|It is fascinating
to ponder the order of Creation. On the first three days, God divided things
up -- light from darkness, the waters above from the waters below, and then
water from land. On the next three days, He gave specific form to the things
separated out, and populated the things which had been separated. First He
gave form to light by creating the Sun, Moon, and stars. Then He filled the
firmament (the waters above) with birds and filled the waters below with
fish. And on the sixth day, He created man and the other animals (henceforth
simply "animals") together, with man capping His work:
And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind,
cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds.
And it was so done. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their
kinds, and cattle, and every thing that creepeth on the earth after its kind.
And God saw that it was good.
And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have
dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts,
and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.
And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him:
male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and
multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of
the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon
the earth. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed
upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind,
to be your meat: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the
air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that
they may have to feed upon.
And it was so done. And God saw all the things that he had made, and they
were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.
Man and land animals
were created on the same day, and the second Creation account, in Genesis
2, reveals further that both man and animals were formed from earth, a humbling
truth illustrated in the rather creepy medieval illumination that follows
these relevant verses:
Genesis 2:7, 19
And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into
his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul...And the Lord
God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all
the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them:
for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name.
Man and animal
-- both formed on the same day from the earth, both sensate, living beings
with souls, both capable of pleasure and suffering. Man and animal, of the
same genus -- but of different species. What is it that separates us? According
to St. Thomas, it is what the image above doesn't show but what he explains
in his Summa Theologica:
...the souls of
brutes are produced by some power of the body; whereas the human soul is
produced by God. To signify this it is written as to other animals: "Let
the earth bring forth the living soul" (Genesis 1:24): while of man it is
written (Genesis 2:7) that "He breathed into his face the breath of life."
While the bodies
of man and other animals are formed from the earth, man is made in the image
of God by virtue of his intellectual or rational soul which
is created by God; animals' souls are generated. Man's destiny
is to share in the Divine Nature if he restores his likeness to God,
by grace, through belief, penance, and obedience (or if God otherwise deigns
to save him if he is invincibly ignorant and of good will). St. Basil the
Great (d. 379), another Doctor of the Church, writes poetically of this in
the Ninth Sermon of his "On the Hexaemeron" (link to full text below):
Cattle are terrestrial
and bent towards the earth. Man, a celestial growth, rises superior to them
as much by the mould of his bodily conformation as by the dignity of his
soul. What is the form of quadrupeds? Their head is bent towards the earth
and looks towards their belly, and only pursues their belly's good. Thy head,
O man! is turned towards heaven; thy eyes look up.
Because of this
difference in the natures of the souls of men and animals, it is wrong to
speak of animals having "rights" -- i.e., a moral or legal authority to possess,
control or claim something as one's own and which entails corresponding
duties to respect the rights of others, a duty incumbent on those with
intellectual souls. But among the moral duties of man, however, is the proper
treatment of animals, a charity which, like all true charity, has its origins
and end in God. In other words, if we love God, we will love His creatures
and never cause them to needlessly suffer. The Catholic Encyclopedia puts
In order to establish
a binding obligation to avoid the wanton infliction of pain on the brutes,
it is not necessary to acknowledge any right inherent in them. Our duty in
this respect is part of our duty towards God. From the juristic standpoint
the visible world with which man comes in contact is divided into persons
and non-persons. For the latter term the word "things" is usually employed.
Only a person, that is, a being possessed of reason and self-control, can
be the subject of rights and duties; or, to express the same idea in terms
more familiar to adherents of other schools of thought, only beings who are
ends in themselves, and may not be treated as mere means to the perfection
of other beings, can possess rights. Rights and duties are moral ties which
can exist only in a moral being, or person. Beings that may be treated simply
as means to the perfection of persons can have no rights, and to this category
the brute creation belongs. In the Divine plan of the universe the lower
creatures are subordinated to the welfare of man.
