ASK FATHER: Will I have my pets again in heaven?

halo dog


People have been asking me: Are there animal in heaven?  Will I have my pets in heaven?

This has probably been stirred up by something Pope Francis reputedly said recently in the press  (as it turns out, it was false reporting, but here goes):

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

First and foremost, this was not – good grief… do I have to write this? – a definitive statement.

The Roman Pontiff does not teach definitively, or even seriously, through interviews with journalists of any country, much less with the Italian media.

So, we can and should simply draw a line through this whole thing.

That said, animals, “brute beasts”, do not have immortal souls in the way human beings do. Do they have souls? Yes. They have their animal souls. Can they feel fear, etc? Of course they can. That doesn’t make their souls immortal. They are not proportioned to the consideration of eternal things, as human souls are.  We have our souls directly from God with no intermediary.  As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, and I think he is right, God must somehow be involved with the creation of animal souls, but they seems to have their souls through their bodies rather than directly from God.  When animals die, their souls die with them.

Could there be critters in heaven?

I suppose one way to look at it is this: If, for some reason, our eternal happiness were somehow dependent on the presence of critters in life the come, then I suppose there could be critters.

However, in the Beatific Vision, in seeing God, we will not need any created thing for our happiness. That’s pretty clear. So, there is no need for critters in heaven.  Who knows, but that leads me to think that there will not be critters around us as we contemplate the Holy Trinity in communion with the Holy Angels and each other.  Why would we?

Animals don’t have immortal souls. They don’t do things that are meritorious in the way we can. They don’t sin in the way we do. They don’t need a Savior.

That said, at the end of things Christ will submit all of creation to the Father so that God might be all in all. I have no idea what that means in regard to critters. I suppose we will see in that moment how critters fit into God’s plan for us.

In our Judgment we shall certainly be judged according to how well we carried out our role as stewards of creation. We were given all of material creation for our proper use. We mustn’t abuse critters. We can use them, but properly. If we consciously misuse them, we sin, either venially or mortally.

That said, I hope we will still be able to have steak and Cabernet.

But, let’s settle down about this and not get excited or put reason aside in favor of sentimentality. It isn’t that important.

Finally… think about this for while:

If pets can go to heaven, they can also go to hell.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. chantgirl says:

    It won’t be Heaven if cats are involved….or snakes.

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    “If pets can go to heaven, they can also go to hell.”

    Now, now, hold on a dang minute, there. Most animals do not rise to the level of intelligence of a seven year old human, so, technically, they don’t even reach the age of reason, so, they cannot culpably sin. They are like very young children at best and anencephalic children, at worst, so, while they could, maybe (big maybe) go to Heaven, I don’t see that they can go to Hell.

    Of course, chickens are exempt from this discussion by the natural fabulousness of their creation. Who would not want chickens in Heaven?

    The Chicken

  3. Mike says:

    Thanks for the clarification. One of my freshman brought this up in class this week, and now I have the reference.

    Much of this, as well, I think stems from current ideologies that seek to blur the difference (a difference in kind, not degree) between humans and the rest of the visible creation.

  4. Thorfinn says:

    I was pleased to hear Pop Francis make a comment earlier this year that people should not substitute owning pets for raising children.

    Also, we get this gem from the NY Times: a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council reading Francis through Benedict:

    “As on quite a few other things Pope Francis has said, his recent comments on all animals going to heaven have been misinterpreted,” Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said in an email. “They certainly do not mean that slaughtering and eating animals is a sin.” Mr. Warner quoted passages from Genesis that say man is given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.”

  5. texsain says:

    Peter Kreeft has address this issue many places. He said basically what you said, Father. But I think he also added something like that other created things, like animals and plants, will be ultimately to shine forth the glory of God, as they are here, and that if pets are in heaven, they may or may not necessarily be the exact same pet. God could, if He chooses so, could resurrect the soul of an animal. Or he could copy it. Or he could just let it not be.

    Personally, I think: who cares? I’d rather be in Heaven with God and without my cat than in hell with my cat (well, probably my old cat, not my current one) and without God.

  6. Cesare says:

    An Eastern Orthodox friend of mine once posited to me that, while animals don’t have immortal souls, he believed that at the parousia they could have some kind of share in the new creation. He wasn’t telling me, I don’t think, that they would have glorified bodies like humans will, but that they might have some kind of existence again in the new heaven and new earth. This makes more sense to me than the somewhat simplistic “animals go to heaven” line.

  7. anilwang says:

    C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity made a nice distinction which I’ll try to explain (poorly). There are three types of creatures I forgot his terminology, but let’s just call them personal beings (Angels, People), sentient creatures (e.g. higher primates), and brute beasts (bugs). Brute beasts simply react to their environment and don’t really have a continuity of conscience so there no awareness that one minute is any different that the next. There is no continuity of self, so it make no sense to speak of everlasting life for these creatures. It makes sense to speak of everlasting life for sentient creatures but only humans and angels are personal creatures that are able to have communion with God. Given that we know that Heaven is communion with God, this leaves non-personal sentient creatures out in the God.

    But we don’t know all the details or God’s complete will for creation. We are only given a shadow in Eden, where Adam was given Priestly duties over creation (at least according to Scott Hahn and several Jewish scripture scholars I’ve read).

    From my perspective, God has now shown himself to be a miser with his creation. Look at the universe itself. Whether or not there is life on other worlds, it’s clear that our Universe is unimaginable huge…much much larger than is needed if all God was interested in is personal beings.

    And though in Heaven we will be life angels, we will also have bodies so there is some physical element to Heaven where animals could potentially live, if God chose to express his Glory by providing a space for creatures who could not commune with him. And animals were not superfluous in Eden, so perhaps not in Heaven? But we don’t know, and if we arrive in heaven we will have God’s will, so we will be comfortable with whatever God ordained is wise. So we shouldn’t fret one way or another.

  8. texsain says:

    “If pets can go to heaven, they can also go to hell.”

    I’ve had some pets that will definitely burn if that’s the case.

  9. Legisperitus says:

    St. Thomas said animals exist primarily as members of their species, not as individuals (or something to that effect). So the species is the main thing and it lives on after each animal dies.

    But C. S. Lewis went a little soft on this question. He speculated about whether a pet which grew very close to its owners could take on a kind of shadowy participation in their humanity and obtain some sort of perseverance in its individual personality as an extension of its human family.

    Of course, scientifically (which is to say theologically) this is insupportable. Still, while I don’t necessarily want to invoke the “God of surprises,” God’s mercy is often greater than we expect. We have been told of a new heaven and a new Earth, so maybe there are a few critters there.

  10. acricketchirps says:

    I dunno about pets going to Hell, but I’ve had cats from that place.

  11. Nicholas says:

    Fr. Z: the one who could remind us of the consequences of sin while talking about cute, fuzzy animals.

  12. acricketchirps says:

    Old priest that brought me back home, married me and baptised my first 3 (paraphrased):

    Woman: Will Mr. Fluffy be in Heaven with me.
    Priest: No, Pomeranians do not have immortal souls, so they can’t go to Heaven.
    Woman (weeping): I will not be happy in Heaven if Mr. Fluffy isn’t there.
    Priest: If that is true, then Mr. Fluffy will certainly be in Heaven with you.
    Woman (drying her eyes and smiling): Oh, thank you, Father!

  13. poohbear says:

    If happiness in heaven depends on having your pet there, I think there is something wrong. [Right. It wouldn’t be heaven.] You will be in the presence of God, if that’s not enough to make you happy, then I think you may be missing the point.

  14. acricketchirps says:

    Forgot to write (RIP) after “Old priest”.

  15. StMichael71 says:

    This shouldn’t cause much heartburn, as it seems to be easily read in the same sense CS Lewis claimed in regard to animals. That’s quite possible and we can concede as a permissible theological hypothesis/opinion that pets might be resurrected/re-created in the glorified universe. No revelation for it directly (although the way in which creation “groans” for redemption is suggestive) nor revelation against it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. On the other hand, he never said animals had immortal souls – that is how the media interpreted it. His claim was “paradise” – which would be correct if one wanted to read the comment as about the future earthly paradise.

