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Theological Catch-Up

The Pelosi business has occupied much of Catholic blogdom the past few days and is finally making its way into some mainstream media coverage, here and there.
What I want to do in this post is just offer some links to good blog posts elsewhere that are dealing with the theological questions.
Fr. Zuehlsdorf, a patristics expert, has offered good discussions of Augustine
Here is his major blog post on the subject
The importance of the conversation
He also makes the excellent point:

But Augustine also thought that males were vivified at 30 days and females at 90 days.
Does Speaker Pelosi like that position too?

Maureen at Aliens in this World takes a close look at the passage Pelosi cites in Augustine:
Moving closer to the present, Jack Smith at the Catholic Key blog (the blog of the KCMO diocesan paper) looks at the influence of Daniel Maguire and others on the matter:

Daniel C. Maguire is a theologian at Marquette University who has for years proposed that there are valid pro-choice and pro-life “traditions” in the Catholic Church. He argues that one can be in either camp and still be a good Catholic.
An early work of his on this topic was published in 1983 in Christian Century. Therein he states something remarkably close to the Speaker’s view:
“On the other hand, the teachings about abortion contained some remarkable scientific premonitions, including the insight that the early fetus could not have personal status. Said St. Augustine: “The law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide. For there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in flesh and so is not endowed with sense.” As Joseph Donceel, S.J., notes, up until the end of the 18th century “the law of the Roman Catholic Church forbade one to baptize an aborted fetus that showed no human shape or outline.” If it were a personal human being, it would deserve baptism. On the question of a rational soul entering the fetus, Donceel notes that Thomas Aquinas “spoke of six weeks for the male embryo and three months for the female embryo.” In Aquinas’s hylomorphic theory, the matter had to be ready to receive the appropriate form. According to such principles, as Rosemary Ruether points out, “Thomas Aquinas might well have had to place the point of human ensoulment in the last trimester if he had been acquainted with modern embryology.

“If the bishops and other negative absolutists would speak of tradition, let them speak of it in its full ambiguity and subtlety, instead of acting as though the tradition were a simplistic, Platonic negative floating through time untouched by contradiction, nuance or complexity.”

Any other bloggers who have been teasing apart the theological and ecclesiological issues here – let us know.
Update: Carl Olson very able dissects Tim Rutten’s piece in today’s LA Times in which Rutten seeks to enlist John Courtney Murray in the cause.

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posted August 27, 2008 at 6:41 pm

We all know that all official pronouncements start off with: “As the Church has always taught…..”, whether that’s true or not.
When the Church installs its first female deacons in modern times, it will probably make the same claim.

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posted August 27, 2008 at 7:13 pm

The Church has always condemned abortion which set it apart from the normal practices in the Roman Empire. The church also condemned exposing newborns to the elements and wild animals at crossroad and other desolate places to die or be picked up by others to raise as their own child. This “exposure” is the source of ancient myths about children being raised by sheepherders and claiming royal thrones when they grew up. The Church’s condemnation of exposing newborns and abortion made it an uncomfortable critic of what was considered normal – kind of like today.
What Pelosi was citing were arguments in a time when natural science was still a branch of philosophy. (It’s hard to tell when you are reading the ancients whether they are talking about theology or natural philosophy because these areas of knowledge had not yet separated.) They were making causal inferences from false premises with a bit of Scripture thrown in, doing the best they could to understand human physiology and biology.
About 1830 the scientific community finally realized that it wasn’t just material from the father that made a baby. With microscopes they discovered that the mother’s reproductive system produced an egg which was fertilized by the father’s sperm causing human life to begin. Before microscopes it was assumed that the mother merely nutured what had been placed within her by the father. They thought that at some point God decided to form a human out of the material; it wasn’t considered a new human life until it had limbs, etc. Then a soul was supposedly injected when the the mom first felt the baby move (quickening). Even abortions of just the supposedly inert, unformed material was evil because it crossed God’s intent to form a human from that material.
The people Pelosi cites didn’t have our scientific knowledge of conception e.g. uniting of sperm and egg resulting in an entity with DNA differing from both its parents. Even granting Pelosi’s citations about quickening and the soul entering when the fetus is formed, why isn’t she diligently working towards eliminating abortions after quickening and formation?