And (my emphasis):
But it is indisputable
that, when properly understood and fairly judged, Catholic doctrine -- though
it does not concede rights to the brute creation -- denounces cruelty to
animals as vigorously and as logically as do those moralists who make
our duty in this respect the correlative of a right in the animals.
"The just regardeth
the lives of his beasts: but the bowels of the wicked are cruel," Proverbs
12:10 tells us, but it doesn't follow that animals weren't put here on earth
for the good of man and in a role subject to him. Psalm 8:6-10 reads:
Thou hast made
him [man] a little less than the angels, Thou hast crowned him with glory
and honour: And hast set him over the works of Thy hands. Thou hast subjected
all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of
the fields. The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through
the paths of the sea. O Lord our Lord, how admirable is Thy name in all the
In our position
as stewards over the Lord's creation, it has even been allowed to us to use
animals for food, as Genesis 9:3 reveals:
And every thing
that moveth and liveth shall be meat for you: even as the green herbs have
I delivered them all to you...
When used for food,
though, the well-being and contentment of the animals should be guarded while
they live, and any means of their necessary deaths should be as quick and
painless as possible. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Contra Gentiles III-112,
gives reasons for this aside from concern for the animal itself:
Wherever in Holy
Scripture there are found prohibitions of cruelty to dumb animals, as in
the prohibition of killing the mother-bird with the young (Deut. xxii, 6,
7), the object of such prohibition is either to turn man's mind away from
practising cruelty on his fellow-men, lest from practising cruelties on dumb
animals one should go on further to do the like to men, or because harm done
to animals turns to the temporal loss of man, either of the author of the
harm or of some other; or for some ulterior meaning, as the Apostle (1 Cor.
ix, 9) expounds the precept of not muzzling the treading ox.
to animals can condition us against to treat our fellow man harshly, and
it is so that one who would deal with an animal without regard for the creature's
contentment and capacity for suffering tends to be the same sort who has
little sympathy for his neighbor. Indeed, cruelty to animals (along with
intentional, destructive fire-starting and enuresis) is seen by forensic
psychologists as one of a classic triad of behaviors that fairly indicate
sociopathy and foreshadow murder.
But as anyone who's ever loved an animal knows, there is more to animals
than our using them as a food source, and there is much more to our dealings
with them than not causing them needless suffering in that pursuit. St. John
of Damascus (b. ca. 676) writes in his "An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,"
Book II (my emphasis):
indeed, are for the seasonable use of man: but of them some are for food,
such as stags, sheep, deer, and such like: others for service such as camels,
oxen, horses, asses, and such like: and others for enjoyment, such
as apes, and among birds, jays and parrots, and such like.
pleasure we take in animals, along with exploring God's wondrous use
of animals in the lives of His Saints, and the moral lessons we can derive
from the animal world are the deeper subjects of this page.
Animals as Friends, Teachers,
and the Objects of Miracles
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee:
and the birds of the air, and they shall tell thee.
Speak to the earth, and it shall answer thee:
and the fishes of the sea shall tell.
Let's begin this section with one of the most heartbreaking stories in Scripture,
in II Kings 12:1-7 to be exact. 1 The
prophet Nathan reproaches King David for his crimes of adultery and murder
by telling him this story:
There were two
men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding
many sheep and oxen. But the poor man had nothing at all but one little ewe
lamb, which he had bought and nourished up, and which had grown up in his
house together with his children, eating of his bread, and drinking of his
cup, and sleeping in his bosom: and it was unto him as a daughter.
And when a certain stranger was come to the rich man, he spared to take of
his own sheep and oxen, to make a feast for that stranger, who was come to
him, but took the poor man's ewe, and dressed it for the man that was come
And David's anger being exceedingly kindled against that man, he said to
Nathan: As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this is a child of death.
He shall restore the ewe fourfold, because he did this thing, and had no
And Nathan said to David: Thou art the man.