  16. Robbie says:

    If dogs can got to Hell, I imagine it might look something like how Family Guy portrayed. Satan would be chasing Fido around with a vacuum cleaner!

  17. servulus indignus Christi says:

    Not a definitive statement….indeed

    And yet is that the point? Are we to hope that the secular world, let alone the vast majority of un-catechized Catholics, makes such distinctions? No, the real points is bishop of Rome Francis, yet again, has shown the vice of making flippant remarks that are wildly out of touch with real Catholic teaching, thought and sensibility.

    The real point–and problem–is that there is a man in white who is supposed to be a universal pastor of souls and yet through an utter disregard of any prudence has yet again scandalized the world and created difficulties for Catholics actually trying to be faithful.

    These are strange times and I would much rather have a Borgia Pope for all his gross immorality than a Pope who either doesn’t know, rejects or flat doesn’t care about Church teaching and sane immemorial praxis. God deliver us from the littleness of men, for we have all sinned and done what is evil.

    This ridiculous comment is just the latest episode that should be an impetus for faithful Catholics to do penance that God might in His mercy grant the Church authentic renewal.

  18. robtbrown says:

    Greetings from Clear Creek.

    Obviously, plants and animals do not have, as Fr Z pointed out, souls that survive death, so that a particular animal or plant would not be present in the Final Resurrected State. Bowser and Kitty are gone forever–and they ain’t comin’ back.

    St Thomas thought also there would be no plants or animals in the renewed Final State–there would be no need for them. Their purpose would no longer exist.

    An argument against his position is that plants and animals are part of the Creation, which will be renewed.

    Further, it might be said that plants and animals are part of the adornment of Creation, thus it would be appropriate that they be present in the Final State. Opposed to that argument, however, is that the movement of the heavens can also be considered part of the adornment. That movement will cease when Time ceases.

  19. The Pope made these remarks to comfort a little boy whose dog had died – so they are even lower on the Totem Pole of Authoritative Utterances than a media interview.

  20. Father P says:

    The context of this “papal declaration” was in response to a question of a child whose pet had just died.

    Sometimes, the Holy Father gets criticized for his imprecision. Other times I find him so nuanced and precise that he gets misunderstood and criticized not for what he really said but for what people thought he said. But… What Did Francis Really Say

    “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ.”
    I agree with Father Z theologically and anthropologically that only human beings have immortal souls. But, notice the nuance. We will SEE our animals IN THE ETERNITY of Christ. This, I think is both pastorally sensitive and theologically correct. In the eternity of Christ every moment of our life (actually all of history) will be present to us…so YES we will SEE our animals. Not because THEY continue to exist but because WE do. [? In our memories, maybe.]

    “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
    The Catechism speaks of the transformation of the whole physical universe. That COULD include animals being a part of the new earth. Personally, I think not but that doesn’t mean that it is unacceptable for Catholics to think so.

  21. LarryW2LJ says:

    Agreed, a prime cuts steak with a lobster tail on the side would be nice.

  22. paladin says:

    I’m with Chicken, on this one. :)

    For what it’s worth, C.S. Lewis (yes, I’m fully aware of the fact that he’s not Catholic!) had some interesting ideas about that; his proposal (in Mere Christianity, among other places) revolved around the idea that, just as humans access Heaven to the extent that they participate in the Divine Life (i.e. sanctifying grace), animals might have access to Heaven to the extent that they participate in human life.

    In other words: when we grow closer to Christ through His free gift of communion with us, we grow to be more like Him; His life (God willing) increases, while our fleshly life decreases and is eventually left behind. This is the only way by which we can be saved, since the extent to which we cling to earthly life (“the flesh”) is the extent to which we cannot access Heaven. Just so (Lewis says), in the case of animals who, through the free gift of communion which is bestowed on them by humans (and by this, he meant higher-order pets specifically–not the run-of-the-mill lizard or mollusk in the wild, but animals which can grow and adapt to become “more human” in actions and emotions); he imagined those animals who had experienced that sort of “communion” (no, I’m not trying to equivocate human/Divine communion with this type) might possibly “ride on the coat-tails of their masters” to paradise.

    Yes, non-human animal souls are, by their nature, finite (and not immortal), since immortality would be completely inert/vacuous to a creature with no sense of identity perduring through time). We would not expect these animals to have access to Heaven by their nature alone. It would only be through the positive Will of God that they could attain Heaven. But since the Sacred Deposit of Faith is silent on the subject, I’m not inclined to say to anyone that “pets in Heaven” is impossible. That would be, and it must be (barring an infallible statement from the Magisterium), mere personal opinion, I think.

  23. Kathleen10 says:

    I don’t know if they will be in heaven or not. I’d like to think so. I’ve read of near death experiences where the person claimed they didn’t even give their human loved ones a thought, despite having families they loved very much, so we may not care about dogs or cats once we get there. Apparently, heaven is an exhilarating place where people tend to forget earthly matters. That’s good.
    But I differ with you on one tiny point, Fr. Z. Animals, especially dogs, can demonstrate meritorious behavior. There have been lots of reports of canine bravery in the military domain, and just anecdotally, one hears of remarkable acts of canine loyalty and courage. Recently a beagle mix in the US rode 18 miles on the outside footrest of an ambulance without the EMT’s knowing he was there. His elderly master had been picked up after feeling dizzy, and the ambulance had to be alerted en route by other drivers that the dog was riding along outside the vehicle. There’s no reason for a dog to do this other than he wanted to be with his master no matter what and he cared about where he was going to a heroic degree. Things like this are not unusual, thanks to the internet we get to hear about them and appreciate how devoted a companion a dog can be. They are so loyal and loving, often far beyond what their human beings actually deserve. Many a person has hurt my feelings over the years, been disloyal, etc., but my dog, not so much. Not to mention every time we came in the door it was a private ticker tape parade. Maybe the amount of love they give seems heroic when you’re the recipient. It seems out of proportion to the simplicity of the creature and goes beyond just their acknowledging you feed them or care for them. They truly love.
    God may have given us companion animals as a simple comfort in life. I’m grateful. I wish as many human beings exhibited the fine qualities of quite a few dogs I’ve known. We’d have a much nicer world.

  24. Choirmaster says:

    So, our earthly critters do not have an eternal component.

    Is it possible that there are eternal critters that don’t have a material component? As a mouse is to a man, so is such a critter to an angel?

    [Ummm… no.]

  25. anachy says:

    A few comments on this issue:
    First, I’m little interested in what Pope Francis has to say on this (or probably most) issues, so my comments here are in no way influenced by anything he may or may not have said about it.

    Second, we seem to be operating on the assumption that heaven is all about us and what we need. Is that so? Or, is it all about the glory of God and our eternal worship of Him? If the latter, what makes us think God Almighty doesn’t delight in the beautiful creatures He made and want them to be part of eternity? I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that God would create so many magnificent – and sinless – creatures only to cast them aside like garbage. Perhaps His purpose in creating them was for HIS benefit as much as ours. Did He not create them first, after all, before Adam & Eve? Granted, He wasn’t satisfied with His handiwork at that point, so created man in his image – but it doesn’t necessarily follow from that that He has no concern for the non-human creatures, in their own right, that He breathed forth. Besides, I hardly think heaven is so finite that it lacks room for other of God’s creatures than man. If God wants them there, I think they’ll fit, even if WE don’t need them there in order for us to glorify God.

    Third, no offense intended to anyone, but I get the feeling that many people who discuss this issue know precious little about animals and what they are and are not about/capable of.

    Finally, I think C.S. Lewis has addressed this question better than anyone in his book “The Problem of Pain.” Anyone even slightly interested in this question would do well to read his chapter in that book on animal pain (which addresses not just the matter of animal suffering, but their place in the afterlife).

  26. Tony Phillips says:

    Dobermans and pit bulls all go to hell. (The technical term for this is double predestination.)

  27. acardnal says:

    “Tu es PETA?”

  28. frahobbit says:

    Well I dearly hope there will be flowers in Heaven…Pansies, roses, lilies, and anything that is beautiful. BTW I like Thorfinn’s typo: “Pop” Francis somehow fits the situation.

