation from it, according to various periods of time. But such a notion seems impossible. For changes that take place naturally in a subject are accidental, such as youth and old age; so that, if its union with, and separation from the body are for the soul natural changes, then union with the body will be an accident of the soul. The human being constituted by this union therefore will not be an essential but an accidental being.

Notes It takes an iron constitution to resist these straight lines.

16 Then, too, whatever is subject to alternate phases of existence according to various periods of time is subject to the movement of the heaven, which the whole course of time follows. But intellectual and incorporeal substances, including separately existing souls, transcend the entire realm of bodily things. Hence, they cannot be subject to the movements of the heavenly bodies. Therefore, it is impossible that they should be naturally united during one period of time and separated during another, or that they should naturally desire this at one time, and that at another.

17 On the other hand, the hypothesis that souls are united to bodies neither by violence nor by nature, but by free choice, is likewise impossible. For no one voluntarily enters into a state worse than the previous one, unless he be deceived.

But the separate soul enjoys a higher state of existence than when united to the body; especially according to the Platonists, who say that through its union with the body, the soul forgets what it knew before, its power to contemplate truth in a pure manner thus being checked. Hence, the soul is not willingly united to the body unless it be the victim of deception. But there can be nothing in the soul that could cause deception, since, for the Platonists, the soul is possessed of all knowledge. Nor can it be said that the soul’s judgment, proceeding from universal scientific knowledge and applied to a particular matter of choice, is overwhelmed by the passions, as in the incontinent; for no passions of this sort occur without bodily change, and, consequently, they cannot exist in the separate soul. We are, then, left with the conclusion that, if the soul had existed before the body, it would not be united to the body of its own will.

Notes Don’t race by this conclusion. Why move from paradise to Cleveland?

18 Moreover, every effect issuing from the concurrent operation of two mutually unrelated wills is fortuitous, as in the case of a person who goes out to shop and meets his creditor in the market place without any prior arrangement between the two. Now, the will of the generative agent, whereon the body’s production depends, is independent of the will of the separate soul which wills to be united. It follows that the union of the soul and body is fortuitous, since it cannot be effected without the concurrence of both wills. Thus, the begetting of a man results not from nature, but from chance, which is patently false, since it occurs in the majority of cases.

Notes A proof of improbability! Not a proof, really, but a darn good argument. So is the next paragraph, which will be less convincing to some.

19 Now, again, the theory may be advanced that the soul is united to the body by divine decree, and not by nature, nor of its own will. But such a supposition also seems inadmissible on the hypothesis that souls were created before bodies. For God established each thing in being in a mode congruent with its nature. Hence, in the Book of Genesis (1:10, 31) it is said of each creature: “God saw that it was good,” and of all creatures collectively: “God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.” If, then, God created souls separate from bodies, it must be said that this manner of being is more suitable to their nature. But it is not becoming to the ordering of things by the divine goodness to relegate them to a lower state, but, rather, to raise them to a higher. Hence, it could not have been by God’s ordinance that the soul was united to the body.

20 Moreover, it is inconsistent with the order of divine wisdom to raise up lower things to the detriment of higher things. But generable and corruptible bodies have the lowest rank in the order of things. Hence, it would not have been consistent with the order of divine wisdom to ennoble human bodies by uniting pre-existing souls to them, since this would be impossible without detriment to the latter, as we have already seen.

21 Having this point in mind—for he asserted that human souls had been created from the beginning—Origen said that they were united to bodies by divine decree, but as a punishment. For Origen thought that souls had sinned before bodies existed, and that according to the gravity of their sin, souls were shut up in bodies of higher or lower character, as in so many prisons.

22 This doctrine, however, is untenable, for, being contrary to a good of nature, punishment is said to be an evil. If, then, the union of soul and body is something penal in character, it is not a good of nature. But this is impossible, for that union is intended by nature, since natural generation terminates in it. And again, on Origen’s theory, it would follow that man’s being would not be a good according to nature, yet it is said, after man’s creation: “God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.”

Notes Yet, given our experience these days, it is not unnatural to be sympathetic with Origen.

