Ponies near Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Wikicommons via Christine Matthews

Listers, it is my experience that two immediate thoughts occur when a Catholic reads about Sacred Tradition holding animals and plants to have souls. The first is the thought of heresy or some modernist revision of a classic teaching is being submitted. Normally the quick acknowledgment that these teachings rests in St. Thomas Aquinas assuages such fears. The second and more difficult reaction is - “Why does it matter?” To wit, I think it falls to two considerations. The first is the immediate import for how we should treat animals and plants within the order of Creation and secondly - and more telling - the fact that Catholic catechesis on the soul has diminished to such a degree that even the most basic of questions regarding what is a soul? or what has a soul? can no longer be answered. It is one thing to think it is a waste of time to discuss a matter and quite another to lack the basic knowledge to have that discussion. In this stream of thought, we present the soul and the anima of animals and plants to animate the discussion of the soul that can have spectacular import for catechesis on indulgences, grace, purgatory, the sacraments, and more.

An Introduction to the Soul - 6 Questions

Listers, today we are going to take a look into Sacred Tradition and explore the reality of the soul. The following is a basic introduction, and will serve as a foundation for further discussions. All quotes – unless otherwise specified – are taken from our beloved Angelic Doctor and his Summa Prima Pars Q75A1.

What Is the Soul?

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.” In Latin, soul is anima, from which we derive our words animate and inanimate. Things that have life are animated; thus, they have an anima or soul.

Do Plants and Animals Have Souls?

Life “is shown principally by two actions: knowledge and movement.” Plants and animals are animated beings that respectively display knowledge and movement. Where there is life, there must be a soul; thus, yes, plants and animals have souls.

More basic questions on the soul.


Plants via Wikicommons Roland zh

Plants Have Souls: 5 Points of Inquiry

Listers, today we continue our study of the soul by delving deeper into the Vegetative Soul or Plant Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson’s Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Gilson is primarily a historian and a philosopher second. He is adequate for certain Thomistic principles, but overall I would suggest Listers look into such giants as Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange.

What Are the Different Types of Souls?

Vegetative: “At the bottom we find a power of the soul whose one object is the body to which it is united,” and “the vegetative soul only acts on its own body.” The Vegetative Soul is the soul of plants.

Sensitive: “There is another genus of powers of the soul corresponding to a more universal object, namely, to all sensible bodies, and not merely to the one sensible body with which the soul is united.” The Sensitive Soul is the soul of animals. They possess many powers that plants do not, e.g., the five senses and a type of memory.

Rational: “Above these, there is a power of the soul with a still more universal object; that is, not merely sensible bodies in general, but all being taken in its universality.” The Ration Soul is the soul of man. It alone is made in the Imago Dei, and has immortality and rationality.

More information on vegetative souls.


A Leopard in Ngala Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa. via Wikicommons Raphael Melnick

Animals Have Souls: 6 Inquiries Into Their Powers

Listers, we continue in our study of the soul. Today we focus on the Sensitive Soul or Animal Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson’s Christian Philosophy. I will once again voice my concern over Gilson, and state he is good for certain elementary concepts; however, students of our Angelic Doctor should turn to Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Langrange.

Again to escape an accusation of Catholic-Druidism, I’d like to state that the belief that animals have souls dates back to Aristotle, and was maintained with the Scholastic tradition. Moreover, the Vegetative and Sensitive Souls are mortal, they will return to dust, and only the Rational Soul of man is made in the Imago Dei.

What is the Sensitive Soul?

The Sensitive Power “is the lowest degree of the knowledge to be encountered in the universe.” The Sensitive Soul – characterized by the Sensitive Power – brings with it that which is necessary for animal existence.

And we must state that the listed powers are those which the Sensitive Soul adds in conjunction with the powers listed in the Vegetative Soul. Animals, like Plants, have the ability to come into existence, move from a nascent creature to a mature one, and receive nourishment. Likewise, the Rational Soul takes up the powers of both the Sensitive and the Vegetative.

What is a Particular Sense?

The term Particular Sense denotes an individual power that corresponds with a particular object, and is able to inform the soul of various sensible realities. The Particular Sense most commonly has five powers, which we know as the five senses. For example, hearing is the power that corresponds with the object of sound, and it informs the soul of that particular sensible reality.

Particular Sense: “which is the first in the order of sensitive powers and corresponds to an immediate modification of the soul be sensible realities. But the particular sense is in turn subdivided into distinct powers according to the various kinds of sensible impressions it is equipped to receive. Sensible act upon the particular sense by the species which they impress upon it;” hence, “let us begin, then, from the principle that the senses receive sensible species denuded of matter.”

More on the discussion of animals and souls.