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posted August 27, 2008 at 9:21 pm

In the little bit of Augustine’s speculations that I could find at books online (or wherever it was the search engine finally took me; I was trying to find the context in English), he was thinking about a lot of interesting things related to the man who accidentally kills the unborn child of another in Exodus and he was doing it gingerly and humbly – because, as he said, how could he know?
One thing was whether or not the very early and so possibly unformed unsouled unanimated unborn child will be resurrected at Christ’s final coming, speculating that God could fill in any “defects”.
What I could find was deep stuff, requiring an intimate knowledge of the Bible and of the ramifications of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
I really don’t believe that Nancy Pelosi has been curling up with Augustine’s speculations about Exodus. Really, I don’t.
Particularly since she doesn’t seem to have read the Catechism yet, which would seem like the place to begin.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 4:38 am

Yeah, it’s one thing to read Augustine for interest. But his thought is not determinative in all matters. Tradition develops and corrects earlier tradition or acknowledges its rightness. Ms. Pelosi should have started with the Catechism.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 8:02 am

“About 1830 the scientific community finally realized that it wasn’t just material from the father that made a baby.”
Well, actually there was a time, in the ancient world, when the best Greek science believed that both men and women put out sperm. (Reasoning from similar mucus.) You get theologians doing theology based on that, too. Indeed, theologians have usually tried to integrate the latest science into theology, because we worship Truth Himself and there’s not two kinds of it.
That’s why we make theologians write out their reasoning. If premises or intermediary steps turn out to be faulty, we can decide whether they’re still basically right, or whether it’s a case of Garbage In, Garbage Out.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 8:27 am

No one should have thought that the speaker was introducing something new into the discussion. Her argument has been borrowed from Maguire, Wills, Catholics for free choice, etc.
In the end we need to recognize one key element from this issue: these individuals began at the point, “I support abortion rights/ I want to get elected to a political office in a district that supports abortion rights, somebody find an arugment that will justify this and allow me to continue to profess being a Catholic in good standing.”
Anyone who attempts to persuade that they were once pro-life Catholics, but as they studied Church history/doctrine discovered that a significant body of evidence existed for being a pro-abortion Catholic is simply full of b.s.
Satan is the biggest benefactor of dissent.

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bill bannon

posted August 28, 2008 at 9:11 am

I never came across a fascination with Aristotle (40-90 days for ensoulement) in Augustine but I tended to read most of his less known works.
I had wished Fr.Z gave a book/page cite for that 30-90 day claim as to its being about Augustine and he did not. It was Aquinas, not to my knowledge Augustine (who rather was moved by Exodus in this matter not by Aristotle),….but Aquinas… who followed Aristotle who claimed that males were ensouled at 40 not 30 days and females were ensouled at 90. So it is presumed that Aquinas followed the 40-90 of Aristotle because it did resemble the Bible in Leviticus 12 as to how long a woman was to be unclean after birth…40/41 days for the male/80 days for the female…
Leviticus 12 3
On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised,
and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled.
If she gives birth to a girl, for fourteen days she shall be as unclean as at her menstruation, after which she shall spend sixty-six days in becoming purified of her blood.
Thus if Aquinas accepted Aristotle’s days, it was not quite as capricious as Fr. Z’s comment leads one to believe but the number was Bible related at least to that generation to whom bible numbers were far more important than now. But the number of days is not given in the Summa T. by Aquinas but the following of Aristotle’s logic is as to the nutritive/sensitive/rational soul and each succeeding the previous stage.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 12:26 pm

It is worth noting that Daniel Maguire’s views on abortion and other issues have been condemned by the U.S. bishops as “irresponsible” and describe them as “false teaching.” He has been banned from speaking on Church property by Archbishop Dolan of Milwaukee. Of course, the good Jesuits of Marquette could care less.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 12:30 pm

I thought the Anchoress made some excellent points about Pelosi’s self-described in-depth theological study here:
“….[Pelosi] basically said she’d side with Augustine, a Doctor of the Church, born in 354 AD, who was making his best educated guess about the issue of life and ensoulment based on what folks knew at the time about, and when a mother feels the first stirrings of life within her.
While Augustine was brilliant, Mrs. Pelosi – who does not seem to be any smarter than I am – actually knows more than Augustine ever did about what is going on in the womb; technology allows us to see the beating heart of a weeks-old baby; to see the moment a sperm fertilizes and ovum and the process of cell separation begins. We’ll have to guess what Augustine would have taught about abortion, life and ensoulment had he had those images before him.
As before, I find it very difficult to understand how her acceptance of Augustine’s idea that there is no soul within the baby until the mother feels him move, at between 12 and 16 weeks squares up with her abysmal voting record on abortion and all things embryonic.
IF she really, truly believes that it’s perfectly fine to abort a living human fetus because “it has no soul, early on” then her votes in favor of late-term abortion, partial-birth abortion and so forth means that, well…for all the twisting and turning she’s doing with Augustine, she really doesn’t give a damn whether there is a soul there, or not. In her world, a woman’s right to destroy the baby – even when it has been partially delivered – trumps the life of that child, even after she has accepted it’s “ensoulment.”

