…on controversial issues – In a political season, we hear statements about the Catholic church that don’t reflect what has been historically true: it has in the past sanctioned both gay marriage and abortion.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden is telling the Catholics in his audiences that St. Thomas Aquinas had a different teaching on abortion than the current pope and his immediate predecessors. Many Catholics are saying, “He simply cannot be right.” Well, the short answer is: Biden is right. The news media are saying that American bishops are giving him a theology lesson on abortion. Mr. Biden is in a position to give them one right back.

Religious scholar Frank K. Flinn, the author of the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, says, “The Catholic teaching on abortion has complex roots in Jewish teaching, Greek thought and early Christian doctrine. Jewish teaching shows great reverence for life as a gift from God. The law of compensation in Exodus 21:22 makes a distinction between the penalty for striking a pregnant woman that ends in the loss of the fetus (a monetary amount) or the mother (death).

“The Greek Septuagint text of this verse shows the influence of Greek thought. It distinguishes between incompletely and completely formed fetuses, and exacts a penalty of death in the case of the abortion of the latter. This is a clear reference to Aristotle’s distinction between three types of souls corresponding to three types of living beings: plants, animals and humans. Aristotle taught that the human fetus does not receive a human soul until it takes on a human form. This became known as the delayed hominization thesis or the late implanting of the human soul.

“?The abortion question entered into a new phase during the Middle Ages. St. Anselm of Canterbury gave the most forceful statement in favor of the delayed hominization thesis: ‘No human intellect accepts the view that an infant has the rational soul from the moment of conception.’ St. Thomas Aquinas also accepted Aristotle’s theory of the late appearance of the human soul in the fetus. He taught that the abortion of a fetus before it has the human soul is a sin against marriage but that it is not murder. The famous medieval jurist Gratian wrote, ‘He is not a murderer who brings about abortion before the soul is in the body.’

“?Since Donum Vitae was issued in 1987, several Catholic moral theologians have noted that the fertilized egg at the blastosphere stage is not a physical individual until it is restricted by implantation in the wall of the uterus. This does not happen for about two weeks after fertilization. The early cell group can split into twins, etc., or split and be reabsorbed by the original set of cells. This argues for delayed ensoulment like Aristotle’s. Those who uphold the immediate infusion of the soul at conception are forced into the rather irrational position of having God infuse billions of souls at conception and then immediately discarding the cells that bear them.

“?Today the Roman Catholic Church often likes to promote the theory that its teachings on abortion are eternal. The history of the abortion controversy clearly demonstrates that this theory cannot be true. Whether a Catholic agrees with Joe Biden or not, he is still right about St. Thomas Aquinas and many other authoritative teachers of Catholic doctrine in the past, including popes. Both the current papacy and the American episcopacy themselves stand in need of a lesson in Catholic doctrinal history.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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