23 Furthermore, good does not issue from evil save by accident. Therefore, if the soul’s union with the body were due to sin on the part of the separate soul, it would follow that this union is accidental, since it is a kind of good. In that case the production of man was a matter of chance. But such a thing is derogatory to God’s wisdom, of which it is written that “It ordered all things in number, weight, and measure” (Wis. 11:21)

24 That notion also clearly clashes with apostolic doctrine. For St. Paul says of Jacob and Esau, that “when they were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil, it was said that the elder shall serve the younger” (Rom. 9:11-17). Hence, before this was said, their souls had not sinned at all, yet the Apostle’s statement postdates the time of their conception, as Genesis (25:23) makes clear.

25 Earlier, in treating of the distinction of things, we leveled against Origen’s position a number of arguments which may also be used here. Omitting them, therefore, we pass on to others.

Notes Which we’ll pass on to next week, since we are already running long.


  1. Boy, this one is such a pain in the @$$. Why you “Christians” can’t just let this go is beyond me. It’s an interpretation of scripture that is just layer after layer of sophistry, implicating Free Will, God’s Will and Knowledge, and host (pun intended) of other theological arguments. Abortion (like homosexuality, though you seem to believe it’s some new cultural invention – read a friggin’ book by someone other than a BS artist for once in your life!) was around when all the Biblical events took place and yet is never so much as mentioned in ALL the scriptures. It’s a distraction. A political distraction to get religious people to vote against their own best interests. It’s sleazy and not “Christian” at all. This whole “abortion” BS, as we know it today, started in the mid-1800’s, with Rome and some of the Protestant Fundies latching onto the issue for various reasons, but mostly as part of a reactionary movement against modernity. Of course, that’s the whole point of these posts, right?


  2. acricketchirps

    It’s an awfully insular little world we live in.

  3. Sander van der Wal


    According to you, there is no free will, it should therefore be obvious to you that Briggs is posting this because he’s some kind of automaton. And so are you, programmed not to to understand the implications of not having free will. Doesn’t that strike you as odd, not being programmed to understand the logical consequences of some statement?

    Or are you not programmed for that either?

  4. The alternatives to a soul created at conception are:

    1 the soul emerges as the brain develops, like morals emerge together with social groups.
    2 the soul is eternal and exists before conception, and can reincarnate after the body perishes.
    3 the soul is a figment of imagination, and the idea is just a consolation for fear of death.

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

    And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. … “

    — from “A Letter to Diognetus” ca. AD 130 or later.
    So the Christians, even back then, were familiar with the custom of killing one’s children, and also of treating women as property, although they rejected these.

  6. Sander,

    “According to you, there is no free will, it should therefore…”

    See, this is where you get lost. Right after “therefore…” You just HAD to presume that “therefore,” didn’t you?

    There is no “Free Will” in the sense that the will does not exist in a vacuum. As with everything else, our wills are products of things that came before, they are actions caused by actions caused by actions, etc. So, NO “automaton.” Quite the opposite. Like Briggs, you need to study the subject more and from different perspectives. You don’t understand my argument.


  7. Come on, YOS, don’t present facts to JMJ, he hates them because ‘of things that came before’.

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    Mr. beach:
    That’s because Mr. McJ does not understand whereof he writes. The ‘free will’ he prances about is a product of the Scientific Revolution, not of the Scholastics. There is a nice discussion of the matter at page 35 ff at the following link,%20Thomas%20-%20On%20Evil.pdf
    including the interesting fact that Thomas never used the term free will. (And Hr. Erren’s assertion that the soul does not exist is likewise an absurdity. Try saying it in Latin and you will see.)

  9. I don’t adhere to any theory of “Free Will,” YOS. I think it’s just theological sophistry – easy answers to difficult questions that make people feel better about their backwards reactionary behavior.


  10. YOS, you may equate the spark of life with a soul. However, there is no proof that that this spark can survive separated from a body.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    I think [arbitrium liberum is] just theological sophistry – easy answers to difficult questions

    But if they were easy answers, why would you still fail to at least understand what those answers were?

    you may equate the spark of life with a soul. However, there is no proof that that this spark can survive separated from a body.

    Isn’t just me. It’s how the soul was defined until Descartes confused the issue with his res cogitans hoo-hah. [Though, I’m not sure what you mean by “spark of.”]
    Not all souls do survive death, virtually by definition. Plant and animal souls do not. Only intellective souls do, and those perhaps only in part. Briggs has recently gone though the proofs in excruciating detail, though as in all such cases, resistance to the conclusions prevents their acceptance. [This, by the way is part of Thomas’ argument that humans make free choices: arguments only compel assent in special cases, as in geometry. Otherwise, some assent and others do not; or some assent at one time or dissent at other times. See the discussion in the Introduction to De malo, mentioned earlier in this thread. It is amusingly similar to Dr. Briggs’ discussion of probability and its dependence on models and evidences.

