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.”