De abortu (1974) and Speaker Pelosi

I got this by e-mail, and it is worthy of wider reading:

De Abortu (1974), in footnote 19, says:

"This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul."

In other words, in 1974 the CDF was explicitly not willing to say that the soul is infused at conception, while stating unequivocally that abortion is already wrong no matter what.

Evangelium Vitae 60 comes closer, but still doesn’t quite get to the point of saying for sure.

In light of that, I’m not sure exactly what the House Republicans were looking at, nor what weight it has, but it seems to me that the CDF and JP II would surely be aware if the question had been resolved 300 years ago. (Some also try to cite Ineffabilis Deus in support of this, but the same objection holds in my mind.)

None of that gets Ms. Pelosi off the hook, because both De Abortu and Evangelium Vitae (and the whole tradition of the Church) are quite clear that the question of ensoulment and whatever that might mean for the precise nature of the life taken in an early term abortion is a question that doesn’t make an ounce of difference either way in determining that abortion is always and everywhere wrong.

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  1. Jerry Boyd says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think all the moral arguments or science in the world will matter one bit to Ms. Pelosi. Her interest is not in the truth but in what serves to her political advantage. Certainly we can all hope and pray for her conversion to the truth as we can hope for the same for Biden, Kennedy and others. I seriously doubt, however, that will happen. Therefore the Bishops, including her home Bishop, must look (assuming their efforts to convert her to the truth in a timely manner fails)to minimizing damage (scandal) within and outside the Church. To do so will require firm and swift action. First a clear and public statement that she is NOT to receive the Eucharist. If that alone is ineffective, excommunication will send a strong message—maybe not to her but to the world that certain moral principles are, in the mind of the Church, non negotiable. My sense is that both here in the United States and throughout the world such definitive action by the Church will result in great respect by the majority and may tend to return some to the fiath who have bailed out over the past 30 years due to the Church’s lack of leadership.

  2. TJM says:

    Jerry Boyd’s first sentence hits the nail on the head. She, and fellow travellers, simply will not change their minds on this issue because they
    are closed like a trap. If Jesus Christ Himself appeared to Ms. Pelosi and told her she was wrong I doubt it would change anything. What
    I find so ironic in all of this, is that the Catholic Church is constantly being vilified by the left for being dogmatic and rigid. Tom

  3. John H. says:

    Father Z,

    Reading Evangelium Vitae 60, would you say that this only leaves two options to consider?

    1: As it states, “…from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth.” As such, it is a Human Being, but perhaps not having a human soul.

    2: It is a human life with a human soul.

    Given that baptism is now possible, (and valid contrary to Aquinas) in the womb, I would think the latter is the only position that makes sense. How can you have a human life that does not have its own vivifying principle as it were? Would the life somehow be vivified by an animalian soul that ceases to be such at the moment of ensoulment?

  4. Kradcliffe says:

    Jerry, your cynicism is probably well-founded. However, it’s about time these politicians who find it beneficial to tout themselves as Catholic will have to consider whether or not that’s really true before doing it in the future.

  5. Pelosi adverting to the relatively obscure question of “ensoulment” is laughably odd. Should it really be the Church’s job to point out to her, and the nation at large, that such issues are not in the competency of legislators? How in the world can the question of the presence or absence of a soul bear on human rights? If one believes there is no such thing as a soul, is that person thereby entitled to kill with impunity?

    It’s just a diversion and an attempt at justification. And I think it would be very enjoyable, and entirely apt, for us as Catholics to make this point again and again: Madam Speaker, we don’t care when you think the soul enters in–human rights and human dignity do not hinge on that question. At least some observers will catch and appreciate the irony and the truth.

    I mean, I really don’t want to embarrass her, but I don’t have to spare her the embarrassment she brings on herself.

  6. RBrown says:

    “2: It is a human life with a human soul.

    Given that baptism is now possible, (and valid contrary to Aquinas) in the womb,

    Where did you get that?

    I would think the latter is the only position that makes sense. How can you have a human life that does not have its own vivifying principle as it were? Would the life somehow be vivified by an animalian soul that ceases to be such at the moment of ensoulment?
    Comment by John H.

    According St Thomas, the sensible soul ceases to exist when it is replaced by the rational soul.

  7. Pseudomodo says:

    This question of when a person begins to exist had been answered 154 years ago

    “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, IN THE FIRST INSTANCE OF HER CONCEPTION, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

    Apostolic Constitution defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
    Pope Pius IX
    December 8, 1854.

    How could Mary be preserved from original sin if SHE did not exist at the first instance of her conception?

  8. RBrown says:


    Actually, that argument could be made using the Incarnation.

  9. John H. says:


    I don’t have a direct quote, but this is inferred from the Roman Ritual, which provides for pre-birth Baptism, both conditionally and absolutely. See the Catholic Encyclopedia here and scroll down to the heading “Baptism of unborn infants”.

    I have also heard that this is a CDF statement regarding this, but I cannot find it at the moment.

  10. TJM says:

    Father Z, bingo! I bet Pelosi wishes now she had not ventured into this issue for which she lacks competence to debate. Ironically, she
    may have contributed to advancing the pro-life cause with her ham-handedness. What I find offensive (besides the abortion itself) in all
    of this are folks marketing themselves as Catholics for some perceived political gain. I’d respect Pelosi more if she simply stated that
    her religion was a private matter and whether she was a Catholic in good standing was between her and her confessor. Tom

  11. Brian Walden says:

    John H. – I was also under the impression that baptism in the womb was invalid. Is the change because we now have the technology to make sure that the water touches the baby?

  12. Prof. Basto says:


    Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. 72 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine – I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, ALWAYS constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. 73

    NO CIRCUMSTANCE, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” (emphasys mine).


  13. John H. says:

    Brian Walden,

    That is what the Catholic Encyclopedia article states. I am sure the CDF has answered this question as well, but I am unable to find their statement on the matter. Still, the Roman Ritual does provide for baptism of the unborn.

  14. Papabile says:

    It is no use to cite Ineffabilis Deus, as the theologians supporting the Declaration, and the Holy Office itself were citing Mary’s ensoulment at conception as making her extraordinarily different than other human beings.

    With that said, I beliee ensoulment occurs at conception. Ineffabilis Deus is just not helpful here.

  15. The other David says:

    I think it should be pointed out that the statement attached to Footnote 19 of De Abortu reads:

    13. To this perpetual evidence – perfectly independent of the discussions on the moment of animation[19] – modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has demonstrated that, from the first instant, there is established the program of what this living being will be: a man, this individual man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of a human life, and each of its capacities requires time- a rather lengthy time- to find its place and to be in a position to act. The least that can be said is that present science, in its most evolved state, does not give any substantial support to those who defend abortion. Moreover, it is not up to biological sciences to make a definitive judgment on questions which are properly philosophical and moral such as the moment when a human person is constituted or the legitimacy of abortion. From a moral point of view this is certain: even if a doubt existed concerning whether the fruit of conception is already a human person, it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder. “The one who will be a man is already one.”[20]

    Pelosi has no grounds on this

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