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Chris Sullivan

posted August 28, 2008 at 2:04 pm

There’s a good discussion on time of ensoulement at
If the bishops and other negative absolutists would speak of tradition, let them speak of it in its full ambiguity and subtlety, instead of acting as though the tradition were a simplistic, Platonic negative floating through time untouched by contradiction, nuance or complexity.
I think that’s an excellent point and we shouldn’t be afraid to speak plainly that the doctrine here has developed over time, as doctrine does under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God Bless

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posted August 28, 2008 at 3:34 pm

That line about “not being allowed to baptize” a baby if it did not look human was a bunch of crap.
The theological term used at that time for a deformed or unformed fetus was, believe it or not, monster.
The instructions in the Rituale were thus:
If it be a monster, it should be conditionally baptized according to the formula, “If you are human, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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posted August 28, 2008 at 3:40 pm

“the best Greek science believed that both men and women put out sperm.”
Thanks. I didn’t know that.
There were a bunch of theories out there. Another one was the “homunculus” or “little man” theory that thought a complete invisible human was in the sperm and given a home by the mom where it could grow.

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Nerina Bellinger

posted August 28, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Hi Chris. If I’m understanding the points being made on this thread, and others, the main point is that abortion has always been condemned regardless of one’s view of “ensoulment.” While discussing it (ensoulment) may be interesting, it’s not relevant to the absolute teaching of the intrinsically evil nature of abortion.
And let’s be honest. The average MTP viewer isn’t going to do the heavy lifting of parsing all this out. They will hear “the Church hasn’t made up its mind about abortion. It’s okay to support abortion and remain in good standing with the Church.”

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And Yet

posted August 28, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Pelosi is right folks, Church teaching has changed over time on the issue of whether or not ensoulment occurs at conception (and whether or not abortion prior to quickening was homicide).
The RCC has always taught that abortion was a grave moral evil, but did not always teach that abortion prior to quickening was murder.
In addition to Augstine and Aquinas (the two greatest Catholic theologians whose teachings are the foundation of both the Catechism and Canon Law), several popes have explicitly stated that the soul did not enter the body prior to quickening.
1200 – Pope Innocent III wrote that when “quickening” occurred, abortion was homicide. Before that, abortion was considered a less serious sin.
1591 – Pope Gregory XIV decreed that prior to 116 days (~17 weeks), Church penalties would not be any stricter than local penalties, which varied from country to country.
Modern science allows for a different definition of quickening than movement felt by the mother, even allowing for “quickening” to occur at conception. But that is not the point. Indeed, ensoulment is not a physical concept in the first place. The existence of the soul, and when it enters the body, can never be determined by scientific instruments – no matter how advanced.
RCC doctrine has changed radically over the years in regards to usury, slavery, the death penalyt, just war, etc.
Why should it stay static in regards to ensoulment?

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posted August 28, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Nerina in #13 is correct: arguing about ensoulment in this regard misses the point entirely. Pelosi wasn’t putting forth an opinion on ensoulment; she was using St. Augustine’s writings on ensoulment as support for an assertion that the Church has not always forbidden abortion.

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Dim Bulb

posted August 28, 2008 at 6:02 pm

1. How is it that the early Church Fathers, theologians, and even the Church today can condemn abortion when the issue of when life begins is still in question?
2. Why can’t people appeal to the “when life begins” issue to justify the practice of abortion?
The answer is quite simply: the sin of intention.
“The exact time when a fetus becomes ‘animated’ has no practical significance as far as the morality of abortion is concerned. By any theory of ‘animation’ abortion is gravely wrong. Why so? Because every direct abortion is a sin of murder by intent. It is, to say the least, probable that every developing fetus is a human being. To deliberately kill what is probably human is murder.
“If a person does not know for certain that his action is not killing another human being, he must accept the responsibility for doing so. Anyone who is willing to kill what may be human is, by his intention, willing to kill what is human. Consequently, the one who performs or consents to abortion inescapably assumes the guilt of voluntary homicide.” -The Catholic Catechism, John A. Hardon, S.J.
Commenting on a statement by St Jerome Father Hardon writes: “the reference to murder of a human being not yet conceived is typical of the Catholic tradition, which sees in the contraceptive mentality a homicidal willingness to destroy in the womb what attempted sterilization did not prevent.
The Declaration on Procured Abortion issued by the CDF states: “From the moral point of view this is certain: even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder.”

