Three SCG Chapters Touching on the Birds and the Bees

Now St. Thomas considers the formation of the Body of God Incarnate, in His mother’s womb. St. Thomas applies the doctrine about the divine Personality of Jesus to His hidden life as an unborn baby.

Leonardo da Vince Madonna and ChildAs we try to understand these chapters, we should remember that we have insights into the fertilization of a human egg by human sperm, as well as the formation of a human embryo and its development–insights that St. Thomas did not have.

In Chapter 43, St. Thomas makes an argument about the conception of the Christ that we would now say actually applies to every human being. St. Thomas recognizes that the logic of the Incarnation required that the divine Person be united with the conceived embryo at the moment of conception. Christ the embryo was a Person from the moment He came into being in the womb.

In order to understand St. Thomas’ first argument in Chapter 45, we have to keep in mind that the he did not hold this to be true for other human beings. St. Thomas thought that the embryo was “pre-human” and only became a human person with a rational soul–and a properly “human” body–at some later point in development, during pregnancy.

This explains St. Thomas’ remarks at the end of Chapter 44, where he speaks of the “quantitative” increase of the preternaturally “organized” prenatal Body of Christ. He is talking about the growth of the size of the baby’s body. In the saint’s mind, in human beings in general, that growth in size is not yet “human” until some later point during pregnancy.

Again, what St. Thomas maintains about Christ is actually true of everyone, as developments in science have taught us. The one-celled human conceptus does in fact possess the full “organization” of a human body, in the DNA. It is all just a matter of “quantitative” growth from there, with no change of substance or essence.

In Chapter 45, St. Thomas’ gets bogged-down in a controversy over whether or not the male supplies any “matter” in human conception. We can leave that aside and still appreciate the saint’s points about the power of the divine cause.

I dare you not to smile at the end of Chapter 45, when the Angelic Doctor makes a humbly manful distinction about what exactly causes a mother to lose her virginity.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 43
Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 44
Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 45

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