  29. Papabile says:

    I think I have finally figured out Francis’ modus operandi with respect to evangelization and teaching.

    1. Issue an incredibly confusing statement that touches on either dogma, doctrine, or faith & morals.

    2. Sit back and watch the exasperated Priests explain the dogma, doctrine, or faith & morals that ware actually involved.

  30. Phil_NL says:

    I’d say the crucial point is that Heaven defines the most desirable state; so desirable even, we cannot as humans comprehend it, this side of the veil.

    Now pugsy won’t be in Heaven on its own account – the nature of an animal ‘soul’ (frankly, I wouldn’t even use that term) would be different. But we cannot tell if our Lord somehow will provide pugsy, or fluffy, or Caesar the cat as part as the bliss He has in store for us. I suspect that thought ascribes too much of the earthly features we know to Heaven, but who knows? The affection some people have for their pets is extraordinary.

    What we can safely say, however, (by the nature of Heaven) is that if the critters aren’t there, it will still be so good we won’t miss them.

  31. albizzi says:

    “If pets can go to heaven, they can also go to hell.”
    May I disagree?
    Animal are innocent beings: They have no understanding about good vs evil. Therefore they cannot sin and they don’t experience the consequences of the original sin.
    IMHO if Hell is full of damned human beings, there is no animal here. [Nor in heaven. That’s the point. It’s… irony.]

  32. lsclerkin says:

    I hope there’s ribeye steak in heaven.
    Medium rare.
    Marinated in beer.
    If it ain’t outa keepin’ with the situation.

  33. JARay says:

    Of far greater concern to me would be to see one or more of my very dear sons lined up amongst the damned on the Last Day whilst I am accepted into heaven. I think that such a blow would quite ruin heaven for me. I have actually said, just that, to my sons. The thought makes me very, very unhappy right now! My prayers are constantly imploring Almighty God that such an event will not happen.

    [It couldn’t possibly “ruin heaven”, since you will by then recognize it as being perfectly in keeping with God’s will.]

  34. moconnor says:

    I would very much like to see my two dogs in heaven, but this is because I don’t truly understand heaven. I suspect we will be so fundamentally changed as beings, that we won’t need that type of companionship. Pets are part of the earthly consolation and I hope their souls have some reward for this. I just don’t know and won’t until it’s my time to know.

  35. Gerard Plourde says:

    All of our conjectures (even the Angelic Doctor’s) are merely that. As others have noted, if Our Father in Heaven wills that Heaven reflect His creation and allows animals there, I am not about risk the sin of Pride and emulate C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape to tell Him that they are frivolous and undeserving of the place. I leave it to His care.

  36. YorkshireStudent says:

    This has actually brought up quite an interesting theological issue – the opinions along the lines of “Pets will only be there is happiness depends on it” etc. seem to be based on the fact that Heaven will contain all that is necessary for complete happiness.

    I remember hearing a rather nice definition of Heaven as containing “every licit pleasure”. Is this flawed in any way? (I cannot now remember the source, and I’ve had conversations with some rather peculiar people – who knows where I got it from!?). This would seem to provide for the presence of pets which provided companionship, and very possibly deer, etc., for hunters…

    I suppose in the end we must remember that we can only find out for ourselves if we’re there too!

  37. Bosco says:

    Where will the lions who would lie down next to the lambs be?

  38. Dcduo says:

    Lately I have wondered, if since they are not immortal souls and cannot experience Heaven. But yet, since we are and can and since our habitat is the Earth, then perhaps will there be a place for the animals in the New Earth.

    After all, things of yesteryear seem to have lived an awful lot longer than today. Perhaps they were meant to keep living had sin not have cursed nature.

    Does this make any sense?

  39. ppb says:

    I do not think that animals have souls that exist after their deaths, but I do think their forms are eternal in God, and if/when we are deemed worthy to enter the Beatific Vision, in our contemplation of God Himself we can also contemplate the forms of His creation. True, this is not the same thing as Fido actually continuing to exist, but he wouldn’t be forgotten either. I think you could read at least the first sentence of Pope Francis’ comments in that sense, and maybe even the second.

    Perhaps God could resurrect or re-create some animals in the new heaven and earth – it seems to me a possible opinion – but I tend to doubt that it would be necessary. The Beatific Vision of God is the ultimate fulfillment of the human soul. Also, I wonder if we humans project too much of our own “existential angst” upon the animals. The higher animals can certainly experience love and devotion, etc., but do they even have the type of soul that would worry about death the way we do? Perhaps they are happy in their own way with the mode of existence God gives them.

  40. robtbrown says:

    Gerard Plourde says:

    All of our conjectures (even the Angelic Doctor’s) are merely that.

    Do you know the difference between conjecture and speculative reasoning?

    As others have noted, if Our Father in Heaven wills that Heaven reflect His creation and allows animals there,

    That’s sounds like theological voluntarism–even if we reason that 2 + 2 =4, God can will it to be 5.

  41. Heaven isn’t a place as much as it is a state. Human beings have a God-shaped hole in their hearts; nothing else fits there quite correctly. Human beings were created to spend eternity with God. Animals don’t have that God-shaped hole. They can be perfectly content without ever seeing their Creator. Seen that way, the question of “Why can’t Rover go to heaven?” doesn’t seem quite as harsh.

    I think that if Jesus were around to answer this question, He would respond much the way He responded to questions such as, “Remember, she had seven husbands, who will be her husband in heaven?” or “Lord, are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?”

  42. Finarfin says:

    I recall reading something Fr. Hardon wrote, who speculated on the possibility of animals going to heaven.

    It seems to me that if heaven is the return to Eden, where we will see God again face to face, we may also see the lesser creations renewed and restored. A new heaven and a new earth. [Maybe.] I’m not trying in any way to blur the distinction between man and plant/animal life, but rather that God, whose nature is to create and save rather than destroy or abandon, may glorify the entire creation. Not because God needs animals, not because people need animals, but simply because God is so good. I like to interpret such hopeful and harmless possibilities in an optimistic way. [Okay.]

  43. Elizabeth D says:

    As far as I understand it, the essence of heaven is the Beatific Vision, of which humans are capable but not animals. But since there will be a physical resurrection of the body and new heavens and a new physical earth when Jesus comes again, doesn’t it make sense that it won’t just be blessed saintly humans sitting on rocks, or running without growing weary on rocks, but there will be plants and fish and birds and cattle and creeping things, the whole order of creation? One could even speculate that the “peaceable kingdom” of Isaiah is not only symbolic but an image of the life of the world to come. The plants and fish and birds and cattle and creeping things wouldn’t be experiencing the Beatific Vision, but they may nevertheless be there with us while WE are in heaven, that is, experiencing perfect union with God in love in the Beatific Vision. And the plants, fish, birds, cattle and creeping things would presumably be enjoying all the natural benefits of a perfectly just and harmonious world in which death is no more. Back to the order of Eden–animals eating leaves and the humans eating fruits? What the life of the world to come would be like is pretty uninvestigable to us at the moment.

  44. Mike says:

    Interesting comments.

    I am teaching Ciardi’s translation of the Purgatorio right now, and it’s fascinating how he has the Earthly Paradise atop Mount Purgatory. (I know, imaginative poetry, not Church doctrine.) In this earthly paradise, there are woods, streams, birds singing, but no real “change” as in evaporation, change in weather, and whatnot. All the fragrances of the trees are sent into the air by the movement of the Primum Mobile. What’s interesting is that this “perfect” spot is NOT heaven, for that is in the third canticle. So perhaps God’s new heavens and new earth will contain something of his material creation in a quite unimaginable state wherein we can in seeing God “face to face” still behold a perfected visible creation. After all, the Incarnation is the assumption of our humanity into the Godhead–albeit without any trace of sin–and our humanity, as so much of the West once saw it, is an microcosm of the visible world.

    Where pets come into this is anybody’s guess! [And yet the question was about pets.]

