"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thinking Theologically about Animals

Several weeks ago in one of my classes, I got into quite a discussion with several of my students about whether animals have souls. I, of course, do not believe that they do, and this, until quite recently, would have been a quite unremarkable statement of orthodox Christian anthropology: people have souls; animals do not. But several students were outraged that their beloved dead pets might not see them in heaven. A new collection of essays may shed some light here, and features at least one chapter (no. 9) dealing with major Eastern Christian figures: Celia Deane-Drummond et al, eds., Animals as Religious Subjects: Transdisciplinary Perspectives (T&T Clark, 2013), 336pp.

About this book we are told:

This book examines one of the most pressing cultural concerns that surfaced in the last decade - the question of the place and significance of the animal. This collection of essays represents the outcome of various conversations regarding the animal studies and shows multidisciplinarity at its very best, namely, a rigorous approach within one discipline in conversation with others around a common theme. The contributors discuss the most relevant disciplines regarding this conversation, namely: philosophy, anthropology, religious studies, theology, history of religions, archaeology and cultural studies. The first section, Thinking about Animals, explores philosophical, anthropological and religious perspectives, raising general questions about the human perception of animals and its crucial cultural significance. The second section explores the intriguing topic of the way animals have been used historically as religious symbols and in religious rituals. The third section re-examines some Christian theological and biblical approaches to animals in the light of current concerns. The final section extends the implications of traditional views about other animals to more specific ethical theories and practices.
We are also given the table of contents: 

Introduction - Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough
Part One: Animals as Subjects of Religious Thought
1. ‘Ask now the beasts and they shall teach thee’ - Stephen R. L. Clark
2. Walking with Dragons: An Anthropological Excursion on the Wild Side - Tim Ingold
3. The Study of Religion after the Animal - Aaron Gross
Part Two: Animals as Subjects of Religious Symbolism
4. Hedgehog Skin and Golden Calf: Animals as Symbols for Paganism in Medieval German Literature - Sabine Obermaier
5. The Daemonic Insect: Mantis religiosa - Adam Dodd
6. Benevolent Bulls and Baleful Buffalos: Male Bovines versus the ‘Holy Cow’ in Hinduism - Xenia Zeiler
7. From Sacrifices to Symbols: Animals in Late Antiquity and Early Christianity - Ingvild Salid Gilhus
Part Three: Animals as Subjects of Theological Inquiry
8. Butterflies Dwell Betwixt and Between: Non-Human Animals, Theology, and Dwelling in Place - Forrest Clingerman
9. ‘Marvel at the Intelligence of Unthinking Creatures!’: Contemplative Animals in Gregory of Nazianzus and Evagrius of Pontus - Eric Daryl Meyer
10. Putting Animals in Their Place: On the Theological Classification of Animals - David Clough
Part Four: Animals as Subjects of Religious Ethics
11. ‘Your Wives, Your Children, and Your Livestock’: Domesticated Beings as Religious Objects in the Book of Deuteronomy - Raymond F. Person, Jr.
12. Transgenic Animals and Ethics: Recognizing an Appropriate Dignity - Robert Song
13. Other Animals as Persons? – A Roman Catholic Inquiry - Charles Camosy
Index of Scriptural References
Index of Subjects
Index of Names


  1. Funny coincidence that I saw this posted today as well, about a book on animals in the Qur'an:


  2. I believe that St. Thomas Acquinas, in the relevant section of the Summa, suggests that all created things have a soul proper to their nature, does he not?

    Also, in Ambiguum 7 St. Maximus the Confessor seems to suggest that created things have a soul proportional to their nature:

    God who dwells in the soul uses it as an instrument to relate to the body and through the intimate bond between body and soul makes it possible for the body to share in the gift of immortality. The result is that what God is to the soul the soul becomes to the body, and the one God, Creator of all, is shown to reside proportionately in all beings through human nature. Things that are by nature separated from one another return to a unity as they converge together in the one human being. When this happens God will be all in all ( I Cor. 15:28), permeating all things and at the same time giving independent existence to all things in himself. Then no existing thing will wander aimlessly or be deprived of God’s presence...

  3. As John points out, Aquinas discusses this and writes that animals have souls, just not immortal subsistent souls. See S.T. I, Q. 75, a. 3.

    In this he follows the much earlier (5th century) De Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus of Gennadius of Massilia (though it was at the time thought to be a work of Augustine, I believe).

    There's at least one popular (in the "for a lay audience" sense, book on this topic, Franciscan Fr. Jack Wintz's, OFM, Will I See My Dog in Heaven? from Paraclete Press, answering in the affirmative. It's an expanded version of a 2003 article in the St Anthony Messenger, "http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jul2003/feature2.asp" It doesn't really grapple with the theological (and philosophical) tradition of the Church on this matter, making a more free flowing appeal to "Scripture."

    I'm inclined to stand with the Dominican friar on this one... not the Franciscan.


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