By Rev. Ray Atwood Prince of Peace Cluster-La Porte City, Eagle Center, Traer
Does a carrot have a soul? I asked my students at Don Bosco this question, which led to some lively conversations among the students both inside and outside the classroom. The simple answer is: “Yes, carrots, like all living things, have souls.” That does not mean they are like us, on the other hand. We can understand this particular issue with the help of a great Catholic saint.
Wednesday, January 28th is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas was born around 1225 into the family of the Count of Aquino, Italy. He first studied at the monastery of Monte Cassino and later at the University of Naples. He eventually joined the Friars Preachers of Dominic, and finished his studies at Paris and Cologne, his instructor being Saint Albert the Great. Becoming himself a teacher, he wrote several learned works and was especially renowned for his philosophical and theological studies. Saint Thomas died near Terracina on March 7, 1274. He is honored by Catholics on January 28, the day his body was transferred to Toulouse in 1369.
What is so special about this particular saint, and why celebrate his feast? In addition to being a holy man, he was a learned man. He wrote a three-volume work called the Summa Theologica, which outlined various articles of the Christian Faith (the Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, Prayer, Virtue). In this work he laid out in great detail a huge array of distinctions. These distinctions enable us to better understand the complex reality of our world.
One example concerns the soul. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that animals do not have rational souls and therefore cannot live in Heaven. The reason is that they are made to serve people on earth. In addition, there is no purpose for animals like pets in Heaven because they cannot add to our happiness in eternity (if they could the Beatific Vision of God would be imperfect, an obvious contradiction). But it is incorrect to say that animals have no souls. In fact, Saint Thomas tells us animals and plants have souls (animals have a sensitive soul and plants have a vegetative soul). These souls give the animal of plant life. Living things need souls in order to grow, take nourishment, and reproduce. In addition to these functions, man has a rational soul, which enables him to think, reason, and articulate truth.
There is much more we could say on this topic, but perhaps we should simply thank God that men like Saint Thomas have lived to help us understand the world as God made it through distinctions. Distinctions can help us understand each other and avoid prejudice and ill-informed comments. May distinctions help us navigate our complex and confused world.