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Philosophy of Evolution: Not Man's Soul

The Thomistic Foundations


St. Thomas teaches about the nature and origin of the human soul. 



Does St. Thomas explain why it is not necessary for God to create the soul of plants and animals (except man)? St. Thomas writes: "First, since the being of natural and corporeal forms only exist in union with matter; then it appears that the agent that transforms the material is the same agent which produces them. Second, since a form of this kind does not exceed the power, order, and faculty of the agent principles in nature, there is no necessity to ascribe their origin to a higher principle (than matter)" (Aquinas De Potentia Dei 3. 11). 32

Does St. Thomas explain that the soul of plants and animals (except man) is material, and arises from eduction? St. Thomas writes: "Whose operations are not able to exist without the body, nor are these operations able to begin without the body, thus the thing has being according to its operation, since each thing operates according to its being" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 86).33 Therefore, the material soul is not able to be produced unless dependent on the material body, that is by eduction. Does this touch the importance of material in the evolutionary process? Yes, it describes material causality (except for man) as St. Thomas explains: "Every form that is educed into being by transmutation of the material is a form educed from the potency of the material; this is the material to be transmuted, to be reduced from potency to act. The intellective soul is not able to be educed from the potency of the material" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 86).34

Does St. Thomas hold the spirituality, that something is not material nor intrinsically dependent on material, of the human soul? Yes, he does; however, the spirituality of the soul is not evident, but has to be demonstrated. Begin with an examination about the operations of the soul, in fact, St. Thomas notes "the mode of operation of a thing corresponds to its mode of being" (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 87. 1).35 To prove the spirituality (incorporeity) of the human soul, St. Thomas alludes not only to the immaterial intellect and will, and also to autotranscendence, which is the tension toward the infinite of all human acting taken globally. St. Thomas notes that "The rational soul possesses a certain infinity, either from the part of the agent intellect, with which it can make everything, or on the part of the possible intellect which can become everything...and this is the evident argument for the immateriality of the soul, because all material forms are finite" (Aquinas Scriptum in Liber Sententiarum 2. 8. 2. ad 2).36 St. Thomas knew that the intellectual knowledge of the soul has a link with the material, but not an essential link to compromise the spirituality of the soul. St. Thomas comments on Aristotle that the operations of the soul "need the body not as an instrument, but only as an object. In fact, to understand is not actuated by means of a corporeal organ, but has need of a corporeal object" (Aquinas In De Anima 1. 2. 19).37

Does St. Thomas reject Traducianism? Yes, St. Thomas does reject Traducianism, saying: "It is ridiculous to say some intellectual substance either can be divided by the division of a body, or even produced by some corporeal power. For the human soul is an intellectual substance, as shown above in chapter 68. Therefore, it cannot be said that it is divided by the division of seed, nor produced in being by some active power which is in the seed, and so in no way can the origin of the soul occur by the Traducianism of the seed" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 1. 86).38

Does St. Thomas affirm that the human soul can only be produced by creation by God? Yes, he does. St. Thomas says, "The soul is in the genus of intellectual substances, which cannot be otherwise understood to be produced in being except by way of creation. The human soul therefore comes into being by way of creation from God" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 1. 87).39


Does St. Thomas explain how God can immediately create each spiritual soul and still allow parents to be true efficient causes of the composite, the human child? Yes, St. Thomas does explain.

St. Thomas says: "God Himself operating in nature also produces the organization of the body, whence there is a quasi-continual action, bringing a reduction into unity, and which is terminated toward the ultimate disposition of the subject and also which is terminated toward the form; although nature (parents) cooperates toward the composite (human child), nature (parents) does not cooperate toward the form (spiritual soul)" (Aquinas Scriptum in Liber Sententiarum 2. 18. 2. 1 ad 5).40

Does St. Thomas maintain that all human souls are the same, or does he maintain that every human soul is as individually unique as the body it informs? St. Thomas holds the uniqueness of souls, according to Brother Benignus, who cites Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 76. 5; Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 86; Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 87; Aquinas De Spiritualibus Creaturis 2. ad 8. Every human soul is different from every other soul. God creates each soul for a particular person whose body is produced by natural causes which determine its potentiality. Each soul is created to actualize this potentiality in a living person. Therefore, insofar as its organic powers and perfections are concerned, the soul is created precisely as the actuality of this potentiality.41

Does St. Thomas explain how hard it is to understand the creation of the human soul? Yes, he does. First, Gilson notes that "like the divine Esse with which it is identical, the creative act excludes quidditative concepts. It is we who think of creation as a sort of causal relation binding God to the creature."42 St. Thomas notes, "Creation can be understood actively or passively. If it is taken actively, it so designates the action of God, which is His essence, with relation to creatures, which is not a real relation, but only one of reason" (Aquinas De Potentia 3. 3).43 However, Gilson adds that "We shall see on the contrary, that taken passively, as effect or terminus of the creative act, creation is a real relation or, to be more exact, is the creature itself in its dependence upon God from whom it has being."44 Second, accidents are really distinct from the substance, although confusion is possible. So, for example, thinking and willing are distinct from the soul, or the soul would necessarily have these acts; likewise, bodies sometimes act and sometimes do not, but if bodies were identified with essence, then bodies would act always and necessarily. St. Thomas notes, "Whatever is said about the potencies of the soul, no one ever thought, unless he was insane, that the habits and acts of the soul were its essence" (Aquinas De Spiritualibus Creaturis 1. ad 1).45 Third, St. Thomas notes that "many fall into error about forms" because they treat forms as if these forms were substances, and so believe that forms come into existence the way substances: "Not considering that just as being is not of the form, but of the subject through the form; thus neither the becoming which terminates at being, is of the form but of the subject" (Aquinas De Virtitutibus in Communi 11).46 In this way, Bittle can argue "The soul is created at the moment of its union with matter; the soul is the animating principle of human existence, and has its natural existence only in conjunction with matter."47


Author:  John Edward Mulvihill, S.T.D., D.Min., Ph.D.
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