  45. Bosco says:

    By the way, the distinguished theologian Father John A. Hardon, S.J. answered this very question: “Is it correct to say that pets do not go to Heaven after death because animals do not have immortal souls?” in Volume 5 No. 3 of the May/June 1999 issue of ‘Catholic Faith’ as follows:

    “A. 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.”

    [Kinda like what I said.]

  46. Andkaras says:

    Perhaps Pope Francis is alluding to a deeper theology than is readily grasped. [Thaaaat’s it!] There is for us that little consideration about God being outside of time. That meaning that He is not constrained by his own creation “time”. He does not move forward and backward in time .He is ever present. What can this mean for us when we are finally with him in eternity? I believe that Fr. P was touching on this in an earlier post. I would recommend Frank Sheeds ” Theology and Sanity “. It will shed a little light on this topic about pets in heaven.

  47. jdm says:

    Now CNN is reporting that Pope Francis did not make the comments in question. It probably started with a bad translation from the Italian in the original article.

    If this is true, I would expect that every outlet that has reported on this story will publish retractions and attribute the quote to its actual source, Pope Paul VI. After all, if animals going to heaven is what they want, wouldn’t a beatified pope lend more authority to the quote? But I don’t think that is what they are after–they are just after another example of Pope Francis changing mean old teachings, and they got their story out there.

  48. slainewe says:

    “Also, I wonder if we humans project too much of our own “existential angst” upon the animals. ”

    No need to wonder, we do. Proof of which is that people fall in love with robotic animals that are programmed to stroke our egos just as they do the organic variety.

    Desiring to see a pet in heaven is admitting our guilt that we are giving to beasts the love that belongs to man. This is understandable in a child, but sinful in an adult.

    Beasts that show “heroic” behavior are actually instruments of our angels. I forget which saint explained this, but he said the angels use beasts to save us because most of us are unworthy to see the angels work directly. He used the example in the Old Testament of the angel that spoke through Balaam’s ass because Balaam was a pagan, whereas angels in Scripture appear directly to the faithful. [Seems to me that a great way to make ourselves unworthy of intercourse with purely spiritual beings (angels) is to give our love to purely material beings (beasts).]

    The very fact that we want a ego-stroking pet in heaven, but not all the thousands of animals that showed the “greatest love” by “laying down their lives” to feed and clothe us over the course of our lives, should be proof positive to us that this love is disordered. In other words, if we don’t want our heavenly mansion overrun with all those cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc., then we have no business wanting Fido there.

    Tragically, like many of the insidious heresies making the rounds today, this one seems all warm and fuzzy. We will say, “What difference does it make to tell a “white lie” to a child grieving his dog?” Well, it makes a BIG difference; an ETERNAL difference, because it goes to the heart of Who is God, who is Man, and who are the Angels. The beasts exist, among other reasons, to show us who we are NOT. If we are finding ourselves in them, we are not finding ourselves in Christ.

  49. Geoffrey says:

    This is a topic that I have often struggled with. I understand the theology expounded on by St Thomas Aquinas, but try explaining that to grieving family members mourning the loss of a beloved pet who was very much like a “member of the family”. Do we expect His Holiness to have told the grieving little boy: “Well, son, it’s like this: Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that animals have vegetative souls, while people have immortal souls…”

    I personally have grieved the loss of many a pet that I hope to somehow see again one day; if it is God’s will. I have been wanting to read this book about the subject: HERE

    “That said, I hope we will still be able to have steak and Cabernet.”

    Amen to that!

  50. Kerry says:

    Chicken, yes, but you’ll have to lose the mask! Heh.

  51. Mike says:

    Indeed it was, Father. It was a busy week! ;)

  52. Matt Robare says:

    RNS is also reporting that this didn’t happen

    Also, it seems to me that being so attached to your pets that you worry that them not being in Heaven will ruin it for you is skirting idolatry.

  53. Mike says:

    Wouldn’t it be true to say that since the effects of Divine Goodness (our pets being in that category) give us so much joy in this life, that when we see the origin/cause/author of all these marvelous things, our joy will be infinitely greater, and therefore we won’t miss seeing such vestiges of Divine goodness as we will possess the real thing forever?

  54. Supertradmum says:

    This confusion is a result of the lack of Aristotle and Aquinas in seminary training. Also, people have forgotten that there are hierarchies in nature. I posted a few simple things on my blog earlier on this as well.

    We have free will and are responsible for our actions, thereby gaining heaven or going to hell.

    We are made in the image and likeness of God, with free will, intellect, reason. Animals are not.

    In the old days, we learned this in grade school. All of us kids from the Catholic schools understood that our dead pets did not have eternal souls, but animal souls which died with them.

    Sad days that adults cannot take the time to learn the real deal about who we are in creation. Thanks, Father, for helping us sort this out for those who are confused.


  55. Gerard Plourde says:

    So it turns out that the interchange and the statement underlying the question, intellectually stimulating as it is, was actually uttered by Bl. Paul VI sometime during his pontificate almost a half-century ago and was reported accurately in the source story. Things appear to have gone off the rails when the reporter tried to interpret Pope Francis’ statement that “Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan cannot but involve everything that surrounds us and came from the heart and mind of God.” While Revelation 21:1 does refer to new heavens and a new earth, perhaps the lesson here is to worry less about what God intends for us in Heaven, but rather to do His Will here on earth to ensure our arrival there.

  56. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Whether or not there is life on other worlds, it’s clear that our Universe is unimaginable huge…much much larger than is needed if all God was interested in is personal beings.”

    Really? How large do you have to make the universe so that the four, so-far know, fundamental forces appear and don’t get in the way of each other? How large do you have to make the universe so that the Earth is not blasted by an excess of high energy cosmic rays? This is called the Fine-Tuning Hypothesis. How large does the universe need to be so that the Fine Structure constant is just in the right range so that electrons don’t spontaneously collapse? There is a reason the universe is the size that it is.

    As for animals, well, if God won’t even let you keep a spouse in Heaven, how much less a dog :)

    I know, I know, but don’t throw stuff at me, unless I can spend it or eat it…

    The Chicken

  57. MrsMacD says:

    My eldest son got a beta with pretty blue and purple scales. He took care of it for about a month and then the task was passed on to me. I took care of Little Blue Fish every day and saw his excitement when I came to feed him and when little blue fish was sick and sadly roamed the bottom of the bowl, I tried to care for him like a good little blue fish doctor and when little blue fish died I cried and was depressed for two weeks. “Who?” I asked myself, “get’s attached to a fish!?”

    But it remains, Little Blue Fish was an attachment and we aren’t going to be happy until we’re detached from everything, what isn’t burned off in this life will be burned off in the next.

    God fills all desires. He leaves nothing left to be desired. So will you be happy in heaven without Little Blue Fish, “Yes!” Will you need Little Blue Fish to make you happy? “No !” All those who die in the odour of sanctity get to enjoy heaven BEFORE the resurrection, that is before we have bodies, get to be perfectly happy without any body. So nothing to enjoy an animal with. That said, God, who delights to play with the children of man most likely has an awesome playground including some critters maybe even a whole new, unheard of set, after all He’s God, and “eye has not seen, nor hath ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, what things he has prepared for those who love Him.”

  58. Mary Jane says:

    Supertradmum said, “In the old days, we learned this in grade school. All of us kids from the Catholic schools understood that our dead pets did not have eternal souls, but animal souls which died with them.”

    YES! I’m still in my 20s and even *I* learned this in the Baltimore Catechism in grade school.

  59. Stumbler but trying says:

    @ servulus indignus Christi and others…

    The story has been proven to be false as I had hoped it would be since it did not make any sense to me. Perhaps, folks should be more prudent when reading the papers.

    Dawn Eden and Mr. David Gibson did their homework, thanks be to God.

    Taken from another blog as of this morning.

    “So. Let’s count the errors in the original Times story.
    1) The Pope never even said anything remotely like what he was alleged to have said.
    2) The quote that was attributed to Pope Francis was – probably – actually said by Paul VI over 30 years ago.
    3) Pope Francis never even spoke to a boy at one of his audiences.