  12. Joy

    Yawn, if the answer’s easy, the question isn’t difficult.
    “what is the question”
    ‘This is the answer. “

  13. swordfishtrombone

    @ YOS:

    “Not all souls do survive death, virtually by definition. Plant and animal souls do not. Only intellective souls do, and those perhaps only in part.”

    1. How can a fertilized egg be “intellective”?

    2. We are animals.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    1. How can a fertilized egg be “intellective”?

    a) How can your big right toe be? Space and time are inseparable, per general relativity. We don’t demand that each spatial part of a substance be “intellective” (though we suspect you may mean something more restrictive by that term) so why should we demand that each temporal part of the substance be so?
    b) How can a sleeping man be “intellective”? Or one in a medically-induced coma? Or a mentally-impaired man? Are you confusing an intellective soul with the actualization of a potency? If so, when your computer goes on the fritz, do you consider that it is no longer a computer, or only a deficient computer? What of a car that is up on blocks — does it cease to be a car? Human beings are bipedal — but does a one-legged man cease to be a man?

    These thoughts should help you deal with these issues of potency (matter/body) and act (form/soul). Recall Aristotle’s comment that if the eye were itself an animal, then vision would be its soul. (Although, as an organ rather than an organism, vision is its function, not its soul. An eye does not live on its own.)

    2. We are animals.

    Yes, indeed, a fact which the Aristotelians and Thomists recognized more thoroughly than did the Scientific Revolutionaries of later times. See here for details:

  15. Joy

    The term flogging a dead horse springs to mind.

    Bashing the bishop!

  16. Joy

    The argument presented is left to resort to word play.
    I have been struck by how bad the justification is for much of what Catholics teach their less thinking people and their earnest parishioners who have no reason to doubt their masters.

    This is the basis? Very poor. Must do better.
    Hubris was not Thomas’s problem because so little was known.
    The hubris comes from the followers and the parrots.

    You can fill a room of Catholics and charge a fee if you’ll only talk about Aquinas. Truth? who cares?

  17. Joy

    Ah yes, Sir,
    When will (W)e be returning to the post on the soul that
    “went arigh”? With YOS’s permission, of course.

    That would have been a far more instructive post.

  18. grodrigues

    “You can fill a room of Catholics and charge a fee if you’ll only talk about Aquinas. Truth? who cares?”

    Projection is a bitch.

  19. Joy

    If you knew what you were talking about it would be a start.

    The truth hurts grocers, doesn’t it?

  20. swordfishtrombone

    @ YOS: “How can a sleeping man be “intellective”?”

    As always, you use analogies to conceal rather than reveal. A fertilized egg isn’t capable of thinking, a person is (unless he/she’s read too much Aquinas).

    @ YOS: “How can your big right toe be?”

    No! Please stop, my sides are hurting.

  21. grodrigues


    “The truth hurts grocers, doesn’t it?”

    Your insulting smears of all Catholics, irrelevant comments (a yawn is not a comment in any relevant sense of the term) and stupid ignorance (the fact that your pea brain is not tainted by the least understanding does not turn what Aquinas is saying into “word play”) only qualifies as “truth”, capitalized or not, in the deranged minds of unhinged kooks.

    The fact that you intentionally miswrite my name, presumably in a poor, pathetic attempt at wit, is further evidence, if more was needed, of your irrational animus against Catholics and your generally vapid, dull, uninformed, irrelevant “commentary”.

  22. As always, you use analogies to conceal rather than reveal. A fertilized egg isn’t capable of thinking, a person is (unless he/she’s read too much Aquinas).

    Not at all. A fertilized human egg is certainly capable of thinking in time once it has reached a certain developmental stage, just as a sleeping human being is capable of thinking in time when s/he awakens. And the analogy is revealing because it exposes, in part, the attempt by personists to secret the notion of potentiality into their conception in order to save sleeping, drunken, unconscious potential persons from the fate that befalls unwanted children in utero. Oderberg in his chapter on abortion in in Applied Ethics exposes just this in the thought of Singer and Tooley.

  23. Joy

    grodders, a yawn is a comment.
    Not in the same way as “pea brain” and so on endlessly which spews forth from your fabulous spiritual mind in it’s purity and devout machination.

