The Fetal Development of Jesus

ST III Q6 a3
ST III Q6 a4

Nota Bene

If you pay careful attention to article 4, objection 2, you will note that St. Thomas takes for granted that the first stage of normal fetal development does not involve a human person with a rational soul, but rather material that can develop into the flesh of a human person.

More-recent observations of prenatal life have put this presumption of St. Thomas’ into a different light, to say the least. Our current state of knowledge makes the traditional concept of “quickening”–at some mid-point in pregnancy–meaningless, as far as identifying the presence of a distinct human person.

If you remember Question 4, article 1, you know that St. Thomas holds that it is precisely the rationality and intellectuality of human nature that makes it ‘assumable’ by the Word of God.

Therefore, St. Thomas has to argue that the infinite divine power perfected the nascent physical matter of Christ’s flesh instantaneously, at the moment of conception, by a miracle.

For most of us pro-life Catholics, this is actually the way we think of every pregnancy, given what we now know about pre-natal development.

But it does not help the pro-life cause for us to overstate our case. So, to clarify, when it comes to official Church teaching (which St. Thomas did uphold):

The Church teaches that intentional abortion is wrong. She does not teach the precise metaphysical why.

The victim of the act of violence involved in an intentional abortion may have a rational soul, but we don’t know for sure.

That said, even the mere possibility that the victim of the act of violence has a rational soul; and the certainty that the victim is developing into a rational human being the same way we all did, when we were at that stage–either one is enough to stay the hand that would do violence.

The Church does not have official teaching about when the soul begins to animate the flesh in the womb. But the moral obligation not to do violence remains clear anyway.



One thought on “The Fetal Development of Jesus

  1. I have read, I cant remember where now, probably a Rabbi’s work where it is suggested that sometimes the soul only arrives after birth . I lean towards that because of two experiences. One my own. I was wrapped tight in a blanket. My father had deserted my mother and I and she had to go to her mother for help. It was clear no one thought they could care for me. My grandmother was angry with my mother for running off with a musician who left his wife and two little boys … She was too old yo care for me. And dog poor. So mom had to work and find a husband fast. Thing was I knew everyone. I also knew everything would be fine and I understood language. But, I could not move and I discovered that I could not speak. I wanted to say it will be fine, but I couldn’t. I went to sleep and next thing I was running and speaking and it was fine.
    Years later in a store a baby was screaming. Her mom wanted to buy shoes. This girl screamed. I bent down and saw she had consciousness so I explained about her mother and told her it would go faster if she stopped screaming. She stopped screaming. Some babies are gorgeous and all, but they are not conscious yet and you can tell looking at their eyes. Infants understand everything. One should not reject them in their presence. It diminishes their worth with long lasting effects. Some babies know their future. Sometimes the angel doesn’t touch their lips to make them forget it all until later. Just my experience.

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