  60. Amateur Scholastic says:

    A little bit of St Thomas will clear up the confusion. This question can’t be understood without an understanding of hylemorphism (the form-matter distinction).
    Read Edward Feser’s excellent introduction, Aquinas.
    By the way, if a young child asks you this question, one answer is ‘well, if you weren’t completely happy without Fido there, it wouldn’t be heaven’. Is that deceptive? I can’t decide, and I have a couple more years before I face this question myself.

  61. robtbrown says:

    Geoffrey says:

    This is a topic that I have often struggled with. I understand the theology expounded on by St Thomas Aquinas, but try explaining that to grieving family members mourning the loss of a beloved pet who was very much like a “member of the family”. Do we expect His Holiness to have told the grieving little boy: “Well, son, it’s like this: Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that animals have vegetative souls, while people have immortal souls…”

    It’s plants that have vegetative souls (vegetables . . . vegetative . . . get it?) Animals are said to have sensible souls, people rational souls.

  62. avecrux says:

    I know that the whole story is about as accurate as the Holy Father buying/making a sandwich/cappuccino for the Swiss Guard outside his room – but the discussion which has followed shows a real need for clarity on all this.

    What I don’t see in those speculating about the joy of dogs going to Heaven is the consequences for the human person. If Baptism makes us an adopted child of God, partakers of the Divine Nature, and Jesus endured the agony of the Cross for this – what is said about that when I want to say that Fido is going to go to Heaven?

    Additionally – if I will say that only a man is capable of being ordained – how can that even hold if, based on emotion alone, we will deny essential differences in the order of creation?

    Finally – we don’t baptize animals or admit them to the sacraments. We can euthanize them. We can eat them and use them for experiments and clothing. All of our moral theology would fall apart if we claim that they can “go to Heaven”.

  63. rodin says:

    God does not make throwaways!

  64. MrsMacD says:

    One thing that people miss is that kids don’t need Truth dumbed down. They’re way more receptive to reality than adults with all their sensitivities. It’s important to preserve their innocence since their imaginations, tainted by original sin, could be led to an early acceptance of licentiousness but as far as death, judgement, heaven and hell goes, they generally accept the Truth with a humble heart. What’s wrong with Rover dying and going back into the ground? What God made and planned is beautiful, perfect, if we don’t accept it, we’re the one with the problem. Children get truth, so please people give them the Truth!

  65. Peter in Canberra says:

    OK, so the Pope doesn’t teach definitively.
    The tragedy is that he said this at all.
    He knows, very well I suspect, that the media hang on his every word.

    The Church does not hold that the Pope teaches definitively except in special circumstances, but neither does it teach that the conclave is guided unerringly by the Holy Spirit.

  66. xavierabraham says:

    Dear Father,

    It seems media reports are to blame for the confusion, and for giving us a good topic for intellectual speculation.

    [Yes. I know. But it’s irrelevant that the Pope didn’t actually say it. I was answering a question several readers had asked me.]

    Xavier Abraham

  67. Luvadoxi says:

    I like to think of Noah’s Ark–a figure of baptism and salvation. There were animals on the Ark. I like the “new heavens and the new earth.” I hope my beloved pets will be in heaven. But may the Lord’s will be done.

    I think it’s most charitable to interpret Pope Francis in the best light. I believe he is an instrument of the Holy Spirit to try and bring unity in Christendom. I know a man who rejected God because as a young boy a priest told him his dog wouldn’t be in heaven. Perhaps the Pope is trying to open wide the gates. I think charity is in order. Truth, yes, but first people have to be converted–to love Jesus.

  68. DeGaulle says:

    Perhaps we are being a little presumptuous here. God has revealed nothing to humanity about the destination of animals in eternity. His revelation more or less exclusively concerns Man and his salvation, because we are fallen and Christ has had to die for us so that mankind may be made worthy of Heaven. Man became unworthy of Heaven because of his Fall. No such charge may be made against the animal world. We should confine ourselves to worrying about getting to Heaven and leave the animals to God.

  69. Kathleen10 says:

    MrsMacD, I have a little purple beta, and he is the most personable little fish around, so I feel your pain. I’m sorry about your little friend.

    Ok I definitely see not everybody “gets” pets. Ok. But at least we should consider that for some people, pets have been the most consistent or loving beings in their lives. Sad but true! If that is impossible to imagine, congratulations, you’ve been blessed. But it’s not true for everyone. Some people have been tremendously hurt by other people, and pets have been their primary companions in life. It should not be a surprise that those people may be concerned that the primary source of love in their lives are not going to be in heaven with them. If people have hurt them so badly or for whatever reason there are no people in their lives it makes perfect sense. I can’t imagine why it would matter to tell a grieving child or worried adult that they need not worry, their pet may very well be in heaven. We all admit we don’t know, so why not err on the side of emotional comfort.

  70. Legisperitus says:

    I know a woman who is a hardcore Thomist and yet goes all squishy when it comes to dogs and Heaven. But I really think we will not miss animals if they’re not there. The goodness of created things is merely a finite participation in the goodness of God, and whatever we loved in our pets will be present in infinite quantities in the Beatific Vision.

    If animals are “wonders of His love,” in the words of the Christmas carol, we will know all those wonders in a more perfect way.

  71. marcelus says:

    Matt Robare says:
    13 December 2014 at 6:53 am
    RNS is also reporting that this didn’t happen

    From CNN

    The story itself does not indicate Francis said that. Instead, it refers back to Paul VI.
    The writer for the newspaper pointed to something Francis actually did say: “Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan cannot but involve everything that surrounds us and came from the heart and mind of God.”
    That remark, the writer suggested, “widened the hope of salvation” to animals and all of creation.

    This was a question from a poster but let’s try and look for real and true stuff from the Pope, and he does say a lot on a daily basis.

    Otherwise it sends people into frantic posting and in turn drives others in the same direction.

    Some Papal criticism? fine, even helpful, but only direct or indirect Papal criticissm, it is not healthy.

    The last one was the one on him “sacking” the head swiss guard which also turned out to be another silly conjecture.

    I have not counted by I bet the last 10 articles published were critical.


  72. marcelus says:

    Supertradmum says:
    13 December 2014 at 6:59 am
    This confusion is a result of the lack of Aristotle and Aquinas in seminary training. Also, people have forgotten that there are hierarchies in nature. I posted a few simple things on my blog earlier on this as well.

    Well,it looks like Paul VI need that more than Francis in this case?

  73. A bit later and Jimmy Akin has a good commentary on the issue:

    Another lesson that the media isn’t a trustworthy source about Pope Francis.

  74. Thank goodness this has been settled conclusively by Vatican sources:

    This is why it’s so important for Catholics to read scrupulously-translated versions of the original statements and sources, plus always use RELIABLE Catholic media outlets for information. It saves you a whole lot of bother and worry.

  75. As for animals, well, if God won’t even let you keep a spouse in Heaven, how much less a dog :)

    Chicken, I love you.

  76. Fr_Sotelo says:

    The Catholic speculation on whether animals can go to heaven is tiring, for it purports to achieve answers which simply cannot be achieved apart from Sacred Scripture or the Apostolic Tradition, none of which attempts to answer this question about animals.

    On the other hand, in dealing with miscarriages, abortions, and pregnancy, the Catholic doctors and saints are quite nearly unanimous that unbaptized children, including miscarriages and abortions, are categorically incapable of entering heaven for 1) lack of sanctifying grace and 2) lack of the proper matter to receive the form of a rational soul–speaking of early pregnancy. I was even stunned to find out that Aquinas considered the fetus in the early stages of pregnancy to be deprived of a rational soul, but rather possessing sentient soul (like an animal).

    And our Thomist professor saw nothing wrong with a Catholic holding to this ancient and medieval position even now, based on the words of the 1974 document on procured abortion, which states in the notes: “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.” If we staunchly wish to stand by the Catholic speculation on animals being deprived of heaven, then in defense of the very same traditional arguments (based on matter and the forms it can receive) it is only consistent to stand by the traditional Catholic teaching that unbaptized children go to Limbo, and those humans who died before the “spiritual soul is infused” did not even have an immortal soul, and so are in the same fate as cats and dogs.

