|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
...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):
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
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 it well:
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.
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.
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 earth!
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
That sheer 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 to him.
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 pity.
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 (and I most certainly have3)
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, the larks"?
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
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 tells us:
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.
Later it relates:
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
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
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...
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 writes: 2
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.
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 things new.
1 II Samuel 12:1-7 in
Bibles using the Masoretic numbering.
Kreeft, Peter J. "Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing". Ignatius Press,
stories: Make of these stories what you will. When my Mom died, I was
floored with grief. She and I were very close, and her death was
experienced by me in a wrenchingly visceral way. On the day of her
August 1, I was visiting the Italian side of my family, in "the
old neighborhood," the same neighborhood where I found my very
first pet, a tabby cat who became known as "Mamma Cat." The day of my
Mother's funeral, I spotted a stray kitten who looked very much like
that first cat I'd found when I was 2 years old. This new cat was very
entertaining, very feisty, and ridiculous. When I first saw her, she
was hunkered down,
creeping along the edge of a curb in order to make herself look even
smaller than she already was, slinking along the curb 'til she got to a
place where a much older and larger cat was sitting on the sidewalk.
When she got to where that big cat was, she sprang up toward him, arms
askew to make herself look big and scary. The big cat just looked at
her as if she were an annoyance. I laughed and laughed. I then go
inside my Aunt's house and am sitting at her kitchen table when my
cousin, Johnny, comes in with the kitty, whom he proceeded to plop onto
my lap, with the words, "Here's your new cat!" And that she became. I
named her "Marta" because my Mom died on the Feast of St. Martha.
Marta stuck to me like glue, perching on my shoulder like a parrot,
sleeping with me every night, and generally just being a great friend.
I came to truly believe that God and my Mom sent her to me to help me
Now flash forward 8 or so years. I moved to a different State, and
after being there a few months, in mid-July, Marta -- who is an indoor
cat -- went missing. I was devastated, and went into action,
putting fliers in neighbors' mailboxes, hanging up signs, going out
looking for her -- anything I could do, all to no avail. Then, for some
reason -- and I have no idea why;
I wasn't even thinking about what I
was saying -- I told the person I was with, "If she comes back, she'll
come back on August 1." The words were just there in my mouth. And they
came out. Days go by. No sign of my beloved kitty-puss.
Then comes August 1. At 10:45pm, with one hour and fifteen minutes to
go. I was asked what I wanted to do. My exact words in response were,
"I want to look for Marta one last
time." So we do. I grab a flashlight, open the front door, take
a few steps out, and hear "mew?" And there she came around the corner
of the house. I grabbed her, ran inside, literally fell to my knees,
and thanked Jesus while sobbing in gratitude. She came back, as I'd
predicted without thought, on the very anniversary of my finding her,
seventy-five minutes before the deadline, which
I took to be a sign that God is still
looking out for me.
Another story: My maternal Grandma was dying from cancer at home and
my Mom, her daughter, that she was seeing a squirrel outside her
window. My Mom
never saw this squirrel, so chalked up the sighting to the effects of
morphine and thought
little of it. The day after Grandma died, my Mom hears a tapping or
scratching at her
kitchen door. She opens up the inner door to see a squirrel sitting in
front of the outer, security door. My Mom grabbed some snacks for the
little guy, opens
the second door, and instead of running off, the squirrel -- which she'd never seen before --
walked right up to her and took the food straight from her hand. Every
day that Summer, the
squirrel would come by for a visit, tapping on the door if it was
closed. "Squiggley," as the squirrel came to be known, would sit with
my Mom on her back porch, right next to her, keeping her company. My
Mom believed, and I do as well, that God and Grandma sent Squiggley to
her as a sign that, as St. Julian of Norwich said, "all shall be well,
and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be