The Soul of the Embryo

What Becomes You - The Soul of the Embryo

A book review of The Soul of the Embryo: An Enquiry into the Status of the Human Embryo in the Christian Tradition, by David Albert Jones


Thankfully, in The Soul of the Embryo, David Albert Jones corrects such misrepresentations with a well-documented, definitive account of Christian tradition from the early Church to the twenty-first century. In a clear, irenic style, Jones, a Dominican theologian who directed the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics in London and now teaches bioethics at the University of Surrey, shows that for two millennia Christians consistently “repudiated abortion at any stage of pregnancy.”

Starting with Jewish and pagan antiquity, Jones shows that in the Old Testament, the embryo was “the subject of God’s invisible informing activity,” the chosen one being called from and molded in the womb. No surprise, then, that the Jews considered deliberate abortion a grave sin against God and nature.

The first Christian text on abortion is in the Didache (first century), which states, “You shall not kill a child by abortion nor kill it after it is born.” The same teaching is found in other works of the second to the fourth centuries, including apocalyptic texts where people face their aborted children at the Judgment. In the fifth century, John Chrysostom calls abortion “something even worse than murder” because it involves killing one’s own flesh and blood.


Jones calls it reasonable to define a human being as “an individual living being of the species Homo sapiens.” The embryo is “clearly a living being, is an individual and is human.” From fertilization, a “complete whole” is developing, not a part of a whole. It is, in other words, a person with a person’s full rights.

Comment: If you have wondered (as most of us have) about the “ensoulment” of the embryo and the true beginning of the human soul, I recommend this book review (I haven't read the book) to you!

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