    As to the truth? I always tell the truth.
    As I have told you before, if you’ve got an issue with a comment, keep up, respond at the time and if you haven’t read all of the comments and all of the threads you should not assume that my comment is out of place simply because you don’t understand it

    My intellect is none of your business, actually, but has served me very well in life so far.

    As I said, Thomas isn’t the one who needs defending. If you can’t see a lazy and poor attempt at review of a text for what it is then I can only say you are biassed or given to flattery. This would be forgivable if Briggs didn’t repeatedly and often hide personal insult and attack just below the radar hoping that the likes of you won’t notice. Don’t forget, you don’t know everything that goes on.

  24. Ye Olde Statistician

    @Mr. Bone:
    It ought to be clear. A thing in general relativity is a four-dimentional extension is space-time. Think Minkowski 4-space. As such, a thing has both spatial and temporal parts. The left big toe is a spatial part of its being; the embryo is a temporal part of the being. That the embryo is not “thinking” right then and there is no different than the sleeping man is not thinking right then and there. It’s a temporary condition. The same goes for a retarded man, and others who do not measure up to your standard of “thinking”. We should not be so over-eager to exclude others from the ranks of humanity.

    The animal soul possesses the power of locomotion, but no one complains that a dog with its legs amputated has ceased to be an animal, let alone ceased to be a dog.

  25. grodrigues


    “My intellect is none of your business, actually, but has served me very well in life so far.”

    Your intellect? Naming of that non-existent thing brought a smile to my face. If you clutter a public combox with your intellectual crap, it is only fair that I point out the obvious: you are an ignorant moron. For the stated reasons. It is a charitable service to correct the ignorant, the fools and the bigoted, hopefully to wake them from their dogmatic slumber, so take it as a personal charity. No need to thank me.

    “If you can’t see a lazy and poor attempt at review of a text for what it is then I can only say you are biassed or given to flattery.”

    Brigg’s aim is perfectly clear; there is nothing lazy or poor, nor have you given any arguments to substantiate the assessment. The very phrase is the typical nonsense spewed by trolls all over the internet; nary an argument, but a lot of psychological projection spoken with the tone of authority, that if only I were not “biassed or given to flattery” I would see things your way.

    “This would be forgivable if Briggs didn’t repeatedly and often hide personal insult and attack just below the radar hoping that the likes of you won’t notice.”

    Being an unhinged kook, you think the universe revolves around you, and thus Mr. Briggs has interspersed “personal insult and attack” in an otherwise sober and circumspect review of the writings of a medieval theologian on the soul. There is no reasoning with insanity, but one does have to wonder, are those “personal insult and attack just below the radar” in opposition to your very public, open slander of entire groups (e.g. Catholics)?

    At any rate, the real question should be, why are you even reading this? You have nothing relevant to say about the OP — as you yourself recognize in a rare moment of lucidity that the problem is not with Aquinas (“As I said, Thomas isn’t the one who needs defending.”), it is some other problem you have with Mr. Briggs and Catholics in general. So here we are, having to suffer your whining, your dull, repetitive little rants and screeds. Don’t you have nothing better to do with your life? I would hazard a guess that the answer is no. But I do — and at any rate, our gracious hoist does not deserve to suffer what is at bottom a petty feud. Exeunt.

  26. Joy

    These posts are lazily put together. They are cut and pasted from the internet with a few jokes inserted.

    If is a day off for Briggs.

    You are nothing but the guard who stands with his pitchfork stopping strangers.
    This is the role you have adopted.

    As to my comment about Briggs’ attacks, you are the one projecting. Somebody taught you a term and I’ve seen you use it before with others. It’s tired and you don’t understand what it means. Asserting that something is so doesn’t make it so no matter how nasty you are.

    I think I’ve touched a nerve again with you. It’s very easy.
    You are a very proud man who doesn’t like his name adjusted. So for someone like me, that is all the excuse I need.

    If you learned to crack your face occasionally it might help. Not with me, I’m remotely interested in your opinion and stopped reading what you say in discussion a long time ago. So don’t ask why I’m reading. It’s none of your business.

    Intellects far greater than yours and mine, hey! yours and Briggs put together have found this text lacking. So it’s not about intellectual calibre. You simply are an angry Catholic defending his baby.
    Thomas would be embarrassed of you.