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posted August 28, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Could someone please cite a single authoratative document in which the Catholic church taught that providing/procurring an abortion was at best morally neutral or even more so morally positive?
Can anyone really argue that the Church is still undergoing development in this area?
Chris Sullivan and And Yet, do you argue that some abortions are okay because the child has not been ensouled?
I move that we throw Pelosi, Biden, Durbin, etc. into a giant blender and let ‘er rip, on the grounds that they are souless bastards. Would anyone else care to develop this doctrine with me?

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And Yet

posted August 28, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Ken – the RCC has always condemned abortion (and rightfully so) as a great moral evil. It has not always claimed it was homicide prior to quickening.
There is a difference.
I am pro-life but I refuse to be so on the basis of half truths and spin. Facts are hard things. You can’t fight for truth using lies as weapons.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 8:20 pm

And yet:
Do you understand that you are educating exactly no one? That the terms of the discussion, as you outline it, are the terms and distinctions understood by Catholic theologians and philosophers?

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Patrick Molloy

posted August 28, 2008 at 8:57 pm

If she really wants to get fancy Speaker Pelosi might bring up the conflict between Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas regarding ensoulment (Dante favored Albert, cf. Purgatorio XXV, 52-57). And then there’s Siger of Brabant … We await the results of her research.

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posted August 28, 2008 at 9:19 pm

And yet: “RCC doctrine has changed radically over the years in regards to usury, slavery, the death penalyt, just war, etc”
No, it hasn’t. And even if it has, which it hasn’t, the conviction that life is from God and taking an innocent unborn life is wrong hasn’t changed one iota.
Nerina: “The average MTP viewer isn’t going to do the heavy lifting of parsing all this out.” That’s what makes what Pelosi did wicked.

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Chris Sullivan

posted August 29, 2008 at 1:15 am

Chris Sullivan and And Yet, do you argue that some abortions are okay because the child has not been ensouled?
Certainly not.
A human life exists at conception. The exact moment of ensoulment is not relevant to the morality of killing an innocent human life even if God has not yet infused it with a spiritual soul.
God Bless

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Bill Bannon

posted August 29, 2008 at 9:25 am

There is support for your position in the fact that Adam had a nose before he was ensouled….lol:
Genesis 2:7 “the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”
And I’m still not sure whether some of the Chinese female gymnasts in the olympics were of age to be ensouled….or compete.
On a more serious note, one must accept as a mystery perhaps why God commanded the stoning of adulteresses and engaged girls who proved not to be virgins (See Deuteronomy 22) when that very stoning had to result in some cases of abortion via the agency of the stoning itself.
Perhaps this is an extreme but necessary (prior to grace…Jn1:17)…example of double effect wherein both good and evil occur simultaneously with the evil not being willed….and with the evil not being logically abortion in every respect but only physically.

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posted August 29, 2008 at 2:24 pm

I may be really cynical, but I think Pelosi basically was trying to draw attention away from Biden for the political purpose of allowing people to complain about HER brand of “ardent Catholic faith” so we won’t be distracted by Biden’s similar positions. Does she really think she has such theological insight? Puh-leez. I don’t recall her ever saying a thing about the Church Fathers before this incident.
And everyone bit, and dog-piled…and nobody is writing a thing about Biden’s views. So, it worked.
Thank God McCain chose Sarah Palin today. Now, voters will be forced to confront the fact that Biden is just as bad as Pelosi on this issue.

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posted August 29, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Dr. John C. Rao, D. Phil. Oxon., is Associate Professor of History at St. John’s University, Director of the Roman Forum/Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute, and former President of Una Voce America. A well-regarded speaker as well as writer, Dr. Rao presents a lecture series on Church history in New York and as part of the Roman Forum’s Summer Symposium at Lake Garda in Italy. The New York lecture series is open to the general public, and applications for the Summer Symposium are available through the Roman Forum’s website. Tapes of those and other lectures are available from
The article I’m referring to is titled “March for Life, Not for Bush” can be read on the site clicking on the title towards the bottom of the page. It seems to me to have implications for the current presidential election. I’d be interested in your reactions.

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Et Liberat Scurbet

posted September 1, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Canonical fakes are grand and common. No scripture will include them. Augustine’s agog at singing at church is a satire of this.
The law is very specific. What can be said may be pro translated as de facto.
De novo segregation exists. De facto segregation will exist until the end of time. And de jure segregation is really over.
De novo, the university graduate diplomae of America are prochoice, opposed to noprice immigration, and interested in legal, norm homosexuality. Otherwise they thus then made would be poor.

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