    I don’t want to go there. I think it is wise to allow speculation about heaven to continue, and to not hold to Aristotelian philosophy alone in our conclusions about immortality and God’s ordering of people and creatures in the New Creation in the end times. I’m quite comfortable to tell people that according to Scripture and Catholic Tradition, they may hope in God’s mercy and in God’s power to admit to glory whomever, or whatever, He so wills.

    However, if one wants to hold to the near unanimous Catholic tradition on reasoned speculation about souls, immortality, and ensoulment, I just caution that they realize that not only animals, but the smallest of humans must also be excluded from God’s glory. It is only in the modern, post-Vatican II era that we accept the newer teaching that children who die in pregnancy, or after birth who are unbaptized, have a chance at heaven.

  77. Supertradmum says:

    I suppose, Father Z., you could make a glitzy video about how cats and dogs have a “reasonable hope” of getting to heaven like a certain other cleric thinks all people have….

    And, Fr. Sotelo, it is not Church teaching that children lost in miscarriage or those who die in abortion have a chance at heaven. A hope is not a chance. Chance means possibility, not hope. The actual words of CCC are this:

    1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

    There is no absolute assurance on this point, as the vision of God for us baptized is sheer gift. We do not “earn” our own salvation, but use our free will to cooperate with grace.

  78. Mike says:

    Fr. Sotelo,

    As you likely know, in Dante’s Purgatorio (canto 25, line 70) Statius accounts for the generation of human life, drawing off of Aristotle and Thomas. Statius goes through the vegetative and animal development of the human being in its earliest stages, and then, when, at the moment of “articulation” of the brain, God “breathes into it a new and powerful spirit”. (Ciardi’s trans.)

    Wouldn’t we say today, with our understanding of the DNA, that at the moment of the formation of DNA distinct from either parent we have a physical configuration that is an expression of the rational soul?

  79. Phil_NL says:

    As for animals, well, if God won’t even let you keep a spouse in Heaven, how much less a dog :)

    Well, we don’t know that for certain either – even more so, it is often said one of the purposes or marriage is for one spouse to get the other into Heaven. Who knows, by God’s mercy that might succeed – even in cases we wouldn’t expect.
    The really hard one is the case where a spouse would rather keep the dog in Heaven than the other spouse…. if we sidestep those situations where there would be good reason for that, would making such a choice / having such a desire (prefering the dog over your husband, e.g.) in itself not be contrary to what it takes to get to Heaven?

    *Throws some grains at the Chicken* (you asked for things to be throw at you you can eat, after all)

    In all, I think we can speculate, and jest, but we should be glad the questions of who or what goes to Heaven are well ‘above our pay grade’. Trust in God, His mercy, and His promises to the Church seem quite enough to me; whatever He decides, by defition it will be as it should be.

  80. Phil_NL says:

    Fr Spoleto,

    I agree, those were wise words. Thank you for them.

    Allow me to add a few c of my own: I think we should recognize that the Church Fathers tried to tackle quite a few topics they knew very little about. In some senses (When/how a human gets a soul, for example) we still know just as little, and probably will never know more till Our Lord returns.
    The problem is, that when you know very little, that doesn’t dimish the tendency to categorize, and try to pronounce based on the morsels you have. And there is an extensive strand of such categorization that claims to lead to conclusions of the kind ‘cannot be saved’ or ‘must be excluded from God’s Glory’. I believe that strand is one of the frayed edges of our Faith that must be approached with extreme caution.
    One the one hand God’s mercy could, but will almost certainly not (enough Scriptice about that!), have universal application; the wider the application, the more comfort we can give to those in need of it. Yet too wide an application can pull the rug under those who need support in striving to do well, to live according to God’s will. The result is inevitably a situation where one can go amiss pronoucning one way or the other, especially if such a pronouncement is then by anaolgy extended to other situations, which is a way to get to that painful strand regarding the unborn.

    Best to say less, and pray more. Reason less, and trust His mercy more, as His mercy is founded on the ultimate reason, not our flawed capacities.

  81. Pingback: Fury at Airbus, China, Pets can go to hell | IowaDawg Blogging Stuff

  82. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Chance vs. Hope–I don’t want to split words and be pedantic about this. I think most people understand my thought–that our Catholic speculation before Vatican II said that such children had no chance at the beatific vision, and it was futile to hope for such a thing. Now it says we have reason to hope. Thus, we now have a funeral rite for unbaptized children–something not found in 2,000 years of Catholic liturgical history.

  83. Fr_Sotelo says:


    I asked our seminary Thomist if the discovery of DNA, chromosomes, and genes would now make the human embryo and early fetus qualify as having the proper matter for receiving a rational soul, and he said no, and to advocate such was plainly a departure from Thomas’ thought.

    He said that the modern discoveries of biology only demonstrate that there is human life–but that was already accepted by Augustine and Aquinas. It is still necessary that the fetus’ body develop and be clearly “distinguished as human in its matter” and that required the brain to reach a certain stage of growth. Only then could we be certain that the fetus has gone beyond being a human life and say it is now a “person” with an immortal soul. This is the same reasoning of Aquinas for saying an animal cannot go to heaven–because the matter of an animal is not proper matter for receiving an immortal, rational soul, only a sentient soul.

    The Magisterium has never ordered certain Thomists to abandon this view, meaning a Catholic is still permitted to believe that up until a certain point of pregnancy, the human embryo or fetus has a sentient soul, like an animal, and like animals who have sentient souls, cannot go to heaven. My point here is that, shocking as this sounds (a miscarriage or abortion ceasing to exist, like an animal, at death), this is a consistent opinion with traditional hylemorphism in Aquinas. If a person wants to positively exclude animals from heaven, based on Thomas, that is fine. Then, to be consistent, and based on Thomas, one must conclude that the souls of certain humans, in the early stages of life, are also mortal and will cease to exist at death.

  84. guans says:

    BTW Loved the cartoon!

  85. 1laurapaxton says:

    May I ask a question? In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, there was no death. After Adam and Eve sinned, humanity fell from grace and death came into existence. Animals were not at all to blame for that (except perhaps the snake). So, it seems the original plan was for animals to live eternally along with humans. Would the original order, as divinely designed, not be restored? And with that, would it not be justice that animals should live forever, as intended? They didn’t fall, so salvation is moot. They didn’t need it. So, they don’t qualify for hell and they kind of bypass salvation requirements, imho. I don’t see why their souls can’t be immortal by default. But still, since our catechism does not weigh in either way, I have no idea if this is true or not.

  86. avecrux says:

    I don’t see how you arrive at that at all, Fr. Sotelo.
    If a soul has not been infused, a child – technically – does not exist. A child can’t “die” before a soul is infused because death is the separation of the soul from the body. A human person is not a human person without a soul. (Which is why I would argue for ensoulment from conception, or December 8th Solemnity is somewhat irrational.)
    Also – it is the Faith of the parents (and Godparents) that bring a child to the waters of baptism – not the Faith of the child. It is perfectly consistent with “pre-Vatican II” theological speculation to ask if the Faith of parents can bring their child to a baptism of “desire”. It was a topic covered when I studied St. Thomas. His theology is not as restrictive as you propose.
    I still say that an animal is incapable of the Beatific Vision and to say otherwise is to render the Deposit of Faith pretty much meaningless….

  87. acmeaviator says:

    I have 3 dogs that I adore – I cannot imagine them with me when I’m on my knees in front of a monstrance in this world, even less so in the presence (God willing) of the Beatific Vision! God in his mercy has blessed us with many things in this world to bring us joy – but their place and function is in this world.

  88. JonM says:

    This question touches on an important philosophical point of contention: the Universals.

    What is a universal? We all know commonly what one means when he says ‘house’, ‘window’, ‘snow’, ‘door’, etc. Well, this applies to animated creatures as well (such as firefly, mourning dove,- or cat and dog.)

    Yet, how is this so? What exactly is cat? Whence comes it’s ‘catness’ (and I don’t mean Everdeen!)

    Thomists of various stripes by and large believe that these universals are real, and not simply names ascribed to them. However, they have a bottom-up approach: all of the individuals we call ‘cat’ sum up all of their traits that equal the universal Cat, as designed by God.