The slayer of Goliath,
the great and masculine man who battled fiercely in defense of Israel, the
man who'd just taken Bethsabee (Bathsheba) in an adulterous union and arranged
the death of her husband -- mighty King David heard the story of this poor
old man with the beloved little lambie, and he was moved. When it
was pointed out to David that his recent actions were like those of the rich
man who killed the poor man's lamb, he repented and fasted and prostrated
himself on the ground.
This story is fascinating and revealing: note that it wasn't, in itself,
the use of sheep for food that angered David, which is indicative of what
was has already been said about the propriety of such a thing. What tore
into David's heart wasn't that someone stole, or the fact that a poor man
was deprived of the monetary value of a sheep. If that were the case, why
the need for Nathan to tell David about how the lamb had grown up in the
man's house with his children, and ate of his bread, drank of his cup, and
slept in his bosom? No, it was the fact that the old man loved the
lamb and that the lamb was "as a daughter" to him that affected David. The
lamb wasn't just another beast -- a type of farm beast typically kept for
food at that; no, the lamb was a friend. It had a name. It
had a relationship with the man. And King David empathized
with the poor man, his anger growing "exceedingly kindled" at the rich man
who did not empathize, who "had no pity."
By reading such a story, even a person who's never had an animal as a friend
can see that such relationships are nothing to mock. And how could one mock
such a thing after hearing of the love St. Francis had for the animal world,
even encouraging the giving of extra food to the animals on
Christmas Eve, especially to "our sisters,
Such a person can see, too, by reading medieval bestiaries and the works
of Saints that the animal world is filled with lessons for us. Consider St.
Basil's words, in the already-mentioned "On the Hexaemeron," about the creature
so known for the natural virtue of loyalty that a common name given to it
is "Fido" -- Latin for "Faithful":
Does not the gratitude
of the dog shame all who are ungrateful to their benefactors? Many are said
to have fallen dead by their murdered masters in lonely places. Others, when
a crime has just been committed, have led those who were searching for the
murderers, and have caused the criminals to be brought to justice. What will
those say who, not content with not loving the Master who has created them
and nourished them, have for their friends men whose mouth attacks the Lord,
sitting at the same table with them, and, whilst partaking of their food,
blaspheme Him who has given it to them?
Such a person can
also read how animals are seen allegorically in Christendom, such as how
the Aberdeen Bestiary describes the dove in such a lovely manner. First it
It has two wings,
signifying the active and the contemplative life. At rest, it is covered
by them; in flight, it is raised by them to heavenly things. We are in flight,
when we are in a state of ecstasy. We are at rest when we are among our brothers
in a sober state of mind...
...The dove has two wings, signifying love of one's neighbour and love of
God. One is spread out in compassion to its neighbour, the other is raised
in contemplation to God. From these wings spring feathers, that is, spiritual
virtues. These feathers gleam with the brilliance of silver, since word of
their renown has the sweet ring of silver to those who hear it.
The dove produces
a lament instead of a song, because anything it does with pleasure, it then
bewails aloud. It lacks bile, that is,
the bitterness born of anger. It likes to kiss because it delights in widespread
peace. It flies in flocks because it likes communal life. It does not live
by theft, because it takes nothing from its neighbour. It gathers better-quality
grain, that is, better precepts. It does not feed on corpses, that is, on
carnal desires. It nests in holes in rocks because it places its hope in
Christ's Passion. It rests on flowing waters, so that by sighting the hawk's
shadow it can avoid more swiftly the hawk's approach, as one studies the
scriptures to avoid the plotting of the Devil, who comes without warning.
It rears twin chicks, that is the love of God and the love of one's neighbour.
Let anyone who has these qualities assume the wings of contemplation and
with them fly to heaven.
And such a person
can read about miracles involving animals in the lives of the Saints, such
as St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, St. Anthony preaching to the fishes,
and so on.
What follows is a collection of writings that relate how animals can be friends,
teachers, signs, and the objects of miracles.
Animals and Heaven
And now we come
to the question every animal-lover wonders about: do animals go to Heaven?