  27. Joy

    This sums up the view I’ve held and have stated as much over many discussions. I have come to this view precisely from reading this blog! my personal experience of Catholic people and how they respond to doctrine is part and parcel of how I formed that view. The recent revelations, t me, of the crimes against humanity carried out in the name of the catholic faith. These are all true.

    You need to distinguish between what is said about you, what is said about Catholicism and what is said about Catholics as a whole.
    What is said about Catholics as individuals, to repeat.
    You fall into one of the categories which I do not hold so high in esteem.

    You have misrepresented my comments and no doubt haven’t even read most of them.
    I don’t know if these comments will ever be posted since Briggs has taken offence, clearly.

    (I must be special, as you say) but in fact it is you who flatters yourself.
    I am under no illusions and am quite well adjusted.

    As to calling someone a troll, you should listen to Audrey Hepburn’s piece about beauty.
    Have a listen to this speech for further information.

    You can hold whoever opinion you want in whatever esteem you find suits your taste. It’s clearly your purgative. It will always be your opinion.
    So watch this and weep at the truth Fry tells.

  28. grodrigues


    “You have misrepresented my comments and no doubt haven’t even read most of them.”

    This is objectively a falsehood. As you with every single comment, a lot of posturing and grandstanding but nary an argument or evidence.

  29. Joy

    Naturally you took in all of the video speech.
    I take it you noted where my comments have covered these points previously.
    This talk, although old was only discovered by me very recently. It’s always a thrill to find you’re not the only one who concludes such a seemingly extreme view on it’s face.

    The Catholic church has some housekeeping to do and when it does it might then be able to stand proud and represent the people it pretends to serve.
    Same goes for any person persons or group who pretend to represent the Catholic church.
    Tickle anybody’s ears? It’s open season on representing the Church so I thought I’d join in.
    I note the hand wringing outraged comments from you when Briggs and Booboo berate the anglican and protestant churches. The silence was deafening. Have a listen to the podcast about doom. Briggs has hidden the transcripts.

    I will not be silenced by the likes of you. No shame, not humility and no attempt to face the truth where that is pointed out. Yet, lecture after lecture about everybody else’s sin and how many sins make five.

    You are part of a social club which has a lot of blood on it’s very recent hands.
    My Catholic friends don’t carry on like you and the other psudo-intellectual peacocks who will jump to defend only very small slights whilst ignoring completely outrageous behaviour under their own noses. THAT is bias, nothing more and is to be expected.

    There is always the excuse that people don’t read everything. It’s the only excuse you can reasonably offer.
    As to your objection to my comment, which was a light hearted jibe at JMJ’s remark, I don’t take it back at all. I don’t take anything back, actually.

    There’s one comment which is very well hidden now and which Briggs knows I regret regarding an unnamed individual. He chose to leave it there for sadistic reasons. Yet I asked for it’s removal to save others not for me. A piece of truth which haunts me to this day.

    It was not at anybody on here and it seems went without a blink, so it’s only me who has the sensitivity to realise what such a comment might mean or give a shiny shoe, to quote Philomena.

    There was an occasion where I made a comment to Peter A who no longer comments and which I felt was too harsh and uncalled for. Hhe was a reasonable, affable fellow and it was about his atheism. A true statement but I made it very bluntly, forgetting like so many on here that words typed are received by a person at the other end, not a robot.

    Other than that, where I have made mistakes they were corrected at the time. Have also made myself clear in emails to other readers who it seems did not take issue with my comments.

    All the rest is your taste and there’s no accounting for taste. Cold and dry, unless it’s Champagne, isn’t my cup of tea.

  30. grodrigues

    “I will not be silenced by the likes of you.”

    And the delusional kook continues his self-obsessed onanism with imaginary threats of silencing.

  31. Joy

    Her, graders, her…I am a girl.
    Your attempts to intimidate me by insult from “cluttering up the combox” as you so artfully stated twice now as fact and your faux self appointed arbitration of what is true based on your personal taste and opinion is worthless posturing.
    You are the one claiming madness. I am the one telling the truth.
    On the actual point? nothing, tumbleweed. No change there.
    Just keep saying kook it is Cathartic and it is a lovely word.
    Clarification on previous comment I meant the podcast on democracy not doom.

    Where Protestants, (not fellow Christians) are featured as having given up caring about sin years ago and the dichotomy of living like Socrates or living like a pig is offered as a stark life choice for mankind.
    No hysteria there at all, no exaggeration and not a hint of madness, lucidity itself!

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