    Augustinians however retain the Christian Platonism that was the near uniform approach up until St. Albert and St. Thomas. And, among the differences between the Aristotelians (later known as the Thomists), one is regarding the universals.

    Augustinians believe that there is a perfect, complete, and full ‘cat’ from which all individual cats in creation derive their catness. Unlike Plato, it is properly understood that this ‘cat’ is in the mind of God rather than floating around somewhere.)

    This might sound heady, but the Thomists and Fransicans/Augustians threw darts at each other over the years because there are vast theological questions that arise from this.

    In any event, as Adam and Eve were in a certain sense these universals (not to mention our Lord and Lady), each one of us reflects certain traits of manness. Critically, when we reflect those good-willed traits, we reflect God’s will.

    So what of our particular creatures? No, they cannot merit because they cannot judge good from evil. However, when we consider that we are all reflections of the Divine Mind, whatever the case, we only will come to find a richer partaking in the rightful joys of this life.

    Companionship and good stewardship of animals are higher than other joys (e.g., contentness derived from a good drink.)

    Personally, I see no obstacle to re-animation of creatures. Heaven is not a void cone of light! It is the effect of our final good will and the rightful place proportionate with our conduct on earth.

    I would imagine the ideal (that is, universals) of lakes, mountains, trees of all kind, etc. So why not dachshunds, tabby cats, and parrots?

    Among the gifts of our glorified bodies we will have subtlety and agility (St. Thomas lists five other qualities.) So, elements of the new creation in heaven implies things to see and do!

  89. Fr_Sotelo says:


    When “ensoulment” is spoken of in relation to human life, it means the moment when the sentient soul of the human fetus is replaced with a rational, immortal soul. It does not mean that the human fetus is “soul-less” up until then. Thus, Thomas Aquinas holds that there is a soul at the moment of human generation, but it is not yet the form of an immortal, rational soul until the fetus’ matter is developed enough in pregnancy to receive a rational soul (40 days for a male, 90 days for a female).

    As for what happens when a baptism of desire takes place, let’s not confuse this with parents and godparents desiring the baptism of their child. Pre-Vatican II theology held that children in danger could be baptized even when their parents were against the baptism. The sacrament is valid from valid matter, form, and intention of the minister–not anyone’s desire.

    However, a “baptism of desire” is different. A baptism of desire cannot take place, even in pre-Vatican II theology, just because parents or godparents have a desire. St. Thomas in the Summa is clear that the desire of the parents cannot bring about sanctifying regenertion. The “desire” in a valid baptism of desire must come from the adult, or the child who has reached the age of reason, possessing a “votum” or forming a desire to join the Catholic Church.

    As for Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, it is more accurate in medieval discourse to speak of her receiving grace at the “instance of her animation” (receiving a rational soul at the time a female fetus would receive a rational soul). What we understand by conception (sperm-ovum union) was not imaginable to the ancient and medieval authors in a pre-science of biology age.

    Let me conclude by saying that I do not agree, at all, with the Thomistic concept of “delayed hominization” and firmly believe a human person is present at the moment of conception, with an immortal, rational soul. I would like to believe that if Aquinas knew of embryology, he would most certainly believe the same. The point of bringing up these points of Thomism is because they show that there are limits to Thomistic philosophy, including his discussion of whether an embryo has a sentient soul like an animal does, and whether an animal has life after death. It is too easy to quote Aquinas and invoke Thomism as if this should give us infallible answers on an issue regarding animals which is speculation, as far as Mother Church is concerned.

    And unfortunately it is too easy for some Catholics who invoke tradition to be unnecessarily angry or upset if Catholics believe their pets go to heaven. The discussion of whether pets go to heaven is one in which the adage “in dubia, libertas”, in matters of doubt let there be freedom, do not seem to apply (and they should apply, and Catholics should have freedom to speculate).

  90. robtbrown says:

    A few comments.

    It is de fide (cf Ott) that:

    a. Man is composed of body and soul

    b. The rational soul is the form of the body.

    This is not a matter of hylomorphic theory.

    St Thomas’ notion of 40-90 days until rational ensoulment (1) is found in his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. In the Summa he still endorses progressive ensoulment, but, if memory serves, gives no timeline.

    Fr Sotelo,

    I disagree with the professor you consulted. Thomas’ opinion on later rational ensoulment is based on the capability of the embryo to receive a rational form. The science of his day limited knowledge of that capability to certain distinguishing human characteristics that could be eyeballed. Contemporary science, however, is able to identify those characteristics via the genetic material of the fertilized egg. It is possible via genetics to distinguish the fertilized egg of a brute animal from that of human, according to which growth proceeds.

    Thus, it does not contradict St Thomas to say that at the moment of conception the embryo is capable of receiving a rational soul.

    Further, it should be noted that we recognize the Incarnation at the first moment of Christ’s conception (cf the Annunciation). How can we say that there was not rational ensoulment then?
    Note also the Immaculate Conception.

    (1) I have lobbied for the world “ensoulation”, but it has alwasy fallen on deaf ear.

  91. robtbrown says:

    Also: Our experience is that living things die, plants animals, humans, so the immediate assumption is that nothing survives death. We know, however, through faith and/or reason that the human soul continues to exist after death. But there is nothing to indicate a vegetative or sensible soul survives death.

  92. AvantiBev says:

    “If pets can go to heaven, they can also go to hell.”
    Well Father Z, in that case they could keep the thousands of bishops company. See St. John Chrys for more on those paving stones of Hell. [John Chrysostom didn’t say that.]

    I have often contemplated through the 30 plus years of canine love and devotion to my unworthy self that if I love them this much with my imperfect knowledge how much more God who created them in His Perfect Knowledge must love my little friends. Ecclesiastes 3:21

  93. jhayes says:

    Fr. Sotelo wrote I was even stunned to find out that Aquinas considered the fetus in the early stages of pregnancy to be deprived of a rational soul, but rather possessing sentient soul (like an animal).

    And our Thomist professor saw nothing wrong with a Catholic holding to this ancient and medieval position even now

    The Church does not hold that a human being has a soul from the moment of conception. Its opposition to abortion is based on its belief that a potential human person exists from the moment of conception regardless of whether it does or does not have a soul.

    As the 1974 document says:

    7. In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine – the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. It is true that in the Middle Ages, when the opinion was generally held that the spiritual soul was not present until after the first few weeks, a distinction was made in the evaluation of the sin and the gravity of penal sanctions. Excellent authors allowed for this first period more lenient case solutions which they rejected for following periods. But it was never denied at that time that procured abortion, even during the first days, was objectively grave fault. This condemnation was in fact unanimous….

    12….In reality, respect for human life is called for from the time that the process of generation begins. From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother, it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already….

    13….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.” [Tertullian, “Apologeticum” (IX. 8 PL. 1, 371-372: Corp. Christ. 1, p. 103, 1, 31-36).]

    However, the fact that the fetal human person may not yet have a soul doesn’t mean that it is the same as an animal. It differs from the animals in that it has the potential to become an ensouled human person, which an animal never will be. Therefore, I don’t agree with the proposition that “If we staunchly wish to stand by the Catholic speculation on animals being deprived of heaven, then in defense of the very same traditional arguments (based on matter and the forms it can receive) it is only consistent to stand by the traditional Catholic teaching that unbaptized children go to Limbo, and those humans who died before the “spiritual soul is infused” did not even have an immortal soul, and so are in the same fate as cats and dogs.”

    I do agree with your “I’m quite comfortable to tell people that according to Scripture and Catholic Tradition, they may hope in God’s mercy and in God’s power to admit to glory whomever, or whatever, He so wills”

  94. Fr_Sotelo says:


    As always, your posts always clear up certain questions which linger in my mind 30+ years after my seminary training. I notice you also wrote: “there is nothing to indicate a vegetative or sensible soul survives death.” I would just add that not every Catholic philosopher has agreed. The Catholic Encyclopedia (19130) says of Fr. Jaime Balmes, “he holds the principle of life in brutes to be naturally imperishable.”

