“Where did I come from?” What parent doesn’t cringe hearing those words come out of the mouth of their young child? The parent’s mind goes to the birds and the bees while the mouth quickly intervenes saying “God put you in Mommy’s tummy.” Although it is uttered by a mere babe, we cannot help but be struck by the profundity of the question. Where do we come from and how are we made? It is a question that touches deeply on both philosophy and theology and the answer can only leave us echoing the marvel of the Psalmist—“I praise you, because I am wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14).
The Platypus and Us
From our perspective, the platypus seems to be the strangest of all God’s creatures. If we were able to step outside of ourselves, we would quickly realize that in truth humans are the oddest of His creatures. Formed from the “dust of the ground” and “the breath of God,” we are the only creatures in which matter and spirit are wedded together. We are neither wholly material or wholly spirit, but a morph of the two. We must understand this point if we are to understand our origins. We are not souls trapped in a body nor are we really smart apes. We are both a body and a spirit. Although this seems like common sense, it seems to have been greatly forgotten in a culture that tends to look at man in a dualist fashion. Although the soul enjoys a certain prominence, the person is not just their soul.
What follows from this is that man is really capable of three different kinds of actions. As a bodily being, he can operate on an animal level by which he experiences hunger and growth and the like. As a spiritual being he can perform acts of pure spirits like abstract thought. Man can know that 2+2=4. What is entirely unique to man as a composite creature is that he can also perform a third type of act—one that only man can do such as appreciating beauty, proving a mathematical theorem and experiencing conjugal love.
The Origin of the Soul
Thanks to modern biology and embryology, we know where the body comes from. But where does the soul come from? It is created directly by God at the moment of conception. There is no material power that can create a spiritual soul. Being immaterial and having no parts, it cannot come from the parents the way the body does. This leaves only one alternative, a sort of process of elimination, that leads to the conclusion that it must come directly from God.
It is not, as is often thought, as though the soul exists prior to the body. How do we know this? In short, it is the law of heredity that reveals this. Children can inherit bodily traits from their parents. A son can be the spittin’ image of his father. But it is not just bodily traits, but also some of those traits that fall into our third class of actions that children tend to inherit. Artists and musicians tend to rear children with the aptitude for the same. Those gifted in mathematics tend to raise children with mathematical minds such that no mere environmental explanation exists. So widespread and common is this that it is easy to overlook the implication of it.
In short, we have to offer an account of our origin that factors in the hereditariness of these spiritual/material acts. The only plausible explanation for this phenomena is that the soul is made for the body. When the body is created, thought St. Thomas, God fuses a soul to it to match the body. In that way our souls are entirely unique and thus when separated from the body (after death and prior to the General Resurrection) they still remain our soul. He doesn’t just fuse a soul into my body, but He infuses my soul into my body. They are a perfect match.
Now all human souls have the same essential qualities such as being capable of abstract thought, knowledge of first principles, and the capacity to love. But each soul may differ in some of its accidental qualities such as taking spiritual delight in certain intellectual pursuits which coincidentally may coincide with those same bodily, hereditary tendencies that make the practice of art, music and mathematics easier.
This also confirms on one of the key concepts of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, namely that the body reveals the soul. If the soul is made to fit that particular body then this seems intuitive. But this also means that one of the accidental qualities of the soul is sex. In other words, gender or sex (or whatever we are now calling it) is not just a physical difference but a spiritual one too (see CCC 2332-2333).
The Transgender Soul
And now we begin to see why these philosophical musings are relevant. There are many who claim that transgenders were born with the wrong bodies. They claim that God “makes no mistakes” and that the biology was wrong. But if the body is primary and God matches the soul to it, then this cannot be so. If the body is biologically male then the soul is also spiritual masculine. The soul is matched to the body and God “makes no mistakes.”
Further, to make biological changes to the body in the cases of someone who is conflicted will only serve to make matters worse. They may not “feel comfortable” in their skin, but those changes will not touch their souls and will lead to an even deeper conflict. How does a masculine soul express itself through a female body? They will never be able to fully express themselves and thus will be forever wounded in their ability to give and receive love. Instead we must be willing to help them discern the true source of their inner conflict without taking what amounts to a short-cut solution.