Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Do animals have souls?

The following question from an anonymous blogger, even though it was asked a while ago, is particularly timely now, as so much discussion is taking place in our country about animals as a result of the Michael Vick case. “Why do Catholics think that animals do not have souls? Does the Bible talk about this or is this just our assumption?”

First, the Catholic Church does not teach that animals do not have souls. With the help of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church understands soul to mean “life”. So, all things that have life – animals, plants, humans, etc. – have souls. Do all living things have the same type of soul? No. In response to the question of whether animals go to Heaven, Dr. Richard Geraghty, PhD, explains that the differences between the souls of humans and animals involve intellect, free will, and immortality (from ewtn.com):

“…all living things have a soul. Here soul is defined as what makes an organic body live. Now when any living thing dies, its soul is separated from its body. In the case of plants and animals the soul goes out of existence. But in the case of man, the soul remains in existence because it is a spiritual or immaterial thing. Consequently, it differs from the souls of animals in two important respects. First, it is the seat of intelligence or reason. For this reason a man is held responsible for his actions in a way that animals are not.

Secondly, the soul is immortal. A thing which has no physical parts cannot fall apart or be poisoned or be crushed or be put out of existence. For this reason the souls of the saved will always be aware of themselves as enjoying the vision of God for all eternity. This enjoyment will be the result of having chosen to act on earth in such a way that one did the will of God rather than one's own will. And the souls of the damned will be aware of themselves as never attaining this vision of God because they have shown by their lives on earth that they did not wish this vision but instead preferred their own will.

In the light of this essential difference between human beings and animals, it would seem that we would not see the souls of our pets in heaven for the simple reason that they do not have immortal souls and are not responsible for their actions. They do not have the intelligence which allows them to choose either God's will or their own will. There is, then, an incomparable distance, say, between the soul of the sorriest human being who ever lived and the most noble brute animal that ever walked the earth.

Now a child might be heartbroken at the thought that he will never see his pet again. He cannot yet understand this explanation about the difference between the human and the animal soul. I suppose that one could tell the child that when he hopefully gets to heaven, he could ask God to see his old pets if he still wished to. There would be no harm in that. For we know that when a person finally sees God, he will not be concerned with seeing old pets or favorite places but rather will be captured in the complete fulfillment of the joy of which old pets and favorite places are but little signs. We adults know that, even if the child does not. For more information on how the Church sees animals in the lives of human beings, check the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2415-2418...”


A slightly different view on whether animals can go to Heaven comes from Fr. John Hardon, S.J.:

“Pets, as pets, do not go to Heaven. But animals and such like beings may be said to be brought to Heaven because, after the Last Day, they can serve as part of the joys of Heaven. In other words, animals and such like creatures may be said to be brought to Heaven to serve as part of our Heavenly joys. Clearly, we do not need pets to provide happiness in Heaven. But pets and such like creatures will be brought to Heaven to become part of our creaturely happiness in the Heavenly kingdom. Consequently, we may say that animals and such like creatures may be brought to Heaven by God to enable us to enjoy them as part of our creaturely happiness in Heavenly beatitude.”

7 Comments:

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

A while ago, I was talking to Jim Boccabella, the summer seminarian, about some of the practical aspects of preparing for the priesthood. He mentioned that he sold his home. I’ve been wondering- why? I am of the understanding, although it may be incorrect, that priests are permitted but not encouraged to own property. Priests own cars and boats, which are kinds of property. From a financial perspective, wouldn’t it be better to maintain ownership of that kind of asset to be used for, if nothing else, retirement? And if they have sold their homes, where do priests live when they retire?

 
At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a book coming out about Mother Teresa that is a compilation of correspondence from her to her confessors and others spanning 60-plus years. The letters (if authentic) show that for most of her life she lived in a state of constant spiritual pain because she did not feel the presence of God and even doubted the existence of God and heaven. The book claims that she described herself as living in utter darkness. I know that prior to this it was known that she experienced periods of spiritual crisis, but this book apparently says that it was present throughout most of her adult life. What do we make of this? Occasionally on this blog people talk about spiritual struggle and the answer generally is: you must be open, you must sin less, you must confess your sins, you must pray, you must listen for God, you must give to others. Mother Teresa did those things probably more than any of us can imagine. Why would God torture her?

 
At 4:12 PM, Blogger fran said...

Suffering, whether it be spiritual, physical or mental, is part of living. I don't believe I know anyone who has not had his or her share of suffering.

God allows suffering. He does not orchestrate it, direct or inflict it upon a specific individual. The actual human experience of suffering, whatever the form, may feel like torture to us, but God certainly does not use suffering to "torture" anyone. After all he is a loving God.

Suffering occurs because of each and every one of our sins. And it is through the act of suffering that reparation for sin in the world is made.

I have friends who have suffered and continue to experience suffering because of children they have lost to cancer and to car accidents. I have friends who have suffered during marital crises.
Mother Teresa did not receive "immunity" from suffering, because she was Mother Teresa. In fact I think it was IN and THROUGH her suffering that she is Mother Teresa and may one day be a saint.

You see the focus should not be on the suffering itself, but rather on the way one handles his or her suffering; how one uses it to become more perfect and glorify God. This is what Mother Teresa did.

I believe we have much to learn from those who suffer. I have learned from my friends and their suffering. I have found in them tremendous inspiration, and hope that if I ever have to endure the suffering that they have, that I will be able to do it with the same grace.

Also,
In yesterday's post, Fr. Greg talks about purgatory on earth. I think this is pertinent to this topic as well.

 
At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lvwswus"Suffering occurs because of each and every one of our sins."

Sometimes, I don't understand how to connect what we experience with a sin that we committed. For often we experince suffering as a result of the actions of another. Choosing to forgive doesn't always eliminate hurt. Instead, you choose to move forward with or without the hurt. You committed no sin and chose to forgive another's, and yet, suffering still occurs. This is the scenario with which I struggle most, for at times, it seems, no matter what you do, you are destined to suffer.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger fran said...

Hi Anon,
Here is some additional explanation on the sin and suffering scenario, the way I understand it. And yes, I agree, it can be hard to grasp.

Suffering occurs not just because of the sins each of us commit in our own lives, but because of the sins that others commit as well. In other words, my sins cause you to suffer and the sins of my next door neighbor, or someone in some far flung country, cause me to suffer. So,when someone does something that causes you pain and suffering, it is not solely a result of your sins, but rather the result of sins committed by others.

I don't think many, or any of us, make it out of this world without some form of suffering. Prayer, reception of the Sacraments, being open to God's grace, loving your neighbor as yourself, all of the things that were mentioned in another "anon's" post are the ways we can live with our suffering and become better because of it. It is in doing these things that our suffering can be turned to joy.

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger fran said...

A final thought on sin and suffering:

When our suffering seems too much to bear, recall the suffering that Jesus Christ and his beloved mother endured, as a result of our sins. Our suffering will pale in comparison.

 
At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life!!

Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storm will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push us in the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our
Captain, who is Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

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