    Balmes speculated that even if the soul of a pet does not survive death, there is nothing to prevent God from recreating that soul:

  95. JonM says:

    I think the solemnity that we just honored on December 8th should put to rest the notion of progressive ensoulment.

    St. Thomas got this one wrong (though obviously didn’t ardently cling to it at his death.) He was human! We needn’t defend this error out of concern that his entire body of work hinges on perfection.

    Frankly, I am not a Thomist and much prefer Ss. Augustine, Anselm, and Bonaventure. Incidentally, Bonaventure at some point did not favor the Immaculate Conception as it is properly and truly understood. In any event, I certainly value St. Thomas’s contributions, both liturgically and philosophically.

    I think a broader study of Church philosophy is needed: a) Thomism is not the only way (and whose Thomasism, indeed! Orthodox, Transcendental, etc.) b) when a philosophy or particular teaching cannot be reconciled with objective truth, viz. what the Church clearly teaches, we need to accept that it is deficient and move on.

    Progressive ensoulment is just wrong.

    Let’s get back to weighing animals in heaven. It’s a much more relaxing topic.

  96. Imrahil says:

    And our Thomist professor saw nothing wrong with a Catholic holding to this ancient and medieval position even now.

    were it not the fact that the Catholic would thus contradict the findings of modern science, which say that you develop as a man, not towards being a man.

    That said, that is not needed to make abortion wrong.

  97. The Masked Chicken says:

    There is a problem, obviously, in the Medieval understanding of developmental biology if it leads to the conclusion that:

    “Thus, Thomas Aquinas holds that there is a soul at the moment of human generation, but it is not yet the form of an immortal, rational soul until the fetus’ matter is developed enough in pregnancy to receive a rational soul (40 days for a male, 90 days for a female).”

    Specifically, the differential ensoulment of male and female has no basis in developmental neurobiology, whatsoever. For one thing, neurons do not even begin to develop in the fetus until day 42, at which time they begin to migrate to what will become the brain region and then slowly accumulate and differentiate until about the 96 day, at which time the cortical and subcortical structures begin to function and develop. The male and female do not appreciably differ in this regard, so the notion that the female would take 2 1/2 months longer to be able to accept a rational soul has no basis in biology. It is true that after about 72 days the sex organs begin to develop and sexual differentiation of male and female brains (yes, they are different ) begins about 120 days into pregnancy where the male brain develops under the action of testosterone and the female brain develops because of a lack of it. Up to about 100 days or so, there is, functionally, no difference between the male and female brain, so, this blows the notion of the 40/90 day split out of the water.

    Here is a nice 64 page article summarizing what we know about neural development:

    Secondly, unless one is prepared to state that an anencephalic child is, essentially, inhuman (something I think is reprehensible to consider), one cannot equate ensoulment with cognitive functioning. Indeed, this is the very argument that some atheists make in accepting abortion for early fetuses. The central question is: does the presence of a rational soul imply the presence of a rational brain? What was the difference between the human precursors who were unworthy of a rational soul and homo sapiens? Clearly, the answer must lie at the level of genes. This is the essential point of differentiation. Genes control structural and biochemical development. Only those organisms that have the Pax6 gene regulated for brain development show human brain formation. In other animals, this gene, primarily, expresses for the eyes and a few parts of the brain.

    If Aquinas had known any of this, he might have had a different opinion about the entire concept of ensoulment. His opinion is just that – an opinion. It is neither dogma nor doctrine. Since only humans express the Pax6 gene in this particular way, it forms a marker (along with other associated genes) for any species on Earth that can have the prerequisites for a rational soul. Since this gene is present at conception and since it is animated just like any other gene, I think the odds are greatly increased that ensoulment and conception occur simultaneously. Why would God wait? The brain does not house the soul. There seems to be no need for a certain level of neural structures to develop for the soul to be given, since it is not being given to the brain. A simple proof of this is that people can function with half of their brain removed. Clearly, they still have a soul. Thus, I see no basis in biology for the notion of delayed ensoulment. I know the soul is immaterial and so it cannot be observed, but the soul is the form of the body and the intellect begins to be expressed, the uniquely human intellect, begins to be expressed the moment the Pax6 kicks in. This is the gene that will develop the brain (again, with other processes involved), so it is in a line of clear linear progression in the process of brain formation.

    Aquinas discusses the soul/body problem in Part I Q. 76 in the Summa.

    “There remains, therefore, no other explanation than that given by Aristotle–namely, that this particular man understands, because the intellectual principle is his form. Thus from the very operation of the intellect it is made clear that the intellectual principle is united to the body as its form.

    The same can be clearly shown from the nature of the human species. For the nature of each thing is shown by its operation. Now the proper operation of man as man is to understand; because he thereby surpasses all other animals. Whence Aristotle concludes (Ethic. x, 7) that the ultimate happiness of man must consist in this operation as properly belonging to him. Man must therefore derive his species from that which is the principle of this operation. But the species of anything is derived from its form. It follows therefore that the intellectual principle is the proper form of man.”

    It is clear that the words, “intellectual principle,” are vague. Does it refer to thinking man? What does it mean to think? Without the Pax6 gene, clearly, there is no human thought, so I think that an equal claim can be made that Pax6 is an intellectual principle in action, since it forms exactly and only the rational brain. If it did other things, one might have to find a better locus of activity that defined the first or beginning principle of intellectual life, but, clearly, Pax6 is the sine qua non that both Aristotle and Aquinas were looking for – the earliest possible sign of intellectual teleology in a human is the action of Pax6 in fetal development. Thus, even from an Aristotelian perspective, one can make an argument that it is likelier than ensoulment begins at conception than at any other time during pregnancy, since ensoulment does not depend on having a fully functioning brain (or any brain, for that matter, if one accepts that an anencephalic baby has a rational soul), only the teleology for it – something, after all, must be guiding the neural development. Let me be clear: Aquinas/Aristotle are CLEARLY wrong, if they equate the human fetus, pre-40 days, with the same as that of a cat or dog. The two biological entities are NOT, not, not doing the same things. They do not have the same genes. The whole biochemical environments are different.

    Rational soul does not equal rational brain. It can’t, unless one is willing to severely limit what exactly being a human is. The mere presence of the Pax6 gene with its associated genes is enough to put the lie to the idea that the same kind of soul exists in the very early human and a cat. Clearly, they can’t. They are two different forms because they have two different teleologies. This was the mistake that allowed for the idea of delayed ensoulment in the Aristotelian/Aquinas idea of pregnancy.

    I know this could spark a great deal of debate, but I’ve heard too much of these sorts of arguments in atheist circles not to at least try to stop them in their tracks. I hope that the Church, in the light of better science, will, eventually, make a more definitive statement on ensoulment. It isn’t, strictly speaking, needed to counter the arguments for abortion, but it would go a long way towards stopping some of the arguments made by misinformed people like Nancy Pelosi that so muddy the water and confuse the Faithful.

    Again, if you want to throw tomatoes or eggs at the chicken on the stage, just make sure they are cooked and salted. I haven’t had breakfast, yet.

    The Chicken

  98. jhayes says:

    After all that, it turns out that Francis didn’t say it. The New York Times has published a correction to its article

    Editors’ Note: December 16, 2014

    An article on Friday about whether Pope Francis believes that animals go to heaven — a longstanding theological question in the church — misstated the pope’s recent remarks and the circumstances in which they were made.

    He spoke in a general audience at the Vatican on Nov. 26, not in consoling a distraught boy whose dog had died. According to Vatican Radio, Francis said, in speaking of heaven, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” He did not say: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Those remarks are reported to have been made by Pope Paul VI to a distraught child.

    An article on Nov. 27 in Corriere della Sera, the influential Italian daily, compared Francis’ comments to Paul’s, and concluded that Francis also believed that animals go to heaven. A number of subsequent news reports then mistakenly attributed both quotations to Francis; The Times should have verified the quotations with the Vatican. (The error was repeated in the Quick History column in the Sunday Review.)

    David Gibson gives an analysis of the distortions of the message at each step of this game of telephone:

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