The question rests on two more questions: are animal souls subsistent (do
they exist in themselves and not in another), and, if not, could God restore
them after death?
The answer given to the first question depends on whether one follows Plato
or Aristotle. St. Thomas Aquinas chose Aristotle:
philosophers made no distinction between sense and intellect, and referred
both a corporeal principle...Plato, however, drew a distinction between intellect
and sense; yet he referred both to an incorporeal principle, maintaining
that sensing, just as understanding, belongs to the soul as such. From this
it follows that even the souls of brute animals are subsistent.
But Aristotle held that of the operations of the soul, understanding alone
is performed without a corporeal organ.
On the other hand, sensation and the consequent operations of the sensitive
soul are evidently accompanied with change in the body; thus in the act of
vision, the pupil of the eye is affected by a reflection of color: and so
with the other senses. Hence it is clear that the sensitive soul has no "per
se" operation of its own, and that every operation of the sensitive soul
belongs to the composite. Wherefore we conclude that as the souls of brute
animals have no "per se" operations they are not subsistent. For the operation
of anything follows the mode of its being.
In other words,
according to St. Thomas, once an animal dies, its soul dies. This conclusion
has led to the further conclusion that animals have no part of Heaven, as
if God hasn't the power to restore them even if, indeed, Aristotle was right.
But there is good reason to believe that at least one of the above premises
is wrong: the omnipotence of God -- His power to do all that does not contradict
His Divine Nature -- is a given. And listen to how Sacred Scripture describes
the spiritual Kingdom of Christ:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the
kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together, and a little
child shall lead them. The calf and the bear shall feed: their young ones
shall rest together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking
child shall play on the hole of the asp: and the weaned child shall thrust
his hand into the den of the basilisk. They shall not hurt, nor shall they
kill in all my holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge
of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea.
Listen to how it
describes God's desire for all of His creation:
For God made not death, neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the
living. For He created all things that they might be...
Consider the concern
He has for even the smallest of His creatures:
My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my
flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself
a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones:
Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God.
Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor
gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not
you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can
add to his stature by one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither
do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was
arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today, and
tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more
you, O ye of little faith?
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is
forgotten before God?
It is clear that
God can restore the souls of animals even if their souls are not
subsistent, and the above indicates that He would, too. Peter Kreeft
everything real and valuable on earth came from heaven to begin with. A cat
is not merely evolved molecules in motion; it is a divine idea, a work of
art, and a sign. It is a natural sign: it has something of what it signifies,
and what it signifies is something heavenly; so there is something of heaven
in a cat. And heaven does not die. God does not throw his artwork into the
wastebasket; God does not make junk. All his work has eternal value. It passes
through time and seems to pass away -- but it is in eternity.
King Solomon, known
for his wisdom, seems to leave the question open --
And I said in my heart: God shall judge both the just and the wicked, and
then shall be the time of every thing. I said in my heart concerning the
sons of men, that God would prove them, and shew them to be like beasts.
Therefore the death of man, and of beasts is one, and the condition of them
both is equal: as man dieth, so they also die: all things breathe alike,
and man hath nothing more than beast: all things are subject to vanity. And
all things go to one place: of earth they were made, and into earth they
return together. Who knoweth if the spirit of the children of Adam ascend
upward, and if the spirit of the beasts descend downward?
-- but if you are
mourning the loss of an animal friend, on this you can rely: God is
good and merciful and Love itself. Trust Him with everything in your
soul. He will not disappoint you.
1 Corinthians 2:7-9
...we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which
God ordained before the world, unto our glory: Which none of the princes
of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified
the Lord of glory. But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear
heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things
God hath prepared for them that love Him.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first
earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city,
the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride
adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying:
Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and He will dwell with them. And they
shall be His people; and God Himself with them shall be their God. And God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor
mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things
are passed away. And He that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all
1 II Samuel 12:1-7 in Bibles using the Masoretic
Kreeft, Peter J. "Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing". Ignatius Press,